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Elric of Melnibone
Publisher: Mongoose
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2012 20:58:12
This newest iteration of the Elric is definitely based on a keen love of the books, and the attention to detail comes through in the writing and in the thoughtful approach to how this type of game differs from standard 'sword and sorcery' fare. There is extensive information about the world at large, timelines and gazetteer-style entries for major cities, and plenty of cultural information which can be mined to make this a unique experience.
Where possible, the authors have backed up their descriptions or commentary with excerpts from the novels, which cleverly uses Moorcock's excellent grasp of language and imagery but also tethers the discussion firmly to the source material. Realistically, this is the only Elric sourcebook you should need if you are a fan of the novels too. There is plenty of campaign advice sprinkled throughout and care and attention have been paid to giving the games master the right tools for the job.

The only let-down was the layout and art. The art is a very simple black-and-white style, and is not used very often (often six to seven pages of straight text at a time); which for a 'modern' sourcebook is quite out-of-step with the other publishers I know and read. However, if this was a deliberate attempt to emulate old-school supplements, then the feel is certainly evoked well. I haven't been able to find any information on the design aspect of this book online, so I can't make an informed decision on this aspect of the production qualities.

On the whole, the writing is good, the homages to the original sources are cleverly done, and the book stands very well on its own as part of the Elric mythos.

EDIT: The price has been dropped on this item significantly, and at current price ($9.99) I would see no reason to delay a purchase if you are even a casual fan of either older versions of the game, or the novels.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Elric of Melnibone
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Shadowrun: Used Car Lot
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/24/2012 17:56:14
‘Used Car Lot’ is a supplement which I can see having a great longevity on my bookshelf, in the same way the ‘Riggers Black Book’ has stood the test of time. The main premise here is that sometimes runners either don’t have a lot of nuyen to throw around, or simply need a vehicle for a single purpose or run. In those times, cheap and (generally) reliable are the watchwords and the vehicles in this catalogue deliver.

There are twenty-six vehicles in the first section to choose from and cover the opulent (like the Rolls Royce Phaeton), the sleek and fast bikes (such as the older Yamaha Rapier, and its armoured and awesome big brother the BMW Blitzen 2050), off-road campers (the Ford Bison and the more luxurious Rolls Royce Prairie Cat) and those that simply scream ‘action chase scene’ (take one look at the Lockheed-Chenowth Light Strike Vehicle – you’ll see what I mean). Land rovers, pickup trucks, sedans, armoured assault vehicles (including a win for DocWagon) and a moped for the environmentally conscious runner round off the section.

‘From Across the Pond’ then deals with a selection of Eurocars, and opens with a Troll-sized motorcycle guaranteed to make it onto your players wishlists. The rest is certainly interesting and well worth including; although the Eurocar President looks a small conversion job away from becoming a Batmobile (and has halfway decent armour to back up this imagery).

The art is all appealing, the layout clear and designed for quick reference and the content extremely practical. For the (re)usability of this product, the pricing is excellent, and so it deserves richly all five stars from this reviewer.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Used Car Lot
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Promethean: The Created Demo
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2012 00:49:27
I looked into this after repeated references to the game on the 'Darker Days' podcast, and it intrigued me - especially given that it is a limited-run product line like Geist.

This does give you almost all of the tools required for a decent understanding of the game. It provides you with all of the base World of Darkness rules, a full set of pre-generated characters and a module which should give a full nights' play (if not more).

The core themes of 'Promethean' are articulated clearly, and it does present as a very dark game that may not suit every table's tastes (much like Geist). The demonstration kit pulls few punches, and asks for a number of moral choices from the characters as they try to unravel the plot. There are a couple of forced choices, but this is cast in the light of being typical to the setting, and I don't feel that mature players will take exception to them.

I wouldn't recommend this for every group, but I do get the feeling that this is a sleeper success from white Wolf Studios. The types of games you can tell with this do require a depth of emotional maturity, and after reading through this, I feel that chronicles would be best when well-defined in terms of play length and also require a lot of forethought by the Storyteller. That said, it is the sort of play experience which has the potential to be immensely rewarding at the same time.

I'll definitely be looking to trial this with my regular gaming group, and have placed an order for a physical copy of the rulebook - I really want to learn more about this game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Promethean: The Created Demo
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Shadowrun: The Twilight Horizon
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/22/2012 23:03:32
Even though Horizon has received a fair amount of attention in the last year, products like this show that it is warranted. In previous editions, the familiar mega-corps like Ares and Renraku were continually referenced, but to give the true vision of an evolving game world, new players are required. Focusing on Horizon gives Catalyst a new mega-corp to flesh out and to show that change is not only possible, but a constant, in Shadowrun.

The choice of Horizon and the inner workings of its management is one which resonates with the readers modern sensibilities, yet extends these concepts to firmly root them in the cyberpunk genre. I made reference to this in my review of ‘Fistful of Credsticks’, and the writers have done an excellent job of continuing this work. The combination of the sinister Consensus (and how it can be manipulated) as well as the BTL-styled methods of employee engagement all show how truly Machiavellian the mega-corporation of the future can be. The opening and concluding chapters of this book are really the benchmark for how this is done. To be honest, it makes me want to run a game focused on the player-characters as Horizon employees, and then maybe (just maybe) leading to an extraction as they uncover the truth behind the company.

The book also includes a setting chapter for Las Vegas, which is fairly short, yet hits the mark. There is plenty of information here to build a ‘run (or full campaign) with and enough interesting quirks to make the location memorable (murder snow, anyone?). This section reads well, and the continuing BBS-style commentary is always welcome. These comments, littered throughout all sections of the book, are perhaps the unsung hero of the SR line. Those who follow the sourcebooks and various aspects of metaplot will always find tie-ins to other products and oblique references – the understanding of which makes you feel a little like the member of an inner circle.

The next fifteen chapters run in a similar vein to recent products like ‘Jet Set’ where the Plot Point system is used to give an almost fleshed out plot. It contains enough ideas to kick start a good few sessions, yet will require some work by the GM to make it flow smoothly. They are definitely not full modules, but with a couple of hours work they can be.

It was gratifying to see the range of situations and potential runs in the book, as there is a mix between melee, matrix and mystic in flavours. Again, the overarching statement about these chapters is that they are written well, and there is a solid attention to detail. It will be interesting if Catalyst decides to create more material for books like this and release short ‘PDF Plot Point’ books akin to their other smaller publications. Coupled with ‘Missions’ it could be an interesting way to fill the module niche for the line.

I like this new format for Shadowrun sourcebooks, but it is very firmly aimed for the GM. Whilst the final chapters do have some new Simsense data which could be acquired by PCs (no entirely sure they’d want it though), it is predominantly a storytelling tool. Overall, Catalyst has given us a sound product which extends the metaplot in a logical and interesting way, and I look forward to the game designers taking a similar approach with other corporations.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: The Twilight Horizon
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Only War: Core Rules Beta
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2012 00:23:38
In many ways, this is the model for successful games design to which every company should be paying attention. ‘Only War’ works conceptually, financially and ethically on a number of fronts and FFG should be congratulated.

Firstly, is the nature of the release. By ‘Beta Rules’, I expected to see a fairly slim volume indicative of the final game. Instead, I was (pleasantly) surprised to receive 267 formatted pages which look as though they are only missing the final full-colour and full-page glossy art to be be ready for printing. The black-and-white nature of the book is kind to the printer and for $20.00 you still feel that you’re receiving a quality product. As for the price tag for a beta product, I also received an email to inform me that the $20.00 for the beta would come off the cost of the final version of the .pdf upon release. Well done, FFG.

That said, onto the book itself. For those familiar with ‘Dark Heresy’, ‘Rogue Trader’ and ‘Death Watch’ there should be no mechanical surprises whatsoever. The game works on the basic d100 princicples of its’ predecessors, with the rules being interchangeable with the other systems. In many ways, this product is the perfect accompaniment to the other games, as Inqusitors from ‘Dark Heresy’ should be able to recruit guardsmen (especially the Storm Troopers in ‘Only War’), there are reasons for a regiment to work with Rogue Traders, and definitely to provide support in ‘Death Watch’ campaigns. The interoperability of the rules between the games is a massive advantage, whilst those new to the system will still have a fully-fleshed out rulebook which stands admirably by itself.

The premise of the game is to play a unit of Guardsmen – by far the most numerous (and expendable) military asset of the Imperium of Man – in the pursuit of various missions. Those familiar with ‘Death Watch’ will be notice that the rules for constructing missions are almost identical. There are a range of complications to keep life interesting as well as a swag of new kit that can be assigned for the completion of the mission.

‘Only War’ introduces a unique element to character creation in terms of the Comrade. This individual is assigned to a PC (unless you play a Commisar or Storm Trooper) and offers mechanical benefits for their presence. In doing so, they are a useful companion (comrade-in-arms) that a GM could flesh out with their own motivations and back story should they wish. Also, as these are effectively a second PC, it increases the unit size to a more believable level (ie five PCs plus their comrades equals a ten-man squad). There are plenty of rules around the comrade, including injuries and death (and how not to abuse them as a living shield) and also requisitioning new comrades. On this note, the requisition rules for equipment add an extra element to the game, especially given that some non-combat skills can grant bonuses to tracking down that ‘special’ item. The random equipment table also offers a host of opportunities to anyone wanting to take the role of the bent quartermaster or simply run a bit of a side business with other Guardsmen (amazing what those guys in the other platoon will pay for a lho stick when they run out, isn’t it?).

The developers clearly saw that the tread-heads in the audience would be appeased with vehicle rules, and they are present with most of the recognisable vehicles in the Guard represented in the book. The Front/Side/Rear armous system will appeal to war gamers and most of the vehicle entries read like a Codex with upgrades for weapons and the like. There has been effort made to ensure consistency in nomenclature between the tabletop battles and the RPG books, which is excellent. I’m not sure how many times PCs will be able to comandeer a Baneblade, but if they do, the GM has the rules.

Likewise, there are very straightforward rules for representing the theatre of war. It is rare that the mission will only involve the handful of Guardsmen portrayed by the PCs, so these rules allow the GM to have a cast of millions, somplete wiht artillery and mechanised assault which can form a stunning (and manageable) backdrop to the story.

I can see this fast vying for top spot on my FFG shelf at home, due to the human-ness which shines through and the versatility of play experiences. To play a foot slogger in 40K has to be an incredibly dreary (and fatal) experience, but the designers have made it an exciting prospect and I’m looking forward to exploring the human dimension of these war stories. Whilst it is the grim darkness of the 40K universe, you could easily adapt this to play in the tones of anything from ‘Dad’s Army’ to ‘The Dirty Dozen’ to ‘The Expendables’ or ‘Inglorious Bastards’. I’d highly recommend serving this with a side dish of Dan Abnett’s ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ series which will help you to visualise the non-combat core elements of a game like this.

Whilst this is a Beta, I haven’t spotted any immediate changes (after two readings cover-to-cover) but actual play will be the true test – and I can’t wait to do so. I just have to find a GM willing to let me play a Commisar now…

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Only War: Core Rules Beta
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Shadowrun: Sprawl Sites: North America
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2012 22:49:07
‘Sprawl Sites’ could very well be a time-poor GM’s best friend, although if you do have the temporal resources to invest you’ll find a wealth of great ideas which could be extrapolated for full-blown runs. The design of the book is very simple – there are eight varied sites (from the Barrens to a Lone Star Precinct to a Trideo Studio and more) complete with a bit of descriptive flavour text and relevant history and then a host of plot hooks. Those familiar with the 2e ‘Sprawl Sites’ book should feel a sense of familiarity here. There is clear evidence of some forethought into the breadth of plot hooks and there is specific reference to covering a spectrum of moral choices- some are simple protection jobs, whilst others involve wetwork with civilian collateral damage. There are plenty which play on characters’ existing contacts; a simple effort of changing names and filing off serial numbers will suffice. An effort has also been made to provide hooks which leverage unique atmospheric elements to each location – it is very difficult to translate them to another locale (I’m thinking of the No Tell Motel section in particular).

The actual text of the book is half (16 pages) of the total page count; with the second half given to two full-colour maps of each location. The first copy is for GMs and has a full key of rooms and the like, whilst the other is clearly for players. As someone who very rarely uses maps with the players (and miniatures even less than this) I didn’t get a lot of value from this section. Individual value will vary on this section, dependant on group play preference.

I’ll be integrating this into my standard GM kit for Shadowrun, and have already printed a copy and attacked it with a highlighter for future reference. Given the price point of other recent small-size SR products though, I question whether this should have been indexed at the same cost. In terms of quality, ‘Sprawl Sites’ is clearly the equal of ‘Magical Societies’, ‘Safehouses’ and any of the Shadowrun Missions series, yet has a starting price quadruple that of these titles. Bringing the price to an equivalent level would be a sensible move for this otherwise sound and useful product.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Sprawl Sites: North America
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Shadowrun: Magical Societies
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 00:49:33
‘Magical Societies’ is in line with the short-form books that Catalyst is using to supplement their larger, substantive titles. That is, a short, focussed, quality piece of work which seems like a mini-sourcebook, or left-over chapter which can still stand in its’ own right. This book, whilst not essential to gamers, is interesting and relatively well-priced enough to warrant further interest.

In twenty-three pages, the book fleshes out why Shadowrunners would want to work with Magical Societies (and more importantly why the society would want anything to do with shadowrunning potential members), with thoughts offered through the usual suspects of the Shadowland BBS (or at least its’ more modern equivalent). The rest of the book is then given over to a host of societies.

The sampling is quite good in terms of the types of flavour offered by each group. Mixed in are street-level houngans, multi-gang mages, globe-spanning megalomaniacs (who may or may not be blood mages), and arm of the Vatican, the unofficial back-up of local law enforcement, a dojo with a social justice bent and more societies besides. Each is given about a page and a half, complete with an ‘stat block’-like entry covering the requirements for membership, secrecy levels and connection ratings. Where possible, there is commentary either from other shadowrunners or law enforcement reports to contextualise the information.

The product does feel like a mini-sourcebook of sorts, but presents no new mechanical information at all. It might have been a nice touch to include a few new spells, foci or talismans unique to each group, but this is a minor gripe. When reading through this, I thought it would make a fine companion to the first chapter of ‘Hazard Pay’, especially given the flavour fiction in the latter book. Combined, they would be a great tool for a run involving a secret society when things have gone horribly wrong.

The writing is up to standard (although the editing is not, and shows some spelling, capitalisation and grammatical errors consistent with the last couple of Catalyst books I have reviewed) and the art is of a high quality. What is clear is that Catalyst doesn’t regard the recent spate of short sourcebooks to be a lesser, cheaper option – but rather puts the same production qualities into these. It is easily on par with other short books such as ‘Safehouses’ and ‘MilSpec Tech’. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these, provided that they are seen as supplemental to, rather instead of, the larger more substantive sourcebooks.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Magical Societies
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Shadowrun: Hazard Pay
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/31/2012 23:02:43
‘Hazard Pay’ occupies the niche of the book you didn’t know you needed desperately for Shadowrun. Whilst the established trope for SR has been the urban run, this book not only shows the true wealth of opportunities for extremes of environments, but it does so in a way which makes sense for the ultra-industrialised, population saturated Sixth World.

Whilst it may be easy to pigeon-hole this as the ‘environmental book’, it does cast a slightly wider scope than I had originally expected, and this is brought to the fore in the first section covering Awakened environmental protectors and despoilers. There are a host of possible allied organisations, all dedicated to preserving either the natural or Awakened flora and fauna, and then it moves into the despoilers of the environment. Each group is given a few key NPC’s (and their respective bounties), all of whom are fully statted-out. You’ll find the manifestations of the Four Horseman, a swarm of insect shamans, a pool of toxic shamans and even a Blood Magic group. Plenty of adventure fodder here. What really shone about this section (apart from the unexpected nature of the content) was that it presents environmental degradation as the world-wide problem it should be in Shadowrun and shows how it is further compounded by the Awakened nature of the setting.

The rest of the book covers the oceans, then extremes of cold (Arctic and Antarctic), space and deserts respectively. Whilst all of the sections are extremely well-developed and written, it is clear that the designers (like me) have a soft spot for cold environments. This chapter takes the lion’s share of the page count, organisations and corporations, and plot hooks (which are liberally sprinkled throughout the whole chapter). The other stand-out was the section on the ocean, and my earlier point about situating the environment sensibly within the game world is borne out here. The chapter introduces the aquacologies which have been constructed on the ocean floor and one in particular (the Proteus construction) is given especial attention. The real strength of these aquacologies is that there is enough familiar touchstones for the PCs (in terms of the city layout, expectations of the sprawl, etc) but the setting give it just enough danger and flavour to make it challenging and memorable.

The Awakened animals in the Arctic section are a fine complimentary data set to ‘Parazoology’ and any of the ‘Paranormal animals of…’ series. They range from the extremely dangerous Awakened Bear you see on the front cover all the way through to the whimsical flying reindeer. In fact a good portion of this section serves to introduce hazardous fauna to the unwary.

The very last section gives the reader all the expected additional SR mechanical information from new gear, guns and spells; as well as rules for handling environmental conditions (which are smooth and streamlined).

The fiction throughout is succinct and does a lot to introduce each chapter and the ever-present BBS-style commentary makes this a pleasure to read. All the old favourites are back with plenty of links to recent products for the canny reader. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this book and will be adding a copy to my physical gaming collection too. The reason why this is receiving a four-star rating instead of the five it should deserve is due to the typos which occur all the way through the book. Hopefully these are fixed well before it goes to physical print to save further disappointment.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Hazard Pay
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Cthulhu by Gaslight
Publisher: Chaosium
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2012 23:45:47
Whilst I know a lot of die-hards who will insist that the 1920’s is the only time to play Cthulhu, I must only respectfully disagree, but forward this book as clear evidence. ‘Cthulhu by Gaslight’ sets the machinations of the tentacle one (and others who cannot be named) against the backdrop of Victorian England, amid the slums and factories, the gentlemans’ clubs and secret societies and weaves the fog and darkness through the stories. In every way, this is a perfect fit, made more so by the attention to detail shown by the authors (who do build upon two previous editions of this book).

Divided into four parts, the book gives attention to

- the specifics of creating Victorian-era characters and in usual Chaosium style, the reader will find everything from Occupations and skill alterations to a glossary and prices indexed for the time period;
- a gazetteer-style section outlining the British Empire, and London in particular leading to;
- a section entitled ‘Strange Britain which is by far the most interesting section of the book. In here you’ll find occult societies such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Masons (no surprises regarding their inclusion), real world occult and ‘strange’ sites in Britain (which could be expanded into a book all by itself), how the Cthulhu Mythos fits into Britain uniquely. This third section is then rounded off with a look at fictional characters; so if you’ve ever wanted Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes or even the Martians for a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen/Cthulhu cross-over, you’ll have all the tools you need. Overall, this is the stand-out section of the book.
- and lastly two fully-kitted-out adventures (at about twenty pages each). In both adventures the writing is extremely well-delivered and the concepts in both uniquely Victorian.

What is clear is that the developers wanted a product which not only provided the factual and mechanical information for playing in this time period, but also wanted to prove themselves capable of implementing these concepts. In reading through this book, one feels that a conceptual journey has been undertaken, first gathering all the necessary information required for a game, and then seeing it all put into practice.

The book is rounded off with Appendices full of inspirational media and a collection of great maps.

I’ve always been impressed with Chaosium’s ability to present a book which is so completely situated in the time period, right down to the choice of fonts and typeset to the illustrations, commentary and maps. It provides the reader with a wholly immersive experience and this attention to detail may not always be explicitly appreciated – but it is subliminally present.

This is a must for all Cthulhu Keepers and it is a pleasure to see this book updated and back in print (in a manner of speaking). Just remember that knife-wielding murderers in Whitechapel are the least of your concerns in this game...

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu by Gaslight
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Shadowrun: Parabotany
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2012 00:48:52
'Parabotany' is one of those brilliant, gazetteer-style sourcebooks which has a bit of information for everyone and is a pleasure to sit down and read. It does a great service in fleshing out the Shadowrun setting a little more, and moves away from the very traditional topics of sprawls, magic and guns.
In this short work (50 pages), you'll find an impressive list of plants ranging from the Awakened, to the Blighted (those with a toxic background), Mutant (like Dropping Pines and Walking Banana Trees) and those engineered by various corporations. The tumbleweed on the front cover is included, and should make your smuggler or rigger more than a little wary of the open highways. There is a brief overview on the state of food, which is worth thinking about for any GM wanting to breathe a bit more life into the setting. On this note, you'll also find the few pages dedicated to alcoholic beverages useful for your next set-piece bar or club scene.

Near the back of the book as well is a great tie-in to a classic Second Edition book. Here you'll find updates on all of the botanical sections of Dunkelzahn's will, with the various players positioning themselves to claim some of the dragon's hoard. There are a wealth of ideas for potential runs in the section alone.

It took a few readings before I started to really appreciate this book, which is why I have moved my rating from 3 to 4 stars. Initially I viewed it as a curiosity piece, and at the price it seemed very reasonable. It seemed like the sort of supplement which would offer a few oddments to spice up games before finally fading into the background of my digital shelf.

However, that isn't so. Looking over the plants, you can see a range of challenging non-standard security measures; potential wares for talismongers, adepts, mages and shamans; and plot hooks for a dozen and one runs. This does add a lot of flavour to any Awakened character and should be read as both a player and GM resource. For these reasons, I'd highly recommend not only buying a copy, but reading it a few times over and letting the inspiration slowly seep into your brain.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Parabotany
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Fantasy Hero 6th Edition
Publisher: Hero Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2012 19:34:22
I've not had a lot of experience in dealing with the HERO system, but have a member of my gaming group who swears by it. That alone was reason to do some digging to understand the system and whether this product added anything to the host of other fantasy books out there. At almost 500 pages, this does qualify as a Tome though, and shows what I come to expect as a comprehensive and fulsome treatment from the authors of HERO.

If you are only to purchase a single book about fantasy role-playing, this is a good contender. It is clear from the outset that the authors are not just casual consumers of the genre, and know fantasy intimately. There is an impressive annotated bibliography which put me to shame and has now formed a core reading list for the future. They effectively and concisely analyse the different elements of fantasy and investigate the key features of the fantasy sub-genres.

The rest of the book is dedicated to rules. Everything from character creation, archetypes, combat, magic, geographical effects and even morality is discussed in stunning detail. Given that a lot of HERO is based on designing specific instances from a generic idea, there is an underlying discussion of rationale which flows through most sections. I'm sure that any GM/DM who has previously run an FRPG will find some enlightenment from this book. Most of us never question why something is so in a game, so being forced to think about it is always a good exercise. The scope of the magic section alone should give even the most die-hard fantasy player pause for thought.

Overall, this is a very impressive piece of work. The authors clearly show a mastery of the genre, and write with an incisive style which is rarely seen in the hobby. The layout and artwork are both of a consistently high standard and should appeal to a range of tastes. The main warning is that this is a companion volume to the core rules for HERO system, you're not getting a complete game here. That said, I firmly believe that with a copy of this, the main rules and a homebrew setting (or even adapt one of the hundreds already on the market), you'd never need to purchase another book.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Hero 6th Edition
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A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2012 19:14:39
It should come as no surprise that with the success of HBO's adaptation of this series, we are now presented with the 'Game of Thrones Edition' of SIFRP. Having only looked at the quickstart rules previously, I don't have much of a comparison. However, after reading this tome a few times I'm left with the feeling that this is an incredibly comprehensive piece of work.

What should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the novels is that there is a need to focus on setting and character, and as such the story and gazetteer-style elements take up the most of the page count. In fact, I'd recommend that non-role-players consider picking this up simply as a companion to the novels. In no particular order the book provides:

- An overview of Westeros, containing geographical, political, theological and historical information on each of the Seven Kingdoms. Reading through this section will give Narrators and players all the information they need (and is somewhat shorter than reading all of the novels).
- A guide to all of the Houses, with histories of the families, notable characters and deeds and in-depth information about their holdings, powerbases and modus operandi.
- Quite extensive guidance for the Narrator in terms of crafting stories for Westeros and how this is different from most other fantasy settings. There is a great section which takes a number of key characters and describes what actual role they had/have in the story and what their inclusion teaches us about storytelling. The main warning I'd level here is that there are serious spoilers if you haven't read the novels. This section has been updated to include the events in 'Dance of Dragons' (the latest novel at the time of writing this review) and makes no qualms about mentioning character deaths and other event-based spoilers.

From the mechanical side, the game is simple yet incredibly decisive and brutal. The entire system is based upon a D6-driven mechanic (you'll need a maximum of ten dice to play). You roll a number of dice determined by skills and add-in bonus dice for situational modifiers and specialisations. Interestingly, once the dice pool is rolled, you remove a number of dice equal to the bonus dice and then tally up the score. The heart of the system is rolling as many dice as possible and then keeping the best results. A Target Number needs to be beaten to succeed in most rolls.

Combat is a relatively simple affair, and this is the first system I've seen which directly calculates damage based on the skill level linked to the weapon. Basically the idea is that if you are better trained, you'll do more damage. After reading over the rules for damage, defending and armour, I feel confident that most combats will not last long. Life is cheap in the Seven Kingdoms, and the system really reflects that.

However, the mechanical side of the book also gives the reader

- A workable system for Mass Combat
- A complete guide to building your own Stronghold, Fiefdom or Country. There are statistics linked to almost every aspect of a holding which allows players to almost play a 'game within the game' for managing their assets. I'm actually thinking that these rules could be ported over into other campaigns as a method of record-keeping. This exercise is quite important as it is directly linked to the Mass Combat rules mentioned above.
- There is also a very large module in the back of the book. 'Journey to King's Landing' was a free-to-download module with pre-generated characters and appears in very much the same format here. It leads to 'Peril at King's Landing' which is a much longer module. To be honest, I would have preferred Green Ronin to offer these as PDF material accessible with a purchase of the main rulebook for two reasons. One, it is a neat opportunity to offer the customer something that is perceived a 'free extra' with the book. Secondly, though is the question as to whether the page count on the modules in a core book is a good use of space. Weighing in at 81 pages (around a quarter of the total page count), one questions how much long-term value this would be to the reader. I make no argument that a module is needed for a game like this, even just as a way of showing the reader 'this is what a SIFRP module looks like', but think it could have been achieved better.

The layout makes the book very easy to read, with plenty of full-colour illustrations throughout. The art quality is very average, but does work for the book. Characters from the novels are shown in most of the illustrations, and those familiar with the story will have no difficulty in recognising them.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality and breadth of the content in this book. It felt to me as though Green Ronin has respected the customer enough to give them a self-contained game in one book. If I was to run a game, I can't think of any aspect which is wanting in the rulebook, especially for the first-time Narrator - which makes it a very sensible purchase for someone looking for a new game. There will surely be other titles forthcoming, but I wouldn't think them necessary to enjoy the game. Given the PDF price, I see it as excellent value for gamers and enthusiasts of the novels alike.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition
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Shadowrun: Damage Control (Boardroom Backstabs)
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/17/2012 22:07:02
'Damage Control' is the first of a new line of products from Catalyst entitled 'Boardroom Backstabs' and this definitely lives up to the title.
Shadowrun has always been about corporate machinations and this series looks set to take runners up close and personal with the (often violent and always deniable) political game played by the mega-corporations. In this case, it focuses on the brewing war between Hestaby and Lofwyr and offers the chance for runners to visit Dubai for a variety of jobs.

the introduction lists ten additional sourcebooks which would be useful in running the game, and whilst most are probably useful, I didn't refer to any whilst reading through the module. 'Corporate Enclaves' will probably be the most useful as it has a section on Dubai which you could mine for additional info; but I really don't think you'll need to.

I'm also led to believe that Catalyst is targeting newer GMs with these sorts of products, especially in light of the 'Six-step' action plan for running a printed module. As a seasoned GM, though, it was nice to be reminded of the basics and the issues I probably take for granted.

The module begins with a job interview in a memorable locale (one that I'll be poaching for other games - if you pardon the pun) and the need for etiquette (and results of failing) really go a long way to establishing the Johnson and the company. From here, it is a whirlwind trip to Dubai for jobs ranging from clandestine meetings and Legwork, through to wetwork and corporate sabotage. The adversaries in all cases are weighty and PCs will be forced to think carefully and strategically as they go about their business.

The thought of being far from home and away from contacts is a reasonable fear for runners, and one Catalyst does address. A host of new, helpful NPCs are presented, each with their own agenda and offering interesting roleplaying opportunities. There is a sidebar about turning this module into an extended campaign and the inclusion of new contacts and fixers suits that mood very well.

the only glitch in the entire product was the presence of a number of annoying typographical errors - a decent editor would have could these, fixed the sentence structure and made it more readable. Overall, these don't make the product unusable, but they are irritating. Perhaps the beauty of PDF printing will be that Catalyst can revisit the product, fix up the mistakes and put out a new copy.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this module. I think that more of a focus on corporate politics gives the players a greater appreciation of the scope of their characters actions, and this time they are playing in the big league. There is enough freedom for a GM to add extra flavour and scenes to showcase the interests of their own group whilst still maintaining the integrity of the 'run. I hope that each module in this series will focus on a different corporation and give some extra flavour to an already rich game world.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Damage Control (Boardroom Backstabs)
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Leverage Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 20:40:36
I discovered the 'Leverage' television show through the roleplaying game and as a matter of due diligence thought I should watch a few episode to understand the context, mood and feel of the game. Now, after digesting four seasons, it's time to come back to the RPG. In many cases, it is impossible to fully appreciate an RPG based on an intellectual property with only one of the two creative outputs - and 'Leverage' is no exception. I think that without an appreciation for the television show, you'll find it very difficult to grapple with some of the storytelling tools presented.

From the outset, I had high hopes for the game. I own 'Serenity' and 'Smallville' and have taken enthusiastically to not only the Cortex system, but the underlying philosophy of MWP's game design. Their games are designed to be played as a team, co-operatively, with fun being explicitly the responsibility of everyone at the table. Players are encouraged to identify when scenes allow others to shine, and to help everyone at the table achieve their full potential. 'Leverage' mentions in the character creation section that should players chose to create characters in isolation, the game will feel more like a group of 'prison inmates' than a team game; and I couldn't agree more.

Anyone familiar with Cortex will have few surprises along the way - although it leans more to the simplicity of 'Serenity' than the more complex 'Smallville'. Players select one character archetype - Mastermind, Grifter, Hitter, Thief or Hacker (each archetype embodied on the screen each week) and then assigning dice types to each to determine priority. There are the usual Assets, Distinctions, Talents and the like which round out the character and it does appear to be quite simple to design and make a character. However, as there isn't a static list of traits (with the exception of Distinctions) players are encouraged to design descriptive traits for their character.

The balance comes in with the sidebar explaining that all traits should have a negative and positive side - and the other players and the Fixer (the name given to the GM) should determine if they are unbalanced or too broad. For example, in the TV show Nate (the resident Mastermind) has the trait 'Drunk'. Whilst this does have very negative connotations, it does mean that Nate could use the trait to assist in the roll to impersonate a drunk, or even name exotic alcoholic beverages. On the flipside, the Fixer could use it as a temptation to derail Nate whilst on a job.

Plot Points are included here too, and make for an interesting interplay between Fixer and players - essentially giving characters a kick-back when something bad is invoked against them, and then being able to be spent on certain perks during the game. Character advancement is relatively simple, with characters spending 'Jobs' (ie, one story) to purchase advances. Conversely, a character can simple leave the log of Jobs on their character sheet. By doing so, they can call into play experiences from previous jobs to give them either a boosted roll, or an attempted one, if they have an relevant experience. For example, if a character needed to ski down a mountain slope during one Job, they could recall the experience in a later Job to either give them an extra dice in the roll, or (if they don;t have a relevant skill) invoke it to get a roll.

Running this game will require a good working knowledge of the structure of an episode of the television show, as I mentioned before. The players and the Fixer are expected, during the game, to look for Flashback Scenes that can be used to wrap up the Job, or progress it. An example might be a scene where a character rifles through the Marks' desk drawer, and finds a gun and some paperwork. They might photocopy the paperwork whilst playing the scene, but during a Flashback Scene state that they also emptied the gun of bullets. When the Mark is waving his pistol at the team, the player announces the Flashback Scene to frame the action of pulling the six rounds out of the jacket pocket as a frustrated Mark tries to fire an empty gun. I would imagine that this aspect of the game will take a little time before it is run smoothly by all at the table. The main piece of advice that I'd give here is that the mechanic is present to advance the story and make for some really cool scenes - it is not designed as a carte blanche 'auto-win' and should be never used as such.

Overall, I loved the game and look forward to putting together my first Job. As my group have the knack of turning any game into one about teams, this will suit them perfectly. There is plenty of advice for the aspiring Fixer (being a Shadowrun fan, I'm looking forward to actually being called a Fixer), including a wide range of random tables for generating Marks' attributes, motivations and the reason for the Job. I have since noticed that MWP have produced an introductory module ('The Quickstart Job' at $1.99) and I'll definitely be investing in it to give me an example Job before I start to design my own. Given the pricing of 'The Quickstart Job' I'd consider it a no-brainer.

This leads me to my only gripe and that is the lack of the near-ubiquitous 'module in the back of the book' that we see with most core rulebooks. MWP did an excellent job of including one in the recent 'Marvel Superheroes RPG' which set the tone well, and helped to introduce players and GMs alike to the game. 'Leverage' would have benefited from this too.

The writing style is very light, is conversational in tone and does a great job in explaining all of the concepts on the first pass. All of the art is taken from the television show, and is used quite sensibly - it is always apparent why a particular still was used on a given page. I've printed out my PDF copy, and on greyscale it was not a great drain on my ink cartridge.

Despite the lack of intro module, I'll still give this five stars. From the group approach to making characters, the high-end narrative style of the game, and the fact that it forces all characters into the limelight at least once per Job makes this a winner. I can imagine in the near future that my group will be enjoying a 'Leverage' marathon on our DVDs, followed by a really fun game. I can't wait to see what more this product line has in store, and this type of product constantly reaffirms MWP as a high-quality publisher of gaming titles.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Leverage Roleplaying Game
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Castlemourn Campaign Setting
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2012 07:01:08
You know that anything written by Ed Greenwood is going be a lavishly detailed immersion into high fantasy, and Castlemourn showcases his abilities (through the excellent MWP) admirably.

Castlemourn marries fantasy with one of my other favourite genres - the post-apocalyptic setting. Three hundred years ago, there was a cataclysm which destroyed the previous shining age, causing the gods to cordon off the realm. As such, none are permitted to leave, although some brave (or foolish) souls still try; and are never seen again. Don't let the idea of a contained setting fool you though; there is more than enough to keep players interested and enough political intrigue, open warfare, exploration and adventure to engage even the most experienced group.

There are all the mainstays of D&D in terms of character races, including two new ones - the Godaunt and the Thaele who do add a certain 'flavour' to the game by their presence and all the classes are present and accounted for. The only new class is the Buccaneer, and this is interesting enough (and balanced enough) to make it an attractive option (and who doesn't want to play a pirate).

There is also a host of new mechanically-flavoured items (including the ubiquitous Prestige Classes), but it is all very well written and presented.

With Ed Greenwood at the helm, you know the book will include the practicalities of daily life, and he doesn't disappoint. Calendars and crops, foods and festivals are all covered in varying degrees of detail and give GM and player alike a real insight into daily life - something I've always admired from his Forgotten Realms work.

Given that this has been reduced to $4.99, I cannot think of a single reason why this shouldn't be on every fantasy gamers' shopping list. Even if you are a 4e player, the narrative content alone will be useful. If you are looking for a new setting for your next campaign, give this a chance. You'll not regret doing so.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castlemourn Campaign Setting
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