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Gypsy
Publisher: Dreadfox Games
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/12/2012 19:37:52
This product has been in my wish list for a long time, waiting for me to pay out the $5 to check it out. I really have a hard time contemplating the audacity or ignorance that went into its creation.

Let me talk about the quality of the contents before I state my complaints. My generous two-star rating is because for what it is Gypsy is a well-crafted product. The graphic design is quite pretty as well as the art and layout. It has a nice aged vellum and leather bound book look and the mechanic using Tarot cards for divination spells is cute. I find nothing wrong with the mechanics; they are quite creative.

But this book should never have been made, as it stands. While crafted with love and care and I'm sure as a fault of ignorance rather than malace IT IS HORRIBLY RACIST!

The Romani are a real ethnic group with true historical roots and whom still face oppression and poverty every day. This book takes centuries of stereotypes and translates them into Pathfinder terms. I showed this product to a Roma friend of mine and he was... well Deadfox is lucky he isn't writing this review.

I am a big Ravenloft fan and I own both editions of Van Richten's Guide to the Vistani; and I have played a half-Vistani in 3.5 games using Arthaus' books so you would be tempted to call me a hypocrite. But I counter that the Vistani are fictional, they are a sort of meta-commentary on Victorian fiction's view of gypsies, as Dracula is to the historical Vlad Tepes. Even then I cracked a history book (Bury Me Standing: the Gypsies and their Journey). Deadfox's Gypsy may be harmless fun but it shows epic disregard for culture.

At least they didn't make stuff up like White Wolf, but really. Imagine a Jew class, where you have inborn mystical Jew powers. What about a wise African Slave class? You would have a good product here if you had put it in more of a fictional background or showed the slightest bit of cultural awareness.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Gypsy
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World of Darkness: Blood-Dimmed Tides
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/20/2012 08:05:01
Blood-Dimmed Tides is perhaps the only classic World of Darkness product to fully actualize all of the game lines into one fine and useful product. Sure, Midnight Circus does something similar but it doesn't have the same scope. Oceans cover most of the Earth's surface, after all. This product not only has a lot of interesting fluff and crunch allowing you to set campaigns or single adventure chapters in the deep, off reef or along the world's coasts but it details the interests of every single faction up to 1999 in this environment; everyone from Pentex to Stygian relic ships, the Void Engineer Project Deepwater. For Changeling: The Dreaming fans this book is a must for the Merfolk and Murduacha. This book is a bit gonzo. You've got aquatic Gangrel and Lasombra pirates rubbing shoulders with Lovcraftian horrors, Nephandi sea cults and of course the weresharks. This book isn't a rehash of Tribebook Rokea but it has a lot of hints about how to use them in a chronicle and they feature heavy in the artwork. The art is wonderful, by the way. Did I mention detailed descriptions of the Umbral and Shadowlands relms of the Oceans? There's a vast blue-green expanse of stories to tell about the deep and this sourcebook can keep you busy no matter what you play. Highly recommended.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
World of Darkness: Blood-Dimmed Tides
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Victorian Lost
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/20/2012 11:59:27
In reviewing Victorian Lost I will describe merits based upon what it is and relate to you what it is not so you can make an informed decision or perhaps assuage buyer's remorse if it was not as expected. I am very pleased to have this eleventh book in what was to be a five book series and I hope this is not the end all of Changeling: the Lost.

I skimmed through my copies of the wonderful Victorian Age Vampire and its supplement London by Night as I was reaching the end of this book. I do not have the Victorian Age Vampire Companion but it is in my wishlist. These are both excellent sourcebooks in that they not only provide an evocative setting in which to game but do a good job in setting the themes and moods, historical setting and a solid front-loaded metaplot and non-player characters; there is grand Guy Davis artwork, too. You will not find any front-loading in Victorian Lost because the latter subscribes more to the New World of Darkness design philosophy than that of a decade ago. This is not to say Victorian Lost is not a wonderful resource for telling stories of gas-lit fairytales in a similar setting as Victorian Age Vampire. It is just that you are not handed a setting as if an elder sibling had completed most of the world-building for you and passed on some good advice.

Victorian Lost provides guidance for creating your own campaign setting, some of which was covered ten years ago but here put in a more cohesive and easy-to-use manner. I have reviewed or have read New Wave Requiem and Mage Noir so I expected about a 90-page count and toolkit format. The writing is excellent, the advice is practical and there are plenty of story seeds. I very much enjoyed the idea of presenting sessions in chapters like a serial novel of the time with form imitating the fiction upon which it is based. Also included are two campaign outlines with two freehold examples at the tail end of each and one complete Storyteller Adventure System arc which is fast-paced enough for a one-shot or convention game. All the stories fit well into period themes and the SAS in particular does a fine job incorporating a Victorian invention becoming a possible weapon of mass destruction to the Gentry.

It is rather sparse on historical information and setting but is more concerned with the tropes of Victorian literature and important themes of the culture. Information is also solidly centered on London and the peripheral pastoral environs beyond so if you wish to game in the British Raj, Cairo, Bucharest, or Poe's Baltimore you will have to do your homework. There are no maps on London so again you will need to do research. Luckily, Brits at the time were entranced by maps and there are plenty in the public domain to download at no-cost. Public health epidemiology even got its start in London of the time. You can find detailed maps of East London correlated with both disease and socio-economic status on building-level basis (a fine prop for your game). Copyright expiration means you can download dozens of ebooks for free.

If that is a deal breaker, having to do your homework after buying a guide and toolkit on how to craft your setting rather than the setting yourself, do not buy this book and instead adapt Victorian Age Vampire to your needs. You could even creatively port over the NPCs to Changeling. If you subscribe to the New World of Darkness way of doing things, however Victorian Lost is a fine resource. Some may complain over the lack of crunch over fluff. I feel using a derogatory sounding term like fluff means you are missing the point. Take the two Seemings in the book; both fit in well with the setting but there are merely two (and a couple of Contracts and just one Entitlement). But Seemings are designed to be just two paragraphs long. I want to create my own for a rat-catcher gnome-like Wizened I want to play. Seemings were designed to be house-ruled so don’t feel constrained into using an "official" White Wolf sanctioned character. So were Contracts for that matter. I saw years ago on the White Wolf forums a fan was writing Contracts named and themed after every Shakespeare play. If you don’t have the time or are offended that you paid your money and expect more my condolences to you but this is not a sourcebook. Toolkits grant you the freedom to make your campaign setting your own. You can make it as steampunk as you want, or a Holmesian mystery or science adventure in the Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs vein, maybe a Wilde-like clash of wit amongst upper crust society or a squalid Dickensian tragedy. There are points where you feel the lack of information sorely. The largest and most powerful freeholds of London and another of all England (near Stonehenge of course) are mentioned in brief but not elucidated on and never named. You will have to create them as well as the Lords who rule the Courts there.

Now if you feel the lack of crunch and don’t want to buy and adapt the Vampire books, here is what you can do: pick up Chuck Wendig's wonderful and affordable Block by Bloody Block for Hunter: the Vigil and download and print some period maps as I mentioned earlier. Treat each neighborhood in as a freehold fiefdom with some changeling or other supernatural or mortal faction in charge and a boon and cost associated with holding that title. For example, imagine a Winter Court motley of Lost pushing out local vampires and laying claim to the London Underground of 1887, ensorcelling the transit workers and charging a toll of Goblin Fruit or Pledges for the privilege of safe transport. This could be the player’s own motley, their allies or antagonists. What if they were Loyalists of Freebooters and ensnared any Lost who dared to venture into the Tubes? Bam, you've got a solid story seed right there.

There are only two places where lack of content seemed rather insulting. There is a section of Victorian LARPing covering costumes, customs and props as well as a sidebar explaining delicately that White Wolf never intends to put out Changeling: the Lost LARP rules so you’re on your own, kid. I happen to know that the local Camarilla holds Lost games so the rules do exist. It was just a rather bald-faced dismissal but one I can understand. Also there was a sore lack of a character sheet at the back of the book as was provided with New Wave Requiem and Mage Noir. That is what is holding back a five-star rating.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Victorian Lost
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Strange, Dead Love
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/16/2012 05:38:27
A Requiem book covering paranormal romance was inevitable. Vampires as a romantic trope are very hot right now so why wouldn't the folks at White Wolf get irate. "We've been doing this vampire thing for twenty years, son! We got this." That must have been in the pitch meeting somewhere. So why not put their own brand on it and show roleplayers how to do love, lust, sex and romance the new World of Darkness way.

Vampires are inherently sensual creatures no matter where characters plot on the bestial-to-seductive sliding scale. In order to exist they need to get close enough to a mortal to sup on their warm pumping blood. Even if this involves a grab from the shadows type of ambush it is a deeply intimate act, not to mention how Requiem describes the effect of The Kiss on the pleasure centers of both feeder and vessel. Romance may be used cynically as a means of feeding. It can be the thing that keeps a vampire from surrendering his humanity by clinging doggedly to the pursuit of winning hearts as a vital part of his Requiem. A game of courtship might be a stable of city politics. It could arise as a result of your characters Virtue and Vice combination or a blood bond. Or you could be playing a Ghoul who loves her regent with all her crooked heart.

Strange, Dead Love gives guidance on how to use paranormal romance as a narrative device in your games wether a liaison crops up organically and unexpectedly in an existing campaign or if you decide to make relationship drama the centerpiece of the campaign. Requiem tries to hard to be a horror title but urban fantasy is it's real strong point so why not explore subgenera of fantasy? Of great use is the analyses of paranormal romance as a genre including the specifics of narrative structure, stock characters and common themes. Much of this book could be use in any White Wolf title. I could find much utility for the new World of Darkness game that centers on courtly romance, Changeling: the Lost. I know that one of the Forsaken Chronicler's Guide segments centered on romance as pack dynamic and Strange, Dead Love could help you make the most of it.

There is a chapter of Shards, taking a cue from World of Darkness: Mirrors these are campaign kits exploring a different aspect of a vampiric paranormal romance. I particularly liked The Prince's Child which is a scenario where a powerful elder is going to slumber and is ceding Princedom of a powerful city to his delicate childer about whom no one knows many details. Because of his inexperience the childe must choose someone as a steward, a lover and protector who likely will hold much of the real power in the city. This shard hits at the core strengths of Requiem and would make fine use of the social combat rules in Dance Macabre. The shards are all versatile enough to appeal to the wide tastes of the paranormal romance fan but sufficiently blood-drenched for Requiem.

Strange, Dead Love is not what I expected. Before it's release FlamesRising had a author Q&A session. I asked if the book would address the specifics of how Requiem vampires approach romance and intimacy particularly as they age. I mean, vampires Embraced in the last ten years can still remember their human emotions. Do they feel yearnings to experience them again lest they become monsters even if they are just aping the experience? The monsters that are the elders possibly undead for hundreds of years have surely forgotten what an honest to God love affair feels like. Has their experience of lust become tainted by literal bloodlust? I came to this book with these questions wanting to be answered and what Strange, Dead Love does is say "Hey! Those are some interesting points; here is what you can do to make explore those themes in your campaign." I forgot where Requiem and the new World of Darkness was at this stage in it's evolution. This is a toolbox release in the style of Mirrors, not a supplement/sourcebook in the vein of The Gilded Cage. You don't have much concrete "canon" about vampiric love that isn't in the Requiem core book but you've got a lot of props and themes to explore. If that lack of detail is going to upset you then Strange, Dead Love might be a waste of your time.

I would have liked a bit more teeth in the section on social contracts. If you are dealing with gaming involving sex or the implication of sex you've really got to nail down boundaries at the start. There are a lot of gems here, such as in the character creation section. I've been rolling up characters and writing often-elaborate backstories for a long time but never would I have considered my characters sexual and romantic history as anything more than grey area a to fill in as applicable. If you are running a romance-centered game though you've got to take first kisses and lost virginity into account. If you've got crushes and ex-lovers and rivals out there in the city then you've got plot hooks, baby.

Even if romance isn't your thing. Even if you think it's girl stuff. You'd be missing out if you're a Requiem fan and didn't give this a read.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strange, Dead Love
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Ready-Made Player Characters (Changeling: The Lost)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/06/2011 12:05:28
It’s true; half the fun of roleplaying games is the creative process of rolling up new characters. However I can think of quite a few reasons why Personae: A Motley of Ready-Made Player Characters for Changeling: The Lost is a fine purchase.

Let us take a moment to honor and bury Lost’s predecessor, Changeling: The Dreaming. I loved it back during the rowdy Clinton administration; but for a game about imagination the character creation system was surprisingly limited. Lost flipped that situation. You could create nearly any being of modern fantasy fiction using the big tents of the five kiths. Go ahead and find a character in, say Gaiman’s Neverwhere that you couldn’t remix. It is so sandbox that you sometimes get overwhelmed so if you want to toss down a pre-canned Storyteller Adventure System session on a whim you might waste an entire session making up concepts, fine-tuning stats and running preludes. Another option is to use the Personae motley as a rival or ally in your existing Lost campaign. Just five bucks could save a Storyteller a lot of prep time. Personally, I printed out this supplement and keep it in a bound notebook with the Lost Demo adventure, The Fear-maker’s Promise, The Rose-Bride’s Plight and the Camarilla’s master list of Changeling character options. I can bust out a game anywhere anytime as long as I’ve got that and the Core Rulebook handy.

In Personae you have an established motley of five changelings with distinct abilities fitting into various niches amongst Lost society. All five Seasonal Courts including courtless are represented. They also have distinct personalities and well-conceived backgrounds of just the right specificity. The founder and nominal leader is a gruff Hedge-delver and Goblin Market maven; there is a lothario and potential spy; a heavy providing the muscle and braggadocio; a mystic and accomplished healer; and a newly recruited canny politico. Three have been made monstrous or ugly by their keepers were they once were beautiful and two are far more handsome or persuasive. All five are loners by nature who have gathered for mutual protection yet are uneasy with trust. Included in the final pages are tips on removing or adding members to the group. I really like the interpersonal dynamics and see where it could lead to dramatic tension; author Jess Heartly provides some suggestions about how that may come out in the aforementioned two Changeling SAS products. You’ve even got unrequited love and that old chestnut durance-induced amnesia. I dig Heartley’s use of the old World of Darkness format of listing Quotes, Background, Description and Roleplaying Hints before the stats. I always would submit characters in that format for moderated online games. To my eye the characters are correctly stated out, even having the free skill specialty with the Changeling template. Lots of players forget that. Each character has a second sheet for more seasoned advanced play with 30-40 experience points added.

As a digital artifact the ebook is gorgeous with the torn border integrated into every page, full “color” green-black-and-white palate, and striking artwork by Avery Butterworth. They didn’t skimp on the little things such as the border around Nicola (a Snowskin Elemental) being dusted with snow due to her Mantle. This isn’t really a surprise since every Changeling product has had stunning graphic design to date but White Wolf often rehashed artwork for their digital exclusives. I’m glad all of their Ready-Made releases have original artwork.

Just so I don’t miss anything you get an introduction on the motley as a whole, five character profiles easily printed off separately and given to players, Storyteller advice on running a motley-focused campaign, advice about modifying the group and then three brief story seeds on all of the characters.

I do have some criticisms. I love Heartley’s work but as in my Rose-Bride’s Plight review she can get a little too precious at time, guild the lily a little fine. All of the characters chose names based on literary figures hence the motley being named Dramatis Personae but having the lion-like character named Aslan was one step beyond for me. Also, a character that had a med school education and spent her entire durance healing wounded comrades only has one dot in Medicine? You can change all of these of course.

The characters were created so you only need the Lost Core Rulebook for use but some would benefit from further sourcebooks. The Hunchback for instance would greatly value the Merits provided in Goblin Markets which was released months after this product.

Another bit of foresight on Jess’ part is that all five can fit into any city in the World of Darkness in nearly any time period with a bit of adaptation; you can use them with the upcoming Victorian Lost book or a Changeling-themed New Wave Requiem game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ready-Made Player Characters (Changeling: The Lost)
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Compacts and Conspiracies (Complete)
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/05/2011 10:14:52
I'm glad I bought the complete Compacts and Conspiracies even though I would only play two or three of the twelve factions. In fact the one time I played Hunter I chose a Tier 0 unaffiliated character. There’s some great content here, though. The Ashwood Abbey for instance I find to be completely reprehensible reprobates but they'd make great villains in a Hunter, Requiem or Forsaken game.

What you get here is six pages expanding on the history and operations of each Hunter group along with a little bit of crunch. The profiles in the Hunter core rulebook just wasn’t quite enough because they had to fit in so many rules in the form of Professions, Tactics, Endowments and the like. I often found nagging questions answered. Null Mysteriis for instance left me dumbstruck until I read this supplement. They were my least favorite. Finally I understand what their deal is, as a kind of proto-Technocracy from Ascension. Clearly they know they are dealing with hunting supernatural creatures but their original profile claimed they didn’t believe in the supernatural (WTF)? This chapter explains what drives them. Each unexplained phenomenon they research, test, and explain though the scientific method takes a little bit of the supernatural out of the world and gives them a bit of power like learning its true name. Author Chuck Wendig also added some factional politics into the compact plus an awesome endowment called I’m Doing Science that has a lot of nifty effects. In fact, it could mean actual advances in the World of Darkness field of Science.

My two favorite compacts received fine treatment. Loyalists of Thule have a nifty recruitment tactic involving guilt and emotional blackmail as fitting their origin. They seek out people who have had a brush with the supernatural (and cocked it up somehow) and karmically draft then into their members. We also get the names and locations of the last three living founders.

I like Network Zero because they are the opposite of Loyalists of Thule or Aegis Kai Doru. A Thule explorer would like nothing else than to get their hands on an ancient text containing some spell or enchantment. A Network Zero member would react “Let me get this straight. You’re all excited because you have this thing that was written on reeds that grew on the banks of the Nile five thousand year ago? It’s got the names of how many daemons written on it? It’s not searchable and you have to translate each character by hand? Man, my phone has my entire library, plus when I record video it all gets geotaged and streams right to the web plus gets automatically stored and encrypted in two archive sites.” Network Zero gets a fine offering too in Compacts and Conspiracies.

There wasn’t space for any new Tactics in this volume but it answered a lot of my questions and gives ample story seeds and campaign inspiration.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Compacts and Conspiracies (Complete)
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Dust to Dust
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/01/2011 14:51:26
Dust to Dust is the first Storyteller Adventure System supplement for the 20th anniversary edition of Vampire: the Masquerade.

I'm very excited to be reviewing a Vampire: the Masquerade property, makes me feel like I'm back in the George H. W. Bush administration. In fact, this SAS (and I imagine the V20 core book) have a great retro look to them complete with artwork by Cobb, Timbrook and others dating back to the early 90s.

I have not read Ashes to Ashes or the old intro adventure in the back of the 1st and 2nd edition of Masquerade but after reading Dust to Dust I intend to rectify that. What you've got here is a pretty decent adventure. It's one that I wouldn't mind running with a few changes to tighten things up and oh look the Wrecking Crew already ran it at Grand Masquerade 2011 and have left their notes interspersed in the text even though they recommend some pretty drastic changes. That's a nice touch. I even liked their Mickey Mouse cocktail napkin sketch they used for one of the action sequences. That's a term that old people use for something simple, kids. Disney: don't sue CCP.

I like a lot of things about Dust to Dust. You have the opportunity of at least two really awesome scenes happening with dire consequences on the line depending on how feindish your player characters are. Most of the characters are solid too, with Prince Mobius of Gary, Indiana being sublime in his faded glory, one real barbed fatale of a Giovanni and a low generation foe that'll curl your toes. I support Wrecking Crew's suggestion to leave the mortal hunter out of the action, however. There's enough conflict as it is and while he is a decent retro Masquerade kind of dude the plot is tighter without him. I dig the mood and theme of the piece too, and imagine it meshes well with the rest of the tripditch.

On the bad side the pacing might be a bit off. Some scenes are real talky-talky chuffa with not a lot of results. Establishing atmosphere and mood as well as putting the chess pieces in place is important but it would rule out making this a decent one shot or convention game. Trim them.

I found the layout a bit cumbersome but I think it's because I'm too used to SAS products being in landscape format and I didn't print this one out. That would have erased the retro feel, however.

I could follow the mechanics just fine considering I haven't gotten V20 yet and it would be pretty easy to translate into any previous edition of Masquerade or even Requiem if you have the Translation Document. The price is a bit high for the digital release but hey it's a 55 page book and I say it's worth it if you want to revisit Gary, or just drop by for the Zombie Walk.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dust to Dust
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Queen Of Crows
Publisher: FR Press
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/30/2011 13:11:32
To be honest once I started Queen of Crows was a hard sell, mainly because I knew this pretty blond woman was telling the story of an aged and respected Navajo shaman on the eve of a major historical tragedy for the tribe. But by the second page I was sunk. Ms. Valentinelli’s talent won me over. I’ve been known to crack open a Tony Hillerman book for a little light reading. This was particularly true during my teenage years. But I also delighted in Sherman Alexie’s thorough skewering of him in Indian Killer. An anglo writing about the indigenous has a tenuous path as far as tone and respect without making their characters too perfect and false. What’s brilliant is that Valentinelli managed this with grace in a short story medium.

I adore short stories particularly in the speculative fiction genre because of their limitations. You’ve got to get in there do some quick and memorable world-building and character sketches and then BAM! You’ve got to get out again after telling some kind of a story ark. This makes for affective storytelling when done right. A good short story should be like a honed diamond right to the midbrain.

At the start the main character Tse reflects about his life and the hard choice he must make to which he has already committed but dreads. He has collaborated with a corpse-witch in learning a forbidden spell for the good of his people and has sent them away ahead of a foreseen calamity at the hands of a U.S. Army moving west now that the Civil War is over. Knowing a tiny bit about the cleanliness beliefs of Navajo in general and particularly shamans this tells me all I need to know about how desperate is his gamble. He is compelled to summon an entity who has been communicating with him, but is it a savior spirit or a force of great evil?

Valentinelli provided enough cultural flavor show us her tale is well-researched and well-intentioned but not to an elaborate S.M. Stirling-like degree what would have been excessive. One unremarked quirk was how quickly the white men barged into Tse’s hogahn, this is a terrible breech of hospitality but she already told us what kind of a guy Tse is an it would have slowed the story down a notch. Also on a personal note as someone who stutters I was impressed by the treatment she gave Captain Maynard who stuttered in a realistic manner. Not many authors get it right and the list of actors who do pretty much starts and ends with Michael Palin.

I liked that the antagonists of the piece were not, aside from one real bastard, portrayed as evil bigots. Two of them were merely soldiers doing their unseemly bloody duty and all of them reacted in different three-dimensional ways to the weird bloody conclusion of the story.

I really appreciated the extras such as the artwork and author’s afterward. To be honest I didn’t read the first draft of the story, since Valentinelli had already warned us that is was “a jumble of words” that needed to be rewritten. I’ll leave the polished version fresh in my memory, thank you and await more stories about Mahochepi if you please. And please do.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Queen Of Crows
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In Maps & Legends #1 (of 9)
Publisher: UnWrecked Press
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/08/2011 13:53:40
In Maps & Legends has the distinction of being the first born-digital comic that I’ve read since I’ve been out of the comic-reading habit for quite a while. I have to say I enjoyed it and it left me wanting to read more. The artwork is distinctive and affecting, nicely decorative without the constraints of realism that I remember from good small press non-superhero comics from my misspent youth. I liked the stylized pen-and-ink lines and sparing use of Photoshop effects.

The plot is still rather nascent which is okay for a first issue. There were enough otherworldly cues to keep me interested and I liked the inclusion of the main characters’ clueless ex-boyfriend as a sort of Arthur Dent voice of normality constantly drunkenly agog at the strange things going on. That’s a good touch for a fantasy story.

Yeah when I have a chance I’ll do a follow up on the other issues in the series. In Maps & Legends is steampunk enough to feel postmodern (I’m taking a cue from the galleon/airship hybrid) and fanciful to feel like the old classics and I want to know where they are going with the plot and characters.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
In Maps & Legends #1 (of 9)
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Nightmare on Hill Manor
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/13/2011 11:51:02
A Nightmare at Hill Manor transcends what I expect from a Free RPG Day product. I expect a tight little quickstart that features a newly released game the company wants to highlight. I was so excited about the release of Changeling: the Lost, for instance that a bunch of people I knew got an online game going using rules based solely on rules and stats presented in the quickstart which came out a few weeks before the core book.

Hill Manor is something a bit more ballsy. After the short introduction on roleplaying and the World of Darkness setting there is a 28 page boilerplate chapter on the entire World of Darkness core rules setting. Well, not all of it. Since the "adventure" takes place entirely in an apartment complex there are not rules for vehicles and the like. I don't know how they compressed pretty much everything you need from nearly 200 pages of the core rulebook down to 28 but it seemed pretty solid even covering Virtues and Vices, Derangements and an appendix at the end on ghosts. My first new World of Darkness was a free promo download of the core rules which they offered here one October, so while not new it is impressive. If you're hoping to save money by downloading for free or $5 for the paperback not everything is there but enough for the casual player.

I am also very glad that they highlighted the "Blue Book" line of mortals in the WoD so prominently. Nothing is here that is not in the main rulebook. It's a straight-up ghost story free of vampires and the like. There is one template-level character as a non-player character but since players only deal with his ghost it remains a mortals-only game.

Another aspect that improves upon my Changeling quickstart is that the story is presenting in White Wolf's Storyteller Adventure Series (SAS) format with scenes nicely plotted out with non-linear gameplay figured in. The story itself is solid. It's hard to break free from the pack when it comes to haunted house stories but the author presents a number of suggestions for suspenseful gameplay and ways to amp up the fear and terror. Fear and terror are hard to pull off in a game and ghost stories are timeless so it is hard to make them unique and gripping but a good Storyteller should be able to pull it off. Many of the suggestions I saw expanded upon in Glimpses of the Unknown (released later the same year) so that purchase may also be worth your time.

The pre-generated characters were all interesting as well as the allied NPCs. The antagonists were a little one dimensional but which ravening ghosts aren't? You can always improve upon the backstory if you think you can come up with something better. I can see where some players might feel a bit railroaded by the plot as you cannot leave the haunted manor after the start of gameplay but that's a common enough trope in ghost stories of this type. Isolation is a core element.

I would still buy the Core Rulebook if you like what you see here, but for a free download or $4.99 softcover this product really packs a lot of material and is good advertising for White Wolf's brand as a whole.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Nightmare on Hill Manor
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/09/2011 10:43:10
This product offers different takes on playing Werewolf: the Forsaken and is one of the most drastic deconstructions of a game line I've seen. In some cases a setting is offered with suggestions on what stories lend well to that genre, such as coming of age stories. Some "kits" give you different takes on handing systems. Two of them relate directly to Gifts and spirits. In others core concepts, mythology and history relating to Forsaken are cored away. Often it is a complete vivisection and what you are left with is still a werewolf game but is drastically far from the source.

Don't get it twisted, that's not a bad thing. If you have been a true fan of Forsaken these past five years this is your chance for a fresh take. If, like me, you had hesitation to invest in the line this series may change your mind.

It did with me. I've been frustrated for 19 years that this game called Werewolf didn't actually feature lycanthropes. They were shape-shifters. Lycanthropes can't control their change. It's a curse, and really hampers your social life. I wanted to play American Werewolf in London the role-playing game and this was not it. But then unexpectedly comes Forsaken Chronicler's Guide Volume 1, section two "The Cursed" and I had the European legend-inspired monster I had craved for so long. I'm going to play Forsaken for the first time soon because of this product.

You can read the volume descriptions and buy piecemean or just pay ten bucks for the whole thing and get a bargain vs. return on investment of ideas and hours of gameplay. Some of the ideas are sedate. Some of them are extreme and really bring the "game of savage horror" theme. A minority were kind of duds in my mind but your tastes may vary. There was at least one in every volume I found enjoyable and some that made me call up my friends and rave about them.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 3: To Transform
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/08/2011 12:39:55
Full disclosure: I have never played Forsaken nor fully read the core book but I am familiar enough to give an unbiased outsider’s perspective.

The Forsaken Chronicler’s Guide Volume 3 is in many ways the less drastic of the four; instead of kits altering rules what you have are deviations from the usual chronicle outlines. The first offering, Hunting Grounds: Ancient Sumer by Chuck Wendig brings a lot of nostalgia for me since it is feels like homage to the First City of Masquerade first edition. The player’s pack is anonymously mailed a very, very old fetish mud brick. The spirit whispers of long-buried ancestral memories of the dawn of civilization. It whispers at first, but then urges to unite it with other brinks becomes more tempting.

The Dog-Kings of Sumer; we’re talking Fertile Crescent where the in thing to wear was linen and farming was a hip new innovation that all the kids were trying. This brick opens up the narrative technique of a flashback parallel story where half the action takes place in the modern World of Darkness and the other in ancient Sumer where Forsaken lived in the open as venerated and feared warrior kings of human and spirit and outnumbered the unrefined bestial Pure. Players create characters for this time period and will find it’s a very different place game mechanically and socially.

What comes next is s sort of compact SAS chronicle. How did these Sumerian Dog-Kings live and what caused their downfall and the scattering of the ziggurat’s bricks? In the parallel story what should the characters do once they experience these visions? Attempt to contact other packs and assemble the bricks together, reforming the temple? And where, in war-torn Iraw? How about political factions wary of this idea? Do you take them by force for the greater good and grandeur of the Forsaken as a whole?

In Everything You Ever Wanted by Filamena Young the taboo against sex with other Uratha is tossed to the wayside letting you ponder what that would mean to werewolf society. It makes them more like wolves, obviously. There often are mated pairs and infidelity amongst the pack. Now make those wolves Uratha and you’ve got a ton of juicy interpersonal conflict. Moreover, you can pair this with the Coming of Age kit from Volume 1 and you’ve got some really good possibilities. Lycanthropy is metaphorically linked to both violence and SEX after all, as well as change (such as puberty). Young gives a lot of suggestions for romance plots or relationship conflicts. I dig the way Renown can shape what sort of lover you are. Finally Uratha get what Kindred have had for some time, Customized Social Combat Rules. Nice.

John Kennedy finishes out the volume with Packs United, giving the Hunter: the Vigil trend to Werewolf in the form of tiers of influence. Tribes and Lodges are the highest authority Forsaken players are used to, but what if political Conclaves were added over them? Some might balk and hiss that this makes their beloved Uratha more like vampires but it’s worth a shot for variety. Be brave, Player Six. Uratha are partly human after all, and humans crave assemblage and factions and argument in large amounts but here with a definite werewolf flavor.

Now what kind of stories could you tell if you used all three, wherein a mystery about bringing Sumerian grandeur and power back to the Tribes unfolds through argument and ceremonial battles for honor in the Forsaken Conclaves hampered by the love (and sex) histories between the movers and shakers. Baby, you've got a stew going.

I do have complaints. Again the Chronicles offers a character type that demands a customized character sheet so you don’t have to scribble all over the standard version. But none was provided so you’ll need to pester creative types in the fan community. What is good about these alternate takes at the game is none of them require rules conversion homework that is not provided in the book. Some light reading on Sumerian culture and history would really help.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 3: To Transform
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 4: To Rip Asunder
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/07/2011 15:35:31
Full disclosure: I have never played Forsaken though I have been in mixed games with Uratha players. I played Apocalypse over a decade ago; I have read the basics on Forsaken and very much approve. I can give sort of an outsiders opinion here.

I’ve really enjoyed reading through the Forsaken Chronicler’s Guide volumes and I hope White Wolf continues the trend of not only serializing content but being daring enough to really demolish one of their core game lines and encourage the empowered players to play their games in new bizarre ways. The Guides offer optional kits where the concepts involved with Forsaken are tinkered with, deconstructed or right out ripped asunder as in this volume. Each kit runs about a half dozen or so pages so clever storyteller shouldn’t feel intimidated to take their own ideas and make their own kits based on player and storyteller tastes and inspirations.

Volume 4 serves up the strongest salvo first with Chuck Wendig’s The Wild Children. Friends: can you see yourself sitting down at a gaming table knowing nothing of Werewolf: the Forsaken but then your buddy educates by yammering about Pangaea and Father Wolf being murdered and this somehow causing problems and blah, blah. WHATEVER! I thought this was a game with WEREWOLF in the title. When can my character crush some dude’s windpipe like a heart of celery and then work on getting LAID? Then this is the kit for you, chummer.

Take Forsaken and jettison most of the bulk. Bye backstory. Who needs tribes when you have the pack? The Wild Children aren’t even werewolves and don’t change forms, but they have Primal Urge and use it to pop claws and fangs like old-school Masquerade vampires. Unlike vampires their intense hunger comes from a deep wolfish spiritual ferocity. My favorite standout of Volume 1: To Isolate was The Moon’s Curse which featured a werewolf closer to the European origin myths. Here the inspiration is closer to the violent humans who inspired the werewolf myth; Gothic-punk as in the barbarian Goths. The Wild Child has Renown, a few Gifts, Primal Urge and Essence but their Auspices are aligned with their Vice. This means your powerstat is powered by your sins; you’re a complete bastard driven by your darkest urges. One of the illustrations in this kit features a bodacious Frank Frazetta-inspired female having sex with a man who is lies on a bed of corpses. If you think this is AWESOME you need to buy this product. The saving grace of this kit is suggestions on how to run a game like this that truly takes the motto “a game of savage horror” literally and transcend it into pathos rather than an elaborate rape and violence fantasy. Wild Children still have Harmony after all and must police their bestial nature. I personally wouldn’t want to run more than a few sessions since I don’t require something to DIE in the PIT to have a good time; but those few I would play would be EPIC.

All Good Gifts is next, an alternate look at Gifts by Matthew McFarland. As short as it is this is the best constructed of the kits. The ranking system is tossed out and means Uratha attain gifts is altered; they have to be freely given so each Gift is a roleplaying opportunity. While de-ranked they are reclassified under Renown categories so the various Tribes can choose based on their natures. After some storytelling advice it is all capped off by a two-page SAS scene taken from the plot of the opening fiction blurb, which was lovely. I like it. Make your players work for their stats.

The Emergent Beast by Stew Wilson is the most drastic. Most of the rules in the World of Darkness Rulebook and Werewolf: the Forsaken are tossed aside and replaced with a system based on Renown. It might require a lot of work to translate game information into this system, meaning homework as it is just the concept provided with a few examples. But the reward is that it is a simple system that actually Rewards your characters for Acting Like Uratha since the best way to become more powerful is by gaining more Renown. It is a down and dirty system. Sound like fun?

Finally, The Family (also by Wilson) removes the Shadow and all that goes with it, replacing its importance by emphasizing the pack dynamic. There still are tribes but without the Hisil and ol’ Father Wolf they boil down to their archetypal roles. Gaining and earning of trust is extremely important because banishment from your pack would be like being cut off from the Shadow in a straight Forsaken game.

Yeah I’ll go and recommend this volume for the price per possible hours of entertainment and variety of ideas is outstanding. Only thing that bummed me was a lack of supporting materials; a fan-made Emergent Beast character sheet would be really handy for instance but I can see how page count and deadlines precluded it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 4: To Rip Asunder
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Glimpses of the Unknown
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/05/2011 07:07:21
Glimpses of the Unknown crystalizes what differentiates the new World of Darkness from the old. If the World of Darkness core rulebook and its various supplements could be seen as a college-level education on how to portray a unique chronicle using the Storyteller System, World of Darkness: Mirrors would be the graduate course, then Glimpses of the Unknown is sort of a masters thesis.

The old World of Darkness was wonderful, but too many things were spelled out. Fans craved it, hell I craved it. I wanted to know what dwelled in every corner of the imaginary gothic-punk world (moreover, who was vampiric price of MY city, or the shadow wars fought over my hometown) and books like A World of Darkness, Rage Across the World, and pretty much all of the "splat books" provided that detail to the point were nearly everything under the Moon could be tied to one or another of the main supernatural groups; some, like in the case of Rasputin many at once. It's not evil by design. We loved unwieldily metaplot back in the Clinton administration; Babylon 5 was still on the air. This kind of thing was great at first, but then grew clown shoes.

The new World of Darkness inverted this trend. They have not only refused canonical origins for vampires and werewolves and the like but what sold me, stubborn veteran, on the system was reading the fiction chapter in the core rulebook and having this strange feeling when I couldn't place any of the stories into any of the game lines. It was a strange feeling for a White Wolf player.

What Glimpses of the Unknown provides is tools toward continuing this trend. It's all in the title. "Glimpses": Nothing will be spelled out or spoon-fed to you. "Unknown": there are genuine mysteries that defy explanation.

It starts off with quite a barbed piece of microfiction, a Hunter gone wrong (a Wendig joint I'd stake my life on it) then quickly sets out the nature of the book. Four pages are devoted to each and every setting for new World of Darkness including the Blue Books giving a few story "seeds" which are ideas that can be thrown into your existing chronicle to add intrigue or tension, "plotlines" give you a full potential story arch or at least a skeleton upon which you can add whatever flesh you wish followed by new game mechanics. The new setting material for World of Darkness for instance gives suggestions for Unnatural Phenomena such as ball lightning or cold spots. The latter is most often associated with ghosts to be sure but not necessarily.

What makes this a particular treat is that when I say all the game lines get four pages I mean ALL the game lines. As a Changeling: the Lost fan I was tickled pink, but I can imagine the diehard Promethean fan will be overjoyed. That limited series hasn't had a new release since 2007, if you don't count the pre-generated characters. Even World of Darkness: Innocents gets a fair shot, a line that only received a single core book and one Storyteller Adventure System release.

I'll single out the Lost section since it's pretty much my jam. All six of the seeds I would not hesitate to toss into my chronicle, there's a new Goblin Contract that fits right into changeling society and adds welcome-yet-non-essential crunch to a social convention and the two plotlines are gripping, interesting ideas that give you a jumping-off point and gives you the slack to take it in any direction you like. Or the direction players guide you.

As pointed out in the text these seeds and plotlines are not exclusive either. "Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat" from the Lost section can be combined with "The Cat That Isn't a Cat" from Created, or "The Con" from Requiem ported over to Awakening and so on. What is really neat and a proper close to the book is the World of Darkness: Mirrors section at the tail end of the book that gives you suggestions on combining all three Shards into one plot "The Dark Fantasy Destroyer, Revealed". How could you not have a barrel of rabid screaming monkeys fun with that ride?

If you've got jaded characters, know-it-alls who have read all the books or just want to tell a new story Glimpses of the Unknown gives you great suggestions for coloring outside the lines.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Glimpses of the Unknown
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 2: To Rebuild
Publisher: White Wolf
by Scott R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/13/2011 15:34:40
Full disclosure: I have never played Forsaken not read all the way through the core Forsaken book, though I am aware of the concepts and themes.

Volume two in this series further expands on toolbox options for your werewolf games. The theme of the first volume was to isolate and now we are to rebuild core concepts for tweaking and refining.

The first kit involves Uratha's role as supreme hunters of spirits and expands on rules given in the Appendix of the core book. In addition to merely consuming the Essence of the spirit if you engage it in the Sacred Hunt rite and take it down you can gain additional benefits. The swiftness of a hare can be translated into a boost in Speed for a few scenes. Taking down an elk or moose spirit would give benefits to Health or Stamina, perhaps. If you conduct the rite on a spirit not within the natural ecology of wolves' prey things go sideways pretty fast. You might get a fleetness boost from ‘eating’ a motorcycle spirit, for instance but emit noxious carbon monoxide exhaust for a few days. I think this is the strongest kit in this volume but I was left unclear on details. For instance coercing a spirit into taking part in the Hunt capital H involves a contested roll or a spirit may submit to it voluntarily. Why would they ever do that? Some kind of Faustian bargain perhaps? I’ll chalk this up to my lack of knowledge of the New World of Darkness spirit world. I’m far better read on Changeling, but I doubt I’ll be reviewing a new Lost product anytime soon. The metaphysical concepts are pretty solid as are the crunch mechanics and I can see this leading to a lot of interesting roleplaying. I particularly liked the NPC in this section, a werewolf who consumed too many of the wrong kind of spirits and became Su’ur. He’s pretty scary.

The next section is werewolf Fight Club. Yeah. It presents a scenario where Loci loose essence all over the world leading to an orgy of Uratha infighting and the only way to put a stop to it was formalization and creating a lore around what you can and cannot do in a challenge. Werewolf boxing, werewolf mixed martial arts and wrestling, there is even a ritual and ceremony for werewolf chiefs in culinary competitions. If you’re a fan of sports you might be able to get some good gameplay out of this kit but if not it seems kind of silly. I can see the utility if you are of the right mindset. As a Trinity Universe fan I certainly did not balk at the tounge-in-cheek Aberrant wrestling circuit supplement.

The third kit centers around the doomed fight, providing shades of Werewolf: the Apocalypse. The spirit world becomes a desolate wasteland so spirits have been escaping en masse to the material world and in some locations nearly one in ten humans is Ridden or some other spirit-haunted creature. Uratha have been pushed back to the fringes of civilization, few dare to form a resistance in the cities to take down as many as possible before being slain themselves. I rather liked this one, it was a bit more evocative than Apocalypse while still firmly retaining its Forsaken feel. It might become a bit too bleak after a certain point but if you want a chronicle with a lot of action it is a good choice.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 2: To Rebuild
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