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The Mythos Dossiers
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2012 14:38:55
A great product which is ideally suited for the PDF format. In-game artifacts are what made the original Call of Cthulhu adventures classics and The Mythos Dossiers build upon that tradition, taking it to a whole new level thanks to its high production values and the ability to print off what you need. If you're a fan of the Laundry RPG, this is a must have. However, The Mythos Dossiers are equally useful for CoC, Trail of Cthulhu, or other Mythos-based horror games. At $14.99 it's a bargain.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Mythos Dossiers
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RMS Titanic: The Millionaire's Special
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2012 14:32:39
The Millionaire's Special is based on an excellent premise, connecting a cursed mummy, Lovecraftian horror, and a tragedy that people still find interesting a century later. It's a short adventure, suitable for a single evening of play, and while it can be played as a pulpy "battle the bad guy" kind of adventure, it's really all about horror on multiple levels: that of the ancient evil brought on board, the implications of its existence, and the fact that the PCs might be in some way responsible for the doomed ship. What more could you want for $2.50.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
RMS Titanic: The Millionaire's Special
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2012 14:26:18
A terrific edition to a ToC: Bookhounds campaign, The Book of Smoke is both an interesting source supplement and an in-game artifact. As such it has a ton of potential. About the only down side is that to get the most out of it, you really need players to read the book and we GMs all know how difficult it can get players to read even short summaries. However, for the right group, this book is pure gold.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Book of the Smoke
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Mansions of Madness
Publisher: Chaosium
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2012 10:20:08
As might be expected based on the title, each of these investigations centers around a mansion although there is quite a bit of variety in terms of what exactly the adventure entails – these are simply five different, Scooby Doo haunted houses.

-- The Five Investigations --

Mr. Corbitt involves the PCs investigating a neighbor who has been acting somewhat unusual, only to discover there's something far more sinister going on across the street. Without giving too much away, the story definitely has a bit of a Dunwich Horror vibe to it. I like the premise of the adventure, which would work great as a one-shot at a convention and the investigation definitely has a purist Lovecraftian feel to it, although it has the potential for a pretty pulp-like ending. Two thumbs up.

The Plantation is a cross-country adventure, starting in New England and finishing up in South Carolina on an antebellum plantation. It also involves a snake cult and some proper cultists. As such it's much more a pulp-style adventure.

Crack'd & Crook'd Manse is probably my favorite premise of all of the book's content since it involves a house with a sinister past in which a very Lovecraftian horror has taken up residence. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a disconnect between the house's past and the current issue – the investigation ends of splitting the difference which lessens the impact of both (i.e., the background of the house is largely pointless. Overall though it's a cool idea and there's a lot of potential for a creative Keeper to mine here. This is probably the most purist-style adventure in the book.

The Sanatorium is another interesting twist on the typical “bad things happening at the Sanatorium” adventure premise since it's set on an isolated island and involves a sanatorium catering to the rich. Obviously things go wrong fast and the PCs find themselves in a Mythos experiment run amok. This is a decent enough adventure, which walks the line between purist and pulp-style play. That said, I think it would have been more interesting to make the setting a vacation resort rather than the cliché sanatorium because it would have made the whole thing a lot creepier and would be an interesting way to involve the PCs (i.e., they're all on vacation when things go nuts).

Mansion of Madness is another solid investigation with a good set-up: the PCs visit the house of a wealthy art collector while investigating a missing Boston businessman. In the process they discover that the painting within the house are far more than they seem and that multiple factions are working behind the scenes to carry out their nefarious plans. I like this investigation because it involves multiple villains, who at times are at odds in terms of their priorities, and makes good use of the 1920s setting including gangsters, flappers, and a bunch of cool locations. This is perhaps the most complex investigation in the book (due to the multiple locations) but it's also one of the most rewarding since it involves a lot of different scene possibilities ranging from social conflicts to bare knuckle brawls. Good stuff.


-- The Verdict --
Mansions of Madness is a great supplement/adventure collection for Call of Cthulhu. Best yet for me, all of the content is easily converted to Trail of Cthulhu and I've already set about creating several convention scenarios based on the adventures it contains. As such, it's definitely worth checking out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mansions of Madness
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Mysterious Places: Broken Bridge
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2012 13:58:22
This is a nice piece of line art - clean and clear with a good (though not great) composition. Obviously this isn't going to be of use to most people but for $2.50 it's a great value for someone putting together an adventure or RPG in which they could use the image of a shattered stone bridge.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mysterious Places: Broken Bridge
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Dragon Age RPG, Set 2
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2012 13:56:00
Dragon Age, Set 2 is a great addition to a very good game - it expands the game and adds in more depth both to the play experience and to character growth. Simply put his is a high quality product and well-worth buying.

So why have I given it only 4 stars? The issue is the price: I think the box set is a much better value (even at double the price) and easier to use at the table.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Age RPG, Set 2
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Black Drop
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2012 13:52:21
The Black Drop was the first of Jason Morningstar's Trail of Cthulhu adventures. It's available as a 40-page PDF or in the Out of Time compilation of adventures. In either format, it consists of a three-column, gray-scale layout with some nice artwork and a very usable layout although it's tough to use on a tablet.

As written The Black Drop is designed to be easily adaptable to either the Pulp or Purist style of play, depending on the mood of the table - all that it really takes is a few tweaks to the tone of the Keeper's descriptions and scene framing.

The Black Drop pays homage to horror stories set in cold, remote places (e.g., Beyond the Mountains of Madness and even John Carpenter's The Thing), without really being derivative of any of them. It takes place Kerguelen archipelago in the southern region of the Indian Ocean. Its locations and history are also based in reality – this includes the names of several notable NPCs on the islands. However, unlike real history, things in the Kerguelen Islands will take a much more horrific turn as the adventure opens.

The premise for the investigation has the investigators aboard a freighter steaming into Port Couvreux in the Kerguelen Islands. The French government has has decided to abandon its failed settlement in the remote islands, and the ship's crew and passengers have been sent to either aid in the colony's abandonment or are taking advantage of the situation to visit the islands one last time. Meanwhile, further down the coast, a mysterious German-funded expedition has arrived, likely for no good purpose (the adventure is set in the 1930s so we're talking about Nazi Germany here). As expected, the investigators quickly find themselves wrapped up in a sinister plot involving an ancient evil about to rise again, cultists, Nazis, and a battle to save humanity.

The investigation itself is fairly straight forward, with a variety of clues that ultimately will lead the group (hopefully) to the the climactic finish. To its credit, the investigation has a very flexible structure that will let players head in a variety of directions rather than being forced down a very specific path to the end. There's also quite a bit for the Keeper to define and flesh-out in order to make the adventure their own, tailoring it to the style and tastes of the group. That said, there's more than enough detail for a novice to run straight out of the book.

Similarly, the pregenerated characters that are included are a good fit for the adventure, but are left undefined enough for players to make them their own. However, unlike some other Trail of Cthulhu adventures, the pregenerated characters aren't quite as tightly integrated in to the story and therefore The Black Drop is easier to fit into an ongoing campaign, using player-generated characters.

I really like The Black Drop: it's a dark, bleak adventure with the potential for a mixture of investigation and action. While I'm more of a fan of the more Purist-style ToC adventures, that's more of a matter of taste and The Black Drop can easily be adapted for that style with a minimal amount of effort given the quality of the writing and the nature of the story, and thus The Black Drop is well worth investigating.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Black Drop
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Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Vol. 2
Publisher: Nevermet Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2012 13:51:02
Much like the first volume, this anthology contains some great articles covering a variety of RPGs (though D&D tends to receive the lion's share). While not every article is going to appeal to every reader, the overall contents and sheer variety of topics makes this worth the price for the PDF.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Vol. 2
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E-Z TILES: Dungeon Hazards & Traps
Publisher: Fat Dragon Games
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2012 13:48:14
These are nice tiles - the art is good and the layouts are very usable. However, the cost of printing the tiles via an inkjet printer, especially on card stock, makes the final price per tile not much cheaper than buying the tiles produced by Paizo and WotC which is something to consider before purchasing.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
E-Z TILES: Dungeon Hazards & Traps
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How to be a Great GM
Publisher: Avalon Game Company
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/10/2012 13:45:21
How to be a Great GM might be of interest to those brand new to GMing, but experienced GMs will find little in the book of use. That isn't to say that the book is bad: it's simply not something that anyone with a decent amount of experience under their belt will likely find very interesting. For novice GMs, the book does offer some solid advice to put the reader on the right path, though it tends more towards traditional advice which appears in many "GM guides."

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
How to be a Great GM
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/22/2012 09:30:07
The Watchers in the Sky is the second of four Purist scenarios written by Graham Walmsley (the first was The Dying of St. Margaret’s). While not meant to be a “sequel” to St. Margaret's the two scenarios share a certain feel and setting that make them work well as a series, albeit using different investigators.

The scenario is available as a thirty-six page gray-scale PDF (the cover is color) for a very reasonable $5.95. The layout and editing are good, with just a few minor errors. The three-column layout is easy to work with at the table when printed out, but makes the PDF very difficult to use on a tablet without a lot of zooming and repositioning. The scenario includes four handouts at the end of the PDF, each of which looks great.

The Watchers in the Sky is designed to be a standalone scenario, taking two-three sessions to complete. While it could be converted to a one-shot convention style play, doing so would require cutting out some of the auxiliary scenes that help develop the investigators and thus some of the richness of the scenario is lost. However, with a good group and tight, directed scene pacing, it's still possible to get a great experience even out of a single, four-hour session.

Speaking of Investigators, Watchers is constructed to make use of the five Investigators included with the scenario. While it can be adapted to other investigators, Keepers will find the scenario easier to run and a lot more powerful using these investigators since they've been tailored for the scenario, have a strong link to the story, and have been constructed to have a certain amount of friction between each other, as well as the story which really helps bring them to life at the table and get things moving quickly. Having used the investigators from Walmsley's adventures before, I think they really enhance the story and and recommend using them to get the most out of the scenario.

As explained in the scenario's description, The Watchers In The Sky blends elements of Hitchcock's [url= http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birds_(film)]The Birds[/url] with Lovecraftian horror to create something new but which feels familiar. The scenario begins with a prologue, using the Direct Scenes technique Walmsley first introduced in The Dying of St. Margaret's. These help bring to bring the investigators to life, revealing their Sources of Stability and background in a meaningful, story-rich way rather than simply dumping info on players – in other words, this scenario is all about the principle of "show, don't tell." This technique also helps involve players whose characters aren't present in the scene by asking them to take on the role of a NPC, keeping all the players involved and helping create a unique experience.

Once the Prologue is out of the way, the investigation kicks in to full speed, with the group investigating the appearance of a strange flock of misshapen birds. With three different places for PCs to start, the scenario does a wonderful job of bringing the PCs together in a very natural way, having them meet up in the University of Brichester's library after a series of set-up scenes that introduce each of them to different clues regarding the investigation, though all involve strange misshapen birds that seem to be watching those involved. Once they meet in the library the pace of the investigation picks up, as the group pieces together clues to track down the origins of the strange flock of birds, uncover cultists, and ultimately discover part of the horrible truth behind the creatures.

The Watchers in the Sky is very well-written, with an immense amount of advice and guidelines on how to bring the scenario to life, although much of it is embedded in the text and thus it requires some careful reading to get the most out of it. For example, all of the major NPCs are succinctly, but vividly outlined, complete with suggestions on how to portray that at the table – for a Keeper who likes to really get into roles, this is awesome stuff, as it is to those new to the art of GMing, though the latter may find it all a bit intimidating at first.

Similarly, the scenario works best when a GM knows it inside and out, and where players take a proactive role in talking to NPCs, searching locations (though GUMSHOE's rules help a lot here), and actively following up clues. Without this active engagement the scenario is likely to fall flat and passive, “make the connections for us” type groups will find the scenario difficult or even boring. However, this is unlikely to be a problem for the vast majority of Trail of Cthulhu groups given the nature and focus of the game.

The scenario is also written in a wonderful, open-ended manner in which not all of the details of the Horrible Truth are provided. This approach may annoy some readers, but it keeps true to Lovecraft's own approach – particularly in his more “Purist” stories which Watchers is trying to emulate – in which only glimpses of creatures are provided and much of the real details are left to the reader's imagination. This helps provide an unsettling uncertainty to the whole story which I think really ramps up the suspense and mystery. It also lets the Keeper customize the scenario to his or her perspective on the Mythos and thus make it their own.

One other feature of the scenario bears mentioning: it includes a sidebar featuring alternative to the default ToC Insanity rules ( “Drive yourself Crazy”) in which the players take control of when their investigators suffer Stability loss rather than the GM – the players decide when to call for Stability Checks, thereby putting control of their character's descent into madness. These rules are a great addition to the game for seasoned players, especially those who want to play a character who is clearly out of their depth or losing their grip on reality. I love this approach and it's one I've adopted for nearly all my ToC games since it both offloads some of my work as a Keeper plus rewards players for engaging both the system and the genre. I also love it for use with these single scenarios using pregenerated characters since it lets players pace their character's slipping sanity. That said, the rules are not going to work for every group, particularly if you're playing with those who are unfamiliar with Lovecraftian horror or who are extremely gamist (i.e., you can make your character essentially impervious to the horror simply by choosing to never lose sanity – keep in mind that for some characters would make perfect sense).

The Watchers in the Sky is another excellent example of a Purist scenario in which the investigators are ultimately helpless against the forces they're up against and much of the story involves their battling with this realization. Similarly, Hitchcock's The Birds doesn't end with the good guys winning but rather with the protagonists driving away with huge flocks of birds. Thus, Watchers manages to stay true to both sources of inspiration, blending the two to create something new and interesting.

Watchers does a fine job of this: it is explicitly designed to be played in Purist mode and would be difficult to convert to a Pulp-style game and won't appeal to those looking for that style of game. That doesn't mean Watches is boring though. In fact it is engaging, well-paced, and has the potential for a lot of suspense. Hence, it delivers exactly what Purists want and does so in a novel way.

Watchers also helps demonstrate how robust the Trail of Cthulhu rules are, focusing on the Sources of Stability mechanic, bringing it to the forefront. The adventure is a perfect follow-up to The Dying of St. Margaret's, though at its heart it has a very different feel to it: While St. Margaret's is all about bleak despair and decay, Watcher's focuses on the mysterious and weird alien nature associated with the Mythos. As such, it's clear that Walmsley has a clear understanding of the different themes present in Lovecraft's stories and that's what makes these scenarios so great.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Watchers in the Sky
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Trail of Cthulhu: The Rending Box
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2012 14:20:03
Graham Walmsley really knows how to take classic Lovecraftian tropes to create original and yet very "authentic" Trail of Cthulhu scenarios. The Rending Box is another investigation designed for Purist-mode adventure which highlights the horror of the setting and really pushes the characters to the edge of sanity. As such it makes a perfect one-shot adventure, and like all of Walmsley's ToC scenarios is simply a lot of fun to play if you're a fan of Lovecraft's stories and don't mind the likely outcome that their characters are unlikely to come out of the adventure unscathed. I would highly recommend this and the other adventures by Walmsley.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trail of Cthulhu: The Rending Box
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Ashen Stars: Dead Rock Seven
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2012 14:14:30
These are an excellent set of scenarios for Ashen Stars, taking the characters to a variety of colorful locations during their investigations. Although the included scenarios are linked, they can easily be played as single scenarios instead. Of the four scenarios, I liked "Dead Rock Seven" the best since it reminds me of some of my favorite sci-fi stories. One word of warning for potential buyers: the adventures are somewhat "adult" in nature, especially "The Pleasure Bringers" which centers around the search for a missing corporate investigator on a planet whose economy largely revolves around sex, drugs, and rock & roll. While the references aren't gratuitous (I would call it PG-13) and it's easy to push all of those references to the background, it's something that some readers might not like. Personally I love the fact that the author decided to write scenarios aimed directly at an adult audience rather than ignoring various tropes and elements that are perfect for the dark, gritty Ashen Stars setting. Kudos.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ashen Stars: Dead Rock Seven
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Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Apocalypse Machine
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2012 14:04:34
The Apocalypse Machine is an interesting read and a fresh take on Lovecraftian gaming. The book is well-written and rather than simply saying "here's how the apocalypse happened" it offers up a number of possibilities using a system (i.e., the Apocalypse Machine) to help generate a meaningful and interesting back story and setting to make each apocalypse unique. While the PDF is clearly designed for use with the Trail of Cthulhu RPG, most of it is system-free and thus could be used with a variety of games including Apocalypse World.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Apocalypse Machine
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Monsternomicon Volume 1 - Denizens of the Iron Kingdoms
Publisher: Privateer Press
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/15/2011 15:40:59
The PDF is very over-priced considering the book's original MSRP was only $29.99. However, the contents are absolutely fabulous and worth the money if you're into the Iron Kingdoms or just want some inspiration for a steampunk/ fantasy setting.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monsternomicon Volume 1 - Denizens of the Iron Kingdoms
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