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Grimtooth's Traps Too
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2014 06:26:18
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/14/tabletop-review-grimtoo-
ths-traps-too/

So this is interesting. The Grimtooth’s Traps series has been around since 1981. Each book contains dozens of traps useable for whatever gaming system you prefer. Sure, being a systemless collection means that the DM has a little bit of work to do to make the trap fit the mechanics they are using, but the Grimtooth series is generally as fun (and funny) to read as it is to drop some of its traps into your campaign. Now, back in 2011, Flying Buffalo released PDF versions of Grimtooth’s Traps 1 and Grimtooth’s Traps Fore, each of which we have covered here at Diehard GameFAN. I’m not sure why they are being released out of order, or why it’s been three years since the last release (I’m assuming Flying Buffalo is simply hard at work with Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe), but I’m just happy to have them back where all gamers can get these classic books, as they definitely withstand the test of time. The fact you can get this book for only $4.95 should have long time old school gamers squealing in glee… or begging for mercy. I guess it all depends.

Grimtooth Trap’s Too contains 101 traps for DM’s to unleash upon their unsuspecting players – all of which are sure to hurt, maim or murder all but the most paranoid of characters. Every page is tinged with dark humor though, so don’t be looking for a book that takes its macabre mayhem too seriously. Grimtooth the Troll is a wonderful narrator, in the style of EC Comics’ Cryptkeeper and other comically evil characters. The introduction by Grimtooth himself sets the tone of the tome perfectly, and the artwork is pretty fun too.

The book is divided into five sections, each of which is dedicated to a different type of trap set. As well, each individual trap is given a skull rating. The more skulls on the page, the more lethal the trap is to explorers and adventurers. First up are Room Traps, which tend to be over the top and anything but subtle. These traps are designed to turn an entire room into a deathtrap. Sometimes they are the simple, tried and true teeter-totter floor that sends characters into a pit. Others are far more complicated and might even have decoy traps to distract players from the real deathdealer in the room. There are fun traps, like a safe where each wrong turn of the dial causes a foot of floor to fall away, or a metal bridge that transforms into a cage. Each room trap is fiendishly fun, and it is this section you’ll probably use the most.

Corridor Traps are for use in hallways, and help to add a little flavor to the dull drudgery of walking down a dungeon or underground caverns. These traps change hallways from places to rest or to encounter wandering monsters, into a fresh new hell to keep PCs on their toes. These traps range from the non-lethal, humorous variety, designed to warn characters that worse awaits them if they continue on, to fun takes on pressure plates or spring loaded pieces of floor. I also like the bee-hive trap, which actually shoots out metal darts instead of bees. There are a ton of great ideas to be had here.

Next up are Door Traps, which are obviously twists on the old trap door motif. The first one, aka “Double Trap,” is a classic. The door is actually a false one, and trying to unlock it causes the door to reveal itself as a giant spring loaded plate, which sends the PC (most likely a rogue) toward the opposite wall, which now happens to be littered with spikes. Another great one is where the keyhole to a door actually sets off a bomb. There are even gruesome takes on classic practical jokes. You know the one where you stick a bucket of water above a door and when it’s fully open a person gets wet? Well, replace the bucket of water with a five hundred pound granite block or swinging set of spikes!

The fourth set of traps in Grimtooth’s Traps Too are Item Traps. These are booby-trapped pieces of loot. The book cautions you to use these sparingly, as not every item a player touches should burst into flames, and having too many item traps can suck the fun out of a game. I agree wholeheartedly with these statements, but the occasional item trap can be a lot of fun. Magnetic gauntlets or armbands for example. A lot of the traps under item traps are non-lethal, like gems that are actually glue or extremely smoky torches, but there are definitely some literal killers amongst this collection. A bird cage with a blanket over it turns out not to be a parrot, but a basilisk! That’s a good, but obvious, one. So is the shield covered with a scentless flammable liquid or oil.

Section five is simply titled Items. This is a catch-all section for potential traps that don’t fit anywhere else. These include things like rocks that are actually napalm, coins that are actually a living hive mind that control their possessor, or a webbed doorway where the web is actually a fuse or trigger for a bomb. Another great one is the two swords mounted above a fireplace. If either is touched, a sack of gunpowder falls into the fireplace. BOOM! These traps tend to be the most bizzare and amusing in the book.

After these five sections of traps, you’ll notice you are only sixty-seven pages into this ninety-eight page book. What could possibly be left, right? Well, you have a two page commentary by Grimtooth, followed by a fun seven page comic strip about the character. After that, you get five pages of puzzles, like a maze, word search and rebus. It’s kind of bizarre to see those in a gaming book, but they’re entertaining at least. After that, the book closes out with what it calls the “Fudge” system. This is basically a way to help gamers convert these traps from the systemless designs they have to the mechanics of their choice. It’s quite interesting, and younger or less experienced gamers will find it a real blessing. Older or more experienced gamers won’t need this, though, as they’ll most likely be quite adept at converting things to their game of choice.

All in all, Grimtooth’s Traps Too still holds up thirty-two years later, which is pretty impressive for a systemless piece. Even gamers who feel they have seen it all, trap-wise, will be surprised or foiled by some of the traps in this book. Best of all, there are several other books out there along the same line bearing the Grimtooth name, so if you love this one, you’ll want to start picking up the others as well. Again, with a five dollar price tag for the PDF, this is an absolute steal and well worth downloading. Whether you play D&D, T&T or even a modern era RPG, you’ll find something to use in Grimtooth’s Traps Too.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Grimtooth's Traps Too
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The House of R'lyeh
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:32:09
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/22/tabletop-review-the-hou-
se-of-rlyeh-call-of-cthulhu/

The House of R’lyeh is a collection I’ve been excited to get my hands on for some time. This is because, for the first time, there is a Call of Cthulhu adventure collection that ties heavily into not only actual stories by H.P. Lovecraft, but over a dozen other published adventure collections of campaigns by Chaosium. In a sense, The House of R’lyeh is the first real piece for Call of Cthulhu tying together enough published works that the system could now have a slight semblance of a metaplot. Unlike systems like Shadowrun or Vampire: The Masquerade, where every book released seems (or seemed in the case of V:TM) to build on the metaplot, and sometimes were written more for said overarching story than for gamer accessibility, the metaplot suggested here in The House of R’lyeh is both optional and nebulous. This means, thankfully, that Call of Cthulhu will never be one of those games where you feel like you need to purchase every release to understand what is going on, but that those interested in the light trappings of a metaplot presented here can track down the adventures, supplements and stories (many are out of print though, both physically and electronically) to fully realize the “bigger picture” presented by authors here. I’m very happy about the interconnectivity of all these adventures being so light, because had it been otherwise, this could have been a massive train wreck. Instead, The House of R’lyeh gives us five interesting adventures, each of which is primarily tied to a story by Lovecraft, thus acting as a quasi-sequel to the events in those tales. There are ways to connect all five adventures into a min-campaign, and many references to other stories and adventures, in case the Keeper wants to go to use these adventures as a starting point or link for something else in his or her collection. I really like how all these hints, homages and nods to other Cthulhoid publications come across, as I admit, I’m getting fatigue from certain other RPGs, where the books are unabashedly written in such a way that you MUST own previous releases to make heads or tails of what is going on in it. So a big kudos to Chaosium for presenting a collection that tries to pull previous releases together in a light form of metaplot/cohesiveness while making sure all the way it is optional, AND providing enough information about the inspiration material that the Keeper doesn’t need to search out and/or purchase the other pieces of writing in question.

I will give one word of warning to those who are interested in picking up The House of R’lyeh. These are exceptionally long and in-depth adventures, and they will no doubt seem daunting to casual or less experienced Call of Cthulhu keepers. Not only are the adventures themselves crammed with an amazing amount of information about the plot, potential NPCs and pratfalls, but they also include everything from a quick synopsis of the story that inspired them, a massive amount of information on the area in which the adventure takes place and everything the less detail oriented Keeper won’t even think of, like full rail charts (and length of trips) or the cost of various items for the time period. I won’t say the adventures come off as anal retentive or OCD, but they are so jam packed with information that you will either find The House of R’lyeh to contain everything you’ve ever wanted to see in an adventure, down to the most minute detail, or to be extremely superfluous and cause your eyes to glaze over as you fathom each page’s multitude of information. It’s going to be one extreme or another. Either way, my advice is not to try and read this book in one sitting. Maybe one adventure at a time, and for the longer 60+ page adventures, perhaps a few sittings each, and take notes during each one as, while running the adventure, there’s just no way to remember where every last detail is. Just remember, HoR contains five adventures and clocks in at 224 pages, while something like Atomic Age Cthulhu has nine adventures and a mini source book for the 1950s to boot – all with the same page count as this collection. So, yeah, let’s just say The House of R’lyeh is INTENSE, and whether that is a positive or a negative is really up to what you want from an adventure collection.

The first adventure is “The Art of Madness” and it is a sequel to Pickman’s Model, arguably one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories (Cthulhu knows it’s been turned into a plethora of low budget, but varying quality films/TV episodes over the years). I will say the the characterization of Pickman is completely off from the Lovecraft story, and certainly it’s different from the Pickman we see in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, which will no doubt draw the ire of some Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos fans. It’s the problem any time a character is adapted into someone else’s work. I will admit it is an inaccurate portrayal of Pickman compared to his Lovecraft penned pieces, but it is well established that becoming a ghoul is a painful and maddening process. In Pickman’s Model we see the beginning of Pickman’s descent, but in “Kadath,” he’s not only quite sane (more or less) but an ally of Robert Carter. I suppose if this was Marvel Comics, I’d try and earn myself a No-Prize by saying that “The Art of Madness” takes place when Pickman hits the zenith of his insanity and slowly begins to rebuild himself at the conclusion of the adventure, perhaps with a stark clarity that only comes with being mad and hitting rock bottom. Or, in Call of Cthulhu gaming terms, he’s failed one too many sanity checks and is temporarily insane, but eventually gets better, or as much as a cannibalistic undergrounding dwelling humanoid mutated by his own dark nature can be. That said, I loved this adventure because it’s one of those stories that seems so obvious that I can’t believe it hasn’t been written before now. The plot is so simple it’s ingenious, and can be played for stark terror or even with a Blood Brothers-esque tongue-in-cheek feel to it, because the premise is as absurd and potentially comical as it is creepy as all get out.

Oh, what is the plot of “The Art of Madness,” you ask? Well, Richard Upton Pickman feels his art is unappreciated by the plebian human society he was once a part of. Pickman also feels that his style of art must live on in the surface world, and so he decides to open a school of the arts inside the ghoul warren he is part of. Now he only needs students, and so he begins to take a select few that show “potential” from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This is where the Investigators come in, although the missing students and teacher may not be the plot hook that initially sends them into this macabre foray.

I really like that “The Art of Madness” offers multiple hooks to get Investigators involved. After all, there are FAR too many adventures that rely on the assumption that the PCs are parapsychologists, a detective agency or just “know Cthulhu stuff.” With multiple story hooks, the Keeper can choose what works best for players, as well as the tone of the adventure. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t decide whether to play this adventure seriously or as somewhat comedic. I started off the adventure like it would be a normal CoC adventure, but when players interacted with the Portuguese janitor who is somewhat pivotal to the plot like he was Manuel from Fawlty Towers, I knew it was time to err on the side of farcical, which turned out to be the right call. I strongly doubt the author of “Art of Madness” wrote it realizing the comedic potential of the adventure, but then neither did Bruce Nesmith when he penned The Created for Second Edition AD&D, and look how that turned out. The adventure DOES work if you play it straight, as there is a good deal of creepiness, what with wandering into a Ghoul warren and discovering the fate of the kidnapped artists. No matter how you decide to run with “The Art of Madness,” it really is a brilliant little adventure you can’t help but have fun with. 1 for 1.

“The Crystal of Chaos” is the second adventure in the collection and it is meant to be a sequel to the Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark. I always loved this story, and I’m surprised the creature from this tale hasn’t turned up in more Call of Cthulhu adventures. Here it is, though, as Investigators journey to Providence, Rhode Island to retrieve a mystical artifact from the long defunct Church of Starry Wisdom. Of course, said item bears a horrific curse that threatens the physical and mental well-being of the PCs, but really, isn’t that par for the course in a CoC adventure?

My only real problem with “The Crystal of Chaos” is trying to get players into the adventure. This is one of those that assumes players are all allies/co-workers and have some sort of Cthulhoid leaning background, such as professors, anthropologists or detectives. What happens when you have characters that run the gamut from Olympic gymnast to hobo? It’s going to be very hard to create a proper story hook for this one that actually fits a group of players who were given free reign during character design, which is MOST groups. “The Crystal of Chaos” would be awesome with pre-generated characters or as a one-shot adventure, but trying to come up with a reason why a circus clown, a wealthy dilettante, a longshoreman and a chemical engineer should team up to track down the Shining Trapezohedron from a ruined and possibly haunted church so that an Egyptologist can use it in his upcoming expedition is going to take a bit of planning out. This is why I love adventures like “The Art of Madness” where you are given multiple ways to get characters into the adventure. Ones with only a single plot hook like this that doesn’t really work as a catch-all is pretty much equivalent to, “Your party is in a tavern when…” for fantasy RPGs.

Now, with that out of the way, once you find a way to actually get your motley crew of characters to undertake the trip to Providence, you’ll find the adventure is a really fun one. The adventure provides five full pages just on landmarks in the city itself, meaning a good Keeper can really make Providence come to life, even if they have never been there. The Free-Will Church is laid out in exacting detail, leaving the Keeper with little to no work to do in order to run the adventure, save for memorizing all that it contains. There’s an unexpected mini-boss, so to speak, which I enjoyed seeing, and it’s now the second time in the past month a Call of Cthulhu adventure has featured this creature, which is funny as I mentioned in my Tales of the Sleepless City review that this particular monster of choice doesn’t get enough play in CoC.

The climax of the adventure is when the players find the Shining Trapezohedron, but in a sense, it starts something completely new, as now players have to deal with The Haunter itself and all that comes with it. It might be a good idea to break the adventure into two sessions, ending the first right when the players unwittingly do something with the ancient jewel that sends everything into chaos. Everyone loves a cliffhanger, right? Of course, everything goes to hell from there and what was originally a simple snatch and run operation becomes an event where the PCs may not only have to save the world, but one of their own. By the end of the adventure, at least one Investigator will be suffering from severe nyctophobia. Ouch. Again, this is a fun little adventure and players will probably be expecting one thing from the adventure, especially when they are told they are investigating an old ruined crazy cult church, and then end up getting hit with something quite different. It’ll definitely be fun to hear how various play sessions of this adventure went. 2 for 2.

The third adventure in The House of R’lyeh is “The Return of the Hound.” I’ve always loved that story, but I can’t say I cared for the adventure. It never connected with me. At times, it was just really dull, and at others it felt too over the top, like with the auction where a bunch of magic using occultists were there to examine the rare magic bearing tomes (including a Necronomicon!) up for sale. Part of it is that the adventure just felt far too long both in terms of reading and actual play. It dragged and felt heavily padded, which is never a good thing.

Now, that’s not to say the adventure was a complete flop. With some heavy excising and streamlining, this could work really well. As the adventure is basically two in one (part taking place in Amsterdam and the other in a small rural English community), you could just remove the Dutch part of the adventure and really focus on the weird British auction of the damned. However, the core of information the players need to get through the information is in the Dutch part so… I don’t know. My advice is that the seeds of an interesting adventure are here, but it’s just too bogged down to flow in an enjoyable manner. It feels like it was put together via a game of Mythos from the late 90s.

Basically “The Return of the Hound” has players not only having to deal with the return of this otherworldly canine, but a victim turned avatar of the Hound turned serial killer. The text is quite contradictory on the non Hound antagonist, as it’s mentioned to be an avatar, but still potentially being hunted by the Hound, which is nonsensical. It would be like Hastur trying to smack down the King in Yellow. It gets far more convoluted from there without any real rhyme or reason behind the Hound or De Slachter, and the adventure really needed a better editor to focus the writer’s ideas into a more comprehensible affair. It also doesn’t help that there is a TON of back story content, in-depth location descriptions and NPC bios to sift through. In a better laid out adventure, all this would be helpful instead of a hindrance. Unfortunately, the layout of the adventure has you flipping back and forth to make some sense of the story being told while trying to keep all the Keeper information separate in your head. I would have to suggest that this needed to be totally rewritten from the ground up. There’s just way too much going on here and very little of it is going to be fun or even interesting to the people playing through this. 2 for 3.

Our fourth adventure in this collection is “The Jermyn Horror,” and it is meant to play off of Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, which is a truly strange but memorable Lovecraftian story. I’m at odds with the adventure itself. Its connection to the Lovecraft story is tenuous at best and mere window dressing at worst, which is a shame, because it’s a really good adventure for the most part and it might have been even better had the core story been allowed to stand on its own instead of being tied to a previous Lovecraft penned tale. You could excise the entire Jermyn connection and the adventure would still work wonderfully. It just depends on if your players will like the slight homage to a previous Lovecraft story or if they will find it trite and unnecessary.

There are two other problems I had with this adventure. The first is a minor one, but it is the second in this collection that hinges around a PC being possessed by the antagonist of the adventure, and the third where the antagonist possesses SOMEONE to keep the story moving along. That’s… not good in my opinion, and shows a dearth of creativity in this collection. Fortunately for “The Jermyn Horror,” I can’t pin my disdain for the fact that 60% of this collection goes back to the same well on it alone. The second is that the adventure doesn’t really have a true ending set up, and that’s the big one. The adventure has the characters forcibly held in place by a fiendish thingy that tried to possess and convert their bodies, but the adventure doesn’t really give any way for players to “win” or even survive it. The creature in question is crazy powerful and has trapped the players. There is a way of delaying the inevitable destruction if players can find it, and a very obscure way of killing the creature you will pretty much have to hold the hands of players to lead them to, which is never fun for anyone. There really needed to be more outs for the Keeper and his or her players, rather than a single paragraph on what could be done including the sentence, “Other solutions might present themselves to inventive players.” as the way to end the adventure. This seems to be more of an editorial than a writer issue though, as it could have been easily fixed by the editor saying, “Could you expand this a bit more so that less experienced gamers or Keepers have more of an out?” I mean, Call of Cthulhu should be a deadly game, but the solution shouldn’t be so obscure that most players won’t figure it out unless it’s virtually handed it to them by the Keeper. The end result is this adventure reads and plays like it is the Keeper VERSUS the players, which should be a massive red flag for anyone, as we all know how those affairs turn out. It’s a shame too, because I loved the creature, the setup, the atmosphere and some of the goings-on in the adventure. With some fine tuning, this could have been a great adventure. Instead it feels like an incomplete one. 2 for 4.

“Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” is our fifth adventure, and after the two I gave a thumb’s down to, I’m happy to say The House of R’lyeh ends on a positive note. There is some combining of Irem and the Nameless City, which may cause squabbling between different camps of Mythos fans, but hey, it’s an adventure for a role playing game; it’s not like it’s going to magically retcon everything Lovecraft has written since the 1890s.

This adventure feels like a classic Cthulhu story from the 20s turned into an adventure, which is what I was hoping for with this collection. Players will be travelling to the Middle East (starting in Yemen) in search of Irem, and once again, I love that this adventure gives you multiple hooks to use instead of one rigid assumption about the Investigators and why they are along for the ride. You got a LOT of information on the Nameless City in the course of playing the game, so even if you hadn’t read the actual story by Lovecraft, you won’t feel like you are missing out on anything. There are also a lot of suggested optional encounters which can turn “Nameless City, Nameless Terrors” into a mini campaign, which is always a fine option. This allows the Keeper to adapt the adventure to the attention span of his or her players, as well as change things on the fly. Are the Investigators burning through the adventure with no problem? Then throw an optional event at them. If they are having a hard time and making little progress, there’s no sense in using them. I love when adventures do this.

“Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” just has that “it factor” for me. It’s well written, it’s in an exotic locale yet well written enough that a Keeper who is utterly unfamiliar with Yemen can make it come alive. There’s a wonderful mystical quality that pervades the entire experience, and though much of the adventure is simply travelling and talking with NPCs rather than investigating or running from Mythos terrors, it’s a highly memorable experience. I also love the unexpected allies that you can gain in this adventure. One of which is a realistic portrayal of a Mythos creature and how, simply because something isn’t human doesn’t mean it’s out to destroy mankind or drive things insane. The other is perhaps the most famous creation of Lovecraft after Cthulhu, and while this will no doubt raise the ire of some Lovecraftian purists, I found it to be a nice unexpected touch. If you’re unsure if the introduction of this character will cause a dour reaction from some of your players, just change his name and have him be some other ancient figure with copious amounts of knowledge that no man should possess.

At the end of “Nameless Cities, Nameless Terrors,” Investigators will have picked up a lot of Cthulhu Mythos simply through osmosis, have made some powerful mystical allies, and will have encountered a veritable menagerie of things man was never meant to encounter. It’ll be interesting to see how many characters make it through this adventure with their sanity intact. This is simply a fantastic adventure that is best used as the climax or end of a long campaign before classic characters are finally to put to bed. 3 for 5.

So as we can see, The House of R’lyeh is a mixed bag. There are three excellent adventures in the collection and two I can’t recommend. Although the good does outweigh the bad in this set, I have a hard time saying it is worth the thirty-four dollar price tag of the physical copy. Twenty dollars for the PDF is more acceptable, but still a little high for the level of quality. As Chaosium is having a sale until April 28th, you can get the PDF for $14.26 which is definitely worth it (Five bucks per good adventure is a fine deal), but at the same time, you can then get other new-ish releases like Terror From the Skies for only $16.07 and Atomic Age Cthulhu for $12.68 and I’d recommend either of those over The House of R’lyeh without hesitation. There are FAR better Call of Cthulhu collections out there for the same approximate price tag, but by no means is The House of R’lyeh a bad or even disappointing choice.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The House of R'lyeh
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Terror From the Skies
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:30:16
originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/12/10/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-terror-from-the-skies/

It’s been an amazing year for the Call of Cthulhu franchise. Chaosium has put out top notch pieces like Cthulhu by Gaslight Third Edition and Mysteries of Ireland. Goodman Games has given us A Dream of Japan and The Timeless Sands of India. Pagan Publishing FINALLY released Bumps in the Night while other new publishers like Modiphius and Hebanon games releases some quality adventures as well. As 2012 comes to an end, Chaosium gives us one last release in Terror From the Skies – a massive campaign containing over a dozen connected adventures, guaranteed to keep your players busy for the next few months. While it’s nowhere as impressive as say, Horror on the Orient Express or Masks of Nyarlathotep, you’re still getting a solid adventure that will test both the Keeper and the Investigators alike as they try to foil a scheme that, if left unchecked, will spell the extinction of the entire human race.

The primary antagonists in this campaign are the Insects from Shaggai, or the Shan, as they are referred to throughout this collection. Although the race is presented slightly different in tone and deed than Ramsey Campbell first portrayed them, they still make for a creepy recurring threat to your Investigators – especially with their legions of shantanks, star vampires and cultists behind them. There is a lot of combat here, especially for a Chaosium published Call of Cthulhu adventure, but if the players are smart, they’ll be able to even the odds by way of magic, stealth and even making an alliance with the Deep Ones. This adventure is pretty unforgiving, and much like those classic boxed sets from Chaosium’s past, everyone’s starting Investigator will probably be dead or mad before the campaign is through. In this respect, it’s almost like this is a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, but with train rides instead of underground lairs and Cthulhu Mythos beasties instead of dragons or beholders. I’d suggest using characters that are well experienced if you want them to survive, as they would have Mythos skill points and some spells at hand, but then you risk losing a beloved character, and the first adventure is written in such a way that this is each character’s first experience with the Mythos. At the same time though, there are times when the adventure expects Investigators to have a pretty hefty Cthulhu Mythos skill percentage to make a few rolls, which is pretty jarring and at times impossible. This isn’t the only case where balance is an issue with the entire campaign. You’re going to want each Investigator to have an extremely high Psychology skill level, as it’s used for just about everything in this game. Other skills that are abundantly used are Spot Hidden, Hide and Sneak. It’s as if a team of Jungian loving Ninjas would be the ideal Investigators for this campaign. It would have been nice to see a larger spread of skill usage throughout the campaign, but it is what it is. Just don’t expect your typical librarian or Professor to make it through this unscathed. A Hobo or dock worker might have a better chance, which is kind of neat. Keepers may want to give hints as to what skills are best suited for this campaign if they are overly nice and generous, but it also may be fun to see how well the usual Call of Cthulhu builds hold up in this campaign.

The campaign starts off innocuously enough, with the wedding of a dear friend. Unfortunately the wedding is to be held in a church with a hideous curse that plagues any who try to wed within it, thus setting off a massive chain of events no one could predict. The first adventure is an intro not only to the campaign, but could also work as an intro to Call of Cthulhu as well. There’s little, if any, combat, and it’s all about deciphering how the curse works and disabling it. It’s about as cut and dry as a CoC adventure gets. From there, though, each adventure is meant to lead into the next, but things start off with a rocky start. A character briefly met in the first adventure is the story hook for the second one, which takes place in Whitby. However, said character lived nowhere near Whitby in the first adventure, and for a campaign that is almost anal retentive on keeping track of dates and times so as to stick to a schedule of events, there’s no commentary on when this character moved or how long of a time elapsed between the two adventures. There’s also no reason for this NPC to have forged such a strong bond with the Investigators that he thinks to write them and ask for their help. In all honestly, I would have the first adventure, “Introduction,” take place a year or so before “A Whitby Vampire” and throw in two other short adventures between them to let the Investigators raise their skills while letting the players get some experience in the system. I’d also make this particular NPC, named Frederick Davis, a recurring character in them somehow to strengthen his relationship with the PCs and make it less jarring.

The second adventure is only connected to the first because the things behind the cursed church are also behind the serial killings in this adventure. That and Mr. Davis. Other than that, they aren’t as interconnected as they need to be for a true campaign feeling. Still, “A Whitby Vampire,” is a fun adventure, just like the first, and it really gives the Investigators full exposure to the Mythos while also making some truly strange allies. It also gives the PCs knowledge of the cult that does the bidding of the Shan and a hint towards the end goal of this alien race.

After “A Whitby Vampire,” the Investigators begin to follow clues leading them into a vast world-wide conspiracy. They’ll be traveling by train, motorcar, carriage and even ship as they follow leads all over the United Kingdom. Each leg of the journey puts them at odds with the Shan’s cult, while also gaining magic and Cthulhu Mythos points at an increasing pace. As mentioned earlier, there will be a lot of battles taking place, but with the right magic, players should be able to stand up to the creatures they encounter, even while their sanity slowly dissipates. As Investigators will (hopefully) gain access to the same summon/bind spells the cult has, they can just neutralize the creatures with their own kind, freeing up time to investigate, steal, assassinate and research. Like I said, a Ninja would work out really well in Terror From the Skies.

A good part of the adventure is figuring out who is in the Shan’s cult and who is also quasi-possessed by one of these creatures. This is where the massive amount of psychology rolls will come in. Every character will have access to the spell Cast Out Shan, which will help immensely, but it’s getting a person to a place where you can perform the spell privately that will be the trick, just like any other spell in the game. It’s not just spells and psychology rolls that will come in handy. Someone who is excellent with a sniper rifle will make the adventure pretty easy as well. There are times when the an Investigator with experience in this field (say a veteran of the Great War) will be able to take out a cultist easily. More importantly, it’ll keep from having to deal with Shantanks and Star Vampires. At one point characters may even try to infiltrate the cult. At the very least they’ll be sneaking into a few ceremonies and the like. Investigators might not have a problem foiling the plans of alien horrors and their pet monstrosities, but they might balk at having to kill a lot of cultists. All for the greater good though, right?

It’s not until the sixth adventure, “Newcastle,” where the Investigators will really have an idea of what is going on. Until now, they’ve just been dealing with a cult that seems to be spread across the country. Here, however, players will finally figure out what the Shan need, a flight around the world via the Graf Zeppelin, even if they won’t know why. For the next few adventures, players will be going after specific cultists and either neutralizing them or opening their eyes to what the Shan really are and the nefarious schemes they have in place. The good thing is that you can have some of these (hopefully) ex-cultists in line as replacement characters in case someone dies or goes irreparably mad from this point on. Basically, from here on, players will be trying to figure out what cultists are going to be on the Graf Zeppelin, and taking their tickets through a variety of means. These bits can range from helping free these people from their Shan infestation (if they have one. They might just be helping willingly) to doing a 1920s style Shadowrun affair, or just outright robbing and/or murdering them to keep them from bordering the most important blimp ride in human history. Of course, no matter what, the Investigators will have to figure out who (or what) a mysterious being known as The Carrier is and what exactly “Heliowall” is, and why it is so important to the Shan. Is it a person? A Place? An alien being? A technological device? Players will need to figure this out and invariably, it will probably lead them through a maze of challenges that will test even the most min/max’d character.

The campaign climaxes with “The Graf Zeppelin” and “The Last Leg,” where the investigators, now armed with the knowledge of what Heliowall is, must figure out which of the passengers or crew aboard the Graf Zeppelin is it. Then they have to find a way to neutralize them and prevent the Shan’s plan for world domination from taking effect. In essence, these two adventures are a logic puzzle similar to the old board game Guess Who? albeit with more lethal consequences. Players will have to mentally tick off who the Carrier could and could not be. A wrong guess can lead to disaster, imprisonment and even extinction of the human race. At the same time, they have but a limited amount of time, as they must stop The Carrier before the flight around the world is accomplished, so they can’t dawdle. There will be numerous occurrences where The Carrier will try to take the Investigators out, and thus chances for the players to compare notes and try to pinpoint who the Shan’s ultimate agent is. It may come down to one Investigator taking it for the team by coldly murdering the Carrier in front of witnesses, or even the entire team sacrificing the Graf by using Mythos creatures of their own to destroy it and the Carrier (along with dozens of innocent human lives). It all just depends on the players and the actions they choose for their characters. In the end, the Investigators will have hopefully stopped the Shan from their one and only chance of destroying humanity in exchange for earning the eternal enmity of this race of beings. With a good Keeper and some fine players, Terror From the Skies should be an immensely rewarding and entertaining experience for all who play through it.

As fun and lengthy as Terror From the Skies is, it’s not without flaws. I’ve mentioned a few earlier, such as the lack of balance with important skills and the sheer amount of combat and magic players will be engaging in. The other really noticeable negative with this book is the layout of the content. I really feel that each chapter, as well as the entire book, could have been laid out better. Terror From the Skies feels a bit ramshackle, like everything should have been placed in a different order for better cohesion and comprehension. For example, each chapter ends with a summary, when really, that should have been at the beginning to help the Keeper or reader understand how events are meant to play out. As well, there’s not enough detail or planning for an adventure of this scope. It’s written as if this was an old school video game, where things progress linearly and that there isn’t room or discussion of how events might go down differently. A little more depth to each chapter could have gone a long way, and I’d really have preferred to see alternatives to outright combat. What’s written in this book is as if it is set in stone, and that’s never good for a tabletop game. After all, players will ALWAYS think of something the Keeper didn’t prepare for, and the structure of this book, combined with the underestimation of what players may do, means that Terror in the Skies is best left in the hands of a VERY experienced Keeper, lest things fall apart quickly, especially with the lack of any real attempts at tying the first few adventures together cohesively. I will also say that I wish Chaosium had stuck with the original cover (which you can see here instead of the one we ended up with. The original cover was awesome and let you know exactly what you were getting. The final cover is a bit generic at best.

So all in all, is Terror From the Skies forth picking up? At twenty-three dollars, I’d say yes. It’s fun to read through even if you’re not going to play it. It’s well written, if not well laid out, and it’s great to see Chaosium still putting out full campaigns instead of monographs and the occasional remake or sourcebook. Again, it’s nowhere near as good as some of those other lengthy campaigns that the company is famous for, but it’s still going to make for a fun time for any group that loves to play Call of Cthulhu. I’d definitely recommend it with the caveat that a Keeper will want to flesh things out so that the campaign runs a little smoother.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Terror From the Skies
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Canis Mysterium
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:27:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/30/tabletop-review-call-of-
-cthulhu-canis-mysterium/

It’s been a long time since Chaosium released a single stand-alone adventure. Usually (even as far back in the early 90s when I first started playing CoC), the company packs things together as a collection or put out an entire campaign like last year’s Terror From the Skies. As such, Canis Mysterium is a breath of fresh nostalgia, reminding me of the days I’d pick up cheap five to ten dollar single adventures for games like Ravenloft and Shadowrun. The only physical copy of a solo Call of Cthulhu adventure that I own is Alone on Halloween and that’s a third party release from Pagan Publishing, so this is nice. Luckily the cost of the adventure is quite low and the quality is rather high, making this one of the better Call of Cthulhu releases of 2013. Let’s take a look at why.

Canis Mysterium sheds a lot of the Call of Cthulhu tropes. Yes, your characters are from Arkham and most will even work at Miskatonic University, but Arkham is not the focal point of the adventure and I can’t think of a single Library Use roll that you’ll be making. The adventure is more of a psychological detective story instead of a “discovering something horrible plaguing mankind” or stopping the machinations of a Great Old One or vile cult. Sure, there’s a typical Lovecraftian beastie lurking somewhere in the adventure, but you don’t see much of it and the crux of the adventure is more about the evil mankind does to itself. In fact, the monster only comes into play in the adventure due to an act of kindness performed upon it by an NPC, which is another unusual twist to the adventure. If the adventurers fail the mission (in one of several ways), something supernatural does indeed occur, but it’s more of an All Flesh Must Be Eaten experience than a Call of Cthulhu one.

The player characters will be travelling to a small town of about 800 people named Coldwater Falls. It seems the town drunk has fallen prey to lycanthropy and Miskatonic University wants the PCs to help out with the situation. Now hold up. When I say lycanthropy I don’t mean a werewolf, but the actual mental disorder where a person believes they are a wolf. The poor old man is deranged, reduced to walking on all fours, growling and trying to attack people so that it can kill and eat them. In fact, the man is believed to have already killed an eaten a young girl on her way to the outhouse one cold October Eve. At least one PC should be a psychologist, biologist or anthropologist in order to have them be hired to study (and solve?) the man’s obvious severe mental impairment. Sounds like a pretty straightforward adventure, right? Well, this being Call of Cthulhu, it is anything but.

Once in Coldwater Falls, the players will discover the usual small town gossip along with a web of intrigue that will lead them to the source of the man’s insanity. Investigators will discover a scheme of revenge that is as revolting as it is potentially lethal to all the residents of Coldwater Falls. The climax of Canis Mysterium will have the PCs fighting five different enemies and so hopefully there will be at least one character skilled at combat, but expect at least one character to bite the dust. A TPK (Total Party Kill) is not out of the question in this battle either, so be warned that while the Sanity loss rolls are at a minimum here, physical dismemberment is not.

I really enjoyed Canis Mysterium as it ended up being intriguing and unusual, allowing players to really investigate the locale, while not being so open world that they could go off tangent and lose track of their original goal. Things are pretty straightforward once clues start to fall in place and although I wouldn’t call the adventure linear, it doesn’t leave too much room for sidequests or going off rails. This means you should be able to play the adventure in a single play session, or two if players like to explore every nook and cranny and do a lot of in-character talking to NPCs. Because the adventure does require several Investigators to have specific professions, Canis Mysterium does feel like it works best as a one-off with pre-generated characters. These aren’t included in the adventure, so you will have to make them yourselves. Alternatively, this adventure could be the start of a Call of Cthulhu campaign as you are provided five story seeds that work as sequels to this adventure. These range from returned antagonists to a trip to France for an ancient and evil grimoire. It’s nice to see some options for expanding this adventure into more than a one-shot, and as long as your Keeper is willing to put some elbow grease into fleshing out the seeds into something playable, Canis Mysterium can provide you with a wealth of gaming sessions. This alone makes it well worth the cover price.

I can definitely recommend Canis Mysterium as it’s well written and a lot of fun. It also helps that it doesn’t rely on the usual Mythos tricks and tropes. The digital version only costs six dollars, and that’s a crazy good deal. You can pick it up on Chaosium’s website and read it right away. For a few dollars more, you can have Chaosium or Amazon ship a dead tree version to your house. Personally, I’d say go for the digital version unless you’re expressly against that format. It’s cute to see a adventure for Call of Cthulhu released on its own instead of in a collection, but ten dollars might be more than you want to pay for single adventure that you might not ever run, especially if you’re used to purchasing collections of adventures. Either way you’re sure to be happy with Canis Mysterium unless you really only want tentacles beasties, squamous horrors and eldritch terrors in your Call of Cthulhu games.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Canis Mysterium
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Atomic-Age Cthulhu
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:26:28
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/02/22/tabletop-review-atomic--
age-cthulhu-call-of-cthulhu/

Atomic Age Cthulhu is the newest release for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game by Chaosium. This adventure collection, which also contains a chapter on story seeds and also a primer on the 1950s is not the first time Chaosium or other Call of Cthulhu publishers have dug into the era of Leave it to Beaver and McCarthyism, but is the first full collection of adventures for that time period. Atomic Age Cthulhu is not a campaign setting tome like Cthulhu by Gaslight, but the book does contain enough information for any Keeper to understand the time period and mood of the era.

At first glance, the 1950s does seem like an odd period to set Call of Cthulhu adventures, especially compared to the 1890, 1920s, and 1930. After all, you really don’t think of eldritch horrors along with Dobie Gillis and Chuck Berry. However the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. After all, the 1950s are almost a perfect analogue for the Cthulhu Mythos tales. On the surface, everything is pristine and almost serene if you watch the TV shows from that era. Everyone is friendly and neighborly. Parents and kids gets along wonderfully. There is no hint of social or mental illness and every problem is solved positively and with a laugh. However when you skim off the propaganda, we see that the 1950s were a time of paranoia, fear, distrust and unabashed madness for the human race in general. I already mentioned McCarthyism, but it’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how crazy the hunt for the “Red Menace” got. People were constantly afraid of communists invasions or rebellions and we fought many a war in the 1950s about suppressing the threat of Russian and Chinese satellite countries. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban Revolution, the Algerian War, and many others had their beginnings (and some ends) in the 50s. This was not a time of peace and happiness, but almost constant global conflict, either with bullets or dollars. The 50s were a dark time in world history, no matter how much Donna Reed might make you want to think otherwise.

Another aspect of the 1950s that fits Call of Cthulhu nicely is that the focus of horror went from the classical monsters like werewolves and vampires to otherworldly alien creatures whose very appearance could make a man go mad. Sound familiar? Although none of these were necessarily Lovecraftian in origin, and the films about aliens from beyond the stars were often cheesy (and eventually turned into MST3K fodder), the sci-fi of the 50s shared many an underlying theme with Lovecraft’s writing. Heck, 1959 was when The Twilight Zone first began airing, and several of its stories were outright influence by Lovecraft and his contemporaries. Alfred Hitchock Presents also started in the 1950s, both of which are excellent resources for Keepers wanting to do a campaign in this era.

Finally, you have the first underpinnings that society and government were out to get you rather than protect its people. Scandals like Twenty-One, the Hollywood “black list” and farces like “duck and cover” combined to all let people realize that perhaps, everything isn’t as the powers that be want you to believe it is. Again, another wonderful Lovecraftian analogue.

So Atomic Age Cthulhu is a great idea on paper, but the question is whether or not it works in practice, and that’s what this review is for. We’ll take a quick look at each of the nine sections of the book and show you the highs and lows of this collection. I should give a caveat that the adventures of this book are more Delta Green than the typical Call of Cthulhu adventure as in many, players will be cast as government agents or military operatives. So if you’re not a fan of Delta Green or running adventures that are more X-Files than tales about antiquarians and dilettantes researching musty old tomes in an effort to save humanity, you probably won’t be happy with Atomic Age Cthulhu. For those that like a little more hack and slash or action than the run of the mill Call of Cthulhu adventure, this will probably be right up your alley. Now let’s take a look at the contents of this book, shall we?

The first adventure is “This Village Was Made For Us” and has players reacting to the suicide of a worker in a government town dedicated to cracking atoms. This means players are either government employees of some sort of friends of the family. What awaits the Investigators is a town wide conspiracy where a particular Mythos race is attempting something nefarious. I know that description makes the adventure sound a little generic as that could describe dozens of CoC adventures out there, but that’s basically the core of the tale. There’s a little Native American mysticism thrown in as a counterpoint to the Mythos creatures, but it’s an adventure that could be told at nearly any time and in any location with only a little modification needed. In fact, much of the adventure is all too similar to Terror From the Skies which Chaosium published in late November 2012. Now these two adventures aren’t carbon copies, but the fact they have the same antagonists using the same methods to accomplish similar goals is enough to make me wince. It’s not the fault of either writer, but more Chaosium for letting the two hit back to back like this. It’s equivalent to “Oh that nutty Nyarlathotep is up to his old tricks again!” or, “Oh no, we’re in a coastal or island town and there’s been a strange disappearance of townsfolk acting funny. It couldn’t be DEEP ONES, could it?” Now all this aside, “The Village Was Made For Us,” is a well written adventure and it flows smoothly in terms of narration and unfolding events. Sure it’s a bit on the generic side and it could easily occur at any time post WWII rather than being truly unique enough that it has to occur ONLY in the 1950s, but I enjoyed it for what it was and feel that as long as you haven’t recently read or played through Terror From the Skies, you’ll have fun with this. I’ll be nice and say we’re 1 for 1 right now.

“TV Casualties” is an odd adventure and like “This Village Was Made For Us,” I have mixed feelings and still am not sure whether I like it or not. On one hand, the adventure is pretty unique with a small picturesque town slowly falling apart at the seams. It’s a truly wonderful analogy for the perception vbs reality of what the 1950s were like, as well as one for early detractions against the “Boob Tube.” Keepers will find that this adventure doesn’t necessarily NEED to be in the 1950s, as it requires only a bit of tweaking to set it in a different time period, but it works best here, especially if the Keeper fills Plainville with flowery image rife from Nick at Night episodes. On the other hand, the core antagonist comes off a bit too futuristic or even steampunky for an adventure set in “our” 1950s. It’s also a pet peeve of mine when someone just randomly creates an antagonist for Call of Cthulhu and says, “Oh, it’s a form of Nyarlathotep,” even when the actions and personality of said form go expressly against how Lovecraft wrote the character or described him outside of his fictional work. So in this respect the adventure irks me, but it’s not really the writer’s fault as this facet was created by someone else for a previous Call of Cthulhu release and as it is canon to the game, you might as well take advantage of it however erroneous its original creator was with its core concept. You can’t really blame the writer of this adventurer for using a visually interesting Big Bad who also fits the feel and theme of the story he’s trying to tell. At the same time, if the Keeper excises the antagonist from the tired idea of making it a facet of the Crawling Chaos, it’s an even more memorable encounter for players, both visually and roleplaying wise because now it’s motives and very existence are all the more unfathomable and bizarre. So it’s a personal nitpick, but not one against the quality of the adventure. Again, “TV Casualties” is a well written adventure that feels like you are acting out an episode of The Outer Limits, and that’s definitely a good thing. It’s creepy, atmospheric and it even exploits the inherent racism and one of the big anti-Semitic myths of the 1950s – that of Judeo-Bolshevism. 2 for 2.

Every adventure collection tends to have one that is an absolute stinker. In this case it’s the third adventure in the book, “The Return of Old Reliable.” My big problem with this adventure is that it’s so over the top corny/cheesy/laughable, that it just isn’t something players or readers will be able to take seriously. Unfortunately the adventure is written so seriously (although if the art doesn’t make you laugh in this piece, you might need to check your funny bone), it unintentionally (or maybe it is intentional and it’s just so deadpan compared to how other comedic adventures for CoC have been written in the past that the intention is hard to gauge.) comes off as if it belongs in one of the old Blood Brothers collections Chaosium used to put out. “The Return of Old Reliable” is an homage (intended or not) to the exceptionally terrible Sci-FI movies of the 1950s where some animal mutates and threatens Mankind. You know the ones. Earth Vs. The Spider. The Giant Gila Monster. The Killer Shrews. Terrible films that took themselves seriously but no one else could so they eventually ended up being fodder for the Satellite of Love. In this case “The Return of Old Reliable” features a Spider Monkey imbued with the spinal fluid of a byhakee and after given a good dose of cosmic rays, has mutated into something that may just devour mankind from the inside out. Unfortunately the concept is so farcical, I just can’t see anyone pulling it off in a way where players won’t crack jokes the entire time, thus deflating the mood it wants (but fails horribly) to invoke. I’m actually surprised the writer didn’t really play up the sheer camp potential here and include notes to the Keeper on how to salvage this thing by telling them to play it up. I’ve seen other adventures ranging from Shadowrun to Ravenloft do this thing an “The Return of Old Reliable” desperately needed something like that to keep this from being an embarrassing affair for any Keeper who tries to run it straight laced with a straight face. My advice is to just play the camp factor to a hilt and give your CoC players a one-shot affair for laughs. Seriously, when you monsters are basically Flumphs and a Spider Monkey with a brain the size of Detroit, horror and terror are hard concepts to invoke. 2 for 3.

Adventure number four is called “Forgotten Wars,” and unlike the rest of the collection, it takes place outside of the United States; Korea to be exact. Forgotten Wars takes place during the Korean Warm although Hawkeye and BJ Honeycutt are nowhere to be seen. Instead the players take on the role of a M4 Sherman Tank squad that gets into far more than they bargained for. The end result is a very combat heavy experience, which usually isn’t a good sign for an Investigator’s chance of making it through the adventure to the end. However in this case, players have a lot of high tech (for the time) weaponry including a freaking TANK. They’ll need it to as they’ll have to face not just a Cthulhu devoted cult, but also a Hunting Horror, a few Star Spawns and some other alien monstrosities to boot. I will say that I ran through the combat pieces of this adventure several times and found that even when you knew what was coming and could prepare in advance, the combat is just too overwhelming. There are just too many enemies for a pack of five players and their tank to deal with unless you are used loaded dice. Oddly enough the writer suggests optional ways to give the antagonists even more of an advantage throughout the piece instead of the other way around, which is what the adventure desperately needs. I’m surprised no one on Chaosium’s side didn’t catch this and requests some rebalancing as it’s now completely on the Keeper to do so. As well, using a M4 Sherman tank in the Korean is somewhat historically accurate, but the main tanks used in the Korean conflict were the M26 Pershing and the M46 Patton, another thing I’m surprised wasn’t caught in the editing/vetting process. Using one of these more powerful tanks would definitely gives the Investigators a fighting chance to survive this adventure. Otherwise your best solution is to add some weaponry to the M4 that it actually would have been able to have such as the t34 rocket launcher and/or a flamethrower.

Now aside from the need to rebalance the combat and/or modify the tank, there is one other small flaw with the adventure and that like how “This Village Was Made For Us” was a bit too similar to “Terror From the Skies” for my liking, I had several flashbacks to Goodman Games, The Timeless Sands of India while reading “Forgotten Wars.” It’s got the same Great Race of Leng Vs. Great Old One storyline going, and similarities right down to the “Here’s some lighting guns for your lesser beings to use!” Thankfully though, both adventures have very different locals and enough variance in the plot progression (not to mention his one has a tank) that you can play them both (although hopefully not back to back) and still enjoy them both without players nitpicking that they’ve already run through something similar before.

Now you would think after two paragraphs of pointing out the problems with “Forgotten Wars,” that I must have hated it, but I honestly really loved it. There’s so much potential for this adventure to be a memorable experience for everyone in your gaming troupe. The idea of all the players as a finely knit tank crew that have experienced the horrors of war is a fascinating one and that might even make them less susceptible to the usual things that drive CoC Investigators into the madhouse. It’s definitely well worth playing through and one of the highlights of this collection. 3 for 4.

Adventure number five is “High Octane” and it’s just a fun and surreal adventure from beginning to end. It incorporates the hot rod culture from the time period, the sheer paranoia about Communists living amongst normal folk (which in this case turns out to be true), the Hell’s Angels and a good dose of Serpent People all thrown together into one fantastic (cracktastic?) adventure from beginning to end. The writer could have easily gone over the top with the potential for camp this adventure had, leading to the same problems that plagued “The Return of Old Reliable.” Instead, everything is weaved together in a believable and yet ominous fashion. Everything is grounded in reality (except for the Serpent People obviously) and NPCS are presented as multi-faceted believable people rather than two-dimension stereotypes based on TV shows from the time period. The crux of the adventure is that, for once, not only are all the fears from the 1950s real (alien threats, commies, biker gangs and teenagers) real, but they all just happen to converge on the same town at the same time. You can imagine what unfolds. This is simply a lot of fun and it’s an adventure where players can openly and consistently crack jokes without running the mood or atmosphere of the adventure. This is definitely one of the highlights of Atomic Age Cthulhu. 4 for 5.

The penultimate adventure in Atomic Age Cthulhu is “L.A. Diabolical.” Here’s the thing, I really enjoyed this adventure, especially all the homages and in-jokes to real life people within it. The problem is this isn’t a 1950s adventure but a late 1960s/early 1970s one. All those aforementioned references and allusions? They’re from the 1960s, not the 1950s. Zander LeNoir is Anton Levay. The Church of Night is the Church of Satan. Jayne St. Jayne is Jayne Mansfield. Davy Samuels Jr. is Sammy Davis Jr. So on and so forth. Anyone who remotely catches the nudge nudge, wink wink aspects of this adventure will appreciate them (as I did) but also know that the time period for them is all wrong. So I’m torn on this minor aesthetic aspect. While “L.A. Diabolical” is a well done adventure it also doesn’t belong in this collection at all and should have been saved for something for befitting the story and actual time period it is referencing. It’s akin to having a collection entitled “Cthulhustock” and having all the adventures being psychedelic hippie fare, but then one being an homage to “That’s What Friends Are For” where all the world’s top music stars are brought together for a song to help ease suffering in Africa, only to have the whole thing be a ploy by the Insects of Shaggai to take control of the music industry in one fell swoop. Sure it might be pretty interesting, but it wouldn’t fit the theme or collection, now would it?

The catch is not too many people are actually going to pick up on the fact that this is a 1960s adventure masquerading as a 1950s one and really, besides pointing it out in a review (because hey, if a critic isn’t critiquing, they’re not doing their job.) only the most anal retentive rules-lawyerly of gamers is really going to have a problem with this factoid and generally we all know how to keep from gaming with those people, so most of your time with L.A. Diabolical will be fun and frantic rather than a discussion on the fact that a high profile cult of this nature simply wouldn’t be tolerated during the 1950s due to the spotlight on Hollywood for a supposed proliferation of communist sympathizers. It’s a game – have fun with it.

The adventure is one that is hilarious in concept but quite serious and dark in its follow-through and it works wonderfully. The concept simply is this: Small town naïve Great Old One worshipper makes it in Holywood but longs for the days of ritual sacrifice and communing with things of otherworldly origin. When the Church of Night makes it big, she readily joins up only to discover it’s a sham without any real magic or occultism going on. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but I’m thinking a worshipper of things Mankind was not meant to know can give that lady a run for her money. This is just a fun adventure in all respects unless you are hell bent on chronological accuracy. I should point out Anton LeVay’s estate is highly litigious, so let’s hope they don’t find out about this one. 5 for 6.

The final adventure, but not the final section in the book, is “Destroying Paradise, Hawai’ian Style.” This adventure is a bit of an homage to the Elvis in Hawaii set of movies “The King” made…which were made in the 1960s. So see above for my little commentary on this exact issue with this aspect of the adventure. Unlike the previous adventure which was firmly set in the 60s in all ways, this one sticks hard and fast to actual 1950s history, save for the potential genocide of all life on the islands if the Investigators screw this one up. “Destroying Paradise” is set firmly in 1957, as Hawai’I edges ever closer to statehood. The Investigators are stuck in the middle between factions who want to see the USA get a 50th State and those who want to see the haole leave the islands. If that’s not enough each side has their own Cthulhu Mythos cult aiding them. This, my friends, is where the fun (and insanity…and deaths…and horrific monsters that defy description and…well, you get the picture) begins.

Investigators are going to have to keep the Elvis analogue’s movie filming smoothly, discover the machinations of the two cults, save as many lives as possible and eventually prevent a minor Great Old One from wiping out all life in the region. Also, the effects of nuclear testing in this region by American armed forces comes back to haunt the Investigators big time. This is just another solid all-around fun adventure for players and Keepers alike where I only have minor issues. In this case it’s aspects of the 1960s showing up in a 1950s collection and that the final bits of the adventure really need to be run by a very organized Keeper who is well versed in the game, otherwise it’s going to fall apart on them. 6 for 7.

Think we’re done? Guess again, there is still another twenty percent of the book we haven’t covered. Up next is “1950s Sinister Seeds” where the authors have provided you with twenty paragraphs, each of which can snowball into a full fledged adventure of their own. Sure you’ll have to do the legwork and put the thing together, but nearly all of these are top notch and should have you chomping at the big to try and flesh at least one of them out. 7 for 8.

The last bit of the book is “The 1950s Sourcebook” and it contains a lot of helpful information for Keepers. You need information about the presidents of the era? It’s here. Population statistics? Ditto. Pop culture factoids? You’ve got it. Everything from the House Un-American Activities Committee to views on race and sexual preference are covered in this section. It might even be worth it to read this last chapter first so you can better visualize what the 1950s were like. There are even some fun new occupations like Beatnik and Rock Musician. This alone is worth the price of admission. 8 for 9.

As we can see from the past six pages of commentary, Atomic Age Cthulhu is an exceptionally well done piece. Sure the adventures could have used some better vetting/editing, but the good definitely outweighs the bad in nearly all of them, making this a truly worthwhile collection to pick up. With the digital version of Atomic Age Cthulhu at almost half the cost of the physical version (which will also have shipping fees), I strongly recommend going PDF all the way as it becomes quite the deal. Here’s hoping the rest of 2013 follows suit for Chaosium releases!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Atomic-Age Cthulhu
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Secrets of Tibet
Publisher: Chaosium
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:24:53
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/05/tabletop-review-secrets-
-of-tibet-call-of-cthulhu/

Secrets of Tibet is the latest is the “Secrets” set of campaign settings that Chaosium puts out for its Call of Cthulhu line. They did kind of a stealth release of the digital version on Thanksgiving Eve, so unless you keep your eyes peeled to their official website, you might have missed that this came out.

What makes Secrets of Tibet interesting is neither Lovecraft nor his contemporaries ever set a Mythos related story in the setting of Tibet. At the same time it’s so often romanticized for its culture and isolated location, that it makes perfect sense that someone eventually did either a Secrets or Monograph piece on the country/region (depending on how you look at Tibet).As well, Secrets of Tibet becomes the first official release for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Edition, beating even the two core rulebooks by several months. Of course without the core rulebooks (Which, like most Kickstarter projects, are rather delayed) the only thing you have to run Secrets of Tibet with is the Quick Start Rules for the time being. Good news though – the book does devote five pages on how to convert the book to previous editions of the game so that you can use it with say, Fifth or Sixth Edition until 7e is finally released en masse. The conversion guide is a real highlight of the book, especially if you haven’t paid close attention to the changes coming with 7e. It highlights both some of the really good and really bad ideas that are going into 7e and should help you decide if you want to invest in the new edition or stick with an older version of the game. If you haven’t been paying attention to the forthcoming changes, I suggest you read this section of the book FIRST (It probably should be closer to the front instead of towards the back due to its release before the core 7e books). Otherwise you might be in for a bit of culture shock when you see average joes and their 75-80 STR.

So with that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual content of Secrets of Tibet. As you might have guessed, the bulk of the book is a campaign guide that discusses Tibet in great detail. The book also contains three adventures for use with the setting, but we’ll talk more about them later. I was disappointed that the book shied away from the Chinese occupation of Tibet since 1950 as it’s such a huge part of the modern era for both countries. Information on this ongoing debacle would have been of use to Keepers who know only the window dressings about the issue or remember Richard Gere protesting Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1980s and 90s. The good news is the book does go into detail about every other historical aspect of Tibet, including 1500 years of conflict between China and Tibet highlighting occasions where both have been the aggressor (and even invader) in situations. Because most CoC games tend to take place between the 1890s and 1940s, Secrets of Tibet will more than satisfy fans of those time periods. Gamers who prefer a more modern CoC setting like Delta Green will have to do a little research to flesh out current day Tibet for their gamers.

Honestly, Secrets of Tibet is exactly what I want from a campaign setting/guide for a RPG. Similar to the recent Sundering campaign guides, Wizards of the Coast has put out for Dungeons & Dragons, Secrets of Tibet almost overloads you with quality information about the region, culture, indigenous people, politics, religion, history, food and weather. It’s wonderful and although your brain can’t possibly fit in every last detail that Secrets of Tibet throws at you, you will love just how in-depth this book goes. I should also point out the majority of content (outside of the adventures) is about the real history of Tibet rather than a Cthulhu-ized version of the location ala what you might see for a World of Darkness campaign setting book. Instead, the actual game pieces are supplementary to the various essays that comprise Secrets of Tibet. You’ll see conjecture about how Lovecraftian beasties and creations could fit into Tibetan folklore rather than hamfisting Mythos creatures into the setting. For example, the book suggests that Sky Burials in a CoC version of reality could have come about due to not wanting ghouls to desecrate the corpses of loved ones. It’s a subtle and optional choice yet it still manages to stick closely to both the reality of the Tibetan people and to CoC canon. I love this.

Of course the entire book isn’t a non-fiction treatise disguised as a campaign setting book for a popular role-playing game line. For every bit of real world information, you’ll get a sidebar or a full follow-up on how the information works with game mechanics. After an article on the history of Tibet, you get a few paragraphs on how the region can be a gateway to the Dreamlands. Almost thirty pages of Secrets of Tibet are devoted to the topic of religion. You’ll find some new spells, the ability to create a Tulpa, and even mechanics for reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, all interspersed with a ton of real world content. After a rundown on the people of Tibet, you are given a whopping eleven new Investigator professions. I should also point out that some of the Occupations including stat changes and that said changes are with Seventh Edition rules in mind, So Keepers, don’t let your 6e players come to you and say, “I get +10 to my STR since I am a Fighting Monk.” So on and so forth through the book. Some gamers might want a lot more mechanics and stat blocks that the book provides, but I think the fact the book leans heavily on actual substance about the location is what really makes the book shine.

Besides the really fun occupations, you have eight new skills that characters can learn. Things like Dreaming, Animal Handling and Radio Operation act just like any other CoC skill (regardless of edition), but a special note should be paid to Tibetan Status as this can ebb and flow regularly throughout a game, especially if say a PC is found to be a reincarnation of a Lama. You’ll also find a chapter devoted specifically to monsters/demons/etc ripped directly from Tibetan folklore. Of course, they are slightly and subtly modified to reflect Call of Cthulhu. Grol-Ma is an avatar of Shub-Niggurath and garuda birds are a byahkee variant. So on and so forth. These potential antagonists will be somewhat familiar to longtime COC gamers but also help to keep the correct mood and atmosphere of a Tibetan based adventure and/or campaign. A huge part of the chapter is devoted to making the mi-go part of Tibet’s past(as well as an entire adventure). This is really the only shoehorning of a Mythos race into Tibet within the book but the inclusion makes sense and it’s well done, so you won’t hear any complaints from me on this front.

The chapter on NPCs is very well done as it gives Keepers premade characters to insert into his adventure. As they are all based on real people, this is another nice historical layer of the book and it will be a nice easter egg for players who were already fans of Tibetan history and culture. I will say my only problem with this chapter is a minor one I have throughout the book and it’s that the stat blocks for NPCs are insanely overpowered. For example, no one in this chapter has a stat of under 55! In sixth or older editions that translates to no one have a stat under 11. That’s crazy high and basically means every NPC is above average at everything they do, which is unrealistic. I’ve been noticing power creep going into character stats, both pregenerated PCs and NPCs alike throughout Call of Cthulhu this year, regardless of publisher (Golden Goblin, MRP, Chaosium, etc) and it’s just odd to see characters with stats this high, especially when part of the appeal of Call of Cthulhu is about everyday people getting sucked into events far beyond their comprehension. Again though, this is a minor issue, but worth bringing up as it’s been an all too apparent trend as of late.

After this intermission of mechanics based content, Secrets of Tibet goes back to full fledged essay mode (entertaining, not dull lecture Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). You get an extremely comprehensive chapter on travelling to Tibet. I’m a pretty voracious reader on the region Tibet is in (although I’m far more interested in Bhutan) like the current state of train transport from China to Tibet and the fact it just started up in 2007. I loved getting a current real world price tag for a train ticket too, as it’s a lot less that I would have thought and it makes me want to travel to Tibet that way. Again, for those who care more about mechanics than fleshing out the locale, this chapter contains information on how to run altitude sickness, a problem that affects the majority of people that come to Tibet. After that we get the final chapter of the campaign setting part of the book. It primarily focuses on the city of Lhasa, although it also includes some general odds and ends that could have been its own “Miscellaneous” style chapter. These pieces includes weapons, a look at the justice system in Tibet, a list of general names of Tibetan people, a guide to the Tibetan alphabet, foods festivals and how their calendar works. You know, things that don’t apply just to Lhasa, making them an odd inclusion at the tail end of the chapter. Again, a minor thing, but like all of Secrets of Tibet, the only things to criticize about the book are tiny things here and there that in no way take away from the overall quality or enjoyment of this release.

Now that we’ve finished discussed the campaign guide part of Secrets of Tibet we have three adventures to look at. While none of the adventures are mind-blowing or extremely memorable ones that you and your friends will talk about for months or years after you play them, all three are fine introductions to using Tibet as a region and work as first adventures for new characters. I should point out that the adventures are not designed to be played as a mini campaign as some are for foreigners visiting Tibet and others for natives. I actually like that the adventures were done this way as it gives a Keeper an option of what he wants to run. After all, to outsiders, Tibet is a strange and mysertious land full of wonder. To native characters it’s home and pretty mundane. So you get a very different atmosphere based on what group you are using and thus adventures designed for one won’t feel the same (or even work quite right) if you use them with the other.

“Dreaming of the River of Night” is an adventure for non-Tibetans and serves as an introduction to the land, the culture and the Dreamlands. A copy of the Dreamlands sourcebook is NOT needed for running this adventure, but it will flesh things out if you want a more comprehensive look at that setting. I do like the idea of tying the Dreamworlds into Tibet as the two just seem like such a nice fit. There isn’t a lot going on in this adventure. There is very little research and next to no combat. It’s primarily an atmospheric talking heads pieces that introduces player and/or characters to two locals. It might even be a great “Gamer’s first COC adventure” as long as they aren’t predisposed to nonstop hack and slash combat.

“Company Town” is designed for Tibetan native characters and is a take on the usual, “Mi-Go are up to wacky experiments” trope. This time however, the fungi from Yuggoth have dealt with an ENTIRE TOWN and it is up to players to discover what is behind the rash of recent disappearances in the area. The adventure can have a bit of a Night of the Living Dead feel to it depending on how you play it, but I’d play it more Invasion of the Body Snatchers or “angry mob.” This adventure is quite the opposite of the first one in Secrets of Tibet as it’s pretty action packed and it can get extremely combat heavy. It’s a nice contrast to “Dreaming.” While “Company Town” is a bit paint by numbers in some respects, it’s a fine adventure for introducing players to Tibet.

Our final adventure is “O’ Sleeper! Arise!” and it is the most complex adventure in the collection. The adventure warns that it can come off a bit Dues Ex Machina at the end in the hands of an inexperienced Keeper and that going this route will make it a letdown to everyone involved. I like when an adventure warns you of its potential limitations and flaws so that the Keeper can prepare for them, but more importantly PREVENT THEM FROM OCCURRING. You don’t see this type of disclaimer very often, so I’m glad it is here.

“O’ Sleeper! Arise!” takes place in Lhasa and is designed to use a lot of the locations, materials, NPCs and information contained in the sourcebook section. It is designed primarily for native Tibetans, but one or two outsiders can still work in the parameters of the adventure. The adventure is a pretty typical one. Cultist pokes his nose where it is not meant to be. Cultist accidentally unleashes someone horrific with tentacles. Things die or go insane. Of course the adventure won’t unfold that way if the Investigators are successful. It’s a fairly straightforward adventure that pits the Investigators against one of the monsters deadly and dangerous creatures in the game (if they’re not lucky). If the players manage to discover exactly what the cult is up to and prevent them from awakening…something, then it’s a pretty low key adventure. Again, we have another short and fairly standard adventure. Indeed, “O’Sleeper!” could easily be placed outside of Tibet and still work properly without a minute amount of fine tuning by a Keeper. It’s not a bad adventure by any means, and it is well written, but like all the adventures in Secrets of Tibet, it’s not very memorable.

All in all, Secrets of Tibet is a really great release from Chaosium, which has struggled a bit in 2013 in terms of quality. The campaign guide is one of the best I’ve seen released for Call of Cthulhu and it’s the most informative read since the Mysteries of Ireland monograph. The adventures are the weakest part of the book, but you’re not really purchasing Secrets of Tibet for the adventures. Rather, you are buying it for the in-depth comprehensive look at a region that is still a bit mysterious to outsiders even in modern times. As you can pick up the PDF for under twelve dollars, I can strongly recommend the digital copy of Secrets of Tibet to any CoC fan who wants a highly informative campaign guide to read. It might not be a book you actually end up using with your players, but Secrets of Tibet is fun just to sit down, especially if you are even remotely interested in Tibet.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Secrets of Tibet
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Darkfast Classic Fantasy Advanced Classes: Ducks
Publisher: Okumarts Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:22:43
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/11/tabletop-review-darkfas-
t-classic-fantasy-advanced-classes-ducks-labyrinth-lord/

When you’re a reviewer, sometime a piece so weird comes up that you have to review it. In this case it is Ducks, a supplement for Labyrinth Lord by Okumarts Games. Labyrinth Lord isn’t a system that is known for its sense of humour, but the cover and description of Ducks was so hilariously odd that I had to see if the piece was a nice piece of levity for the system or if it actually was taking itself seriously. Well, thankfully this is meant to be a comic piece. However, once it is on your table you or your players can treat it as seriously as you want. After all, is a race of duck people really that different from Dragonborn, Lizardmen or Wolfweres? I’d say no. Anything is possibly in YOUR fantasy world.

For $2.50, you get two nine page PDFs – one for PCs and one for Macs. Each format also gets two ads for other Okumarts products. Now $2.50 might seem a bit pricey for a mere nine pages of content, especially when one of those pages is actually just the OGL. The highlight of the piece is the comical duck-person art by David Okum. It’s no Carl Barks or Don Rosa in quality, but the art kept making me thinking of a Disney/D&D mash-up, which is wonderfully bizarre.

The duck race appears to be an ancient curse brought upon by a cranky wizard, but it’s never said why or to whom. The duck race as a whole seems to take its cues from Donald Duck as they are cranky and awkward. Being ducks they have a harder time on land than on water (although not if they are wearing full plate armor obviously) and they get penalties to hiding their tracks and disguising themselves for obvious reasons. It is interesting to see that Ducks are also grumpy and unlucky as a race, making me wonder if the author did indeed pattern this after the Carl Barks version of Donald Duck. It really seems like it, as the credits thank Disney’s greatest creator ever. However, what do you do with a Gladstone Gander type duck, a Gyro Gearloose or even an Uncle Scrooge? Why not a playable Ranger class considering the importance of the Junior Woodchucks? There are multiple lost opportunities with the piece, although perhaps due to the size of the PDF rather than the imagination of the creator.

After a history and overview of the Duck race, readers are treated to both NPC stats for common ducks and also player progression stats/charts for playable Ducks, as well as four class options: Fighter, Magic-User, thief and Cleric. Ducks get a lot of restrictions especially in the fact they can only have d6s for Hit Dice and their terrible saving throws vs magic, but they also get a wide range of bonuses including the ability to 100% read magic, even if they are a non-magic-using class. The challenge and comic potential of playing a Duck character will be intriguing to some.

After looking over all the options, a Duck Cleric and Magic-User seem to be the best options due to their bonuses and hindrances involving magic. A Duck Thief is going to have challenges due to its appearance, waddling speed drawback and lack of disguise options. A Duck Fighter will be held back by the armor and weapon restrictions the race faces. Now this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play a Duck Warrior if that is what you really want – just a heads up about the potential challenges these characters would face. Duck Clerics and Magic-Users are pretty much the same as any other races that has access to those classes, so they’d be the best to try using this class with in my opinion.

Overall, Ducks is a very interesting product. The piece is definitely presenting with its tongue in its cheek and the artwork is fabulous, but the piece is also written in such a way that the race can be taken quite seriously if you and your players choose too. It’s a cute idea that I am really glad I picked up. My two complaints are actually parallel to each other in that the piece is a bit pricey for what you get and that there is a lot of missed potential because of the brevity in the PDF. Still, that means we might see further supplements down the road, right?

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Darkfast Classic Fantasy Advanced Classes: Ducks
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Publisher Reply:
This excellent review brought up some great points and given me much to think about for future class books. I have added a set of eight paper minis to give more bang for the buck and link it with my other products. Thanks for the honest and insightful review Alexander! Make sure you download the file again for the minis.
Accursed: Half-Light
Publisher: Melior Via
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2014 06:21:59
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/11/tabletop-review-accurse-
d-half-light-savage-worlds/

Half-Light is the latest adventure for the Accursed setting for Savage Worlds which was launched in late 2013. This short little two page adventure (the other pages are the cover and legal mumbo jumbo) can be used as a stand-alone adventure or can be used in conjunction with the plot-point campaign found in the core Accursed rulebook. I should point out that with only two pages, Half-Light is more a story seed than a true adventure, as the GM that runs this will have to put a lot of work into fleshing it out and making it playable. There are no stats or mechanics to be had save for a block for a single NPC. As such, purchasers need to know how to put together an adventure almost from scratch, so this wouldn’t be a good fit for an inexperienced GM. I should also point out that while the adventure is only $1.25, to properly run it with the Accursed setting, you’ll need the Accursed rulebook, the Savage Worlds core rulebook and the Savage Worlds Horror Companion. That’s going to get expensive. Because you need three full rulebooks just to run this two page adventure, people who aren’t already heavily invested in Savage Worlds should either look elsewhere or consider taking the 99.99% systemless story seed and converting it to mechanics they already own or know quite well.

The story of Half-Light revolves around the village of Whitetarn, which has been completely slaughtered. Not a single resident has been left standing nor a single drop of blood lies upon the ground. The characters are cajoled into investigating this gruesome genocide by a local priest named Father Dhugal (as opposed to Dougal from Father Ted. They are also aided in the investigation by a dhampir named Sevtlana, who is as talented as she is both brusque and unlikeable. Once the village of Whitetarn is reached, players and their characters must solve the mystery of the strange deaths littering the area. Clues involve a missing ancient tome, a sacrilegious offering of a priest’s corpse and a pretty complicated and insidious plot by a powerful monster.

The adventure is pretty straight-forward aside from one fairly obvious twists that players will figure out before it actually occurs. It’s a paint by numbers style adventure and so any experienced gamer will know what is coming. The question will be whether or not the character’s knowledge and the player’s knowledge will match up. Half-Light should take more than one or two play sessions to complete as much of the adventure consists of investigation or talking heads. There is a bit of combat to be had in Half-Light but how much depends on how cerebral the players are. There isn’t much substance to be had due to the thin plot and short length of the PDF, but enterprising GMs can pad the adventure out to be longer if needed. There’s also a nice map of the chapel players will spend a lot of time in, but it’s much too small to be of any use. The PDF really should have offered this as a full page piece that GMs could then print out and use. Oddly enough a bigger version of the chapel can be found and downloaded directly from the DRiveThruRPG.com link at the top. Why it isn’t included in the PDF proper is a real head scratcher.

Overall, Half-Light is a thumbs in the middle. It’s a decently written piece and at only a dollar, it’s not going to break anyone’s bank. However it’s extremely straightforward and uses the same basic plot we’ve seen in many an adventure across pretty much every system ever. As such, it’s really only fun in the hands of a GM who can truly flesh this out and/or when played by very inexperienced gamers who won’t see the plot progression coming a mile away. I was more than a little disappointed this wasn’t a more original affair, but what can you do? As such, I can really only recommend Half-Light for diehard Accursed completionists.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Accursed: Half-Light
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Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator's Guide
Publisher: Modiphius
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/04/2014 07:10:37
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/04/tabletop-review-achtung-
-cthulhu-investigators-guide-to-the-secret-war-call-of-cthul-
hu-savage-worlds/

When this first popped up I had to say I was compelled, not just by the fact that it’s Cthulhu, but also because it’s set during World War II which I’ve always had an ongoing interest in. This is the first part required to play Achtung! Cthulhu, the second part being the Keeper’s Guide which functions as the Gamemaster’s book if we were talking Dungeons and Dragons while this one would function as the Player’s Guide. This started life as a Kickstarter and I have to say the final results here are amazing. The idea of the Cthulhu mythos running side by side with the Nazi’s isn’t something we haven’t seen before. They’ve always been portrayed as being involved in some kind of cult rituals in a lot of different fiction over the years. My first real exposure to this was Raiders of the Lost Ark and more recently Hellboy which deals much closer with the Old Ones than just simply labeling it as an occult thing. But Achtung! Cthulhu goes a step further than that even, and while you won’t find a whole lot of information in the Investigator’s Guide about the Nazi side of the Secret War, most of that is reserved for the Keeper’s Guide, what you end up with in the Investigator’s Guide is a very detailed RPG that could easily be a World War II campaign without the Cthulhu mythos coming up at all. There’s a lot in here and I love the details.

01The whole book is laid out like you’re reading the case files of an investigator or a military brief. Artwork that’s on a page will be framed like it’s an actual photograph that’s been paper clipped to the pages you’re looking at. The pages look rough and like they’re laid out on a corkboard or rough desk from the period. The titles are set up to look like they were punched onto the page by a type-writer but they opted to give the main text you read a far more readable font, thankfully. When you are presented with a table or stat block, it’s done up like it was formatted on a large index card and hastily taped into place but is still legible. The look and feel is heavily tailored to look like it comes from the time period Acthung! Cthulhu is set in and if I wasn’t just looking at this as a PDF, the book alone would be amazing. Added to that, only 4 pages of the book are ads giving you a full 141 pages of content minus the covers, a splash page, several pages of thanks for the backers of the kickstarter and the index.

Achtung! Chtulhu is actually set-up to work with two different game systems, Savage Worlds Deluxe and Call of Cthulhu, 6th Edition. There are 4 chapters, 2 each dedicated to character creation specific to each system. You end up with 49 pages in Chapters 5 and 6 that are designed specifically for character creation in Call of Cthulhu and only 18 pages in Chapter 7 dedicated to Savage Worlds. That isn’t to say you can’t use some of the ideas in either, but if you’re only planning on running one rule set you’re going to end up with some wasted pages here. The nice part is that they’re full of content and sparing on a lot of stat blocks. Other than those three specific chapters, the rest of the book doesn’t bother separating everything out but will include a brief set of stats to apply to either game with text in differing colors to distinguish which game system gets what text and they’ve done a great job making sure it’s never confusing as to what goes with which.

02Chapter 1, titled Welcome to the Secret War, goes on for a short six pages to give an overview of the real-world events leading up to World War II as well as some of the bigger events through the war up to April 1945 which isn’t the actual end of the war, but who’s to say with the Secret War going on things won’t end differently? Germany was desperate at the end after all. There are mentions of two supplements coming at this point in the book as well, the Achtung! Cthulhu: Assault on the Mountains of Madness campaign and the Achtung! Cthulhu: Bye Bye Baby supplement. It’s really just a little blurb but it’s something beyond both books to look for if you’re enjoying these, which I really do love. The overview is pretty well done and actually reminded me of a film I hadn’t seen yet which I ended up watching shortly after going through the book for a few more ideas. Chapter 2, Keep the Home Fires Burning, goes on for ten pages and goes really in depth with what life was like during the period, both in Europe and in America. There are lots of tips on what was acutally available for food, what kinds of jobs for non-military people were available, mob ties, and even what kinds of entertainment were out there from music to films. When I mentioned details earlier and playing this as a straight World War II RPG even without the Cthulhu mythos, this is what I was talking about. It’s pretty well researched and helps set the tone perfectly. Chapter 3, Home Sweet Home, is a twelve page chapter that re-visits the chronology from Chapter 1, but goes into more specifics with it and details different events for Britain, titled Dear Old Blighty, France, titled The Not-So-Belle Epoque, and the United States titled Mom & Apple Pie. With the chronology is a bit more on life during the time and specific adventures you might go on if your part of the Secret War starts there and what you may end up doing. This is equally as well-researched as Chapter 2 and can really help with painting the picture for players and gamemasters alike with what life was like during the war.

Chapter 4, In the Service of One’s Country, goes in depth for 13 pages on France’s, Britain’s, Germany’s and the United States Militaries and breakdowns of their intelligence groups. There are some pretty good blurbs here on the different aspects of each and it touches on the French Resistance as well as several civilian actions taken during the war in Britain. It’s a decent overview of the different branches and what they do but doesn’t go too terribly in-depth into any of them. Chapter 5, Your Country Needs You!, gives the player the Call of Cthulhu character creation rules for creating your investigator for Achtung! Cthulhu. This is part one of Call of Cthulhu character creation and weighs in at a hefty 37 pages. That’s not to say that you won’t get anything out of this if you’re playing with Savage Worlds rules however as there is a lot of nice detail on military characters and other aspects of the war, but it’s definitely geared stat-wise for Cthulhu. Chapter 6, Getting Your Hands Dirty, is part two of Call of Cthulhu character creation that delves into updating skills since technology from the twenties and the world don’t quite mesh with the forties and the second World War all that well so you get 9 pages of updated skills for Call of Cthulhu which really won’t help you with Savage Worlds. Chapter 7, The Savage Practice of War, is the character creation section for Savage Worlds and weighs in at 18 pages. Savage Worlds is a fairly versatile game system already so it really doesn’t need all the extra pages Call of Cthulhu had to have for updates, and there is some crossover from what’s presented in Chapter 5, but tailored more for the one game system.

03Chapter 8, The Tools of the Trade, is what it sounds like, equipment. This chapter is 15 pages of equipment summaries and then stat blocks for both game systems that Achtung! Cthulhu is designed for. They delve into the different gear that each country was using, clothing options, and a variety of other weapons or technology that you might find at the time. Chapter 9, Quick-Play Guide, is almost a waste of 3 pages. All it really does is list all the pages and chapters you can find character creation rules in Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds. While it may prove useful, I can almost guarantee having the rulebook for either game will do the same thing, but this might speed it up a little bit. Chapter 10, Suggested Resources, is 4 pages of lists of films, books, television shows and games that might help get the flavor of World War II and the occult usage down. It’s a pretty decent list, but if you’re not looking for lists, well there you go. After that you’ve got the Kickstarter Backer thank-you’s which without them we wouldn’t have this book to review and use, a map of Europe and the borders when the war was going on, the index, and character sheets for both game systems.

Overall, there’s a ton of content in this book. It’s a phenomenal resource even if you’re not going to use it to run Achtung! Cthulhu as intended. I’m tempted to just run a spy or war campaign set in World War II just with this and see how it goes. It’s really well done and just reading through it gave me plenty of ideas for my own campaigns. I highly recommend this one as it’s very much worth the price for what you’re getting out of it. The artwork looks great, the layout is easy to read and look up, and you can use this in two different game systems right off the bat, both of which have either quick start rules for playing or offer an entirely free version of the rules to play with. Keep an eye out for my review of the Keeper’s Guide as that’s next on my list.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator's Guide
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Injecting the Weird
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/31/2014 06:27:06
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/31/tabletop-review-injecti-
ng-the-weird-numenera/

From the title, I assumed that Injecting the Weird would actually be a crossover of sorts with Monte Cook Games’ upcoming release The Strange, similar to how In Strange Aeons was a guide on how to add Lovecratian moods and themes to your Ninth World experience. Perhaps by giving ciphers or creatures from that game. Instead, Injecting the Weird is a lot like In Strange Aeons, but “the weird” in this case is literally strange and bizarre happenings and how the Ninth World should be super saturated with them. Now, if you’re like me, your Ninth World is pretty weird, as you have probably used “it’s a billion years in the future – plausibility and physics go right out the window” for the sake of giving your players something truly strange to discover. Maybe you have given them a cipher that, when pressed, shoots out a wad of slime that coalesces into a 14 foot high gummy bear that screams when you take a bite out of it. Maybe characters have run into a life that resembles a giant jawbone, except it is hovering fifteen feet in the air and no force on earth can lower or raise its altitude. Maybe they have found a village where all of the homes are made of a substance that appears to be fluorescent blue cottage cheese, yet it is durable enough to withstand lightning strikes and monster attacks. All of these things are WEIRD, and yet, if you read the core Numenera rulebook, none of these things should ruin the suspension of disbelief for players, because the Ninth World is all about things that are wondrous and unexplainable. It is a game of discovery and imagination first and foremost after all.

However, weirdness is far more than strange unexplainable phenomenon and lifeforms that just happen to go on in the Ninth World around the PCs. It needs to be more than just throwing strange things at your players for the sake of strange, and it certainly has to be more treating Numenera like a futuristic dungeon crawl hack and slash experience. This is where Injecting the Weird comes in, as Monte Cook gives us a twenty-two page PDF on how to fill your Numenera campaign with weirdness and how to do so in a way that makes your campaign better as well as stranger.

For Monte, weird is defined in the same way some politicians used to define pornography – you know it when you see it. Weird things are those that fill you with a sense of wonder. How does that exist? WHY does it exist? Weirdness should make your players curious and want to learn more, even if they know full well that they can’t. Weird is also relative. In a game like Shadowrun, a Fairlight Excalibur deck is far from weird, but drop one of those into Numenera and the PCs will probably poke and prod at it, having no idea what it is for, especially from the first base GM description.

After defining what weird is, the next section talks about when you should explain the weird, such as when it is pivotal to an adventure. After all, if the goal of the adventure is to discover (and stop) what is causing giant hail in the shape of flounder to ravage a countryside and decimate the crops of a region, then you do have to explain the weird to some degree. However, there are far more times when defining it can ruin the effect, so as a GM, you have to know when to give a full reveal and when to just let it fascinate or creep out the PCs. After that, we are given a short piece on “The Point of the Weird,” which gives explanation and justification for WHY the Ninth World is so bizarre. The answer, of course, is that we are a billion years in the future and eight full civilizations have come and gone, some so alien that we can’t even conceive of them, and all we have left of their existence are bizarre doodads and residuals we simply can’t explain or understand. What made sense to them doesn’t to us, and probably vice versa. Hence, weirdness is now everywhere. There’s a great summation in the piece that highlights just how incomprehensible some things will be to the PCs. “Could a Neanderthal understand how and why you’re reading this Glimmer right now?” Said Neanderthal should be just and confused and fascinated by the concept of a PDF in the same way players should be with all sorts of strange things that litter the Ninth World.

From there we get fourteen pages of d100 tables. Yes, sixty-three percent of this five dollar PDF is little more than random tables, leaving only seven pages of actual content. I can’t deny that this makes Injecting the Weird overpriced for what you get, as seven random tables whose topics range from “A Weird (But Not Particularly Dangerous) Creature” to “A Weird NPC” aren’t what I want, need or look for in a Numenera supplement, but that’s probably because I have spent two and a half decades playing/running games like Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Paranoia, Cyberpunk, SLA Industries, Spelljammer, Planescape and HoL, so I’m pretty familiar with the concept of weird. However, that isn’t true for all gamers. For some, this might be their first RPG (I know it is for one of my friend’s little girls) and for others, they might be hardwired to roll-playing over role-playing and thus haven’t focused on the creative, imaginative or descriptive side of RPGs. For others, they might only have run published adventures, so crafting something bizarre might be outside their forte. For these, and many other, gamers, the seven random charts included in Injecting the Weird are going to be very helpful. It’s hand-holding to give those gamers less experienced in weirdness hundreds of examples of exactly what this piece is all about. So just because I have always gravitated towards extremely weird games doesn’t mean these random tables aren’t useful or a good tool to help fledgling GMs learn how to infuse a game with weirdness – they just aren’t useful to me. If, however, you’re a gamer who is struggling with the concept of throwing strange and unexplainable things into your Numenera game, these tables are probably worth the five dollar admission price alone.

The last five pages of Injecting the Weird are mechanics and rules to help provide more weirdness in Numenera characters from the getgo. You have a new descriptor called “Weird,” where a character gets +2 to their Intellect pool, a distinct physical quirk (maybe a fin on their head or fourteen eyes) and training in Numenera knowledge, at the expense of social interactions all being a step higher on the difficulty scale. There is a new focus called “Masters Insects” which is pretty self-explanatory. The tier powers in this one are pretty fun (and sometimes creepy) and it might be worth investing in, especially if you want to play a were-walking stick or something. Admit it, that’s weird! You also have a new focus option in “Sees Beyond,” which is a really interesting focus. It opens itself (and thus the PC) to a lot of potential GM intrusion, but it’s also a focus that can let the GM help guide players towards what they are looking for or steer them towards the direction an adventure needs to go. As you can imagine, Sees Beyond gives a character the ability to visualize different spectrums, see things that are invisible or out of phase with our reality and so on. It’s a very cool focus and one that I think will see a lot of use, especially with NPCs by certain DMs. Sees Beyond will probably become the equivalent of the Divination magic sphere for Numenera.

All in all, this is another great first party release for Numenera by Monte Cooke Games. I was expecting something totally different, but the end result is still a wonderful release that offers something to gamers of all experience and skill levels. Some gamers will probably balk at the fact that Injecting the Weird is almost two thirds random tables, and I can’t fault them for that. After all, that wasn’t what I wanted either. Those same tables that may push away some gamers will actually draw in others – especially those with less experience designing their own world, and especially those not used to running a game whose fuel is strangeness. So while Injecting the Weird isn’t for everyone, it is a well-designed supplement for Numenera and one I can easily recommend.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Injecting the Weird
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Fighting Fire - Ernie Gygax Benefit Adventure
Publisher: Creative Mountain Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2014 06:17:17
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/25/tabletop-review-fightin-
g-fire-ernie-gygax-benefit-adventure/

Ernest Gary Gygax Junior did not have a good 2013. At the beginning of the year his home and many of his worldly possessions burned down. Since then, his brother Luke has set up the Ernie Gygax Fire Relief Trust Fund so that gamers around the world can help him out. After all he and his family have done for the industry, it’s not a surprise that companies are donating profits or making outright contributions to the fund. Case in point: Creative Mountain Games. CMG is donating a third of all profits from Fighting Fire to the fire relief fund, which is pretty nice. So by purchasing this, you get a nice adventure, keep a small indie publisher going and help Ernie Gygax get back on his feet. Wins all around!

Fighting Fire is a system neutral adventure. This means there are no stats or mechanics. You are just given the story, a list of major characters and antagonists, and from there, the DM has to flesh things out. On one hand, this means you can use Fighting Fire with any fantasy based system, from Dungeon Crawl Classics to Castles & Crusades. Since it is a Gygax tribute, you’re probably better off thematically with one of the earlier versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Regardless of which system you choose, the fact remains you can play Fighting Fire without being locked in to a specific set of mechanics or rules. On the other hand, system neutral adventures require a lot of work from the DM. You’ll have to look up stats for monsters (or design them outright), craft maps of locations and more. If you purchase published adventures because you lack the patience, skill or time to make your own, you probably won’t get much out of Fighting Fire.

Fighting Fire has a somewhat comedic look. It does try to make light of the events that hit Ernie Gygax by turning them into the basis of a fantasy adventure. I’m sure some people may not be comfortable with, say, Ernesto Magnifico, a mighty wizard, who had his tower of solitude burned to the ground, along with many a mystical artifact. That might strike a little too close to home. For others, it is a wink and a nod to real life and an attempt to find something good at the heart of a tragedy. Whichever side you yourself fall on, the fact remains, the intent of Fighting Fire is a good one.

Fighting Fire takes place in the town of Gamington, a neutral town where many a heroic battle is fought. Sides with an itch or need to conflict come to Gamington, not to do battle with swords or spells, but with dice, miniatures and rulebooks. Yes, the treaties of Gamington have allowed surrounding countries to settle their disputes through tabletop war games rather than conventional methods that typically cost a lot of money and cause a lot of death. Until now, the use of tabletop gaming to settle disputes has served the countries surrounding Gamington, but with an outright attack on Ernesto’s tower, fingers are pointing and faith in the tabletop way of settling disputes is badly shaken. After all, if someone attacks the great Ernesto with fire, who is to say a full on assault of a country is not next?

This is, of course, where the PCs come into play. Due to the length of the adventure and the challenges it contains, they should be medium to high level characters. The PCs will have to make their way through a lot of encounters to find the culprit. There are a few false endings too, because right as you THINK you are at the climactic battle with the big bad, you learn there is actually someone else pulling the strings. As such, the adventure can go on for several sessions. It could even make up an entire campaign depending on how well the characters come to like Gamington and get to know its residents. There is a LOT of detail to Fighting Fire, with information on multiple local businesses, the most important residents, and detailed descriptions of the surrounding areas. I’m surprised at how much content was crammed into these thirty-four pages.

Of course, it all comes down to whether or not Fighting Fire is an adventure worth investing in. The truth of the matter is that, as the DM, you will make or break this piece. As a system neutral affair, your DM really has to be meticulous and willing to do a lot more work than you normally would see in a published adventure. This is especially true with Fighting Fire because of the sheer amount of content provided in it. It is as long, if not longer than most adventures with stat blocks and system mechanics written in, so while you’re getting a mini campaign of sorts, the DM will probably spend more time tailoring this than actually running it for his or her friends. Another good example is that there are four maps crammed onto a single page in the back of the adventure. Most DMs will want to probably redraw the maps onto a single page so that they can have more detail and room for notes. In the hands of a less experienced DM, this adventure will probably flop, simply because Fighting Fire is more of an overview or collection of story/encounter seeds rather than the hand holding process a lot of system based adventures are. Even if you don’t ever play Fighting Fire, it is a fun read, and it’s supporting a worthy cause, so you may want to consider purchasing it just for that reason.

Overall, Fighting Fire isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for people who are relatively new to gaming, as it will be a hard adventure to make work and there won’t be the emotional/historical ties to the product. Older gamers however, especially those well versed in Tactical Studies Rules era gaming, will more than likely get a kick out of Fighting Fire.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fighting Fire - Ernie Gygax Benefit Adventure
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #81: The One Who Watches From Below
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2014 06:27:30
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/21/tabletop-review-dungeon-
-crawl-classics-81-the-one-who-watches-from-below/

So, a little back story on this one before we begin. Back on Free RPG Day 2012, Goodman Games gave us an excellent set of two adventures if you were lucky enough to snatch one up. In the back was a partially done map and a contest. You could finish up the map, write an adventure and send your piece in to Goodman Games. The winner would get a cool thousand dollars and eventually see their adventure in print. Well, The One Who Watches From below was the winner. Generally contest adventures aren’t top tier releases because they are tied to a theme or something else that limits full-on creativity, but I’m happy to say that The One Who Watches From Below is an incredible adventure that is well worth investing in.

Frist up, let’s talk about that amazing cover art by Doug Kovacs. Man is it as gorgeous as sit is super creepy. That is one ominous piece and the art alone makes you want to purchase the adventure just to find out what it is about. Then the next page of the piece is a full piece of art. It’s a well drawn spooky dungeon, but your eyes will almost instantly go to the middle of the page where you will see a pair of eyes looking back at you. The eyes are surrounded by a set of dotted lines and instructions telling you to cut them out for use with the adventure. Curiouser and curiouser! This one two punch of a great art and cryptic instructions should be enough to convince any gamer to give this adventure a try. You look at the cover and this first page and any OSR gamer worth their salt just wants to know what ELSE waits them in this adventure. I will say that due to the cutting out aspect of these eyes, the PDF may be the better way to go. That way you can print out multiple copies of the eyes and not ruin your original purchase.

The One Who Watches From Below is designed for six to eight Level 1 characters. It’s a very Lovecraftian entry with names of otherworldly beings like Shigazilnizthrub (along with a cameo from old Wizard Whateleley) and other monsters that will drive a man insane as assuredly as it will rend their flesh. This is definitely a very challenging adventure for the neophyte characters and some PCs will definitely meet a gruesome end in this one. The adventure is also a very long one for a DCC affair. There are three full page maps in the back of the book, each one is a work of art. The text suggests that you can streamline this adventure to one four hour session, but more than likely it will play out over several meetings with your gaming troupe. That’s a great value for the price point when you think about it. The first map also contains Handout A, which is another reason to go PDF over dead tree for this adventure, as you can cut it out without ruining the gorgeous maps. I always say that DCC has the best maps in the industry and The One Who Watches From Below only adds to that sentiment. They’re almost worth the cover price of this adventure alone just so show how stylish a map can be while still retaining its function.

The PCs have made their way, for whatever reason (greed, curiosity, a need for fame, outright stupidity) to the Cave of Secrets. Beneath the cave lies the temple of a god long forgotten by the world, but still both active and malicious. Within the cave awaits a lot of treasure, some horrific monsters and a very strange curse that will stymie both players and their characters alike. The Judge is advised to be exceptionally strict with the rules of the curse, and I concur. It will be frustrating at first, but the curse (which without spoilers, involves those eyes I mentioned you needed to cut out earlier) can be a lot of fun to play out. It really tests a player’s role-playing ability and ensures that The One Who Watches From Below will be a highly memorable affair for all who play it. I can’t say too much more without some huge spoilers, but rest assured, as strange as the requests the DM will make of the PCs are, it is well worth it in the end. This also highlights how outside the box Dungeon Crawl Classics is compared to most other fantasy games, as you’d never see an adventure this weird in Pathfinder or for modern D&D.

You’ll have four levels of locations to traverse. The first is the Cave of Secrets itself. The second is simply known as The Temple. The third is called The Brood Pit and the final is simply the Under-Temple. Now you won’t find a lot of combat in the first two levels, but what battles there are can be quite intense. Death by angry books is a distinct possibility, for example. The further into the adventure you get, the more powerful (and frequently occuring) the monsters are, with the final battle being SNK End Boss bad, to put things in video game terms. It’s far more powerful than the players and expect a pretty high death toll, even for a DCC adventure. While fans of other games might be a bit put off by this climactic encounter, longtime DCC gamers are pretty used to characters dying in horrific ways and this will just be part of the fun for them. Still, because of how overpowered the end battle is, The One Who Watches From Below probably isn’t the best choice for someone’s first ever DCC adventure. A little too much culture shock, you know. For people like myself who play through a lot of published DCC adventures (both first and third party), I really loved the final fateful showdown and I think the same will go for other diehard fans of the system. The Primordial Titan with haunt your nightmares. That’s all I can really say because I want you to experience the sheer horror for yourself.

Overall, Goodman Games has released another fantastic must-buy adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Between this and Intrigue at the Court of Chaos, the first party DCC releases have been extremely impressive. It’s going to be hard to keep up this level of quality but by all means I’m excited to see Goodman Games try. Usually adventure contest winners can be pretty terrible like Chaosium’s recent Horror Stories From the Red Room. The One Who Watches From Below however is one of the better adventures I’ve reviewed this year and hopefully we’ll see more DCC pieces penned by Mr. Jobe Bittman in the future. Congratulations not just to Job for winning, but for DCC fans everywhere for getting the chance to add this adventure to their collection!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #81: The One Who Watches From Below
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Adventure Quarterly #5 (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2014 08:11:59
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/19/tabletop-review-adventu-
re-quarterly-issue-5-pathfinder/

Although the days of high quality monthly tabletop RPG magazine have long since passed, we do seem to be having a nice resurgence of quarterly magazines with top notch content…even if the magazines aren’t actually coming out every three months. We’ve got The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine for example, but TUO hasn’t come out since August and Gygax #4 is a few weeks late. Hell, it’s been almost a year since The Savage Insider had its last issue.

Which of course brings me to Adventure Quarterly #5, the product we are reviewing today. It too has had almost a year since it’s last issue (technically nine months), which is a bit surprising because Rite Publishing is perhaps the best company in regards to Pathfinder licensed products in terms of getting things out on time. Pathways, RP’s monthly free magazine, is as close to clockwork as this industry gets. Plus it’s the closest thing we have to Dungeon magazine anymore, as it is nothing but adventures. So was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no.

First, let’s talk my big problem with the piece, and that’s pricing. As much as I have enjoyed previous issues of AQ, the thing is too overpriced, especially compared to other quarterly gaming magazines. The cost of just the PDF version of a single issue of AQ is the same cost as a physical AND digital two pack of The Unspeakable Oath, which may not be 100% adventures, but does tend to be a superior product, writing-wise. Same too with Gygax Magazine. It is also of the highest quality and it’s only five bucks for the digital version and only $8.95 for the physical. So why the higher price tag for AQ? Well, a few reasons. The first is that it is Pathfinder and Pathfinder products do tend to be a bit higher priced than other RPGs. The second is that AQ is in full colour where the others I have mentioned are mostly in black and white. Finally, at least in my experience in this industry, it’s more expensive to pay someone to write an adventure than it is to write an article about some facet of gaming. While all of these things help to explain part of why Adventure Quarterly is price so much higher than other quarterly tabletop mags, it doesn’t explain all of it. Honestly, the fact I could buy digital copies of both TUO and Gygax for the cost of just one issue of AQ is enough to make me lean towards not recommending the magazine on just a price basis. However if you only play Pathfinder, the fact that this is your only Dungeon equivalent means you are pretty much stuck with this and the high cost each issue comes with.

Of course, cost doesn’t matter much if something is of high quality. You should, theoretically, get what you pay for after all. So if the adventures in AQ #5 were amazing, that could have offset the price tag issues I have with the magazine. Let’s take a look at each one.

Our first adventure is The Ruins Perilous Level 3 – The Sensodrome. This is a continuation from previous AQ issues where the goal was to release one level of the dungeon per issue. This is a great idea on paper, but it doesn’t work quite well in reality. After all, the high cost of the magazine, tracking down back issues (you’re better off going through DriveThruRPG.com for those) and the long time between issues makes The Rune Perilous series not very conductive for actual play. If this was a monthly magazine it would be one thing, but it’s quite another to have to wait a minimum of three months per dungeon crawl level. The PCs are essentially stuck. No, this adventure would be better off collected as one piece and sold separately, or in a monthly magazine. Now this is not the fault of the adventure itself, but it doesn’t prevent most gamers from getting any use out of it.

Besides these issues, The Sensodrome is simply a generic dungeon crawl experience. It favors roll-playing over role-playing and is little more than a hack and slash affair. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not necessarily an experience a lot of gamers want. Granted, Pathfinder or D&D gamers are more apt to enjoy this sort of thing than say, World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu players, but it does still mean that the audience for a piece like this is limited by the nature of the adventure style and doubly or even triply so by the release date of each level.

Now all of these negatives aside, The Sensodrome is a finely crafted sixteen room dungeon crawl designed for 3rd Level characters. It could use a bit of an introduction which would allow DMs to run this as a one-shot one level piece instead of waiting to combine all the Ruins Perlious levels, but that is true about any dungeon released in stages. You will also need several other books to run the wandering monster table as monsters are pulled from all sorts of other locations like The Tome of Horrors Complete, The Book of Monster Templates and so on, but the core adventure has all the stats you need to play the adventure without any additional purchases, which is a big plus. There are some fun and challenging encounters for PCs on this level and it’s pretty free with the experience so characters should level up AT LEAST once in this piece. I enjoyed the layout, the monsters and the obvious creativity in this one. It’s just too bad there are some many other negatives weighing this down. That said, I am really looking forward to Rite Publishing putting together a collected Ruins Perilous piece (if it ever gets finished) as that will be a top notch dungeon when all is said and done.

Our second adventure in this collection is The Legacy of the Fishermage, which is for four to five 9th Level characters or a party of six 8th Level characters. This is a really fun and long (for a magazine based release) adventure. It’s also a bit silly. I’ll admit the “Salmon of Wisdom” that is highlighted in the adventure made me think of “The Fur-Bearing Trout” from Earthworm Jim. I should also point out that this is almost the polar opposite from The Sensodrome, which is nice as you get two well-designed pieces that together highlight how diverse Pathfinder adventures can be.

The adventures revolves around a sage’s repeated misadventures in trying to catch the Salmon of Wisdom and his bad luck with apprentices. This time the sage is long dead, but the salmon has two new hunters in the form of an Ogre and a disgruntled changeling. The PCs become involves after saving a dwarven priest and learning about the legend (there are several other hooks to get the characters into the adventure). There are a lot of riddles to solve, locations to visit, monsters to vanquish and of course, a magic fish with the wisdom of the universe to find. I also really liked the subtle bits of humour in this adventure. The climactic encounter with the Salmon of Wisdom is quite amusing, for example. The end prize is a nice bonus to which ever character(s) get it and this is really one of the better Pathfinder adventures I’ve seen published in 2014 so far. It might not be a seller by itself, but it is the crown jewel of this issue.

The third adventure in Adventure Quarterly, Issue 5 is Paradox and it’s for 18th Level characters. It’s very combat intensive and it is designed to be a Campaign Ending Event. I’m really not a fan of some random adventure being the way a campaign ends. Something like that should really be cooked up by the DM to tie up loose ends and provide closure. Instead this adventure hits on all sorts of things that tend to be red flags, warning a DM and player that there is a bad adventure ahoy. It has time travel (which tends to do far more harm than good to a game unless you are playing a game specifically about time travel), a magical McGuffin that threatens all of reality, a really work story hook that sort of railroads the players into the adventure even if they don’t find it interesting, and monsters that seem to be thrown in simply for the sake of combat than any real story cohesion. It’s a pretty weak adventure in all respects, but then, writing any adventure for characters of this level is a pretty daunting task and while I found this to be very lackluster and trite with robotic lions armed with chainguns and the like, I’m sure someone will get a kick out of this. Unfortunately I’m the one reviewing it and this adventure was supersaturated with all of my personal Pathfinder pet peeves. How is that for alliteration?

Our fourth and final adventure is actually a short encounter segment entitled, Sleep, Interrupted. This is a fun really short piece that can be inserted into any adventure, published or homebrew, and it happens when the PCs are settling down for a much needed sleep. It’s a spooky little piece involving ghost orcs who died in the cavern the PCs are resting in. Sleep, Interrupted is nothing fancy but it’s a good battle and potentially provides some fine treasure. The encounter is scalable between CR 6 and 9 and so there is some flexibility to be had. Nice job for a short piece.

So those are our four adventure pieces, but wait –there’s more! We have a two and a half page article by the lord and master of Rite Publishing himself, Steven Russell. Like the first piece in AQ#5 this article, entitled, “Wide-Open Sandboxing Part II,” is a continuation from the previous issue. However unlike The Runes Perilous, this article works as a stand-alone. It’s basically advice on how to come up with memorable NPCs quickly. Steven suggested cribbing from various trusted sources like lists of names, stat a block similar to what you are looking for instead of designing it out yourself, and taking personalities from existing characters and modifying them slightly instead of doing copious amounts of work like pages of background text for a character LARP style. The advice is sound, especially if you are an inexperienced DM or adventure designer as it really does speed the process up. Long-time DMs may turn up their nose at the advice because they want to do all the work themselves, even for a character who might not even show up in the adventure based on the choices the PCs make. You know what? That’s okay. Steven isn’t presenting this advice as a way you SHOULD do things, but as an option to make your life easier. The article is worth reading even if you have no intention of taking it to heart.

So all in all, Adventure Quarterly isn’t too bad. There is one adventure I’d give a thumb’s up to, one I’d give a thumb’s down to, a decent encounter, an adventure segment that is well designed but falters by being a quarterly installment piece and an interesting article. While the price point is far too exorbitant for what you get, especially compared to other quarterly gaming magazines, devout Pathfinder fans will find one truly solid adventure in the mix and that might be worth the price tag. Everyone else though might as well hold out for the next issue or a price drop, if they get it at all. Adventure Quarterly has a lot of potential and it’s nicely done, but in the end, you just aren’t getting your money’s worth – at least with this issue.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Quarterly #5 (PFRPG)
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The Dread Shard
Publisher: GRAmel
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2014 06:13:25
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/19/tabletop-review-beasts--
barbarians-the-dread-shard-savage-worlds/

Beast & Barbarians is a campaign setting for Savage Worlds, so know that you’ll need the core books (DriveThruRPG has a great bundle for those that are interested) in addition to the core Savage Worlds book. Of course this means that even though The Dread Shard is priced very reasonably at only $1.99, the actual price tag for playing it is going to be a lot higher – about fifty dollars when all is said and done without some sort of deal going. The adventure also makes use of the optional Tattered Banners supplement, which adds even more to the eventual overall cost of playing this two dollar adventure. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in B&B – just a warning that you need more than a single book to play this adventure.

The Dread Shard takes place during a great celebration in the city of Dalaxium. Governor Lucius has figured out how to harness the power of a meteorite known as the Dread Shard and has hosted this party as a precursor to the revelation he will be unveiling. Unfortunately, the Dread Shard is appropriately named as the party is actually a doublecross and the entire town is basically put to the torch by the evil Valk. There is a lot of death and betrayal in this one and at times it felt like Vince Russo from late 90s WCW was writing this with all the attempts at NPCs swerving each other. Although a bit trite in this regard, it does put the players in a very unusual situation. After all, there is now way they can defeat several hundred Valk warriors as they lay siege to Dalaxium, so PCs have to decide on their course of action, be it trying to escape the carnage or finding some way to shut down the onslaught. There isn’t a happy ending for this adventure and certainly not for the citizens of Dalaxium, so this adventure is probably best played by people who don’t treat RPGs as something to “win.”

The Dread Shard goes into a lot of detail (well, as much as sixteen pages can anyway) about the festival, games one might take part in there and also some detailed notes on prominent NPCs the players can encounter or befriend. A fourth of the adventure consists of character stat blocks and another four are the sights and sounds of the festival. That’s half your page count right there! If you really want to make The Dread Shard feel impactful, have the players use Dalaxium for their home base for several adventures or even play an entire session or two just around the games and people as the festival. That way, when the carnage begins, the players (and their characters) will feel it all the more. It won’t be just some generic location where the players are for this session, but a place they care about and friends being put to the sword.

A note of caution is that The Dread Shard assumes you are extremely familiar with Beast & Barbarians, along with its particular vernacular and terminology. There is no attempt to explain anything about the setting or B&B specific jargon, so this adventure is not something you can pick up and just play if you only have the core Savage Worlds book. If you don’t have any of the B&B core books, you will be totally and utterly lost, which is a shame, as the adventure is quite nicely done otherwise.

Basically, if you are a big time fans of the Beasts & Barbarians setting for Savage Worlds, you’ll want to get this adventure. It’s extremely detailed for the brief page length, it’s quite cheap and it’s a pretty unique adventure to experience. For everyone else though, you’ll want to pass since you’ll need to invest heavily in the campaign setting and the core rulebooks from Pinnacle to make heads or tails of this piece. If you do pick this up, remember that the quality of the adventure is determined by how detailed you make the festival, as well as how tied to Dalaxium the PCs are. If you rush this thing or play The Dread Shard as just an adventure of the week, it will be a lackluster and forgettable experience. If you take the time to really make the city come to live, its fall will be all the more impactful and important to both the characters and the people playing them.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Dread Shard
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Forbidden Lore (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/17/2014 08:48:52
Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/17/tabletop-review-ravenlo-
ft-forbidden-lore-advanced-dungeons-dragons-second-edition/<-
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I’m really glad to see Forbidden Lore up on DNDclassics.com, as I wasn’t sure how they were going to pull this off. You see, the original Forbidden Lore boxed set from 1992 had items that wouldn’t necessarily work in a PDF format. You had an entire deck of Tarroka Cards (Ravenloft tarot cards) and a set of special dice for Romani inspired games. Obviously, these wouldn’t be included in their original form for a PDF version of the set. For those that want the original physical version, you can still pick it up on Ebay or Amazon for around forty bucks. However, for only ten dollars, DNDclassics is offering this electronic version, complete with print and play versions of the Tarroka cards, a shrunk down map, and the core five booklets that make up Forbidden Lore. Now, print and play is always buyer beware to me, because a lot of people think these products are a lot easier to pull off than they really are. If you’re new to the concept, know that you’re going to need a lot of ink, a printer that can handle card stock paper, to be very handy with scissors and have a lot of patience. Even then, your end product probably won’t be as good as the original set that came with Forbidden Lore back in 1992. If this sounds at all daunting to you, you might be better off getting one of the physical copies, as the cost for the print and play products in addition to this PDF purchase might set you back more than the price tag you will find from third party sellers.

So what is in Forbidden Lore? Well, it is primarily five 32-page booklets that further flesh out the Dark Domain. Let’s take a look at each book in alphabetical order.

Cryptic Allegiances: the Secret Societies of Ravenloft. This book covers six secret societies from across the Dark Domain, along with a two page introduction on what secret societies are. The Dark Delvers are a Lovecraft inspired group searching for something called the Hated Mother, which they believe is the source of creation. The Kargat are the secret police of the lich Azalin, which is made up of werewolves, vampires and other creatures of the night. In turn, they have a secret society of regular mortals called the Kargatane, who are essentially dupes seeking immortality without the price tag of undeath. The Ildi’thaan seek the Thirteen Texts of Thaan, which they believe will wrest control of Bluetspur from the hideous alien grasp of the Mind Flayers. The texts are also supposed to be able to unlock powerful psionic powers in anyone who reads them. The Ata-Bestaal are mortals who want to become animals, for they believe is it a simpler and purer way of life, free from the horrors Man inflicts upon itself. Unfortunately, these are not some happy druid fans, but people who think becoming a mongrelman from G’Henna or being inflicted with lycanthropy is a good thing. Suckers. Next up we have Adam’s Children, which is completely comprised of flesh golems seeking to become a race unto themselves, like dwarves or elves. Finally, we have the Keepers of the Black Feather, which number 150 strong. Their goal – to destroy Strahd Von Zarovich himself. This group is the only good aligned secret society in the collection, and it consists of mortals and wereravens.

Dark Recesses: Peering into the Depths of Madness. This is kind of a catch-all book. You have some errata and clarification for The Complete Psionics Handbook, which is an odd thing to find here. From there, you have a look at psionics in Ravenloft, along with some power changes that occur when a psionicist enters the Dark Domain. This is about half the book. Next up is a look at Madness Checks, which is a longer lasting (permanent) addition to the Fear and Horror checks. This is basically a D&D version of Call of Cthulhu‘s sanity rolls. You also get a look at sanitariums in Ravenloft and other ways madness can be cured. Finally, this book contains an appendix for Dark Sun characters and races from Athas. This is worth reading if you plan on bringing a Thri-Kreen or Half-Giant into Ravenloft. It also points out a Defiler is essentially doomed to constant Powers Checks and Templars lose their abilities entirely unless pledged to a domain lord. Eek. You’re also given a new domain pulled from Athas to help Dark Sun characters adapt to Ravenloft.

Nova Arcanum: The Necromancies of Strahd Von Zarovich. This book is a collection of new spells, magical items and the like for Ravenloft. Although it’s supposedly a tome by Strahd, there are Priesty/Clerical bits in here as well. The book also gives Ravenloft adaptations for spells from The Tome of Magic, along with its own twists on mage variants like Wild Mages, Elementalists, and so on.

Oaths of Evil: An Account of the Roads to Darkness. This book is an in-depth and detailed look at curses in Ravenloft along with a wide array of cursed objects. All of this was covered in the multiple versions of the core Ravenloft product, but this book is for the DMs that really want to focus on this concept.

The Waking Dream: Harbingers, Portents and Omens of the Vistani. This book simply talks about how to use the Tarokka deck, what each card means and so on. It also includes rules for the Dlkesha dice that are not included with the PDF version of this collection. You can print off the “stickers” though, although it takes a lot of work to make these work in a PDF format. At least you now have an unlimited supply, unlike with the boxed set, where there was no way to get extras. This book is really interesting, but only a fraction of players ever really used the Tarokka deck, as you really had to tailor an adventure around it rather than just let it come into play by happenstance.

So there you go – a quick overview of the five books in Forbidden Lore. To be honest, unless you are a Ravenloft completionist like myself, this isn’t a “must have” set by any means. Nova Arcanum is the only one DMs across the board will make use out of. Everything else is pretty niche and will only appeal to a slice of Ravenloft gamers, and even less will actually make use of them. The whole package is a pretty good deal for ten bucks though, and it’s one I can recommend to longtime fans of the campaign setting, if not to everyone. It’s great to see this once again available to all gamers, but I do wish there was a Print on Demand version for the Tarokka Deck for gamers that aren’t very good with the print and play option.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forbidden Lore (2e)
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