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Progenitor
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2011 15:00:57
Progenitor offers up an alternate reality setting for the 2nd edition Wild Talents RPG - the basic idea is that the world split off in 1968 with the empowerment of a single woman whose power turns out to be contagious, creating other super powered individuals creating a pandemic of super humans. It's an interesting premise and the book delivers on what it promises, with 380 pages of dense text (including quite a bit of fluff), nice black & white art, and a pretty cool cover. While I wouldn't consider it perfect, it's a great value, especially if you're a fan of the ORE-driven Wild Talents and are looking for something a bit different than the usual superhero setting.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Progenitor
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No Quarter 33
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2011 03:29:47
The PDF version of No Quarter magazine has some issues which makes me not recommend bothering with the PDF version. The most obvious reason is that the price is identical to the cover price for the PRINT magazine - that's pretty ridiculous considering there's an obvious difference between a print and electronic product in terms of production cost and end-user usability. In addition, while the PDF views fine on my computer, it does not render well at all on my iPad. The colors are oversaturated and off which makes me wonder if the PDF is set for CMYK. This is one of the few PDFs I've had problems with on the iPad and the only one I've ever seen with this type of graphics issue. The result is that the magazine is not convenient nor comfortable to read, detracting even further from its value.

What I'd like to see? A reasonably priced PDF version of a magazine which is largely a marketing tool for Privateer Press - A high number of pages are dedicated to "previews" and actual ads for PP products and it seems ridiculous that they're charging so much for a version of a print product which has very little overhead cost and which is several months out of date (you can't buy the current issues electronically).

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
No Quarter 33
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Deadlands Reloaded: Marshal's Handbook
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/09/2011 03:20:50
If you're a fan of Deadlands, the Marshal's Handbook is an invaluable addition to your collection. It includes a wealth of background information, details about the setting (including additional rules), and an extensive list of monsters, NPCs, and mundane animals. It also includes a large, full-color illustrated map of the weird west at the end.

The full-color PDF is beautiful, so much so that I'd probably be tempted to skip the PDF and buy the actual book instead - it's also the kind of book you'd want to have handy at the table.

The Reloaded Marshal's Handbook is definitely an item I'd recommend to anyone whose fallen in love with the Deadlands setting and rules.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Reloaded: Marshal's Handbook
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Dust Devils
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2010 16:29:49
Dust Devils is a rules-light storytelling game that focuses on tales of redemption in the Old West. It takes role-playing in several unusual directions, but it is sufficiently clever that everyone should at least give it a read!

Characters have a mix of quantitative and descriptive characteristics. The most important is amongst the latter: the Devil, which is the ugly side of their personality or past that they are trying to fight: appropriate examples include any of the seven mortal sins.

The game is essentially storytelling until a conflict arises. During conflicts, the object is to build the best poker hand; the interesting twist is that a character’s statistics, past, and (especially) Devil determine the resources available for constructing that hand. In essence, this works like a dice pool mechanic, because “stronger” characters receive more opportunities for success but have no guarantees of victory.

A second twist is that the conflict’s Narrator is the player with the single highest card in their poker hand, who need be neither the GM or the victor. The narration is fairly free, although the winner must achieve their goals, and the “Harm” to each character is fixed by the cards. Once one of a player character’s attributes reaches zero, their end is near. The player automatically becomes Narrator of their final conflict and gets some bonuses to help ensure a memorable end, including harming other characters and also redeeming them.

The book contains a fair amount of advice (as well as a sample scenario), which is quite useful given the game’s unique goals. Every character will die, and players need to buy in to this to enjoy it. It’s also a collaborative game – although there is a “Dealer,” who sets up some of the story, every player can become Narrator during conflicts. And finally, it is an antagonistic game – player characters can easily face off against each other, and some groups won’t enjoy that.

The book also contains a handy guide to Western history and good movies, novels, and characters that can inspire a Dust Devils game. Finally, this updated edition also includes three variant rules and settings, which port the game to new genres. These include Deathwish, about conflicted spies in the Cold War, RONIN, about warriors in feudal Japan, and Concrete Jungles, about unsavory urban characters. The first and last work well; RONIN is a good idea (especially given the connections between samurai films and Westerns), but the idea of resolving samurai duels with poker hands just doesn’t work for me.

In summary, Dust Devils is a unique, well-constructed rules-light game tailored to a very specific – but compelling – kind of story. Provided your group will buy into this type of story, you can tell some truly memorable stories of devils and redemption.

Note: I received a free review copy (in pdf form) of this title through DriveThruRPG.com.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dust Devils
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Deadlands Reloaded: For Whom the Whistle Blows
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/21/2010 06:34:17
Good looking, interesting adventure - the production qualities for the adventure are excellent although a few items are less than spectacular (e.g., the diagrams of the train cars). The adventure is well-written and seems like it would be fun to play (I haven't run it so I'm basing this on a quick read) even if it's a bit, excuse the pun, railroady.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Reloaded: For Whom the Whistle Blows
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Signs of the Moon
Publisher: White Wolf
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/21/2010 06:31:30
Excellent looking book/pdf. The artwork is terrific and it's an interesting read. The biggest problem is that it's very art intensive, including complete backgrounds which means it will cost a fortune to print it yourself. This is an ideal iPad book. The other downside is that it's a very expensive pdf - even at 227 pages I wouldn't expect the book to sell for too much more on Amazon.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Signs of the Moon
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Strands of Fate
Publisher: Void Star Games
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/20/2010 15:39:30
An excellent, somewhat revamped version of FATE, SoF is especially good for groups that really like using Aspects to their full effect. I've been working on adapting/coverting my 4E D&D campaign over to FATE and SoF seems like a perfect match to retain the basic "structure" of D&D without all of its narrative restrictiveness. My one criticism of the book is that it's explanations can be a bit hard to follow at times so readers brand new to FATE may find it a big less accessible than games like the Dresden Files RPG. That said, it's well worth the money and I would recommend it to just about anyone.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strands of Fate
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Dread
Publisher: The Impossible Dream
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/26/2010 15:39:38
Dread is an innovative horror RPG with (perhaps) the most unusual resolution mechanic out there: a Jenga tower. Although not for everybody, this excellent storytelling game is a tour de force of a rules-light system perfectly matched to its genre – with an exemplary presentation as well.

The system is light and elegant. Whenever a character attempts an action that could fail and/or have consequences, the player must pull a block from the Jenga tower. If the pull succeeds, the action succeeds; if not, the character is removed from the game (either violently or otherwise). This is a great mechanic in that it provides a physical representation of the game action, upon which the entire group can focus. The uncertainty and anxiety that occurs with a crucial pull builds to a much more satisfying crescendo than with a single die roll.

It also sets the pace of the game. Equating failure to character death may seem draconian, but the expectation is that the session’s structure will align the dangerous pulls from a rickety tower with the climactic moments near the end of each session (or at least act). Again, the players can watch this ticking clock and viscerally feel the danger developing.

But this also demonstrates the primary drawback of the system: task resolution depends not on character abilities but player dexterity. Players challenged by such exercises will not enjoy Dread, and accidents can happen early on, derailing a story and eliminating one player (though there are rules to help in these situations). I think a good GM can work around this, but it will require both care and experience, so this can legitimately be a deal-breaker for some.

Of course there are a few more wrinkles to how this works (like “elective” pulls to represent passive perception or a character hoping to succeed beyond the norm), but the engine itself is very straightforward.

The second great aspect of Dread is character creation. There are no statistics, simply background, and Dread builds that and ties it to the current story with a questionnaire. These dozen-ish GM-written (but player-answered) questions allow the GM to plant important story points or background elements but let the players run with them to develop their own character and make them their own. There definitely seems to be an art to constructing these – the book devotes a whole chapter to advice, and the lower margins are full of examples throughout the book – and will take some practice to get right. But the facility of these short sentences to focus on interesting details (“What were you doing when you got that stain?”) or open surprising doors for the story (“In your travels, which three animal languages have you learned?”) while encouraging player creativity and collaborative “setting” development is really impressive. I have already stolen this idea as a tool to draw players into the story in my own campaigns.

The book is extremely well-written, with lots of advice for dealing with these unusual mechanics as well as for tailoring story to the various horror sub-genres – chapters focusing on suspense, the supernatural, madness, morality, mystery, and gore provide general notes on story construction and GM advice as well as more specific recommendations on utilizing (and pacing) the tower effectively and on tailoring the questionnaire to these kinds of games. There is also a long chapter chock full of advice for GMs running Dread (mostly applicable to horror games in general, and some advice even more wide-ranging than that).

The book concludes with three sample scenarios; one highly detailed and two left more free-form (but all contain a full set of questionnaires). I won’t give away any details, but the three hit some of the major tropes of the genre very well.

In summary, Dread is an elegant and impressive horror game with unique mechanics. The central premises – character creation through questionnaires and task resolution through a Jenga tower – are quirky and certainly not for everyone. But, even so, I recommend the game as a great read for its advice and analysis of the GM trade and horror genre.

Note: I received a free review copy (in pdf form) of this title through DriveThruRPG.com.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dread
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Nathan Winburn Illustration: Dark Fantasy Vol. One Stock Art
Publisher: Skortched Urf' Studios
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/07/2010 14:33:34
Nice art.

Volume 1 has some nice, evocative b/w line art which is all dark and moody; I could picture many of the subjects appearing in a REH Conan story. Overall, a nice variety of pieces. My only concern is about the licensing terms for use of the art which doesn't seem to be written in very tight, legal language - it grants purchasers permission to use the art in their publications as long as they are not "mainstream publishers" which Skortched Urf' Studios retains the rights to define. In other words, it's not really clear that the S.U. Studios couldn't retroactively deem a publisher to be mainstream and the line between a "mainstream" and "independent" publisher is not easy to define. Thus, I'd be nervous using the images except in fringe products. YMMV.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Nathan Winburn Illustration: Dark Fantasy Vol. One Stock Art
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Carnival of Lost Souls
Publisher: Monolith Graphics
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/22/2010 12:44:28
An excellent and very atmospheric soundtrack- it definitely has a dark, gothic, horror type feel to it. While some of the tracks are clearly very "carnival" oriented, others would work for any genre. The overall sound quality is excellent and you get a good number of tracks which are of good length (2-3 minutes each).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Carnival of Lost Souls
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World of Darkness: Tales from the 13th Precinct
Publisher: White Wolf
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2010 11:07:42
Tales from the 13th Precinct is a well-written and useful resource for anyone interested in running a supernatural campaign in an urban setting: While it's specifically written for the WoD game system, much of the information is just as useful as inspiration or reference to other systems like Savage Worlds or the Dresden Files RPG. The fiction is solid and interesting, and there's a ton of inspirational material that can be mined for NPCs, scenes, plots, locations, or full-blown adventures. The PDF looks very good on screen, but like many of WW's PDFs, is not printer-friendly at all - this sucker will consume a ton of ink or toner if you try to print it out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
World of Darkness: Tales from the 13th Precinct
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Six Packed
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2010 11:00:18
An interesting, dark, and twisted adventure that provides a good introduction to GMs wanting to construct and run their own Esoterrorist investigations. The $3.95 asking price is a very good bargain.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Six Packed
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Fear Itself
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2010 10:58:03
Fear Itself is an interesting and well-written version of the Gumshoe system. It's one of my favorite versions of Gumshoe, particularly because while it can be used for campaign play, it also works very well for one-shot or single scenario play which is where I think the Gumshoe system really shines.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fear Itself
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Vexing Sands
Publisher: Escape Velocity Gaming
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/04/2010 13:52:13
Vexing Sands is a 16-page pdf that provides printable tiles with a desert theme. Note, however, that there are really only three independent pages of tiles: the rest is cover/credits/table of contents/ads (5 pages), an alternate set of tiles without grid lines (3 pages), suggestions on how to use the tiles (3 pages), and seven scenario suggestions using them (2 pages). The actual tiles include one page of mostly blank desert terrain (with some subtle features suggesting sand and a few scattered small rocks), one page of “desert dressing” (such as a fort, a pool, silt, cacti, etc.), and one “bonus” page of slightly modified desert dressing (different color schemes and some different permutations). The art is decent but leans toward the cartoonish rather than realistic; fine by me but unlikely to be to everyone’s tastes. (I’m not sure it would fit the tone of a Dark Sun setting, for example.) . Three pages doesn’t sound like a lot, but keep in mind that you can print as many copies as you’d like, and combine the dressing with the blank desert grid for lots of different setups. For the price it seems like a reasonable deal, provided you have the facilities, inclination, and budget to print as much as you want (and probably mount on cardstock). The three pages of descriptions for the tiles aren’t really necessary and rarely rise above the obvious in suggesting uses for them. The one-paragraph scenario suggestions are more interesting; most are pretty standard fare, but it’s nice that they give lists of tiles to use for each encounter (even better would have been pre-constructed templates!). All in all, this is a decent product if you have the inclination to print and assemble your own tiles. The range of “desert dressing” is pretty good. I’d just look at the preview to ensure you like the tone of the art before purchasing.

Note: I received a free review copy (in pdf form) of this title through DriveThruRPG.com

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Vexing Sands
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Publisher Reply:
Michael, Thanks for taking the time to review our product. I, personally, am a HUGE fan of Billiam Babble's old-school, highly-detailed, but not photo-realistic style...it's the reason I chose to work with him. I think you're dead on...if you like the art and it fits your campaign style this pack is a good deal. :D Thanks again, William C. Pfaff President, Escape Velocity Gaming
ION GUARD - ICONS Edition
Publisher: Radioactive Ape Designs
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/04/2010 13:48:26
ION Guard is a setting/organization supplement for the ICONS game that presents a new intergalactic organization of heroes. All of the ION Guard’s members wear a golden ION Fist, which provides them with a suite of superpowers including flight, blasts, a force field, and life support. This will sound very, very familiar to most of you (and if not, just wait for a certain movie coming out soon…), and there’s no question that the organization is a tribute to the Green Lantern Corps. The focus is on the intergalactic organization itself, but you could also use it to build an Ion Guard character who just adventures on Earth. The 58-page pdf is heavy on flavor and light on rules elements, so it will easily translate to other superhero systems. (In fact a separate edition is already available for BASH!) It provides a wealth of detail on the history, goals, resources, structure, and enemies of this organization – although, this being a supplement for a supers game, fortunately not excruciating detail. The story elements are solid and definitely fulfill (my) comic book expectations – it includes elements like the ION Guard Oath that add simple, but crucial, flavor for your character. The crunch is rather light, but it does provide information on some of the equipment and (most importantly) rules for generating ION Guard characters. The latter obviously dispenses with the default random character generation in favor of powers and statistics appropriate for an ION Guard. Personally I would have preferred more room for customization; prerequisite ability scores and an (almost) fixed suite of powers make these characters too homogeneous, so a group of ION Guards would really need distinct personalities to maintain their uniqueness. There are no fixed qualities or challenges, but the example characters still have almost identical choices there (all tied closely to the Guard). The most interesting section for me describes several villains: a former ION Guard corrupted by his own power; a race of sorcerers who exploit the ION Guard’s weakness against magic, and a monstrous world-eating being who is essentially unstoppable without trickery (think Marvel’s Galactus), although his superpowered minions are at a more normal level. These villains are well-tailored to the ION Guard and all have a lot of potential for classic comic-type stories. All in all, this is a solid supplement full of good flavor, and I recommend it if you are looking for an interesting intergalactic organization for your ICONS game – complete with a solid history and some great villains. Personally I would prefer more varied characters, but it certainly works fine for a player looking to fill the Green Lantern archetype. The low level of crunch also makes this attractive for conversion to other systems. However, if you are going to convert the rules elements that are already there, you may just want to research the Green Lantern Corps itself!

Note: I received a free review copy (in pdf form) of this title through RPGNow.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ION GUARD - ICONS Edition
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