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Only War: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2013 19:38:24
Only War is the latest RPG out for the Warhammer 40k rpgs released by Fantasy Flight Games. After tackling the Inquisition, Rogue Traders, Space Marines and Chaos, the series finally pays attention to the true backbone of the Imperium's endless war: the men and women of the Imperial Guard.

In many ways I was looking forward to this book the most. While there's some kind of glamour associated with the Space Marines, the true heart of many stories set in war come from the front lines. The Imperial Guard are the ones who see the fight first, and suffer incredible losses in their days at war. They are the ones who stand to lose the most, and are most vulnerable to the enemy but they don't back down despite the horrors of war, because that is what they do.

Most of all, this is the game that allows you to really tell more well-rounded, human stories rather than the laser focus of just plain hating on the Xenos, the Mutant, the Daemon and the Heretic. (I know I'm oversimplifying things here, but bear with me.)

In any case, those familiar with the rules for Dark Heresy will find that Only War uses the same system, with some intresting new mechanics. One of my favorites is the Regiment creation system, where a group (or the GM) can plan out what kind of Regiment they want to play if they don't want to use any of the ones provided. That said, there's a lot of interesting Regiments to choose from, starting with the Cadian Shock Troops to other iconic Regiments like the Catachan, the Mordians and the Tallarn.

Players can take on the roles of more than just Guardsmen as they get to choose specialties such as Heavy Gunner, Medic, Operator, Sergeant and Weapons Specialist. Furthermore they have Support Specialists as further options including the infamous Commissar, Ministorum Priest, Ogryn, Ratling, Sanctioned Psykers, Storm Troopers and Tech-Priest Engineers. The sheer variance provided is a very nice touch as it helps dispel the impression that everyone essentially plays a grunt with a helmet and a lasgun.

Another interesting mechanic is the generation of Comrades. These are special NPCs that fight alongside the player characters. Mechanically they're sort of like familiars, as each player has direct control over their Comrades by the use of Orders. This doesn't mean that Comrades are expendable by any stretch as certain abilities rely on having a Comrade, and it is to a player's best interest to keep their Comrades alive as long as possible.

Vehicles also a large part in an Imperial Guard game, and vehicle rules account for movement and combat, including some interesting systems critical hit charts that go a long way to simulate the harrowing nature of taking a critical hit while inside a vehicle. Repair rules are also present, giving more opportunities to simulate the "less than ideal" world of living with vehicles that have been patched together by field repairs.

As with all the books in the Warhammer 40k line, the artwork is solid and the layout is readable. I'm glad that the fonts they chose for this are readable while retaining the whole Warhammer 40k vibe. Also of note is the fact that the PDF has been cross-linked, making rules look ups as painless as possible.

Overall, I feel that Only War is a product that shows just how used to the system the team is already at this point. Furthermore, they have a very strong vision as to what the game should be about and aren't afraid to push that agenda via the rules. There's a lot of fluff discussing the nature of the war and how it grinds humanity down, but it never comes off as too depressing as to be utterly unplayable. There are real opportunities to live (and die) as heroes in the war. It's admittedly not the easiest thing to do in the context of RPGs, but in this case Only War deserves a Medal.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Only War: Core Rulebook
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The Book of Earth
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/02/2013 19:31:44
Second in the series of elemental-themed sourcebooks for the timeline-neutral 4th Edition, the Book of Earth is the latest release on PDF.

The Book of Earth focuses on the facets that are relevant to Earth, as broken down to a look into War, the Court, Magic, Enlightenment and the Setting. Like the Book of Air, the Book of Earth also provides a self-contained setting that can be dropped into any campaign. For those looking for new Mechanics, they follow the same format as Book of Air, and have it all on the last chapter of the book.

I find that the approach of showing off each of elements as part of a greater culture and further subdivided per clan is a unique one, and the Book of Earth has some very good insights. My favorite section would have to be a discussion on armor, and the focus of Shiba Artisans creating ornate and functional armor for the bushi of the Phoenix was a very insightful touch.

I'm certain that Crab Clan fans will be very happy to get this book due to the focus and attention it gives to Heavy Weapons as well. There's also a quick section that shows how to use non-standard Skill / Trait pairings that focus on Willpower and Stamina, some of the most underused traits that get some interesting new combinations for both combat and non-combat characters alike.

That said, all the Clans get something from the book. The discussion on armor, castles and sieges for example, apply to all the clans. GMs and Players alike will find inspiration and plot hooks dripping from nearly every sentence, and I can see how this can be an inspiration for character concepts that go beyond the usual Bushi-Courtier-Shugenja trifecta. Sumai Champion bushi? Why not. Shiba Artisan focusing on Armor? Absolutely.

Those who are looking at the spiritual side of the element need not fear as there's a discussion on Earth magic, as well as the families that excel in it. The Tamori family for example is given some spotlight time here, as well as the infamous Chuda family. New Earth spells will make many shugenja players happy, and the Monks get their own set of kiho to shake things up.

Again the Book of Earth is a great addition to the L5R 4th Edition line. Much like the Book of Air, the book manages to expand the depth of culture and history of the setting while still remaining iconic and accessible to new players. Solid writing, combined with L5R's always excellent artwork make this one a winner.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Earth
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Champions Complete
Publisher: Hero Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2012 21:21:10
With all the choices right now for superhero gaming, why would anyone want to pick up Champions Complete? Personally, I'd get it because it is reliable, consistent, and clear.

Powered by the HERO system's 6th Edition, Champions Complete is a cleaned up corebook for superheroic gaming without having to chew your way through the original 6th Edition release's massive dual corebooks. The author, Derek Heimforth, dives right into the challenge of presenting Champions without fat and fluff while retaining the clarity of the original.

Champions Complete narrows down HERO's massive potential to cater specifically to superheroic gaming. As expected, the entire HERO system is here, with leaner examples, clarified power descriptions and a friendlier text for getting people to understanding the system without being intimdated.

The Book goes into all the standard parts of the HERO system, from character creation to power creation, combat and equipment. For those wondering about it, Champions Complete lives up to it's name. You'd be hard pressed to find what's missing in this book.

Derek also goes into the examination of the superhero campaign, detailing what superheros are all about, and dealing with the various tropes found in the genre from secret identities to the conflicts common to superhero stories.

I suppose the only thing that's missing from the book is the lack of a dedicated setting. This is covered in another HERO Games product of course, but having one here wouldn't hurt. The example characters and references at the end of the book are very helpful and any experienced GM with his own vision of where to set his superhero game will have no problem getting a game up and running with this.

Champions Complete is an excellent way to get into the HERO system. The friendly and approachable methodology to present HERO in it's native superhero environment for new players is a move that I find to be very useful and well worth picking up if you're still looking for a superhero game.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Champions Complete
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Deadlands Noir
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2012 01:18:29
If there’s a genre that seems like a perfect fit for Deadlands, it’s the Noir setting. Taking place after the default Western-genre setting of Deadlands: Reloaded! but not quite as far in the future as Hell On Earth, Deadlands Noir presents a new and exciting spin on the 1930′s.

In an interesting twist, the game takes place in a much smaller stage. Rather than the Weird (or Wasted) West, the game takes place in the setting’s take of New Orleans. I find this to be a good choice, as the Noir genre is inherently bound to the city. There’s a sharp focus involved in the honing of this supplement, and one that shows in all the design decisions. Everything from the skill list to the sample character concepts oozes style and substance appropriate to the genre. Some are also cleverly renamed from their Weird West counterparts, such as the Patent Scientist, and the Grifters.

The highlight of the book for me is the chapter on New Orleans, which includes a gorgeous and very evocative map of the city, and a detailed look at the various locales. The chapter is practically dripping with plot hooks, and I can see a campaign of Deadlands Noir going for a long, long while.

In a nice touch, the book goes on to discuss the nature of Investigation in the Deadlands Noir setting. This is the kind of information that is golden to GMs, as it helps those who aren’t quite so familiar to the setting to adapt accordingly. Rules on interrogation, patter and even tailing a target are all presented in an easy to understand fashion.

The GM section makes up a huge chunk of the book, and for good reason. It goes into great detail on the secrets of the setting, as well as providing advice for running games in true Noir fashion. The GM Guide to New Orleans presents NPCs and the current state of New Orleans as it relates to the people that inhabit (and control) it. An extra section for how to create Mysteries is particularly inspired as well, helping those who are new to this particular style of storytelling to create one with little difficulty. It takes the form of a random generator with multiple lists involving Hook, Event, Perpetrator, Motive, Evidence, Location and Twist. It’s very nice and I can see it getting use even outside of Deadlands.

The book also includes Red Harvest! A campaign-length mystery that will suit any group, and features a ride through a lot of New Orleans’ set pieces, and with plenty of opportunities for getting into trouble. If that’s not enough, there are also a smattering of Savage Tales, mini-adventures that can be incorporated to Red Harvest! or any Deadlands Noir campaign.

Finally the book finishes with a thorough Rogue’s Gallery and a series of excellent maps of various buildings, a cemetery and other interesting locales for encounters.



Few supplements hit all the right spots in the same way that Deadlands Noir does. It has literally everything you could need. An evocative setting, excellent GM advice, interesting and varied Character concepts, an adventure, gorgeous maps, all with an easy to read layout and excellent artwork to go with it.

Savage Worlds is a very popular system, and books like Deadlands Noir are an example of just why that is. I think that Noir continues with the trend of excellence that Pinnacle has been known for.

Definitely a must have for any fans of the genre, the system and the setting.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Noir
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Second City Boxed Set
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2012 20:22:21
It's been quite a wait for us who rely heavily on PDF copies of rpg books, but the Second City Boxed set that was released earlier this year has finally made it to electronic format.

I have to admit that I've been curious about this product for a while now, as I'm not entirely caught up on the canon storyline of L5R. Making a whole boxed set placed in what can be considered to be a very new development of the story is an interesting choice, as it does help people like me understand what is actually going on.

The Boxed set download is actually a group of PDF files for easier downloading. These include:

The Pillow Book
A Map of the Second City
A "for printing" version of the map
The Campaign
The City
The People
The Journal of Yogo Tanaka

It's a hefty download, but that's par for the course in L5R pdf books. Besides, most of the time the gorgeous production values and layout are always worth it.

The Maps

Both maps of the Second city are in full color, showing the massive scale of the city in question. It's impressive to look at and gives you a good idea as to just how many people can fit in this place. The difference between the files is just that the for-printing version is cut up into 8 pages, while the other has the entire map in one big image.

I did notice that there didn't seem to be any labels of any sort, so it's really a collection of buildings with some farmlands and a walled city in the middle with a palace in it. I'm curious as to why there weren't any labels, or if the files will be updated later.

The Pillow Book of Ide Arahime

The Pillow Book is a 20 page work of fiction meant to serve as an in-character guide to the Second City as written from the point of view of Ide Arahime, a Unicorn Clan author. Presented as a journal of the author's travel and experiences in the Second City, it presents an interesting "outsider's" view of just how different the Second City is compared to traditional Rokugan, and perhaps to the more astute L5R fans, just how many concessions were made to exist there.

The Author touches on all aspects of life, from the look and feel of the place, to the stranger customs, artwork, and architecture. There's a lot to be learned through the fiction, and I found it to be interesting reading and a good way to slowly introduce the differences to those unfamiliar with the colonies.

The Journal of Yogo Tanaka

This second journal is another in-character account, but serves as a record of Yogo Tanaka's investigations and how it slowly gets out of hand. The writing is well done, and I have to admit that it works well for it's purpose, which is a supplement to the Campaign included in the Boxed Set. I'd rather not go into too much detail with regards to the contents lest I spoil any pertinent information, but the book makes for an interesting prop for the campaign.

The Campaign

This pdf contains the rather... plainly titled, "The Campaign" which is a full length campaign meant for characters using the Second City setting. It's an extensive campaign, with interesting characters and a compelling villain go to after.

The campaign itself is fairly broad, starting from Rokugan proper and spinning off into a tour of the Second City setting itself. It's a strongly investigative campaign that lends itself well to characters and players who are more interested to mysteries than pure combat, though there's enough of that as well to show the unique dangers posed by the new setting.

I'm glad to see the variance of plot hooks in the campaign, and it suits a good mix of characters from different clans as the varying points of view and approaches to solving a problem can come in very handy.

The Campaign ends with a bestiary of the various monsters in the Second City setting, including the Destroyers and stranger creatures that can threaten even the most stalwart of samurai.

The City

This book is the one that provides the meat of the setting. Starting off from the History of the Second City as the Rokugani understand it. There's some mention of the Ivory Kingdoms, but the section starts from the rise of the Cult of Rhumal, and Kali-Ma the Destroyer and how Empress Iweko I proclaimed the colonies as territory of Rokugan.

The book also goes on to discuss the layout of the city, complete with sections of the map as presented in the PDF complete with the annotations I was looking for with regards to the important locations in the city. I'm starting to understand that the maps are the ones that can be provided to PCs who are new to the city, and they can be free to add their own notes as necessary, while the GM has this for reference.

Each district is covered in great detail, with all the locations given a thorough treatment and notable NPCs scattered throughout. The RPG team of L5R is known for being thorough, and it shines through in this book.

The last chapter of the book goes into the smaller details, including the routes by which people travel to and from the colonies, and a discussion of the culture and mannerisms of the Second City and how they differ from Rokugan main. A mini-Emerald Empire supplement, if you will.

The People

This PDF goes into the detail of the various social structures in the Second City, including the Ivory Court, the government of the Colonies. This is a great way to preserve the political / intrigue feel of Rokugan in a new setting. With so much to be discovered and explored, this is new territory even for the political characters as they try to push the influence and control of the Second City for their clans.

The next chapter discusses the movers and shakers of the setting including Otomo Suikihime, the notorious Imperial Governor and the various ministers of the setting. While strongly tied to the colonies, those who don't plan to use the setting can always transplant these characters into their own settings with little to no trouble.

The People of the Second City discuss the Great Clans and the Imperial Families. Again these are a host of NPCs that can be used to populate any campaign, and help paint a vibrant (and well populated) location.

Not to be forgotten, the minor clans and wave men of the setting also get their own chapter, discussing the opportunities and nature of their presence in this brave new frontier.

Fnially the last section discusses a smattering of new Paths for the Great Clans and Basic Schools for those native to the Ivory Kingdoms.

---

The Second City Boxed set is huge. It's also an impressive body of work to bring to life a new and exciting development to the L5R universe outside of traditional Rokugan.

While I have to admit that I was initially lukewarm to the idea of this sudden shift outside of the borders of the Empire, I do appreciate the advantages of changing the status quo in such a traditional society. The NPCs and locations presented in the Second City are all done by a team whose enthusiasm shines through, and I'm glad that the team has managed to make sure that none of these characters are mere caricatures.

The usefulness of the set for those who don't plan to use the Second City is still high, as even if you don't end up using the setting, the NPCs alone are worth the price of admission.

Those GMs who wish to have a campaign get their wish, and it's certainly one that spans the length of the Second City and the empire, with equal opportunities for politics, investigation and combat.

The two books are nice for flavor, and the journal makes for a great prop for the campaign. I'm ambivalent about the pillow book however, but it can still be useful for new players who aren't in the mood to slog through The City book.

Is the Second City Boxed Set worth the price as a PDF product? Definitely. There's a ton of detail here, and one could easily run a full campaign with just the contents of this box and the corebook and never look at another supplement again.

The Second City Boxed set continues the winning streak of the Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition supplements and I'm more than happy to say that it can certainly add tons of value to anyone's L5R Collection.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Second City Boxed Set
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Convention Book: N.W.O.
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/27/2012 20:10:42
The release of the N.W.O. convention book is perhaps the surest sign of the return of the classic Mage: the Ascension line to me. I'm a big fan of both Mage lines from the world of darkness, and I was also a very big fan of the Technocracy as well. Having the NWO as a favorite convention, I welcomed (and secretly worried) about the release of this book. Was it going to be good? What if I've put up too many expectations on it that I'd be disappointed?

Now that I've had a chance to read through it, I'm glad that it wasn't a disappointment at all.

Anyway, onto the review:

For those familiar with the Revised-Era Tradition and Convention books, the NWO convention book retains the standard format. It's a familiar and welcoming thing to people who are coming back to M:tA like me, and still fairly accessible to those new to the game.

The book is divided into 6 main sections, which include a fiction Prologue and Epilogue, as well as an Introduction to the current state of the NWO given the events that have taken place since Revised left off, and a discussion of the convention's History, Organizational Structure and Methodoloties and finally the Assets of the New World Order.

The Introduction is a great piece, talking about the big picture and what the NWO is involved in given the shift in society. This is crucial in my mind to haul M:tAw out of the late 90's and into the present day. There's no doubt that the accelerated pace of adoption of technology and societal shifts over the past decade should impact a group so firmly entrenched in humanity as the NWO and it shows.

The History section is told through the lens of a lengthy academic paper written in-character with annotations from a superior. It's a big section, and details many of the pivotal moments in the formation of the NWO. I found the section to be pretty helpful in terms of appreciating the origins of the Convention, but I can't help but feel that it may have gone on just a little too long. The annotations and sidebars help in providing further information, and a presence of a group in the NWO focused on Gender Studies was a nice touch.

Division of Labor breaks down life in the NWO to digestible chunks. From the overall heirarchy to the the means by which they advance up the ranks, this chapter is the most useful to GMs who are looking to run a game which offers an in-depth look into NWO operatives. The Methodologies, or sub-groupings of the NWO are all excellently written, with each having a valid reason for their existence and their own specialties within the Convention. From old favorites like the Ivory Tower and the Operatives to the brand-spanking new Methodology focused on Information Technology called The Feed, each one is full of interesting hooks to make a character from.

Assets brings up a host of things, from interesting NPCs to a treatment of Data as Correspondence, complete with it's own chart for determining sympathy for Data Procedures. These Data Procedures replace Correspondence ones for NWO operatives, and it is surprisingly useful for the convention to have a focus shift towards an increasingly wired society. Interestingly it's not exactly exclusive to the technocracy, and the Virtual Adepts are also capable of taking this view of Correspondence on their own spells.

My favorite section of the Assets chapter is one that deals with the Technocracy's toys. From the Enlightened Smartphone to the iconic Mirrorshades, and the amusingly named Gun For The Job I get happy warm fuzzies at the idea of actually employing these devices on the field both as a player and a GM. The chapter also wraps up with several NWO Procedures.

As with the tradition / convention books, the NWO book wraps up with several sample characters, including a Processed Traditionalist, which I found to be a great angle to work with if I were to play.

---

Convention Book N.W.O. is an excellent way to kick off the return of Mage: the Ascension to active publication once more (though arguably the fact that the books are all available on PDF meant that they never really left.)

The New World Order has finally made it's long desired comeback and I think the fans are going to be very happy with what they're getting. Aside from a much-needed upgrade to a modern paradigm, the NWO convention book shows off all the neat details (and dirty secrets) of the faction, and more importantly makes me want to play it

Convention Book: N.W.O. is available from DriveThruRPG for $13.99 or roughly PHP 574.00

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Convention Book: N.W.O.
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Kuro
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/24/2012 01:27:56
Kuro is one of those RPGs with an interesting and unusual concept. In this case it's smashing together Cyberpunk with Japanese Horror to create a bleak vision of a high-tech future that's mingling with the occult.

Written by the Septieme Cercle team, otherwise known as the magnificent people behind the awesome Qin: the Warring States and Yggdrasil RPGs, I was looking forward to the kind of cultural attention and detail they've always put into their books. Thankfully I was glad to see that their dedication to preserving and emulating genres and cultures hasn't wavered one bit.

Kuro opens with a quick description of what the line is supposed to look like. The english version of the game will come in three products. Kuro, the corebook, presents the initial setting, while several other products will be released to push the metaplot of Kuro forward towards a second corebook that changes the setting established by Kuro.

I know that some people get iffy with the word "Metaplot" but I think that in Kuro's case it's not quite the heavy handed kind that most people worry about. If anything the writing team made sure that Kuro can run on it's own without advancing the Metaplot forward if thats how the players want to play the game. I think the closest equivalent to this would be White Wolf's Orpheus limited line or books. The first book was a self-contained book and coul easily sustain a corporate campaign for it's entire run. But for those who want more, or want to twist the nature of the game, each supplement introduced elements that shifted the way that the game could be played.

But anyway, back to the review. Kuro also starts off well with a rather large glossary of terms, a mix of both japanese terms and cyberpunk ones that make for interesting reading and will no doubt come in very, very helpful when reading the rest of the book.

The Setting

The Japan of 2046 is one that is very changed. Due to a freak accident and political tensions, Japan has been isolated from the rest of the world, with a multi-national blockade of ships making sure that all traffic in and out of Japan would come to a halt. The result is an isolated, desperate shadow of Japan. While technology has made it possible to hold out, Japan is still very much in a state of flux.

The culture of the setting retains many of Japan's traditional cultures, smashed up against the dystopian nature of cyberpunk genres. Implants and bio-modifications are present, with the occasional android or robot companion as well. However, life hasn't gotten easier, with persistent power outages, and the desperate nature of the average citizen's struggle to survive. Food is mostly cloned and and synthetically created, due to the pressures of the population on Japan's insufficient land area and the international blockade around it.

In this sort of situation, it's not unusal to think that society would begin to backslide. People become desparate, and to make things worse, other things start happening. Supernatural incidents involving ghosts and other, stranger spirits become more and more common. There are several theories on what may have happened but nobody is certain of the exact cause. Because of the frequency of these happenings, various cults and religions have found new life in trying to help (or take advantage) of those desperate for help against the supernatural.

Technology in the world of Kuro is advanced, and in Shin-Edo (New Edo, the new name of Tokyo in the setting) it's not rare to see biotechnology, nanotechnology and various advanced robotics and gadgetry accessible to most of the citizenry. One of the most interestin aspects of the setting is the presence of "Occultech" a mishmash of old shinto beliefs combined with modern technology. Aura reading spectacles, holoprojected ofuda (paper charms usually filled with wards and prayers) and various nanotech serums that serve as ointments. It's a strange and admittedly strong mental image of a cyberpunk setting still strongly rooted in ancient beliefs.

The book goes on to discuss the setting of Shin-Edo, with a remarkably in-depth explanation of the society, security, infrastructure, power and even games and leisure before launching into a generous description of all the districts and wards that make up the city of Shin-Edo. These include many of the more well known ones, such as Roppongi and Shinjuku, but also include the other less popular ones. I also like the little rumors in the call out boxes that can serve as plot hooks for some of the wards.

I'm always happy to see a chapter on the Daily Life of people in a setting, and Kuro doesn't disappoint. This is where they go into detail on the drinking and eating habits of the common man, as well as the specifics of the culture's etiquette.

The next chapter deals with the religions in the setting, and it's role in the world. Shinto is given a focus, with some discussion on Exorcists, something that has seen a recent popularity due to the number of hauntings that have been happening lately.

The Rules

The rules of Kuro are pretty simple. The game runs on a dice pool mechanic that uses a pool of d6's equal to the appropriate Characteristic for the "Action Check." The dice results are added together and compared to a Target Number. In a nice node to the culture, results of 4 are read as 0 and do not contribute to the total. Thankfully, the game also employs an exploding dice mechanic, so any dice that come up as a 6 are added to the pool and rolled again, adding their next result to the total. As long as 6's keep coming up, keep rolling. If you roll a 4, it counts as a zero.

There's an optional rule for Botches if the play group is into that, wherein if a roll results in more 4's than other results, the check is considered to have Botched.

Skills are added to a characteristic roll, and is therefore a static bonus to the total of the roll rather than being added as more dice to the pool. I find this is nice since it helps avoid the bucket of dice syndrome.

Characters

Character creation is a straight forward one, and the game highly encourages that players choose concepts that are in line with the setting. The game works on a basic point-buy system among characteristics, and several derived attributes from the characteristic scores. One of the interesting characteristic in the game is Social Rank, or Kaiso. Kaiso determines the kind of job, standard of living and wealth that a character can have. Interestingly, the player can choose any level of Kaiso as appropriate to his concept, except for the highest (6) which is reserved for the mysterious Genocrats of the setting.

Kuro doesn't introduce anything too earth-shattering at this point, and I don't really mind. It's a stable system, and the mechanics seem sound so far. There's a large collection of skills in the game and many of those who like skills will find interesting specialties to go with them.

Combat

Combat is Kuro is interesting in the fact that it mixes from some different schools. On one hand it's fast and cinematic, but also has several maneuvers to lend it a more tactical flavor. Having options for a Power Attack and a Fast Attack by default is a nice touch, for example, and having characters take multiple actions depending on their Reflexes score make them feel a little more competent than the average man on the street. Ranged combat can be particularly deadly as dodging bullets doesn't seem to be the norm in thi system.

Tech

No Cyberpunk game is complete without a catalogue of arms, armor, biotech, nanotech and robotics, and Kuro doesn't disappoint with this regard. The chapter on gear is huge, and each entry is interesting and occasionally has little anecdotes to spin off a plot hook or two in some of the more interesting items.

GM Section

Kuro is a game with secrets, and those secrets belong in the GM section. I'm particularly happy about the GM section as it was full of things that are actually useful to a GM. Aside from secrets and plot hooks already present in the game as presented in the Player's sections, the GM chapters also delve into helping a GM build the kind of mood that works best for Kuro.

Certainly there's a host of monsters and creatures that can serve for opposition, but the advice is the one that is worth the most for me was the one on trying to emulate Horror, Japanese Style. They don't scrimp on the word count for this section, going full bore on the methods of the madness and the ways by which a GM can instill the unique flavor of asian horror into the games that they run.

Origami

The last part of the book is a scenario that can be used to open a new Kuro campaign. It's an interesting way to start the game, though I do feel that the scenario was a little too heavy on the cyberpunk action and perhaps just a tad too light on the horror elements. That said it's still a good launchpad for new campaigns, and experienced GMs can still pick the scenario apart and season to taste.

---

Kuro is a solid RPG with a unique and well-thought out setting. The mix of technology with horror makes it stand out among other games in the market today, and it holds a lot of promise to fans of cyberpunk and horror games. The artwork is very good, and the layout is easy to read. As always the research and nuance of the writing team in terms of conveying the tone and mood of a setting are superb, and the fictional world of Shin-Edo feels very real.

That said, I can see that GMs may need to work a little harder to establish the tone of the game. With the advancement of tools, weapons and technology, it can be easy for players to lose the horror edge due to being able to face threats with superior firepower. But with a conscious effort to keep the horror angle, I can see a Kuro campaign to be very rewarding with it's fair share of creepy moments.

Kuro is a solid game that goes out to do something unique and succeeds. I'm eager to check out the succeeding products of the line, and how they evolve the setting forward. Fans of sci-fi and horror would do well to have this book in their collection.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kuro
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BareBones Fantasy Role Playing Game
Publisher: DwD Studios
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/18/2012 20:45:10
Bare Bones Fantasy is a relatively new rules-lite fantasy rpg from DWD Studios, better known as the awesome people behind the Star Frontiersman. Given the overpopulated Fantasy gaming genre, I’m very interested in seeing just what kind of innovations they’ll be applying in order to make Bare Bones Fantasy stand out from the rest.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised to see some Star Frontiers DNA hidden in the rules. For one thing, the basic resolution system is straight up percentile. Roll d100, compare result to your Ability or Skill. If you roll equal to or below your Ability or Skill score, then you succeed. Otherwise you fail.

Skills also exist in Bare Bones Fantasy, but rather than being the large list of skills that most games have, BBF has only eight of them: Cleric, Enchanger, Leader, Scholar, Scout, Spellcaster, Thief and Warrior. These are more like skill packages and determine if a person can or can’t do something. One thing to note is that anyone can attempt actions associated with the Scout, Thief and Warrior Skills. The other five skills require that you have at least a level in them in order to perform such actions. Skills are rated in both a level and in a score. The score is calculated based on the Ability score associated to the Skill as well as the skill’s level.

So far, so good. It’s nice and tidy, and with minimal fuss.



Character creation seems to be fairly straightforward as well. Ability score generation can be done via rolling or by spending a predetermined spread of ability scores. Selecting a race applies a template to the character, bestowing a bonus to an Ability, bestows a movement score and race-specific advantages and languages.

Picking a skill comes next, with the player choosing a primary and secondary skill, and then selecting which skill starts at Level 1. Abilities are then re-calculated with bonuses from the skill choices.

The next step is specifying descriptors, which are phrases or words that describe prominent details about the character. Players must specify one positive and one negative descriptor. These are important because characters gain Development Points when their descriptors come into play in the session.

A character’s moral code is the next to be defined, with a few behavioral traits and ethics. Note that these are different from Descriptors as they deal with the question of why a character does things.

Equipment, money and Derived attributes make up the rest of the character. The process is fairly painless, and I can imagine someone going through this in about 15 minutes or so. Less if they’re used to the system.



Combat is plain and simple, and is treated as a simple attack roll. A success on the roll means that you hit and roll damage. Damage Reduction is applied after this, possibly negating all the damage from an attack.

Spells are also pretty simple with a spellcasting (or cleric skill) check to see if it activates. One interesting thing here is that the player may choose to change the special effect of a spell from one to another per casting. So a lighting bolt one turn might be a fire blast in the next. I can see a lot of happy wizards in this game.



While Bare Bones Fantasy is certainly simple and easy to learn, it is also remarkably comprehensive. From a robust listing of spells, to a weapons and equipment list that will make old-school chart loving types weep for joy, BBF is not a game with a short lifespan. There are rules for nearly everything, including the situational ones that every GM will probably look up only a few times in a campaign (like say, acid damage rules) and a healthy bestiary of monsters that will keep a game going for a very long time.

The book even contains a broad-strokes setting called the Keranak Kingdoms, which is a perfect place for new GMs to set their game without having to spend too much time trying to build a setting form scratch. There’s a map and regions described, along with the local pantheon of gods and plenty of empty space for the GM to make up his own things in the setting.



Bare Bones Fantasy is aptly named, but don’t let the title fool you into thinking that the game isn’t capable of going the whole nine yards. It’s a good game for groups who don’t have that much time to pour over books, and optimizing characters, and definitely one I’d recommend for the overworked time-scarce GM.

Simple and fun, Bare Bones Fantasy deserves to be part of everyone’s collection on RPGs.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BareBones Fantasy Role Playing Game
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Left-Hand Path
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2012 19:36:57
Mage: the Awakening is one of those games with a massive number of potential opponents. From the Seers of the Throne, to Intruders from the Abyss, Ghosts, Demons and Malevolent Spirits of all sorts, Mages always have their hands full. But among their opponents are a special class of Mage, willworkers that practice twisted magic. These are the Mages who walk the Left-Hand path. This isn’t a single way, but an entire gamut of different (and all disturbing) perversions of the use of the gift of magic. Whether through self-interest or the saintliest of intentions, these Mages use methods that are downright abhorrent.

Left-Hand Path, the latest supplement for Mage: the Awakening Explores these antagonists, tackling each one in turn. Starting with Heretics and Apostates, and moving on to the Mad, the Scelesti and finally the Tremere liches.

But before all that the book goes on to discuss the Left-Handed paths in general, going into the history of the term, as well as the term the preceded it “Nefandi” (definitely something that rings a few bells to the Mage: the Ascension crowd.) It also goes to discuss the Seers of the Throne, and how they react to (and identify) Left-Handed mages of their own.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the discussion on the Tiers of the Left-Handed in a fashion similar to the factions of Hunter: the Vigil. Tier One is Local, and ofted deal with a small cult in the area and there is a lack of grand aspirations of evil. The higher Tiers get more interesting, stretching from Regional to Global and even Cosmic Endgame, definitely the purview of Archmasters.

The book also sheds some light on the various forms that the Left-Hand Path takes, from Countercultures that delve in avenues not supported by the Consilium, to Outlaws that seek to destroy the Awakened Society as it is now. Finally the opening chapter ends with a discussion of detecting Left-Hand Mages, and the judicial processes and punishments meted out to them.

The next few chapters are an extensive discussion of each of the major types of the Left-Handed Mages, working from an initial definition of what they are, and delving deeper in detail with regards to their motives and methods, which I find to be very, very useful. Each chapter also has sample NPCs, and a few new mechanics, from Apostate-only Merits to various traits of the Mad and the effects that they can have on their environment. The Scelesti have systems on negotiating with their Abyssal masters and the Tremere have a series of Houses such as House Nagaraja and House Seo Hel that have their own methods and attainments of their own.

The writing is inspired, and very informative. Left-Hand Path has certainly earned a place on one of those must-have books for a Mage: GM along with the Tome of the Mysteries, Seers of the Throne and Imperial Mysteries.



To say that this book is stuffed with detail is an understatement. With the Left-Hand Path, the entire range of villainy that the Mages have to face is complete. Offering a thorough (and well rounded) presentation of the Left-Handed, from the Apostates who disagree with policy, to the perversions of the Tremere and the debasement of the Scelesti, there’s enough material in this book to keep a campaign going on for a long time.

Left-Hand Path is a goldmine for Mage: the Awakening GMs, and while it may not necessarily be a book for players, I feel that it belongs in any nMage collection.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Left-Hand Path
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The Book of Air
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/26/2012 21:52:00
The Book of Air is the first of a new line of sourcebooks for the Legend of the Five Rings series of books, that uses an interesting approach towards expanding the setting.

L5R has always been an interesting setting with regards to the depth and detail of the society of Rokugan, and this series of supplements expands on it by breaking down the topics according to the themes of the five elements of Rokugan: Air, Earth, Water, Fire and Void.

The Book of Air focuses on the facets that are relevant to the element of Air, as broken down into various chapters that look into War, the Court, Magic, Enlightenment and the Setting. The book also provides a self-contained setting that can be dropped into any existing campaign. New Mechanics are also present in the book to sate the needs of those who are looking for new rules to implement into their games. Needless to say, every clan gets something out of this book, so Crab and Lion players need not worry about being left out in a book that seems so focused on the softer side of Rokugani life.

I’m pleased to say that the organization of each of the chapters is very well done, with the book going into extensive detail with regards to the facet being discussed. The role of archery for example, is treated in the general form, then broken down into the various specific traditions of each of the clans. The chapters go into detail with regards to War, Courtly Politics, Magic (my favorite chapter due to the Kitsu Spirit Legion), Enlightenment, the world of Rokugan and a Politics-heavy Campaign setting.

Each of these are discussed without interrupting with mechanics. Instead all of the fluff is presented up front, and all the mechanics sorted out in the final chapter. This makes for an interesting format as it makes rules lookups so much easier, while letting people who enjoy the fluff (or need them, as with most GMs) read and digest the information without switching back and forth from concept to rules thinking in every other page or so.

The Book of Air is a worthy addition to the excellent Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition line, expanding on topics and lending even more detail to the unique nature of the clans. Given the quality of the writing, combined with excellent artwork and layout and the new format of organizing the information in the book, I find myself looking forward to the rest of the series.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Book of Air
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Yggdrasill Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/09/2012 19:10:46
It's easy for me to say that Yggdrasill is perhaps one of the most impressive alternate history RPGs I've read. It's clear that the authors of the book possess two very important qualities in this kind of work: A love and respect for the source, and the imagination necessary to inject a kind of fantasy to make the history become even more vibrant.

The setting of the Scandian kingdoms is given thorough treatment, with lots of call outs to the unique qualities that make a culture interesting. From the call out boxes with notes on lore and history, to giving a chapter dedicated to the culture's religion and gods, the book is as as educational as entertaining (though given that it's still a work of fantasy, I wouldn't use it as a reference for a thesis.)

The system takes a bit of getting used to, but careful reading and a few sample fights should work out all the kinks. Once you get going, everything falls into place. Combat is fast-paced and deadly while retaining a host of tactical decisions that can be used to optimize your chances of felling your opponent. Magic is a highlight of the game given that there are three different magic systems that work beautifully in maintaining the feel of the setting.

If there's one thing I wish the book had more of, it would be the treatment of the other nearby kingdoms. They get a short mention in the setting chapter, but there's not much to work on with regards to what kind of threats they might pose (if any) to the Norsemenn. But that's a very minor issue as the focus of the adventures are grounded completely in the Norsemen's lands.

For a game about vikings, there's more to Yggdrasill than axes and berserkers. There's room for a surprising amount of politicking, and the player characters are encouraged to act like the legends that they wish to be.

The addition of a complete adventure in the back of the book, which includes NPCs, plot hooks and villains all worked out is a cherry on top of the whole thing, helping new GMs who might still have some reservations about getting into a setting-heavy game like this to find their legs and run something that has that Scandian feel.

Overall Yggdrasill is a splendid product, with beautiful artwork and layout, excellent writing. Definitely a must-have for anyone interested in the setting whose ever dreamed of being a viking.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Yggdrasill Core Rulebook
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Legend of the Burning Sands
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/07/2012 00:44:47
After what seemed to be an eternity, Alderac has finally released the PDF version of the sought after Legend of the Burning Sands RPG into the wild.

Released back in the days of 3rd Edition L5R, Legend of the Burning Sands (LBS) was a huge thing for me when it came out as it broadened the scope of L5R's setting of Rokugan, and introduced new cultures and factions that were all interesting and potentially fun to play.

LBS takes place in Rokugan's sister setting, the Burning Sands. Despite sharing the same "World" the Burning Sands was an entirely different setting with it's own cultural norms and societies that are a far cry from the asian-inspired nature of Rokugan.

The Burning Sands is a harsh desert that holds multiple cultures, whose lives revolve around Medinat al-Salaam, the massive city ruled by the Caliph. Nine factions exist in the city: The Khadi, Qolat, the Ashalan, the Assassins, the Ebonites, The Jackals, the Ra'Shari, the Senpet and the Yodotai.

The city of Medinaat Al-Saalam is the focus of the game, and constitutes the majority of the attention to the setting. Everything from demographics to economics is given attention, and there's enough material for a GM to spin off more than enough plot hooks for a lengthy campaign.

Of these factions, seven are given a chapter to themselves. These are the Ashalan, Assassins, Ra'Shari, Senpet, Yodotai, Jackals and Ebonites, and compose the playable factions in the game. Each of these are given a thorough treatment which include their histories, secrets, methods and techniques unique to each faction.

The system is pretty much the Roll and Keep system with minor tweaks aimed towards showing how magic here is very different from importuning Kami in Rokugan. Familiarity with L5R is nice, but the system is treated in full as to not require the L5R corebook to run a game.

There's also a bestiary of the local wildlife, and a Jinn creation system to simulate these mysterious (and dangerous) beings native to the Burning Sands.

Legend of the Burning Sands is stuffed with information, and sometimes it feels that the artwork had to be sacrificed to make space. There's art for each of the factions, but aside from that, there's very little else out there. I don't mind, but it might intimidate a few readers who aren't used to seeing walls of text.

---

Despite its age, I still recommend Legend of the Burning Sands. It works well as both a standalone product and as a supplement for the L5R games, and introduces an entirely different setting with its own interesting cultures. The setting is still every bit as interesting and compelling as it was the first time I picked it up as a CCG, and I'm more than happy to see that I can now run my own adventures in the Burning Sands in tabletop form.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legend of the Burning Sands
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Other Dust
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/29/2012 01:48:18
Other Dust is the new post-apocalyptic RPG made by Kevin Crawford, the same writer who brought us the brilliant Stars Without Number. Those who are familiar with SWN will find that Other Dust follow the same formula: This is a game that you already know how to play, packaged in an overflowing toolbox geared for sandbox play.

The rules are classic D&D, so anyone who has ever rolled 3d6 to generate values for character stats will find themselves experiencing deja vu. That said, this isn't just some mechanical ripoff. Kevin Crawford's approach is very simple. The rules aren't the point of this game, but his sandbox is.

And what a sandbox it is. Other Dust presents an interesting vision of the apocalypse, that is also compatible with the SWN setting. The player character classes available for Other Dust are: Scrounger, Slayer, Speaker and Survivor. Each of the classes fills one particular niche, and given the nature of a post-apocalypse I find that they're an excellent selection to choose from.

Kevin goes into detail in all the fun parts of the Apocalypse, with a fun little section on Mutations, which can be anything from psychic powers to less pleasant looking ones like having detachable organs.

Much in the same way as SWN did, Other Dust is a game whose mechanics technically ends in about fifty pages into the book. The book is also 208 pages thick, and it's these 150 that really make Other Dust shine. Kevin Crawford's agenda supporting sandbox gaming is no secret in the book, as he himself calls it out early in the document.

The rest of the PDF is an impressive collection of rules and tables for generating your own apocalyptic sandbox. From random tables to create enclaves of civilization, to strange ruins, post-apocalyptic adventure creation and loot/scavenging mechanics that are a must-have for and game of this genre.

---

Kevin Crawfords approach to Other Dust mirrors SWN, which is a good thing as the SWN approach works perfectly for post-apocalyptic play. There's a ton of campaigns I could run with this game, and the host of tools to aid me in coming up with session after session of play.

I heartily endorse Other Dust to anyone who is even remotely interested in running a Post-Apocalypse game. There's enough material here to run a game for a good, long time.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Other Dust
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Hell on Earth Reloaded
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2012 20:28:08
First off, let me say that Hell on Earth Reloaded isn't a stand alone game. It requires the Savage Worlds corebook to play.

What Hell on Earth Reloaded does provide is a complete setting to go crazy in, with radiation cults, mutants, templars and enough weirdness to make Arkham Asylum look like nursery school.

The book itself is divided into three major sections:

The Player's guide, which details the setting, character creation, equipment and setting specific rules. Anyone with a familiarity with the Savage Worlds rules will be able to pick this up and get building a character right away without skipping a beat.

No Man's Land, which details the setting-specific Arcane Backgrounds for Hell on Earth. Old fans will recognize the Doomsayers, Harrowed, Junkers, Sykers, Templars and Toxic Shamans. Each of these Arcane backgrounds has a full treatment, with history, methods and beliefs, as well as their Edges and Powers.

Marshal's Handbook, which is the GM's only section with rules specific to running the game, and is chock-full of setting secrets that players have no business knowing for the sake of preserving the mystery of the Hell on Earth setting. There's also a region-by-region breakdown of the crazy things in the setting. My greatest frustration in this review is the fact that I can't talk about the juicy secrets and crazy elements in the book lest I spoil it for other GMs who are going to be springing it on their players.

---

Hell on Earth is an alternate future of the Deadlands setting, but thankfully the game doesn't need you to be familiar with Deadlands in order to play. Hell on Earth takes on the burden of educating a new reader into the setting. This is a great thing, as this means that people who might not have any interests in the Weird West (though I can't imagine why) can still go in and enjoy the full experience of the Wasted West.

Part of the draw of the Wasted West has always been the artwork and aesthetics, and Hell on Earth Reloaded has managed to knock this one out of the park. The layout is clean, appealing and readable, and the artwork is top-notch. Every character portrait in the game makes me want to build a character and start playing.

The PDF itself is very useful, with bookmarks and a hyperlinked table of contents. Plus, for those who want to save on printer inks, the PDF also has layers that you can turn off to strip the pages down to just mere text. It's a perfect example of the kind of best practices that I'd love to see other PDF publishers adapt on a constant basis.

---

With a solid setting, compelling character concepts, crazy plot hooks and powered with the Savage Worlds system, Hell on Earth Reloaded is a solid entry into the official settings of Savage Worlds. It's been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it.

If you're even remotely interested in Deadlands, Post-Apocalyptic settings or unique settings, then Hell on Earth is a must have in your collection.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hell on Earth Reloaded
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Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade
Publisher: Third Eye Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2012 00:23:14
I find that Wu Xing is a game that has a lot of open spaces for a GM to fill in on his own. Sure there's a large central conflict with the Izou Empire and the Lotus Coalition, but it's just sort of there. The writing doesn't seem to convey the same kind of urgency that being hunted to extinction is supposed to impart. That said, all the pieces to make it feel urgent are there, the Executioners and Golden Lions are all fearsome opponents, and the Firearms mentioned in the game's blurb is barely given more than a short sidebar, a paragraph saying that they're pretty dangerous and take a while to reload and a single row in the weapons table. It would have been nice to see a unit of empire soldiers that specialize in firearms, like Imperial Snipers or something just to amp up how they can turn the tide against Chi-Manipulating Ninjas.

Speaking of the Empire and the Lotus Coalition, even having a small smattering of NPCs from both sides of the conflict would have been nice to see. Giving a name and a face to the big names of the Empire, such as say, a Spymaster could do a lot to make the setting more interesting. Likewise the Lotus Coalition would be more interesting if we knew who were the Ninjas who were squabbling against each other, and what their agendas were.

I'm also slightly put off by the modern language and concepts used in character dialogue in the fiction parts of the book. One particular vignette for the Blazing Dancers Clan had me strangely bothered when the Ninja offers a fan an autograph. It seemed like a very strange anachronism, and one that kept jarring my suspension of disbelief. Some turns of phrase were also far too informal to match the setting, but I think that's just my expectations clashing with the setting as intended by the author. I think my expectations could have been colored by my experiences and comfort in running Legend of the Five Rings.

That said, the game itself is pretty neat. I mentioned some issues I've had about the organization of the rules, such as putting the basic mechanics in the skills portion of the character creation instructions, but once you actually get a hang of the entire thing, it feels like a very solid system. The options for combat, the strong visuals for the Wushu and various techniques, and the little ways to customize your character are all well done. The artwork and layout are all well done, with the various pieces for the Clans being a highlight. Also the character sheet, while dense (and perhaps riddled with just a little too many shuriken) is very useful, and has a mini-reference for all the little rules for combat to help things move along a little more smoothly.

Wu Xing delivers on the promise of being action-oriented, and provides enough magic and mysticism to pull off the whole superpowered Ninja schtick with aplomb. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in playing or running in such a game, but I would also advise them to read the book very carefully just so you don't miss out on any stray rules tucked away in other paragraphs.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade
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