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The Ballad of Bass Rock - Call of Cthulhu
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/29/2012 16:30:23
(Originally posted at http://secondleft.blogspot.ca/2012/12/review-ballad-of-bass--
rock-for-call-of.html)

Over the last couple of years Cubicle 7 has surprised us all by releasing their Cthulhu Britannica line for Call of Cthulhu to great acclaim. Their most recent print publication for the line, Shadows Over Scotland, was very well received (I really need to finish reading that.) If you haven't read any of the line go and grab them, they're all available from DriveThruRPG in PDF format.

The Ballad of Bass Rock is an adventure for Shadows Over Scotland that was originally supposed to be contained in the original publication of Shadows Over Scotland, but was cut when the layout of the book resulted in the page count growing beyond what was planned. Cubicle 7 has now laid out this adventure and made it available for sale.

So what are we getting for our $3.99? First off the adventure is 14 pages. It is professionally laid out and looks like it would if it had been part of the original book. Except the adventure isn't really 14 pages. The first page is taken up by a cover with a nice enough faux oil painting of the island of Bass Rock, and the second page is completely taken up by the credits for the product and license information. So now we're down to 12 pages out of our 14. For $3.99 my feeling of value is already dropping fast here.

The adventure starts in a minorly contrived way, but hey we're Call of Cthulhu players we're used to that now, with the players on board a boat on a pleasure cruise off the coast of Scotland. A storm suddenly arises and smashes the boat on the rocks of Bass Rock. The players, and any surviving NPCs, are then faced with getting help and surviving the day on the rock.

Bass Rock is mainly a bird colony, and the only structures are a lighthouse, the ruins of an old castle and an even older chapel. Unfortunately it's only inhabitants at this point are 150,000+ birds and one huge shoggoth. The shoggoth has been here a couple of weeks, has devoured the lighthouse keeper and the crew sent to find out why they hadn't heard from him. It has also been pulling dolphins and orcas out of the sea and leaving their rotting remains in the castle ruins.

The only real objective of the adventure is to survive and try and contact the mainland to get help.

The bulk of the 0 pages of the adventure are taken up with descriptions of the NPCs involved and descriptions of the locations on the island. The NPCs, two crew members and a newly wed couple, are given sufficient information to be interesting characters in themselves and there is certainly enough information to make them memorable NPCs for the players. Unfortunately there are no illustrations of the NPCs.

Most of the description concerns the lighthouse, and it is fairly thorough. Descriptions of each floor of the lighthouse and what can be found on each floor is very helpful in bringing life to the locations.

All in all the adventure is very basic but could be fun as an introduction to Call of Cthulhu. It will provide a challenge as it is unlikely that the players will find any way to kill the shoggoth, so other solutions need to be considered. I will likely find myself using the adventure at some point.

Finally at the end the last 2 pages consist of reproductions of the handouts already contained in the text, and a plot map table. Considering how short the adventure already is for the money, spending nearly two pages reproducing the handouts again feels like a complete waste. Since this is PDF only we can easily print whatever pages we like and cutout the handouts as needed. I understand this is normal layout process for an RPG adventure, but in this already short product it feels like padding and a reduction in the value for money.

Overall I don't think this is value for money. $3.99 is simply too much for what amounts to a 10 page adventure and this really should have been made available for free on the website for Shadows Over Scotland. So I can't recommend it from a value perspective.

From an adventure perspective it's enjoyable if a bit short. Not exactly the best adventure out there, but adequate for the size. It is however the kind of adventure you'd expect to see in a magazine or as a free download on a website rather than a sold product. If it had been included in Shadows Over Scotland it would have been fine, but here it's a little lacking. Maps of the lighthouse, ruins and chapel would have been appreciated, but aren't necessary.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Ballad of Bass Rock - Call of Cthulhu
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Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Publisher: Engine Publishing
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/24/2012 19:15:30
[Originally posted at http://secondleft.blogspot.ca/2012/10/review-never-unprepare-
d-complete-game.html]

I've recently finished reading through Phil Vecchione's, Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep, and now that I'm finished, it's review time.

Never Unprepared is 134 pages long in what appears to be a large digest format (I only have the PDF version, not the print copy.) This short length of the book, plus the easy writing style, make it very accessible and easy for even a busy GM to read and get something out of. Additionally since the pages are in a smaller format, it's easy to read on a smartphone or small screen tablet.

Screenshot taken from DriveThruRPG for illustration purposes
First off lets go over what this book is not. This book is not a plan to tell you how to do your session prep. It will not say you should do X and Y before a game, and will not solve all the problems that you have in getting preparation done before your game.

So, what is it? I've never seen one before, no one has, but I'm guessing it's a white hole. Sorry, been watching too much Red Dwarf lately (if you've never seen the series it's a BBC sitcom set on a deep space mining vessel, and the early seasons are really good.)

So, what is it? Well Never Unprepared is a book that takes some project management principles (don't worry, it's not scarey) and attempts to apply them to the art of game mastering. Effectively treating the approach to game prep the same way one would a project plan for a large project. Yes this may sound daunting, but don't worry it's all distilled down in the book. The aim of the book is to provide you with a means of developing your own method of gaming prep that is repeatable and honed to suit your gaming needs and your GMing strengths and weaknesses.So the book doesn't tell you how to prep your games, it tells you how to go about working out how is best for you to prep for your games.

I'm going to borrow from the index now to guide you through the book contents.
Foreword
Introduction
How to Use This Book
Understanding Prep
Prep is Not a Four Letter Word
The Phases of Prep
Brainstorming
Selection
Conceptualization
Documentation
Review
Prep Toolbox
Tools for Prep
Mastering your Creative Cycle
Evolving Your Style
Your Personal Prep Templates
The Prep-Lite Approach
Prep in the Real World
Conclusion
References and Inspiration
Index
The core content of the book is explaining the five phases of prep that Phil has identified over his years of GMing. Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation and Review. Each of the sections on that particular area of prep goes into details on what would be contained in that phase, some common pitfalls to avoid, and a quiz to rate your effectiveness at the particular phase. Additionally there are a load of hints and tips along the way on how you may be able to accomplish this phase without telling you how to do it (in other words it doesn't dictate a methodology.)

For example the section on brainstorming suggests just throwing ideas down on paper that seem vaguely interesting. Don't think about them in great detail, don't analyze whether or not they'd be useful or how you can use them, just basic thoughts. Deciding if they're good comes in the Selection phase, and fleshing them out in Conceptualization. Some hints on capturing your brainstorming, such as always having a note application on your smartphone, or a small notebook tucked in your pocket.

There is advice on how you can improve what you do in each section, and how to spot when you are doing too much. For instance are you really good at coming up with evocative location descriptions on the fly? Then you really shouldn't be wasting your time writing it out in more than a bullet point or two to keep a focus.

Yes some of the advice in the book may see obvious to many, but sometimes you still need someone to point it out to you to make it stick in your mind.

It's hard to pick out specifics that are good, and what is bad, but there is so much useful ideas in the book that I'll end up taking on a lot of them and most won't even be conscious. From that perspective you can get more out of the book that you think. In many ways it's a self help book to give you the push towards thinking in a more efficient way about the approach you take to gaming prep.

Conclusion: Is this a book worth reading for any GM? If you find you're not ready in time for your games, or that the gaming prep is taking too much of your time and you consider it sometimes to be time wasted, then definitely buy this book. In fact I'd recommend buying it anyway as even the most experienced Game Masters will likely find something in there that is useful to them. Myself, I'm taking the templates concepts and applying them into my notes, it's already improved things. And since reading the book, I now use Evernote on my smartphone constantly to enter ideas and carry a small notebook in my jacket pocket.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
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Shadowrun: The Land of Promise
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/29/2012 10:54:21
Originally posted at http://secondleft.blogspot.ca/2012/09/review-shadowrun-land--
of-promise.html

So recently Shadowrun: The Land of Promise was released by Catalyst in PDF format. I picked up a copy from DriveThruRPG and had a read.

For those who don't know, The Land of Promise is the translation of Tir Tairngire the predominately Elvish country that was established to the south of Shadowrun's default Seattle setting. It's a country that has seen its fair share of turmoil over the last 50 years of the setting (currently in 2074 as of this supplement.)

So what do you get. Well for $5.95 you get a 24 page PDF. The production quality is of the current usual Catalyst standard, that is pretty good and as you'd expect from a RPG product these days. It's colourful, with a good density of text and a reasonable text to graphics/whitespace ratio.

The 24 pages break down as:
1 page for the cover painting, which while nice enough kind of evokes a sensation of Rivendell if it where on Minbar
1 page is the obligatory Jackpoint login screen informing you of what is coming next, and some news
4 pages are taken up with a vaguely interesting piece of short fiction that sets the scene for some of the action going on in the Tir these days
13 pages of information on the Tir (well most of it is your favourite Jackpointers talking about the Tir)
1 page of adventure hooks
3 pages of NPCs for people the average shadowrunner may encounter during their stay
1 page (well half a page really) detailing briefly a magical society, The Moonlight Thorns
What it isn't. This isn't a guide to the Tir, for information on the history of Tir Tairngire, culture etc you'll need to look at The Sixth World Almanac, or the older first edition Tir Tairngire sourcebooks.

What it is. It is presented as an edited down copy of a delightfully cheesy Tir Tairngire travel brochure for prospective tourists (complete with Grimmy the Grimoire icon telling you all about the Tir. Think that annoying paperclip from older versions of Microsoft Office and you'll have the exact right idea.) When I say heavily edited it means the majority of the would be text in that brochure has been deleted and replaced by commentary by the usual suspect posters on Jackpoint commenting on the realities of what goes on. While this may sound annoying, long time Shadowrun readers know that the real meat and details are often in these posters comments giving the realities (and sometimes completely incorrect information) on the topic at hand, and The Land of Promise is no exception to this rule. In fact the Jackpoint comments make up perhaps 80% of the text of the book outside the opening fiction and NPC section. It should be noted that the single largest topic of conversation here is the princes of the Tir, what they stand for and what they're currently up to in the run up to the next election.

What little art is in the book (other than Grimmy the Grimoire) consist of some character drawings that seem to be representative of princes of the Tir, but its not obvious. The art is adequate, but doesn't seem to be trying to fill a particular purpose as the style doesn't always seem to fit with the descriptions of the princes it's presumably trying to illustrate. It's almost as if they just had a load of spare character art lying around and decided to use it in this book.

One thing I don't particularly like about the book, and Catalyst please take note, is the attempt at illustrating the different sections of the travel guide and which section is currently being read. Imagine images like below
Subject 1
Subject 2
Subject 3
- Subject 4
where the Subject 4 item is the section of the guide currently being read. I can see what they're trying to get at and it does give some framework to hanging the sections of conversation off of, but it just serves to illustrate what could have been in the book but isn't, and this could be confusing to someone who doesn't get what they're trying to do.

So value for money. Well I recently purchased the hardcopy of The Clutch of Dragons (review coming later), a 152 page softcover for $29.99 (that's just under 20 cents a page.) Compare that to $5.95 for a 24 page PDF leaves you at just under 25 cents per page, and that's only a PDF not a hardcopy, and it seems a bit pricey. I'd really expect to pay perhaps $3.95 for this rather than the six bucks, especially given the higher margins (but perhaps lower sales.)

The product does really rely on you being up to date on the Shadowrun background for the Tir and the civil unrest and political upheaval of the last decade to get the most out of it, so if you're not familiar with that and just want a book to give you some information then you should look elsewhere. If you want an update on the political situation and some more tidbits of information plus filling in more holes in the continuing Shadowrun metaplot, then by all means have a look.

If you're planning on having the players run in the Tir during the upcoming election, then there is plenty of information in here to use as plot hooks for what will bean interesting time.

Overall I'm not convinced this is a must buy at the price and for the content. I'm a Shadowrun completist so I'll buy anything they produce for it but your mileage may vary.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Land of Promise
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All Flesh Must be Eaten Revised
Publisher: Eden Studios
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/02/2006 06:57:56
A fabulous little game that can easily be used for campaigns as well as one off adventures. Eden has really thought about all the different aspects to the zombie genre and presented many options for GMs within the book. As for it being a PDF there is absolutely nothing wrong with the quality of the file. The images are clear, the text sharp and I've not come across any technical errors with it. Highly recommended.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
All Flesh Must be Eaten Revised
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The Fiery Trial
Publisher: Mongoose
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/02/2006 06:55:16
Good item though on a couple of pages the font goes a bit strange, I'm sure it's not like that in the actual hardcopy. Anyway, the adventures are by and large quite well thought out though on occassion the authors forget about the realities of the B5 universe (the main one is the several occassions they seem to forget that Earth ships don't have artificial gravity and neither do most of the races). Other than that recommended as a series of connected adventures set in the first season of Babylon 5.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Fiery Trial
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