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Ambient Environments - Foreign Marketplace
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2014 18:30:24
Despite the vague and unfortunate "foreign" in the title, this track does a good job of capturing an eclectic bazaar. Vendors haggle with customers, babies cry, donkeys bray, birds squawk, and a general hubbub immerses listeners in the marketplace. This would be a good track to use, for example, during the opening scene of the "Murder in Baldur's Gate" adventure or any other time such a market is featured. The soundscape is flexible enough to serve in fantasy, pulp, or modern games equally well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Foreign Marketplace
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Ambient Environments - Dwarven City (with music)
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 14:05:16
I wrote the following review of the original "Dwarven City" soundscape from Ambient Environments: "This does not sound like a very friendly place! 'Duergar City' might be more like it. Barking dogs give you the sense that you're not really welcome here. Gruff voices, soft cries, and the sounds of pickaxes working away at ore deposits might give you the sense of slave labor. The track is pretty well done and relatively non-intrusive, even with the voices. But I don't see myself using it that often, unless the PCs at my table get captured by dark dwarf slavers or something like that." This product is the same track enhanced with orchestral-type music. The music is very well done, and gives the whole thing a very cinematic flair. I would definitely be more likely to use the "with music" version. But the tone is still ominous, befitting a place where the workers are slaves or the entire community is very much down on its luck. Still, the music adds enough depth and texture for me to give this one an extra star compared to the non-music version.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Dwarven City (with music)
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Ambient Environments - Desert Winds
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 13:56:03
This track is dominated, of course, by the sound of wind. It mostly sounds like someone left a microphone out during a sandstorm—which, of course, is the point of the track. In the background, you can barely hear some instrumental music with a Middle Eastern feel. The overall effect is very nice, though I could stand for the musical accents to be louder. The track is a good addition to the Ambient Environments catalog, but there is no "wow" factor to it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Desert Winds
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Ambient Environments - Dead Swamp
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 01:19:27
There is a striking mismatch between the title of this track, "Dead Swamp," and the first sounds you hear, which are sounds of life (crickets and frogs). In fact, crickets and frogs, along with birds and some other vague sounds that might be footfalls, are mostly what you hear throughout the entire track. The sense of "swampiness" comes only from the bubbling sounds you hear during the seventh minute of this track, and from a splash in the ninth minute—a splash that might be an alligator sliding into the water. If you listen to the track thinking "swamp," you hear a swamp. If you don't have that preconceived notion, you could be on an oilfield, out in the prairie, next to a placid lake, and so on. The name doesn't fit, but you can use the soundscape to good effect for a living ecosystem near just about any body of fresh water.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Dead Swamp
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Ambient Environments - Cult Worshippers
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 01:07:11
This track starts out very creepy, almost scary, with very deeply-pitched vocals that sound like they might come from some otherworldly entity. Then the track goes quiet, lapsing into a long stretch that sometimes gets near to silence but mostly exhibits very quiet vocals and ethereal sounds. It remains eerie, especially when all the sounds but the voices stop and you continue to hear this ominous chanting. Honestly, this one is almost too spooky and fairly disturbing—which means, I think that evokes exactly the feeling it's supposed to evoke.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Cult Worshippers
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Ambient Environments - Civil War Battle
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 00:54:56
Rifle and canon fire, the shouts of soldiers, and even the occasional sounding of a bugle combine to very effectively evoke the sense of the 19th-century US Civil War. The only thing that detracts from the scene is the occasional whistling, which comes off as a tad too jaunty for the scene. Also, the volume level seems to be noticeably lower than that of other Ambient Environments soundscapes. At any rate, this soundscape meets its goal very admirably.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Civil War Battle
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Ambient Environments - Car Chase
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 18:59:11
This tracks jumps right into the middle of the action—as it should, for a background loop—with a car engine running at a pretty high RPM, followed shortly by the squealing of tires. There's even some breaking glass and such to show the speeding car's effect on its environment. It's a fun track that certainly puts listeners right inside the car, though it's up to you and the story whether that's the getaway car or the car in hot pursuit. There's quite a lot of gunfire in the track, which actually limits your options a bit. Some of the gunfire is rather high-pitched, almost implying "laser bullets," so you could probably use this track in a near-future chase as well as a modern chase. You can't take this back very far into the past, though. Even the 1920s (think Call of Cthulhu) would not support cars that sound like this. I did not notice any sirens in the soundscape, so you're not locked into having the police involved in the chase. I think I'd like to hear a version without the gunfire, but otherwise, I consider this a great track for modern urban scenarios, including superhero games.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Car Chase
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Ambient Environments - Burning Building
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 18:48:35
Flames—which sound surprisingly similar to river rapids—surround the listener, as the sounds of falling wooden beams and shattering glass let you know that the building is in bad shape. The presence of shattering glass does limit your options somewhat in the time periods or kinds of buildings you can use with this track. For example, it might fit with a fantasy-medieval cathedral, palace, or wizardry school, but not with the town mill or farmer Grizzle's barn (to hearken back to one of the earliest scenarios I used to introduce D&D to my older son). All in all, I think a modern setting feels like a better fit. Of course, you could also play this track in the background while playing Flash Point; gaming background loops don't have to be just for RPGs.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Burning Building
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ICONS: The Nemesis Crisis
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 13:11:36
If you enjoy comics series along the lines of Marvel's "Secret Wars" or "Contest of Champions," DC's "Salvation Run," or BOOM!'s "Deathmatch," you should be able to have a blast with "The Nemesis Crisis." The storyline revisits some well-worn ground—cosmic being "kidnaps" metahumans for a sort of contest—but with enough distinctiveness in the cosmic antagonist's motivation to keep the story interesting. It's particularly notable that author and artist Dan Houser includes guidance for giving the adventure a tone appropriate to the Golden, Silver, Iron, or Modern Age in comics.

It's not quite right to call "The Nemesis Crisis" an "adventure" in the traditional sense. By design, it's really more of a framework for an adventure. Dan gives the GM a lot of information about the antagonist's and deuteragonist's motivations, which of course is absolutely critical. Beyond this, the meat of the plot information for GMs comes in the form of a timeline describing what happens if the player characters do nothing. Since the whole scenario stretches out over a week of in-game time, this is a good format. What it lacks is sufficient information for inexperienced or harried GMs to know how the deuteragonist will respond if the PCs do not remain idle, which of course they won't. As a GM with little prep time and, frankly, below-average improvisational skills, I would have appreciated an additional sentence or two for each entry in the timeline, something like "If foiled, [deuteragonist] will …" This isn't a damning weakness, but I'd call it a significant missed opportunity.

Production values vary depending on what you're looking at. Dan's artwork is, as always, evocative and entertaining. As a writer, Dan's strength is in conceptualizing stories, not in wordsmithing. The prose has a rushed quality to it. Grammatical errors, typos, and such are not infrequent. Some of this can be written off as a "conversational tone," but some can create annoyance or confusion. For example, the cosmic antagonist is called "Justicar," and while the name clearly derives from the English word "justiciar," it's not clear whether the spelling "Justicar" is an intentional variation or a mere misspelling. Also, for somebody so interested in justice, it's laughable that Justicar at one point refers to "not guilty" as a "sentence." There's also a disruptive column-wrap error in Derecha's stat block. But these things are all GM-facing, and only affect the aesthetic experience of reading the module, not the play experience at the table.

"The Nemesis Crisis" is envisioned as a "big crossover event," like DC's "Forever Evil" or Marvel's "Original Sin" (to cite two recent examples). To get this "big crossover event" feel, you'll need a very large selection of supervillains, and you may want to have your players adopt the rules of multiple superheroes, either in big teams where players run multiple characters at once, or in successive "meanwhile, elsewhere on the planetoid" scenes. Therefore, the "event" works best if you have easy access to Hero Pack 5 (the Hero Pack volume with the most substantial supervillain population) and/or the Villainomicon. By the way, "The Nemesis Crisis" is written with the original ICONS rules set in mind, but it's not hard to adjust on the fly to the Assembled Edition—in fact, I don't think you'll even notice the difference, except for the way qualities are written.

In sum, "The Nemesis Crisis" is an ambitious scenario that can easily bring the "big crossover event" feel to an ICONS gaming table. It's well worth the price, and worth the time to run, for what it pays you back in fun. It does, however, require an additional source of supervillains to be most effective.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS: The Nemesis Crisis
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Ambient Environments - Biomechanical Satellite Interior
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 11:35:25
Right off the bat, the "bio-" is implied by a wet, squishy sound and the "-mechanical" by a constant low-pitched thrum. Later on, the thrum is joined by beeps that sound like they might be coming from some kind of control panel. I think I hear footfalls as well. I picture a group of space travelers walking through muck on a spaceship they've boarded, only to realize to their horror that the muck is living tissue. The track suggests a sort of creepier version of certain scenes from the Star Trek: The Next Generation pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint." I could easily imagine using this track for certain kinds of CthulhuTech, Delta Green, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr. Who scenarios. If you're setting an RPG scene in a venue where creepy biomass and high technology meet, consider using this track to add immersion.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Biomechanical Satellite Interior
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Ambient Environments - Arctic Excursion 2
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 11:23:55
This track is so similar to "Arctic Excursion" that one might justifiably wonder why Ambient Environments felt the need to add it to their library. It's not that I can't hear any difference; it's just that the small differences I hear don't seem to matter much. The two tracks feel like they have essentially the same elements arranged in a different pattern. "Arctic Excursion 2" may go a bit heavier on the ambient musical tones. I was expecting something more different, and felt let down. Now, with that said, this is a fine track on its own—I just don't think it distinguishes itself enough from "Arctic Excursion" for most DMs to want both. I'd recommend choosing one or other other. I would give this track five stars if it didn't seem as much like a do-over.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Arctic Excursion 2
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Ambient Environments - Arctic Excursion
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 11:11:44
How do you imply an arctic setting with sound? This track does it with wind, and with the occasional avalanche-like tumble of snow and boulders plus the cracking of thick ice. I think you might also be able to hear some dogs (or walruses?) barking in the distance, but I'm not sure about that—which means those particular sounds are subtle enough to imply a vague threat, or a vague hope of assistance. If I'd had this track back when I ran a series of antarctic adventures, I'd likely have used it to help set the mood. Thinking more broadly, you could also use this track for a heavy snowstorm in an urban environment, or perhaps a post-apocalyptic ice age.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Arctic Excursion
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Ambient Environments - Alien Starship (interior)
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 10:50:37
There's a constant low thrum in the background of this track, rhythmic enough to suggest a starship engine. Little beeps and twitters make me think of the control panels on the starship Enterprise, especially in classic and animated Trek. There might also be some robots moving around back there somewhere. Overall, the sound effects are relatively understated; they'll enhance a shipboard scene without getting in the way. I wouldn't suggest using the track to score a combat, as it's too peaceful for that. This track feels better for a diplomatic visit to a working ship, or possibly the exploration of an abandoned alien ship where the mood is one of curiosity rather than threat. It's a solid addition to Ambient Environments' library, a "workhorse" kind of track that can work in a variety of situations, and it does its job well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Alien Starship (interior)
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Ambient Environments - Subway Busy
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 10:35:49
This track basically consists of a bed of white noise overlaid with occasional sounds of footfalls, voices (some comprehensible as PA announcements, others just crowd noise), and metallic sounds (think of a subway train's brakes). It's a pretty good simulation of a subway station with a moderate number of civilians. The footfalls on concrete make it less suitable for a scene taking place in an actual subway car, just to be clear about the setting. In my view, the constant background white noise is a little overdone; it's too loud for my taste, and it doesn't have the rhythmic quality that would simulate the distant rumble of subway trains. Instead, it just sounds like noise, and it detracts from the other sounds. Otherwise, a fine track.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Subway Busy
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Ambient Environments - Subway Abandoned
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/14/2014 15:55:07
This track is characterized by a haunting windlike sound—not quite as monotonous as white noise—overlaid with dripping water, the occasional metallic creak, and rats skittering about and chittering to one another. That's about it. It's dark and desolate, as an abandoned subway tunnel should be. Of course, it doesn't have to be a subway tunnel that your PCs are moving through; this track could just as easily spice up a sparsely-populated fantasy dungeon of the good old "dungeon crawl" kind. I do think the wind/white noise might be a bit too heavy, though. It makes me wonder where that wind is coming from.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Subway Abandoned
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