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Shadowrun: California Free State
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2011 22:11:23
Having usually kept my games in Seattle or Denver, there hasn’t been a lot of call to pick up this book. After reading it, I have realised exactly how wrong I was not to do so. California Free State offers a great diversity of experiences, settings and play styles that allows the GM to give the players a different game to that which they are accustomed to.
The writing style that SR has always used in their supplements (in terms of the running commentary/BBS posts) really shines in this book. As the issues raised (everything from politics, racism, the environment, smuggling, travel and of course the corporations) can be quite dry, the discussion points really help to breath life into the region. In some cases, the discussion board posts are longer than the ‘information-heavy’ segments, and this is welcomed and entertaining. Just reading through these sections with an open imagination will kickstart any campaign.
There has been a lot of effort expended in ensuring that each sub-region has it’s own flavour. Los Angeles, San Francisco, The Mojave and the Big Sur all feel like really distinct areas and if evoked well (and there are many tools for enterprising GMs), the players should easily distinguish each place. There are plenty of opportunities to play at the ‘guns and dice’ level if John-Woo-style action is your thing, but some sections (especially San Francisco) allow you to engage with some very heavy topics – which I welcome in a game like Shadowrun. There is a central them (not sure if it was intended or not) of racism throughout the book, with the Tir, Fuchi, NAN and Hestaby’s forces all accused of various acts against (meta)-humanity, and this issue crops up in Shadowrun in a lot of other supplements too. Handled well, this is something that could be easily explored in your own game and provide some great realism to the setting. However, if this is not something that you want in your game, that’s fine. Like I said, it’s not a huge part of the book and there is heaps of other material well worth the price of admission.
I wish I’d found this a lot earlier than now. My next SR game, however, will be making strong use of this supplement.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: California Free State
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Vampire the Masquerade: Giovanni
Publisher: Moonstone
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2011 21:16:47
Moonstone’s run of Vampire and Werewolf comics were a well-realised project, focusing on either a single Clan/Tribe, or on a signature character. In Giovanni, the plot revolves around an art auction, for a ‘lost’ piece of art created by a Kindred painter. Pietro, Madeleine and Isabel take centre stage and those familiar with the Giovanni will already know these names. There is room for character development and there are some very nice insights into how these individuals work on a very personal level. The plot is simple on the surface but makes use of a number of threads that are all woven into the main story. The artwork, whilst not on par with heavy-hitters like Marvel or DC, is still pleasing (and on the same level as most Vertigo titles) and presented in colour. The authors obviously have a good grasp of the medium and write well for this format.
I’ve collected together the print copies of most of the Moonstone comics and they are uniformly good. At this price, there is no reason to skip over them. They are also reusable in terms of giving you some plot ideas, or even a spark for a new character, so they are just as useful as anything else on your gaming shelf. Lastly, you might even consider buying a few for new gamers to give them a taste of the respective games as they are quite faithful to the oWoD.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vampire the Masquerade: Giovanni
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Legacy of Disaster
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2011 01:05:29
This is actually quite a good introduction to L5R for a group that has very little (or no) experience with the game. It does present a heavily cut-down version of the rules (and a small grimoire-worth of spells for the shugenja) that makes getting to play a swift experience. There are enough rules to play out the entire module, and they capture the flavour of the system very well. Groups wanting to continue will need to purchase the rulebook.
The story in the module is, on the surface, very simple, but in true L5R style, there are many layers to peel back. It is possible to cruise through the module in a linear fashion, but there are a wealth of opportunities to engage with the social structure, etiquette and customs that make Rokugan such a rich setting. There are political and face-saving schemes afoot in the background, with plenty of clues and opportunities for characters to chase down leads (in a respectful manner, of course). There are a number of ways that the plot can be resolved, all with their own ramifications and enough meaty choices for philosophical souls to mull over.

The only detraction in this was the way in which the pregenerated characters are set out. they simply run on from page to page, and cutting them out to hand to players is a nightmare. I would strongly suggest that AEG take a look at how Catalyst handle their quick-play characters. Catalyst presents double-sided half-page characters with a small illustration; with the sheets easily cut, or torn out and distributed. Not so with this AEG product.

that said, this issue isn't insurmountable (more an annoyance), and the quality of the module more than makes up for it. I'd highly recommend this to absolutely anyone who has ever looked at L5R and thought 'it looks interesting...' It is indeed, and this module showcases why.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legacy of Disaster
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 3: To Transform
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2011 00:43:02
‘To transform’ is the latest in the four volumes that will comprise the Forsaken Chroniclers Guide. Whilst initially hesitant at a chapter-level release, I have been reading each instalment a lot more thoroughly than a whole book and have been enjoying this format immensely.
This chapter sets up the idea of running a parallel chronicle which both exists at the modern era, but also in the Sumerian City of Bau and gives advice on using flashbacks to tell two concurrent, interwoven stories. It’s a great idea, and certainly not a new one, but this gives the ST two storylines in short paragraphs that can be literally cut-and-pasted onto index cards to build a viable story. There will obviously be a lot of work for the ST in such a chronicle, but a large amount of the grunt work is given to you in this section.
The second section explores the ramifications of removing the code that ‘Uratha must cleave to the human’ and some of the practical aspects of keeping the Law and also throwing it out in your chronicle. There are a host of expanded rules, including more developed ‘social combat’, and lots of other advice that makes for interesting reading.
Lastly, and the definite highlight of the book is the chronicle of unity. The idea of Conclaves is put forward as ways to unify the Uratha in groups that are dedicated to a common cause. A range of examples are presented that could easily fit into any chronicle. Interestingly, there is discussion on why the politics of wolves are very different to humans and why democracy isn’t a widely-held concept in these sorts of groups. This sets the tone for power struggles and how one gains prestige within theses Conclaves. Top it off with some solid storyteller advice and some new rules and you have by far the strongest chapter in the book (and my favourite next to the Predation Chronicle section in ‘To Rebuild’).
Like those instalments before this, it is a mixed bag, but even if you only find one chapter to your liking, the price tag is worth it. I’m looking forward now to seeing what White Wolf does with the last publication for the Chroniclers Guide.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 3: To Transform
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Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 2: To Rebuild
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/12/2011 00:28:06
‘To rebuild’ is an very interesting addition to the Forsaken line and really conveys a very different vision of the Spirit World. The main focus of the opening segments is on the ‘Predation Chronicle’. In this type of chronicle, the PCs are actively engaged in hunting and consuming (sometimes) spirits for Essence. A variety of motivations for doing so are given (and they all make sense from a Werewolf point of view); as well as creative alternatives which align with each of the types of Renown in the game. There are some great thematic storytelling tools and ideas in this section, and extended rules and advice for running a Hunt are offered. It caps off a brilliant chapter with a discussion on two types of antagonists. The Damuth are apex predator spirits, that consume everything from ideas and dreams to the Uratha. There is some advice on designing them around real-world predators, and the example (based on the blue-ringed octopus) is pretty damn scary (and made even more so by the somewhat disturbing accompanying artwork). The second are the Su’ur, the Uratha who have become addicted to consuming spirits and now can only be nourished by preying on the Uratha. Again, the example given is chilling and could be used to great effect.
The second section dealt with ‘The Circuit’ or ‘Fight Club for Uratha’ and didn’t do too much for me. Whilst the writing and ideas were very sound, the ideas just didn’t grab me in the same way as the Predation Chronicle.
The supplement ends with ideas for a Resistance-themed game, and offers an alternative look at the WoD through the Uratha. This has a lot of potential, especially as it gives a wide range of tools for the ST, but then goes on to give advice and new rules for players to tailor a character to this type of chronicle. Well worth reading.

Overall, I like the modularised format of this supplement. The design is well-thought-out and there are practical ideas for running slightly skewed version of the setting we all take for granted.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forsaken Chronicler's Guide, Part 2: To Rebuild
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Shadowrun: Runner's Toolkit
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/09/2011 23:13:53
As far as introductory adventures go, ‘On the Run’ is absolutely excellent. As always, they have stuck with the formatting that veteran players will easily recognise (‘Tell it to them straight’, ‘Debugging’ and the like) which makes each scene self-contained and very easy to run. For this module only, though, the authors have gone one step further in providing page references to all the rules required for each scene so that a GM can easily cross-reference and arbitrate rules calls without endlessly thumbing through SR4. Even GMs like myself who have a decent handle on the rules will appreciate the opportunity to brush up on their knowledge.
The run itself is well-developed, with a nice blend of free choice and set plot; as well as showcasing a wide range of the types of encounters that make Shadowrun a unique setting. The authors should be commended for their attention to making the setting come alive and ‘showing, not telling’. The NPCs are interesting and have a wide range of motivations which is ample fodder for creative GMs. There is a good ratio of Legwork and action and the ending gives the characters a chance to move in their own direction, rather than simply going through the paces. This would be a great starting point for a campaign.
My only criticism is that as a ‘first run’ it would have been nice to see some pregenerated characters in the back of the book. I feel that this addition would have made it a little more attractive to new groups wanting to try out the game – but even without these, the module stands up well by itself and should be on every Shadowrunners bookshelf (virtual or otherwise). Oh, and whilst this is written for newcomers to the game, there are some very nice nods to previous editions of SR that will make veterans of the game smile.

The rest of the kit is exceptional, with some really high-quality, attention to detail pieces. The ‘Quick Reference Charts’ will not leave my side at any game, and will save me tons of time; whilst my players are already fighting over the complied ‘shopping list’ that happens when you take all of the tables from Arsenal, Street Magic and Augmentation. One of my gripes with the SR4 books is the distributed nature of the tables, so these will be a very handy resource.

Overall, this is worth it just for ‘On the Run’, but the extra goodies make this worth having.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Runner's Toolkit
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Mirrors: Bleeding Edge
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/09/2011 19:53:26
'World of Darknes: Mirrors' was an exciting title. Basically, it gave you all of the tools to disassemble the nWoD and refashion it in the image that best suited your gaming group. It gave a wide variety of genres, new rules and some alternative character creation rules. 'Bleeding Edge' represents one of the chapters that didn't make it into this book, and the modular format of these extra chapters does represent good value. The reason I say this is that with any compilation of alternate settings and rules, your value will be determined by how much you actually use. In this way, you are able to select from the extra chapters what material you want to pay for.

That said, 'Bleeding Edge' is a remarkably ambitious piece of work. It seeks, in 23 pages, to cover the cyberpunk genre and integrate it into the WoD - no mean feat. Overall, it gives good background information about the genre (which I think all Shadowrun and Cyberpunk GMs should have to read) and sets the tone as to why this would be a good fit for White Wolf's setting.

It offers some additional backgrounds that are contextualised to this genre, none of which are game breaking and they all add their own machine-oil and chrome flavour to the game. The archetypes are well-presented and would be a great starting point for a new gamer, someone not familiar with the genre, or an ST looking for some good NPC starters.

However, where the product falls down is in what could have been included (but what not). Whilst cyberware does form an integral part of any cyberpunk setting, it is glossed over with minimal rules. The overall writing is very brief, as demanded by the breadth of scope and the space dedicated to making it happen. What I would have liked is a supplement about twice this size, where the author would be allowed to take their time and explore some of the concepts a bit more.

As a starting point, this is very good. It sets the tone and provides enough of the basic tools that an enterprising Storyteller could fill in all of the white space and make a really good game. And that is the caveat here - pick it up certainly (and you'll enjoy it), but expect to be doing some additional work to make this a viable additional to your game.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mirrors: Bleeding Edge
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Deadlands Reloaded: Smith & Robards 1880 Catalog
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/09/2011 19:26:04
An absolute must for all Deadlands players and Marshals, 'Smith & Robards' has been the book for discerning gentlefolk for years. In this newest edition, updated to 1880, we are presented with a history of the Roswell-centred offices of the business (and some really nice secrets and plot hooks in the Marshal's Section).
Deadlands has always been one of the best themed games on the market and the mad science catalogue is printed with all of the requisite fonts, the faux-Western style advertisements throughout and could be used so easily as an in game prop rather than just another sourcebook.

Inside you'll find everything from the mundane (self cleaning clothes and different flavoured snacks) through to weaponry (like Gatling pistols and Acid rounds) through to the fantastic (like rocket boots - and the rules for misfires and accidents with these devices are not worth considering). There are also rules to steam-powered body augmentation; think cyberware for a steampunk setting. This was the only section that really didn't do anything for me, but was an interesting read nonetheless.

Whether as a prop, a shopping list or simply some new items to reward characters with, this is an excellent resource and a fine update for the Savage Worlds version of the best Western RPG on the market.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deadlands Reloaded: Smith & Robards 1880 Catalog
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Enemies of the Empire (4th Ed)
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/03/2011 20:24:31
This is the type of book that you want to read through in its’ entirety and then let the ideas clatter about inside your head. The sheer diversity of the adversaries covered makes this a remarkably appealing addition to any L5R GM’s bookshelf (virtual or otherwise). The designers have excelled in concentrating on a wide breadth of thematically different races and organisations so there is very little repetition throughout the book.

Included is a widespread conspiracy that most think of as a folktale (the Kolat), the monsters of the Shadowlands and the Undead, the Bloodspeaker Cults, Ronin, Nezumi, Naga and my personal favourite – the Nothing (an unknowable, implacable elemental force beyond human comprehension). The choice of ‘evil’ for your campaign is a huge strength to the book, but it goes far beyond simply providing a horde of stats and new powers. Whilst these are present, the real gold lies within the descriptions. Comprised of legends, half-truth, rumour, advice and ‘behind the curtain’ designers sidebars, each chapter fulsomely covers the enemy, gives advice for scaling character interaction with it, and even foreshadowing its arrival. There is plenty of fodder to flesh out a campaign centred on only a single chapter, providing rich story information, as well as the much-needed stat blocks.

The writing style shifts from conversational to storyteller to informative as required and makes the text easier to read, and the artwork is brilliant. I especially liked the quasi-Japanese watercolours set behind the pages (although the artistic values for the chapter on The Nothing are superbly executed).

I had no complaints about this book save the fact that I don’t have the free time to launch into an L5R campaign immediately after purchasing this book. That’s probably for the best though – it will give the seeds of adventure a little more time to take root. For those of you with the time (and I am deeply envious of you), this represents a solid addition to a long line of good L5R books.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Enemies of the Empire (4th Ed)
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Shadowrun: Mission: 04-01: Hiding in the Dark
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/03/2011 20:22:48
It’s not too often that you find the morality play explored in Shadowrun - most of the jobs are quick, dirty and simple. ‘Hiding in the Dark’ offers a very different perspective on the Underground of Seattle, as the characters are co-opted into a war on crime and have the opportunity to realise that most of the world they inhabit is cast in shades of grey. There is an excellent foreshadowing to the decision, and canny gamesmasters will be able to make a very memorable scene of it. Imaginative players will likewise be challenged to finish this module, tie up all the loose ends and try to keep everyone happy.

The module is tightly written, aimed at organised play and as such a defined time limit. The scenes are compact, but do offer GM latitude in their sequencing and interpretation of NPCs. The NPCs have enough information attached that they are not (with the exception of the combat encounters) ‘cardboard cut-outs’. That said, two of the scenes which could turn into major combats include discussion on tactics to ensure that the ‘enemy’ combatants are portrayed as thinking, cunning adversaries. The Shadowrun module format is one that has been successful for decades and it is good to see it continued with the ‘Missions’ line. Everything is easy to find at a glance, there is enough information to run every scene and room for imagination to fill in the blanks.

Whether for a group of seasoned ‘runners or as an introductory game, this would be a great choice of module.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Mission: 04-01: Hiding in the Dark
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Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2011 23:38:36
‘Blood of Martyrs’ is an incredibly dense, yet truly brilliant sourcebook for the Ecclesiarchy. Whilst I read most sourcebooks for setting information, skim the game mechanics and take away the ‘dot points’ for future investigation, I found myself actually reading ‘Blood of Martyrs’ cover to cover. It really shows what a well-detailed universe 40K is, and how much background research Fantasy Flight has put into developing this book. On the flipside though, there is enough practical and historical information that even the most die-hard enthusiast will find something new.

The first chapter gives an overview of the history of the Ecclesiarchy from the rise of the Emperor to the ‘present day’ of the setting. Whilst the later section is primiarily geared towards the Calixis Sector, it covers general information such as the Horus Heresy, Vandire, the Imperials Creeds, Saints, Pilgrims and the Adeptus Sororitas (more on them later). The writing style is certainly not the dry, historical tones, and the sidebars offer interesting anecdotes or side notes to engage the reader.

Chapter 2 offers some new Homeworlds for character creation, and all align very well with the theme of the book – I felt that all were of equal worth with no wasted effort here. Likewise the new Career Ranks allow characters to put a distinct Ecclesiarchal bent on their Career Paths (such as Confessor, Frateris Militia and Redemptionist).

Chapter 3 was where my attention lingered. As an avid wargamer, I’ve been working on my witch Hunters army for a while now, and the Sisters of Battle have always had a special place in my heart. The entire chapter details the Sororitas, defines the Orders and outlines Career Paths to include this Adeptus in your game as playable characters. I felt that overall the Sisters will be a small step-up from your average character in Dark Heresy, but not so much that it will break your game. In fact, in a game centred on the Ecclesiarchy, I would name them a absolute must. By far, this was the standout chapter for me (but then, I’m somewhat biased in this regard). Game mechanics for using Faith in your game in Chapter 4, give way to the mandatory chapter on weapons and armour. Both chapters were interesting and the new rules do actually add a new dimension to your games. The rules on Faith were very straightforward and linked in to the new Homeworlds found in Chapter 2, which makes them immediately usable.

The book closes with a chapter on Ecclesiarchy Campaigns and as I have come to expect, this was brimming with story ideas and practical advice. There are plenty of methods described to showcase different facets of the Ecclesiarchy so that no two games need to be the same. The sense of scope was conveyed here too, and the reader is left a little in awe of an organisation (albeit fictional) that operates on such a grand scale.

Overall, a must-have for the Dark Heresy game, although I can see several uses for it in my Deathwatch game too – especially given the theological divergences of the Adeptus Astartes and the Ecclesiarchy as a whole. The artwork, as usual, is used with a good eye for enhancing the page, and the Career Path portraits are excellent.

Thought for the day:
++It is better to buy this and be illuminated, than blindly run ‘Dark Heresy’ without it++

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Blood of Martyrs
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Spellbound Kingdoms
Publisher: T. Shield Studios
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/27/2011 00:21:16
It’s not often that I bother to look at new fantasy settings – I have a well-defined comfort zone and like to stay there. And then ‘Spellbound Kingdoms’ crosses my reading list. Sometimes it is good to look outside of your comfort zone and see if something else sings to you.
This is the first iteration of SK I’m familiar with, and it does note that there has been some streamlining and community consultation in the rewrite process – with some material added from the fans. This is the type of collaborative approach that meshes well with my sensibilities and so I read on.

SK offers a brilliant, and quite innovative approach to the genre, by using emotional attachments, known as Inspirations to drive characters, give them depth and purpose, and in great circumstances – even stave off death. In SK, the kingdoms are shaped by their rulers, and each has a Doom, a basic reflection of the character and well-being of the nation. Knowing that dreams are powerful, most rulers enforce the idea of accepting one’s lot in life and never striving above one’s rank. Commoners who dream are dangerous, and so the average person is not aware of the marvellous power of their Inspirations. Character creation is also ruled by Histories, descriptive phrases that tell other players something about the history of the character, but also provide a skill. For example, if I have ‘Pickpocket of the Wharf Rats guild’, this tells other characters something about my past, but also gives scope for the types of encounters where this would come in handy. It’s pure efficiency – elegant and simple, but with a big payoff.
The combat styles are likewise playful, evocative and narrative. Basically, you can choose a fighting style and this unlocks certain manoeuvres with varying results. It isn’t complicated and adds to the story. Want to sip a cup of tea whilst fighting an opponent one-handed? It’s not only possible, but your opponent is very likely to not only suffer a wound or two, but also a wounded ego as his Reputation takes a battering. In SK, a well-placed word, or particularly spectacular defeat can cut much deeper than a blade, so social combat is a facet of any encounter.
Even though there are only two races – Humans and Trolls – in the world, the author has done a splendid job of making all of the different specieis/ethnicities unique. From the sinister Wights, to the feral Princes of Wolves, all have strong potential as PCs. I saw no wasted material here. Likewise, the Classes are all rife with opportunity.

The other two standout features are the Mass Combat rules and the Organisation Rules. For the former, it allows you to quickly resolve battles on land, sea and air, and at any scale imaginable, but also retain the narrative of the battle. The rules for Organisations allow you to set wide-reaching agendas for power groups in the setting, and creating your own Covens, Churches, Armed Legions, Noble Houses or even Savage Tribes and Trading Companies. The rules then show how these groups can interact with each other, lending support, launching shadow wars, manipulating each other or even growing child organisations under their banner.

The only drawback to the book is that the author does comment a few times on his poor writing style. I’ll address this with a couple of points – but firstly, let me say I saw no evidence to support his claim of poor writing. It is conversational in style, and feels like a gaming buddy explaining a really cool idea that they have enthusiasm for. Secondly, his choice of examples is excellent and the names used in the book took me back to my first Conan, or Grey Mouser books. His grasp of evoking a ‘sword and sorcery’ feel is solid, and made the book even more enjoyable. Likewise, the use of classical pieces of artwork added to this ‘old school’ feel, and the marriage of word and art is almost flawless. The feature art pieces at the beginning of each chapter gave me pause to reflect on what I’d be learning next.
My recommendation would be to remove any mention of poor writing style (which I found very jarring) and simply let the reader make up their own mind.

If you are looking for something more sophisticated than ‘go to dungeon, slay goblins’, this is for you. If you are a GM wanting to challenge your PCs to be more creative, this is for you. If you are a fan of sword and sorcery and just want something new for your gaming table – then this is for you. Enjoy.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spellbound Kingdoms
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Changeling: the Dreaming Introductory Kit
Publisher: White Wolf
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/26/2011 21:34:55
The Introductory Kit is very similar to the type of pull-out that appeared in Dragon magazine when a new game was being launched, although this provides a lot more in terms of rules. If you are trying to entice your players into a game of Dreaming then this would be a good starting point.
The Kit walks you thorough all of the basic Kiths, Seemings and Courts found in the main rulebook, and covers Arts and Realms (Changeling magic). The rest of the Kit gives an overview of the game setting, the raison d'etre for Changelings and a basic guide to their society. There is enough information here for any group to make an informed decision as to whether they want to invest in the game.

I cannot speak highly enough of the full version of the game - it endures as my favourite World of Darkness game (Old or New) and offers such a rich a diverse opportunity for storytelling that you simply cannot run out of ideas. It is easy to run as a stand-alone, without encountering the other denizens of the World of Darkness, or even engaging in the evolving metaplot through the supplements.

My advice - pick this up (and encourage your gaming group to do so) and then buy the main rulebook. you'll not regret it.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Changeling: the Dreaming Introductory Kit
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Deathwatch: Rites of Battle
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/26/2011 21:27:54
How anyone could be expected to run Deathwatch without this book is completely beyond me. It’s simple – pick this up at the same time as you buy the rulebook and you’ll very soon see why this will become the most-used book at your table-top for players and GM alike. Adhering to Fantasy Flight’s top-notch production values, ‘Rites of Battle’ offers a staggering amount of information in an easily-digestible format, extremely good artwork and a logical layout for ease of access. This is definitely going to be a reference book at your table, so I took great notice of this last criteria especially.

As for the content, it is a good ‘all-round’ sourcebook. Chapter 1 offers rules for including the Imperial Fists and Successor Chapters in your campaign and rules for designing your own Chapter. Why anyone would want to design their own, given the huge array of existing source material in the 40K universe is completely beyond me, so I didn’t see much value in this at all – but your tastes may differ. It also presents some practical advice on integrating Deathwatch with its sister games Drak Heresy and Rogue Trader, with some plot points and caveats for doing so. What was apparent was that the authors had spent some time wrestling with how to create games in which the superhuman defenders of humanity could play nicely with regular folk. I’m still extremely sceptical that such a mix is possible, but there are options presented.

Chapter 2 introduces the idea of Deeds. Chapter and Campaign Deeds represent pivotal turning points in your characters history (or even during play) and allow you to purchase Deeds which come with an in-game benefit. I was glad to see that these primarily add flavour to your character, and the mechanical benefits are quite low-powered. There are also Deeds of Disdain, functioning as a ‘black mark’ on your record and providing you with a story goal to pursue and thus rid yourself of this taint. The absolute high point of this Chapter is the inclusion of Specialities – types of Space Marines that can be purchased with xp (think ‘Prestige Classes’ from D&D). We finally see rules for the Chaplains, the Epistolary (and many more) and the Dreadnaught opened up as a player class. Yes, I initially took a dim view of this, but there is an entire section on the practicalities and drawbacks of playing one. There are some good GM and player tips that allow these behemoths of destruction to be used sensibly.

Chapters 3 & 4 don’t disappoint, covering more wargear (guns and armour) and Vehicles. All the stock standard Space Marine vehicles (like the Rhino, Bikes and Land Raider) are her, but Thunderhawk Gunships are also covered. Chaos Space Marine Vehicles and the Tau are given some exposure (so now you have enemy vehicles to attack in your vehicles, obviously). The Renown section in Chapter 5 clarifies some points in this system, and I mostly skimmed it – this will be something you’ll need once the games is well underway, and I was predominantly looking at what I can cram into my first few gaming sessions. The fact that it came after all the exciting guns, power armour and vehicles felt like a sudden (unwelcome) change of pace.

Rites of Battle wraps up with an excellent (and too short) section on Watch Fortress Erioch, with details about its history, how it basically runs and some more information on the Omega Vault (which is the ultimate lure for me – there is always tantalisingly too little information on this magnificent device). Next to the Vault in terms of interest though was the segment on the current prisoners of the Watch Fortress. All of these could spawn entire campaigns, and there has been a lot of thought put into them.

In all, if you are wanting to seriously run Deathwatch, you need this book. The scope of the content means that everyone should find something of interest, and it represents a high-yield investment for your game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deathwatch: Rites of Battle
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Dark Heresy: The Black Sepulcher
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/18/2011 18:42:54
This is the reason why I think that Fantasy Flight Games is the current powerhouse in the industry. I am seriously amazed every time that I open one of their books. The artwork and layout are always top-notch and serves to enhance the game, which is incredibly important when dealing with xenos beasts and technology - a good, detailed picture is a GMs best friend.
The writing continues be be as strong as ever; consistently proving that they are as invested in this game world as any wargamer - but bringing to the table fresh new elements that make this more than simply narrative wargaming.

'The Black Sepulchre' is an all-round excellent module. It kicks into high gear with one of my favourite 40K vehicles in a first scene starring role and it captures the immediate excitement and action very well. The module is well-paced, moving from high-intensity action and combat, to occult investigation, to horror and possible insanity all in the same storyline.
There are very helpful 'Troubleshooting' sections which provide advice for scaling, keeping characters on track, and even ways to weave this story into a much larger arc.

The 'big reveal' will be breath-taking for your players, especially if they figure it out by themselves (and this is supported in the game text) and sets the stage at the epic level you'd expect from 40K.

Whilst designed for all levels of 'Dark Heresy', you could easily run this with either 'Rogue Trader' or 'Deathwatch' with a little work.

I cannot wait for the next two installments as the bar has been set so high with this product.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: The Black Sepulcher
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