DriveThruRPG.com
Close
New Account
 
  
 
 
You will lose your chance to get the free product of the week.
One-click unsubscribe later if you don't enjoy the newsletter.
Close
Log In
 
 Forgot password?
 

     or     Log In with your Facebook Account
Browse









Back
Other comments left by this customer:
W20 Cookbook
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2014 08:35:59
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/27/book-review-w20-cookboo-
k-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recipes Contained in the Book (In order)

•Stuffed Tricolor Peppers

•Chicken and Peanut Curry

•Mushroom Stew with Wheaten Bread

•Breton Apple Pie with Calvados Cream

•Gravad Lax with Dill and Mustard Sauce

•Creamy Chicken Tagliatelle

•Smoky Chicken and Peppers

•Turkey and Chorizo Stew

•Tamiya with Harissa

•Lobster Linguini

•Tuna in Miso Broth

•Pastel

•Venison and Barley Soup

•Prawn Dim Sum

•Agedashi Tofu

•Steak Tartare

•Damper Bread

•Bison Heart

•Venison with Blackberry Sauce

•Apocalypse Cheesecake

•Seitan

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 Cookbook
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


•A Twenty page DM Guide


•A thirteen page Equipment Guide


•A four page Feat Guide


•A twenty-nine page Player’s Guide


•A twelve page Magic Item Guide


•A three page guide on Multi-Classing


•A seven page guide on playable races


•A fifty-eight page guide to spells


•A five page guide on Character Creation


•An eleven page guide on Skills and Backgrounds


•A forty-six page guide on Classes


•A one page “Read this First!” document

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Next)
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2014 06:46:23
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/02/04/tabletop-review-shadowr-
un-digital-tools-box-beginner-box-setrunners-tool-kit-alphaw-
are/

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

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

First up – The Beginner Box Set

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



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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Digital Tools Box
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



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


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


•Neveri: The shoggoths of Numenera.


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


•Queb: Kitty snake!


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


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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Ninth World Bestiary
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Numenera Creature Deck
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #80: Intrigue at the Court of Chaos
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2014 06:25:15
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/28/tabletop-review-castles-
-crusades-the-book-of-familiars/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Book Of Familiars
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Of Predators and Prey: The Hunters Hunted II Anthology
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Spell Themes: Fog
Publisher: gannet games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2014 07:04:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/17/tabletop-review-spell-t-
hemes-fog-pathfinder/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spell Themes: Fog
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Accursed: The Festival at Glenelg
Publisher: Melior Via
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2014 08:14:10
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/16/book-review-the-festiva-
l-at-glenelg-accursed/

The Festival at Glenelg is a new piece of fiction for the brand new Savage Worlds setting, Accursed. Like many RPG of this era, Accursed was a successfully funded Kickstarter project. Unfortunately for the game, it came out the same time as Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle, four different Werewolf: The Apocalypse releases, two Shadowrun supplements and a Numenera piece so I don’t know anyone who has really given the game a lot of attention. In flipping through it I have found it to be interesting, but not especially compelling. It feels rushed and disjointed but I do like the mix of White Wolf’s “You play as the monster” with a dash of Ravenloft‘s mood an atmosphere and a hearty dose of various monsters from across folklore. You have a world where at some point the Black Cauldron style undead of the UK met up with Russia’s Baba Yaga, for example. Maybe my opinion will change once I’ve spent more time with Accursed. However, this is a review of the novella not the game, so let’s get on with it.

The Festival at Glenelg is by Richard Lee Byers who is best known for his Dungeons & Dragons novels. He’s one of my favorite fantasy authors and I mainly picked this up because I had another month until his Sundering novel, The Reaver comes out, I needed something to tide me over. I should point out that unlike most RPG novels purchases that you pick up from DriveThruRPG, The Festival at Glenelg only comes in .epub and .mobi formats rather than offering a third version via PDF as well. This isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things, although because of the formatting, you can’t tell how many pages long the novella actually is. It took about 100 “clicks” on my Kindle to read through it, but since everyone sets up their e-reader differently saying “100 pages long” is far from accurate. I can however say that this is very long for a short story/novella, especially compared to a lot of Savage Worlds that I pick up like the Weird Wars Rome or Deadlands Noir dime novels. So although the price tag for this novella might seem rather high, you’re not just getting one to two dozen pages here. It’s a full on read in and of itself.

The Festival at Glenelg focused on a small corner of the world Accursed takes place in. It’s very similar to a Scottish town in our own world, using similar names, styles of clothing and jargon. Our main character is one Erik Nygaard. He is attending a highland games festival in the town of Glenelg, although he has not revealed his real name, nor his true nature to the locals. Interestingly enough, while we learn early on that Erik is a dhampir (although neither one according to folkloric tradition nor those akin to say Vampire Hunter D), we never are told the name the townsfolk of Glenelg know him by. The festival is off to a fine start until a band of undead in service to The Morrigan (the leader of this part of the world. Think a Darklord in Ravenloft) comes to town to join in the celebration. By joining in, I of course mean turn the games into an unwilling tryout for new members of their deathless legion, horribly scarring the brains of children for the rest of their mortal lives and at least one rape. It’s not pleasant by any means, but this is the world of the Accursed however, so you had to have seen that coming. I would like to read at least one story where a band of undead does indeed come to town simply to partake in the festivities. This is not that story though.

Erik, due to his quasi-vampiric nature has an opportunity to get out of Dodge before the dead realize what he actually is. Erik is not a hero by nature but as he is both a bard and a not quite vampire, he does have powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortal men. He also doesn’t feel like being fully undead either. By happenstance, Erik runs into a shadowy band of other like minded monsters with hearts of gold that call themselves the Penitents. It’s kind of like the Howling Commandos remake Marvel did a few years back or the Creature Commandos (most recently seen in DC Comics highly underrated: Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.). This team of characters just HAPPENS to highlight several of the different character options for you in Accursed, even if some of the choices seem more than a little out of sorts for the Scottish type setting of the story. You’ll mean Glynis the Scarecrow (a golem), Niels the Revenant, Yakov the Vargr (lycanthrope) and Sitamun the mummy. Sitamun quickly became my favorite character in the story and I’d love to get a full novella detailing her back story and how a mummy ended up in this part of the world. Sadly, the mummy is generally considered the least fleshed out of the classes in Accursed so it’s odd that the class Byers made me love the most is the one that needs the most touching up in the core setting.

I really liked how Byers was able to take the setting and make the inclusion of particular vernacular for the game feel natural instead of “LOOK I AM INSERTING GAME TERMS INTO THIS STORY SO YOU KNOW IT IS ABOUT A GAME. BUY THE GAME.” Like we saw with Devin Grayson’s recent train wreck in Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II. One of the reasons I love Byers’ writing is at no time do you feel you are reading a piece of licensed fiction. I could hand say, The Haunted Lands Trilogy over to my wife whose only exposure to Dungeons & Dragons are the Dragonlance novels and she wouldn’t have to ask me a single question about the Forgotten Realms setting. The same is true about The Festival at Glenelg. The story sells you on the game, or at least makes you curious about picking it up – even if you’re not a Savage Worlds fan. At the same time, you can read this story without ever feeling the story is doing a hard sell of the game. It’s a fine balance that a lot licensed fiction authors simply can’t pull off.

It was interesting to read a story by Byers where the entire tale is told from a single character’s point of view. I’m so used to him have a ensemble cast where the story goes back and forth between the characters that this was a bit jarring. I kept expecting the tale to go off to another character, especially when the Penitents came into play, but it never happened. It’s neither bad nor good that the story was written this way – merely a head’s up to other people who read (and possibly review) a lot of Byers’ tabletop based fiction.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Festival at Glenelg. It was a fine introduction to Accursed and it hits all the tropes and core aspects of the game setting. The story dragged a little bit at times, but for the most part it was a fun read and I found both the Penitents and the antagonists well written. I’d love to see more stories set in the world of Accursed by Richard Lee Byers, but then I also would love to see him writing something for Chill, Vampire: The Masquerade and Spelljammer, but those things aren’t likely to happen. Come on, you know you want to see Aoth Fezim on a Giant Space Hamster. Is this Byers’ best work? Well, no. Of course not. It’s his first time writing for this new Savage Worlds setting and so it’ll take time to get his bearings. Heck, Accursed is so new, that would be a problem for anyone taking on the same challenge. What I can safely say is that The Festival at Glenelg is very well written, a lot of fun to read and worth the cover price. Am I going to run or play a game of Accursed any time soon? No, probably not. Will I pick up more Accursed fiction? Probably, especially if Byers is the author.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed: The Festival at Glenelg
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2014 06:53:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/16/tabletop-review-blood-a-
nd-smoke-the-strix-chronicle-vampire-the-requiem/

Well, it took me a while to get this reviewed, but here it is. It’s a shame that Blood and Smoke came out so late in the year. It was hit with more delays that some video games. The key thing is that the book is finally out and V:TR fans can rejoice. At first I thought it was too bad that Blood and Smoke came out the same time as a glut of other releases like FOUR different Werewolf: The Apocalypse titles, two Shadowrun supplements, a new Numenera game, a Deadlands Noir adventure, the launch of Accursed and so many other titles. However instead of having its sales cannibalized by all the titles hitting at once, Blood and Smoke sold like it was the cure for cancer. It’s been the #1 seller on DriveThruRPG.com since it came out and is one of the 100 best selling titles of all time on that site – an impressive feat for a product that has only been out for a month.

It’s worth noting that even though Blood and Smoke is being sold as a sourcebook, it’s actually a core rulebook for Vampire: The Requiem in the same was you get a new edition of D&D, Call of Cthulhu or Traveller. It’s also worth nothing that for the first time in New World of Darkness history, you don’t need the World of Darkness core rulebook AND a second rulebook for the type of game you want to play, like Mummy: The Curse or Werewolf: The Forsaken. Nope, all you need is Blood and Smoke. It has all the rules you need to play the game. You don’t even need The God Machine Chronicle and it’s rules update from mid-2013. It’s about time the New World of Darkness did this and it’s long been a complaint I’ve heard about the system. It only took a decade, but it’s nice to see all the rules in one spot, and is no doubt a big reason why Blood and Smoke is selling as well as it is.

I’ll admit, I never really cared for V:TR when it first came out. Besides the having to double dip for rulebooks unlike the OLD World of Darkness line, the writing just didn’t seem as good (while the mechanics were improved) and the more the line went on, the more disjointed and piecemeal it seemed to become. Over the past few years, things have started to tighten up and flow better. There seemed to be more cohesion and continuity between products and a definite uptick in terms of writing quality. A great example was last year’s Blood Sorcery which dramatically improved Vampire based magic in the game. Then this year, between Reap the Whirlwind and The Strix Chronicle Anthology, I was actually excited for V:TR for well..the first time ever. The stories being told and the new rules that were showcased had me convinced that Blood and Smoke would be the overhaul Vampire: The Requiem desperately needed. It turned out that it was. I’ve never been happier with the new World of Darkness between this, Mummy and The God Machine and 2013 was definitely the best year for the NWoD EVER.

Although Blood and Smoke rewrites Vampire; The Requiem from the ground up, much of the book is a retelling of things longtime V:TR fans already know. It’s all new writing and there are twists on the history, timelines and different interpretations of things from previous releases, so that means even people who own dozens of V:TR releases can pour through Blood and Smoke and find it to be a fresh new read. I’m also glad that Blood and Smoke retells all the basic details, the most minute mechanics and explains that the core theme of Vampire: The Requiem is, because that means the book is extremely accessible and inviting to new gamers. One of the biggest detractions the NWoD gets is that the books have been written in such a way that they assume you already own everything that came before it. There’s no explanations for newcomers and thus the releases have tend to drive more gamers away than they have brought in, thus leaving the NWoD extremely insular and with a much smaller fanbase that the Old World of Darkness had in its prime. Again, Blood and Smoke is proof that OPP is learning from the mistakes the NWoD has made over the past 10+ years. The game hasn’t been this wide open to new and old fans alike since its inception and again, another reason why Blood and Smoke is selling like hotcakes.

For those new to V:TR, the book contains everything you need to play along with copious amounts of back story, description and content. You have the five clans, Daeva, Gangrel, Mekhet, Nosferatu and Ventrue. There are also short write-ups of the three extinct clans: The Akhud, the Juli and Pijavica. The Tremere don’t show up anywhere in Blood and Smoke even though they occasionally are referred to as a “Lost Clan” in some books. For newcomers, you’ll have to look to Mage as they show up there regularly (They’re considered Liches in the NWoD for people who only know the V:TM version.). You also get six Covenants and four “broken” ones. By broken they mean, died out in a figurative sense. Covenants are how vampires group their allegiance in V:TR. Again, if your only exposure is Vampire: The Masquerade, think of Covenants as much smaller organizations like the Camarilla, the Sabbat and the True Hand, except these organizations all work together (to varying degrees) instead of being at each other’s throats.

Much of the book is about the mood, theme and atmosphere rather than mechanics. Don’t worry dice chuckers and ruleslayers; there are plenty of mechanics in Blood and Smoke for you. But World of Darkness games have always been about the story first and so the newest version of V:TR is no difference. The book takes you through what it means to be a vampire and how the longer you stay a vampire the harder it is to hold on to your humanity. The core concept of humanity is redone for Blood and Smoke instead of basically being a chart where you compare what act you did to your humanity rating and then rolling dice to see if you’ve become more of a “monster,” humanity in this latest version of the game is more of an immersive role-playing experience. You have touchstones, aspects of your former mortal life which keep your grounded and your baser instincts in check. A Touchstone could be anything from your gravestone to the children you had when you were a mortal. It could be the baseball stadium that you always had season tickets to or perhaps an opera. Regardless these touchstones give your character something to work with in-game as well as story thread potential for the person running the game. Maybe a subplot of an adventure is that a character’s touchstone is a park and some unscrupulous builder wants to turn it into condos. Here then, the PC can protect the touchstone which makes the adventure a metaphor for protecting his or her slowly eroding humanity. Now, that doesn’t mean touchstones should always be in danger of being destroyed or tampered with. That’s only something a lazy or unimaginative Storyteller would do. Touchstones exist for the character first and foremost and help keep them grounded. Constantly attacking or threatening them just turns the game into the unfortunate “Storyteller Vs Player” setting where no one ends up happy and to be honest, is kind of spitting in the face of what White Wolf style games are supposed to be like.

It’s also worth noting that Humanity also effects how a vampire takes sun damage. The newer a vampire is to their unlife coupled with how high their humanity is, determines how much damage you take from the sun and how often. Higher Humanity levels can tolerate the sun for longer periods and the same with being a younger vampire. Now this is the inverse of V:TM or most horror games like Ravenloft where the older a vampire is the more sun they can withstand. Personally as a folklorist, I prefer the pre-1922 vampire where sunlight was an annoyance at best and never lethal. Stupid Count Orlock. However, the past century has pretty much cemented sunlight as a weakness for vampires (unless they are sparklepires…), so as much as I was hoping that sunlight would be downplayed entirely, I do approve of this reworking of the weakness. In a sense, sunlight damage becomes a metaphor not for a character’s purity or how good they were as a mortal, but rather how much they are able to cling to the being they used to be. Humanity in V:TR isn’t where a ten rating equals Lawful Good Paladin from Dungeons & Dragons, but rather how much you have held it together in the face of your new existence. When you lose Humanity, you lose what you once were. Memories, emotional, connections, empathy and the like all erode. The less Humanity you have, the more bestial or instinctual a vampire becomes until they are an animalistic predator with no thoughts but the most basic on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So in this respect the more sunlight you can tolerate, the more of yourself you are and the more damage you take from it, the more you have slipped towards the embrace of the Beast.

Another unusual aspect of V:TR is Blood Potency. While this goes up with age, it can also go down from entering a deathlike sleep called torpor. Blood Potency not only determines a PC’s power level but also drawbacks as well. For example, the higher the Blood Potency, the more limited your feeding options are. You might lose the ability to feed off animals and then humans, leaving your only prey option to be other vampires. At this point, you might choose to enter Torpor to lose BP and thus feed normally. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of benefit Vs drawback and I enjoy the concept, but I can definitely see where others would have a problem with it, especially munchkin/power gamers. Blood Potency kind of prevents the min/max’ing you see in other games, which I personally approve of.
So two things. First, notice how in the previous paragraphs you have rules and mechanics, but without dice. They are pure storytelling. I love this. Sure, the option to roll or whatever is still available, but Blood and Smoke does put an emphasis on as little rolling as possible. It’s proof you can have the rules without bogging a game down with check on the exact implementation or stopping the pace or flow of an adventure every few seconds with rolling dice. This is kind of a throwback to older RPGs rather than the 3.0/Pathfinder era of games where there is a roll based mechanic for everything. Again, I prefer the limiting of dice to big moments and letting the group of players and Storyteller control the majority of the tale. That’s just me though so again, enjoyment of this play style may vary. Second, notice how in the previous paragraphs I also commented how a play mechanic is a metaphor for something else. This is constant throughout Blood and Smoke. I love this. I love games where mechanics flow into the story rather than run parallel with them. It makes the game a more immersive experience overall.

We also see Conditions make their return from God Machine Chronicle. Conditions are similar to derangements in that they are mental states a character can enter. Unlike derangements conditions can be temporary as well as persistent or permanent. There are nearly fifty Conditions, and each has their own way they can be developed and beaten. I like this because it ties a specific mental state down to the character and make them actual act it out. Too often I’ve seen people gain derangements and pay them no mind. We’ve probably all seen the one person who plays a Malkavian without any specific derangement and just has them be “crazy” which everyone else interprets as “annoying to the point of PvP occurring.” Some gamers might not like having a specific Condition forced on them, but I feel it makes for better role-playing potential and ensures someone will act out their insanity. Conditions feel a lot like the temporary insanities, phobias or philia you can pick up in Call of Cthulhu. Plus, you can gain a beat for some of these, which is a nice reward a la the GM Intrusion from Numenera. Beats are fractions of experience points by the way. Get five and they become 1 XP.

Okay, I should probably move on to the titular aspect of the book, which are the Strix. Although in previous versions of V:TR supplements and sourcebooks, information about the Strix has been contradictory and oddly defined. At times it felt like all of the people writing about the Strix didn’t bother to read what anyone else had written and so their entire history felt very poorly done (as a whole, some individual pieces were quite nice), disjointed and kind of like a flesh golem if it were words instead of people parts. If there was one thing I was really looking forward to being overhauled and getting some much needed cohesion, it was the Owls. After all, the Strix represent all the bits of folkloric vampires that the more Hollywood/20th century style Kindred lack. The overwhelming hunger, the pure monstrosity, the bizarre weaknesses, the ability to go out in the sun. Hmm. Vlad Tepes can go out in the sun in V:TR, yet he is NOT an owl. Or is he? So many possibilities there! Anyway, with the Strix, VLTR pays homage to the vampires from yesteryear as well as the modern incarnation. Even better, they’ve shored up what the Strix are instead of making them unstoppable boogeymen that just kill PCs left and right. Now, they’re still fearsome SEEMINGLY unstoppable creatures, but there weaknesses and powers are better laid out and more thoroughly defined. What this means is that a Strix is still a monster for the monsters, but that they can be defeated in a similar vein to Call of Cthulhu where investigation and knowledge helps a mere mortal stop the machinations of an being utterly alien to our own form of existence. Hmm. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the changes to V:TR so much. I am a long time CoC fan…

There’s a lot more to Blood and Smoke than what I’ve covered. I mean, I’ve only written 2,500 words and the PDF is 311 pages long. I could touch on character creation, but it’s pretty much the same as any White Wolf game. Masks and Dirges are the equivalent of Natures and Demeanors. Disciplines, Frenzies, ghouls and everything else are similar to earlier incarnations of Vampire: The Requiem. Are they exact? No, but they are so close that the devil is in the details. Again, if you’ve never played V:TR before, this is definitely the book to get. It gives you all the rules and is as inviting to newcomers as it is full of references and telltale hints that only long time fans of the game will pick up. I honestly feel Vampire: The Requiem is SO MUCH BETTER than it used to be. The game has gone from my least favorite New World of Darkness setting to third or fourth (behind Mummy, God Machine and maybe Mage. I go back and forth on it. I absolutely think this is a step in the right direction and with these changes I am actually inspired to run a game of V:TR. I can’t think of the last time that has happened. This was just a fantastic job all around by the writing team. The question now is, where does V:TR go from here?

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Ready-Made Player Characters (Mummy: the Curse)
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2014 20:06:04
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/22/tabletop-review-mummy-t-
he-curse-ready-made-characters/

Not be confused with the Mummy Interactive Character Sheets, which are customizable and editable free PDF character sheets, the Ready Made Characters pack features pregenerated characters, complete with a one page bio to help players run the characters. These characters are perfect for newcomers to roleplaying in general or Mummy:The Curse in specific, or those that haven’t had time to make characters and just want to play a quick pick-up session. Likewise, these pregenerated characters come with story seeds to make a Storyteller’s life easier. Writing an adventure for Mummy: The Curse is a daunting task because of the unique way a Chronicle of this game unfolds. This means the Ready Made Characters are pretty versatile. From using them to get a novice into a new game or to help you write an adventure for a convention, this is a fine addition to the Mummy: The Curse line of products.

The five characters in this pack control a dance and fetish club known as Club Taboo. It’s hard to imagine any five Arisen working ala a vampire coterie, especially when the one presented here has a character from each of the five guilds, along with five different judges and five different decrees. That means there is absolutely no common ground for any of these characters, and one would think that would cause more problems than anything else – at least at first glance. Thankfully, the background of each character and the page of Storyteller seeds limits the potential group infighting and gives them a few allied tasks to work together on. In fact, there one very BIG group goal that is all but impossible to achieve, but it’s a great idea for an entire chronicle. It also helps that all five Mummies will rarely be active at the same time, meaning that you have an easy out for some of these characters if you only have a group of two to four people that can get together. One thing this collection doesn’t address is how all five manage their individual cults and get THEM to work together. That’s a pretty big oversight.

Each of the five Arisen has the own role to play. One is the money handler and long term thinker of the five. One is the face of the group (and the club) who has some severe family codependency issues. One is the meat shield who has transitioned from a force of mindless destruction into an anachronistic protector. One is an information broker with trust issues who sticks with the group only because he’s in love with the female Arisen in the clutch. One is a sneaky, cynical Jack of all Trades. Together they fight crime work together, furthering their own goals while continuing their mission regarding Lost Irem. The characters are very diverse in terms of stats, skills, powers, utterances and personalities, so players will each have their own moment in the sun.

The only negative things I can say about this pack are intertwined. All five characters have only a Memory of three, which doesn’t jibe at all with the level of detail in their biographies. Nor does a group of five Arisen coming together to work as a mostly organized family unit with that low level of Memory. This is hard to justify, especially since so much of Mummy is discovering who you are. With bios this detailed, there’s too much defined for the Memory level. It’s disappointing to see this getting by editorial. I guess it’s also worth noting that Neith is actually missing his Memory rating, but it’s easy to assume he’s at a Memory rating of three as well, since everyone else is. Besides, I can’t think of the last time I saw a release for ANY tabletop game without a minor error like this. Add these in with the lack of any real Cult discussion and the Ready Made Characters pack isn’t perfect, but these are minor complaints, and for a free Kickstarter backer bonus you won’t hear me raise any real ire here.

As I’ve said, this is a fine addition to the Mummy: The Curse line so far. It’s nothing you need to play the game, like the core rulebook, or an optional piece that enhances the game, like Guildhalls of the Deathless, but as a freebie, it’s a lot of fun. I’m not sure if I’d pay money for this if there is a price tag attached to it once the piece is available to the general public, though, unless I was specifically planning to run games for people completely new to the concept of Mummy: The Curse or I wanted to run an adventure for a convention and make things extra easy on myself. Still, Mummy: The Curse is batting three for three so far, which is an impressive streak indeed.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ready-Made Player Characters (Mummy: the Curse)
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

W20 Rage Across the World
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/01/2014 07:41:13
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/01/01/tabletop-review-rage-ac-
ross-the-world-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edit-
ion/

Rage Across the World is not a travelogue as you might expect from the name. Instead it’s meant to be a companion piece to W20 in the same vein as the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Companion was. Well maybe not the same EXACT vein as the V20 Companion was pretty reviled and cost Onyx Path a lot of goodwill with its fans (that it has since won back and then some.), while Rage Across the World is actually pretty good. It’s mostly a fluff piece with a few mechanics interspersed here and there, but it’s better written, better laid out and far more useful than the V20 Companion. Part of that is because OPP has learned from its mistakes (poor V:TM – always the testing ground) and partly because Rage Across the World was a free stretch goal to Kickstarter contributors while you had to pay money for the V20 Companion You’d be surprised how far free goes towards placating people. Would V20 Companion have fared better if it had been free? Almost certainly…

Rage Across the World is short and less focused that the original six “Rage” books from earlier incarnations of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. The book touches on each of the classic locations: Egypt, the Amazon, Appalachia, New York Australia and Russia, but only briefly. If you want to get a more in-depth look at these locations, you’ll need to pick them up on Ebay or in digital form from DriveThruRPG, either in single volumes or in the three Rage Across the World volumes (Each contains two of the single locations in one big book). Although the original six Rage locations are only touched on briefly in this new Rage Across the World, they are updated for modern times. Those three pages on Cairo, for example talk about the Arab Spring and all the political upheavals that have been occurring in Egypt since 2011. Remember the original Rage Across Egypt is almost thirteen years old and as such is missing concepts like smart phones, 9/11, hybrid cars, drones, and other faces of life we regularly see today that simply didn’t exist back then. So if you own the original Rage Across XYZ books, the updates in Rage Across the World might be worth admission price alone. If you don’t own any of the originals, it’s not a problem – they’re not required and are more curiosity pieces at this point.

The introduction gives us a quick overlook about what the book is about, as well as a way to fast forward your characters in power and rank so that you’re not always starting off with Rank 1 characters. Similar to the Age background trait from V:TM, the increased rank gives you a lot of experience to spend on your starting character. Being a Fostern gives you between 45-75 experience to spend while an Elder gives you AT LEAST 600. Cripes. Imagine how over the top that would be if these were Freebie Points rather than XP!

Chapter One, “Life Among the Warriors” is told completely “in-character” until the very tail end of things. A young recently changed Garou wants to leave the cairn, finding the Garou Nation’s way of life to alien and stifling. He sits on the dock talking to a Silver Fang named Sarah, born and bred into Garou life, but ostracized because of her sexuality (Which amongst the Garou actually had a modicum of rationale behind it besides the usual straight up homophobia or religious based prejudice) . As such, she is the perfect candidate to explain to this young cub what are the benefits and drawbacks to Garou society. You get a solid look at the differences between sept, pack and tribe, along with the sometimes convoluted (by human standards) systems of laws and litanies the Garou live by. It’s an interesting read, and very much a quality primer for people new to W:TA, but it’s not a “must read” by any means, as it’s all information long time Werewolf fans (the vast majority of the target audience for this piece) are already well aware of.

Once we are past the in-game fiction, we are given a dozen pages of mechanics. These are not new rules that involve dice rolling or the like, but are instead all character creation based. Pack Status is a combined group trait where you can spend points on temporary things ranging from a tent to crash in on sept grounds all the way up to borrowing four or five dot fetish for a fortnight. This is a nice way for a Pack to make an adventure slightly easier for them and also cash in on their previous exploits. Sept Positions are specific roles a Garou can earn. Once obtained these roles become a part of who they are in the larger scheme of things and in return for taking the task on, they gain some mechanics bonuses. Take Keeper of the Land, which is a two point Sept Standing. This garou ensures the sept is kept clean, environmentally sound and occasionally dealing with local spirits. In return for taking on this role, the PC gets a +4 to its social die pool when dealing with the Sept’s totem and any other spirits affiliated with the location. Not a huge bonus, but a +4 bonus can come in pretty handy at times. Other than that, the chapter gives you one new rite and eleven potential caern totems.

Chapter Two, “Weaver” is all about the Garou’s take on well…the Weaver obviously. Told via in-game fiction by a Stargazer Galliard, you get a look at how the Weaver is affected the modern World and how the Garou have to deal with it. Locations covered in this section include Pittsburgh, Shanghai, Cairo (which is why this isn’t by a Silent Strider), Seattle and London. It’s an interesting read and it really showcases how dangerous the Weaver can be, as well as why some Garou consider it to be the true enemy rather than the Wyrm. Again, it’s a fun chapter to read, but it’s not something that is going to wow any long time W:TA fan or change how they look at the Weaver. It’s all common sense stuff regurgitated in a fun piece of fiction. Mechanics wise, you get five new fetishes and five new totems.

Chapter Three, “The Wyld,” isn’t about Gaia, but what the Garou nation needs to do to win the war against the Wyrm, as well as how to keep Kinfolk and wolves alike safe and healthy. Some of the suggestions make a lot of sense (more Lupus Garou need to be born as they can have more babies than a human and become Garou five times faster than a Homid born cub) while others are a bit harsh or dark to our conventional human morality (Breed, breed, breed as there is a war going on. Which explains the disdain Sarah gets from other Garou in Chapter One for being homosexual. Homosexual couplings can’t produce children and thus she is far less likely to make little garou babies so that the war against the Wyrm can be won. Hey, at least it’s better than “Bing Gay is evil for no vague undefined reasons based on an interpretation of a religious textbook that may or may not be in line with the point of view possessed by the deity in question!”) We’re also treated to a look at various wolf populations across the world and the threats they face. Locations include Minnesota, Ethiopia, Yellowstone National Park, the Australian Outback, the Iberian Peninsula and Central Asia (Specifically five ex Soviet Union nations). Besides the in-game fiction we get the concept of spontaneous Metis (created by radiation exposure), a new gift, a new rite, a new fetish, two new talens, and a quick write-up of caerns in the aforementioned locations. Again a fun read, but nothing that makes Rage Across the Worlda must-own by any stretch of the imagination.



The Appendix, "Gaia" is perhaps the most interesting piece of the book and it also presents things from a different viewpoint than most players and/or in-game characters have. The fact the first section is entitled, "Why We've Lost" is probably pretty unexpected and jarring but it drives home the core concept of the W:TA (The end of days and the final battle are nigh) and it's a reminder that Gaia is much more than trees and rocks or water and air. Gaia is life and creation. Locations include New Guinea, The Arctic Circle and the one two punch of Tanzania and Kenya. The latter gives us a hint of things to come in the upcoming W20 release: Changing Breeds, which is a look at the other shapeshifter races across the world. We’re give a nice look at the fall of Black Tooth (a despotic werelion) in this book, something that will be touched on in far greater depth in Changing Breeds. Mechanics-wise you get some new rites, gifts and totems and then…the book just ends abruptly. That’s it. No conclusion or short piece to wrap things up. Just an odd for the eventual Wraith 20th Anniversary Edition promised for 2014 (Ha ha ha…now that’s a pipe dream) even though we’re still waiting on Mage.

Overall, Rage Across the World is a fun read, but by no means a must have. As a Kickstarter backer freebie, this was an excellent way to spend those stretch goal funds and there is little to complain about here. If you did miss out on the W20 Kickstarter, only time will tell if this is worth purchasing. It’s all going to come down to the MSRP Onyx Path saddles this book with. As there is very little content other than the in-game fiction pieces and all the mechanics pieces are optional and minor at best, only extremely devoted W20 people should pick this up and even then, that core demographic have almost assuredly gotten this as a freebie because they backed the Kickstarter campaign.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
W20 Rage Across the World
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/31/2013 14:12:55
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/31/book-review-rites-of-re-
nown-when-will-you-rage-ii-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anni-
versary-edition/

It’s been a very good year for gaming fiction anthologies, even though full fledged gaming novels (like The Sundering series) have been a bit lackluster. Shadowrun Returns, The Strix Chronicle Anthology and Tales From the Ninth World have all been pretty solid. Now, Werewolf: the Apocalypse gets its own anthology to boot. I’ll admit, Rites of Renown has me wishing for a V:TM fiction anthology, but this particular book came about only because of the abundance of funds raised in the W:TA 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter. There are nineteen stories contained in this collection by as many authors, which is a lot compared to other White Wolf/Onyx Path anthologies. Like any anthology, the quality of the pieces are all over the place, from so bad I’d be embarrassed to be the person who approved the publication of the piece to worth the cost of admission alone. Of course, the problem is defining which piece is which. No two people will read through an anthology with this many stories and like the exact same ones, but as this is my review, we’ll have to go with thoughts and opinions on the specific pieces. Just remember one man’s opinion (no matter how well respected) is not the word of God coming down from on high, so pieces I utterly hated you might love and vice versa.

1.) Throated. Wow, this was really bad. I mean really bad. The worst way to start off an anthology is with a piece so utterly horrible in style, tone and flow that it makes you want to stop reading the entire book right then and there. Unfortunately, “Throated” is just such a piece. I really wanted to give it a chance because it was by Devin Grayson, who is one of the most maligned comic book writers of all time. Just bring her up to a collective of Nightwing fans and you’ll see a level of hate usually only reserved by X-Men fans for Chuck Austen. However, I’ve missed Ms. Grayson’s comic run and I really liked Chuck Austen’s run on Exiles, so I wanted to give her a chance, especially since the only thing I’ve read of hers is her novel Inheritance, which, admittedly, is not very good. In her defense, DC Super Heroes are very hard to write in novel form. Even Alan Grant, who I love, wrote a slight stinker with Last Sons, and the only DC novel I’ve enjoyed is by Roger Stern.

But I digress. Back on topic with why “Throated” is so terrible. Basically it reads like it was written by a person who has only ever flipped through the first edition W:TA handbook and is pulling out buzzwords left and right to prove they know something about the system. Throw in a very bad narrative style told by an extremely unlikeable and annoying narrator and a very implausible plot about a Kinfolk teenager saving his sister from Pentex, and you have a story that hits all the bases. Unfortunately, it was all the negative bases; this was just chock full of every one of my pet peeves wrapped up into a short story. “Throated” was so bad, I had to constantly put it down to groan. I really wanted to be positive here, but when I was done reading it, I couldn’t imagine a worse story for Werewolf: the Apocalypse. 0 for 1

2.) Unwind. Well, unfortunately for this anthology, they followed up the worst W:TA thing I’ve ever read by something EVEN WORSE. I guess that’s a feat in and of itself, because I didn’t think it was possible to get worse, but “Unwind” accomplished it in spades. You know a story is bad when you could take it out of the anthology and no one would realize it was a story about a Garou’s first change. Honestly, if one were just given this thing, it would come off as nothing more than an extremely disturbed and horribly written tale about a teenager running around killing people in gruesome fashion simply because they were insane. This is like the type of story someone writes in Middle School simply to freak out the teacher and get a chuckle out of their friends. Sadly, “Unwind” has the writing quality and narrative style of someone in that age group as well. It’s truly just terrible on all levels. At least with “Throated,” you could tell it was a W:TA story. “Unwind” is just someone’s extremely uncreative (and poorly written) ode to torture porn. Honestly, it’s so awful that I think we have a winner for the worst piece of RPG fiction that someone actually was paid money for. I’m honestly embarrassed that there are people at OPP that thought this was quality, and doubly so that someone got a paycheck for this. For shame. Seriously. There has never been a worse 1-2 punch to start of an anthology that I have encountered. 0 for 2.

3.) The Lost. Thank Nyarlathotep the entire anthology gets better from here. “The Lost” is a fine story about three homid Garou who underwent their first change by themselves and have found each other without any knowledge of the culture and history they are a part of. Together, they find their place in the world and come to terms with their new bestial side. It’s very well done. 1 for 3.

4.) Scar Tissue. This is a story about how nasty and subtle the Wyrm can be. The main character discovers she is a Garou… again. How does that work? You’ll have to read to find out. The entire affair is a pretty entertaining read, with some great descriptions of the Seattle area and a possibly unintentional reference to Twin Peaks. There are some extremely memorable characters here, and even though the entire tale wraps up nicely, I wouldn’t mind reading further adventures of Indria and Dr. Editon. 2 for 4.

5.) Why Old Wyrm Devours His Tail. I think this might be my favorite story in the collection. It’s a story about stories and their importance in the world. As a folklorist, I loved this piece. Aeden MacGowan is a Fianna trying to collect stories from all the tribes in an effort to keep them preserved. It’s a beautiful piece in all respects. There are some definite sad moments, but also some brilliant ones as well. The author is one of the few to actually get Black Spiral Dancers RIGHT. The vast majority of writers use the Dancers as poorly as V:TM writers use Malkavians – as nonsensical annoying loons. We get a really strong look at how sane, cunning and even noble a Dancer can be. It just happens that they’re on the Wyrm’s side. Corruption isn’t akin to madness, and it was a breath of fresh air to see that. This is definitely one of the jewels of the collection. 3 for 5.

6.) Hairshirt. The winner of the weirdest title in the collection, “Hairshirt” is a fun look at the old trope of multiple people telling the same story about a cub’s first change, a battle with Weaver spirits and the origin of the pack’s name, but from a radically different point of view. It’s a well told, and often times funny, look at how just because you are in a pack, it doesn’t mean you are bosom buddies. I also found that I loved the character named The Unlidded Eye… although he did seem more Hakken than Shadow Lord. “Hairshirt” was a really fun story, and it was great to see a W:TA take on an old classic setup. 4 for 6.

7.) The Magadon Job. The flow of this story is similar to “Hairshirt,” but slightly different. Instead of five retellings of the same story, it’s five different Garou telling one story in parts. The job in question involves a team of Garou being hired for a snatch and grab operation inside one of Pentex’s branch corporations. The catch is that the grab is the sister of the Black Fury that hired them. The story doesn’t have a happy ending by any means, but it’s a well told piece of fiction, and each of the five Garou are very clearly defined. You really walk away with a sense of who each one is. Another thumbs up here. 5 for 7.

8.) Tears on a Tainted Blade. I just didn’t care for this story. It was extremely cheesy on all levels, and I can’t say I cared for any of the characters in the slightest. The story is about three different sides of Garou all after the same item – the very first Klaive ever created. I hate when people go that route, as the end result is never satisfying and revealing the origins of the first ANYTHING is always underwhelming, not to mention forces everyone else to shoehorn in a badly done piece of canon. The Silver Fangs come off as more psychotically evil than slightly crazy aristrocrats. The Shadow Lord is more Hakken (a trend in this collection), and the story ends about as stupidly as it is abrupt. “Oh no, Wyrm! Let’s instantly put aside an entire tale of HATE to team up and fight them. The End.” Not very good on any level. 5 for 8.

9.) Straw Death. This is the tale of a Get of Fenris Garou near death and her decision to fight and die or run away to fight another day. The main character is not very likeable, but the author does a good job of showing her thought process, complete with her reasons for wanting to flee or fight. Although it’s not my favorite piece in the anthology, it’s well done. It’s also another piece that actually gets a Black Spiral Dancer correct. I know – two in one collection. I’m as shocked as you are. 6 for 9.

10.) That Kind of Kin. This tale is told from the point of view of a Kinfolk that doesn’t really like being Kinfolk. No, she has no plans to become a Skinwalker. She’s loyal to Gaia – she just hates the attitude and personality of Garou. This tale takes place at the tail end of a fierce battle between a pack and some Black Spiral Dancers, and gives you the aftermath of the event. The story is pretty dark and there is no happy ending to be seen here, but it’s really quire enjoyable. It’s also nice to see someone take a look at how shabbily a lot of the Garou treat their Kinfolk – almost similar to how Kindred treat their Blood Dolls. They are a means to an end and little more. A definite read, especially if you plan on ever playing a Kinfolk. 7 for 10.

11.) Moonshine. I just couldn’t get into this story at all. The plot of a Garou pack breaking up a wacky Wyrm conspiracy is fine and all, but I just didn’t care for any of the characters or the narrative style. If I want a tale about a hillbilly furrie jugband collective, I have Emmit Otter’s Christmas Special for that. I just couldn’t get into this piece at all. I had to keep putting the story down because my eyes were glazing over from boredom. 7 for 11.

12.) Rhymes with Food Truck. This was a very funny piece about a Garou (Bone Gnawer from the description) that drives a food truck, the Pentex scheme he uncovers and the Glass Walker he has a feud with. All these things come together in a pretty ridiculous but well written and highly entertaining story. It’s nice to see a light comedy piece in the bunch, as you rarely seem something like that in a WoD anthology. Even in the World of Darkness, not everything is overly angsty gloom and doom. 8 for 12.

13.) Gryphon, in Glass and Steel. A Garou stops what appears to be an everyday mugging, which of course turns out to be anything but. It’s a nice set up, but the end story not only ends abruptly, but without any real resolution. I liked the two main characters, but the story definitely felt like it was missing a few pages or that editorial made the author shorten things. I could go either way on this one, but I’ll be nice and count this in the positive column. 9 for 13.

14.) Tatters of Honour. The Shadow Lords and the Wendigo end a centuries old blood feud. It’s a nice look at how the Garou often hurt themselves worse than the Wyrm ever could. Are these two ancient but proud tribes able to stop the cycle of mistrust and violence between them? A fine read indeed. 10 for 14.

15.) Cleanup. I just didn’t care for this one. I think some people will be surprised to learn that the story’s description of immigration centres in England are actually more accurate than people want to believe (save for the WoD aspects like Garou after all), but the story just didn’t seem to gel together very well. A pack of Garou breaks into an immigration detention centre to help save a cub on the brink of first change, and it all goes to pot. The story is fine up until you get into the centre, and then the narrative just breaks down big time. It’s like two different authors are telling the story. The twist that comes at the midway point just doesn’t hold up, and the story never recovers. 10 for 15.

16.) Things Seen. This is a fun story. It’s W:TA meets The X-Files. A group of parapsychologist Garou track down a mysterious creature they identify as a Wog, but what is it doing in Pickens County, GA (A lot of the stories in this collection are set in GA and WA BTW…) and what does it have to do with the Croaton tribe? This was one of my favorite stories in the collection. You see the heel turn coming pretty easily, but not the other swerve the story throws at you. Really well told, and the author does a nice job clinging to the core tropes of W:TA while also giving us a more unique story. 11 for 16.

17.) The Stone is a Mirror Which Works Poorly. Another stinker. This story has an amnesiac protagonist – always a red flag that the tale will be uninspired drek. The author tries to present multiple chapters of dreamlike imagery and Dubliners style stream of consciousness, but it never ends up being more than chaotic, confusing babble where more of the story is between the lines and outright off the page than actually written down. Yuck. 11 for 17.

18.) Eyes Towards Heaven. This is a hard one to judge. The first five chapters of this story are exceptionally well done. The author does a great job of defining all the characters, giving them a surprising amount of background and personality for the page restraints, and it’s a really fun read… up until the W:TA aspect of the story shows up. Then the entire thing goes off rails and just falls apart. This is another story where it feels like the author combined two very different stories into one, hoping to make them work, but instead of a juxtaposition of Wyrm and Wyld, you get totally abrupt and almost nonsensical personality changes for the two main characters. The entire story loses that wonderful sense of imagery it had contained up until then, and you lose the entire suspension of disbelief. From a late blooming first changer and his friend taking down an entire pack of Garou to the really terrible portrayal of the Black Spiral Dancers, in the same way a lot of bad writers take the Sabbat and make them little more than psychotic Satanists, I found myself going from loving this story to just being utterly disappointed by it. I respect and like what the author was trying to do here, but it just didn’t work. 11 for 18.

19.) Vigrid. Although this collection started off really poorly, I’m glad it ended well. It’s the tale of Karl, a Garou Elder at the end of his lifespan, and how he spends the last bits of his existence. Of course, as a member of the Get of Fenris clan, you can pretty much guess how that goes. The story is a pretty touching one, which is all the more impressive considering the level of violence in it. You get a really great look at the family structure of this Get sept (perhaps even a full Caern by the size of it) and it’s one of the most balanced and in-depth looks at Garou structure and thinking that I’ve seen in a piece of W:TA fiction. A really excellent read, and while not my favorite story in the collection, it is definitely the best way to end things. 12 for 19.

So a thumbs up to twelve stories and a thumbs down to seven. That’s a sixty three percent quality rate, and the good obviously outweighs the bad in this one. While Rites of Renown won’t be a contender for our “Best Tabletop Related Fiction” award this year, it’s still worth reading through and picking up if you’re a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Again, my opinions on each of these stories are just that, and the ones you like in this collection may very well differ from mine. The one thing that is for sure, though, is that there are some very good stories to be had in this collection, and that WoD fans will have a fun time reading through this one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Rites of Renown: When Will You Rage II
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Artifacts & Oddities Collection 1
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/30/2013 06:20:50
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/30/tabletop-review-artifac-
ts-and-oddities-collection-i-numenera/

Similar to the Cipher Collection I, Artifacts and Oddities Collection I is a list of objects that a GM can throw into their Ninth World campaign for players to find and use. Where Ciphers tend to be items good for only a single use, Artifacts are longer lasting items, and thus can have a more powerful effect on a adventure, or even a campaign. As such, it’s harder to design one without risking the balance of a game. Oddities, meanwhile, are just super strange things that have no real use or benefit to players, save for being weird and puzzling reminders of the previous worlds that came before. To help GMs out, Monte Cook Games has created this ten page collection.

There are thirty-three Artifacts and fifty Oddities to be had in this piece. That’s a lot of new items to pack into ten pages, isn’t it? Well, the Oddities only take up two pages in this supplement, and one of those pages is merely descriptor text about the concept of Oddities. The last page is the Oddities in a single list, each getting only a sentence of description. I was a bit disappointed in that respect, but the Oddities do live up to their names, with the level of weirdness I keeping hoping to find on every page of a Numenera release. These include things like a piece of cloth that is oddly pleasing to touch, a small jar that fills with one ounce of green paint every morning at dawn, a glove that makes your voice extremely high pitched and a metal rod that makes anyone who touches it sneeze. These are great and really showcase the billion years of history that came before the Ninth World. Just drop one of these into an adventure and players will agonize over the original purpose and how it can help them on their quest du jour. It has to have a purpose, right? WRONG! It’s flavor, pure and simple.

The thirty-three artifacts are far less weird, unfortunately. Each of the thirty-three items gets a paragraph of text to describe their use, so they are pretty fleshed out. Like many of the Ciphers, though, these items seem to be more run of the mill dungeon crawl loot than things that truly help to define Numenera as something new and different. Indeed, many of the items merely feel like scientific versions of Dungeons & Dragons mainstay magical items. The Handy Hollow is a Portable Hole variant, for example. The Interceptor is simply a Protection Against Missiles spell, but in tech form. The Spider Harness is a more literal version of Spider Climb, and the Skin of Water Breathing is like any magical item that gives you a water breathing effect. I was a bit disappointed that the team behind Artifacts and Oddities Collection didn’t get more creative or bizarre with their artifacts, as too many of these items feel too similar to your standard hack and slash fantasy loot – which is not what I (nor really anyone) wants from Numenera.

That’s not to say that all the Artifacts fall into fantasy loot trope town. Some are pretty innovative and outside the box. Take the Foldable Coach for example. This is an interesting little vehicle that is sure to make characters stand out wherever they go. There’s also the Obedient Rope, which is a semi-intelligent (perhaps sentient) piece of cable. The Yesterglass is perhaps the most out there item. When held before a user’s face, this glass panel will show the last major event to happen in the general vicinity, even if it happened hundreds of years in the past. That’s pretty crazy and can, in and of itself, set off many an adventure.

All in all, the Artifacts and Oddities Collection I is a nice little collection. At $2.99 I’d say it’s probably one or two dollars overpriced, especially if you’re good at homebrewing your own items for PCs to find. If, however, you like to stick to only published material, you’ll probably get your money’s worth out of this collection. Again, I’d personally like to see some weirder and more nebulous items in these collections, but opinion may vary on that one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Artifacts & Oddities Collection 1
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Displaying 106 to 120 (of 527 reviews) Result Pages: [<< Prev]   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 ...  [Next >>] 
Back
You must be logged in to rate this
0 items
 Gift Certificates