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Fading Suns Player's Guide (Revised Edition)
Publisher: FASA
by Ron M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/11/2013 09:44:39
Much anticipation surrounded the much fabled Fading Suns 3rd edition, at least in the circles of Fading Suns fans. Unfortunately, due to many difficult situations, 3rd edition never really made it to fruition. Instead a “revised edition” was released with fewer changes to the core system and a new approach to the format of the core rulebooks.

According to the publisher, the goal of the new edition was not to make past published material obsolete but streamline the system while maintaining compatibility. I say up front, I was not the biggest fan of the Victory Point system. In so many words, it was anti-player to me. Perhaps they did not want the players rolling skills as often as I did but I wanted my players to have a sense of accomplishment and most that played the VP system did not get that out of it. My hope with any new VP system was to make it more player friendly and fun to play.


See the rest of my review on The Gamer's Codex...

www.thegamerscodex.com/index.php/fading-suns-players-gui-
de-revised-edition/

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Fading Suns Player's Guide (Revised Edition)
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Rome, Life and Death of the Republic
Publisher: Alephtar Games
by Ron M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/11/2013 09:41:51
I have had a few PDFs in my archives that were given to me to review but due to unforeseen life complications, I was not able to. I felt I owed those products a review and sicne I have started The Gamer’s Codex, I have gone back in my archives and found a number of those products. Basic Roleplaying: Rome, Life and Death of the Republic is one of them.

Rome is the longest enduring civilization in western European history and its influences, good and bad, are still felt today. Recent television shows like Rome and Spartacus have brought the brutality, sensuality and intrigue to life for us. It is no wonder that there is an attraction to role-play in that setting. I am by no means a Roman historian but this book seems to have backing of several learned individuals on the subject, so I trusted it to be historically accurate where it needed to be.

Chaosium was one of the first companies to develop a generic role playing game systems, and it is still sustained today through Call of Cthulhu and various other titles it supports. A percentile skill-based system, Basic Role Play system (BRP) was used as the basis for most of the games published by Chaosium. Its simplicity and popularity are very attractive and I can see why the author used it.

See the rest of my review on The Gamer's Codex here ...

www.thegamerscodex.com/index.php/basic-roleplaying-rome--
life-and-death-of-the-republic/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rome, Life and Death of the Republic
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The Imperial Age: True20 Edition
Publisher: Adamant Entertainment
by Ron M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/11/2013 09:40:07
The Imperial Age: True20 Edition is a RPG Setting Sourcebook from Adamant Entertainment. I have had a few PDFs in my archives that were given to me to review but due to unforeseen life complications, I was not able to. I felt I owed those products a review, and since I have started Gamer’s Codex, I have gone back in my archives and found a number of those products. The Imperial Age: True20 Edition is one of them.

Up front, I have to confess that I am a big True20 fan. I love the basic d20 mechanic but never liked the clunkyness of the system. True20 solved all those problems for me in one simple and concise generic system. I do not want to turn this into a True20 review but in general, this book already has that in its favor.


See the rest of my review here at www.thegamerscodex.com/index.php/the-imperial-age-true20-edi-
tion/ on The Gamer's Codex.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Imperial Age: True20 Edition
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Clement Sector
Publisher: Gypsy Knights Games
by Ron M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/05/2013 06:09:57
See our review on The Gamer's Codex

http://thegamerscodex.com/index.php/core-setting-clement-
-sector/

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Clement Sector
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Supernatural: The Hunt Begins
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Ron M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/31/2012 13:38:19
I have run this once with my group and scheduled to run in at the MACE gaming convention in Charlotte, NC. I am a huge fan of the show and love the RPG setting.

I have to tell you that Cortex is not my favorite system. Although I do not hate it, I keep wanting to revert to something like Savage Worlds so my dice can explode. It's a simple rules-light system with a few interesting aspects to it that obviously keeps the fan-base happy.

The adventure itself is well put-together and based on true legends. Obviously, to be Supernatural, it has to be based on some kind of folklore and that's what I liked most about it. For game falvor, I went out and did a internet search and printed out stuff about the legend. I recommend that you READ THAT MATERIAL as well because it gives you ideas for red herrings and other ways to spice up the adventure to make it creepy.

The adventure flows fairly well with a lot of investigation and a few normal encounters. The kick off to the adventure was the only thing that I was not crazy about but that’s not always an easy thing to do in this kind of setting.

One thing one should know is that it gives 4 pre-generated characters in the back. I would have preferred all original characters but unfortunately they were lazy and used Sam and Dean as two of the characters. I had a party of 6 and generated 4 characters on my own when I ran it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Supernatural: The Hunt Begins
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A Road So Dark: A Fading Suns Shard
Publisher: FASA
by Ron M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/31/2012 13:23:32
I decided to run this adventure for my group as a one shot, although I already figured it would run longer than the 4 hours I had to run it. I read through it and found it to be very simple, clear and full of potential but was not overwhelmed by it. In many cases, when I read an adventure that is like this, I end up totally changing it and adding stuff to it that sometimes changes the total feel of the adventure. I did not do that to this one. I tried to subtly come up with ways to enhance it. I felt that the adventure started out a little too slow and needed a little spice in the beginning. The nice thing is that throughout the adventure, there are subtle hints towards ways you can spice it up. I think that was intentional.

My group (who had never played in this setting before) really grasp the feeling of the setting and this adventure exemplifies a lot of the setting’s core concepts. I was really concerned that even with my subtle changes, the adventure would be too slow for my group. As it turned out, they had a blast.
Even though I did not get to the end, I do like the way the adventure ends and gives the GM opportunity to jump off into a campaign. I had actually planned not to go to the complete ending but stop just before the very end to leave the possibility for a campaign based on the quest of the adventure (the search for a Nightroad Jumpgate key).

My only complaint with this adventure is the beginning, which is fairly slow. But slowness is a very relative thing, different from one game group to another. What I like about it is that it can be customizable without changing the core storyline, and the writer lays enough hints and ideas to help you along that way.

Full disclosure – I did not run this with the base Victory Point system. I used True20. So I cannot comment on the stats of the adventure, but I did like the flavor text for all the NPCs. I usually skip that but for some reason I did not this time. There is a lot of little ideas you can draw from just that text, so I highly recommend reading that as well, even if you don’t use the stats.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Road So Dark: A Fading Suns Shard
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CthulhuTech
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/14/2009 12:30:31
CthulhuTech
By Ron McClung

Catalyst Game Labs in conjunction with Wildfire LLC and Black Sky Studios have released a twisted vision of a dark future, combining anime-style mecha with the Cthulhu mythos. This stand-alone roleplaying game uses the Framewerk system and is contained in a full-color hardcover book with amazing art and a compelling premise.

The game’s story is deep-seated in Cthulhu mythos and mixes it with world politics and sci-fi technology to create a world of amazing potential. Set in the year 2085, Earth as we know has changed. Since the discovery of arcanotechnology and the creation of the first mecha, global war engulfs the planet. Man’s expansion into space has attracted the attention of aliens called the Migou. Evil cults plot against the world government, summoning creatures from beyond. Mecha war machines walk the Earth battling the alien and cult forces.

Players take on roles of people in a war-torn Earth surviving under the New Earth Government (NEG), fighting alien and cult threats, and using fantastic technologies and dark magic. Character options include arcanotechnicians, intelligence agents, mecha pilots, or Tagers – dark magic tainted-humans with the ability to shape-change into horrific creatures that fight the cult and alien forces. Players also can choose between humans or a genetically engineered alien race, the Nazzadi. There are multiple factions one can pledge their allegiance to, including the NEG, the elite Engel Project, and the mysterious Eldritch Society.

The three primary aspects of a player character are the basic attributes, skills and qualities – made up of assets and drawbacks. It is a skill-based system with profession templates only acting as guidelines and not fixed classes. Players can also have access to magic but those used to easy-to-use instantaneous spells will be disappointed. This game makes magic hard and rare and link it closely to one’s sanity. What would a Cthulhu-mythos-based system be without a sanity rating and a fear system?

The Framewerk system is based on 10-sided dice and uses roll-higher-than-a-difficulty mechanic. It is fairly elegant and easy to learn. It uses intuitive mechanics combined with a system that favors drama and heroics to create a fun and action packed environment. For example, it provides a Drama Points system that allows players to effect tasks at critical moments.

At the heart of this game are two things – the Cthulhu mythos horrors and mecha. Whole chapters are dedicated to both. Many mecha are introduced – the tough and angular NEG units, the sleek and maneuverable Nazzadi, as well as the alien of the Migou. The horrors have their inspiration rooted in Lovecraftian mythos but also have their own uniqueness to them.

Overall, this game is very attractive. My only concern about it is the playability when you move from character scale to mecha scale. It feels like it is trying to be two games in one – a role-playing game and a miniature game system. It is a brilliantly laid out and visually powerful volume. The inspiring background will attract anime, sci-fi, and mythos fans alike.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CthulhuTech
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Fading Suns: d20 roleplaying game rulebook
Publisher: Holistic Design
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2009 10:56:21
Fading Suns: d20 Roleplaying Game Rulebook
From: Holistic Design
Reviewed by:  Ron McClung

Fading Suns: d20 Roleplaying Game Rulebook is a new Role Playing Game Core Book from Holistic Design.
I have already expressed my passion for this game setting in my review of the Fading Suns Role Playing Game Core Rulebook, but simply said, this is my favorite setting of all time. Every aspect of it fascinates me, and there are so many facets to it. 

However, when I tried playing the Victory Point system, I struggled with it. I tried and tried to make the system work with my style of running and the style of my players. However, it simply didn't fit. The system seemed (to us) "anti-character" as one of my players put it. The system seemed to work against the player and not for the player. My players complained about how useless their characters felt in the game. They felt quite inadequate no matter how simple the task. They did not like the black-jack style of dice mechanic - role under but not too to high. It seem counter intuitive to many.

I admit that my style of running is a little more cinematic and heroic. I don't like to quibble over the most simple tasks when peace in the galaxy is at hand. I want my PCs to be effective and feel like the have accomplished something because the character they created - concept and numbers together - are effective and have a role to play in the campaign I have created. My players and I did not get that feeling out of the Victory Point system. I was on the verge of moth-balling my Fading Suns stuff entirely.

From page #5:
“It's not easy to think straight with a gun pointed at your head.”
Then along came the d20 version of Fading Suns, and I took a long deep breath of relief. I was already a big fan of d20 from d20 Star Wars. As far as I am concerned, d20 saved Fading Suns. Or at least that is what I thought at the time.

Content: For the most part, this book is a reprint of the text from the original rulebook. The only things that are different are the rules, of course. When the book deviates into the d20 content, it changes font. This book all but requires at least the 3.0 version of the D&D core rulebook, because it does not include essential information like character generation basics (ability score table) or the level progression chart. Also note that this was released before 3.5 version of d20. However, with a little work, it can be worked into 3.5. 

After a short introduction, the book takes you into Chapter One: The Universe - which is basically word for word the text from the original Victory Point rule book.  

Chapter Two: Characters is the start of the d20 content, with the conversion of all the core races to d20 and the character generation system. Each race is converted, followed by the classes available in the game setting which include Beastfriend, Brother Battle, Knight, Knave, Soldier, Theurgist, Psychic and a few others. What people will notice right away is that the core three faction-related classes - Priest, Guilder and Noble - are basically the same structure. Each have their factional bonus ability at 1st level and then bonus feats at specific levels afterwards. Some would say it is not very imaginative, but really that leaves a lot of customization open to the player.

The other classes are more traditional, with specific special abilities at certain levels. The biggest and perhaps most controversial change was the occult classes - Theurgist and Psychic. Nothing like the spell casters of D&D, the occult classes are a little more structured and limited in what they can do. However, once you get into the powers, you see that they are not so limited.  

Another additional option they supply for characters is the Armor Class Bonus based on Level. Because the setting can be a little more deadly than your traditional fantasy setting, the game supplies an option for an AC bonus at every 3rd level.

Chapter Three: Skills does two things - it modifies existing 3e Skills and adds a few new skills. The skill modification is simply to add sci-fi related setting stuff, like a variety of Craft subskills as well as Knowledge subskills. It adds several new skills - Academia, Arts, Drive, Occultcraft, Starship Gunnery, Use Artifact, and Use Think Machine. In some cases, like Arts, I had to ask why, because in this case, Knowledge or Perform skills should have covered that.

Chapter Four: Feats is where the designer tried to be innovative but fell a little bit short. Along with the base feats in d20, a character can choose from a variety of feats that are setting specific in this chapter. It introduces a new feat type called a Social Feat, which primarily deals with social titles and networks of the game. There is a serious intrigue side of this game setting, and these feats attempt to enhance that.  
Unfortunately, I found that it is hard to build mechanics around intrigue. I love intrigue in a game, probably more so than my players. The Social feats try to add more mechanics to the social aspects of the game when it really does not need it. There are some very cool feats in there, but some are simply too clunky. I liked the idea of the Social feats, and in fact went through the old Victory Point books and found more Benefits and Blessing I could use to make more, but I kept them as simple as I could. I suppose this is the nature of d20 in general.

Chapter Five: Equipment takes some of the equipment from the original book and converts it to d20. The disappointment in this was that Cybernetics were all but left out. There were a few items converted but there was a whole system of creating a cybernetic device that was left out. Also, a big disappointment to many was the Starship combat, which was given a short treatment but not enough to satisfy most people.
Also, there were several game mechanics related to modern weapons that should have been compiled into a Combat chapter rather than placed sporadically throughout the weapons sections, like autofire and shield mechanics.

Chapter Six: Occult Powers is the area that is the most controversial and where, for some, the biggest disappointments come. For me, I found that some of these powers were simply broken. Those that are used to the long spell lists of D&D will be disappointed because of the lack of variety, but I do not mind that. This actually helps the system in that it makes it easy to create house rules and rules tweaks to fix some of the problems. The problem is that you have to know about them ahead of time before your players exploit them.

Both Psychic and Theurgists powers are explained in this chapter, the author leaving Antinomy for future books (which they do later in Aliens & Deviltry sourcebook). Psychics have Paths and Theurgist have Rites. Each Path or Rite has 3 or 4 levels of degrees. The occultist classes are leveled out so that the character will learn at least 4 Paths or Rites. The limiting factor to either is Wyrd points, but as I found out, it is not all that limiting. Perhaps I gave out too many as rewards or maybe my Wyrd Point house rule allowed to many but the GM needs to keep tabs on the number of Wyrd points each occult player has.

The interesting factor in either case is the down side of occult powers. In the case of Psychic Powers it is Urge, and for Theurgists it is Hubris. These are great concepts but hard mechanics to enforce in game. Once a player starts down that path, it's hard to get them back. However, it does have great plot device potential and, if treated right, can be something of a power-gaming limiter. Overall, I liked this conversion.
The Chapter Seven: Gamemastering is far shorter than I would have liked. It converts some of the NPCs and creatures from the core book, but it needed to do more. Many other d20 core books supply base stats for a low level, mid level and high level NPCs. While running this, I needed that.  

The Appendix: Planets section gives a short list and descriptions of each of the major worlds in the setting, which is a direct copy from the Victory Point system core book.

In conclusion, I ran this game for over 2 years. My characters made it to 12th level (or somewhere around there). I feel that I have enough experience to comment on how it plays. I love the setting and I loved the potential it had, but I ran into too many problems with this conversion. Many times, it simply felt like D&D in space because I was using creatures out of the Monster Manuel and dungeon maps from some D&D adventures. There was just not enough, in my opinion.

I feel that this was put out simply to cash in on the d20 craze back when it was hot. I do not feel that Holistic Design (HDI) gave it due focus and simply wanted to rope in some other gamers who were not attracted to the original system. Although I do feel that the game setting disserves to be played, I do not feel that HDI put enough work into this rules set to give it justice. And because I really do feel that the original game system is not entirely sound, the setting remains lost in a sea of pour rule mechanics design.
This book gives a good foundation for any d20 fan to play in this setting but it needs some tweaking, especially in the Occult area. Perhaps the whole occult system could be thrown out, but coming up with an alternative that is balanced is hard. I would only recommend this book to someone that is comfortable enough with d20 to recognize the imbalances and is able to customize the game to make it work.

I think they would have been better off waiting for d20 Modern/d20 Future. A conversion to that system is long overdue and probably would have fixed some of the problems.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Fading Suns: d20 roleplaying game rulebook
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The Day After Ragnarok
Publisher: Atomic Overmind Press
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2009 17:11:57
The Day After Ragnarok
From: Atomic Overmind Press
Reviewed by:  Ron McClung

The Day After Ragnarok is a new Savage Worlds RPG Setting Book from Atomic Overmind Press.
The Day After Ragnarok is an interesting setting book that takes the absurdity of the mythological occurrences of Ragnarok and makes them happen in a world torn by World War II. It takes the question we all like to ask ... "what if ...?" ... to an extreme.

Setting: My knowledge of the Ragnarok myth is sketchy at best, but with a little research I was able to get the idea. Most gamers are very familiar with it because it is one of the cornerstones of mythology on which we base most fantasy worlds. In short, it is a series of events according to Norse mythology that marks the end of the world.

The Day After Ragnarok (TDaR) is a world after a series of events that started in the twilight of World War II. The Nazis, dabbling in the occult and mythology, found the proper ritual to bring about Ragnarok. However, as one can imagine, it did not turn out the way they thought it would.  

From page # 1:
“Welcome to the world at the end of the world. The skies are shrouded with burning, oily smoke, the Earth groans under a poisoned corpse, and the only way out may be deeper into the belly of the beast. It’s a world nearly killed by the death of wonder, although far from all the wonders are dead. Put the “grim” back in “grime” and see the world outside the smeared Perspex windscreen.”

 In mid-1945, the howl of Garm was heard and the moon turned blood red. The huge head of the Midgard serpent rose from the Arabian Sea. However, old world mythology was met with American ingenuity. Truman rammed an atom bomb right up the serpents nostrils.   

The results were a mixed bag. Yes, the nuke obliterated the brain of the colossal beast, but this also brought what is referenced in the book as Serpentfall. With the head the size of a medium-sized country, the serpent tumbled across three continents, crushing everything in its path. The world map quite literally has an immense snake laying the British Isles, middle and eastern Europe, and across Africa with its head pulverizing Egypt. All of Egypt.

This fall also created tsunamis that annihilated the east cost of the US, radioactive venom clouds that poisoned most of the rest of the US mutating man and beast alike, and earthquakes that awoke giants in Eastern Europe and Western Russia. The world fell asunder when the howls of Garn were heard, and what remains is an apocalyptic world of strange tech, mutants, and supernatural pulp fiction heroes.

From page # 1:
“ See it smolder. See it burn. See if you can save it."

Content: The 130-page PDF contains all you need to play in this world except the core system rules, of course. Those can be found in the core Savage World rulebooks. 

After a brief introduction that gives you the general idea of the setting concept, the book takes you into creating a hero for the setting. It supplies a number of character concept ideas, including Arcane Scholar, Barbarian, Oilman, and Outlaw. It also supplies a guideline for forming your character role in the party as well as addition professions for the Professional Edges in the main Savage World rule book.

What this game falls a little short in is the area of nationality. It does touch on characters originating from what is left of the US and the British Commonwealth, but there could be so much more. Many games do this though, so I can not blame them. In a game like this, nationality would play a big role. I just see this as a lost opportunity to differentiate characters even further. That's a big thing for me.

There are 5 new Hindrances including Blank Stare, Holy Roller and Snakebit. Following this are several setting-specific Edges. These include Background Edges such as Arcane Background for Magic, Miracles, Psionics, and something called Ophi-tech. Also included are Professional Edges like Airman, Rhodes Scholar, Soldier, and something called a Speleo-Herptologist.

The Gear section is very comprehensive. It covers all the primary essentials for a hero to have in the late 40s and early 50s. The use of historical clip art of some equipment enhances the feel and atmosphere of the game setting. Following this is the section on Ophi- Tech. This is expanded on later.

The section titled The World After Ragnarok is a comprehensive overview of the world after Serpentfall. What I am impressed with in this portion is the brevity but also the completeness. The author gives you a lot but not too much. From the Drowned Coast and Poisoned Lands of the former US to the lands that were southern Egypt and the Sudan, now called Ras al-Thuban (the Head of the Serpent); from the politically active jungles of Latin America to the cold mysteries of the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union; the world is a place jam-packed with adventure and intrigue. Soviets are the main "bad guy," but no one should discount the Nazis as they were never entirely defeated.  

What I like most about this section are the sporadic Savage Shortlists throughout the text. These are short lists like Top Five places to be Attacked By Pirates, Top Five Places to Find A Remote Castle Ruled by a Madman, or Top Five places To Stomp Nazis. These are brilliant little nuggets of ideas for adventure locations and help inspire you to jump right into the game setting.

The remainder of the book is a plethora of information for a game master to run a game in this brilliant setting.  Born of Venom and Ice is a chapter containing nothing but stats of bad guys - NPCs and creatures alike. From the mundane policeman and common thug to the more exotic cultists and elite soldier, the non-player characters are quite abundant. When they are not enough, the game master has creatures like chimeras, ghouls, death-worms, giant alligators and front giants to choose from.

Adventures in the Serpent's Shadow is a chapter that gives the game master a variety of ideas for campaigns in the setting. It first provides four campaign types and an outline of adventure seeds for each. Then it contains an Adventure Generator that allows the game master to create adventures with the roll of the dice. This plays true to the core philosophy of Savage Worlds itself in that it makes it easy to quickly sit down and start up a game. This is followed by a few samples that were rolled up with this generator system.
Ending the book are two very nice things. The Appendix supplies the GM a series of very handy encounter tables in case you can not come up with something for your characters to fight. It ends with a very complete index, which always gains bonus points from me.  

There are several key concepts in the game that give the game its overall feel and uniqueness. First, the appearance of a gargantuan serpent alone showed the world of burgeoning modern science that the impossible can exist and defy all logic and science. This opened a door that none thought possible. Also, the death of a snake through a nuclear blast caused side effects that no one saw coming. And finally, the sheer immensity of a dead snake laying across multiple continents has given people access to things no one thought existed.

In addition, the coming of Ragnarok has brought into this world Magic, Miracles and Psionics. Magic is tricky and dangerous. Miracles are possible through many different faiths. Soviet experimentation into psychic powers has created psionically capable people, although the rules do not recommend characters take on this role.  

Another addition is Speleo-Herptology, the study of the Midgard Serpent corpse and its secrets. Literally it translates to "serpent cavers."  They explore the immense corpse of the Serpent; as it is so huge, climbing between its scales is like exploring great caves.

Also, Ophi-tech is a very unique concept presented in TDaR.  It is biological and chemical technology derived directly from things found within the Midgard Serpent's corpse. These include Ablative Metabolic Suit (a type of protective suit made of Serpent-skin), Crotaline Drops (eyes drops that allow one to see in the dark) and Ophiline (refined Serpent oil - a replacement to petroleum oil).

System & Rules: As mentioned, the setting adds several Hindrances and Edges. Also mentioned was the fact that it expands the Professional Edge to setting-specific professions. The mechanics that the book adds are primarily optional rules like the rules for Serpent Taint and the rules for Ophi-tech malfunctions and the possible consequences.   

Layout: Simply put - it is awesome. The book is very well laid out and well edited. The art is very good, from the filler art at the start of each chapter to the character art for the NPCs.  

In conclusion, this game has a lot of appeal. Not surprisingly, it is written by multi-Origin and Ennie Award winner Kenneth Hite. This is a well written and thorough setting book with a lot in it. It is imaginative, different, and at the same time has enough familiarity that one can grasp the basic pulp fiction aspects of the game. Reading his words in the Inspiration section at the back of the book, he pieces together several disparate and unrelated ideas to bring together a brilliant and vivid world that drives you to want to play in it. Great job!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Day After Ragnarok
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Victory by Any Means Campaign Guide
Publisher: Victory By Any Means Games
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2009 12:29:46
Victory By Any Means Campaign Guide
From: VBAM Project
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Victory By Any Means Campaign Guide is a new Full-Featured Space Strategy Campaign System from VBAM Project.

NOTE: Because of how involved this game is, I was not able to make the time to actually play the game.

From the front cover: “A Full Featured Space Strategy Campaign System”The book boasts quite a bold statement (see above) and judging by its size, I had my doubts. Many have tried similar attempts at what it claims, only to fail miserably. At under 100 pages, it seem to me that this system is at least not as overwhelming as one would expect. I was some what intrigued by this endeavor despite its "right-out-of-Kinkos" look and somewhat lack-luster art.

Content: Within the pages of the Victory By Any Means (VBAM) rulebook are the rules to run a complete space strategy game including the economics, military and social aspects of a sci-fi universe. It really does come across as simple and straight forward, and reading it is really easy. The rulebook opens with simple introductory information including what you need to play, picking alien races and creating a galaxy map. The random galaxy map generator is really simple, but it could take some time based on the size of the map you decide to use. 

The universe, once all rings of the galaxy are determined, ends up being reminiscent of something like Twilight Imperium, the board game, except a little more complicated and a little more planets. Every world has jump routes to the next ring and onward, allowing for a web of jump routs going in and out of each ring of the galaxy. The rings all emanate from a central world known as the hub. Player home worlds are chosen from the last ring.

The majority of the remaining content is an explanation of each of the phases in a turn. There are nine phases, ranging from income phase to supply phase to construction phase. It appears that all that you would expect in a game like this is covered. Also included are extensive optional rules.

The last sections of the book supply the players with source material including sample galaxies, sample scenarios and sample alien races. There are eight scenarios that range from a two player simple scenario to six or seven player free for all. Also included are the record sheets needed to play which of course need to be copied several times. They are not as complicated as they could be but in fact are very straight forward.

System: On important thing to note is there are two ways to play this game with or without a campaign moderator (CM). In some cases, the rules have variations based on whether you have a CM or not.

One of the goals of this system that is quite apparent is its flexibility. It can be adapted to any universe with a minimum amount of work, or it could even be a great venue for the ultimate crossovers you have been thinking about. The sample races act as the only guideline to creating your own race, however. It would have been nice to include a simple race creation system to create balanced races for the game.

The flexibility also extends to the modularity of the sub-systems. One could plug-and-play their own ship combat system if they did not like the one provided. This can be done with most any of the sub-systems. I found that to be a good approach to a game like this.
From the back cover: “Those also serve that stand and weld.”The turn runs through several phases, as mentioned above, and covers production and income, intelligence and diplomacy, as well as the ever present specter of war. As you read into the rules of each phase, as you might expect, much in one phase affects and is intertwined with other actions within other phases. Basically, the nine phases are as follows:

1) Income Phase - This is a fairly simple phase of calculating production from all your worlds and subtracting off maintenance of your current empire. I can imagine this being time consuming, but one would expect that. I used to play an extensive board game called Supremacy, and the income phase in that game was one of the longest.

2) Turn Order Phase - Reading this got complicated because it involves so much. This is where the strategy and ones ability to know the system comes in. All orders are written down and once they are done, there is no changing them. I like this because there are so many times in games similar to this a person cheats and changes his mind based on actions in the game. A grand empire would not have the luxury to change its mind in mid-stream in my opinion.

3) Tech Phase - Tech advancement is handled in a interesting kind of way. Every 12th turn, a percentage is calculated based on the number of economic points invested in tech advancement and the number required for tech advancement (which is usually 50% of the empire's total domestic product. If it sounds confusing, the example given clears it up pretty quickly. However, the effects of increased technology are not immediately apparent and much is left to the players or the CM to create and apply to the game. In general, a successful tech advancement increases the Empire's tech level, but nothing specific is given on what tech that is. It does say that any further detailed tech advancement would require a CM and possibility a tech tree that I suppose the CM and/or players create.

4) The Intel Phase - This phase covers not only intelligence but also diplomatic missions as well. Again, like tech advancement, this requires allocation of economic points to the Intel pool. They can be used offensively and defensively. Diplomacy is defined in good detail, outlining types of treaties and states of diplomacy between two powers. Intel missions are defined and can range from espionage and sabotage. Because much of the information a player has about his empire is kept secret including trop and fleet movement, intelligence in this game is invaluable. I like a game that puts a strong value on intelligence and diplomacy. This game does it well.

5) Movement Phase - This is what you would expect - movement between systems and along trade routs, as well as raider movement. Ships move at a fixed rate along routes. Trade routes are set in this phase and just happen unless interrupted by something. Ground Units move via ships or Transport fleets.

6) Combat - This is where it gets particularly nasty. This is by far the most complicated part of the game - but what combat system is not. It takes a macro view of fleet-to-fleet combat, using an encounter and scenario system that is quite unique. Explaining it here would be very difficult, but let us just say it covers a lot in very general but sometimes confusing terms. An extensive example is given that is pretty clear and concise. My complaint is the use of terminology - a scenario can be an overall model for the campaign or a model for a combat encounter. I think a better term could have been used for the latter to keep it from being confused.

There are five phases within combat: Supply Phase, Encounter Phase, Space Combat, Orbital Bombardment, and Troop Combat Phase. The system itself is abstract in some ways, but it does make sense. It might take several practice runs to get used to and to understand all its nuances. Space combat is handled differently from ground combat, and there are extensive examples of both.

7) Construction Completion Phase - This is another very important and therefore somewhat complex phase. Repairs and construction of any kind of unit is covered in this phase. You can also 'mothball' units or stick them on reserve status which lowers their maintenance cost. Combat damage can be repaired. Units can also be completely scrapped Everything costs economic points, of course, and is pretty straight forward. The complexity comes in when you decide where the units can be constructed based on the productivity of the system and other factors like space docks and shipyards.

8) Update Asset Phase - This is a simple book-keeping phase when all units, economic points, and other assets are accounted for. Also in this phase is an interesting aspect called system morale and loyalty. In this portion of the phase, checks are made to make sure the player's empire stays united.

9) End of Turn Phase - This is only important if the players are using optional rules like Random Events.

Layout: The rulebook is primarily available in PDF form on several PDF web sites, but the copy I received was in a spiral-bound book. The layout in general reminds me of an old Avalon Hill game i.e. "refer to rule 3.4.5 for Intel Mission...", etc. To some, this could be hard to follow, but it is not overwhelming. The art is mediocre at best, though, but that is not really important for a book like this. 
Other Comments: The web site supplies several things including FAQ, errata and other important and handy support material. It does clear up a few questions I had about the game and it appears that the writers are serious about supporting the game. An extra bonus on the web site is a program that generates a galaxy for you.

In conclusion, I was impressed with their effort into this game and the amount of work they put into it. In places, it seemed to me they left it too open or too flexible and almost left too much work to do for the players or the CM. The fact that they seemed to have left tech advancement wide open did bother me. If it had an effect on game play, I did not see it. However, it is an interesting part to leave open because it opens the door for the CM to really customize his universe. I only would expect some kind of simple guidelines or at least a sample tech advancement tree. I e-mailed the writers and they promptly responded to my e-mail question in this regard. They said that a more detailed tech advancement system will be available in future supplements, but for now, it is a basic system to track a tech level of an empire and can be used in any way the CM sees fit.

Overall, I liked the game because it could be used in so many aspects. One could be an overall macro-campaign that fits around a RPG micro-campaign giving the universe the PCs are playing some life and vitality. It can also be turned into an interesting Twilight Imperium style board game. It is good work by gamers who obviously love gaming.

For more details on VBAM Project and their new Full-Featured Space Strategy Campaign System “Victory By Any Means Campaign Guide” check them out at their website http://http://www.vbamgames.com/.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Victory by Any Means Campaign Guide
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you for the detailed review, Ron! From the description you gave it sounds like you have a copy of the "1.0" Data Source initial release of the Victory by Any Means Campaign Guide. That version of the book was upgraded later to integrate some bug fixes and otherwise rework the layout slightly (the artwork remains what we could put together on a shoe-string budget, however). As you pointed out in your review, all major rules changes were made available as a separate errata PDF on our website.
Valence
Publisher: Valent Games
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2009 12:27:24
Valence - Science-Fiction Roleplaying
From: Valent Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Valence - Science-Fiction Roleplaying is a new PDF Core Role Playing Game (RPG) book from Valent Games.
Right off the bat, I was impressed with Valence because of the inspirations the author sites - Babylon 5.   I am a huge fan of Babylon 5 and, in fact, just got my first adventure published for B5 d20 in Signs and Portents #19. It also had an initial Traveller look and feel. I like Traveller as well.
In the basic sense, Valence is another epic sci-fi space opera, with some elements of hard sci-fi and some elements of science fantasy. Apparently, there is a long history behind this game (as I guess there is with every game), and this is the second edition of Valence.

From the website:
“The year is 3029 AD - Galactic Year 592. The Human Empire fell 125 years ago, and it is a time of rebuilding.”

Content:  After the standard introductory information, the What is Roleplaying? section every game seems to have, and a short history of the galaxy, the alien races are introduced in detail. I have to say that I am pretty overwhelmed by the originality of some of these races. Each are generally described below.

The Inuueliting are said to be the galaxy’s oldest species. They are physically human-like, generally, but there are several subspecies within the Inuueliting species that populate each of the five castes. From the winged Dai to the short Maltec, each have their own function within the Inuueliting society. In reality, they are five races in one.The Budetug are a insectoid species and are said to "match some of our worst nightmares, with a dozen legs, great crab-like pincers, and a hard exoskeleton." However, they are very innovative and pragmatic and are less fearsome in personality than in appearance. They are the workers of the new galaxy.

The Caractingessen resemble a dinosaur crossed with a dragon and are just as fearsome as they appear. Divided into two distinct types (Greats and Serpentine), all are apparently characteristically high tempered.  
Another species somewhat like humanity in appearance, the Halla are smaller and their skin is quite wrinkly. At one time, they commanded a great trading empire, however it was short-lived, collapsing a few hundred years before Humanity reached the stars.  

The Valorians are an amphibious, quadruped, tentacled species who are said to be the most quiet race in the galaxy. They are also very intelligent and rarely involve themselves with galactic politics.

The mysterious Archangels as described as a race of animated plate mail. They apparently are a warrior culture that have a built-in inability to lie and a strong affinity to the arcane ability of Lording (see below). When discovered, it was determined that they were not native to the world they called home.

The Nesti are a plantlike race that are interestingly warlike, argumentative, and unintelligent. Although I can see plants as being dumb, I struggled to see planets as warlike.  "Attack of the Salald! Arm yourself with tongs!" Allied with the Caractingessen, they are quite bizarre and counter-intuitive. Anyone see the Day of the Triffids?

The snake-like Sa’crontor are a young race compared to most species. They are ambitious, characteristically talkative, agile, and inquisitive. They average about three meters long and even have a cobra-like hood.

There are three Ogre species - Titans, Trolls, and Draconians. Just prior to the discovery of the Humans, these species were discovered. They had served the Caracts as bodyguards and shock troops before they were liberated from the service of the dragon-beasts. All humanoid and ape-like, they are the youngest spacefaring species in the universe. Initially just two races evolving in parallel on one world, a third arose when the Caractingessen sought to create a slave race - the Draconians.

And then there are the Humans of Earth. It also makes a short note about Minor Races, indicating there is room for the GM or player to make up his own race(s).  Cultures are explained in terms of the mega-corporations or the governmental organizations that colonized the stars centuries ago - Genetech, Ægis, Coalition, and Armageddon Industries are examples. Each are explained in detail. The author makes it a point not to make too many blanket statements. His philosophy on culture is that he does not assume that species and culture are the same thing. So each species has as many varied cultures as humans do. I find that, although realistic, it is difficult to represent that fact in a role playing game. I think he discovered that because in some cases, he goes back on his statement. Case in point, the Caractingessen culture - "the Caractingessen culture is shared by nearly every Gess in the galaxy." (pg. 49) I guess in some cases species and culture are the same, while in others they are not.

After the species, the author presents several short sections of life in the galaxy. In order, these are the subjects he covers - Love, Mega-Corporations, Religions, Entertainment, Timeline and The Fall, a section on interstellar space travel (Tesseracts), Interplanetary Communication, and Galaxy Cartography. The Timeline is in terms of Earth years, dating as far back as 10 million years BC.

Aside from the time period and the races players can play, the top three things I look for in a science fiction game are (1) what supernatural stuff it has; (2) what technological equipment it has; and (3) what weapons it has.  

The supernatural facets of Valence is called Lording. Lording is power that stems from another dimension. It is basically magic with several schools linked to it and several ways to approach the powers. There are many schools of Lording as well as spells. Up front, it tells you that the powers of Lording is limitless by supplying you with a spell creation system. However, it does provide over forty spells including Ice Storm, Force Shield, Flame Generation and Invisibility.  

Technology in Valence includes genetic engineering, cybernetics, a galaxy-wide cybernet call the Lattice, and a short chapter on basic equipment. What is missing is any kind of detailed chapter on starships. I am the type of game master that could play a sci-fi RPG without ever needing a ship construction system or a complete list of stat'ed out starships, but I know there are tons of gamers that require it. You will find neither in this book. The genetic engineering aspects are represented in terms of "templates" - there are two: ultramercs and demons. The cybernetics is reasonably thorough, including cybernetic equipment and weapons one can add to their character. The Lattice section includes sections on computers, building them, building programs and using them, which is more than I can say for most sci-fi games.
Weapons are ever-present in sci-fi.  Valence includes a good number of weapon types - lasers, disruptors, and plasma weapons as well as ancient weapons. Also included is a unique concept called entropy weapons (at least unique to me) - a weapons that increases the entropy of its target, which reeks havoc with force shields, as well as a short weapons modification system with seven ways to modify your weapons. 

As the standard counterpart to weapons, Valence supplies the players with several styles of armors. From light armor to heavy powered armor, there is more than enough to work with. On top of that, it has an interesting armor modification and customization system, which is not always found in many sci-fi games.  

The remaining content are sections with GM Advice and sample characters. Things that are missing: starships, vehicles, a variety of equipment and robots.

System: Character generation is somewhat class-based, but not as restrictive as that classification would imply.  Each class gives a set of skills, some base levels of Charisma and Knowledge, and a special ability.  Classes are categorized in three areas: Soldier, Rogue, and Scholar. Soldier classes include the Arctic and Star Commandos, Space Troopers, Furies, Paladins, and Space Jockeys. Soldiers are strong in discipline and their combat abilities, of course. Rogue classes include Assassins, Bounty Hunters, Merchants, Ninja, Operatives, and Street Thieves. Rogues are strong in ingenuity and stealth. Scholar classes include Archmagi, Bio Docs, Diplomats, Interface Knights, and Tech Docs. Scholars collect knowledge and avoid combat, traditionally. In this system classes define what skills are easier to get and what skills are harder to get, but there is no limitations to what one can be skilled at. Characters spend points to buy skills and how much is based on class, level at which he wishes to buy the skill, and any other outside factors.  Multi-classing is possible, but not easy. It is considered leaving one's class into another and costs a lot of experience and game time.

Ability scores or attributes are determined through point allocation. There are eleven attributes. They are typically ranked from 0 to 10, though they may rise above 10 for exceptional characters. Attributes are Agility, Charisma, Creativity, Dexterity, Intelligence, Knowledge, Lording, Mental Endurance, Stamina, Strength, and Visualization. Skills are based on these attributes and are categorized in several areas. Combat, Athletic, Engineering, Computers and Leadership are examples. Skill levels start at 1, of course. At level 26 and beyond you are considered Grand Master of that skill. Tasks or Checks are a roll of a d20 die plus one's attribute and skill level of applicable skill and is compared to a difficulty level. In my experience, this type of mechanic is a sound system, because it leaves a lot of freedom to the GM to control the situation and power gaming. 

Another key element in character generation is background generation. There is nothing more important to me than a solid background generation system. I am a huge fan of Task Force Games Central Casting series of books.

From page #9:
“The galaxy is picking itself up from one of the biggest disasters it’s ever faced.”

The ingenuity of Valence comes in its core system, from combat to the Hero Point system; from Renown to Battles of Conviction. Combat is handled like any other RPG, in rounds, with dice rolls to determine success. It allows for passive or active defense and in the case of active defense, opposed rolls are made. Many people like this approach as opposed to the static defense stat in WotC d20. Initiative is not rolled but is a number from 1 to 10, and determines the number of actions a person can do in a 10-second round. The damage system is based on a series of numbers added and subtracted together including weapons damage, the target's armor rating and defense shields. The damage system is fairly realistic and deadly.  

One interesting aspect that Valence supplies is something called the Battle of Conviction - a system of political and social battling that can have interesting results. Conducted like combat, this system can be used as an alternative interaction system. West End Games's Masterbook system had a similar interaction system. I tend to like systems that supply alternative systems for combat. Valence also has a Renown system, which is similar to the d20 Reputation system in Star Wars. Hero Points can be spent to effect rolls in a variety of ways on a one-to-one basis. Characters start out with 20 Hero Points. I have seen many hero/action/force point systems. Some are too powerful and balanced out by giving very few of the points. However, the GM always runs the risk of giving out too much and unbalancing the game. This system, although restrictive in its effectiveness, is a little more balanced than most. The GM doesn't run the risk of giving out too much unless he gives out multiples of tens of points.

The Lording system works with skills - specifically Lording Control Skills. Powers or spells are the result. It is fairly simple and concise, but like all other supernatural abilities in sci-fi, it tends to cause some imbalance in the game. In my experience, only the GM can counter-balance that with equally power items for non-supernatural power users.
Layout: The Layout is reminiscent of Traveller rulebooks. Its not bad, but not very flashy. They obviously had a lot of information to convey because there is very little artwork in it. The art that is there is acceptable but nothing to rave about. The racial pictures needed to be a little more clear and some do not have any pictures at all. It was obvious the author was concentrating on content and not appearance. Not bad, but it is kind of plain.

In conclusion, I found Valence interesting and inspired, but there was not enough there to drive me to want to play. It had some unique qualities, and there were some very inspired aspects of the politics, social structure and environment, including the attempts to make the socialization of people in the far future realistic. Combine that with a more complete sci-fi game, and I may be interested, but it just did not feel complete to me. It is obvious that this author put a ton of work into the game. I have done similar work myself. In and of itself, it had a feel of the old Star Frontiers in a lot of ways, although I felt that Star Frontiers had a little more than this did in some areas. I sympathize with the author on the subject matter of realistic alien societies and galactic spanning societies as a whole. It is a well-done piece of work but missing a few key aspects of sci-fi to make it complete. The technology of a sci-fi game defines the universe, and gives that sci-fi fan the first taste of the feel of the game. The missing sections were key in that. I also did not find many of the character races very inspiring or desirable to be played. Most were either odd or simply unoriginal. I probably would find myself trying to convert other races into the game system. 

To his credit, he attributes one of the best sci-fi TV shows of all time (in my opinion) as an influence - Babylon 5 - so if in game, it plays like that universe, it has hope. It is a complete roleplaying game, more or less, however. Although not a complete sci-fi game, it does include all the elements one would need to play a character in a relatively rich and well-imagined universe in epic chronicles of galactic conquest and exploration. It encourages the players and GM to play out a story and not concentrate on the usual trappings of sci-fi, like star ships and vehicles. It is quite apparent that the author is more a role-player than a roll-player. I commend him on his effort overall.

For more details on Valent Games and their new PDF Core Role Playing Game (RPG) book “Valence - Science-Fiction Roleplaying” check them out at their website http://www.valentgames.com/.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Valence
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Thank you for this incredibly detailed review! I really appreciate it.
Book of the Fantastical
Publisher: Visionary Entertainment Studio
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2009 12:22:17
The Everlasting: Book of the Fantastical
From: Visionary Entertainment, Inc.
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Everlasting: Book of the Fantastical is a new Foundation Book from Visionary Entertainment, Inc.

Whereas the first three books of The Everlasting were published in 1994, the final foundation book took 9 years to publish, and it marks the resurgence of this game.  The Book of the Fantastical is slightly different in format and content but is basically the same kind of book as the others. It opens with a note about the content, in fact, noting there was an over-abundance of it, and the remaining material would be available on the web site. This books simply seems more robust than its predecessors. Unlike the books prior that covered races of The Everlasting, Book of the Fantastical covers a whole genre. Most of the other races were horror based, while this book brings in a new level of roleplay, separating the game itself further from the White-Wolf-wanna-be I thought it was at first. 

Content: This book is no different than the others - containing much of the common text the others had. The biggest difference is the gentes and the background. See my review of the first book - Book of the Unliving - for details of the common core material.
From the page # 19: “ damnant quod non intelligunt (They condemn what they do not understand.) - Latin Proverb”At the heart of the Book of the Fantastical are the realms of fantasy and magick. Opening this book, you enter the realm of fantasy that lies behind or beneath our own. The primary races available are Dragons, Elves, and Faeries. Also included are Dwarves and Orcs, and it covers worlds of the fantastical: Astral Aethyrs, Dragonhome, Agartha, and Faerylands. After browsing through the book initially, I decided to find out what The Everlasting did differently with these fantasy-regulars to separate them from other fantasy based games.

One of the interesting aspects throughout the books is the integration of other modern legends and myth into the standard fantasy-genre. Things like the lost technology and knowledge of the nephilim, the sciences and arts of Solomon, UFOs and greys, sea serpants, the Voynich Manuscript and crop-circles are all integrated into these books. This is an interesting take.

From the page # 95: “ Do you believe in sea serpents?”

Dragons are the genos that would probably attract the most attention considering the fact that most Everlasting adventures either start out or involve in some way the mortal world. To travel in the mortal world, dragons can shape-shift to human normal forms. The ability to play dragons is definitely a good step into making Everlasting-fantasy different. However, my first worry would be balance, and I would recommend to GMs that allow dragons as protagonists to be very attentive to balance. 


Dragons in The Everlasting  are the ancient reptilian beast of legend and more. The history of Everlasting-draconis explains them as elemental progenitor creatures that dominated our world long before the 'Reign of Man.' Dragons are broken down into 'stirpes' or sub-races, like red (fire), sea (water), black (darkness), and chromatic (light). Each sub-type is described thoroughly, with notes on habitat, true form, and general abilities and habits.  Interesting aspects of the Draconic race are Dragonsleep (a healing sleep), Dragon "Soul Burning" (life points can be burned for magic), their treasure horde, and Dracomorphics (their shape-shifting ability).  Dragons can shapeshift into three different forms - true dragon form, half-dragon-form and human form. Each form has their own abilities and aspect modiferes. 


Dragons also have their own Torment, and it is Furor. Because of an ancient betrayal and savage war, there burns inside each dragon a hatred of all mortals and the desire to subjugate them once again This anger can be engulfing. This anger threatens to this day to open up into a Dragon war, but more level-heads within the dragon society have met to try to agree to channel this rage at a new threat - the daimons and the leviathans. Dragons also have their own inheritances or preternaturae (magickal abilities) based on their elemental nature.
From the page # 129: “ Do you believe in divergently evolved humanoids?”Elves in The Everlasting are the results of cross breeding a pre-human super-race called Adapan and the fey folk. The Beautiful People or Avlari that arose now span the mortal world as well as many other worlds within the Reverie. Further mating with humans created more varieties of elves, which in turn formed the many Elven Nations. There are seven elven nations including the Valmori (wood elves), Xeysori (city elves) and Aedrith (gray elves).
The Torment of elves is called the Yearning. This yearning stems from their long life and an eventual yearning for a release for the concerns of everyday life. The preternaturae of the elves is called Wyrd but it only supplies a short handful of preternaturae. It encourages the player to create other wyrds using the Codex of Imortality guidelines (reviewed later). Also included is a brief mention of half-elves and how they are treated by elven society. There was not anything in the Elf chapter that surprised me or differentiated elves from the usual fantasy based elves in other games, however.

From the page #153 :“ Do you believe in Fairy Tales? ”

Not many fantasy games include faires as a core race. I played Perils and Powers (Avalon Hill RPG) years ago, and one of the races was faerie. The challenge is to make them interesting to the players, separating them from the Tinker-Bell-like image that they have. The best way to interpret the way The Everlasting does it is to say that it is a catch-all race for everything else they could think of. "They are like aliens, spirits, and ancient gods all rolled up into one," (pg153). They are also called Fey (which I am used to called elves). They are an extremely diverse gentes, with a wide of variety of types but all seem to be tied to the mysteries of nature.

There are three physical types of fey - Ferrishyn (little people - true faerie), Sidhe (Highborn - humans that have given themselves over to the fayerie) and Elves (detailed earlier - half-human, half-fey). These lineages are further broken down into faerie races or Tuathas. Included in all these are creatures like goblins, sprites, orcs, animal folk, gremlins, bogies, brownies, greys (of UFO mythology) and even Santa's Helpers (in the realm of Imagination).

Also included in this chapter are common fey ethics and cultural norms. Although very diverse, the fey tend to have certain things common. Certain fey called Reivers are prone to do something called Spellweavering which is interestingly linked to the myth of crop-circles. They 'retrieve' the lands needed for the Faerylands continued existence. The faerie preternaturae is called glamoury, and a short list of abilities are listed. Their torment is called fayerie, which represents their connection to the Great Beyond. As the faerie grows stronger, so does its tie to the mysterious powers of nature that created it, eventually leaving their 3-dimnsional existence forever.
Book Three further expands the fantasy realm of The Everlasting with the addition of dwarves and orcs. Both are detailed in a similar manner as the other races including rules to play them as protagonists. It also explores more dimensions of the reverie, like the Agartha (other physical real worlds) which includes the Faerylands and all its many kingdoms like Avalon, Kingdoms of Dwarves, and the Empire of the Goblins. It virtually creates a parallel fantasy universe for the players to explore in general details.

System: Additional things to the system are more paths of magick, including Bardic Magick, magick of the dragons, spellweaving, and urban elf technomancy. A short list of powers are given for each.  

In conclusion, the final book of The Everlasting took a while to be completed, but they did well. It is definitely not just another Everlasting foundation book because it adds so much more. It applies different takes on many different fantasy axioms while still preserving some of the basic ideas of fantasy that all have come to love and expect. I like the subtle insertions of other mythologies into fantasy and sometimes the crossovers into sci-fi mythology like greys and UFOs. It is a rich book with lots of opportunity to roleplay. The quality of art did not follow-through in the new book from the old, but I can look past that. There are some formatting and editing problems I spotted as well, but again, I can look past that as well.  

Much of The Everlasting reminds me of a game called Dark Conspiracy (DC). This makes it slightly different in that you play the monsters and minions where in DC you played humans (mostly). I like the way all the books combine mythologies and tweaks them in different ways to make a rich universe. A lot of heart and passion for gaming went into the foundation books. It is a good system and a world with lots of variety and depth. I would recommend getting all four books and creating a diverse party and exploring the many worlds of The Everlasting if you are looking for a new game to play.


For more details on Visionary Entertainment, Inc. and their new Foundation Book “The Everlasting: Book of the Fantastical” check them out at their website http://www.visionaryentertainment.com and at all of your local game stores.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of the Fantastical
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Book of the Spirits
Publisher: Visionary Entertainment Studio
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2009 12:20:38
The Everlasting: Book of the Spirits
From: Visionary Entertainment, Inc.
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Everlasting: Book of the Spirits is a new Foundation Book from Visionary Entertainment, Inc..

By now, after reading through three books including this one, I feel so engulfed in this amazing world. The Book of the Spirits is the next venture into the worlds and beings of the Everlasting. In general, it is like the other books in the series - a stand-alone roleplaying game book complete with the same rules and background. This particular book delves into the worlds of the spirits, as its name implies - from gargoyles to possessed, from djinn to the great old ones. Although I thought the subject of spirits were covered in The Book of the Unliving with the genos Dead Souls, apparently those at Visionary Entertainment felt that more spirits needed to be explored.

From page 5: “ Spirits in quick glimpses and behind half-dreams, welcome to the Secret World. - SCB ”

Content: The core content that covers the Everlasting universe is the same text, reformatted. From the orientation of the Secret World to the text on legend-making, it was all the same. The major difference in this book is the genos that is described.

The primary supernatural species in this book are Gargoyles (demonic-like beings of good that "devour sin"), Manitous (totem spirits) and The Possessed (dream entities that possess and corrupt mortals). These are the primary ones because they are presented in the most detail and are meant to be character races. The books also contains sections on Astral Spirits, Dream Spirits, Djinn, Somnomancers (wizards of the Dreamworlds), and Leviathans (great old ones).

Before I get into each genos, however, I want to mention something I found strange. For every book, thus far, there is a page at the beginning of every chapter that I would call 'fluff' - introductory text that prepares you for the chapter to come. This protagonist creation chapter of The Book of Spirits, however, has something interesting and something I found somewhat out of place - a short lesson of the basics of numerology. Why? It is interesting and not overly new age that I object but I just found it odd.

Chapter Four starts with a section on the history of gargoyles, from its origins in the name to their original stone purposes. Bound by an ancient curse, gargoyles are "sin eaters," meaning they are attracted to and feed on evildoer's sin. While the vampires are after blood, the gargoyle seeks out sin and not only feeds, but sometimes carries out a punishment for the sin. They are truly living stone of some kind, but the type can vary from alabaster to jade, from marble to granite. They are beings of good and light, stemming from the Astral plane but now imprisoned in the stone bodies. Their torment is the Abyss as they slowly are taken over by the sin they feed on. Gargoyles have their own form of martial arts called Karafan which utilizes their unique nature in hand-to-hand combat. Also in Chapter Five is another character option related to Gargoyles called the Sacred Ones - humans that are so great and have such a strong destiny, gargoyles are driven to protect and guide them.  

Chapter Five covers Manitous or animal spirits and lords of nature. They are humans possessed by animal spirits or totems. Two spirits embodied in one flesh, they collectively are the manitou. They are able to shape shift to the totem animal and the instincts and abilities of the totem are manifested in the host. The chapter explains in detail how a manitou comes into being - through a process called the Joining or Enspiritment, as well as what happens when one dies. The torment of a manitou is animalism where the host slowly becomes more and more like the animal spirit and less human. This chapter does present a rather lengthy list of totem choices for characters to play.
Chapter Six covers the dark species known as the Possessed. However, it takes an interesting and interestingly original approach to the concept, allowing it to be different from other entities like Dead Souls or Ghosts. In this universe, the Possessed are actually human hosts to imprisoned ethereal creatures from the Dreamworlds (a plane like H.P. Lovecraft's Deamlands). These creatures are called Ochelum. There are evil and good ochelum. All are bound to this earth by earthly amulets called soul-prisons. The torment of the Possessed is corruption - madness eventually overtakes those who are possessed.

The chapter on the Possessed also take it a step further and link ochelum to sandmen myths and legends. It then details some aspects of the Dreamworlds including moon cheese, the cats of the Dreamworlds as well as other denizens, and the somnonancer. Somnonancers are "waking worlders" who have gained complete dream control. 

From the back page #193: “ Do you believe in the Great Old Ones?”

Much of The Book of the Spirits is strongly influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft (HPL) and the Cthulhu mythos. Of course the Great Old Ones (see below) are a direct influence but also the sections of the Dreamworlds and its nature (much like the Dreamlands, in some ways). It was influenced so much, they acknowledged it in a nod to Chaosium and their game Call of Cthulhu on page 196.

Chapter Seven: The Abominations is the chapter that is most influenced by HPL. Within these pages are the most vile and dark creatures of the spirit worlds. If not directly borrowed from the Cthulhu Mythos, there are several creatures that are similar. These are of course presented as NPC creatures and races and not something players can play.

The last chapter of genets or species is about the djinn - mysteries creatures of half-earthly and half-spiritual beings. Based in the Arabic mythical race, these creatures once ruled an ancient half-earthly/half-astral kingdom called Ubar. They are also known as "neutral angels" with great power. The text details a mysterious society of these creatures with a long history and dark secrets. They draw their power from something called the Smokeless Flame or Thal. It is their life force and energy. They are primarily dwellers of the Reverie and look like humans when in the real world. The have multiple forms and their society is divided into many tribes. There is an interesting link to something called the Elder Lords, the Necronomicon, and the djinn. There is also interesting history between the djinn and King Solomon. The djinn are rich with vast history.

The rest of the book is like the other books, covering the other races in The Everlasting, describing the general concepts of the game universe like the Reverie, Magick, and detailing some advanced guidelines. I ask you to reference my review of The Everlasting: Book of the Unliving for details on this. It does add a few sections on other worlds related to the species in this book - including the Doomlands and the Dreamworlds. In the Advanced Guidelines Chapter, there is a short section on djinn magick, giving you an option to create your own magick spells.  

One of the things I have failed to mention is that in all the books there is a race mentioned in the sections entitled The Other Everlasting that is not actually covered in any of the four core books. I only noticed this after going through all four books thoroughly. I had seen it while reading through the first two and thought it would be covered elsewhere, but it apparently is not covered until the Magician's Companion. Osirians are a special race apparently cloaked in mystery. They are souls that transmigrate over humans lives, living, dying and being reborn, benefiting from the knowledge of many past lives.  

Layout: The layout has its own uniqueness about it, stylish and appropriate for the subject matter. The art is on par with the other books, ranging from really impressive to so-so.

System: Nothing new is added to the system except more magic options. The magic system is so open-ended, however, that almost anything can be added to the magic system.

In conclusion, the folks at Visionary did it again. Well done. Probably the coolest thing about this that separates it from games like White Wolf is that it encourages you to form mixed parties. Where in White Wolf, all I see is parties of Vampires or Werewolves, this gives the players a wide variety of species to choose from, especially if you get all four books. Each species has their pro and cons and seem well balanced. In my opinion, this game is by far one of the best alternatives to White Wolf. Book of the Spirits definitely adds more uniqueness to the game universe and more variety for players to choose from. The depth of all the books is fantastic and well-thought out. I compliment the authors once again.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of the Spirits
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Book of the Light
Publisher: Visionary Entertainment Studio
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2009 12:19:02
The Everlasting: Book of the Light
From: Visionary Entertainment, Inc.
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Everlasting: Book of the Light is a new Foundation Book from Visionary Entertainment, Inc..

The Book of the Light is the second book in the four book series of The Everlasting role playing game by Foundation books. Much of what is contained in it is also contained in the previous book, The Book of the Unliving. This review will focus on the differences. To get comments on the core concept and rules of The Everlasting as a role playing game, see my review on The Book of the Unliving. 
Given my preconceptions of The Everlasting RPG from the previous review and how they were proven wrong, I looked forward to delving further into the worlds of The Everlasting. The Book of the Light presents new player character options for people interested in playing less dark creatures than given in The book of the Unliving.

From the page 5: “ Walk in the Light and Guard against the Shadows. - SCB”

Content: The core content that covers the Everlasting universe is the same text as the first book, just reformatted. From the orientation of the Secret World to the text on legend-making, it was all the same. The major difference in this book are the genets it deals with.
The primary supernatural species in this book are Angels (your standard celestial beings), Daevas (demi-god heroes) and Questers (holy knights whose lives have been sustained by a holy quest.)

Angels are divided into orders - seraphim, cherubim, merkabah, and others to a total of nine different orders. Each have their own characteristics, divine purpose and other features. The Torment of the Angel is imperfection - the more one has, the further away from God the angel is. The detailed section on angels has some interesting 'nuggets' like the effects of imperfection, the Divine Voice as guidance to angels, and the powers of halos. A tenth 'order' is the possibility of half-angels, as explained in this section. This chapter is rich with angelic mythology and legend, including a piece on celestial engineering, angelic mathematics, called Sephirot, and angelic magicks.  

From the page 172: " It was about thirty years after parting ... that I realized that I wasn't getting any older. - Percy, Reunion by Brian M. Thomsen ”

Daevas are basically, as I said, demigods - humans so heroic they have been granted immortality as well as other powers and abilities by a ancient god. They are the embodiment of the mythic hero. Portions of their description are reminiscent of the Highlander immortal race, especially in the case of their true death and the release of their energies through their Ananda. The Torment of a daeva is doom or the constant pull of destiny to a certain course of action. Daevas are divided up by households, each connected to one ancient mythology or another. Each is culturally different and have their own characteristics, rituals and practices.

 Questers are humans that are driven by some great, but possibly unattainable, goal that sustains their life beyond normal length. This goal is usually some holy quest like, of course, the Quest for the Grail. Doubt is the torment of the quester, representing the level of dedication to their quest. This section does focus strongly on the grail quest; however, it does supply other ideas for holy quests - like dragon slaying or prevention of an evil. There are also evil questers, seeking out some dark quest or to stop other questers from reaching their goals. There is a very detailed and excellent section on chivalry including the ten rules of chivalry. Also included is a three page summary of the Arthurian legend and the Holy Grail.  

Also included in this book are the evil side of the Light - Demons (fallen angels of evil) and the Wer (werewolves), both of which can be played as protagonists or player characters. I assume, however, that the author intends on both to be NPC races primarily because neither are explored to the depth that the other genets are. Big werewolf fans will be somewhat disappointed because they are not given the depth that fans of WoD werewolf were. The only kind available is a werewolf, so no possibility of a were-bear or were-rat. It goes into reasonable depth about the changing virus, Lycanthropy, however.

The remainder of the book is similar to the others. It generally covers the other Everlasting races as well as summarizes the worlds of the Light including the Reverie, the Astral plane and the Netherworlds. Other worlds are covered in the previous sections including the Seven Heavens, New Camelot and the Wer communes.

The fourth and final section advances some rules, adds in more detail for combat and magick, and gives some guidelines for freeform gaming and live-action roleplaying of Everlasting. It also includes the same new age aspects and concepts I mentioned in my review of The Book of the Unliving. Refer to that for my comments on those subjects.

System: The book adds nothing new to the system other than specific supernatural abilities, magicks and traits of the individual races.
Layout: The Book of Light, like The Book of the Unliving, is a sharp looking book. Once again it has an array of public-domain renaissance-era art and card art from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck which adds to its ambience. It also has some original art that range from really impressive to decent, like its predecessor. It shows a lot of thought and passion was put into the art design and overall look of the rulebook. It conveys a feeling of ancient mystery and dark adventure. The cover art is very attractive and dynamic. The color use is brilliant and inspiring. 

In conclusion, once again, they have put together a very in-depth and detailed book for their rich gaming universe. I do feel it lacks some detail in certain areas like the Wer, only because I know a lot of werewolf fans that would want more detail. But the rest is fantastically presented, powerfully detailed and well organized. Even though portions of the book are repeated from its predecessor, it was still reformatted to fit the overall layout of the book, which is significantly different from it's "darker brother." Even though it includes werewolves, this book is somewhat of a departure from the WoD-feel of the universe and makes it easier to deal with for those people who did not like WoD.

For more details on Visionary Entertainment, Inc. and their new Foundation Book “The Everlasting: Book of the Light” check them out at their website http://www.visionaryentertainment.com and at all of your local game stores.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of the Light
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Book of the Unliving
Publisher: Visionary Entertainment Studio
by Ron M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2009 12:17:10
The Everlasting: Book of the Unliving
From: Visionary Entertainment
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Everlasting: Book of the Unliving is a Foundation Book from Visionary Entertainment. 

Every November, I am the gaming coordinator for a small local gaming con here in the Carolinas called MACE. This year at MACE, a company called Visionary Entertainment attended and had heard that I occasionally write game reviews for GR as well as Nth Degree Magazine. By the end of the con, I had six Everlasting rule books in my lap, with someone asking me to review them. I have to be honest - I was not overly excited about reviewing them. The primary reason is that the author of the game is a former White-Wolfer, and I am not a huge fan of White Wolf games. So this game initially came across to me as a World-of-Darkness-wannabe.  

I have to say, after reading into the background and the system, I was wrong on many levels. I was also right in a few areas.
It was interesting to first find out that this game has been out for a while. The copyright for The Book of the Unliving is 1994, and it apparently has had a strong resurgence because the most recent books have been released in 2003 and 2004. So this is not a new game, but a game worth noting regardless.

From the page 15: “ Do you believe in the supernatural? ”

The Everlasting: Book of the Unliving is one of the four foundation (core) rule books for The Everlasting role playing game. Reviews of the other three are forthcoming along with the two sourcebooks recently released. Each foundation book is a core rule book in and of itself, and the others are only needed if the players want to play the other supernatural beings or genets (plural for genos) available in The Everlasting universe. Each book explores an aspect of the universe. The other books are The Book of the Spirits, The Book of the Light, and The Book of the Fantastical.

Content: The Book of the Unliving, as the name implies, explores the world of the undead. This is where I get the World of Darkness (WoD) feel to the game. However, this is also where it ends. Yep, there are Vampires, but there is also so much more. Contained within this book, along with the rules to play, is a rich mysterious background of the Secret World and the dimensions within. The Secret World is a supernatural world of several dimensions and plains of existence, overlaying our real world. Very few mortals are aware of it and fewer interact with it. Supernatural creatures occasionally interact with it, while at the same time living within our modern world, some leading normal everyday lives.

The first few sections describe the type of role playing game The Everlasting is. It claims to be an interactive legend-making experience. The whole concept of "legend-making" and that role playing The Everlasting is a "higher plain of consciousness" (pg 20) is where I get turned off somewhat. It is a little too touchie-feelie for me. It is a game - nothing more. Sure, I appreciate the "art " of role playing a storyline, but it is still a game. This is what turned me off from World of Darkness - this sense that it is a more mature and better way to game when in reality, it is just another role playing game (RPGs). One of the primary books the author sites is The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, which is a classic cross-cultural study of the hero's journey which is said to have inspired George Lucas's Star Wars saga.

The Everlasting does, however, make an attempt to be different from other RPGs. One aspect is the concept of a "guide." Initially, I thought it was their word for gamemaster, but upon reading further, I realized it is more than that. The Everlasting encourages the group to share the role of guide. One person can act as the primary plot guide, while another person can control certain NPCs and another may control combat situations. It is one of their many efforts to change the standard dynamic of role playing, and I can see the pros and cons of this approach. On one side, I am not, however, 100% convinced long-time GMs would embrace the idea wholeheartedly, and I feel many would revert back to the standard way of role playing. On the other side, I can see this method developing interesting stories and adventures. I can also see the benefit of transferring the power of plot development between participants - there are some days I just run out of plot ideas and would love it if someone else came up with it.

Another concept it introduces is Protagonists as Communal Property. In essence, the characters of a party are the property of the party and can be played by anyone. So, a character may be played by a different player each session. An interesting idea, but my players had a hard time wrapping their minds around it. It could create interesting stories, but in the end, there is nothing in the game one can claim as their own, and I do not think that would be attractive to many players. One could argue, however, that the party ends up owning the legend they create and this kind of gaming takes the focus off the character and more on the story. It all depends on your GMing style, in the end. I feel that the character's role in the story is as important as the story, and it is hard to stay focused on that when the player is changing from one game to another.

In the end, these approaches are more or less optional because The Everlasting can be played like a regular RPG. However, I am sure the author would say that if you do, you are missing out on the true essence of legend-making.

Towards the end, the book gets further into the concept of legend-making, personal mythologies and several other "high consciousness" concepts that take this way out of the realm of "just a game." It includes the encouragement of rituals in your game sessions for opening and closing ceremonies, exploring ones personal mythology, achieving altered stages of consciousness while gaming, and dream control. They have asked up-front to approach this game with an open mind, and I feel that I have. However, I personally have a strong objection to this kind of new age notions invading my hobby, so I will leave that to the reader to explore. It is one thing to apply it to the game universe and it is a totally different thing to try to apply it in real life. It is almost like they are trying to turn your game session into a religious experience. It is a game! Just a game! This is the kind of stuff that some less-informed Christians like to pounce on, calling gaming evil and corrupting.  

I should note that the author appears to have a Christian background because he thanks God and the Bible in his dedications and special thanks. I do not think it was the authors intention to offend or create controversy. I do believe the author is extremely passionate about his gaming and what he would like his readers to get out of it. The book does include a strong warning stating that the game "is an experience in make-believe" and the "whole purpose is to have fun." I just feel that his notions of having fun expand out of the game-sense further than I would like, bridging in certain new age notions that some would object to and would say have no place in gaming. This is of course my opinion and may not be shared by everyone.

The background of the universe is rich and full of opportunities for adventure and "legend-making."  As mentioned above, it's called the Secret World and has many 'onion layers' of existence. The onion is called the Reverie. The layers are dimension like the Astral plane and the Dreamworlds. There are several sub-realms loosely defined that can be explored including the Collective, Menagerie, and the Netherworlds. In general, however, the majority of the action and adventuring occurs in the modern day on Earth.  

At the heart of the background is the Death Knell - an event that has brought on war and demonic terror to the many plains of the Reverie. This event threatens not only the supernatural world but the mortal world as well, so it is usually up to the players to stop the evil plots the Death Knell and its demons create. On the other hand, they could play creatures working towards this apocalyptic end. It is up to the group.

From the page 62:“ After all, neither honor nor love have any meaning in the world I come from. ...” - Vampire Hunter D

Players choose from gentes or supernatural beings. Each foundation book supplies several gentes as well as other beings that are strictly for use as NPCs. In The Book of the Unliving,  the primary gentes available are Vampires, Ghuls, and Revenants.  

Vampires are what you would expect - more like the legendary creatures than the World of Darkness version. They are divided out into bloodlines, including some more well-known lines like Dracula and the queen of the White Worm. Many of the vampire lines are from cultures that had vampire-like creatures, and their bloodlines are inspired by these legends.

Ghuls are not the ghouls of World of Darkness - those would be a type of vampire called Dhampir. Ghuls in The Everlasting are more like the Lovecraftian ghouls - creatures that feed on the dead. They have expanded the mythos of the ghoul to many different types, including those that can walk normally amongst us. They base the origins of the ghoulish races on an elixir called Anecro - the elixir of immortality.  
Revenants are the dead who walk the Earth in a shroud of illusion, sucking the lifeforce out of mortals. In many ways, they are like vampires, but they are not. Revanents can hide their decaying self and walk among mortals freely. They do not feed on blood, they feed on the raw energies of life. This usually puts them at odds with the Vampires.

There are also two dark gentes players could look into - Dead Souls (ghosts) and Reanimates. Both are described in the third sub-section of the book called Dark Immortality. Although dark, they are not necessarily the bad guys - just creatures harder to role play in the everyday modern world and so considered more monstrous than the primary three. Dead souls vary in existence and form, ranging from shades and phantoms to the ankou or grim reaper. Reanimates are like your stereotypical Frankenstein's monster - pieced together and reanimated bodies. These are creatures that did not choose to come back to life, but were forced to by some other person like a mad scientist or magician. 

Each genos has its own breakdown of factions, sub-types, torment, culture, magick, weaknesses and special abilities. Torment is a measure of how far along the monstrous path the character is. An example of torment is the Ghul Torment of Degeneration representing the mental devolution and the physical deterioration of the character. All of these are defined in full chapters dedicated to each genos.
The remaining sections do cover briefly the other gentes available including elves, dragons, gargoyles and manitous, but not enough really play them as characters. They are covered in more detail in their own respective books. It also covers the realms of the unliving, including the Underworld and the subterranean worlds of the ghuls.

The final section contains expanded combat and character rules as well as Guide advice in creating plots and adventures. One interesting gem from this is integrating emotion into the system to gain bonuses and penalties. It also lays out the Magick system for The Everlasting and supplies a few sample spells. It ends with a sample adventure or Odyssey as well as several adventure seeds. The short adventure is very general and vague, leaving much of the details to the Guide, but it creates an interesting plot to start the group on.

From the page 55:“ There are no 'rules' in The Everlasting, only guidelines.”

System: 

Character Generation: There are three methods of character generation - point-allocation, random card-draw, and random dice-roll. This again is indicative of the flexibility and broad appeal this game will have to gamers. It has an interesting approach to Aspects (base ability scores), Aptitudes and Skills. In the basic dice or card system, the Ability defines the number of dice rolled or cards drawn, and the Aptitude or Skill subtracts from the difficulty value. It's an interesting balance to allow the raw character ability scores to effect the situation as much as the focused skills. It is a character concept based system, with a 20-question system that helps you flesh out the history, motivation and overall story of the character. It encourages a lot of thought invested in the character and encourages a good knowledge of history to flesh out your immortal character. It is amazing how many in-depth character background stories one can get out of something as 'mundane' as history.

Game Mechanic: The approach to the game system is unique and very flexible for many types of gamers. It supplies the reader with two simple ways of playing - dice or cards. The author is one of those types of game designers that approach a system from the point of view that it is a necessary evil, which is why he supplies several different methods to resolving tasks, etc. In fact, he states upfront that there are no rules, just guidelines. I feel that this point of view is a carry-over from the WoD philosophy and can either attract players or turn off players. I am a game-player and I like some structure in my games. I like to know I am playing a game, and so I like to have rules to guide me through it. I do not consider myself a rules-lawyer however, because I've been known to bend the rules as a GM when necessary.
Dice: The core die is d12 , with difficulties ranging from 0 through 13. This system is similar to the White Wolf's WoD in that each die is compared to the difficulty, and successes are counted. D12 dice are reserved for supernaturals. Mortals role d8 and mortals with supernatural powers role d10, so some things supernaturals can do, mortals can not. I liked this system. Optionally, towards the end of the Guidelines chapter, the author provides percentile dice system for The Everlasting,  for those that prefer the bell-curve of the percentage system. The only drawback to the percentage system is that it is a completely different system from the core systems (d12 dice and cards), so some conversion needs to be done as one reads.

Cards: The cards system also has two options: regular playing cards or Tarot. This is refreshing, although not entirely unique. It still works much like dice, comparing the value to a DC. Face cards have values. The duel system between cards and dice is handled well within the text because they are so similar.    

Combat System: The combat system is simple but surprisingly robust compared to other systems of this nature. Many games like this (that treat rules as a necessary evil) usually put combat in a very abstract and boring system but The Everlasting tries not to do that while still not being bogged down by some of the more clunky details that other combat systems tend to have. Based on a simple system of ten actions within a 12 second round, each player based on his Speed score, can do a certain amount of actions within that round. Some things take multiple actions, and thus take longer in a round. Actions are declared at the beginning of a round and can not be changed mid-round. In an attack, both attacker and defender make a roll (or draw cards). The number of times the attacker's successes exceeds his opponent's successes acts as a modifier to the base damage of the weapon used. The defender does get a resistance roll/draw to resist the damage. Every character has Life Points, which is what the damage is applied to.

Magick System: The Magic system is similar to the skills system with some complexity added to it. Difficulty is based on effect, target and magnitude. There are also forms of magick - spontaneous, spells and rituals. I found it interesting that added spontaneous. The system encourages the players to create their own spells through a system of turning a spontaneous effect into a permanent learned spell. I found that unique and interesting. It seems simple enough, but I would have to see it in practice.

Layout: The Book of Unliving  is a sharp looking book from cover to cover. With its very liberal use of public domain renaissance-era art and card art from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck and a smattering of original art that ranges from really impressive to decent, it shows a lot of thought and passion was put into the art design and overall look of the rulebook. It conveys a feeling of ancient mystery and dark adventure. The cover art is very attractive and dynamic. The color use is powerful and inspiring. Everyone that I talked to about the books at MACE said they liked the cover art. 

The occasional quotes from random resources are impressive. From Joseph Campbell to Bram Stoker; from Plato to Queensryche (80s metal band), it added further flavor to a rich modern fantasy world.

In conclusion, I am torn over The Everlasting based on the first book, Book of the Unliving. The game itself, the core universe, and the opportunities for adventure and story-making all fascinate me and inspire me to at least play a game or two. I find the unique ways they try to change the gaming group dynamic inspiring and interesting and may even be worth a try with the right group of gamers.  I initially approached this game with a negative view because of who the author was and the overall look of the game, but found that I actually like the game, its system and its universe. I found it inspiring and already have some ideas for possible campaigns. It was a pleasant surprise to be proven wrong on my initial assessment.  

However, the sections that include the new age concepts and touchie-feelie aspects almost turn me off from the game, but I am glad they are presented in an optional way. I have already stated my feelings on the new ages concepts introduced in the text. I felt it was a step too far into making role playing more than a game. I do feel this is a game for more mature role players and I do not see myself buying this for someone like my 14 year old step-son. If I had read these sections alone, I do not think I would have reviewed these books or would have bought them. I am glad I read more than this, but it is this type of subject matter that gives gaming its stigma.  

Overall, however, it is a very good game with a solid game system(s) and deep background. I would recommend it to my more mature gamer friends with a wholehearted recommendation of the game itself, but a short forewarning about some of the sections I object to. There is one thing that this and all the books are - thorough and detailed. From the sidebars on some pages defining lexicons and special terms to the details on each genos, it leaves very little out. It is an engulfing world that leaves very little room for questions or confusion. It is a flowing and engulfing world with lots of room to explore, however, with its own mythos and feel.

An extra bonus is given to the writers for a quality index in the back. 

For more details on Visionary Entertainment and their Foundation Book “The Everlasting: Book of the Unliving” check them out at their website http://www.visionaryentertainment.com and at all of your local game stores.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of the Unliving
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