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Camelot Cosmos: Lords of Brass and Vassal Knights
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/15/2014 08:50:34
Designed for the original Camelot Cosmos game, which takes Arthurian knights to the stars using the FATE system, this resource - being pure background with little in the way of game mechanics - could easily be repurposed to provide a detailed background, replete with interrelationships and rivalrys, for the nobility in any game. Not just fantasy either, for example Traveller makes heavy use of nobility within governmet - the Rule of Man - yet apart from a few notables, little is said about them.

What this work does is present groups of noble families, showing how they interact with each other. Presuming a feudal system where certain familys hold sway over others, and in turn are responsible for their wellbeing and protection, each member house of every group is given a short write up that explains their characteristics. For example, House Proudham, vassals of House Sweetwater, are said to outdo even their overlords in piety and have an excellent relationship with the Church. They represent the Sweetwaters when negotiations with the Church take place, and many members of the family serve as priests, often becoming household confessors to other houses under Sweetwater jurisdiction.

Each house also has a brief description of their family armourial bearings, motto, the basis on which the family wealth is based, their general attitude, strengths and weaknesses and a defining characteristic - perhaps a physical feature or a favoured profession - of family members.

It makes for a fascinating read and whichever ruleset you choose to use it with will make the nobility - and their intrigues - blossom into a rich and complex tapestry within your game. It may be background politics, doing no more than providing the odd bit of work or patronage for your characters, or they may be heavily involved in the continuous dance of seeking power and influence, but however you use it the shared alternate reality of your game will be enhanced.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Camelot Cosmos: Lords of Brass and Vassal Knights
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GAZ2 The Emirates of Ylaruam (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2014 11:49:54
Adventuring ought to include visits to exotic locales and this gazetteer provides an introduction to something a bit different, based on mediaeval Arab desert culture. It is primarily aimed at the DM, although certain sections can be shared with players.

It opens with the history of Ylaruam. First, it is told in a tradional Arab oral storytelling style... and then the curtain is drawn back to allow the DM a glimpse of the real history. The traditional version could be shared with the party, if they are particularly good researchers or, more likely, happen on a good story-teller in the marketplace and listen attentively to him. The DM version is a rather more balanced overview, and culminates in a timeline, which is cross-referenced with other parts of the D&D 'known world' should your party have knowledge of that as well.

Next we look at the lands and ecology of the Emirates (as Ylaruam is referred to by locals). There are notes on geography, topography and climate - with the majority of the area being desert, dry and hot predominates, but there are wetter coastal areas and some highlands. Different terrains are described, as well as typical flora and fauna.

The next section deals with the peoples of Ylaruam. This is mostly flavour, describing the appearance and characteristics of different population groups, and this is followed by a discussion of the economics of the area. Different Emirates are described, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, products and so on which it is useful to be aware of (especially if the party wishes to engage in trade).

A discussion of 'Society in the Emirates' follows, beginning with Al-Kalim and his discovery of the Eternal Truth, upon which the religion followed by many dwellers in this area is based. There is masses of information here, which devotees are doubtless conversant with and which should prove fascinating to anyone who seeks to understand the religion and culture of the lands they visit. Sufficient detail is provided for any character who embraces this faith to role-play his devotion convincingly. Turning to game mechanics, the 'clerics' of the Eternal Truth (who are called Scholars) are detailed, along with the spells to which they have access.

We then read of secular society and how it is structured. Again, even visitors will hopefully come to understand the particular customs of the area... and the DM should master it so that the NPCs portray it accurately.... there's even a note that an XP reward should be given should the party gain the respect of the locals! Government and politics, daily customs and observances, the nobility... and bureaucracy in abundance... it's all here, a wealth of information to make the Emirates come to life. For those who enjoy intrigue-laden games, there is plenty of scope for intricate plots here.

The centre section - designed as a pull-out in print versions - is 'player-safe' being entitled What Everyone Knows About the Emirates, and as such may be given to curious players to read. The rest should in the main be kept to the DM, sharing information as appropriate (except, perhaps, in the case of a character who is a native of the Emirates). This section also includes all the game mechanical information necessary to generate characters from the Emirates, including rules for the essential art of storytelling. The character class of Dervish - a desert druid - is also introduced.

Back to the DM-only material with a detailed overview of an example village, Kirkuk, complete with map and inhabitants. This section is littered with plot ideas, as is the final section, Campaigning in Ylaruam.

This is a real gem, a beautiful and convincing setting to enjoy.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
GAZ2 The Emirates of Ylaruam (Basic)
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Spell Themes: Fog
Publisher: gannet games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2014 10:54:33
Some folks don't bother with fog-based spells, preferring other more offensive ones... but even as they exist in the core rulebook they can be useful, and now they are taken to new heights in this little collection.

The main use for a fog or mist is to hinder creatures that make use of sight - whether you are trying to sneak past unobserved, or wish to evade someone's gaze weapon... or even make it hard for them to use ranged weapons against you. But as you will learn here there are other things you can do with them.

First up is a Fog Mastery feat, which allows spontaneous casting of fog/mist spells. Then there is a whole collection of variant fog spells - asphyxiating fog, choking cloud, clinging fog, cutting fog (which has nasty sharp ice crystals in it), dampening fog, expanding fog, fog burst, fog shape, following fog, greasy fog, guided fog, hanging fog, intoxicating fog, irritating fog, restraining fog, roiling fog, rusting fog, shadowing fog, tenuous fog, and wall of fog. All of these give you different options and some are really quite nasty.

Then there are some more fog-related feats, including some metamagic ones that enable you to alter the parameters of whatever fog spell you want to cast. There's just a lot to play with... and GMs would do well to study this to think of ways of thwarting advancing parties of adventurers, too!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spell Themes: Fog
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Kos Island (Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting)
Publisher: Skirmisher Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2014 06:09:03
This delightful system-agnostic setting book opens with a detailed history of how Skirmisher Publishing's Kos campaign setting came to be, and in particular the concept of rooting a fantasy setting in reality, which enables that fantasy world to assume a greater life within the shared alternate reality that is created around the game table. One look at the map confirms that I'm not the only person who carefully modifies real places I've been to when creating game locations... (and yes I have been to Kos!). Those who are interested in how game books come to be will find this introduction fascinating as the entire heritage of the Kos setting is explored.

A very detailed description of the Island of Kos forms the main part of this book. It sounds almost as idyllic as the real place... if not more so. Peaceful, prosperous, with an established system of government and, despite a lack of enemies, well-defended should the need arise. Naturally, there are also plenty of opportunities for adventure, even if you have to go off of Kos to enjoy some of them - a nearby island that is home to a rough community but a good place to visit if you enjoy pit-fighting, another that is a haven for pirates and other such rogues and so on. And of course there are hobgoblins on the nearby shore of Anatolia.

Next the towns and villages on Kos are explored (apart from Kos City itself, which is the subject of another book). There are twelve of these, so plenty of variety and interesting places to visit. Colourful too, with each having their own distinctive symbol appearing on banners and shields. A cataclysm some one hundred years ago destroyed a nearby ancient civilisation, and remnants of it are to be found to this day, some being noted as near the settlements.

This theme is continued in the next section on distinctive locations, many of which include ancient remains. Several adventure hooks are supplied here to entertain visiting parties... even a carnival to participate in. There's certainly a lot to see and do on Kos!

Even if you have an established campaign setting - homebrew or published - it is worth considering including Kos Island in a suitable location as it is presented as an interesting place to visit, if not to use as a base.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kos Island (Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting)
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Big Trouble in Little Haiti
Publisher: Aegis Studios
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/13/2014 06:18:46
This introductory adventure for Contagion 2e sends the characters deep into the steamy underbelly of Miami and into conflict with gangsters and practitioners of the dark arts. The area called Little Haiti has been rife with criminal activity, which has recently died down... but are things actually improving for the area's residents?

Several ideas are provided to get the characters involved in an investigation of Little Haiti. Once there, survival may become as important as discovery as several factions with diverse interests are likely to be unwelcoming however good-intentioned the party...

A few individuals and locations are described, but it is up to the GM to decide what is going on, who is where, and how they will react to the characters' involvement. Fine if you like to 'wing it' but most people will be more comfortable having spent some time planning. However a bonus is a nice collection of new feats, spells and spirits (especially those used in vodou).

Overall, a good setup but in need of development before it can be regarded as an 'adventure' - it's a plot seed and a good one. If your intention is to embed your party in a given locality and have them interact with the other factions there, this could be just what you need to give your campaign a start.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Big Trouble in Little Haiti
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Against the Sinister Left Hand
Publisher: Dakkar Unlimited
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2014 11:31:46
Providing security for a bar ought to be an easy gig, right? Especially when they have their own doormen, the owner just wants you to hang around in case of some undefined possible bother with some of her old associates...

Well, if it was easy, nobody would write an adventure about it!

Anyway, in this brief adventure - something easily run in an evening, perhaps even after rolling up characters - there is some splendid misdirection and nothing is quite what it seems. If the characters survive unscathed they have done well, if they actually figure out what is going on... well, they are paragons and definitely worth continuing in a campaign with. And the joy of this is that there is enough background (some in the GM's introduction, and some right at the end, worth reading the whole thing through before you start to run it) to provide for a whole lot more of adventure after this one is done.

A nice introduction to the Victory System and its slightly strange setting. Enjoy, both this and many more adventures to come.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Against the Sinister Left Hand
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Perilous Journey #1: Portsmouth [Colonial Gothic]
Publisher: Mystical Throne Entertainment
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2014 10:50:03
Here is the first part of what promises to be an epic adventure series in the New World of Colonial Gothic, only a bit later - 1745 to be precise. The backstory to the campaign posits that the characters have just left England in search of the opportunities and religious freedoms offered across the Atlantic in the Colonies... but that they are also interested in the esoteric secrets that they might discover out there. At least one character has to be interested in the occult, others may share that interest or be along for reasons of their own.

The intention is for the occult-seeking character at least to arrive in Boston from England with a view to travelling on to Portsmouth in New Hampshire. Other characters may have come over with him, or meet up in Boston which is a good place to pick up all manner of other people when attempting to form a group. War has broken out between the colonies and the French (aided by Native Americans) so characters of these nationalites must expect a rough time unless they have a convincing argument for being where they are.

Portsmouth has been selected as the destination because of its size (big enough for the characters to pass relatively unnoticed but too small for the Inquisition to be active there) and the general level of opportunities available there. The first part of the adventure involves getting there and having a look around. A wealth of NPCs are provided to aid the party in embedding themselves into Portsmouth society and arranging residences and employment (which hopefully will last for the entire campaign and give them the resources needed to engage in the occult-hunting activities that are central to the plot). A nice touch is a 'vignette' to use to introduce each NPC as appropriate to the party.

As well as the initial adventure, which provides for some occult investigation once the party is settled in Portsmouth, this book also contains information about variant Character Options appropriate to the campaign's concept which are worth looking over before creating characters for this campaign. There is also an article on Historical Portsmouth, very useful in setting the scene. This includes a period map of the area.

Then there are some 'Occult Missions' which serve as side adventures should the characters be interested, and a collection of Adversaries, both animal and spirit in nature. Finally, there's some fiction, nice scene-setting but not linked to the adventure, so perfectly player-safe. That's the only real issue, this book lurches somewhat between bits that players can read and bits that are for the GM's eyes only. Just as well it is a PDF, the GM can distribute the pages he deems safe to share and hang on to the rest.

Overall this is a promising start and if your interests tend to alternate history and the occult, its well worth a look.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Perilous Journey #1: Portsmouth [Colonial Gothic]
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Battle Maps MODERN: Rodney's Cocktail Lounge
Publisher: Stoneworker Cartography
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/11/2014 10:09:38
Your characters in any contemporary game will need to stop off for a drink, a chat, follow up a lead or whatever - and they'll need a bar to do so. Not to mention that barroom brawls are not the sole perogative of fantasy parties...

This is a fine well-detailed plan, at full battlemap size for those who enjoy miniatures, of a typical cocktail lounge/bar. There are plenty of tables and chairs, a bar with stools for the barflies, pool tables, a few arcade machines/one-armed bandits, even a juke box, and a large parking lot and garden for those who wish to take it outside.

Staff are provided for as well, there's a bar, kitchen, washing up area and office, along with ample storage. There's a staff restroom as well as public facilities.

The plans are extensive with several options including with or without a grid (hex or square), a daylight and night time version... oh, and the building's roof should a chase across it become necessary. There is also a black and white version if you wish to economise on printer ink. There is also a virtual table top version for those who are gaming online and cannot put the various panels of the regular version together easily.

It's nice, and extremely useful. If you run modern games, tuck this away - you'll need it one day!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Battle Maps MODERN:  Rodney's Cocktail Lounge
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Fantasy Nation Generator
Publisher: Lee's Lists
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/11/2014 09:45:20
If you are designing a world it can be difficult coming up with all the names. Or perhaps even while the local area has been carefully created, you might need a good name for wherever it is that someone new to the region comes from - a refugee or visiting diplomats or whatever.

There are three tables here. The first gives an idea of government type or some other distinctive feature of the nation - anything from Republic to Autocracy or Sultanate or Subjugate... with the odd Island or Untamed Wilds for variation.

The second gives a name. Most of these are just more-or-less pronounceable but otherwise meaningless words. The third table is good for those resounding flowing titles beloved of court heralds and other pompous folk and tells you a little about who lives there or what they are like.

Put a 'The' in front, select a item from each table and away you go... welcome the emissaries from the Oracular Republic of Uskqary, home to the Great Library of the Total Codex. Or whatever. With an hundred items in each of the three tables, you won't run out of grandiose names any time soon.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy Nation Generator
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Mythic Mastery - Missing Mythic Magic Volume I
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/10/2014 12:15:30
Did your favourite spell get left out of the list in the Mythic Adventures book?

If you are seeking to amp up a spell not on that list, fret not, for this collection of 'Missing Mythic Magic' provides many an idea for ways in which a mythic spellcaster can enhance even more spells.

The spells presented are based on ones in the core Pathfinder RPG rulebook. You will need to refer to this, as often the descriptions deal with amendments where it will be necessary to know what the original spell's effects are like to apply them. Many also have potential augumentations, which can kick in at higher levels if you are prepared to spend extra mythic energy on your casting.

Most of the effects are of the 'bigger' or 'more damage' variety, but some provide additional effects. For example, when using Alter Self, you can actually take on specfic abilities of the race you choose to appear as, along with the physical features. So if you want to look like an elf, you can acquire the elven immunities and keen senses racial features that elves have, and so on.

The spells covered are acid arrow, acid fog, acid flash, aid, air walk, alarm, align weapon, alter self, analyse dweomer, animal growth, animal messenger, animal shapes, animal trance, animate rope, and anti-life shell. So if one of these is a spell you like to enhance mythically, this is for you. Hopefully, there's more to come...

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Mastery - Missing Mythic Magic Volume I
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FP2 – Under Castle Modum
Publisher: Adventures in Filbar
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/10/2014 11:49:16
A ruined castle to explore, long-derelict remains of an ancient war... where mysterious lights and legends of buried wonders have brought several bands to explore including your part... a perfect setting for some low level (1st-3rd) adventuring fun.

Apart from a general introduction there are no specific hooks to get your party in there, still a ruin with rumours of treasure should do the trick for any red-blooded adventurers. There's a clear map and good room descriptions with all the necessary details provided to run the adventure... including the other explorers, who are to be found at various points and tend not to be interested in collaboration!

In this company's usual style, there are a couple of photographs to illustrate the setting, useful for showing your players what their characters see (although my players are familiar with the castle gatehouse depicted: it's a location I know well and have been using in dungeons for some 30 years!).

This is an enjoyable low-level adventure that would feature nicely early in an adventuring party's career.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
FP2 – Under Castle Modum
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Purple Mountain VI: The Well of Stars
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/10/2014 10:51:45
This is a 6th-level underground adventure which can be placed just about anywhere that you have a suitable mountain... or, of course, it can be played as a level in Purple Duck Games's epic megadungeon crawl Purple Mountain. Information is provided to enable you to do either with ease, beginning with the background of the plot the adventure is designed to thwart and ending with notes on how it fits together with other chambers in different levels of the megadungeon if you are using that. If you are using it stand-alone, several good hooks are provided to help you get the party interested.

The adventure itself is challenging, not only because it is virtually all underwater! It opens dramatically, with a brawl in full progress and a princess to rescue, and the excitement does not let up as it continues through the wonders of a labyrinth to its climactic conclusion. There are wonders to see, treasures to find... and plenty of interesting encounters including a wealth of monsters to fight. There's a lot going on down here and it all conveys an air of carrying on regardless of whether or not the party are down here - always a sign of a good adventure.

It is well-resourced with clear maps for the GM and all the information needed to run the adventure effectively - from read-aloud text to monster statistics and tactics and even helpful hints about how to deal with likely character actions (which could also be used to cue in players who maybe have not considered certain uses of the skills and powers should you think it appropriate when they are struggling). An appendix gives you all the game mechanical information that you need to run an adventure underwater in the cold and dark. Others cover NPCs, new items and so on, giving complete details of several innovative monsters that you may well wish to use elsewhere as well as here.

When all is done and the 'end of level' Bad Guy defeated, there are notes to help you bring things to a conclusion, however you have chosen to run this adventure... and there are ramifications a-plenty to deal with! Completing this adventure successful should give the party something to boast about... and the players a fascinating and unusual game to remember.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Mountain VI: The Well of Stars
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100 Starship Weapons
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/10/2014 09:42:49
If you are serious about weapon design, you may prefer to use Ennead Games's Starship Kit 4: Weapon Generator (also available here) but if you just want to be able to talk convincingly about a ship's armament then this product will do fine and be far faster...

Based on the same tables as in the generator, all you need to do is roll a percentage and there you have a weapon described in the sort of detail your average spacehound would use if asked. Or, of course, you can just pick something that sounds right for your purposes.

Do you want to mess with a ship armed with a Mark VI Pulsing Anti-proton Bomb?

Naturally, if matters turn nasty, you will have to determine just what a Mark VI Pulsing Anti-proton Bomb does under the ruleset you are using for your game, but providing you are comfortable with your chosen game mechanics that should not be too hard.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
100 Starship Weapons
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A Stitched in Time
Publisher: Silver Gryphon Games
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/09/2014 11:37:54
With this adventure, Æther goes full bore into the supernatural. The opening pages postulate a secretive part of the FBI called Bureau 8, so secret that its agents operate in isolation away from the FBI and for whom the TV show The X-Files was a wonderful smoke-screen. Although the adventure can be completed with characters who are operating in normal 'ghost hunter' mode, the intended party is a group of Bureau 8 agents. To facilitate this part-generated characters are provided, with a core Federal Agent template which can then be customised by players to create the character that they want to play but one who has the correct skills and background for this adventure.

The adventure itself begins with the party being sent to speak with a mortician who has an... interesting... body on the slab, and is concerned with the ensuing investigation that will lead them through the underbelly of wellstone City. The investigation is reasonably straightforward although some quite critical clues are hard to notice - you may find it necessary to point things out if die rolls go against characters who are looking in the right places, or even make things more obvious to those who miss the places to look.

There are a few brief ideas for follow-up adventures, but this is basically a one-shot. You may, of course, like the Bureau 8 concept and wish to make a campaign of your own based around it.

Quite a few new rules related to the supernatural are introduced here, things that are not in the core rules. These are explained clearly and will be useful if you like having supernatural elements in your game. In a few places there are errors that a thorough proofreading would have caught but they are minor and the meaning can be discerned without much effort.

Overall it is a neat adventure with a good concept that could lead to plenty further adventures if the supernatural-heavy idea, if not Bureau 8 itself, appeals.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Stitched in Time
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Wisdom from the Wastelands Issue #34: Plant Mutants I
Publisher: Skirmisher Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/09/2014 07:56:56
Plants often get neglected in role-playing games - all the wonder is reserved for animal 'monsters' and whatever variants of saphonts your ruleset allows. If you cannot be it or fight it, it appears, why bother with it at all? This seems a shame, particularly in a game focussed on the concept of mutation of organisms, so it's good to see the balance redressed.

Here there is a brief note on botany, which may be a bit confusing to non-botanists for whom the sporophyte is the 'plant' and the gametophyte merely its 'seeds' but which is worth persevering with if you want to understand what is going on biologically and create convincing mutations rooted in botanical fact - even if they are far more fantastical than anything you'll find in a stroll in the country.

This is followed by a collection of plant life described in detail which have interesting modifications and abilities whilst still clearly remaining plants - none of the animated vegetable monsters some game systems enjoy here, although most of these are quite dangerous to the unwary!

Then there is a list of new mutations appropriate to plant life, to equip you with the tools necessary to start designing your own mutant plants. The one thing that has been left out is edibility - although to be fair nearly all the original plants on which the mutations are based are not edible ones anyway.

A nice look at a neglected area of Mutant Futures, indeed of games in general.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wisdom from the Wastelands Issue #34: Plant Mutants I
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