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Action Scenes: Museum Mayhem (ICONS)
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:27:32
A lunatic curator has taken hostages in a museum, and wants to transform himself into an Egyptian-inspired demigod. Can the heroes prevent the ritual and save the day—or, if necessary, take down a new demigod once the ritual is complete? That’s the story behind “Museum Mayhem,” the first “Action Scene” product from Vigilance Press. As the singular “scene” implies, the product essentially presents one encounter, although the players’ choices and the heroes’ actions could actually stretch it out to two or three distinct encounters. The authors have taken care to anticipate a variety of possible player responses to the situations presented, and they’ve given the GM several ready-made options for adjusting the encounter on the fly.

A substantial number of new NPCs populate this adventure, from the big bad guy (in both “superheroic” and “demigod” modes) down to his lowliest minions (who include cultists, animated museum mannequins, and mummies). The module also includes stat blocks for three clusters of NPCs—government troopers, robots, and ninjas—that aren’t involved in the actual adventure but that illustrate the possibilities of the new Summon power presented in the module. The Summon power alone is worth the purchase of this product, and I’m sure that the Summon power will find its way into the ICONS campaign world that I share with my sons.

Unfortunately, the copy editor(s) let a number of errors and inconsistencies slip by. Those errors (including subject-verb disagreements, extra or duplicated punctuation marks, missing punctuation marks, missing space between paragraphs, slight capitalization and spelling mistakes, and a single, initially confusing reference to the “Minion” power rather than the “Summon” power) don’t inhibit use of the product for gameplay, but when you’re averaging one to two such errors per page, you need better proofreading. Also, I was perplexed by the positioning of the coat check at the opposite end of the museum from the front entrance. A coat check normally goes near the front entrance; you don’t want patrons traipsing through the museum in soggy raincoats to get to it (never mind the potential for theft). But these are minor annoyance rather than serious problems, and I enthusiastically recommend “Museum Mayhem” for all ICONS GMs, and even players interested in the Summon power.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Action Scenes: Museum Mayhem (ICONS)
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Alien Planets
Publisher: Wydraz
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:26:09
This product is basically a stock art book featuring ten alien (from an Earthling’s point of view) planets. Each planet has been given a name and a brief description, though of course you need not fee bound to these. The pictures are attractive, but the author seems to have emphasized an exotic feel rather than realism or verisimilitude as far as habitable planets go. Also, you’d think that proofreading a product with so little text would be easy, but even the “front cover” exhibits very odd if not outright erroneous capitalization, and the abbreviation “RPG” becomes “PRG” after the front cover. The low price is a point in the product’s favor, though.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Alien Planets
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Alien Sci-Fi Space Scenes
Publisher: Wydraz
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:25:10
This product is basically a stock art book featuring twenty-one space scenes, usually of a planet with some kind of natural or artificial satellite. The scenes are colorful and most are attractive, although the rendering of the artificial satellites/spaceships is “chunky,” resulting in 12-sided polygons where you’d expect to see circles. Also, several of the space stations are nearly identical, although presumably developed by different cultures, while others are obviously rearrangements of the same basic components as one another. These weaknesses are counterbalanced by the low price, though.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Alien Sci-Fi Space Scenes
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Fantastic Maps: The Sand Dragon Inn
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:23:17
The maps are well drawn in Jonathan Robert’s signature style, and I want to like the set, but the map confuses me. I just don’t know what I’m looking at. This is one printable map product that really needs a key of some sort.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Maps: The Sand Dragon Inn
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ICONS: Gangbusters!
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:21:55
The term “gangbusters” conjures up thoughts of organized crime, while the term “gang” by itself evokes street-level crime. Bring these two realms together, toss in some super-science weaponry, and you have the ingredients for this ICONS adventure by Chris McGroarty and Dan Houser. The plot unfolds in three straightforward acts, which together offer opportunities for action, interaction, and investigation. It’s a pretty linear adventure, with fairly blatant use of NPCs to keep the PCs on track. This makes the adventure a little “railroady,” but also makes it a good adventure for an inexperienced GM to run, since the plot, though fun, is linear and uncomplicated. It’s also a fairly short adventure; the actual storyline only requires only twelve pages, with the villain’s stat blocks accounting for five more and five presenting the pregenerated characters.

The frequency of grammatical errors (mostly related to punctuation) is embarrassing, as is the inconsistent reference to “magical artifacts” on p. 14 while the rest of the adventure focuses on super-science tech. Dan Houser’s vibrant artwork brings the adventure to life, though I wish more of it depicted the bad guys than the pregenerated heroes (the Storm Agency, who also appear in Hero Pack 3).

In the end, this adventure is good, but not great; I recommend it, but I can’t really “rave” about it.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS: Gangbusters!
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USHER Dossiers (ICONS)
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2012 11:18:20
Weighing in at a whopping 137 pages, this sweeping book outlines an entire world history for an Earth populated by metahumans. It’s really the only product of its kind for ICONS. The first part of the book presents a timeline of metahuman activity in the world. It’s a lush, detailed history, although there are some inexplicable (even by comic book logic), such as Menagerie’s use of electronics in 14,000 BCE; this isn’t just an issue of knowledge (which can somewhat be waved away using superpowers) but of manufacturing infrastructure. Even so, the timeline is a fun read and a great background for a superhero campaign set in the players’ present or near future. I especially enjoyed the incorporation of developments on other planets and the way they are drawn into contact with Earth events. Naturally, the timeline incorporates material from Vigilance Press’s “Amazing Stories of World War II” series (but not its Cold War “Wargames” series), and even incorporates Jason Tondro, author of Vigilance Press’s “Field Guide to Superheroes” series, as a character within the storyline. The timeline ends in 2007, two years after the world’s known superheroes have driven off a briefly-successful alien invasion. That timeline, by the way, occupies over half of the entire book.

The second part of the book surveys a number of organizations composed of and/or relevant to metahumans. Naturally, USHER receives the most attention, and is pretty thoroughly explored.

Time travel and parallel dimensions have become standard tropes of superhero comics, and the USHER setting book includes a list and discussion of “known alternate timelines.” This does not, of course, preclude the existence of “unknown alternate timelines” for the GM to create!

The last 25 pages or so present character stats and stories for significant metahumans in the USHER setting. For some reason, this part of the book indulges—quite unnecessarily—in an abundance of profanity. The sudden explosion of expletives in this section really turned me off to the product. I can see no good reason why Old Glory and the Savant, two very important characters in the setting, should drop almost a dozen F-bombs between them over the course of half that many pages. With the turn of a page, the book goes from typical comic book fare to a Lewis Black routine. As the parent of two sons (ages fourteen and eight, as of this writing) who want to take turns GMing ICONS, I wish publishers would put some sort of warning label on products that go this direction, in sort of the same vein as the Marvel/MAX and DC/Vertigo distinctions, or like the voluntary “explicit” labels on music and podcasts. This isn’t enough of an issue to impact the star rating below, but a “heads up” to parents (and prudes) would be helpful.

Occasional glitches mar the production values here and there, or seem to. The note “Pic -- two b/w hero pics (photo style)” on p. 4 (of the PDF; the pages aren’t actually numbered) is confusing, and seems to be an editorial instruction to insert a picture—an instruction that wasn’t actually followed and ended up in the final edition. Such a long work presents many opportunities for grammatical errors and such; sure enough, it’s hard to go a page without encountering a misplaced comma, an appositional phrase lacking its final comma, an adjective used where an adverb is needed, a dangling modifier, inconsistent or incorrect capitalization, an anomalous line break (or missing blank line between paragraphs), an incomplete sentence, misspellings (even of proper nouns unique to the setting), and that sort of thing. Probably the most embarrassing mistake in the book appears in the organizations chapter, where USHER’s name is given in the relevant page title as the “United Headquarters for Emergency Response”—leaving out the “S” for “States.” On the other hand, Dan Houser’s artwork is excellent, as always, and other artists contribute some good material to the book as well.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
USHER Dossiers (ICONS)
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2e Adventure Tiles: Dungeon Expansion 02
Publisher: SkeletonKey Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 19:06:55
This expansion set, done SKG’s new “2e” style (with stone walls instead of thick black lines, for example), focuses on a large circular chamber about 60 feet in diameter (on a square grid, at 5 ft. per square). It takes nine tiles to build a circle using these layouts; there are ten different “side” tiles, two different center tiles, and eight different “corner” tiles (although there are two pairs of “corner” tiles in which the differences are so minimal that they make no difference). With the number of variations given, you can create a wide variety of circular chambers. Four of the “corner” tiles and four of the “side” tiles include exit points. One of the “side” tiles features a dragon statue (?) on a pedestal, and one of the “center” tiles features a kind of altar or something with dragonic motifs. The tiles are well done, as usual for SKG, and it’s a good addition to your SKG library.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
2e Adventure Tiles: Dungeon Expansion 02
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43 Space Opera Adventure Seeds - Space Opera Support #6
Publisher: Polgarus Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 19:06:32
As the product name states, author Jason Anderson gives us here 43 adventure seeds for “space opera” games. Almost all of them could easily be adapted for Star Wars, Traveller, Star Trek, even Serenity or Farscape. If you run any game where travel to various planets is common, you’ll find something useful here. Editor Sarah Badcock let a noticeable number of grammatical errors (mostly having to do with punctuation, such the apostrophe that went missing from “planets starports” on p. 1) make it into the finished product—enough of them got through to annoy a careful reader, but not enough to impede the product’s usefulness.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
43 Space Opera Adventure Seeds - Space Opera Support #6
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650 Fantasy City Encounter Seeds & Hooks
Publisher: RoleplayingTips.com
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 19:06:01
This product delivers exactly what the title says, and it’s free! Even if you use only a fraction of the 650 encounter seeds, you’ve gotten your money’s worth!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
650 Fantasy City Encounter Seeds & Hooks
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Critter Cache 1: Big Bugs
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 19:05:00
The creatures presented in this bestiary are, for the most part, real-world creatures that have been vastly enlarged and, in some cases, given some kind of fantasy twist. Despite the name, some of the creatures presented are not really insects, but I suppose that “Oversized Invertebrates” would have made a less satisfying title. The product exhibits good production values, typical for Goodman/Blackdirge products. The artwork appears to be all-new, produced specifically for this product. The content is well-written and the creatures are useful, but as the supplement was published in 2008, the monsters predate Monster Manual 3 and may require some updating for best results.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Critter Cache 1: Big Bugs
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Critter Cache 2: Prehistoric Beasts
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 19:04:43
If the official D&D Monster Manuals leave your Isle of Dread feeling a little underpopulated, pick up this supplement and flesh out your ecosystem a bit. Twenty-six prehistoric beasts—not just dinosaurs—populate these pages. Following WotC’s lead, author Aeryn Rudel names dinosaurs “behemoths,” so that a ceratosaurus becomes a “devilsnout behemoth” and a tyrannosaurus becomes a “tyrantfang behemoth.” Five of the creatures are aquatic, great for encounters on the way to the Isle of Dread (or wherever); there are also three varieties of flying reptiles or “leatherwings.” The artwork is fantastic, though some of it—signed “Burgard” and dated six or seven years before the publication of Critter Cache 2—may be reused from Broncosaurus Rex (I’m not sure about this). Critter Cache 2 was published in 2008, considerably before Monster Manual 3, so DMs may want to look at updating the monster math used in CC2 before the PCs meet these classic real-world beasts in play.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Critter Cache 2: Prehistoric Beasts
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One Dollar Dungeon: Paladin's Secluded Citadel Map Pack
Publisher: D20 Cartographer
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 19:04:06
Despite what the cover mistakenly says, this product doesn’t provide a “massive seven story wizard’s tower map.” Oops. Instead, it’s a monastery-like complex; the maps depict both exterior and interior views. Putting the whole thing together requires 52 tiles (each tile is square, 7" to a side). The artwork is very well done. The product includes JPGs for virtual tabletop use, but it could also have used a key.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
One Dollar Dungeon: Paladin's Secluded Citadel Map Pack
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The tomb of the Fallen Angel
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 19:03:26
This “battlemap” is really a complete small dungeon at 1" = 5 ft. scale. The tomb itself is a fairly large room, but there are half a dozen or so other rooms/encounter areas included. The “information” file includes a key, but it’s written in very poor English, and although some of the bits are easy to decipher (“expiration” instead of “exit”), some are not (“Does not release his sword till then while his relics were not sent to him by the teleport”). The maps are beautifully drawn and richly detailed; the staircase map offers some slight customization via PDF layers. This product doesn’t include the isometric maps that add so much to some of LZW’s other products; I state this not as a complaint, but as a point of information.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The tomb of the Fallen Angel
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WINTERHAWK: Orc Watchtower
Publisher: Fat Dragon Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2012 18:53:24
The design of this five-level tower (counting the roof as the top level) is really very clever. When it’s fully assembled, you have an attractive tower exterior, but the interiors are all represented as well, so you can take off a floor at a time as the PCs descend, or add a floor at a time as the PCs ascend. Of course, this excellence in design translates into a need for a low intermediate level of skill and a high level of patience in putting everything together. There are lots of nice little touches, like a throne and a signal tower, and don’t forget to check out the options in the PDF layers!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
WINTERHAWK: Orc Watchtower
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T-Builder - SWAMP
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2012 00:16:45
Start with a square (six inches to a side) of mud and grass, then layer in paths, water, graves, trees, and various other objects (including a Cthulhu statue) to create an immense variety of swamp tiles with T-Builder: Swamp. The LZW crew produces great artwork, and here they leverage the power of PDF layers to give you all the options listed before, and more. They’ve even included a clever “hide the corner” layer to give your water and path squares a more organic look. The artwork and use of PDF technology is top-notch. The instructions, written in English, contain many grammatical errors and awkward constructions, which occasionally creates some minor confusion, but not to the point where you can’t use the T-builder.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
T-Builder - SWAMP
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