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Ground set #12 - Crypt
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2012 12:47:11
While some of the early ground sets from Lord Zsezse Works were cookie-cutter boring, this one scores a major success. The base product still offers essentially the same geometries as lower-numbered ground sets in the series, but good use of PDF layers and printable overlay objects brings a really impressive variety to these crypts. Turn the lights on and off, cover the place with spider webs, support the ceiling with columns, or add sarcophagi (not “graves,” as the publisher has it) and various types of containers. The printable overlay objects are not, by the way, redundant with the layers in the customizable tiles. Unfortunately, not all of the cutout objects show in the “Information” PDF actually appear in the PDF that holds the cutout objects. That, and LZW’s need for a good editor to help with the translation English, keep this product from reaching excellence; nevertheless, it’s very good and an unquestionably worthwhile purchase.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ground set #12 - Crypt
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Ground Set #9 - God mountain
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2012 12:45:39
This early offering from LZW fits the pattern of their other low-numbered ground sets: fifteen 6" square tiles with identical backgrounds and varying pathways of a different material. The early sets featured fairly cookie-cutter geometries, with exactly the same layouts populating the various sets, which differed only in the materials used. In this set, the background “material” is clouds, and the foreground material is hard rock. The visual effect is actually very appealing (+1 star for that), but the geometries are very artificial and don’t really feel like a “mountain” at all. You could still use this for artificial stone structures that soar above the clouds, however.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ground Set #9 - God mountain
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Ground Set #5
Publisher: Lord Zsezse Works
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2012 12:44:57
This early offering from LZW fits the pattern of their other low-numbered ground sets: fifteen 6" square tiles with identical backgrounds and varying pathways of a different material. In fact, the pictures on the index match the geometry, but not the materials, on the actual tiles, showing how cookie-cutter those early ground sets were. In this set, the background looks like very dirty or muddy grass, and the foreground material is asphalt. A few of the tiles have lane marker lines, but these are painted inconsistently. Despite that, you should be able to get good use out of these tiles for laying out roadways for a modern or, better, post-apocalyptic game. These tiles would be good for staging Car Wars battles, or an automotive skirmish in Gamma World.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ground Set #5
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Arabian Market
Publisher: DramaScape
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2012 08:40:13
The general layouts of both maps in this product—the Market Quarter and the Poor Quarter—are rather nicely conceived. The execution is good—better than most Dundjinni maps that get offered for sale. However, in the Market Quarter, the relative elevations of several pieces of the map aren’t clear. Also, the maps’ Dundjinni origins reveal themselves not only in the credits, but also in the mixing of different artistic styles within the same map, and those annoyingly yellow grid lines. The Market Square map depicts an open-air market, while the Poor Quarter focuses on rooftops. Unlike most printable map products, this one includes brief descriptions of the areas depicted. You could stage quite a few compelling NPC encounters, chases, and so on on these two maps. The Arabian Market is my first encounter with the Dramascape maps, and it makes me optimistic and curious about the earlier entries in the series.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Arabian Market
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Cyberpunk
Publisher: Sonic Legends
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 17:10:17
I like both parts of this track a good bit, both the lighter sound in the first six minutes and the heavier, guitar-driven two minutes at the end. Both do a good job of evoking a (post)modern, technological, maybe even jacked-in setting. The track loops fairly well, though there is a second or two of silence at the end that you’ll want to trim. The problem is that the two parts of the piece don’t flow together well. The transition between the two parts is fairly abrupt, and the two segments don’t feel the same. I would use the first six minutes for something like a race against time, perhaps while the PCs are being chased or are trying to extract information from a computer system under a strict time limit; the last two minutes would do for a combat or action scene—but I wouldn’t switch the two. The overall effect is fine when you’re just listening for pleasure, but would disrupt an RPG session, I think.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Cyberpunk
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The Last Show on Earth
Publisher: Bailey Records
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 16:27:14
This piece fits squarely in the “warped carnival” niche. I can just picture demented midway games and a demonic “tunnel of hate” ride, cotton candy made of some unmentionable substance, and so forth. I don’t really enjoy listening to this track—which probably means it’s doing its job. If you have a need for such a track, this will fill it. The track has several seconds of silence at the end. If you trim that silence off (which you really shouldn’t have to do yourself), the track will loop without too much of a jarring transition from end to beginning—a very important feature for gaming background music.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Last Show on Earth
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Dark Ritual
Publisher: Sonic Legends
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 16:14:51
The heavy, ominous music in this substantial track well befits the “dark ritual” mentioned in the track’s title. There is a recurring baritone/bass vocal overlay that sounds like somebody chanting an incomprehensible ritual, and I think this works well. However, I think the other vocal gibbering detracts from the piece. Otherwise, it’s a decent score for when the PCs are trying to stop an eldritch ritual in progress—or to complete one before it’s too late. I can only say “decent,” not “good” or better, because there’s such a long lead-in before you get to the actual ritual sounds. That creates a big lull in the action while looping, though iTunes and other jukebox software will let you start and stop the track anywhere so you can customize the loop.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Ritual
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Space Battle
Publisher: Sonic Legends
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 13:51:45
It takes almost two minutes and a big explosion before this track actually gets to the “battle” as such. Once it does, the music is quick and tense, fitting for scoring a space battle. A few laser beam and explosion sound effects crop up, but they don’t overpower the music, and drums rather than explosion sounds give the sense of impact. A few bars here and there reminded me of the music that plays in Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride. About halfway through, xylophones and vintage (read: ’60s–’70s) bleeping control panel sound effects take us briefly inside the ship. While the battle is raging, the music is very exciting and would work well for a gaming background, if you don’t mind the control panel sounds. As of my download, the track ships with 30 seconds of silence at the end, so you’ll need to trim it with a program that edits MP3s or use your jukebox program to set the endpoint earlier (in iTunes, choose File: Get Info, click the Options tab, and change the Stop Time from 9:22.337 to 8:52.337). The track’s bigger problem, though, is that two-minute warmup that I mentioned earlier, matched by a rather abrupt ten-second cool-down at the end. Even after you trim off the extra silence, the track doesn’t loop very well, so unless you can wrap up your entire space battle in about six minutes, you’re going to get some “down time” in your soundtrack—time that is just too peaceful for a space battle. This track would be more useful without that “prologue.”

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Space Battle
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Old Western Town
Publisher: Sonic Legends
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 13:11:10
The style and tone of this piece perfectly capture the feel of a “spaghetti western,” and it’s a lot of fun to listen to. The simple, bouncing piano melody and vocal effects belong inside a saloon or dance hall, where this piece spends most of its time. You’ll probably get the best use from this track if you approach it from that perspective. You wouldn’t want to score a gunfight or any other tense situation with this piece, at it’s far too lighthearted, and almost humorous. Also, I think this piece may have too much of a “storyline” of its own to work well as background music (though it’s a fun listen regardless), but that’s probably a matter of taste.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Old Western Town
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Magical Spell
Publisher: Sonic Legends
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 11:30:12
There’s a lot of cool, mysterious stuff in this piece, but the “tinny” high-pitched notes that carry the “melody” more or less ruin the track for me. The piece does loop well, though, for DMs with a higher tolerance for the “soprano” line.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Magical Spell
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On the Open Sea
Publisher: Sonic Legends
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 11:29:55
I like this piece a lot … but it doesn’t fit its ostensible purpose very well. There’s really too much of a definite beginning and ending, too much emotional variety, too much of a storyline within the piece, for it to score RPG scenes well. During RPG play, you can’t predict when the waves will swell, when the crew drunk will come on board, when an enemy boarding party with threaten. For gaming background music, this piece might not be repetitive enough. I have used it in actual gaming situations, however, and it didn’t seem too disruptive. On the other hand, it’s a great listen by itself, like a whole pirate movie in just 8.5 minutes.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
On the Open Sea
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Villains and Vigilantes
Publisher: Monkey House Games
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:41:21
Okay, the truth is that I really don’t have any intention of running or playing Villains & Vigilantes any time in the near future (as of June 2012 when I wrote this review). But V&V is woven deeply into my gamer DNA, since it was the second RPG I ever learned, after D&D. My interest in this new edition of V&V, then, is primarily rooted in nostalgia and oriented toward learning/borrowing from V&V elements that will help me with the supers RPGs I currently run and play.

On the nostalgia side, it sure is fun to revisit V&V’s random-generation and level-based approach to superhero gaming, though in some ways the fun is bittersweet, since level-based superhero gaming seems so misguided in 2012. What a delight, though, to see all-new artwork by Jeff Dee, much of it depicting old favorite heroes and villains from the original V&V!

With regard to kitbashing V&V for things to use in other supers games, the random adventure outline generator on pp. 36–37 stands out, as does the discussion of the legal system and what happens after a villain is captured, pp. 39–45. V&V even has something I haven’t noticed in any other supers RPG core rulebook: a paragraph of rules for player characters to benefit monetarily from merchandizing. You might want to incorporate V&V’s conceit of having the players play themselves, with the addition of superpowers, into other games that use random power generation—but then again, my cousins, siblings, friends, and I always ignored this rule when we played V&V back in the day and made up fictional identities anyway.

Nowadays, if I were steering a new player toward a superhero game, I would probably steer them toward Icons or Mutants & Masterminds, not toward Villains & Vigilantes. Even in its new form, V&V is, for me, like some of my favorite music from the ’80s: fun to revisit once in a while, but not part of my normal daily routine. But I’m glad to see V&V resuscitated, for all of its fans from the ’80s who want to play it regularly or just once in a while. My four-star rating is really three stars for content plus one for all the great memories.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Villains and Vigilantes
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The Villainomicon
Publisher: Adamant Entertainment
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:40:53
The 52 villains presented in the Villainomicon provide ICONS GMs with a steady stream of antagonists for the players’ heroes. Each villain’s writeup includes full game stats, of course, plus origin story and a few (usually three) plot ideas. The story ideas offer many interesting possibilities for super-villain team-ups or three-way fights: villain vs. villain vs. hero. A few of the villains (including the Killer Gamemaster and Skeletron) appear in published ICONS adventures as well, so the additional caper ideas in the Villainomicon can help GMs plot sequels or prequels for those adventures.

Better even than the villains, in my mind, is the short section of new rules, detailing new specialties, new powers, simple frameworks for catastrophes and disasters, and a few rules variants. The success pyramid has already proven to be a popular and successful addition to the core rules.

Sadly, that infamous and stealthy imp, the Grammar Gremlin, seems to have infested the Villainomicon. Little things like misplaced or missing punctuation marks, double dashes used (inconsistently) instead of hyphens, inconsistent capitalization, extra space between sentences, misspellings (“miniturization,” “firey,” “polinated”), “then” used where “than” is needed, and so on add up. It’s also a bit disconcerting when the text descriptions and pictures don’t match, as when the text describes Earworm as “black and gray” but the picture depicts it as green and purple. Also, the cover shown in the product description (as of June 2012, long after publication) isn’t the actual cover; an update to the promotional imagery wouldn’t hurt.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Villainomicon
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Village Inn
Publisher: Sonic Legends
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:39:36
Music and sound effects blend very nicely in this piece to evoke the titular village inn. Some of the laughter and vocal effects may be just a little overpowering. In my ears, the music feels like a soundtrack; it’s too “thickly” orchestrated, I think, to be music that’s actually playing at the village inn in-story.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Inn
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Seeds Compilation: Supers I-V
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2012 09:38:46
The 130+ superhero adventure seeds in this compilation come in two basic formats: short one-paragraph hooks and longer two-paragraph adventure starters. As you might expect, the quality varies, and there’s some degree of repetition (as in comics themselves). Usually this isn’t too bad; there’s always room in the comics, and in a superhero campaign, for the umpteenth alternate-earth story (it took DC Comics less than a year after the New 52 debut to introduce Earth-2) or Golden Age redux tale. However, pp. 7 and 15 contain identical (word for word) seeds, which is a little more annoying, and two different seeds exploit the “retirement home for Golden Age superheroes” trope.

Sadly, embarrassing grammatical, stylistic, and typographical errors and inconsistencies pepper the compilation. In some cases, these inconsistencies appear within just a few words of each other (as when “M-theory” appears once with a capital “M” and once with a lower case “m,” with only one word in between). In at least two instances, two seeds run together without an obvious break.

If you’re thinking of buying the compilation for a minor, you’ll want to know that several of the seeds (at least half a dozen or more) deal with “PG-13” situations (usually sexual improprieties).

Although the compilation is marked with the d20 logo and uses the d20 Open Game License (with all content marked as open, to ERP’s credit), there’s actually no system-specific material in the seeds, and you can get equally good use out of the compilation no matter what supers system you’re running.

Probably about 2/3 of the seeds appeal to me enough to consider developing them into fuller scenarios, which is a pretty good ratio for this type of product (which needs broad appeal rather than deep satisfaction of any one customer’s personal tastes). In my judgment, it’s worth your time and worth the price if you run any superhero games. You could probably even adapt some of the seeds for high-magic fantasy games.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Seeds Compilation: Supers I-V
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