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Unearthed Arcana (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/05/2009 10:10:32
I like Unearthed Arcana, with some reservations. I really don't think (at time of writing), 25GBP is a competitive price for a PDF, especially for what is now an "obsolete" system.

For those who don't know, this is a collection of alternative rules - some you can add to an existing D&D 3.5 game, some replace extant rules. Some come from other d20 systems (such as the Wound/Vitality system from the Revised Star Wars rules), some are attempts to capture elements of fantasy literature in the D&D rules (such as Incantations).

It's really a grab-bag of ideas, pretty much all mechanics with just enough flavour to fire the imagination (which is better than the pages of useless fluff that accompanies many WOTC D&D products). You wouldn't use all the ideas in your game - you *couldn't* use all the ideas as some are mutually exclusive. Some concepts are good, but bland in execution (Bloodline traits and the racial variants, for example. Neither of these really award any abilities outside the norm).

However, most, if not all, of the content of this book is available online at the various SRD websites. I bought it in case there were some sneaky non-OGL parts. There aren't. So, if you are going for an electronic version you probably don't need to buy this, even though it does contain some interesting stuff.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Unearthed Arcana (3.5)
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Tome of Magic: Pact, Shadow, and Truename Magic (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/04/2009 03:43:30
First, the price. I bought this when it was on offer (GM's Day 08, I think), and the British Pound was strong against the dollar (remember that?), so for me it was a bargain. I don't think, particularly now this is an "obsolete" edition, that the full price is worth it. As I write this review (March 09), the asking price is 28GBP. Twenty eight quid for a PDF? Somehow, I think not.

Secondly, perhaps the PDF has been saved with loads of layers per page, but it is s..l..o..w to scroll through unless I disable images. And I hardly have a wheezy old 486 or anything like that. Some more effort could have been made to make it a useful PDF, I think.

So, finally, the product itself.

This is a three-in-one sourcebook for different approaches to magic. Not your spells/level divine/arcane types of the core rules, but three mechanically different methods with the intent to cover three different approaches found in fantasy literature and mythology.

There are three different paths - Pact Magic, Shadow Magic and Truename Magic. Each comes with a base character class, some prestige classes (usually along the Mystic Theurge lines of mixing disciplines), some monsters, feats, magic items, NPCs, organisations (usually one for and one against the path) and, of course, a list of powers usable by that path. So far, so typical for a D&D supplement.

Pact Magic covers the interaction with mysterious othrworld powers, and the granting of gifts by those powers. Sort of Warlock-y, but also with the feel of the Elric stories - one could picture Arioch as one of the powers featured here.

So, Pact Magic introduces a new concept to allow for the powers contacted. Not gods, as these are in the realm of the Cleric. The powers are Vestiges - beings that have achieved immortality, but are banished from the realm of the immortals. They dwell yog-Sothoth-like, "in-between" the known realms. They are mysterious, dangerous but at the same time impotent without someone to act through. Amongst the long list of vestiges are some nice nods to older editions of the game - Acererak, Dahlver-Nar (whose artifactual Teeth get a re-working), Geryon and Tenebrous (the dead shadow of a dead god).
The pact-magic using class, the Binder, is able to bind one or more of these Vestiges to him for the duration of a day, some Vestiges needing a minimum class level to bind. Doing so grants a themed package of powers. Acererak, creator of the Tomb of Horrors, for example requires you to be a5th level Binder to bind. He grants the abilities to detect undead, hide from undead, speak with dead, paralyzing touch, immunity to cold and electricity and the ability to heal undead. All of these are pretty much at will/unlimited.

The Vestige idea is an interesting one, probably let down by the fact that most of the granted powers can be replicated in other ways - there are no truly exciting or unusual powers. The flexibility of being a Binder is good, although once you have bound your Vestiges for the day you are pretty much set, so if you were, for example, to bind Acererak and not encounter any undead... I have doubts, although I haven't played, that the Binder is really powerful enough compared to other classes. Of the three, though, it is the most interesting.

Shadow Magic and Truename Magic, although seperate chapters, are pretty similar. Instead of gaining spells, you gain Mysteries or Utterances, which work more like spell-like abilities. The terminolgy differs for the two paths, but the net effect is similar. Once again, as with Pact Magic, there is nothing in terms of granted powers that is excitingly different from those you can already get. Buffs and blasts, mostly, in which case you could simply play a standard caster and apply the method as fluff. Truename magic is carried out far better, as an integrated part of the magic system, in Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved.

This book also suffers the flaw, in my opinion, of other 3.x supplements, in that the prestige classes (and core classes) have too much useless fluff attached. There are too many details about "how to play this class", or "how to make a good build", which to my mind take away a lot of the fun of discovery of the game. Further, in attempting to give background details for, say, a prestige class, but at the same time keep those details vague enough to be generic makes them become repetitive space-filler and nothing more. I could probably survive with being told the a Child of Night is a shadowcaster who binds the substance of shadow to their own body to achieve a form of immortaility. The rest I can get from the game details.

Goods: some interesting ideas for Vestiges and Pact Magic.
Bad: Nothing really innovative or exciting. Too much bland flavour text. PDF almost unusably slow.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Magic: Pact, Shadow, and Truename Magic (3.5)
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Deconstruction of Falling Stars
Publisher: Mongoose
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/04/2009 01:22:19
Wow! I don't think, roleplaying-wise, anything else exists like this product. The nearest thing I can think of are Tolkien's "Lost Tales" (also another potential B5-based title for this product) and the various scrapings by Christopher Tolkien from his father's waste paper basket.

This is a collection of all the previously unpublished B5 RPG material that would not otherwise have seen the light of day. As such, it is not fully edited, nor necesasrily complete for publication, but it provides a fascinating grab-bag of bits and pieces nonetheless. Some sections are little more than a page or two, perhaps destined for a Signs and Portents article. Other entries, such as the Dilgar sourcebook, are huge and detailed to the point of insanity (a full breakdown of Earthforce ships involved in the Dilgar war, for example).

I should point out that this product is so vast, like the B5 series itself, I haven't had time to study it fully, but hopefully an overview will suffice.

Having said that it is unlike any other product out there, much of it reminds me of the Neo-Anarchist's Guide to Real Life, published for Shadowrun. Details on aspects fo everyday life in the 23rd century, plus focus on those bits of interest to adventurer types, like communications, security and the drug Dust. Snippets on ranks, IPX, ISN, stats for a few non-sentient beasts including the Grylor but not (sadly) an update of the na'ka'leen feeder. A random name generator for those times when you need a Minbari on the fly.

There are a few scenarios, from the fully-fleshed Into the Crucible (not sure why this was reprinted here) and Blood Dimmed Tide, with loads of extra adventure seeds planted throughout.

The meat of this PDF comes in three sections. Whispers in Darkness/Ancient Echoes explore the First Ones in great depth, including scenario ideas for uncovering their secrets, and a new race. Then there is a massive section on the Dilgar, with details for playing in the Dilgar War period as well as post-war remnants of Dilgar. Finally, there are three previously unpublished novels including the one written by Claudia Christian, covering Ivanova's actions during the 5th season.

Overall, I'd give this 4 out of 5 stars. It's good, it's a great offering to fans, but there's nothing totally indispensible in it. Individual sections vary between 2 and 5 stars. However, even skim-reading gave me a load of ideas to use in my B5 game, which is all you really want from an RPG supplement.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deconstruction of Falling Stars
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Heroes & Aliens
Publisher: Mongoose
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/15/2008 11:56:26
This product merges several 1st edition books into one volume, updates them to 2nd edition and adds a bit more.

The main part of the book gives statistics for the main characters of both the B5 and Crusade series, from their first to their last appearance. This brings in material from the season guides and the Crusade sourcebook and updates it. To augment this, two prestige classes are also given. The Xenobiologist allows Dr. Franklin to surpass the 2nd Edition 10-level base classes without multi-classing into something unlikely, and the Master of Subtlety is an update from Crusade, a prestige class for Dureena Nafeel and other Guild Thieves.

Three recurring visitors - Bester, Morden and Byron - are also given stats.

The latter, shorter, part of the book presents details for a large number of the alien races missing from the main rules. A couple of these (the Vree and the Gaim) saw print in the 1st Edition League of Non-Aligned Worlds sourcebook. Dureena's race, the Zanderians, are updated from their appearance in the Crusade sourcebook. Some of these are traditional B5 background aliens (the Hurr, the Grome and the Llort, for example), some are memorable one-offs (the Lumati from Season 2's "Acts of Sacrifice" and the Moradi from Crusade's "The Needs of Earth", for example. All have enough detail to produce workable player characters.

I would say that this is a half-useful book. The alien part is very helpful. I do have a quibble with some of the races that seem to stem from the B5 Wars miniatures game rather than the series (Cascor and Kor-Lyan, for example). Although these are interesting (the Kor-Lyan bringing to mind the Vindrizzi from "Exogenesis"), there are still some background aliens that have been ignored (the vertical mouth aliens, for one). A few pictures of the ones that do appear (like the Hurr and Grome) would have been good.

The stats for the "Heroes", whilst interesting, are perhaps less useful. Some more stats for "villain" characters might have been better. Perhaps these are in the Bounty Hunter product, I don't know. I just wonder how often a GM would actually need the stats for President Sheridan.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Heroes & Aliens
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Crusade
Publisher: Mongoose
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/12/2008 05:40:18
No technical problems with the PDF. This product gives background details for the Crusade series, and adventures set during that era. Obviously, being 1st Edition, some of the game mechanics have been superceded (the 'Linguist' feat, for example) and other game mechanics would need to be adjusted.

The first few pages give bios and game stats for the Crusade regulars, and a few B5 characters that appear in A Call to Arms. The next 80 pages or so are synopses of the TV episodes with some suggestions on how to use the ideas in a game. As with the other 1st Ed. season guides I found these to be of questionable writing quality and of minimal use. Of interest to B5 fans, however, is the inclusion of the three unfilmed episodes - To The Ends of The Earth, Judgement Values and The End of The Line. The scripts were once available online, but have been unavailable for years. If you want to know the direction Crusade would have taken, these are worth a look (although maybe not worth the price alone).

This supplement is quite light on game mechanics. One new race (Dureena's species, the Zanderians). Three new feats, using strange mechanics that I think are obsolete under 2nd Edition. Two prestige classes (Doomsday Cultist and Master of Subtlely, i.e Guild Thief). Again, of limited interest and innovation. The stats for the Shadow Death Cloud and Drakh virus are updated in the excellent Drakh supplement. Of more interest are the details of the Bureau of Telepath Integration and how this now works, also of interest to B5 fans (although I'm uncertain of its canonicity) is the background story of the Apocalypse Box. The book ends with a detailed look at the Excalibur - game stats superceded by the 2nd Ed. rulebook. it would have been nice for a deckplan, even if just an overview. This, I think, is symptomatic of Mongoose's "rush 'em out" publishing philosophy that tends to neglect the value-added stuff (if I may stoop to business jargon).

Overall, this book is worth getting either if you are a Crusade fan and you want to read the unfilmed episodes, if you want to find out about the BTI, or if you want more information on the Apocalypse Box. The rest of the stuff isn't really anything a good GM couldn't fathom on his own with a set of Crusade episodes and the rulebook.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Crusade
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The Drakh
Publisher: Mongoose
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/20/2008 03:16:00
My B5 campaign takes place in the Crusade era, so this was potentially a very useful resource for me.

It doesn't disappoint. Unlike some Mongoose products there is a very good level of useable "crunch" in with the "fluff", and the authors have managed to get a good handle on the Drakh race, making them interesting and multi-faceted. There are plenty of adventure seeds here, and I found the potential scope of my campaign expanding as I read through this book.

You get rules for Drakh characters, plus some Drakh-specific prestige classes (these are a mixed bag as far as in-game utility is concerned). There are plenty of nice options for Drakh symbiotes (more than just Keepers) and lots of other left-over Shadow Tech. Some of this veers a bit too far into fantastic superscience for my liking, but since the B5 canon allows for time travel, invisibility, planet killers, extra-dimensional gateways and life after death, the ideas aren't *too* extreme for the setting.

There are a range of stats for Drakh ships, the first half of which come each with an illustration, but these are missing from the latter few, which is a pity.

One interesting section gives a discussion of the ongoing Drakh plots, with projected timelines well into the future. The "anti-B5" station is a nice setting idea, pitched just that too far in the timeline for inclusion in a game that uses much of the canon events.

Overall, a satisfying product that felt full of worthwhile stuff. It's probably best for the GM running a late-timeline game, as the Drakh are mere bit players during the 2258-2260 period, but it is good nonetheless.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Drakh
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Oriental Adventures
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/01/2008 07:27:58
First point - the price. Something of a sticking point for all of WotC's PDF products, full print price is too much. I only ever buy their stuff when it is on offer (GM's Day, usually). With a good exchange rate between GB pound and US dollar it works out quite cheap.

Second point - the product. Good quality PDF, if a little big for an older machine to cope with. This is a 3.0 product which means little bits of compatibility issues here and there (monster feats need re-jigging, for example). What surprised me compared to the old 1st Edition OA is how little extra needs to be done, how much more streamlined the newer (as was) rule set is to allow for the additional material.

As an early supplement, most of the stuff in here is quite conservative. None of the races have startling abilities, none of the classes really present anything that isn't just a re-arrangment of the PHB class features, and ditto the many, many prestige classes given here. The feats are largely a disappointing collection of "+2 to two skills" type feats, and you'd probably be better with Book of Nine Swords for your wuxia needs. The spells are where the flavour really takes off - not many with really imaginative new mechanics compared to existing spells, but fun nonetheless. The monsters vary in utility, with plenty of wierd nature spirits. One gets the feeling that Chinese and Japanese folklore must be replete with creatures that pose as attractive women before eating you, as there are many of this type.
There is a wierd fusion in this book in that it tries to simultaneously be Legend of the Five Rings d20 and an updating of the old OA. Unfortunately, much of the old OA stuff does not fit with Rokugan, so if you want to run a 5R campaign you end up with a lot of 'useless' extras (depending on how canon you wish to be).
Overall it's good fun and worth mining for ideas, just be warned that its a bit dated these days.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Oriental Adventures
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Stormwrack
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/27/2008 05:48:34
First of all, I'll address that bugbear of all of the D&D3.x downloads - the price. I bought this during a Drivethrun sale, at a time when the US Dollar was weak compared to the UK Pound, so for me it ended up costing about a quarter of the book price. However, I make it a point to only buy these supplements when they are at a reduced price - I wouldn't recommend paying full list price.

As for the product itself, it is fairly typical of late 3.5 edition supplements. You get the usual spells, items, feats, prestige classes, races and monsters as always. Some good, some average. As with all these products, the prestige classes in particular have far too much bland fluff material in the write-up that isn't detailed enough to be usable whole-cloth but is too long for simple sketch suggestions (the old prestige classes in DMG 3.0 had it right for my tastes). It's not too hard for even a novice DM to figure out how to use an aquatic druid, a monster hunter or the Crimson Corsair, surely?

For me, the most useful parts were running 'narrative' ship-ship combat and an overview of watery settings - this could have been longer, particularly the other planes. Some of the mundae items and materials are quite nifty, although nothing earth-shatteringly original. Illustrations are good - there is a particularly nice picture of a dragon turtle attacking a ship, as seen from the crow's nest.

Four scenarios complete the book, of different above and below water encounters. These are competent but disappointingly obvious. However, they would serve as a quick campaign plug-in if needed.

And that's about the feel of this book - it's all quite well done and there were plently of elements that had me wanting to run a sea-based campaign, but nothing really jumped out as particularly cool and original.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Stormwrack
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OGL 3.5 System Compatible Logo
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/15/2008 07:27:56
Up the OGL! Down with the GSL!
This is a great piece of service by LPJ to the OGL publishing community (and nice PR for them!). I've just finished converting the Lazy GM covers and the logo looks smart and clean. Nice work.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
OGL 3.5 System Compatible Logo
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Arcana Evolved: Circle Of Rites
Publisher: Fiery Dragon
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/12/2008 06:54:56
As I recall, the author of this adventure wanted to address the challenge of how to stage a mystery plot in a setting where spells like Object Loresight and the akashic record exist as easy ways to get information. So was he successful?

The plot is essentially a murder mystery, and is laid out fairly loosely with several possible paths that could be taken. Depending on how the players tackle the investigation they may end up following several leads, or they may end up tipping off the bad guys. There is no pre-determined path through the adventure, which is good, and it doesn't rely on the players spotting clever clues. Even if they blunder around gormlessly, something will happen to them.

Overall it's quite a short adventure, possibly one night's worth of play if your group is quick, or they miss the side-trek. The NPCs are fairly interesting, although some of them will never get a chance to intereact non-violently with the players. Walks-in-Dust, however, is great fun to play.

Good points: Coherent, open-ended, no glaring plot-holes that I could see, uses elements of the Diamond Throne setting throughout, loads of re-usable NPC stats.
Good or Bad points depending on your point of view: Fairly short, some combats can be *very* deadly!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Arcana Evolved: Circle Of Rites
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Book of Experimental Might
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/12/2008 06:42:08
I'm a big fan of Monte's Arcana Unearthed/Evolved system, and how he manages to make a variety of small but simple tweaks to D&D3 to give a far more satisfying game.

So naturally I was interested in what he had to say here, and at the price it is well worth a look.

The specifics are covered in other reviews here, some (such as 20 spell levels) are ideas that, according to the Design Diaries on his website, Monte has been pursuing since being part of the 3rd Ed design team. Most of the elements are designed to stop the 'fight/rest/fight/rest' cycle of standard D&D by making resources more resilient. This is kind of the goal of 4th Ed., but I think Monte cocks a snook at the new edition by getting there first with a simple little inexpensive add-on that doesn't require a massive upheaval from the past ten years of gaming.

I've started using the Grace/Health system in my latest game, and it really helps remove that pathetic fragility of 1st level characters without in any way making them uber-gods. And it means as a DM you can treat them to more original opponents than dire rats and kobolds.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Experimental Might
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Counter Collection: Arcana Evolved
Publisher: Fiery Dragon
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/24/2008 10:57:32
This is one of those 'does what it says on the tin' products - you get sheets of colour character counters that you can print out and cut up, for use with Arcana Evolved.

The artwork is competent and a range of possible 'looks' are covered. I notice that the furries (Litorians and Sibeccai) seem to get more attention than the more humanlike races, but that's no biggy. One gripe is that there aren't many giants and they don't look very giantish (perhaps more with the Amish-style beard that is established in the interior art of AU). The undead are a bit uninspiring too. Otherwise you get good coverage for AU/AE, with all the PC races, everything from the Legacy of the Dragons plus results of summoning spells too. Might have been nice to see some Fire Monkeys though :)

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Counter Collection: Arcana Evolved
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The Temple of Mysteries: In Media Res
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/23/2008 06:13:27
As a PDF - like most Malhavoc products, simple and clean so easy to read and print.

As a product - this is a good fun adventure. It's major weakness is that it is, pretty much, a stand-alone. That's it's purpose, so you can't fault it on that but it does mean that it exists purely for those times when not everyone can make it, or for when old gamer friends visit.

The adventure is very dense, taking place over a small number of rooms but with complex traps and puzzles to overcome. The twist is guaranteed to please, confuse and amuse all at the same time.

If you need an evening's fun with good gamers, run this adventure.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Temple of Mysteries: In Media Res
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The League of Non-Aligned Worlds Fact Book
Publisher: Mongoose
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/23/2008 06:09:35
As a PDF - reasonable, although background graphics to the pages make it a bit slow to read and heavy to print. It felt like some of the end pages were missing.

This book covers five League races in detail - the Abbai, the Drazi, the Brakiri, the Gaim and the Vree. Each has detailed accounts of its history, culture, military and biology, with game details (1st Ed.) for revised character stats (these are now incorporated into the B5 2nd Ed), equipment, feats and a prestige class for each race.

Overall, each race gets fleshed out well and comes away with its own unique perspective. It would have been nice for the other League races to at least get a brief mention. For each chapter there is a little quote that mentions what the other League races think of the one in question, but it would have been good to know who some of them were. Races like the Cascor get only the tiniest background look in the show (check out Season One League meetings carefully) so even a paragraph would have been good.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The League of Non-Aligned Worlds Fact Book
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Beyond Countless Doorways
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
by Simon G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/23/2008 06:02:15
As a PDF - good quality, as is typical of Malhavic it is mainly black and white with few large images and plenty of white space, making it clean to read and easy to print.
This one's quite a large book.

As a supplement - This is a planes-hopping handbook, providing an alternative D&D planes setting to the 'Great Wheel'. In this case, it owes more to Moorcock's multiverse than anything based on D&D alignment.

Seventeen different planes are detailed here, to varying degrees of depth, plus further notes on running alternate universe versions of the DMs own campaign setting and planes-hopping in general (including a host of nexus-style locations).

The planes are varied in quality, interest, wierdness and utility but they are all pretty good. As you might expect from some of the authors of the original Planescape setting.

A brief overview:
Avideral - a dark plane of a dead star, where even the *idea* of light is a fading thing.
Carrigmoor - a sort of asteroid city full of decay and cut-throat politics. Also has many portals to other worlds, if the PCs can gain access to them...
Curnorost - a desolate place where angels go when they die.
Deluer - a webwork of crystal and a sort of elemental earth plane.
Dendri - aranea and formians battle for control of a forest world.
Faraenyl - an alternative land of the fey.
Kin-Li'in - a hellish plane of tunnels filled with fire and ice.
Lizard Kingdoms - almost a shameless Dinotopia rip-off! (I mean, homage).
The Maze - A strange multiplanar city that almost seems to be designed for adventurers...
Mountains of the Five Winds - Law and Chaos locked in a very physical struggle.
Ouno - flying ships, psionics, pirates and an acid sea.
Palpatur - tieflings in a land of living matter.
Sleeping God's Soul - a realm of clockwork.
Ten Courts of Hell - a hellish domain with a Chinese element.
Tevaeral - land where magic is almost extinct.
Venomheart - mainly centres on a gang of pirates who steal sleep.
The Violet - alien demiplane of no gravity, vines, snakes, low magic and an eerie purple light.
Yragon - A sort of Planet of the Apes world.

Of these, some suggest immediate adventures more than others. Ouno and Deluer are quite traveller freindly, whereas Avidarel, Curnorost and The Violet would all serve as good places to go to seek a McGuffin of some kind. Some, like Carrigmoor, The Maze, Tavaeral and Five Winds would almost serve as campaign settings in their own right.

If you like this kind of gaming, then you'll like this. There are enough mechanical details and maps to spark ideas - the only problem is how to use it all without crowding the campaign!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Beyond Countless Doorways
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