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Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/29/2013 06:28:25
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/29/dungeon-crawl-classics--
75-the-sea-queen-escapes/

Every gamer, regardless of medium, shudders at the thought of a water level, and they do it with good reason. Wading through water that slows you down, trying to swim down and back up before you drown and fighting in water, all of these elements are present in this adventure.

Half a century ago the wizard Shadankin befriended the seas and oceans and all its inhabitants. He never sought to rule, merely to discover and increase his knowledge of life beneath the waves. But not all is what it seems under the calm of the sea. Dangerous entities constantly seeks entrance to this realm, and their reward is maybe too much to ignore, and so Shadankin had to take measures. Gathering allies from the mighty oceans, Shadankin created a prison, but the prison is breaking. A beautiful queen reaches out the heroes and cries for release. And so the story begins.

That being said, this adventure made for Level 3 characters is classically designed. The environments are creative and something new for those that usually do normal dungeon crawls. The artwork is what you are used to from Goodman Games, and as always reflects the retro-feel of DCC. The maps especially are beautiful and imaginative.

The author, Michael Curtis, is a competent writer, but spread throughout the text complicated words and long names appear. Regardless of how much fun it is to see trapezoids used outside the context of a classroom, it doesn’t really add anything to the narrative, or the exposition. Describing a surface as “isosceles trapezoid” will only create confused looks on your player’s faces.

The Sea Queen Escapes relies heavily on the usual fantasy tropes, and the more ‘specialized’ ones regarding oceanic adventures. A beautiful royalty reaches out for help, her only hope. The heroes must travel to shores unknown and discover the true purpose of their visions. Because of all this the underlying story is filled with clichés. This doesn’t have to be bad. There is a reason something becomes a cliché, it answers to universal thoughts and feelings. The story is highly adaptable, but can easily stand on its own well-defined webbed feet. There is of course a small twist at the end, but I’ll keep that for myself for now.

All in all, I liked it. I would however change things up a little before running it with my group, but that’s the beauty of all the OGL material being published. You can twist, turn and refurbish anything to suit your needs, and The Sea Queen Escapes will definitely see some action in one form or another in my group.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
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World of Darkness: God-Machine Rules Update
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/24/2013 06:32:00
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/24/tabletop-review-the-god-
-machine-chronicle-world-of-darkness/

With some many games getting new rules sets this year like Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Tunnels and Trolls, and so on, World of Darkness’ The God Machine Chronicle may have slipped past your radar, especially since it’s tucked away under a very peculiar name. There are two parts to The God Machine Chronicle. The first is 149 pages that reveal the God Machine and a corresponding twenty or so adventures and principal NPCs to go with it. The other 100 pages are a rules update to the New World Of Darkness as opposed to the OLD World of Darkness. Some of these rules are minor cosmetic changes, while some really change the way the game is played. If you’re ONLY interested in the changes to the core game rules, you can get those separately as a 104 page PDF for FREE. Yes that’s right – for free. Go right now and download it. You have no excuse not to. However, if you do choose to go that route, you are missing out on the most compelling and creepy adventure collection I’ve encountered since Chaosium first released Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express. Yes, The God Machine Chronicle is that amazing. Between this release and my beloved Mummy: The Curse, I think the Storyteller System has become THE frontrunner for our System of the Year award. Will it still be at the end of the year? Only time will tell…

The free rules update is where all the rule changes and revisions for the New World of Darkness can be found. It’s roughly a hundred pages long, which may be intimidating to some of you, especially those of you who already have the old rules memorized (along with probably half a dozen other RPG systems), but the good news is that most of the changes are small subtle ones. It does seem odd and ill-placed to tuck the rule changes in the back of an adventure collection where the rules are totally turned on their head and are far less tangible than they’ve ever been before, but think of it as a bonus. After all, you can get the rules for free in a separate PDF, so it’s not like they’re forcing you to purchase these if all you want to do is play a game of V:TR and you have no intention of ever touching the God Machine. So…a hundred pages of rule changes, revisions and clarifications. Man, how does one begin to cover all of that? We’ll try though by talking about the most important bits.

Character creation is mostly the same. The big thing you’ll see right away is that it doesn’t cost you two dots to purchase a level five Attribute, Skill or Merit. Awesome! I think a lot of people ignored this rule anyway though. Aspirations, Virtues and Vices are now more open ended instead of “pick from a list,” which allows for more creative freedom. They have added two new merits that can be obtained if a Player regularly plays his Virtue over his Vice or well…vice versa (no pun intended). I think this is a great idea and it rewards a player for playing his character instead of going, “Oh I got my Willpower bonus from one, better do the other now.” You’re basically trading a short term disadvantage for a long term bonus via a free two point Merit. I like that. Morality has been replaced by Integrity, which will probably split people down on the middle on whether they like it or not. I see the positive and negative in both although honestly, for most people they are close to the same in terms of real world concepts. What I do like is that Integrity is more akin to the Sanity aspect of other horror games and when you risk losing Integrity you also risk incurring a Breaking Point, which is when your character’s ability to understand and/or rationalize what is going on around them goes out the window along with the winged firebreathing sloth they just saw. Breaking Points replace the concept of Sin in the New World of Darkness which I greatly approve of. Breaking Points are tailored to specific characters and it also gets rid of a lot of the baggage that came with the term “Sin” as well as applying it. I mean, if you’re an unrepentant serial killer are you really going to “sin?” But I digress. Break Points gives both players and Storytellers an excuse/need to really flesh out a PC’s back story and also define what are their trigger stressors. It might be hard to do these at first, especially if you are new to tabletop game, but for those that enjoy the story aspect of role-playing over dice hucking, this is no doubt a welcome change from the old rules.

Experience Points gets a massive overhaul though. Character progression is now more linear and standardized instead of level that you want times X number = how many experience points you need to purchase it. That’s a big change because everything costs far less XP now that it used to. 1XP nets you a dot of a merit, Skill Speciality or Willpower point. 2XP is a dot of a skill. 3XP is a dot of Integrity and 4XP is a dot of an attribute. Crazy cheap, huh? However, this is balanced out by how you earn experience. Basically you now earn “Beats” and five Beats equals ONE Experience Point. You earn a Beat (or “Take a Beat” in actual game terms) in various ways. Through achieving an Aspiration, experiencing a Dramatic Failure, recognizing a specific plot point or having a significant character experience are just a few examples. I was surprised hitting a Breaking Point wasn’t one of the ways listed though. So people are either going to love or hate this. My big problem with the new Experience System is that it may be too nebulous for a lot of people to make work. In the hands of a person that really gets the new rule changes and also knows his players well, this will be quite a good change. In the hands of others though…the potential for this to be a train wreck is pretty obvious to anyone who reads this section.

Merit are given an entire list of what is now in the game. Some Merits are gone but that is because they were found redundant or reworked. Other than that, it’s pretty unchanged. The Sanctity of Merits section is well worth reading though. Flaws are replaced by Conditions though and are less permanent than the original concept. Conditions can go away if the circumstances are right. Longer lasting Conditions are known as Permanent Conditions. They also aren’t necessarily negative (99.99% are though) and unlike Flaws, they can be obtained through simple roleplaying. For example, a Breaking Point can cause a Condition but so can an exceptional success. The Conditions list is far smaller than the Merits one, but there is also a section on designing Conditions for your players and characters so it is more open ended and flexible.

One thing I DON’T care for is the concept of Soul Loss and the mechanics behind it. This is something I feel should be done through role-playing only. The rules and the mechanics are badly defined and there’s no actual description of how one moves from one stage to the next. So basically you have specific rules for each stage but absolutely no rules for how they occur. This is a wasted concept that didn’t need mechanics at all.

A lot of the die roll stuff such as Extended Actions, Dramatic Failures and the like make a lot of sense and honestly aren’t that different from how you’ve probably used the Storyteller system before. Really everything in these sections is just shoring up the slow subtle changes made over the past decade and putting them in one concrete block. The Social Maneuvering section is similar. It’s far more in-depth than in the past with these rules, adding more possibilities and explanations rather than changing how things work. The truth is, most people I know that play WoD games (both old and new) tend to role-play these out rather than roll-play them out, so I was surprised to see how long this section was but also glad to see that it very rarely made mention of dice rolling or specific mechanics.

Combat has some slight changes, but it’s mainly optional rules and expansions of what you already know. I don’t mean to underestimate the changes that are here, but most of it really is intuitive and has slowly been implemented over the last few years anyway. The combat summary chart is well done and helpful to players of all experience levels. Tilts are probably the thing that will be the most new or unheard of those, but that is only because they were introduced in Danse Macabre for Vampire: The Requiem and thus if you only play, say, Forsaken or Mummy, these are probably new to you. Basically Tilts are Combat specific Conditions. They can be either personal (broken arm, temporary blinded) or environmental (sandstorm, blizzard). Again, these are all thing you’ve probably done instinctively or made up rules for on the fly at some point, but it’s nice to have them grouped together in one spot.

For Ghosts and other Ephemeral beings, rules from various (sometimes contradictory) books are combined and unified into one system. There are seventeen pages of rules just for ghosts, spirits, angels and the like, so fans of using or playing ghosts will see their world change the most. To be honest though, with all the rules for Twilight, Wraiths and the like spread across multiple books, this was a long time coming. The book then ends with a collection of new pieces of equipment for characters of all walks of life to use.

All in all the rules changes aren’t huge ones and as always, Storytellers and their troupe of gamers can ignore the changes or stick to the old way of doing things. I’d say the vast majority of edits and replacements are for the better. The problem will be getting people to use and/or remember the changes, especially if they assumed The God Machine Chronicle was just well…God Machine related.

All in all, The God Machine Chronicle is incredible. The basic premise is fantastic and one of the best things to come out of the New World of Darkness. It’s been sitting untouched more or less since what, 2004 and it’s nice to see something come of it. The adventures are fantastic, easily the best collection I think I’ve ever see White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing put out (but then, how often do they actually DO collections instead of individual adventures). I went into this expecting something I could take or leave, and I came away being more impressed by this book than anything else I’ve read since the start of the New World of Darkness save for Mummy. If you’re a fan of either WoD, you really should pick this up as you’ll enjoy the writing even if your friends want nothing to do with playing the adventures or concepts contained herein. Hell, even if you’re not a Storyteller System gamer, any horror games should pick this up and devour it as there is so much to enjoy here. The lessons and stories this book holds can be applied to anything from say, Don’t Look Back to All Flesh Must Be Eaten. The Rules Update isn’t as big a deal as some have made it out to be in either extreme. Story trumps rules after all. I can’t heartily recommend this enough and honestly, between this, Mummy and Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition I haven’t been this excited for the World of Darkness as a whole since the mid 1990s. Just an amazing job in every way and I would love to see another, albeit more fleshed out, adventure collective just like this one in the future.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
World of Darkness: God-Machine Rules Update
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World of Darkness: The God-Machine Chronicle
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/24/2013 06:30:20
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/24/tabletop-review-the-god-
-machine-chronicle-world-of-darkness/

With some many games getting new rules sets this year like Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Tunnels and Trolls, and so on, World of Darkness’ The God Machine Chronicle may have slipped past your radar, especially since it’s tucked away under a very peculiar name. There are two parts to The God Machine Chronicle. The first is 149 pages that reveal the God Machine and a corresponding twenty or so adventures and principal NPCs to go with it. The other 100 pages are a rules update to the New World Of Darkness as opposed to the OLD World of Darkness. Some of these rules are minor cosmetic changes, while some really change the way the game is played. If you’re ONLY interested in the changes to the core game rules, you can get those separately as a 104 page PDF for FREE. Yes that’s right – for free. Go right now and download it. You have no excuse not to. However, if you do choose to go that route, you are missing out on the most compelling and creepy adventure collection I’ve encountered since Chaosium first released Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express. Yes, The God Machine Chronicle is that amazing. Between this release and my beloved Mummy: The Curse, I think the Storyteller System has become THE frontrunner for our System of the Year award. Will it still be at the end of the year? Only time will tell…

So what IS The God Machine Chronicle? Well it’s hard to explain –partly because I don’t want to spoil the journey for those of you taking the time to read this and partly because the game goes out of its way NOT to define the God Machine. I know, for those of you who are long time White Wolf fans, the fact they managed to keep something nebulous and vague is either a miracle or a sign the apocalypse is at hand. For those that aren’t aware of what I mean, White Wolf, in the Old World of Darkness was notorious for pinning everything down, giving specific exact canon reasons for everything as soon as a mystery or group that was open to interpretation came into being. There was no sense of the unexplained and thus a lot of the potential for horror and mystery went out the window with it. I loved the settings and system but when you’re told every last detail about the Black Hand, Inconnu, Sabbat and so on AND these details are published repeatedly so that any player can get their hands on them easily, well, you couldn’t really establish a sense of foreboding or dread. It was more or less Chill from the POV of the monsters.

So what IS the God Machine? I know, didn’t we just ask that? Well the best way I can describe it is how I interpreted it, which is automatically wrong and yet completely correct for no being or even group of beings can truly fathom the God Machine. However, I’ll take a stab at it. First, take one part Hellraiser mythology distilled with the pure essence of Clive Barker – that being a strange machine-like god being (Leviathan) that is never fully described or understood, even by its own followers which are strange beings that occasionally offer a semblance of man (perhaps even once were human) but beat to a drum we can neither hear nor fathom. The Angels of the God Machine also are similar to the Cenobites of Barker’s mythology – but more their original form in The Hellbound Heart where their nature and purpose was never given any true depth, leaving you with a sense of “Why are they doing this?” and thus heightening the creep factor. Then take the mood and atmosphere of Call of Cthulhu where the players characters begin to realize that they are bit players in Existence itself and that in the shadows and underbelly of our planet lurk things our mind was not meant to understand. Things that neither bear us malice nor kindness. We are merely fleas to them and if the flea bites, well there are ways to get rid of it without passing a second thought on the subject. Feelings of helplessness, doom, and paranoia are commonplace amongst the PCs and the question becomes not, “Will the PCs win the day?” but, “How long can they stave off their own destruction?” or “How much of a difference can an ant colony make when someone decides they really want to kick it down or fry it with a magnifying glass?” Next add a portion of the Technocracy from Mage: The Awakening with its multiple factions severing a high purpose (in this case the God Machine) but with different groups interpreting the best way to achieve said goal in fundamentally different ways, perhaps even utterly contradictory to another. These would be the secret societies and cults that serve the God Machine, although in the case of this, said groups are sometimes PURPOSELY given orders that put each other in conflict. Indeed, for me, The God Machine felt very much like the early games of Mage we used to play run through a Black Dog set of glasses. Finally add a bit of comic books style magical realism. Think 90s Vertigo comics. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. ESPECIALLY Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. In this regard you have heroes and villains alike serving a higher purpose – oftentimes unaware that their actions are being subtly guided by a higher force that is able to manipulate reality in ways that would drive most people mad if they thought such a thing was truly possible. Add these four things together (maybe a little of 2001: A Space Odyssey for good measure) and you have the closest I can come to describing the God Machine. It’s not good or evil, lawful or chaotic. It simply runs according to its own plan – a plan that will never be even partially revealed to players or Storytellers and doing so would only be folly and an insult to the very concept of the God Machine.

Whew. That was one long paragraph. Basically the God Machine is the answer to most horror Storyteller/Keeper/GM’s dreams. It is a nigh omnipotent/omnipotent…thing that will never be fully described, shown or explained. This not only gives the Storyteller unparalleled freedom to shape the God Machine in whatever form he or she sees fit, but in trying to discern more about WHAT the God Machine IS, simply makes the God Machine pay more attention to the PCs, eventually bringing about their own demise or perhaps even causing them to become one with the Machine. A “cog” if you will. Note that the God Machine doesn’t have to be an antagonist to the PCs. In fact, you could run an entire campaign without the players ever encountering actual evidence of its existence. One adventure could have the PCs working for the machine (directly or indirectly) and the next having them be a roadblock in the Machine’s path. It’s so utterly flexible and because the God Machine’s plans are so alien they can’t be described or understood, even by the Storyteller, you have no worries regarding contradiction in its behavior or any shift you might need to do to the game’s mechanics in order to further the feel of the tale being told. In a sense, The God Machine Chronicle is a rules lawyering min/max’ers worst nightmare and a horror Storyteller’s pipe dream come true – a truly indescribable concept that won’t be bogged down by stats, mechanics, dice rolls or in canon descriptions. Now that doesn’t mean you won’t be rolling your d10s en masse like you always have with a Storyteller System game. Just that rules might change according to the God Machine’s whim.

The God Machine Chronicle gives us an introduction, three chapters and the Rules Appendix. The introduction runs twenty pages and it gives us the mood and theme of a world plagued/blessed by the God Machine. If your World of Darkness contains the God Machine then realize you have something that even supernatural characters are unaware of and should even fear. Sure you might be able to turn into a bat or cast some magic, but what happens if the God Machine throws a few angels at you or offers you the powers that give you the leg up in your every day in exchange for what feels like a rather mundane task. Would a vampire trade a month of not having the hunger in them for simply sticking three woodchucks in an old abandoned farmhouse. WHAT HARM COULD OCCUR FROM THAT? Conversely what do you do if you piss off the machine and suddenly you find that it’s not silver that causes you aggravated damage but cotton? So on and so forth. The core of the introduction is to make it clear that WW/OPP will not be fully fleshing out or defining the God Machine and the true joy/horror of experience a God Machine focused chronicle is that you will NEVER understand it fully and that should drive players and their characters nuts because THEY WANT TO KNOW and there is no actual answer. You’ve given multiple examples of those that fear the God Machine, those that serve it, those who have an intellectual curiosity about it and those that fight against it. In each category you have those that have justifiable reasons and those that are obviously in the wrong when looked at objectively. This contradiction only serves to muddy the water more and make the only certain about the God Machine is that nothing is for certain.

The intro also begins to define Infrastructure, which is the way the God Machine goes about its planning and projects. It gives you a bit of a flowchart in which to design the bizarre things that occur both because of and in spite of its actions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Intro points out in no uncertain terms that the God Machine is not 100% omnipresent and omnipotent, because what fun is it in playing a game where the God Machine can do anything and stop any action the PCs take? It then becomes Storyteller vs Player and that never ends well. Instead think of the God Machine a la Cthulhu. Both are insanely powerful and SEEM unstoppable and all powerful in every way, but they don’t always win. Sure they probably will win the long game, but humans don’t think that far or in those terms. Both are also utterly alien to our thought process so trying to make them evil or 100% out to do terrible things to humanity just because is not only a disservice to those concepts, but also greatly ethnocentric on the part of the person writing/running those type of adventures because honestly, how often do YOU think about the microscopic bacteria you have on your skin every day?

Chapter 1 is “Building the God Machine Chronicle” and is all about the Storyteller’s role. How can you use the God Machine as a powerful unfathomable THING yet still give the PCs a chance to win and/or survive the adventure? You’ll find it here. The chapter also defines tiers (first seen in the nWoD’s version of Hunter) which are used to help a Storyteller craft their adventure. These tiers range from a local occurrence to a global event. You’re also given some rudimentary organizations that may work as antagonists for the tier you are using. It then goes into advice on how to run a God Machine adventure, chronicle or campaign. This is wonderful stuff for beginning and intermediate Storytellers and even long time veterans will pick up a few things along the way. By the end you should know what tale you want to tell, the number of sessions and adventures it will take to unfold and the right number of players to make it happen. They key is to remember that just because you are using the God Machine to not have it squash the characters instantly and utterly. Otherwise what’s the point of playing the game? The chapter ends with suggested story arcs for the Storyteller. It gives you several different overall themes and then creates a connection between multiple adventures that you’ll find in Chapter Two. It’s a bit odd to see the book talk about the adventures and ways to group them into a cohesive experience before you even read the adventures, but for once this does not feel like the typical bad layout and flow we’ve come to know with WoD publications, but rather a fine example of the disconnect and weirdness you’ll feel playing a God Machine chronicle. I really loved seeing how the premade adventures can fit into different themed story arcs and connect to other adventures in very different ways. Sure some connections are harder to justify than others, but the book acknowledges that. In the end, Chapter One will give you so many ideas of what to do with a God Machine, your head should be ready to burst from the adventures you want to run/write/play.

Chapter Two, “Tales of the God Machine,” is where all your adventures live. They aren’t grouped by Tier or any of the potential story arcs listed in Chapter One. They are also not listed in alphabetical order. They’re just kind of thrown together in no real order, which is fine as it fits the mood of the game but will make it hard for Storytellers to find the adventure they want to run without using post-it notes or Ctrl+F in a digital copy. There are twenty different adventures here. Now they’re not fully fleshed out to allow Storytellers the chance to modify them to their own vision. What is here is laid out wonderfully with seven different sections. You have the title and summary section which well, I don’t think I need to explain that to you. You have Infrastructure which lays out the overall story and why things are occurring in the way they are. You have Interchangeable Parts which shows how the characters fit into the story, the background they should probably have and how they can affect things. Blueprints gives insight into what the God Machine wants to happen and how it is going about achieving those goals in this instance. Linchpins are ways the God Machine is not infallible in these adventures and gives characters a way to defeat its Machinations. Methods gives you examples of ways to use your character sheet to get through the adventurer or at least advance the plot. Escalation gives you the climax of the adventure and the way things can unfold. The layout for these adventures is wonderful. Any Storyteller, regardless of experience, should be able to run one of these smoothly by following the format. It reminds me a lot of the Shadowrun Missions layout and while not as good as what Catalyst Game Labs does with those, they’re also single adventures while The God Machine Chronicle crams TWENTY DIFFERENT ONES into this chapter. I really hope this becomes the standard for how we see adventures laid out in World of Darkness adventures, albeit it a bit more fleshed out, because this format is so inviting to newcomers while extremely helpful to veterans as well. Awesome job.

The content of the adventures will vary based on what you want out of the God Machine. There are some adventures I fell instantly in love with and some I knew I would never use. The key is that ALL of them are well written and showcase the multifaceted nature of the God Machine. These things are weird, dark, exciting, freaky and most of all memorable. Obviously I don’t have room to review each adventure separately as we’ve just hit the 2,600 word mark but if you would like me to in another piece, by all means, I’ll consider it – just let me know. What you need to know is that all twenty adventures are worth reading even if you don’t play through them because of the insight you’ll gain regarding making God Machine based adventures of your own. I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen an adventure collection that blew me away this consistently. With a price tag of only $17.99, that means you are paying less than a dollar per adventure and that doesn’t even factor in the rules changes and the rest of the book. That alone should have you thrusting a fistful of money at Rich and his team demanding them to take it. I honestly can’t think of a better deal in gaming. Even if you don’t play games in the New World of Darkness. Even if you only play something like Earthdawn or Traveller, you should get this book just to read it. It is that well written and it’s an experience unlike any other. I can’t emphasize enough how this chapter alone is worth your money and the fact you’re getting so much more on top of it means I honestly can’t fathom why someone wouldn’t pick this up and more importantly, why they wouldn’t enjoy it.

Chapter Three is called “The Cogs in the Machine” and there’s not much to say here. This is a list of NPCs that work for or fight against the God Machine in a myriad of ways. Most of them are tied to specific adventures in Chapter Two, but a few are there just to have to write your own adventures around them. This chapter is what it is and the use you will get out of it pertains more or less to the use you get out of Chapter Two. In this chapter you’ll meet angels, mortals gone mad and a living oil rig.

Now we come to the Appendix which is where all the rule changes and revisions for the New World of Darkness can be found. It’s roughly a hundred pages long, which may be intimidating to some of you, especially those of you who already have the old rules memorized (along with probably half a dozen other RPG systems), but the good news is that most of the changes are small subtle ones. It does seem odd and ill-placed to tuck the rule changes in the back of an adventure collection where the rules are totally turned on their head and are far less tangible than they’ve ever been before, but think of it as a bonus. After all, you can get the rules for free in a separate PDF, so it’s not like they’re forcing you to purchase these if all you want to do is play a game of V:TR and you have no intention of ever touching the God Machine. So…a hundred pages of rule changes, revisions and clarifications. Man, how does one begin to cover all of that? We’ll try though by talking about the most important bits.

Character creation is mostly the same. The big thing you’ll see right away is that it doesn’t cost you two dots to purchase a level five Attribute, Skill or Merit. Awesome! I think a lot of people ignored this rule anyway though. Aspirations, Virtues and Vices are now more open ended instead of “pick from a list,” which allows for more creative freedom. They have added two new merits that can be obtained if a Player regularly plays his Virtue over his Vice or well…vice versa (no pun intended). I think this is a great idea and it rewards a player for playing his character instead of going, “Oh I got my Willpower bonus from one, better do the other now.” You’re basically trading a short term disadvantage for a long term bonus via a free two point Merit. I like that. Morality has been replaced by Integrity, which will probably split people down on the middle on whether they like it or not. I see the positive and negative in both although honestly, for most people they are close to the same in terms of real world concepts. What I do like is that Integrity is more akin to the Sanity aspect of other horror games and when you risk losing Integrity you also risk incurring a Breaking Point, which is when your character’s ability to understand and/or rationalize what is going on around them goes out the window along with the winged firebreathing sloth they just saw. Breaking Points replace the concept of Sin in the New World of Darkness which I greatly approve of. Breaking Points are tailored to specific characters and it also gets rid of a lot of the baggage that came with the term “Sin” as well as applying it. I mean, if you’re an unrepentant serial killer are you really going to “sin?” But I digress. Break Points gives both players and Storytellers an excuse/need to really flesh out a PC’s back story and also define what are their trigger stressors. It might be hard to do these at first, especially if you are new to tabletop game, but for those that enjoy the story aspect of role-playing over dice hucking, this is no doubt a welcome change from the old rules.

Experience Points gets a massive overhaul though. Character progression is now more linear and standardized instead of level that you want times X number = how many experience points you need to purchase it. That’s a big change because everything costs far less XP now that it used to. 1XP nets you a dot of a merit, Skill Speciality or Willpower point. 2XP is a dot of a skill. 3XP is a dot of Integrity and 4XP is a dot of an attribute. Crazy cheap, huh? However, this is balanced out by how you earn experience. Basically you now earn “Beats” and five Beats equals ONE Experience Point. You earn a Beat (or “Take a Beat” in actual game terms) in various ways. Through achieving an Aspiration, experiencing a Dramatic Failure, recognizing a specific plot point or having a significant character experience are just a few examples. I was surprised hitting a Breaking Point wasn’t one of the ways listed though. So people are either going to love or hate this. My big problem with the new Experience System is that it may be too nebulous for a lot of people to make work. In the hands of a person that really gets the new rule changes and also knows his players well, this will be quite a good change. In the hands of others though…the potential for this to be a train wreck is pretty obvious to anyone who reads this section.

Merit are given an entire list of what is now in the game. Some Merits are gone but that is because they were found redundant or reworked. Other than that, it’s pretty unchanged. The Sanctity of Merits section is well worth reading though. Flaws are replaced by Conditions though and are less permanent than the original concept. Conditions can go away if the circumstances are right. Longer lasting Conditions are known as Permanent Conditions. They also aren’t necessarily negative (99.99% are though) and unlike Flaws, they can be obtained through simple roleplaying. For example, a Breaking Point can cause a Condition but so can an exceptional success. The Conditions list is far smaller than the Merits one, but there is also a section on designing Conditions for your players and characters so it is more open ended and flexible.

One thing I DON’T care for is the concept of Soul Loss and the mechanics behind it. This is something I feel should be done through role-playing only. The rules and the mechanics are badly defined and there’s no actual description of how one moves from one stage to the next. So basically you have specific rules for each stage but absolutely no rules for how they occur. This is a wasted concept that didn’t need mechanics at all.

A lot of the die roll stuff such as Extended Actions, Dramatic Failures and the like make a lot of sense and honestly aren’t that different from how you’ve probably used the Storyteller system before. Really everything in these sections is just shoring up the slow subtle changes made over the past decade and putting them in one concrete block. The Social Maneuvering section is similar. It’s far more in-depth than in the past with these rules, adding more possibilities and explanations rather than changing how things work. The truth is, most people I know that play WoD games (both old and new) tend to role-play these out rather than roll-play them out, so I was surprised to see how long this section was but also glad to see that it very rarely made mention of dice rolling or specific mechanics.

Combat has some slight changes, but it’s mainly optional rules and expansions of what you already know. I don’t mean to underestimate the changes that are here, but most of it really is intuitive and has slowly been implemented over the last few years anyway. The combat summary chart is well done and helpful to players of all experience levels. Tilts are probably the thing that will be the most new or unheard of those, but that is only because they were introduced in Danse Macabre for Vampire: The Requiem and thus if you only play, say, Forsaken or Mummy, these are probably new to you. Basically Tilts are Combat specific Conditions. They can be either personal (broken arm, temporary blinded) or environmental (sandstorm, blizzard). Again, these are all thing you’ve probably done instinctively or made up rules for on the fly at some point, but it’s nice to have them grouped together in one spot.

For Ghosts and other Ephemeral beings, rules from various (sometimes contradictory) books are combined and unified into one system. There are seventeen pages of rules just for ghosts, spirits, angels and the like, so fans of using or playing ghosts will see their world change the most. To be honest though, with all the rules for Twilight, Wraiths and the like spread across multiple books, this was a long time coming. The book then ends with a collection of new pieces of equipment for characters of all walks of life to use.

All in all the rules changes aren’t huge ones and as always, Storytellers and their troupe of gamers can ignore the changes or stick to the old way of doing things. I’d say the vast majority of edits and replacements are for the better. The problem will be getting people to use and/or remember the changes, especially if they assumed The God Machine Chronicle was just well…God Machine related.

All in all, The God Machine Chronicle is incredible. The basic premise is fantastic and one of the best things to come out of the New World of Darkness. It’s been sitting untouched more or less since what, 2004 and it’s nice to see something come of it. The adventures are fantastic, easily the best collection I think I’ve ever see White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing put out (but then, how often do they actually DO collections instead of individual adventures). I went into this expecting something I could take or leave, and I came away being more impressed by this book than anything else I’ve read since the start of the New World of Darkness save for Mummy. If you’re a fan of either WoD, you really should pick this up as you’ll enjoy the writing even if your friends want nothing to do with playing the adventures or concepts contained herein. Hell, even if you’re not a Storyteller System gamer, any horror games should pick this up and devour it as there is so much to enjoy here. The lessons and stories this book holds can be applied to anything from say, Don’t Look Back to All Flesh Must Be Eaten. The Rules Update isn’t as big a deal as some have made it out to be in either extreme. Story trumps rules after all. I can’t heartily recommend this enough and honestly, between this, Mummy and Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition I haven’t been this excited for the World of Darkness as a whole since the mid 1990s. Just an amazing job in every way and I would love to see another, albeit more fleshed out, adventure collective just like this one in the future.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
World of Darkness: The God-Machine Chronicle
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Monster Focus: Mummies
Publisher: Minotaur Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/23/2013 06:56:39
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/23/tabletop-review-monster-
-focus-mummies-pathfinder/

I love Mummies. From the most recent New World of Darkness setting, Mummy: The Curse, to the occasional antagonist in Call of Cthulhu down to Ankhtepot, a Darklord of Ravenloft, mummies are some fo the coolest and most underutilized undead in tabletop gaming – mainly because most GMs and writers don’t know what to do with them aside from the occasional curse or bad horror motif. Minotaur Games appears to feel the same way as I do as their latest Monster Focus release attempts to breathe new life into Mummies – at least via the Pathfinder setting. Does it succeed? Let’s take a look.

First up – although the PDF is six pages long, one and a half pages are devoted to the cover and the license agreement, knocking the actual content count down to four and a half. It’s not much but it’s more than has been written on Pathfinder or OGL mummies in eons. I can’t say I’m a fan of the art in this piece. It’s better than I personally can do, but it’s not what I’d expect to see in a published professional release, you know?

Unfortunately, Monster Focus: Mummies doesn’t actually do anything to reinvent the wheel. They stick hard and fast to the tropes of fantasy gaming mummies that we’ve seen since early Dungeons & Dragons. So for those of you looking perhaps to have a more historically accurate mummy in your Pathfinder game or at least one that doesn’t curse PCs and wither them via Mummy Rot, you won’t find it here. What you will find are odds and ends to beef up your PCs AGAINST mummy antagonists as well as vice versa. I applaud the latter but jeer the former. Like we need even more ways for PCs to have a specific advantage over a niche creature. This supplement includes the following:

•A DC for Knowledge (Religion) check and what a PC might know about the bandaged dead.


•Four new feats – none of which are that exciting. One adds to a slam attack (which most Mummies don’t use anyway). Another gives Curse Resistance, which is better suited to PCs than Mummies (who cast curses) and something I dislike seeing. Why give a PC a specific feat that is only useful against Mummies and Vistani really? This is space that could have been used to make the Mummy more interesting rather than limit its threat and mystique when PCs encounter it. A third increases the intensity of Mummy Rot (which has been done before as far back as Third Edition D&D) and the other is Ward Off, which allows you to repel someone ala Turn Undead (fleeing rather than destroying). This last one again doesn’t make sense to have in a book for mummies and it also dilutes the Cleric’s trademark ability, which is a red flag and shouldn’t have been included. Nothing especially interesting or even good here.


•Five Alchemical Items. These are more interesting and really well done – especially in comparison to the Feats. Embalming Oil is a nice touch, as are Sacred Salts. Flaming Oil already existed so it was not needed here and although I’ve seen variants of the Censer and Incense, the write-ups are well done and will be useful to those who haven’t seen similar pieces in other supplements.


• Five new Spells. These are all quite interesting. Curse Charm is a Level 2 spell to give a PC a second roll when making a Saving Throw vs Curses. Again, not something I wanted to see as Curses are so rarely used as it is and it’s again a way to make PCs resist one of the few things that makes Mummies “special” in fantasy hack and slash gaming. It’s also lower leveled than I would like to see. I’d make it third level as an alternative to Remove Curse or a replacement for it altogether. Mummify is just weird and the name doesn’t fit the spell. It basically causes a long bandage to grapple and somehow dehydrate it chosen enemy. Sandblast is the most balanced spell of the lot, giving the caste an unexpected ranged attack that players (and NPCs) probably won’t expect. Since it does damage, blinding and pushes an enemy back with a failed save, I’d bump it up from a 2nd level spell to a 3rd level one. Scarab Swarm is Summon Swarm but with beetles and Wall of Sand is interesting and it basically an alternative to Wall of Wind. Thumbs in the middle here.


•Four new Magic Items – none of which are very interesting. Canopic Jars aren’t actually well, Canopic Jars as they are meant to be, but a portable Summon Swarm spell. Meh. There are already multiple cat versions of Figurines of Wondrous Power, so we didn’t really need a Basalt Cat as well. Mummy Charm is yet another thing in this PDF to give PCs crazy bonuses against curses and mummy rot so I shake my head at that. It also makes no sense why a there would be group from the time of mummies that would make something to inhibit their power. You didn’t see the Norse making Anti-Odin devices or Celts coming up with anti-Jesus devices. Finally we have the Scepter of the Ancients which…is a +1 Club that uses the Wall of Sand spell. I do at least like the Scepter’s ability to create a sand version of Ice Storm though. That shows some imagination.


•Three different traps for a Mummy’s tomb! Okay, I loved this. New traps are always fun and having some Mummy-centric ones is a great idea. All three definitely feel like they were ripped straight from a 1940s Universal horror film. One buries the PC alive in crushing sand. Another fills a room with flesh eating scarabs and the third are mechanics for the usual Mummy’s Curse regarding taking objects from a tomb.


•Three mummy variants. The ideas aren’t my cup of tea, but honestly, variants are really what the mummy needs (especially in Pathfinder) but these well…aren’t them. There’s not enough detail and the ideas simply aren’t very good. The Decrepit Mummy is simply a much weaker mummy. Yawn. The Mummy Priest is a weird throwback to AD&D 2nd Edition where it doesn’t actually have priest levels but a few spells. Unfortunately the OGL has had a true Mummy Priest variant since Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Just given a Mummy Priest levels ala Ravenloft. The last is the Shifting Mummy which is simply a Mummy that can turn into something else, say a swarm of scarabs. This too has been done before and could simply be done through a spell, so this isn’t really a variant, but a Spell Like Ability or something that would have been better off as a Feat.


•Three Adventure Threads. None of these are really out of the ordinary as they stick pretty close to the tropes Mummies have in a D&D style fantasy game. One involves a stolen artifact from a Mummy’s tomb and the curse it brings. Another has artifacts being stolen from various homes that turn out to be originally plundered from a Mummy’s tomb, so pretty close to the first seed. The final has a horde of mummies attacking a town for reasons that actually make sense to them instead of for EEEEVIL deeds. Now, playing to the classical mummy adventure is neither bad nor good. Sometimes the classics are classics for a reason. All three of these would make perfectly fine adventures, especially for younger gamers or those less familiar with mummies and/or role-playing. For those looking for something outside the box though, you won’t find it here.

All in all, this isn’t a bad PDF, but it’s not necessarily a good one either. There are some really fun ideas mixed in with really bad ones and so overall I’d call it an okay PDF. The problem is those who enjoy mummies in their OGL style system have probably found similar but better options and variants already. I think with more space to flesh out ideas and more of a focus on the monster rather than the PCs (especially in a series called Monster Focus), this would have potential. For now most mummy fans won’t find anything especially compelling in this piece to pick it up and most non-mummy fans won’t care enough to get it anyway.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Focus: Mummies
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Ultimate Roman Legions Guide (Legend)
Publisher: Mystical Throne Entertainment
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2013 06:39:31
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/22/tabletop-review-ultimat-
e-roman-legions-guide-legend/

This sourcebook is an historical compendium of information on the famous Roman armies during the height of their military power, roughly 30 BCE to about 290 CE. This version of the book is for Legend, a fantasy role=playing game from Mongoose Publishing based on RuneQuest. I am not familiar with Legend, but I thought I would take a look at this book anyway and see what it had to offer.

The Might of the Legions

While I have studied the Roman Empire in its later periods, I don’t know a lot about the age of military might and expansion that this volume covers. This is perhaps the period Rome is most famous for though, and the book seems to be pretty comprehensive and written from an authoritative and knowledgeable position. It starts off with a bit of flavor, a few pages of story to give the reader a feeling for the period and attitudes of the army. After some historical information, the book drops a list of gear consisting of weapons, armor, and siege weapons. Following that, details about the structure of the legion from ranks to unit organization are laid out with their Latin terms and meanings, along with a listing of known standing legions from the time.

Next up is an interesting and concise tactical guide detailing how the units would be arranged on the battlefield and their basic tactics. This sections has some nice diagrams letting the reader know how things were expected to progress, and what the physical arrangement might typically be when facing armies such as the Germanic tribes. A short section on life in the Roman legions gives the reader insight into what the typical soldier did and how they were seen in society. Along with these tidbits are sections on the structure of the transportation infrastructure, the menagerie of people that made up or followed the army around, political uses of the army, and then information on various emperors during the time period this book covers.



Playing Centurion

The last twenty or so pages of the book get to some stats, characters, and adventure seeds. This is the only portion of the book that is not purely historical information. You get a big list of character professions, some pre-generated characters, and some statted-out NPCs. After that, you have two adventures sketched out in a nice format, with names of pertinent people, the plot, etc. The first one involves investigating a senator for occult behavior,and the second one is a scouting mission where the players may have to make some tough moral choices when they contact barbarian tribes.

This is a well-presented volume and has a lot of concise information about the Roman armies during this period. The material is quite dry and has a textbook feel, but it does deliver the facts. There are full-page illustrations interspersed throughout, and there are some nice visual aids which are nice and colorful to appeal to people like me (I suppose). I think any game master looking to run a game or campaign in Roman times would find this quite useful and especially folks who may not be familiar with this historical period may enjoy the overview given of the troops, emperors, and major battles that occurred. This book does seem to focus on the conflicts with the Germanic tribes and seems to wholly ignore other forces that Rome’s legions faced such as the Sassanids, but this is not a definitive historical tome, it’s a game book. If you’re looking for a quick but thorough reference for your Roman history needs, this seems like a great book to pick up. It’s pretty cheap, and it can help you add authentic flavor to your game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Roman Legions Guide (Legend)
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Autorun -Generic Cyber-Hacking for D20 Modern
Publisher: Skortched Urf' Studios
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/20/2013 06:50:05
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/20/tabletop-review-autorun-
-generic-cyber-hacking-for-d20-modern/

I have a confession to make: I don’t play enough cyberpunk games. Still, I am familiar with the whole issue of one player (the “decker” generally) entering the realm of cyberspace while the rest of the party does something else. Split the party, split the game master’s attention, make it easier to lose track of stuff. Got it, I see the problem. What Autorun is trying to do is to help solve or minimize the issues that this causes at the table, by essentially introducing a mini-game that the decker(s) can play while everyone else is doing their stuff they need to do.

Plug In

The introductory material for this sourcebook indicates that it can be used with systems like D20 Modern or Pathfinder (Pathfinder…?), but of course, it can be hacked to work with anything. The only real stats have to do with the various anti-hacker programs and decker equipment that use Difficulty Class (“DC”), the rest is just conceptual. The book also makes some presumptions, like that I would be playing a game where players wait for turns, that I would be using tactical maps or battle mats, and it generally assumes a sort of typical Pathfinder play experience.

Setting up a hacking event with Autorun is pretty easy, there’s a one-page 8.5×11 hex map to print out that represents the virtual space. After that gets put out, some sort of marker is physically thrown onto the map to represent “code walls”, spaces the hacker can’t pass through. Then, depending on how strong the computer security is, a number of programs are placed on the Goal space of the mat, and the hacker is placed on the Home space on the other end. Basically, the hacker has to get through the code walls and malicious programs to reach the Goal space.

Ride the Wave of Computer Use Checks

When a hacker is trying to gain entry to the virtual space, and when the hacker wants to do various things inside the space like kill, evade, or subvert programs, he or she is going to need to make lots of checks against Computer Use, or whatever skill is analogous to that in the game that is being played. Programs move automatically toward the hacker in the most direct possible way, so he or she will likely end up having to tangle with them. The book provides lots of possible programs to run against the hacker, from the lowly and weak Basic Gremlin to the Dracula program; each one takes up a certain amount of slots, which are the available space of the computer system to host programs. When the player has programs in a hex next to them, they are going to suffer damage. This sounds a bit arbitrary to me, but whatever. As mentioned, players can try to either kill, subvert (so that the program attacks other programs), or evade the programs around them. Each time, they will need to roll Computer Use.

Once a hacker reaches the Goal space, that’s it! Balloons fall from the ceiling, prizes are won and the hacker achieves whatever they were trying to do inside the system.

Autorun seems geared toward a certain play style, but I think it’s definitely a neat idea. It’s certainly a quick, tactical game within a game. It has shortcomings, like the fact that it’s very two-dimensional when a lot of the cyberpunk fiction we read talks about flying in virtual space or doing other crazy stunts (like things we see in The Matrix). The hacker is more like a running-back trying to score a touchdown than a traveler of the virtual world or a distinct presence and personality in the realm of cyberspace. Speaking of distinct presence, one of the cool aspects about it is that you can (and are encouraged to) use figurines to represent your avatar, so your virtual representation can be any awesome figure you have lying around. I like that.

My nigglings are a bit beside the point, since the book is meant to simulate a specific function: the decker hacking a computer system for a specific goal. It might also be fun to use the cyber-map when playing out encounters in virtual space, like the Black Sun club in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The author offers several twists and optional rules for the mini-game as well, such as additional obstacles, bigger maps, or Sys-Admins who take you on personally. There are also lists of gear, hacker abilities, and decks. All in all, a good supplement with lots of neat ideas and a nice full-color board you can print out for play.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Autorun -Generic Cyber-Hacking for D20 Modern
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The Giant - A Dungeon World Playbook
Publisher: Adrian Thoen
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2013 05:51:43
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/17/tabletop-review-the-gia-
nt-a-dungeon-world-playbook/

DHGF: I recently played Dungeon World, a fantasy re-skin of Apocalypse World by Vincent Baker. There are some things I like about it, but I have to say it does feel a bit like 4th ed. Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe it was the scenario we played. The idea of “playbooks” is cool, as it makes character generation a breeze, and playing the game with a playbook in front of you makes it easy for you to access your moves and see what’s possible. In this review, I’m looking at a playbook for a giant. Not an “official” one, but a fan-made one.

Physical Characteristics

In general, the Giant is just like other characters – no big bonuses to strength or anything you might expect (there’s an explanation for this: the strength stat represents the Giant’s control over his might). However, there is a side effect to Giant strength: your “Larger Than Life” move gives you two successes AND two consequences when you succeed in it. So what can end up happening is you smash something and send something else across the room, but at the same time you can hurt somebody you didn’t mean to, and maybe even hurt yourself.

You can choose how big of a giant you are, and you can also choose your natural heritage. Essentially you can be at home among the forest, the hills, the snowy mountains, or you can be a bridge troll. Yep, somehow one of the Giant heritages can be of a bridge troll. With your heritage you get some special abilities that are magical in nature. For instance, as a “Jotun” you can freeze water and cool fire; as a “Treekin” you can make plants grow immediately to a huge size.

When You Grow Up

Your main move is the aforementioned “Larger Than Life”, but you’ve also got starting moves with magic, camouflage, eating, and throwing stuff. Advanced moves include “Gentle”, which can take consequences off of your “Larger Than Life” move; moves related to controlling your pet (there are pets?); “Mixed Heritage” allows you to choose another of the four heritages; you can even get “Colossus” that allows you to possibly smash a building when you succeed in your “Larger Than Life” roll. A lot of these advanced moves are really cool and powerful!

So, would I want to play the Giant? Absolutely. I don’t know about a dungeon crawl, but if there is going to be a lot of outdoor activity I would definitely like to use this playbook. This would be a great one to keep around for a cameo appearance every so often by the token Giant character. I mean, if one player is always a Giant the party might get a little overpowered, so I think pulling it out every so often makes more sense.

This is a good playbook, it’s thoughtful and has lots of influence from myths, legend, and standard fantasy. The Giant has the chance to be overpowered, but his or her main move is counterbalanced by the addition of consequences for everything the Giant does. I worry a bit about the “Gentle” advanced move which can completely remove the consequences from “Larger Than Life”, which in my view possibly makes the Giant lose its gameplay balance. I can see a player angling for that move and then just going nuts. Still, I think this playbook is well done and can provide a lot of fun at your table. The $2.50 price point seems a bit high, but if you’re not worried about cash then check it out!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Giant - A Dungeon World Playbook
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Hobb Sized Adventures!
Publisher: Rarr! I'm A Monster Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2013 05:48:17
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/16/tabletop-review-hobb-si-
zed-adventures-tunnels-trolls-7-5/


Being a big fan of solo adventures, I seized the opportunity to review this set of six adventures, all of them very short. Designed for use with Tunnels & Trolls 7.5, which I actually am not very familiar with, these adventures range from the slightly serious to the overtly silly. I’d say all of them could be played in less than twenty minutes (twenty minutes each, I mean). Did I enjoy them? Let’s go through each adventure and I’ll give my thoughts.

Tomb of the Toad

This is a very short adventure, probably doable in five minutes. You are chased into an old, slimy tomb, and you may or may not run into its primary inhabitant for a boss fight. You have a few rooms to explore, but you’re pretty much railroaded into either meeting the big guy or running away. The linear nature didn’t really bother me, it was kind of fun just to have an adventure that felt like a small slice of a larger adventure. What is also really nice is that the adventure is narratively bookended by the main character (you) being chased by a big, nasty monster, so there is this feeling of continuity that is intriguing (as opposed to the standard adventure ending of “You Win! The End”).

Duck Soup

This is one of the sillier ones. An old woman harasses you into going and getting a “duck” from the pond for dinner. This one I enjoyed the least, since it involved wandering around a pointless and unnecessary maze-like edge of some village, retreading the few entries again and again until I somehow hit the right road to the pond. There are a few humorous twists that I appreciated though, and the in-game humour written into the characters of the story was also really fun.

The Challenge of the King

Oh sweet Xenu, this one was pretty funny. Damn annoying, but funny. You have been randomly chosen to be wed to the King’s “daughter” (notice now two subjects of the story in quotes?), but first you must pass his test. This involves being pushed through a portal into a strange series of rooms entered and left by other portals. Inside each room is a nasty surprise like a monster or trap but also treasure. Fun for the whole family, really. Several endings are “happy,” and some are actually happy. This adventure is notable for its extensive use of tables and randomness.

Tower in the Marsh

This enigmatic adventure is a bit more sober, beginning with an adventurer finding a strange tower. Again, the adventurer is being chased by some nameless monster and must get inside. Inside, there are some creeps and scares, and some strange goings-on. One way or another, you’ll find your way out (possibly into another story). I liked this one, the tower had an air of mystery around it that I enjoyed and that made me want to explore more. The endings were funny and/or as wistful and mysterious as the rest of the adventure. Again, feeling like I had just played a few minutes in an adventurer’s shoes was cool.

The Harvest of Souls

This is a horror-themed adventure about being persuaded by a frightened farmer to go and confront an evil pumpkin-gourd-vine demon that lives in the pumpkin patch. Another of the more serious adventures, this one can take some time to read since a lot of the entries are quite long and full of dialogue and narrative. I found it to be less snappy and interesting than the others, essentially consisting of combat and another maze to stumble through. A bit like playing through a short young adult story a la Goosebumps or something.

Beware, the Viper!

This is perhaps the shortest adventure of the bunch, and probably the silliest. I won’t ruin the punchline for you, but in this context I thought it was pretty funny. I can just imagine Steve Jackson or Ian Livingstone turning the concept into a whole 400-entry book and at the last paragraph…the joke. Ah, I would die.

Overall, I found this to be a fun exercise in solo adventuring. The author has done a good job with different takes on short solo adventures, using different techniques in each one for various effects. The silliness and jokes are generally well-done, and in the end the stories feel like tales that villagers tell each other around a campfire or in the tavern. The adventures have recurring characters and places, and it starts to feel like a little world-building has gone on here. It’s nice.

I dunno, I feel like I should deride these adventures for being anti-grandiose but I really like them. They feel very “slice of life” to me and not stressful or overwhelming. The production value isn’t bad (it’s not great), and the propensity to substitute “to” for “two” is a bit unsettling, but there were no glaring errors that ruined the play of the adventures, and I think that’s what really matters here. For under four bucks, I think they are definitely worth a read and a laugh. Play through them when you have a few minutes, bring them on a plane or bus ride, whatever. I should also mention the artwork by a Jon Towers, which adorns the cover, but I think just clipart was used for the images in the adventures. If you like this book and want more adventures, check out the website at Hobb-Sized Adventures. I enjoy and endorse this style of adventure, and I hope to see more of them in the future.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hobb Sized Adventures!
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Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2013 05:44:21
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/15/tabletop-review-hideous-
-creatures-deep-ones-trail-of-cthulhu/

I’m not really a big Trail of Cthulhu fan, preferring Call, Age, Shadows, Realms, CthulhuTech, and even the late lamented Chill over it. Still, sometimes Pelgrane puts out a piece for it that intrigues me enough to pick it up. In this case, it was Ken Hite’s Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones, a way to spice up everyone’s favorite fish people and keep Keepers from rehashing the same old plot. If you’ve read my Call of Cthulhu reviews, you’ve no doubt noticed my annoyance with many a collection that uses Deep Ones in an adventure only to have the story be a retread of The Shadow Over Innsmouth or “Oh no! Character X is actually a Deep One hybrid!” Perhaps the worst of these was Arkham Case Files: Deep Morgue which shows how badly Deep Ones are used these days. So I was quite curious to see Ken’s ideas and if they had universal application.

Well this piece is a mixed one. I thoroughly agree with him that, “Almost a century after he wrote, his own monstrous races have likewise begun to seem like comfortable story furniture rather than unnerving signals that the world is horrible and wrong.” But the quality of Ken’s own ideas are hit or miss at best and some are pretty much just rehashes of each other, meaning there wasn’t enough actual content to fill the full ten pages or this is indicative of a larger problem – that Cthulhu tabletop games need some fresh blood.

I do love that the very first page of Hideous Creatures implores you to change anything and everything about it. The piece is very humble that these ideas are not the be all and end all of creativity, nor is it a blanket savior for this Lovecraft penned race. It’s merely stuff thrown against a wall and Keepers get to decide what sticks. I like that.

At first I was a little weirded out by his idea of making Deep Ones dolphin or whale based because those are mammals and Deep Ones are fish. I first read this late at night and was like, “Does the dude not know his taxonomy?” Then when I read it with fresh eyes the next morning, I liked the ideas a lot better. A change like that is still thematically correct because it’s a half man/half aquatic creature and it will thrown off long time jaded Cthulhu gamers. As well, for those gamers that nitpick every bit of Science Fiction or horror, a mammal/mammal hybrid makes more sense than a mammal/fish. He also includes some ideas like turtles and alligators as possible Deep Ones variants. I’m surprised he didn’t try for strange and unusual fish types those. Imagine an Anglerfish Deep One, or even a Dunkleosteus. I think more people would have been receptive to fish variants than going from fish to mammal or reptile.

There’s also a section giving varying reasons that may be why Deep Ones interact and breed with human. Again, none of these ideas are given more weight than any other and it’s up to the Keeper to decide if he likes one, wants to combine several, or thinks they are all stupid. There is a similar section for back story and race history for Keepers who want to flesh the race out a little more and try and understand the motivation behind why Deep Ones do what they do. Again, the ideas are hit or miss. It’s definitely a piece that promotes a quantity of ideas, but not at the sake of quality. It’s just no two people are going to look at a list of possible ideas and rank them all in the same exact order from best to worst.

The only Trail of Cthulhu specific aspects of the piece are the stat builds, the list of optional powers to give Deep Ones for that system, and clues that can be garnered via various skills that players may possess. A good Keeper can easily convert these ideas to their own system of choice however.

The only part I was disappointed with was the “Mythic Echoes,” which is sad because it was the section I was most interested in as a folklorist myself. I loved that the piece gives eight different fish style people from legend and tries to blend them with the Deep Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s a great idea I’ve seen done elsewhere and it’s something I myself have used in games. The problem is that the descriptions of many of the folklore creatures are incomplete at best and outright erroneous at worst. It’s decent enough that the average gamer, who up until know was unaware of these mythological creatures, will find what’s written here interesting and something to run with, but the more mythological oriented gamer will either nitpick or become annoyed with the lack of quality here. Personally, I think it’s about as good a job as one could do if you had to fill a page with eight different myths from around the world while using a larger than normal font and you only had a few minutes and Google to help you out. Could it have been better? DEFINITELY. Is it good enough for government work or a little primer on how to freshen up a stale gaming trope? Sure it is.

The piece ends with four story seeds that are, again, hit or miss. “The Shadow over Dunwich” was interesting but it really should have named the town something other than a familiar Lovecraft location. It’s NOT the Dunwich of New England and the retreading of the town’s name like that is somewhat ironic considering this is meant to be a primer for looking at something else penned by Lovecraft with fresh eyes instead of going to the well again. “1939 Goes Down in History” is interesting in theory but it will take a Keeper a lot of time and energy to fully flesh this seed out. “Night of the Living Fossil” is another good idea, but I think it would have benefitted from being a fully fleshed out adventure as many there are so many plot lines that some Keepers will turn this into a train wreck rather than an enjoyable or memorable affair. “Down and Out in Marine Land” is just…not good. Let’s leave it at that.

All in all, Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones is neither a success nor a failure. It’s a good starting point for Cthulhu gamers from all systems to come together and really start to get creative with their adventure ideas instead of relying on the same old underpinnings and plot points. Mileage will vary on what you take away from this piece because of who you are, how you game and most importantly, how you view the Deep One race. I can’t say there is anything here that is new to me or that opened my eyes, but less experienced Cthulhu gamers might view this as a breath of fresh air. I think this could have been even better with more content and it had not been part of a new monthly subscription piece. Time and space constraints really limited what this COULD have been.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones
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License to Summon
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2013 07:21:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/09/tabletop-review-the-lau-
ndry-license-to-summon/

This book is a supplement for The Laundry, a role-playing game about a top secret British governmental organization that deals with the paranormal and the occult. Since this book is mainly a reference for magic, the review will not be as in-depth.

So uh…What do you want to cast?

The first section of the book deals with “computational demonology”, which is basically the department term for spell-casting. Sometimes spells are cast with old-fashioned chanting and ritual etc., but sometimes all you need is an app on your mobile device and a few accessories. This section is very thorough, going through all of these different types of magic and adding a few spells in each one. For instance, you have “entropy manipulation” which can be used to control physics like light and unstable particles; Gates for movement between dimensions; Prognostication and Scrying; and of course summoning. These are just a few examples of magic types described in this chapter. Each type of magic details how it is used, who has access to it, some spells, and mechanisms governing in-game use. In addition, there are sub-headings covering magic used in the traditional way, through macros, mass-produced spells, and just every way in which magic might end up in the mind and hands of a potential sorcerer.



The next section is really fun, it’s about gadgets. I got a distinct feeling of reading through some Paranoia manual or something with all the strange and humorous (yet well-rationalized) pieces of equipment available to Laundry agents. Right off the bat you have your Anti-Zombie Spray, which creates a line that zombies will not cross or which can be used to simply spray them in the face. You also have a “Miscalculator” which disrupts the use of magic nearby, since magic (and reality) is highly dependent on very precise mathematics. Want something really useful? You might need “Sans-Sans-Serif”, a font that has been engineered to be especially conducive to magical energies. Ahem, I quote: “…digital spells written in sans-sans-serif will be more powerful…” Occult departments in other nations may have items that are more traditional and less engineered. For instance, the Russians may have Rasputin’s Tea, and the Chinese a Fire Vampire Grenade. Yes, a Fire Vampire Grenade, which essentially summons a fire vampire on the spot where it lands. I don’t think I could make half of these up if I were given a room of highly imaginative children and a crate of Jolt.

Dreamers and Psychics

Bookending a chapter on grimoires are chapters on two entities existing in the world of The Laundry: “The Morpheo” and psychics. The Morpheo are a special division of the department that carries out missions in the Dreamlands(!). I think this is really awesome and only opens up the already crazy world of the game to the even crazier possibility of adventuring within that paranormal realm. The chapter on psychics is as you might expect, you’ve got ones that can read the future, kinetics, aura sensors, mind readers, and the like. A short chapter, but since a psychic is a pretty familiar idea to people, I am not surprised that it didn’t take pages to expound on it.



Some other sections talk about magical research and the dangers that those who use magic may be subject to. The first is called “Faustian Research” and, as the name may imply, is about making contact with anything from demons to Great Old Ones in an effort to gain some understanding or eldritch technology. Needless to say, consorting with the extra-dimensional is a tricky business. The second section on magical dangers discusses “Thaumic Resonance”, the idea that magic leaves a sort of residual radiation on those who are exposed to it, and if it builds up in your system it can really make some weird (and dangerous) stuff start to happen. One of the great things about this chapter is the scale of “Resonance Poisoning”; basically what happens to someone who has been exposed to magic in non-insubstantial amounts. It might start with animals acting strangely around you at level one, and at level five you might experience a gate opening when you get agitated.

An Adventure and then Thoughts

At the end of this book there is an adventure, “Case Goblin Willow”, that is about the fascinating topic of stealing ideas from the dead. Yet another wonderful moment of reading in this book when I pondered how insane yet totally rational the idea sounds in the context of this game world. Undead are no big deal where Laundry is concerned, they use zombies for filing. When someone disturbs the graveyard of one of the Laundry’s key burial sites containing the bodies of several powerful wizards, they know that a corpse or a soul can be contacted for department secrets and alarm bells go a-ringing.

Overall, this book expands on magic in many excellent ways: spells, explanations, magic items, magic organizations, and magic effects are all laid out thoroughly and in a most entertaining fashion. There are some typos about, either translated letters or in one case a footnote number that had not been put in superscript. Nothing major, and the layout and art are all top-notch. If you are a fan of The Laundry I would definitely recommend this book because it just fleshes out the magic in a really nice way. Beware though, the tone of this book leans toward the absurd, and while I found the humorous possibilities well worth considering when I imagined characters requisitioning some of the items, I could see where a more serious table would think a lot of the items were just fluff.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
License to Summon
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Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2013 09:21:50
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/02/tabletop-review-codex-c-
eltarum-castles-crusades/

I’m always happy to see new Castles & Crusades books come out, as it’s my favorite OSR system. I’ve also really been enjoying their Celt influenced line of products like The Goblins of Mount Shadow and The Crimson Pact, so I was really looking forward to the Codex Celtarum. especially after how successful the Kickstarter for this book was.

The Codex Celtarum contains a little bit of everything you could want for a Celtic-influenced campaign. I should point out that the Celtarum is not a source book for 100% accurate real world Celtic mythology, folklore and culture. It’s an adaptatiom of Celtic culture for the Castles & Crusades setting. There had to be some give and take which the author, who has a Masters in Arthurian Studies realized full well. The end result is one that should please fans of Celtic myth and role players used to generic high fantasy settings alike. The Codex Celtarum is something that every Castles & Crusades fan should be able to enjoy and appreciate, even if they don’t actually use it in their game.

There are eight sections in the book (Not counting the prologue). They are as follows:

1. Once Upon a Time – this covers the World creation and general overall mythology of the setting. The author has done his best to strip away the Christian influence of these beliefs and stories, which is not an easy task mind you, considering how intertwined they have been for the last two thousand years. He does a great job though and you get a more “pure” look at the Celtic world for a purely high fantasy setting that doesn’t have the same religious trappings as our own. You get a nice look at various races, historical events like the Darkwars and so on, along with the snap shot of how the world is in present day. By that I mean the game world’s present day, not our own.

2. In Lands Far Away – This is a general historical chapter. Here you see things like the Two Cauldrons (Night & Day), the Twelve Houses (families of Gods), information on Faerie portals and how time differs in their world, and locations that players will visit and/or travel to in their adventurers. This is the primary geographical explanation of the world and the races/people who inhabit the specific islands and regions talked about. It would have been nice to have a few maps (or even one!) in this chapter so that DMs could better visualize the locations, but since so much of it involved the Fae’s world, that is probably easier said than done.

3. There Lived a People – this chapter gives you stats for various Faerie races and monsters you will encounter while playing in this setting. It also gives some charts of Fae weaknesses, traits and typical punishments they hand out. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that this chapter didn’t include rules for playing some of these unique creatures as a PC, but it is what it is. The chapter ends with a history of Welsh Giants and gives out their specific locations, which is kind of neat but perhaps a wee bit too specific for the average DM.

4. Great of Magic and Power – The world of Faerie is exceptionally magical, with everything from a blade of grass to a steel sword containing some measure of magic power. Now whether said items retains its magic outside of the land of Faerie is another story. This chapter explains the different between a Fae’s spell-like abilities ad actual spells themselves, along with the mechanics and rules for both. As Castles & Crusades is a rules-light system, you don’t have to worry about memorizing too much. You get lots of charts to help with making NPC Fae on the fly. You can choose from general charts, or ones geared towards a specific race. You also get lists of new Cleric, Druid and Illusionist spells. As you can probably surmise, the bulk of spells in this chapter are Druidic ones.

5. Strong of Feats and Deeds – This chapter gives you information about Celtic warfare and reasons for it. I love that the book has an entire section on magical tattoos and body paint, for example. This thing is so highly detailed, you can’t help but be impressed. There is a list of twenty Feats that characters can learn. But these aren’t exactly what you think of from 3E D&D or Pathfinder. These Feats are learned in-game, by role-playing rather than leveling up. It’s a very interesting way of implementing them, and although I really like the idea of earning something through role-playing, some gamers might be too used to gaining things through leveling up to enjoy this.

6. With Great Gods and Lords – This chapter is all about the deities of the Celtic world. You don’t get any stats here, which is a smart thing because otherwise you’d have some power gamers running around trying to kill gods. You are told the relationship between the Gods and both Clerics and Druids. There is a distinction, after all.

7. Who have Mighty Names and Feats – this is the closest the Codex Celtarum comes to being mechanics heavy. This chapter is primarily for the Castle Keeper (DM), but PCs should read it too as it has some good role-playing commentary. The chapter primarily frames character classes in a Celtic lens. It points out the hardship of making a Monk, Cleric or Paladin work in a Celtic/Fairie world, which is interesting. You also get some new Classes, which is what I was most interested in. There is the Woodwose clan, which are the “savage” men of the wilderness, who are also known as Wildmen. Wildmen are a bit of a Ranger/Rogue/Druid mashup with abilities like Know Poisons, Forestwise and Sylvan Leap. These are some powerful abilities and with d8 Hit Points, the ability to use any weapons or armor and very low XP thresholds to level up, the Woodwose is a bit overpowered in my opinion.

Another class is the Wolf Charmer, which is kind of a Bard/Ranger hybrid. A Wolf Charmer is a dual class only profession and only of a neutral or evil alignment. Basically they can summon and control wolves and then at 5th level, lycanthropes as well. Holy crap, now that’s overpowered. My only real complaint about the book is that the two new classes are unbalanced, and that some tweaking should have been done here. The rest of the chapter is about adventure seeds and Celtic sounding naes so your character will better fit with the setting.

8. Items, Enchanted and Divine – the last chapter in the Codex Celtarum is all about magical items, with special attention paid to the concept of Faerie metal. Forsome reason though, the chapter also includes the language and history of Druids as well as information of societies. I’m not sure why these bits got shoehorned here as they absolutely should have been in chapters two or three. Their inclusion at the end just really destroys the flow of the book. Last I checked, things like Holidays and Customs are not “Items, Enchanted and Divine,” you know?

Aside from a few minor quibbles, the Codex Celtarum is simply an amazing book. It’s not just one of the best Castles & Crusades sourcebooks ever, but it’s something that ANY fantasy game setting can pick up and use/adapt, especially if they are looking for a Celtic flair for their homebrew world and stories. There is so little in the way of mechanics, that you won’t ever have to do that much converting, especially if you already use an OSR system. As usual, the new Celtic content line for Castles & Crusades continues to impress.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum
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Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2013 07:00:46
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/03/18/tabletop-review-werewol-
f-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition-world-of-darkness/-


I’ll admit, Werewolf was not my go-to game back in the 1990s. Storyteller-wise I preferred it to Wraith and Changeling, but I didn’t like it as much as either Vampire or Mage. Part of it was I found it a bit too depressing and on the nose regarding how badly humanity has screwed up the planet or allowed corporations to run wild in such a manner that Teddy Roosevelt would have had a conniption fit had he been alive to see it. It also didn’t help that I and other gamers that I knew were more interested in playing Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, V:TM, Chill, D&D and more. Werewolf: The Apocalypse became a franchise I read but rarely got to play, although I have a small collection of First Edition books still in my possession. Rage had the same problem. I knew a whopping one other person interested in trying it. At the time Mythos, Magic, Illuminati, Jyhad, and even the Monty Python and the Holy Grail card game had a bigger audience. Poor Werewolf. I wanted to do so much with it, but I ended up mainly using them as NPCs in other White Wolf games. Chief of which was The Hunter In Darkness, who was a pure breed Black Spiral Dancer metis who ended up being “saved” as a cub by our coterie of Kindred before he could be embraced by the Wyrm… which led to a lot of Garou incursions on our fair city trying to rescue what appeared to be the last of the White Howlers from minions of the Wyrm. However, twenty one years later we have the internet. You can play by email, play by post and even play Skype based games for any system under the sun. So you’re not stuck only playing the RPGs those in your local vicinity that share your interest want to play. Perhaps if the Internet had been more widespread in the early 90s, I’d have had a chance to really immerse myself in Werewolf.

So of course, when Onyx Path and White Wolf did their Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter, I was more than happy to take part. I couldn’t bring myself to spend over $100 for a book I’d probably never use though, but I was more than willing to purchase the PDF version. It would take up less room and there would be no chance of my rabbits eating the cover (like my poor Shadows of Esteren game). Now I’ll admit I did this foolishly, as I haven’t been all that happy with the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition releases. The core rulebook was gorgeous, but I hated the hanging on to 3rd Edition crap that drove so many from the game in the first place, along with the terrible new rules for Potence, Celerity, Fortitude and Necromancy. The 20th Anniversary Companion was horrible in a lot of ways, was on our short list for one of the worst releases of 2012 and it still seems to remain a sore spot with many of those that backed it. Children of the Revolution was a step up, but still mediocre, while Dust to Dust was probably the best overall release for the relaunch so far. Still, White Wolf seemed to learn from their mistakes with each passing Kickstarter and Mummy: The Curse is currently my frontrunner for the best release of 2013 so far.

Thankfully, W20 (the abbreviation for the very long name this book has) turned out to be exceptional, making White Wolf two for four on their Kickstarter campaigns (to me anyway). W20 far surpassed my expectations, and even blew away V20 in pretty much all respects, except maybe art. Now, there are some definite errors in the book in terms of spelling, grammar, formatting, rules and the like, but the PDF I have here is NOT the final draft, so I’m not going to nitpick these minor issues which have already been pointed out to White Wolf and OPP by the other 2,000+ backers that got their PDF early. Now, if they don’t get fixed, or there is some major edit that truly changes a good portion of the book, I’ll follow that up with an Addendum review, but for now, I’ll say that I’m extremely happy with what’s here, as is fellow staffer Mark B. and the few other people I knew that backed this piece of nostalgia. Now let’s talk about what you get when you inevitably return to the Classic World of Darkness.

First of all, Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is massive, and clocks in at 555 pages (including covers). That is one big core rulebook, and over two dozen pages bigger than V20, although those extra pages are pretty much a comic book, which I happened to love, but I can see some people wishing they had been allocated to stats and mechanics instead. So expect to spend a lot of time just reading this thing. The good news is that W20 covers just about everything you could possibly want, from in-depth information on each of the thirteen tribes, all of the other wereraces Werewolf has ever introduced, including the three lost tribes of Garou, a ton of background information on the setting, numerous enemies, and a lot of extremely gory art, both new and going back to the very first edition of the game. While the Old World of Darkness was synonymous with putting out tons of books at a rapid rate, W20 is really the only book you’re ever going to need to run a game of Werewolf unless you really don’t like some of the story retcons or rules changes. Still, carrying around one massive tome (or in my case my Kindle Fire) is far better than a backpack full of books, some of which only have a single rule or section you may need at some point in the game. Now, the downside to having everything you need in a single large book is that it can be hard to find a specific rule or piece of content. Thankfully, the physical copy of W20 will have bookmarks to mark things you need to find quickly. As well, the back of the book contains an extremely helpful index and three different lists (one for Gifts, one for Fetishes and one for Rites) all listed alphabetically and with the corresponding page number next to it. Sure, using W20 to run a game might seem daunting at first because of how large this core rule book is, but OPP has gone out of its way to make searching far easier than it has been in the past. Now, trying to remember what page Body Slam mechanics were on might be a little trickier…

W20 is divided into three books (four if you count the comic). Book One is “The Wyld” and it goes into great detail about the setting, an introduction on how to play/run the game and more. A lot of the opening bits are stuff you see in every RPG, while others are things diehard Werewolf players will know by heart and not need to read because they’ve been doing so for roughly two decades. For those that are brand new to Werewolf, you’ll learn about setting specific concepts that aren’t part of the core folkloric loup-garou, like the Umbra, the Wyrm, the Weaver, and so on. Much of the Hollywood, European and Native American legends about lycanthropes are treated as little more than folktales in this game, with the White Wolf Garou having very little in common with any of them. These werewolves are ecological warriors on a holy quest to save the world from humanity and the many evils it has spawned due to the corruptive influence of an otherworldly force known as the Wyrm. Think of these werewolves as a mix of Greenpeace with the Crusades and you have a rough idea of the core concept. In Chapter One you’ll find the history of the world according to the Garou, the rise of the Wyrm, the madness of the Weaver, a look at what it means to be a Werewolf in the World of Darkness and an overview of the ways one is born a werewolf: Homid (human baby), Lupus (wolf cub) and Metis (the spawn of two werewolves, which makes it born in the dreaded Crinos form, the Hollywood version of the werewolf appearance-wise). You get a quick overview of the thirteen tribes and an in-depth look at the social structure of the Garou in terms of race, tribes, packs and so on. Chapter Two is the beginning of character creation, giving a full look at your possible breeds, auspice (moon that you were born under) and tribe. The Thirteen tribe pages boast some gorgeous new artwork, and as always, my three favorite tribes remain the Shadow Fangs (Hakken variant), Silent Striders and Stargazers. Chapter Two is where you are going to spend a good portion of your time in terms of character creation, as you whittle down the aspects of what you want your character to possess.

Book Two is “The Weaver,” and no, it’s not actually about the Weaver and its part in the Garou spiritual triumvirate. Instead, it’s about weaving together a game with characters and mechanics. Chapters Three and Four give the rules for character creation, along with all the gifts one can choose from at each of the five Ranks a character can progress through. More than likely this isn’t your first introduction to Werewolf or the original Storyteller System, so I don’t think I need to go much further with this concept. It’s just the chapter with all the nuts and bolts for making a werewolf PC. Now, if you wanted to play a Corax or Simba… those come much later in the book, but yes they are here, which is a huge reason I picked this up. I will say that it’s odd how the book sometimes segregates things. You have the Garou in one area, the powers in another area, the mechanics in still another area, and then the other were-races in yet another, and the Appendix is where Merits and Flaws can be found, instead of with the other character creation bits. This was my big problem with V20 as well, because I hated looking through the book for, say, something on the Salubri, which was towards the tail end of the book instead of being lumped together with all the Camarilla clans, and Disciplines were all over the place. Organization does seem to be a problem for OPP, which is why I’m thankful for the high quality index in the back of the book, but W20 seems to be a massive improvement in this regard from V20, with only Merits/Flaws and other were-races being ostracized from the rest of the mechanics.

Chapters Five and Six are the big chapters on rules, mechanics and how/when to roll those dice. You also get a plethora of attack options for each form a Garou can take. These chapters are where a Storyteller will spend most of his or her time when the game is actually playing. It is worth noting that the “get a 10, roll again” rule is gone from this version of the game, which is likely to be a point of debate for some gamers. Chapter Seven is all about the Umbra, or Spirit World, which the Garou can step into. It’s similar to the Faewyld for your Fourth Edition D&D players, except, you know, done right. The Umbra gives Werewolf a whole other realm to play in, similar to how Call of Cthulhu offers you the Dreamlands in addition to the real world. From people I’ve talked to with far more experience with W:TA than I have, it seems that games tend to either really heavily invest in the Umbra, or barely touch it. Because I’ve used Garou mainly as NPCs, my games fall into the latter, save for a great way to save the antagonist for another adventure instead of letting them get taken down. Now in the few Werewolf games I’ve actually played in, I’ve primarily played Stargazers, so I’ve gotten to make great use of the Umbra there. There’s a ton of great content in this chapter, ranging from how the Weaver and Wyrm act here, to notes on the Abyss. This is perhaps my favorite chapter in terms of content quality; possibly because I didn’t get to read or learn much about all the Umbra had to offer back in the First Edition era.

Book Three is “The Wyrm” and, as you might expect, this is where you get a lot of info on antagonists and enemies for your players to disembowel. However, it’s much more than that. This section is the equivalent to a Storyteller’s handbook. Chapter Eight is actually entitled “Storytelling” and gives a lot of information on how to run a game smoothly and without drama. There are lots of hints, ideas and suggestions on what to do with a chronicle, as well as things NOT to do. Sure, most of what’s in this chapter is pretty generic and stuff most GM/DM/Keeper/Storytellers/etc already know, but it’s still a good read and offers some nice W:TA-centric bits. My favorite part of this chapter is the Example of Play. One page is the mechanics and dry “Bob declares action X and rolls Y number of dice trying to get a Z or higher” description that shows how a game is played. Next to it, however is a full colour comic page that shows what the gameplay “looks” like. It’s pretty cool, and I wish more games did this. The only other time I can think of this occurring was with TSR’s original Marvel Super Heroes RPG. I really wish this had been done for V20, and I am SO looking forward to the Mage version of these pages.

Chapter Nine is Allies, and again, it was the big draw for me to purchase this. I’ll be honest – the Garou are my absolute least favorite of the wereraces in the World of Darkness. It’s mainly their own fault that the world is in the shape it is, and yet they continue to blame humanity instead of taking responsibility for their horrible actions, like wiping out the Bunyip tribe or deciding to try and kill off all the other races Gaia created because they thought they were the superior Master Race. The Garou are the definitely the Westboro Baptist Church or SS of the Wereraces, so I’m really happy to see the saner, more insightful and intelligent races given their own section in the book, in case a Storyteller would rather run with those. It’s not just the other weres that get their day in the sun (or moon) here, but ancestor spirits, totem guides, and other mystical beings that interact with the servants of Gaia who are covered here. There’s even a large section of Kinfolk and how to make/play one if someone would rather. Still, the other weres are the core feature, so let’s talk about them. You get stats, gifts and the like for the three lost tribes of the Garou: The Bunyip, The Croatan and the White Howlers. You also get completely different species. Here’s a quick list:


•Ajaba – Werehyenas (ew)

•Anansi – Werespiders (creeeeepy!)

•Bastest – Werecats (Nine different kinds ranging from tigers to cheetahs)

•Corax – Wereraven (A personal favorite due to Ravenloft)

•Gurahl – Werebear (Altered Beast flashbacks)

•Kitsune – Werefox (Insert your favorite anime reference here. Mine would be Ninetails from Pokémon)

•Mokole – WEREDINOSAURS (Okay, usually alligators or crocodiles, but still!)

•Nagah – Weresnakes (More like Yuan-Ti, but still very cool and creepy)

•Nuwisha –Werecoyote (Native American Tricksters)

•Ratkin – Wererats (Very D&D)

•Rokea –Wereshark (Oh man are they freaky)

I have to admit, I was surprised there weren’t any Werebats or something truly odd like a Weresloth or Werepanda. Still, this is a nice large selection of other races to choose from, and it’s great to see all of these in one book along with the core Garou tribes.

Chapter Ten is “The Enemy” and this is the aforementioned area where you’ll find tons of opponents for your Garou, ranging from the Nexus Crawler all the way to Pentex and its many subsidiaries, out to despoil the earth and destroy Captain Planet the creations of Gaia. The chapter starts off with a detailed look at the Black Spiral Dancers and all of their unique and terrifying Gifts. Even longer is the section on Fomori, and from there, it’s such a hodgepodge of hideous Wyrm creatures. The book lightly touches on the other core WoD player races, like Kindreds, Mages, Wraiths and Fae, but obviously the goal here is to get you to go for those core rulebooks as well, even if some are long out of print. Hey, that’s what DriveThruRPG.com is for, right?

The final chapter in the book is the Appendix, and this is oddly where all the Merits and Flaws are instead of being with the rest of the character creation bits. It also is where you’ll find all the choices for Nature and Demeanor… which is more character creation stuff. Again, I’ve touched on this, but I don’t get the organization of this book sometimes. At least it’s a lot better than V20 though. The Appendix then delves into some internal tribe factions and societies, and some offshoots of a few core Garou tribes, like the Japanese Hakken branch of the Shadow Lords, and concludes with pieces on Ronin Garou and the very creepy Skin Walkers, which are werewolves that are self-made rather than born. After that, you get a long “Afterwords” section, where people wax nostalgically about the game and a list of all the Kickstarter backers (I’m on page 524!). That, my friends and readers, is WereWolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition.

When all is said and done, W20 is an amazing book from beginning to end. Sure it has a few hiccups here and there, but this isn’t the final version that will go on sale to the general public. What I can say though, is that this book is a love letter to all the W:TA fans that have amassed over the past twenty-one years. It’s an incredible book that packs in just about everything you could possibly want from all pieces of the canon and puts them into one place. Sure, the sticker price for either the physical or digital version of the book is going to scare off some newcomers and casual gamers, but for fans of the Old World of Darkness, Werewolf: The Apocalypse or White Wolf in general, this is one nostalgia trip that will give you your money’s worth and then some. So sit back, queue up some Warren Zevon (or Ozzy or Metallica, depending on what your favorite Garou themed tune is) and get ready to take down the Wyrm one more time.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition
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Tomb of Curses (DCC RPG)
Publisher: Dragons Hoard Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2013 06:49:10
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/30/tabletop-review-tomb-of-
-curses-dungeon-crawl-classics/

Tomb of Curses is the first release from a new company called Dragon’s Horde Publisher. Like a lot of indie companies, Dragon’s Horde, like Purple Duck Games, Purple Sorcerer Games, Brave Halfling Publishing and Cognition Pressworks, have chosen to create products for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics line. Tomb of Curses is the longest adventure published for Dungeon Crawl Classics so far, weighing in at forty-three pages, and it also carries the biggest price tag for a DCC adventure to boot. As you might have guessed from the name, Tomb of Curses was heavily influenced by Gary Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors for First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. While obviously nowhere near the level of quality of Tomb of Horrors, Tomb of Curses does give DCC a very long adventure to be played out over several sessions, which is something the system simply hasn’t had to this point. Whether or not that was actually needed is up to your individual tastes and needs as a gamer, but for now, this is your longest adventure for the system.

I’m torn on Tomb of Curses, because while I think the story is easily the worst yet for a DCC published adventure (and there have been some doozies), the actual PLAYING of the adventure is quite fun and far more reminiscent of the early D&D experience than even some Goodman Games adventures. Now, while I enjoy very story heavy games like Call of Cthulhu and Vampire: The Masquerade, if you go out to pick up an adventure for a game that has DUNGEON CRAWL in the title and expect something grandiose in plot and characterization, then the fault is yours. DCC is roll playing over role playing and primarily hack and slash over talking heads. Sure, the story behind Tomb of Curses is a bit insipid, terribly convoluted, at times nonsensical and even contradictory, but it sets up an adventure with insidiously cruel puzzles and a guarantee that much of the party is going to die horribly, if not all of them. This is one of those rare adventures where a TPK (Total Party Kill) will not only be expected going into it, but a portion of the fun is seeing who dies and how.

So the actual story of Tomb of Curses is twofold. The first is the history of the Tomb itself. Once upon a time, there was a wizard who was an inter-dimensional polygamist. Yes, he had multiple wives, but they were from different species on different worlds in different realities. He was mostly a dick to them, killing one, betraying another and so on, so it’s not really a surprise when he is killed by them in a fiendish revenge plot. Except he didn’t die or something. It’s not quite clear. He “fell” but then cursed his wives into the inter-dimensional prison known as the Tomb of Curses, even the wife he really loved. Which doesn’t make any sense, but none of the story makes any sense. One wife was killed by the mage early on, and she somehow was part of the plot to kill him later on, even though she was still quite dead and neither undead nor raised. Yet another wife willingly entered the inescapable prison, yet is also listed as roaming around the multiverse looking for the husband. There’s also the groan worthy decision to have a wife from our world as well – which is NEVER a good idea whenever someone tries it. Basically, the entire back story is just word vomit that really needed an editor for logic and continuity’s sake.

It gets weirder when you realize the adventure actually begins at the climax of a completely different adventure. Players are started off with the “boss fight” of an adventure where PCs have been looking for the Everglass of Uth’Pentar, a mystical artifact. Well, the artifact is actually cursed, and it throws all the PCs into the very location this adventure is named after. There is only one way out of the prison, and that’s solving the overarching set of puzzles within it. The PCs, along with a little help from the wizard’s eight wives, do their best to survive and escape the Tomb of Curses. I do think the setup where the players are thrust into the climax of an adventure they have never actually played is an inspired one, but also something that can go disastrously wrong in the hands of an inexperienced DM or a more casual gaming crew. So the adventure’s start can be a bit wonky, but at the same time, I can’t think of too many tabletop gamers who are going to start off with DCC as their first ever RPG, so the chance of this becoming a train wreck from the opening is very slim indeed.

As you might expect from a Tomb of Horrors homage, Tomb of Curses has a lot of instant death with no escape/saving throw/etc traps within its walls. Some players new to this system might cry foul at this, but it’s neither unheard of nor unexpected for DCC. The adventure is for six to ten characters between Levels 6-8, which is pretty high level for Dungeon Crawl Classics. These traps range from rapid aging to a hallway of no return. The Tomb is far more puzzle oriented than most DCC adventures, but hack and slash fans shouldn’t worry – there is a lot of combat in Tomb of Curses. There are also some attempts at humour, like a demon with a lowbrow sense of humour, spouting poop and fart jokes constantly, or one of the wives being a giant cosmic catfish, but they tend to fall flat on their face, unlike the more comedic approach we sometimes see from Purple Sorcerer DCC adventurers. I really enjoyed the various puzzles, although some DMs may have to help the players, as the answers aren’t necessarily obvious and, as mentioned, there are a ton of no escape instant death traps littered through the experience, so giving the players a bone when they are heading in the right direction isn’t a bad idea considering the adventure.

I do want to say a word or three about the art. For the most part, I love what’s here. The pictures within the adventure really breathe some life into the experience and, because players actually need to see the pieces ala handouts to get through some of the puzzles, the quality had to be top notch or they would do more harm than good. I can’t say enough good things about the art. The only two negative comments I have are in regards to the cover page (which is merely mediocre) and the map. Maps are a big part of the draw for DCC adventurers. In this case, there is nothing wrong with the art or the map itself. It’s just that the tomb is so big, and so the one page map feels very constrained and cropped down. It also feels a lot harder to follow, and the sheer size of the map combined with the artistic renditions on the page make it feel almost too busy to look at properly. Again, these are the only two issues with the art as the rest is truly fantastic.

So, let’s give Tomb of Curses a thumbs in the middle. I liked playing/running the adventure, but the storyline running through it is pretty terrible. Combat is well balanced and the puzzles are interesting, but at times the adventure does feel a bit too “DM vs PCs” which may turn people off from the experience. I can’t deny I’ve experienced far better adventurers for the DCC line, but I’ve also experienced a lot worse, and for a first adventure out of the gate, Dragon’s Horde Publishing gave us an interesting, albeit flawed, experience. People running Dungeon Crawl Classics for their friends might want to read through this first before buying, which means borrowing from a friend or reading the brief preview up at DriveThruRPG.com/RPGNOW.com. For the price and inherent flaws in the product, I can’t recommend Tomb of Curses, but I can’t give it a thumbs down or a negative review either. It’s a very mixed bag, and mileage may vary. If you’re looking for a longer adventure for DCC and you have players that don’t care how bad the plot is as long as they are rolling dice and killing monsters, Tomb of Curses might be worth the higher than average price tag.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Tomb of Curses (DCC RPG)
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Lair of the Mist Men (DCC RPG)
Publisher: Purple Sorcerer Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/16/2013 06:20:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/16/tabletop-review-lair-of-
-the-mist-men-dungeon-crawl-classics/

Generally when I review a Dungeon Crawl Classics product, it ends up being from Goodman Games or Brave Halfling Publishing. This time around, we’re looking at a product from Purple Sorcerer. This is their third release for Dungeon Crawl Classics and it is also what they call a “mini-adventure,” although I’m not sure why it is called that, as it has roughly the same page count as the “full adventures.”

Lair of the Mist Men is a continuation of The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk, but you don’t need to have played that adventure to get full use out of it. That’s because Purple Sorcerer has included the seminal battle with the mist men from that adventure. You can use it as an optional start to the adventure in order to get the ball rolling, or you can just jump feet first into Lair of the Mist Men as written. I love that Purple Sorcerer has given you this option, especially since Lair of the Mist Men is a THIRD of the cost of the other Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures they have released.

Lair of the Mist Men is for six to eight Level 1 characters. Like most Dungeon Crawl Classics adventurers, it is light on story and heavy on combat. In this case, your village has been besieged by the mist men for nigh on three months. Finally, the players have found a way to track them to their lair, and so they set off to right wrongs and gain revenge on their accursed enemies. Hey, it’s not Shakespeare, but it does the job nicely. The players journey through a creepy swampland where they will fight resident locals and mist men in order to gain access to the cave in which they dwell. There, players will alternate between saving villagers thought lost forever, killing mist men and discovering the true source of the evil plaguing their village. The entire affair can be finished in one or two sessions, depending on how much the DM pads things out and how much the players stay on track. If you have Against the Vortex Temple (which isn’t actually available yet…), this adventure MAY lead directly into it, based on the choices your players make.

Besides the set six encounters in the adventure, you have a random encounter chart (you know, I’ve never actually met anyone that really uses those) and a neat little side effect of the mist men cave where characters spiral down into madness as if this was a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Between the sheer amount of combat and the insanity factor, this will be a hard adventure for players to come out of intact, especially when most DCC adventures call for even more players than this. Depending on how your team fares, you may want to ratchet down the encounters some if you don’t want to achieve a TPK (Total Party Kill). That said, the insanity effect is played more for comedy than anything else, and because comedy is all but nonexistent in other DCC adventures, I’m unsure how players will react to that. I mean, I love comedy, but DCC is a grim and gritty game and so I can see others being… more inclined to treat this system as SERIOUS BUSINESS and find fault with the adventure because of this.

In addition to the core PDF, Lair of the Mist Men comes with two bonus PDFs. The first is a set of three maps, and the second is a page of paper standee miniatures to represent the antagonists for the adventure. Both are a nice touch, although the artwork may be a bit TOO Cartoony for the core DCC fanbase. Generally, the art in Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures tends to be of a similar style to first edition AD&D or even OD&D, but the art here is decidedly comedic in style and more Warner Brothers than Larry Elmore. I think the art is a fun change of pace for the system, but I can definitely see a lot of DCC players poo-pooing the adventure based on the art, which is a shame.

Finally the adventure comes with four pre-generated 0 level characters, which is a bit nonsensical considering that a) this is an adventure for 1st Level characters and b) there are only four pregens but the adventure is for six to eight characters. Not really sure what the point of this inclusion was to be honest, but hey, extra content is extra content, right?

All in all, Lair of the Mist Men is a fun little adventure. Sure, there are some spelling errors like “Blassimers! Descrators!” when the text should be, “Blasphemers! Desecrators!” but Purple Sorcerer Games is a two man operation and I can speak from experience about how hard it is for one to edit your own writing, so I can give this a pass in some respects. Still, it is a professionally done piece, and one would think they would have at least run the text through a spell checker. With a price tag of under three dollars, and some very unique antagonists for your PCs to encounter, Lair of the Mist Men is well worth investing in if you enjoy playing published adventures with your Dungeon Crawl Classics troupe. There’s a good amount of humour to the adventure, something you don’t find in DCC adventurers outside of Purple Sorcerer games, so mileage may vary in that respect, but you’re still getting a fine, memorable adventure for your three dollars, and if you have players that take their a gaming more serious than what’s provided here, feel free to tweak the adventure to fit their needs instead of forcing them to adapt to it. If you like what you see here, perhaps it’s time to start the “Sunken City” series of DCC RPG adventures.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lair of the Mist Men (DCC RPG)
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Tales of the Sleepless City
Publisher: Miskatonic River Press
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/15/2013 06:25:41
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/15/tabletop-review-tales-o-
f-the-sleepless-city-call-of-cthulhu/

Tales of the Sleepless City is the newest release from Miskatonic River Press, a small company that does products for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game line. While I’ve yet to be WOWED by any of their releases, I’ve likewise found little to criticize or complain about. Basically, MRP products tend to be enjoyable but not memorable. So I was more than happy to review Tales of the Sleepless City when a copy was offered to me. It took me a long time to wade through it though. Partly because the last three weeks have been insane for me personal life-wise, but also because the adventures in this releases simply didn’t grab my attention. They weren’t bad by any means; I just didn’t find them all that interesting my first time through. Now that things have calmed down and I’ve had a chance to go through each adventure again, I find I rather enjoy some of them.

Tales of the Sleepless City is a collection of six adventures taking place in New York City in the 1920s. I’m always surprised how few adventures for Call of Cthulhu are set in either New York State OR the Big Apple. I mean, it’s one of the few places “I am Providence” himself deemed to live in during his life (although his wife was mostly responsible for that). He even wrote three stories, like Cool Air, about New York City. I mean, we’ve had Secrets of New York for a while, but compared to other locations, NYC has always seemed disproportionately small compared to other locations. Well, for those wanting to visit the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Yonkers and the like with your 1920s era Investigators, here are six more chances for you.

One interesting note is that unlike most published Call of Cthulhu adventures, which tend to assume you are, or at least can be played by, starting characters, the six adventures in Tales of the Sleepless City are all for experienced characters with a decent amount of the Cthulhu Mythos skill picked up along their madcap insanity inducing adventures. This is all well and good, but these adventures are all written in such a way that new characters, blind to the reality of the Great Old Ones and their ilk, are almost guaranteed to stumble horribly before dying in these things. Because most CoC players tend to do one-shots or only a few adventures with characters, it really does feel like the only characters capable of truly surviving these adventures are those that have had Monty Haul style campaigns, where they have picked up many a spell and forbidden time. This is a bit disappointing, as these adventurers are thus only playable by a fraction of the Call of Cthulhu audience, but at least there is something for those who do like to power game or who have managed to have their PCs survive a crapload of eldritch horror.

I should give one quick head’s up before we go into each adventure. Although Tales of the Sleepless City is 164 pages long, only 75% is actually content. Roughly 8% of the book is comprised of ads for other products, and the other 17% are reprints of the maps and handouts that can already be found in each adventure’s specific section. While I like having all the touchy feely pieces in one spot, I do think it’s a waste of paper, space and money to do the handouts twice. They really should have just had them all in the back for easy photocopying. By jettisoning the ads and duplicates of the handout, this book would be a fourth smaller and noticeably cheaper. Now, with all that in mind, the handouts are terrific and easily amongst some of the best I’ve ever seen released for a Call of Cthulhu collection. This isn’t too much of a shocker when you realize they were all put together by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, providers of all sorts of wonderful Cthulhuoid products including some great movies. Miskatonic River Press really set the bar high here for the physical portions of these adventures, and it’s a shame more companies don’t do this for their players.

First up is “To Awaken What Never Sleeps” and it’s a fun adventure, branching off of Lovecraft’s tale “He,” as both feature the wizard Morgan Atherton. This adventure also reminds me of an old issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that was about a living, breathing, dreaming city. In the case of this adventure, the city isn’t so much alive, but a focal point of magic, and one young native of the Big Apple seems to become the living avatar of it, transforming New York City into the city he feels it should be – one that fits his own personal aesthetics. Of course, using magic that not only transforms an entire city, but a person into a living piece of the city, takes a lot of power, and there are bound to be some casualties and craziness along the way. This is where the Investigators come in. From a strange subway disaster to an onslaught by a living wall, players will find their Investigators besieged by things even the most hardened harrower wouldn’t expect. There are truly some memorable moments in the adventure, although I do feel the final battle with the antagonist of this piece is poorly designed and really should have had a few more outs for players. Still, it’s a piece your players won’t soon forget. 1 for 1.

The second adventure is “The Terror From the Museum” and this is probably my favorite piece. Of course, I’ve been saying for years that both Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun have needed more Mummy based adventures, but those pleas appeared to have fallen on deaf ears – at least until now. “The Terror From The Museum” feels like a mash up of Call of Cthulhu and the Universal Mummy films. It has all the celluloid clichés of a Mummy’s Curse, dying archeologists and an ancient undead seeking to RULE THE WORLD. However, the adventure is written in such a way that the Mummy and his exploits are far more Cthulhuoid than Imhotep. For example, the Mummy’s Curse takes the form of an invisible interdimensional crocodile slowly devouring the intended victim of said curse, usually in an extremely gory and dramatic fashion. Minmose is no Boris Karloff, I’ll give you that.

The Investigators are brought into play by some sort of connection between them and one of the Mummy’s cursed victims. They get to see firsthand the horror of the Curse of Sebek (Mimose’s God) and from there, they are drawn into more and more encounters with the Minmose’s ever expanding cult of worshippers. One of the truly fun things about the adventure is that Minmose can die, and probably will quite regularly, in the adventure. However, each time he dies, he comes back with more magic and a stronger body. So it’s like South Park‘s Kenny, but more horrific. Minmose will probably toy with the Investigators for a while before trying to finally murder them, so it’s up to the PCs to figure out how you keep Minmose down for the count. After all, how do you defeat something where death only makes it stronger?

Much like the previous adventure, my big problem with “Terror From the Museum” is that the ending is exceptionally anticlimactic, and I wish it had been better planned out. There’s only one way to “win” the adventure, and it’s with a poorly defined Macguffin that will leave most players disappointed because it feels slapped together, especially when compared to the roller coaster the rest of the adventure is. Don’t get me wrong, I still really liked “The Terror From the Museum,” but while Tales From the Sleepless City is now two for two quality wise, it’s also zero for two in terms of ending the adventures in a well-written, satisfactory manner. A good Keeper will probably be doing a lot of rewriting of the end of these. 2 for 2.

Adventure number three is “The Fisher of Men,” which would be fine if Hebanon Games hadn’t done Bryson Springs last June. While having very little in common, the name of this adventure made it hard for me not to compare it to Bryson Springs (you’d have to read/play it to get why) and this is one of the adventures I had to read a second time just to separate the two. On my first readthrough, I found this to be dull and tedious. On my second, I liked it a little better, but not enough to recommend it. It’s definitely the weakest in the entire collection.

“The Fisher of Men” puts players deep in the heart of Harlem, caught in the middle of several religious groups, each of which are being manipulated by a sinister man known only as Mister Young. The Investigators, which are more than likely white, due to the era and its trappings, are immersed in a culture not quite their own, filled with folk magic, African folklore, Haitian juju and the massive gulf between the Christian side of Harlem and the side that still clings to the old ways from the Dark Continent. I liked the concept of the adventure well enough, along with how it presented the multifaceted side of 1920s Black America rather than the terrible stereotypes actually portrayed to the US at large via radio and writing. However, the adventure tries to do too much, and things just seem to be lamely thrown together instead of making a truly cohesive story. It’s also a very linear, hand holding experience, where I feel players are just along for the ride instead of actually affecting how things will flow. Once again, I do feel the ending of this adventure is a bit terrible, as a Great Old One is actually summoned into Harlem and the ways to stop it are more than a little stupid. Nope, this adventure just isn’t for me. 2 for 3.

“The Tenement” is the fourth adventure in this collection and, while not my favorite, it’s probably the best overall adventure of the set. It’s so outside the box of what you tend to expect from a Call of Cthulhu adventure that I loved it despite the true nature of the antagonist. I’ve always found Shoggoth Lords to be a truly terrible concept, as it’s a bit insipid when you think about it, but it’s actually done really well here, both in practice and as a metaphor for the way New York City ate its poor and destitute during the 20s (one could make a case that this is still going on today). I’m not sure in the metaphor was intentional or it’s the folklorist in me looking for something that isn’t actually there, but who cares, right? I loved it.

This adventure is the only one in the set that really works well with new and experienced Investigators alike, as there is very little need for spells or knowledge of things that go Tekeli-li in the night. In “The Tenement,” players will be working for one Theodore Caldwell the Second, a lawyer who attempts to aid the poor and downtrodden. His current target is a slum lord by the name of Mr. Grey. Their job is to photograph and document numerous issues with one of his apartment complexes, along with getting as many written testimonies from the residents as possible. Doesn’t sound like the usual CoC adventure where players are in a library looking for some ancient forgotten grimoire, right?

Unfortunately, the adventure is easier said than done, as each apartment contains residents who are under the thumb of Mr. Grey for various reasons, not to mention the man has thugs and high powered officials under his thumb. Add in a crazed sorcerer under his control, and the players will have to go the extra mile to save the residents of the Buckley Arms from the squalid hellhole in which they reside. With a ton of residents for players to meet and aid, the adventure can not only go in a myriad of different ways, but a good Keeper can stretch this out over multiple play sessions as the Investigators get to know the residents of Buckley Arms, as well as Mr. Grey and his allies. This is the first adventure in the collection with a climax and/or final battle I actually enjoyed, and it should both shock and delight players when it occurs. This is definitely an adventure I’d love to see a real play podcast of, as I think it would be as much fun to listen to as it would be to read or experience firsthand. 3 for 4.

Our penultimate adventure in this collection is “A Night at the Opera,” and it’s another one I simply didn’t care for. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the Shan are just being way overdone in published adventures as of late. Not only were they the core antagonist in Chaosium’s recent Terror From the Skies campaign, but they also appeared in an adventure for Atomic Age Cthulhu earlier this year that happened to have a very similar plot to “A Night at the Opera.” Sure the location and time period are different, but both revolve around a performance of Massa Di Requiem Per Shuggay, Shan possession and players having to stop the performance of the opera from being finished lest horror be unleashed upon the world. Atomic Age Cthulhu‘s version of these events are far superior to the ones in this collection, but honestly, are we really that out of ideas that we keep coming back to this one opera? I’ve honestly lost count how many published adventures use it as a plot point. It’s to the point where the Shan are getting up there with “Investigators stop stupid cultists from something something dark and horrific” as a tired cliché that Call of Cthulhu desperately needs to avoid. A straight up thumb’s down to this incredibly dull adventure that offers little to nothing new on the same old worn out theme. 3 for 5.

The final adventure in Tales of the Sleepless City is “Ertong He KuqiI De Muqin,” which translates into “The Child and the Weeping Mother,” although I’m not sure which version of Chinese that is supposed to be. In Cantonese the word is “jai” and in Mandarin it is “xiǎo hái,” but then the only Chinese I know enough to get by in is Mandarin, and I’m nowhere as skilled in that as I am in French or Japanese. Anyway, this adventure brings Madame Yi back to the forefront. I thought this was strange, as you rarely see this avatar of Yidhra used, but less than two months ago The Unspeakable Oath did an article on her, and now she’s the main Mythos creature in this adventure too! All by different authors no less. Coincidence or a resurgence? YOU DECIDE!

This final adventure puts players in a less occult role than the previous ones in this collection. Much like in “The Tenement,” Investigators are helping to solve a far more mundane problem – that of a kidnapping. Well, it seems mundane at first anyway. Then players discover that earthly answers have gotten a family member of the victim nowhere, and so, in her grief, she is manipulated into unleashing Madame Yi onto the party responsible for the kidnapping. Aside from this one Mythos piece though, the adventure really is a straightforward detective piece that feels like a breath of fresh air. Players have to track down not only who kidnapped young Ms. Yan, but also why. It turns out they have a decent reason for the kidnapping (in their eyes anyway) and that Ms. Yan’s parents are both hiding their own misdeeds surrounding the events. The Investigators also have to deal with the four Tongs (main gangs) of Chinatown, seeking the truth while neither offending them nor incurring their wraith. “Ertong He KuqiI De Muqin” contains a wonderful cast of characters, and the adventure in beautifully written. Depending on the actions of the Investigators, they might never encounter Madame Yi, or they might accidentally unleash wholesale slaughter against one of the Tongs. I love that, unlike the other adventures in this collection, “Ertong He KuqiI De Muqin,” pretty much plans for all possible outcomes and helps the Keeper track the ensuing chaos and ways the plot can dramatically change due to the actions of the PCs. Great job all around here. 4 for 6.

All in all, Tales of the Sleepless City isn’t a bad investment. Two-thirds of the adventures are quality affairs that most Keepers and their friends will have fun experiencing. While it’s not the best collection of adventures ever produced, it does a nice job with the theme of an all NYC affair, and it was a fun stop gap between Atomic Age Cthulhu and the forthcoming House of R’yleh. While Tales of the Sleepless City wouldn’t be first on the tip of my tongue in terms of recommendation, it fills two niches – one for NYC based adventures and one for adventures designed for very experienced Investigators. If either of those feel like something you need for your gaming troupe, then by all means, consider picking up this release from Miskatonic River Press.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of the Sleepless City
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