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The Secrets of the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) (PFRPG)

24 April 2018 - 3:35am
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This April Fool’s release clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


*CRASH*

Oh boy. What was that?? Sounded like a bad crash. Sirens blaring. Focus, man.

Ähem.

This review was requested as a prioritized review by one of my patreons.

*Door splinters in a loud explosion*

“Move aside, you reviewer-git, I need to talk to my amazing fans out there! DID YOU MISS ME?? Don’t answer. That was a rhetoric question! Of course you did, it’s me, your favorite metadventurer, helping to make this bland snore-fest of a review suck less!”


Wait a second, man…I wasn’t done! Isn’t it enough that your unqualified dithering suffuse this whole supplement, commenting on the crisp mechanics and delicious rules?


“Nope, because that’s BOOORING!! Buckle up, folks, as we all established in the review of my amazing book, I have won Pathfinder. Everything released since and before that was just rules-bloat and utterly irrelevant, regardless of system.”


Yeah, right. Sounds like a hardcore-grognard speaking about anything past 0ed…


“Shut it, endy, or I’ll move back in. Behind your couch. With my bags of chips. ALL of them.”


Okay, okay…may I cover the basics at least? Talk a bit about the rules and stuff?


“All right, all right! Man, do you have something in your fridge, or do you still subsist primarily on coffee for your reviewer-robot-shtick? Seriously, folks, the amount of coffee he drinks is insane. I still have this theory that he’s the first German, coffee-powered replicant…”


Okay, while the metadventurer’s pillaging my meager supplies, let’s talk. We have to be quick. He’s uncannily fast at gobbling down anything with a nutritional value…


Ähem. So, know how a well-optimized team can make BBEGs just suck? I’m sure that, if you’re a moderately experienced GM, you’ve encountered it at least once. That time when your players started curbstomping all bosses from published modules. Well, there is an issue here: After all, we all know plenty of media, wherein a team of heroes faces down a super-powerful villain. Here’s the problem: In the games we play, that does not translate too well, courtesy of the restrictions of action economy.


“I’ll bum a smoke or 30, all right endy?”


“Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever!” Anyways, in Pathfinder, my go-to-solution is to use Legendary Games’ mythic rules and Mythic Monsters/Path of Villains/Dragons to upgrade builds and make boss fights more interesting. But perhaps you don’t want to learn mythic rules. That’s pretty much where this becomes your one-stop-shop. Since the CR-system, wonky as it is, doesn’t properly measure up here, we work with threat levels, which range from 1 to 5; CR-adjustments of the template are based on threat level. The pdf urges caution here, with the metadventurer cheering for a TPK and the fact that the first three letters of “funeral” are F-U-N. You get the idea. ;)


Anyhow, the template nets +1 hp per HD, +1 deflection bonus to AC and +1 to SR per threat level, and +5 to existing DR and energy resistance per threat level. Also, +1 to initiative, damage per threat level, +1 to atk per two threat levels. +1 to all ability scores per threat level. That, however, is not the main meat of the massive templates: That would be the colossal amount of BBEG abilities that make up the majority of the pdf. Saves versus these are governed by Constitution, just fyi. (As an aside – it should probably specify that Charisma is substituted for undead.) One such potent ability is gained per threat level, and they are brutal: Aggro, for example, allows the BBEG to move up to their speed and execute a full attack as a swift action.


“Endy, I’ve called my relatives from China while you’re writing this! Oh, and you really shouldn’t let your credit cards lie around openly… Ni hao!”


Urgh. Anyways, there are adaptive resistances, devastating, potentially disintegrateing waves of energy governed by HD, summoned creatures that detonate, the option to generate hazardous terrain that detonates, siphoning off life of meat shields…have I mentioned super-strikes at +20 to atk, which ignore concealment and auto-threaten a crit, increasing crit multiplier by threat level?? Yeah, these guys will WRECK even veterans when build smartly! Doubled hit points, a ton of additional AoOs…the focus here is truly to make a single being capable of standing up to a well-oiled group of adventurers. Really nice would be btw….


“So, endy, I’ve just talked to this nice gentleman from Nigeria and gave him your social security number and banking IDs. Oh, and when I arrived…that crash? I kinda may have totaled your car. Which I’ve hijacked. Also: You’re now all out of food.”


Damn, I need to finish this review, stat! So yeah, the abilities of the BBEG are amazing and deadly, and we actually even get two cool puzzle-abilities that require that the players use their brain to defeat the BBEG. And fret not if you’re new to the concept, or the pdf provides an extensive section to guide you in how to use these without being unfair.


This is not all, though, the pdf also…

*WHACK; sound of head crashing to desk*


“Dude, this pretentious git is really slow for his supposed IQ. Man, I even have a Goatee, dammit! So yeah, you probably realized it by now, right? I’m frickin’ evil! I am the *drumroll* BBEM! The Big Bad Evil Metadventurer! *DUNH-DUNH-DUNH* Don’t believe what this dumb pdf says, though – I’m not an archetype of the Metadventurer. He’s a wimpy, half-baked archetype of ME! Got that? Great!


So, like all cool things, you can only play me if you’re a GM, because screw players, amirite? We all wanna bask in their despair, bathe in their tears, as pages upon pages of lame background-story are invalidated by me being too awesome. So, I can use the GM’s OOC knowledge on PCs. I get BBEG abilities. I can treat allies and enemies as abettors with betrayal feats at 7th level. At 14th level, I treat my threat level as +5 for BBEG abilities. At 15th level, I get +5 to AC and saves from 3pp-supplements, because I’m cool and amazing and know the authors. Oh, and at 20th level, when you save versus my abilities and roll a 1, you obviously don’t deserve to live. Rocks fall, you die. No save, because that’s how I roll. Also, obviously, when I crit. Because I’m too awesome. Suck it!!



What? That’s all? Okay, so you need to bask in my glory a bit more, as I…”

*whack, thunk*

I gestalted vigilante, bastard!

Okay, I need to get rid of this bastard…before the *real* Metadventurer comes back to deal with his evil twin. I can’t deal with two of the sort.


So, in all brevity, my conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s old, two-column full-color standard. Artworks are full-color and amazing and the pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity.


Wendall Roy’s template and associated archetype are super-deadly tools for the beleaguered GM. While the writing is hilarious in the details and commentary, it should be noted that this pdf is very much intended for table-use. This is not a useless file that just plays it for the laughs. The template provided can amp up even the most pitiful of final bosses, and while it requires a responsible GM, I love it for what it offers. Indeed, it is my contention that this concept could carry a book of thrice the size on its own. Considering the low asking price, I can wholeheartedly recommend this pdf, rating it 5 stars + seal of approval.


Damn. He’s twitching. Gotta run, see you on the flipside, folks…that is, if the BBEM doesn’t retaliate…

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

April Augmented - 2018

23 April 2018 - 2:09am
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

It’s that time of the year again! Usually, I try to have the April’s Fool-product reviews done in time for April 1st, but this year, I got them all either on that day or after it, so yeah – please excuse the delay! This year’s April Augmented-installment by Dreamscarred Press clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, ½ a page editorial, leaving us with 9.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


So, first of all, we get a Bloodforge (Infusion)-style new race – the Doggo! And no. It’s not another anthropomorphized dog-race. It’s a dog-race. You know, like in M.I.B. and various other forms of media? You can play an intelligent, talking dog! And that awakened dog? Yeah, you can play him. Doggos are augmented magical beasts, Medium, have a speed of 40 ft. and get +2 Str and Cha, -2 Int. Their language (beyond that of the awakener) is btw. called “Bork”, which made me grin. They get +1 natural AC, +2 to Survival and Acrobatics, low-light vision, scent and a properly codified primary natural bite attack (with size category-based damage noted). Classes that grant weapon proficiencies allow the doggos to wield weapons in their jaw, but casting verbal spells while having an item in your mouth is hard, imposing a 20% spell failure chance. The doggos are quadrupedal, gaining the appropriate benefits. They obviously lack opposable thumbs, which constitutes the properly depicted detriment of the race. There are alternate racial traits included. Instead of the natural AC bonus, they can get Skill Focus in a skill chosen from a list They can also get a movement rate of 50 ft. at the cost of decreased bite damage output. They can also be “Smol” (XD Yes. Deliberate.), being Small and gaining +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Int. The Acrobatics bonus may be exchanged with a swim speed equal to ½ land speed. We also get a racial feat, Slobbercaster, which lets you hold a spell focus in the mouth when casting verbal spells, sans incurring the spell failure chance. (I assume this also extends to material components.) The race sports no age, height and weight table, but come one! You can look these up online and tailor to your favorite dog breed.


Now, a serious section of the pdf is taken up by a new akashic veil and the ramifications of it – I am, obviously, talking about chef’s armory. Slot-wise,w e’re talking about Hands here and all veilweavers classify for it. The veil manifests a set of chef’s knives that are treated as masterwork daggers and that may be conjured and dismissed as a free action. The veil also allows for at-will ectoplasmic creation as a psi-like ability to generate non-edible kitchen utensils; additionally, create water and spark are gained as at-will SPs. The veil also lets you precisely measure weight and dimensions of stuff you pick up. Additional essence invested increases the damage output of the created weapons and the insight bonus. Wait, what? Yep, the veil also nets a +2 insight bonus to checks made to prepare or brew food/drinks and, if enhanced with weapon properties etc., the bonus increases.


“But…veils…weapons…did I miss a memo?” Nope, you did not. The pdf properly codifies the [weapon] descriptor for veils, which adds a GINORMOUS potential for further expansion of the much-beloved Akasha-system, one that I really hope to see expanded further! The chakra bind for hands of the veil, though, ticks off one of the things I consider problematic: It increases the critical multiplier of daggers made via the veil to x4, or by +1, whichever is higher. Yes, this allows you to bypass the usual x4 multiplier cap. Why am I not screaming bloody murder? Simple. We’re talking about daggers here. Not exactly the most PG option out there and doing the math should allow anyone to see why this, for once, in spite of the kneejerk reaction it may elicit, is totally cool with me.


Beyond the veil, we also obviously need to take a close look at AKASHIC COOKING. A creature benefiting from an akashic recipe can do so only 3 times per day, after consuming the whole meal, with only 1 benefit per 4-hour period – no stuffing yourself here! Unless otherwise noted, meals take an hour to prepare and require that the ingredients be present. Speaking of which: Ingredients are classified in 7 distinct groups, with “F” grade ingredients representing spoiled ones; “E”-rank ingredients can usually be foraged and anything better than that becomes REALLY rare. “A”-rank potatoes are e.g. grown in a specific demiplane, infused with mana, while the mythic and highest “S”-rank includes stuff like, to steal another example from the book, “milk from the primeval cow Auðumbla.” Yes, we actually get examples noted for each rank, and no A- and S-rank ingredients are usually not sold. But otherwise, we get concise guidance regarding prices. Recipes for akashic dishes can be purchased for 150 gp per recipe, and they can be developed at half price, though that takes a bit of time. In order to facilitate the creation of your own recipes, we get base DCs and corresponding effect levels as quick guidelines, and we even get suggested price-points for mundane ingredients – cool!


9 sample recipes are provided, listing DCs, ingredients and optional components, as well as effects. Eating Jumbo Gumbo can net a 1-minute expansion, as well as temporary power points. The Vegetarian consists of meat, meat and even more meat and nets temporary hit points. Water of Life is basically a tropical cocktail that heals you. Yes, paper umbrella optional, but oh so stylish! I’m going to be an insufferable chili-head prick regarding Ghost Pepper Poppers: Jalapenos are NOT the correct peppers – they aren’t even hot. The Naga (or Bhut) Jolokia would be the super-hot ones this should use. Anyways, the benefits are hilarious. Feed it to a dead person and they’ll come back temporarily to life, begging for water, allowing for an unreliable, but ridiculously fun chance to question the target before it dies again. And yes, fire breath can be found. Chicken noodle soup helps vs. diseases (minor nitpick: Fortitude should be capitalized.)


The akashic cooking experience can be enhanced further by two new feats: Apprentice Chef, which nets the option to shape the chef’s armory veil even for non-akashic characters, and Master Chef, which not only nets you recipes, but also allows you to bind it. Both yield a point of essence. Brave chefs can drink the vial of rotten food, which can affect them with poison and disease, but which can also fortify the chef’s armory veil. The blessed stone of hearth and flame improves the accuracy of the spark of chef’s armory for cooking and speeds up the cooking process. Traveling chef is a bag of spices that the veil can absorb, thereafter holding ingredients in the veil…and the veilweaver gets some degree of control over the flow of time for these ingredients, allowing for the quick aging of e.g. wines! And yes, synergy with Flaming Crab Games’ culinary magic is not hard to achieve here!


The pdf also includes a new feat, namely Catch These Hands, which requires Improved Unarmed Strike or Catch Off-Guard. These allow you to throw your punches. Literally. As in, they get the throwing property. Come on, that is weird, a bit icky, and hilarious!


Speaking of which: The pdf sports new spells, 4 of which are cantrips: Secluded recliner lets you conjure forth…just that. “Great for sitting on while sharing popcorn with your allies while watching the stalker bungle up their plan.“ Inform nets a +1 competence bonus to a single Intelligence based skill check, for 1 minute. Does not stack with itself. “This is typically enough to inform your party’s stalker on why exactly their latest plan is a stupid idea.” There is also create popcorn, which notes “Comes with salt and/or butter, although if the caster is of an evil alignment, it can also come with caramel.” Oh, and “Good for eating with the medic while watching your stalker enact their stupid plan.” XD Come on, that’s a hilarious visual! Oh, and there would be finger gun. Pew-pew-pew – you can fire one shot of a 1d3 non-lethal force damage with your finger, one missile per finger. Standard action to fire. There is a bigger, more damaging 2nd level version of the spell here as well. We also get the “Watch this Idiot” heraldry, which nets you inform at-will. Your unseen servants can use create popcorn and secluded recliner at-will. Amazing!


Oh, and I failed to mention the thing that made me fall almost off my chair, laughing my behind off. Know how much I adore the GLORIOUS Empath-archetype that DSP released? You know, perhaps my favorite archetype in all of Pathfinder? We get a new supreme Zeitgeist. “Ratbagger, the End.” XD Yep, that would be a little satire on yours truly. In case you didn’t know: I often talk about “kitten-tests”, abilities that “can or can’t be kitten’d” in the context of abilities that grant bonuses for defeated foes– this goes back to the “bag of rats test.” Can you accumulate insane bonuses by slaughtering a bag of rats? If so, it fails the bag of rats-test. This is one of single biggest pet-peeves in design and really rubs me the wrong way, as it can be mitigated and avoided in a variety of ways. Hence, at one point, I started using “bags of kittens” in my examples – after all, no one likes the idea of slaughtering those, right? Anyways, associated events for the zeitgeist would be endings of all kinds. All numbers you include in jokes must be in Base 13 and you may not explain why. Oh, and the goal is that, whenever something is finished, you must evaluate it and describe it to anyone who asks. I was laughing so hard while reading this!


Séance bonus applies to Knowledge (history) and Appraise and the psionic powers would be aura of decay at 4th, second chance at 5th and ex nihilo at 6th level, which is pretty damn funny, at least to me. The spirit bonus applies to things pertaining ends: Proficiency with butchering axes and scythes, and sickles are treated as having an x4 crit multiplier. You get guide the willing at-will. Oh, and you get “Quoth the Raven” – no, not that Ravenloft fanzine. “Quoth the Raven: You lose the ability to speak words, though you can still vocalize sounds—mostly high-pitched, squeaky ones, though. In addition, you gain a raven familiar, as a wizard of your level, and it furthermore has the ability to speak for you. It will not say the word “nevermore,” however, and trying to force it to will agitate it immensely. Finally, this raven cannot die—if it would do so, it disappears instead, only to return in perfect health the next time you contract with Ratbagger, the End” I almost fell off my chair laughing.

Seriously.

Cool: The ability: “A lifetime, no more, no less” lets you touch a creature. Once it perishes, it is treated as having died of old age, with the effect being only countered by wish/miracle and the like. You also are immune to disabled, dying and unconscious and are not staggered when using Diehard. Whenever a creature within 30 ft. dies, you gain an “ending”, which lasts for an hour or until expended. This includes yourself. Upon dying, you may expend an ending every round to continue acting, in no way inconvenienced. If the body is destroyed, you get the uncarnate feature, though sans option to become material unless you already have it. Once the endings run out, unless healed, you die. Drowning’s peculiarities are included.



..

.

And yes, I get it. The ultimate ability of the endzeitgeist zeitgeist is the ultimate bag of rats/kitten-exploit. Picture me laughing loud, slow clapping and grinning from ear to ear.

The joke here even goes so far as to use a font that almost looks like I’m allcaps-“screaming” about something. Every aspect of this is hilarious in some way, at least for me. And better yet, the zeitgeist is a damn cool addition to the roster of the superb Empath – just make sure to include a caveat for minimum Intelligence or HD to prevent rat-bagging/kitten-bagging exploits for…Ratbagger.

The absurdity is glorious! XD

I…can’t… stop…laughing. Well-played, DSP-crew!


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are almost perfect on a formal level, and super-tight, top-notch, on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a nice, comic-style artwork for the doggo. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Alex Stallings, Jacob Karpel, Jade Ripley, Anthony Cappell and Kevin Ryan, with dev-work by Forrest Heck provide an extremely usable and funny pdf. Each and every aspect of this pdf is not only patently funny and gonzo, they also are actually useful at the table! In fact, this pdf is PWYW and tighter in its rules than 99% of rules-books I review. This is a little masterpiece and whether you agree with my assessments or not, love me or hate me or anything in-between, please check out this gem. I am absolutely positive that you’ll find something thoroughly amazing within. You can laugh with or about me, play a damn cool race and add some akashic panache to your cooking – all for any price you’d like! Pure amazing, my final verdict will clock in 5 stars + seal of approval. I seriously have never laughed this much while reading a RPG-file. EVER. This gets my best-of-tag.


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Elite Dangerous RPG - Super Traders Sourcebook

10 April 2018 - 7:08am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
A lot of interstellar travel is going to be about trade, and this book is filled with resources to help those groups who want at least part of their game to be about furthering that trade - presumably as small-scale independents, given that the game is centred around individual spacecraft. With spacecraft ownership proposed on the scale that we own cars, these are probably the van-men of space in the equivalent of a step-van or small truck. It's also something that can be modelled well for someone wanting a solo game.

First up, Advanced Trading. If you are a role-playing group, a lot of trade will be relegated to the Between Adventures phase. Let's face it, commerce - however necessary and valuable - isn't really the stuff of adventure. However the rules as laid out in the core rulebook make for quite a lot of work, especially for the GM. Unless your GM has unlimited prep time, you probably want him to be creating exciting adventures not writing out price lists. So a more flexible system for working out prices in a given system based on what they specialise in and a bit of die rolling for that random element is provided, with the intention that (provided you like it) it will repace the version in the core rules. Interestingly, this includes an element to model a place that is good for trade being over-exploited, ensuring that the characters move on and don't just run a single profitable route without exploring anywhere else. You can make things more complex, but that really defeats the purpose of using this system.

Next comes New Spaceships. Everyone is always ready for a few more... and the ones presented include large bulk carriers - think 'container ship' rather than 'truck' - for those who want to take cargo-hauling seriously. There requite multiple-person crews, but come with 'hangers' for personal vessels, so characters won't have to abandon their pride and joy if they take service on one of these big boys (the price tag is likely too much for most characters to contemplate owning one). There are also smaller one- or two-man ships optimised to carry cargo at, of course, the expense of speed, manoeuvrability or weaponry.

This section is followed by another on Fighter Escorts - as the big cargo haulers are not able to fight well, they need to have escorts to defend them. The concept here is the small specialist fighting craft, carried aboard a larger vessel and loosed when the need arises. They are smaller than the regular personal vessels previously discussed in this game, basically a flying weapons platform - some are even controlled remotely rather than having a pilot aboard. They have limited life support even if designed to be piloted, and no Frame Shift drives.

Next up is It Takes All Sorts, a selection of backgrounds suitable for people who want to specialise in trade. People have all sorts of reasons for becoming independent traders, these provide some of them - often involving a desire (or a need) to escape the past. Additional Karma Capabilities round out this section.

The Eternal Foe comes next. This section talks a little about pirates before provided a selection of adversaries at spaceship, vehicle and individual scales... mostly pirates but also some other traders to provide a bit of competition!

Finally, this is all linked in to the Random Gemeration System (RGS). There's an explanation of how to use it to create a solo game - this dupliates notes in the Military and Espionage supplements, as you may not have them - of course if you do you can have a very varied solo game indeed! It then moves on to creating encounters suitable for a trading game, as useful for the GM wanting to create appropriate challenges as to the solo gamer, including pirate attacks, police boarding actions and general spaceway encounters. There's a selection of trade missions - all of which could be developed into full-blown adventures, with plenty of supporting notes. In places the other sourcebooks are mentioned, but alternatives are given for those who don't possess them.

There's a lot of good stuff here, particularly if you are on your own or want to run a game in which trading and commerce provides the background to the adventures you want to run. A lot would be useful whatever science-fiction game you run, even if it's not Elite Dangerous, but if you do it captures the very essence of the video game well.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Elite Dangerous RPG - Espionage Supplement

9 April 2018 - 7:03am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 4
The opening pages (backed by an atmospheric double-page illustration) paint a world that's post-post-truth. Everyone knows not to leave secrets on computers where hackers can break in... so if you want those secrets you have to break in physically to steal them. Espionage is part and parcel of doing business, with corporations even more likely to indulge in it than nation-states.

Slightly oddly, the first section is addressed to Engineers, and talks about upgrading spaceships by tinkering with the systems - in flagrant breach of the warrantry if not the law. Pilots are advised not to fiddle, a case of 'no user-servicable parts inside' which to those of us who like playing starship engineers is anathema! It is considered best to go to a professional if you want to supe up your spaceship, and the first trick is to make contact with a reputable and competent one. In terms of game mechanics, use your Repair skill in the Between Adventures phase if you want to do it yourself. It's probably best to visit your tame professional engineer then as well, who wants to spend role-playing time waiting for your spaceship to come out of the shop? Either way it's going to be expensive. There are tables to roll on for various components, giving a chance of improvement... or of causing a fault (and sometimes both!).

Next comes a selection of New Spaceships. It's noted that agents tend to like ships that are speedy and agile, but which don't stand out in a crowded starport, then presents several new ships (each with variations) that may be chosen during character creation, or indeed picked up later on in the game.

The next section is Perks of the Job. This contains useful equipment that the best-dressed espionage agent wouldn't leave home without. Some are quite innovative - poisonous lipsticks or bodyspray for example (just remember to take the antidote before applying or you'll poison yourself!). There are weapons, cybernetics and othe gizmos as well.

Then we have The Perfect Agent where new backgrounds appropriate to someone wishing to enter the shadowy worlds of espionage are provided. These range from a former downtrodden worker-drone who knows in great detail how a corporation operates to security guards, and an 'insurgent' who may be a prankster, an activist or an outright terrorist. New enhancements and Karma Capabilities appropriate to these roles are also there.

After a rather creepy piece of fiction which I hope won't give any players ideas we move on to The Bad Guys, which provides a whole bunch of ready-made opponents. These come in both Spaceship and Individual scales and range from soldier/mercenary and security personnel to criminals, and of course assassins.

The final part of the book focusses on the Random Generation System (RGS) and concentrates on running solo adventures when you are without a GM. Of course busy GMs can also use it during planning or even mid-game if they need ideas in a hurry. There are infiltration challenges - complete with outcomes based on success or failure - and step-by-step paths through various types of espionage mission. Then there is a system for generating Corporate Bases through a series of die rolls.

There's plenty of useful stuff if you want to run espionage games, but the whole thing has an air of being thrown together, random nuggets added because they might be useful, rather than a coherent exposition of the espionage aspects of the game. It even manages to make espionage sound dull and mechanical... the very thing most people take up this line of work to escape! Pick out all the bits you want to use and throw them into the mix, remembering that the real excitement of an espionage-style mission comes with role-playing it, not just rolling dice!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Elite Dangerous RPG core book

4 April 2018 - 9:08am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
The Preface and Introduction between them set the scene and evoke long-lost memories of early gaming in childhood (OK so I am a bit older than the author so there were no videogames to play with, and D and D didn't turn up until I was 18!). It all captures the magic of the alternate realities we inhabit as role-players, and gets you ready for this one, which you might have met before if you have played any of the Elite videogames. They were quasi-role-playing of themselves, but now with this game, that universe comes to life as a full-blown role-playing game. In a nutshell, your characters inhabit a universe where spaceship ownership is as common as car ownership is today, where there is vast inequality between rich and poor, weapons are easily available, life is cheap but opportunites for the brave and fortuate are endless...

There are basically three types of game that you can play. There are exploration games, espionage games (these include the police procedural ones like in the quickstart adventure The Worst Intentions that is bundled with the core rulebook), and military ones. Or in the true spirit of Elite itself, you can be 'Lone Wolf' individuals who nibble at the edges of civilisation to make your living. These are just ideas, of course, this is a rich canvas in which you may tell any story that you please.

We then dive straight in with Chapter 1: Character Creation. The process is summarised in a single page, but of course it's a bit more complex than that as you need to choose backgrounds and skills - even if you do get Trained Pilot background for free, 'cos zipping about in a spaceship is core to the game. You need to pick four backgrounds, which feed into the skills you bring to the game. These can be chosen or rolled for on a random table. A background generally gives you about four skills or their equivalent - some give eight and occupy two slots in your list of backgrounds. Each is described in a few sentences which build up to give an outline of your character's past.

One of the more interesting choices for a background is 'partner' - this gives you a whole other person who tags along with you, and has a character sheet of their own. It's suggested that the GM may role-play this individual, but another method - especially if several players in the group have partners - is to trade them amongst the group, playing each other's partners. One of the things coming out of the process already is a strong sense of 'You are the hero of your own story' and it's going to be interesting to see how this fits into the group or party oriented mindset of most RPGs, as characters are developed in isolation. There is a Karma point system which reiterate that 'You are the hero' view, with Karma Capabilities (you choose from a list and get Escape Death as a bonus one) and points which you can use to reroll a bad die roll... and all are consumed if you call upon Escape Death! They do regenerate, though...

Finally there are eight starships to pick from. They are all one- or two-person craft (if you have a partner you'll need a two-seater), or you can design your own with a 100.000 credit budget (which doesn't go that far...) if you prefer. But EVERY player-character has his or her own ship. You then need to give your character a name and decide what he looks like, and get some basic equipment. Then, adventure awaits...

Or at least it will once you've got through Chapter 2: Playing the Game. This begins by talking about the overall objective (to have fun and make a vast fortune whilst having exciting adventures) and the various GM-set goals you will need to achieve along the way. Several examples are given, all more or less open-ended as to what you're going to do about the situation. Then on to using those skills you just determined that your character has, a matter of deciding what skill you wish to use, getting a difficulty number to roll over and making your attempt by rolling a D10 and adding your skill bonus. If you use a skill, even if you are not successful, you put a tick beside it and at the end of the adventure you can raise it by 1 until you reach the level cap (40 for a starting character) - but only once per skill per adventure however many times you use it. There's a brief description of all the skills so that you can decide which one you want to use, and an explanation of how characters advance to higher levels - you don't want to go around labelled Harmless for ever, after all! This is done by amassing Rank Points, awarded by the GM for things like defeating a foe or succeeding with a skill that materially advances the adventure.

Chapter 3 is devoted to Combat, and it explains how combat works in space, between vehicles (planetside ones, that is), and in person. Combat in person is often conducted at a distance with firearms, but you can also brawl with fists or wave a sword around if you are feeling a bit mediaeval! When engaged in a fight, you may or may not choose to use a map - it depends if you like freeform fighting or a more 'miniatures skirmish' style. Both styles are accommodated here, it's really a matter of personal choice which your group will use. Combat proceeds through a turn-based system, with initiative determined by die roll. During your turn you can move up to ten metres and take an action, with numerous special cases according to circumstances. Note that artificial gravity has not been invented in this universe (although large ships and space stations can generate it through rotation) so characters will often find themselves in a micro-gravity environment. Most folk wear magboots, which keep your feet secure yet allow for movement: if you have them you can move normally in a low gravity environment - but if you're caught without yours movement can get a bit tricky! Wounds and healing are also covered here, before the discussion moves on to space combat. In this game, it's conducted at very close range - a few kilometers at most - and bears a lot of simularity to an aerial dogfight or naval ships in the age of sail exchanging broadsides with the added feature of fighting in three dimensions. A rough map does help here, whether or not you like them for personal combat. Again there is a whole range of actions you can perform both in preparation for combat and once the furball begins. It's also explained how you take (or deal out) damage and how it is repaired during combat. If things go too badly wrong, you might abandon ship by taking to the escape pods (if your ship has them). Finally vehicle combat is covered. It's similar to space combat except there are far more obstacles to crash into, and the ground limits the directions in which you can move.

Next, Chapter 4: The Galaxy is a guided tour of a spaceship, delivered as if you are taking delivery of a new one. This is followed by an overview of the galaxy itself, politically speaking. It's an amusingly ideosyncratic discourse, with an Empire and a Federation (both have advantages and disadvantages) and an Alliance of Independent Systems, as well as many independent worlds... quite a lot to take in but it all makes for a fascinating read. Under the guise of 'Good Citizenship in Space' it also explains what is acceptable behaviour out in the black.

Chapter 5: Personal Equipment follows, with details of all manner of items as well as the currency used. There are enough varieties of weapons to keep the most ardent gun-bunny content, with plenty of illustrations and descriptions as well as game mechanical information... and a selection of 'rare' items which could interest the collector or someone seeking a signature weapon. Armour - considered a bit crass to wear in public without very good reason - is also covered, as are cybernetic modifications, which again can have a negative effect on how people view the modified individual. Moving on to ordinary clothing we discover that in a very judgemental galaxy what you wear influences how others perceive you, via a Social Factor mechanic that quantifies the effect. There's all manner of other items of equipment here too, from communicators to cosmetics!

Next, Chapter 6: Spacecraft provides the lowdown on how cheap faster-than-light travel and the mass-production of ships has transformed the galaxy and the lives of inhabitants, with spaceship ownership akin to today's role of cars. All spacecraft come with weapons, as space piracy is rife. As already noted, it's a basic 'given' of the game that each player-character has his or her own ship, rather than the party sharing one as in most games. Here there are further details of the ships mentioned in the character generation section and of many more besides, and there are also rules for those who'd prefer to design their own ship from the keel up. A lot is based on the way the Elite: Dangerous videogame handles spacecraft, although some of the calculations have been simplified on the grounds that computers do sums a lot better than most role-players do! There is still an impressive amount to wade through if you do want to get into ship customisation, however. For the technically-minded, faster-than-light travel is empowered by a 'frame shift drive' although there's no real indication of what that does, just a few passing mentions of 'witchspace'. In normal space, thrusters are used. And yes, you can purchase a Docking Computer, which my husband, an Elite veteran, claims is essential as it takes all the bother out of docking with a rotating space station!

Chapter 7: Vehicles then does much the same for planetside vehicles as the preceeding chapter did for spacecraft. On normal inhabited and civilised planets, virtually all vehicles are autonomous and 'driving' consists of telling the vehicle where you want to go, however there are plenty places where the necessary infrastructure is not present and you still have to actually take control yourself. You do need, however, to make sure that your spacecraft has a large enough hanger to transport any vehicle you purchase... although no doubt it is possible to rent a vehicle for one-off use planetside. Some vehicles are designed for airless worlds, others operate in atmosphere while submarines and aircraft are also available.

That's it for the player section. We are now in to Gamemaster territory. It opens by explaining how daunting a first attempt at GMing can be... yet it's also rewarding and exciting as well. It discusses attitude and approach before getting down to mechanics like how to set difficulty numbers for task resolution... and how to handle the outcomes, good and bad, once the roll has been made. The discussion then moves on to the types of game you can run, with considerations as to how much preparation you can and want to do, how much you like freeform gaming compared to having a plot ready for the party to interact with and so on. Loads of ideas here. The first suggestion, for those who like very defined adventures, is a military or police campaign, then there's material about intrigue and espionage based ones. Then there's the major interstellar industry of exploring new worlds in search of places to exploit or colonise. There's frequent reference to the Random Generation System (RGS, detailed later!) which reduces the work of prior planning and preparation - it can even be used mid-game to create, for example, a new solar system even as the characters fly into it!

Yet the 'default' setting for a game based on Elite has to be the Lone Wolf one, with each character in his own ship - as laid out in the character creation rules - each working for himself, an independent operator. The constraints of a traditional role-playing group demand that they have to cooperate, but because they choose to do so rather than for employment reasons (be it military, police, exploration company or whatever). While these can be difficult to run, because the characters can go where they want and do what they want, there are certain frameworks that you can set, such as mission-based games. Perhaps they freelance for the aforementioned organisations, taking discrete jobs when the opportunity arises. Military, espionage and exploration missions can work well, as can 'cargo delivery' tasks. Or you can run a sandbox game: give them an area of space and a starting point and let them go where they like. It does take a fair bit of pre-planning, although the crafty will have a series of generic adventures that happen in whatever place the party has decided to go, or ones which are tagged to certain places but have no timescale, they'll occur when the party enters System X, be that the first place they go or the last. The RGS can help, but it's best if there is some kind of overarching plot. The Elite Dangerous galaxy has some 20,000 civilised star systems, but you don't need to design them all at once! Start with a dozen or so, and grow your galaxy over time. A lot of GMing will involve making things up on the spot, if only because the most unpredictable creature in known space is the player-character! Fortunately there's help available here about some perceived common occurences, many combat-related... but there are notes on all manner of things from hiring crew for a ship to making up new Backgrounds for people to use during character creation, and much, much more.

Then a concept of Between Adventures is introduced. This is a time for all the housekeeping, trading, ship- and character-improving tasks you don't want to role-play out but which do serve the progrssion of character and game as a whole. Perhaps the characters earn some money through independent activities in between the times they operate as a group. This can be abstracted - if you find too much detail sneaking in it may be worthy of some playing time, although some folks do like a reasonable level of detail even in their 'off-screen' time. The trick is to abstract the stuff you don't care to occupy role-playing time with, and use it to set up the things you do want to play out. It's quite a neat rationalisation.

But there's more. Chapter 9: Opponents provides advice about creating and using the opposition - individuals and organisations. At the most basic level, they come in three kinds: personal, vehicle and spaceship. These, of course, are the ones that the party have to fight - but the discussion soon moves on to creating encounters and provides pleny of examples at all three scales, grouped as military/mercenary, criminal, police/security and so on. Alien animals are also included for those venturing planetside; and finally there are drones for the technologically-inclined. Chapter 10: Rewards discusses how to reward characters appropriately for what they do, both in terms of cash and in terms of character advancement.

Finally, then, we reach the long-awaited Random Generation System. It's been mentioned enough in preceeding chapters, and now here it is in all its glory: an array of tables to help you generate systems, missions, just about anything you might need. It's equally useful for planning a game or in the middle of one when you need something in a hurry, and just reading the options available can often spawn ideas... and of course you can ignore the result of a roll when a better idea occurs, even if you started out setting something up randomly.

A raft of Appendices to aid in creative processes, then we are done. There's great potential here and it's playable irrespective of whether or not your group enjoys the Elite videogames. The concept of having each player-character running his own ship may be a bit of a challenge: do they travel as a pack, or when they get together do they dock their personal vessels and embark on something big enough for all of them? The entire game system is very open and adaptable, but the GM is going to have to do some groundwork - even if it's furious die-rolling against the RGS - before you are ready to go. Unless your group wants a police proceduaral in space game, the Quickstart that comes bundled with the core rulebook is more to introduce the system than to kick-start your campaign. Have fun, and keep your blaster handy!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

CE 9 - Both Foul and Deep

29 March 2018 - 7:45am
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This DCC-toolkit clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages SRD, leaving us with a massive 50 pages of content, though these are formatted for 6’’ by 9’’ digest size (A5), which means you can fit multiple pages on one sheet of paper.


This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.


So, first things first, in case you’re new to the series: The Campaign Elements-series is basically a collection of set-pieces supplemented with rules, intended to be dropped as is into an ongoing campaign…or to be used as a scavenging ground. As such, this sits squarely on the line between modules and setting supplements – while it can be used as written, it is just as useful as a file to supplement other modules; take e.g. “The Jeweler that dealt in Stardust” – the module assumes that the smartest way for the PCs to enter the locale would be via the sewers, but there isn’t much going on there. This is where an enterprising judge can employ this supplement, as we get a ton of material for sewers.


Wait. I know. Sewer levels/environments have a bad reputation. I can name, at the top of my head, a ton of modules that take place in sewers. Among these, 10%, at most, are worthwhile. But what if you want/need to run such a module? Well, this pdf pretty much helps dealing with that issue. We begin with a summary of different hooks to get the PCs down into the sewers. From there, we move on to general terrain features, the first thing a lot of modules in sewers fail to properly take into account. So yes, falling into sewage is a BAD idea – 6 different diseases can be found herein, ranging from mites and parasitic worms and scarlet rash. The second component many sewer-scenarios get wrong is that they depict, ironically, I might add, sewers as a mechanically sterile environment – this pdf does help here quite a bit: We get a d30 random encounter table, which brings me to one of the main components of this pdf.


You see, we not only get the usual people of the sewers (including secret taverns, cultists, etc.), but also a bunch of components we usually don’t see: Filthlarks, for example, the scavengers of the filthy places, gentlemen clubbers going to a clandestine meeting…and there are resurrection men; basically grave robbers in the name of science. Beyond those, we also get what amounts to a pretty massive bestiary section: We get albino alligators, aliens rats from another world, blood slugs, centipedes that seek to burrow into your flesh, carrion moths that spread hallucinogenic powder via their wings…even cooler: What about the cessceada? These swarming insects can cause the skin of those infected to slough off. There are beetles that can be sold to the dyer’s guild for profit, particularly agile drain runner foes, disgusting oozes, filth elementals… Have I mentioned the globlins that split by fission? Hellspore fungi and lamprey swarms are cool, and in the dark recesses, there also is the terrifying loathly one; there are phantom gentlemen…and more. This bestiary section is really cool, with each of the entries breathing some form of truly intriguing and captivating idea, in spite of the sometimes down to earth theme.


The pdf also provides the patron Squallas, mistress of the night soil rivers, but we only get the invoke patron table here – no custom spells, patron taint or spellburn, but all right. This would btw. be as well a place as any, there are quite a few really nice full-color illustrations throughout the pdf – particularly the sewer troll image is nice.


At this point, it should be noted that judges with an extensive library of books may find some nice easter eggs here and there – in the case of the troll, for example, a nod to the upcoming, Angels, Daemons and Beings Between II by Shinobi 27 Press. These nods are unobtrusive enough to not impede your enjoyment of the content, but certainly should be fun for quite a few judges…and they provide obscure and potentially easily ignored links you can further develop…but I digress.


Now, so far, I have mainly commented on the toolbox-y aspects of this pdf, but it is also an adventure locale. We get a solid b/w-map of the sewer-area depicted AND a player-friendly iteration, which is a huge plus, as far as I’m concerned. Now, the keyed encounter areas provided for the judge come with well-written read-aloud text (we have come to expect nothing less from Daniel J. Bishop!), but also feature unique hazards and creatures beyond the ones already mentioned – some are obviously intended as plot-threads for the judge to further develop, while others are just amazing; the image of a massive spider that carries its brood on its back is great, and just let it be known that just because corpses move doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily undead…which can result in a rather cool scene. Oh, and the line from the core book? Yes, there is a means to learn a spell from the mouth of a dead man…and how that phrase is twisted is really cool. I could explain all of the 9 keyed encounters here, but I’d frankly do the book a disservice.


You see, the series has traditionally a “squeezing it dry”-section, wherein you can find further suggestions to get the maximum amount of mileage out of the book – considering how strongly the toolbox/bestiary aspect is emphasized here, I can most definitely see judges employ this pdf’s contents far beyond the exploration of the sewers presented here.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard that is pretty printer-friendly. The full-color artworks are captivating, cool and deserve a big shout-out. The cartography featuring a player-friendly map is really cool. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable.


Daniel J. Bishop’s name on a book is, for the most part, a great indicator that it will rock – in fact, even if you do not play DCC, both new school and old school games can get something out of his offerings. There is a crisp quality to his prose, an overarching vision that not only gets the peculiarities of DCC, but, more importantly, really understands the tone and what makes it stand out. There is always an aspect of the weird here, one that feels like it was drawn straight from the greats. In fact, much like Leiber or Howard, he is adept at using precious few words to inspire; his fantasy, infused with a little dose of gonzo and the soul of sword and sorcery, has a distinct tone that is both grounded and wondrous, that retains this strange, captivating sense of plausibility. This booklet brings this aesthetic to sewers, perhaps the most maligned of adventuring locales, and elevates them. In short, this little booklet is one of the very few supplements/modules dealing with sewers that I’d consider superb – the monsters are so cool and interesting that quite a few may well warrant conversion. DCC judges, the primary audience of this book, should consider this a must-purchase anyway. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

(5E) Heir and Back Again

19 March 2018 - 3:08am
Publisher: AAW Games
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 60 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.


Okay, so first things first: This module is intended for four characters – in fact, 4 specific characters. While they may be replaced, this will take a bit of time and the most sensible way of running this is as a 1st level module or as a stand-alone adventure.


The pregenerated characters, all of whom come with their own full-color artworks, sport detailed backgrounds and full-color artworks alongside their stats. The character would by Joylene Crumb, an adolescent human ranger girl, who grew up as the adopted daughter of peasants. There would be Talulla, a pooka druid trickster exiled from her fairy village for a prank gone wrong. There is Bjorn Bearson, a werebear barbarian, and finally, there is Fergus MacDougal, the talking cat. Who is actually a dwarven sorcerer. All of the pregens come with a read-aloud description as well as a background notes with flaws and the like.


Now, it should be noted that this adventure can be run as a 1-on-1 game, with one GM and one player; in such a case, Joylene is the PC, for the story revolves mainly around her. If the nature of the NPCs did not drive this home – the pdf has a very strong fairy-tale-esque aesthetic and as such, is suitable for kids as well as adults. In fact, I think that this works rather well as an adventure for kids, courtesy of a feature that sets this apart.


You see, Joylene begins play with a potent artifact, the amulet of unwound time. She’ll need it.


In case the cover was not ample indicator of what to expect herein, this adventure is a homage to the classic King’s Quest-series of Sierra-point-and-click-adventures. If you have played these, you’ll know that there are a TON of ways to die in a weird and comedic manner, and this pdf emphasizes and embraces that aspect. It also tells the GM and players to embrace this – the amulet acts as basically the save/reload function here.


Another aspect that sets this apart from any other roleplaying adventure would be the fact that it emphasizes puzzles over rules – in fact, it is very much possible to run this adventure purely on a narrative basis: All major aspects of the module are based on finding items, combining them, etc. and thus, while often tied to rules, can theoretically be run without rolling a single die. This module emphasizes puzzles over rolling the bones, much like the beloved point-and-click adventures.


But won’t the items become confusing? No, for the organization of the adventure is REALLY interesting: Quest items are always bolded – additionally, the GM gets them color-coded: Items that are freely available, are printed in green; those that need to be found, contingent on an ability or the like, are blue and those that need to be traded/given are printed in purple. Here’s a cool thing about that: The module sports a MASSIVE appendix, in which each item’s location is noted, alongside the respective color, how it can be got and the descriptive text. Oh, and an artwork. If you print these out, you can hand out the artworks to the players! The quest item table makes managing this aspect really simple.


Alternatively, you can always get the item card deck, which provides a player-friendly card for each of the items used in the adventure – not required, but a handy prop that cuts down on your prep-time. (As an aside – particularly when playing with kids, this can help immensely!) EDIT: As of now, the deck has increased in usefulness, as it now also contains the lavishly-illustrated locations, meaning that every place herein gets a mini-handout! That's HUGE!


There is another aspect to this adventure that is extremely helpful for the GM: The location-spread. The Map of the Duchy of Sapphire is depicted in lavish artworks – one is provided for each of the “screens” that the PCs can explore, and the GM gets handy, color-coded arrows pointing from location to location, allowing you to have an easy overview of how to get from place to place. In fact, this is the time where I’d like to comment on how ridiculously easy navigation is – you click on an image of a locale and the internal hyperlinking brings you right to the place; same goes for the items, btw. These link to the item list. Each of the individual locations also has a list of items attained and items used, with the respective locations noted.


Even better, the respective locations themselves link back to the overview-spread, allowing for a really easy to use and comfortable GMing experience. The organization is really smart here, as the top of each page also lists the respective connections to other screens – one click and you’ll be there. This level of comfort really helps you maintain the upper hand while running this adventure.


Now, I am going to deviate from my usual format a bit here – since the main draw of this adventure are the puzzles, talking you through the module would make no sense – I’d SPOIL even more than usual. Instead, I’d like to comment a bit on the design aesthetics – much like in King’s Quest, the primary antagonist would be an evil wizard, here, Vaclav. He and pretty much all combats herein, though, are changed by the quest item use – they are actually required to best Vaclav, considering his power. That being said, it is possible to make the fight against him utterly and completely contingent on narrative means – i.e., based solely on these items. That would be one use of the adventure, and, if played as such, a capable GM can use either the PFRPG or the 5e-version and play this as what amounts to, a system neutral pen and paper point and click adventure. This is possible, if not the intended use of the adventure.


However, even though the obvious inspiration of this adventure would be King’s Quest, it actually plays, when tackled as written, for like a point and click adventure/RPG-hybrid, like e.g. the amazing Quest for Glory-series. The roleplaying elements in such a case add a degree of tension and uncertainty to the proceedings that make this module much more interesting, so yeah, running it WITH the RPG-components actually enhances the game. Much like early point and click adventures required often a degree of player skill (and luck), the use of this adventure as intended simulates this uncertainty via the rolling of the dice. It should also be mentioned that the presence of a roleplaying system as a backdrop can further help stumped players – and while there are no dead ends per default, this further helps mitigate potential player frustration for “being stuck,” providing a synergy of the best of both worlds in that regard.


There is another aspect to this module that warrants mentioning: When I, back in the day, started GMing, I noticed a sort of choice-paralysis by the players; conditioned by videogames and other forms of media, the sudden delimitation of options that pen and paper games provide felt almost overwhelming, and it took some serious getting used to for them. In a way, this module can ease new players into that: Yes, they can opt for combat and combat-related options in a couple of instances, but using items, ultimately, is the smarter move. This is a big, big plus in my book – we ultimately emphasize brains over brawn here and the module is better off for it.


This design philosophy and the aforementioned, child-friendliness, is btw. also a component that is reflected in the XP-aesthetics – solving puzzles and dealing with adversaries in a non-violent manner is worth more than trying to brute-force combat with them. This teaches the players that using their brains tops trying to kill everything, which is a big plus, ethics-wise.


The module also consequently rewards exploration: There are quite a few “optional” areas or somewhat branching paths that the PCs may find, with e.g. a fairy village, a magic waterfall, a poisoned pond, troll-guarded suspension bridges and nomadic camps all providing means to progress, to attain the tools that can help best Vaclav. Indeed, a particular item, the royal signet ring, is one of the determining factors for the 6 endings that can be found herein. And yes, whether or not the PCs subdue or kill the evil wizard makes a difference. As for scope – a total of 21 main locations can be found and most groups should get between 2 – 4 full playing sessions out of this adventure. You can brute force faster progression, obviously, but yeah.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch in the 5e-version – I noticed no serious glitches. Layout deserves special mention – the pdf adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the module has a TON of original, full-color artworks for items, characters and locations. More importantly, the internal hyperlinking and color-coding of links and items makes the module really user-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


A little tangent here: Time and again, I have been praised in my professional life for being able to think in uncommon ways, for thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions. I am 100% certain that my love for point-and-click adventures as a child has something to do with that; if you don’t just try to combine everything with each other, you have to think – cleverly and outside of your own comfort zone. They also help develop logic, language and abstract-thinking skills. There is a lot of overlap there with RPGs, who also teach math skills and creative thinking, etc. Notice something? Yeah, this is, in my opinion, a natural fit that can help ease kids into the hobby.


That is not to say that adults can’t enjoy this, mind you – this may be cute, but it’s not cutesy. It is child-friendly, but not childish. It treats the players respectfully. In particularly adults who have had some experience with the classic games will probably experience one nostalgic event after another.


So is this good? Well, in my opinion, it is excellent. I do bemoan the lack of full-page versions of the gorgeous adventure-screens, but the new and expanded card deck somewhat remedies that. That is about the only thing I did not like about this adventure. Yes, it requires that you and the players wholeheartedly buy into the premise, but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with a playing experience unlike anyone I’ve had with roleplaying games.


This module by Jonathan G. Nelson, with additional content by Serena Nelson, in short, is genuinely innovative and a really fun experience. As a huge fan of adventure/RPG-hybrids, a genre that lies horribly vacant in PC-gaming, this scratched a really powerful itch of mine, and did so in a heartwarming and fun way. I really, really hope that this is the first of many such adventures – my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. In contrast to the PFRPG-version, the 5e-version feels a bit more refined and is, system-immanently, a bit more conductive to the playing experience, so get this one if you have the luxury of choosing which one to play. The expanded card deck makes for a really great prop as well and can be used to further enhance the experience.

Oh, and conversely, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018. If you even remotely like the idea, check this out asap!

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Heir and Back Again

19 March 2018 - 3:06am
Publisher: AAW Games
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 63 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.


Okay, so first things first: This module is intended for four characters – in fact, 4 specific characters. While they may be replaced, this will take a bit of time and the most sensible way of running this is as a 1st level module or as a stand-alone adventure.


The pregenerated characters, all of whom come with their own full-color artworks, sport detailed backgrounds and full-color artworks alongside their stats. The character would by Joylene Crumb, a an adolescent human aristocrat girl, who grew up as the adopted daughter of peasants. There would be Talulla, a pooka druid trickster exiled from her fairy village for a prank gone wrong. There is Bjorn Bearson, a werebear (stats for both forms provided) and finally, there is Fergus MacDougal, the talking cat. Who is actually a dwarven sorcerer. All of the pregens come with a read-aloud description as well.


Now, it should be noted that this adventure can be run as a 1-on-1 game, with one GM and one player; in such a case, Joylene is the PC, for the story revolves mainly around her. If the nature of the NPCs did not drive this home – the pdf has a very strong fairy-tale-esque aesthetic and as such, is suitable for kids as well as adults. In fact, I think that this works rather well as an adventure for kids, courtesy of a feature that sets this apart.


You see, Joylene begins play with a potent artifact, the amulet of unwound time. She’ll need it.


In case the cover was not ample indicator of what to expect herein, this adventure is a homage to the classic King’s Quest-series of Sierra-point-and-click-adventures. If you have played these, you’ll know that there are a TON of ways to die in a weird and comedic manner, and this pdf emphasizes and embraces that aspect. It also tells the GM and players to embrace this – the amulet acts as basically the save/reload function here.


Another aspect that sets this apart from any other roleplaying adventure would be the fact that it emphasizes puzzles over rules – in fact, it is very much possible to run this adventure purely on a narrative basis: All major aspects of the module are based on finding items, combining them, etc. and thus, while often tied to rules, can theoretically be run without rolling a single die. This module emphasizes puzzles over rolling the bones, much like the beloved point-and-click adventures.


But won’t the items become confusing? No, for the organization of the adventure is REALLY interesting: Quest items are always bolded – additionally, the GM gets them color-coded: Items that are freely available, are printed in green; those that need to be found, contingent on an ability or the like, are blue and those that need to be traded/given are printed in purple. Here’s a cool thing about that: The module sports a MASSIVE appendix, in which each item’s location is noted, alongside the respective color, how it can be got and the descriptive text. Oh, and an artwork. If you print these out, you can hand out the artworks to the players! The quest item table makes managing this aspect really simple.

Alternatively, you can always get the item card deck, which provides a player-friendly card for each of the items used in the adventure – not required, but a handy prop that cuts down on your prep-time. (As an aside – particularly when playing with kids, this can help immensely!) EDIT: As of now, the deck has increased in usefulness, as it now also contains the lavishly-illustrated locations, meaning that every place herein gets a mini-handout! That's HUGE!


There is another aspect to this adventure that is extremely helpful for the GM: The location-spread. The Map of the Duchy of Sapphire is depicted in lavish artworks – one is provided for each of the “screens” that the PCs can explore, and the Gm gets handy, color-coded arrows pointing from location to location, allowing you to have an easy overview of how to get from place to place. In fact, this is the time where I’d like to comment on how ridiculously easy navigation is – you click on an image of a locale and the internal hyperlinking brings you right to the place; same goes for the items, btw. These link to the item list. Each of the individual locations also has a list of items attained and items used, with the respective locations noted.


Even better, the respective locations themselves link back to the overview-spread, allowing for a really easy to use and comfortable GMing experience. The organization is really smart here, as the top of each page also lists the respective connections to other screens – one click and you’ll be there. This level of comfort really helps you maintain the upper hand while running this adventure.


Now, I am going to deviate from my usual format a bit here – since the main draw of this adventure are the puzzles, talking you through the module would make no sense – I’d SPOIL even more than usual. Instead, I’d like to comment a bit on the design aesthetics – much like in King’s Quest, the primary antagonist would be an evil wizard, here, Vaclav. He and pretty much all combats herein, though, are changed by the quest item use – they are actually required to best Vaclav, considering his power. That being said, it is possible to make the fight against him utterly and completely contingent on narrative means – i.e., based solely on these items. That would be one use of the adventure, and, if played as such, a capable GM can use either the PFRPG or the 5e-version and play this as what amounts to, a system neutral pen and paper point and click adventure. This is possible, if not the intended use of the adventure.


However, even though the obvious inspiration of this adventure would be King’s Quest, it actually plays, when tackled as written, for like a point and click adventure/RPG-hybrid, like e.g. the amazing Quest for Glory-series. The roleplaying elements in such a case add a degree of tension and uncertainty to the proceedings that make this module much more interesting, so yeah, running it WITH the RPG-components actually enhances the game. Much like early point and click adventures required often a degree of player skill (and luck), the use of this adventure as intended simulates this uncertainty via the rolling of the dice. It should also be mentioned that the presence of a roleplaying system as a backdrop can further help stumped players – and while there are no dead ends per default, this further helps mitigate potential player frustration for “being stuck,” providing a synergy of the best of both worlds in that regard.


There is another aspect to this module that warrants mentioning: When I, back in the day, started GMing, I noticed a sort of choice-paralysis by the players; conditioned by videogames and other forms of media, the sudden delimitation of options that pen and paper games provide felt almost overwhelming, and it took some serious getting used to for them. In a way, this module can ease new players into that: Yes, they can opt for combat and combat-related options in a couple of instances, but using items, ultimately, is the smarter move. This is a big, big plus in my book – we ultimately emphasize brains over brawn here and the module is better off for it.


This design philosophy and the aforementioned child-friendliness, is btw. also a component that is reflected in the XP-aesthetics – solving puzzles and dealing with adversaries in a non-violent manner is worth more than trying to brute-force combat with them. This teaches the players that using their brains tops trying to kill everything, which is a big plus, ethics-wise.


The module also consequently rewards exploration: There are quite a few “optional” areas or somewhat branching paths that the PCs may find, with e.g. a fairy village, a magic waterfall, a poisoned pond, troll-guarded suspension bridges and nomadic camps all providing means to progress, to attain the tools that can help best Vaclav. Indeed, a particular item, the royal signet ring, is one of the determining factors for the 6 endings that can be found herein. And yes, whether or not the PCs subdue or kill the evil wizard makes a difference. As for scope – a total of 21 main locations can be found and most groups should get between 2 – 4 full playing sessions out of this adventure. You can brute force faster progression, obviously, but yeah.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed a few minor hiccups, nothing grievous hampered my enjoyment of the pdf. A reference to “Wisdom (Perception)” here and a wrongly colored link there, but, again, these are scarce. Layout deserves special mention – the pdf adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the module has a TON of original, full-color artworks for items, characters and locations. I strongly suggest getting the expanded deck of props for maximum impact. More importantly, the internal hyperlinking and color-coding of links and items makes the module really user-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


A little tangent here: Time and again, I have been praised in my professional life for being able to think in uncommon ways, for thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions. I am 100% certain that my love for point-and-click adventures as a child has something to do with that; if you don’t just try to combine everything with each other, you have to think – cleverly and outside of your own comfort zone. They also help develop logic, language and abstract-thinking skills. There is a lot of overlap there with RPGs, who also teach math skills and creative thinking, etc. Notice something? Yeah, this is, in my opinion, a natural fit that can help ease kids into the hobby.


That is not to say that adults can’t enjoy this, mind you – this may be cute, but it’s not cutesy. It is child-friendly, but not childish. It treats the players respectfully. In particularly adults who have had some experience with the classic games will probably experience one nostalgic event after another.


So is this good? Well, in my opinion, it is excellent. I do bemoan the lack of full-page versions of the gorgeous adventure-screens, but the expanded deck really helps here and makes for a great way to highlight the neat artwork. The adventure requires that you and the players embrace the premise, but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with a playing experience unlike anyone I’ve had with roleplaying games.


This module by Jonathan G. Nelson, with additional content by Serena Nelson, in short, is genuinely innovative and a really fun experience. As a huge fan of adventure/RPG-hybrids, a genre that lies horribly vacant in PC-gaming, this scratched a really powerful itch of mine, and did so in a heartwarming and fun way. I really, really hope that this is the first of many such adventures – my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up, with my seal of approval added. If you even remotely like the idea, check this out asap! If you have the luxury of choice, I’d consider the 5e-version to be slightly more refined and system-immanently, better suited for the playing experience this offers. As an aside: If you get this with the new and expanded card deck added, consider the verdict to clock in at +0.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Heir and Back Again -- Deck of Cards

19 March 2018 - 3:01am
Publisher: AAW Games
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is basically a card-deck, which sports one card per Quest Item featured in the Heir and Back Again homage to the classic point and click adventure games.

It's first part contains 29 cards that represent the Quest Items that can be found in the pdf, with the back sporting a fairy tale castle and the logo, and the front sporting the artwork of the item, as well as a brief description.


The deal also comes with an archive, which contains the respective artworks in high-res jpgs.


Do you absolutely need this supplement for these item-cards? No, but it makes for a nice prop for the game, particularly when playing the module with kids.


However, as of right now, there is more to the deck!


Now here is an amazing thing and proof that AAW Games cares and listens: The deck has been expanded and now provides a second set of cards, one that depicts the lavishly-illustrated locations! These cards have a different back, allowing for easy identification. Oh, and they can be used to represent the locations at the table. Huge plus!


So yeah, this expanded deck has greatly increased its value, courtesy of the nice location artwork cards. Hence, the final verdict is adjusted as well, to 5 stars.


Publishers: This is how it's done!

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Shadowrun: Shadows in Focus: Morocco

18 March 2018 - 7:11pm
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Rating: 4
Shadows in Focus - Morocco is a location sourcebook for Shadowrun and provides useful information on Morocco and its environs that would be useful to the sorts of people who are Shadowrunners. It is the sort of book you need if you are going to run a game set in or around Morocco.

Shadows in Focus - Morocco is a location sourcebook for the 5th edition of Shadowrun, this particular book covers the shadow nexus of smugglers, corporations and nationalism that exist in the Morocco of the Sixth World.

Morocco is a gateway to the Mediterranean and Islamic worlds so it serves as a nexus of trade, legal and illegal, as well as a gatekeeper of the Gibraltar straights. In the Sixth World, it suffered heavily during EuroWar II which saw it invaded by European forces driving back the Islamic forces which had used it as a stepping stone to invade Spain. Morocco has rebuilt with heavy corporate aid making many see the government as a puppet of megacorporate interests. The truth is more complex with the Morocco government, corporations, traditional social groups and other factions all vying for power.

With smuggling, corporate power plays and corruption permeating the government, there is considerable work for career criminals such as Shadowrunners. But they have to play the game according to local rules if they want to go far which means keeping magic and cyberware out of sight as much as possible and not offending the Islamic faith when you can manage.

As far as mechanics go there are two new animals (the Atlas Bear and the Barbary Lion), five new Life Modules for that character generation system, and some suggestion on how to model the cultural dislike of cyberware.

Shadows in Focus - Morocco is an interesting resource providing enough information to set missions in Morocco as well as a variety of potential adventures (though some adventure seeds to really spark ideas would have been nice).

Note: Read more reviews and other gaming articles at my journal https://seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com/
Categories: Game Theory & Design

In The Company of Valkyries

7 March 2018 - 3:25am
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing’s „In the Company of...“-series clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.


Okay, the first thing you’ll note: New and improved layout! Really nice one, at that! Parchment-like background, central page numbers against a red backdrop, lion-like glyphs in the borders. Elegant and neat!


Now, as always, we begin this supplement with a missive to Qwilion of Questhaven, chronicling and interview with a member of the species in question, which means that, yes, this pdf, like all installments in the series, is actually a nice reading experience, as what otherwise would be dry notes, takes on a personal touch: “Hail and well met, scholar!” indeed, as this is how we begin the supplement. Now, obviously, valkyries are chosen, not born – the initiation sees the valkyrie, according to narrator Scorcia Stormcrow, gaze down a chalice in a hall, where no drop may be spilled; they gaze into a well, reliving the final, mortal fight, as weakness bleeds out of the valkyrie to be. The new initiate receives a mentor and the pdf proceeds to explain the details of the choosing, the importance of drink and poetry, and indeed, the valkyries retain some aspect of their erstwhile race, though it usually is cosmetic – yes, this means that half-orcs, elves, dwarves, etc. all can become valkyries. The pdf also explains the meaning of some famous names associated with valkyries.


Now, basic stats-wise, valkyries are native outsiders with +2 Strength and Charisma and -2 Dexterity. They are Medium, have darkvision 60 ft., resistance 5 to acid and cold and gain deathwatch as a supernatural ability 1/day, using character level as caster level – though only for the purpose of seeing creatures with souls. As battle-trained fighters, armor the valkyrie is proficient in never impacts her speed, nor does it add its armor check penalty to Ride checks. A valkyrie gains a valiant steed, which acts as a druid animal companion that does not automatically improve over the levels. The steed must be a horse, which is always combat trained and gains Light Armor Proficiency as a bonus feat. It does not gain share spells, and may be replaced if slain after a 1-week mourning period.


The signature ability, though, would obviously be the choosing of the slain: 1/day as a standard action, the valkyrie may draw a soul from a recently deceased body and safeguard it indefinitely, as per soul bind, but she may only do so for creatures willing to have their souls thus carried. The ability may only be used on a target if the target has been slain within a timeframe equal to a number of rounds that is equal or less than the valkyrie’s character level. If the soul is reluctant, the valkyrie may use Diplomacy to attempt to convince a target. In order to carry a soul, the valkyrie’s character level must be equal to or greater than the creature’s HD and she may only have one soul at any given time. She may free a soul as a full-round action. And before you ask: The pdf does talk about souls, what does or doesn’t have them, and retains full GM-control. The valkyries won’t wreck your world-building.


We get a proper height and weight table, fyi – being immortal, no age is given, obviously. The race comes with a total of 9 alternate racial traits. Instead of the standard darkvision and resistances, we can choose negative energy resistance and 1/day immediate action + Cha-mod (min 1)to saves versus negative energy, energy drain and death effects as well as +2 racial bonus to saves against the like – however, upon using this boost, the valkyrie loses the benefits of the trait for 24 hours. Cool! The resistances may also be replaces in favor of 10 resistance to one of the default energy types. Instead of being battle trained and the resistances, there is an option for a Charisma-based mage armor like effect and one for better divination CL as well as an initiative boost after casting such a spell. Speaking of divinations: We can replace the steed with a better form of augury 1/day. Fated sight may be replaced with Knowledge (planes) as a class skill and perfect knowledge of where she is in the planes as well as the knowledge about the closest gate. We also get a racial trait to make Small valkyries and the signature spear wielding: Instead of the steed, valkyries can use a standard action to call a masterwork spear to their side, which may be enchanted as usual and retains the enchantments, but may not be permanently destroyed. Finally, the steed may be replaced with wings: Here, we can see the mastery of the designers: The wings start off as gliding and synergy with the battle trained trait is covered. It should also be noted that the pdf qualifies these traits as racial feats – so yeah, you can take them sans trading in other options, and we get different prerequisites for qualifying traits!


Favored class options cover arcanist, bard, bloodrager, cavalier, magus, medium, occultist, skald, sorcerer, warpriest, witch and wizard as well as the racial paragon class., but more on that later.


Before we dive into the details there, let us talk for a second about the feats: We get no less than 18 racial feats, which include the ability to have the companion steed scale, quicker summoning and banishing of the spear, halving the duration of divinations with casting times exceeding a round, divination-based SPs…and yes, there is a feat-sequence that nets you flight! Yes, it is locked behind the appropriate minimum ranks/levels and will not hamper your game’s assumptions at low levels. The wings can be further upgraded to serve as natural attacks (properly codified!) AND the upgraded metallic wings may act as shields and cause bleed damage. HECK yes! (And yes, the prerequisites for these make sense, regarding level-range!) The paragon class can choose an extra insight (more on that later) and mid-level death ward that also acts as a safety net to keep you from falling below 0 hp, can be found. Aura sight is also here and really high-level valkyries can 1/day claim the soul of a living being.


Now, two of the feats tie in with Norse lore particularly well – these allow for the creation and improvement, respectively, of enchanted meads, a new item category of sorts, which can take four forms. The first is a more potent spell than what can usually be contained in a potion; the second allows for the creation of a potion-equivalent of up to 6th level. The third combines two spells into a single potion and the fourth uses strong alcohol to lower the cost of the brewing process, which is amazing – and before you ask: If you attempt to cheese these by being immune to the effects of alcohol…well, you can’t. The respective basic crafting mechanics are explained in a concise and precise manner that bespeaks that the authors did their math. Kudos! Beyond the basic crafting system expansion provided here, we also get 5 special, specific meads, which provide potent spell benefits, but, like the base engine, they come with risky drawbacks if you can’t keep your mead down. This represents, in short, the flavor of the race really well in the mechanics. We can all picture amused valkyries smirking over mortals that can’t keep their mead down, right?


Now, while pretty much every feat in the racial section is for valkyries (surprise), there are three that aren’t: The Valkyrie Style and its two follow-up feats. Valkyrie Style lets you wield a two-handed polearm one-handed while using a light shield or buckler, but, following the rules, you don’t get the 1.5 Str-mod to damage when doing so. The follow-up feat, Valkyrie Strike unlocks this damage boost and adds +1d6 precision damage with it – and this bonus precision damage bypasses all forms of DR. That is really interesting: Precision damage is easily one of the least valuable damage types in PFRPG and the DR-ignoring, while usually not something I like, makes it actually valuable. Kudos! The third feat, Valkyrie Fury lets you add a shield bash when making a full attack – sans losing the AC-bonus. Oh, and free trip attempt on a hit, sans AoO! Really cool style-chain! The base feat for this Style-chain also acts as one of the prerequisites of the Shield Maiden PrC, which represents one way other than dying to become a valkyrie.


The PrC requires the Valkyrie Style feat, BAB +5, 3 ranks in two Knowledge skills. Here is a great way to note one fact that made me smile and that is rather important for quite a few of my readers: Valkyries are obviously gendered entities, right? In another supplement, we’d probably read a “female only” line in the prerequisites for the PrC and be done with it. Well, guess what? Both regarding being chosen after slain and PrC only cares about how your character identifies – a shield maiden must identify as female, but doesn’t have to be female. This is really cool, as one could see the struggle, bloodshed and fights throughout a character’s progression as a symbolic, potentially cathartic representation of the struggle of transitioning, adding potentially deep symbological depth to the playing experience. So yeah, big kudos!


The PrC, on a mechanical side, gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The PrC gets full BAB-progression as well as ½ Fort-save progression. At 1st level, we get + Cha-bonus to saves (not stacking with the paladin’s divine grace, thankfully), and she may 1/day reroll a save, but upon doing so, loses the benefits of the ability for 24 hours. The shield maiden also gets the valkyrie’s ease when operating in armor at this level. At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, the shield maiden gains a boon, chosen from a selection of 6: She may substitute the armor or shield bonus she has with her Charisma-modifier (thankfully, min and max values included); 3+ Cha-mod valkyrie-style deathwatch, gaining an insight from the paragon class, a bonus feat (fighter level caveat included), resistance and gaining valkyrie traits may be found here. 3rd level nets fatebond: Either, you get a cool spear with enhancement bonuses and special abilities (scaling, caps intact) or a steed – and paladin-synergy is once more covered. Kudos! 5th level nets light fortification while wearing armor, and, in a cool twist, actually provides synergy with armors actually enchanted to grant the property. 7th level nets glory, which is a mini-smite of sorts usable up to ½ class levels times per day, each use lasting 1 round. When confirming a critical hit against a target of her character level + 2 in CR or higher, she regains uses – cool, and uncheesable! 9th level yields a death ward that may be used reflexively and 10th level provides the coveted valkyrie ascension upon dying. Really cool PrC!


Now, we also get quite an array of different racial archetypes for valkyries, the first of which would the be fortune weaver witch, who is locked into a raven or eagle familiar. 5th level yields a cool ability that lets you 1/day speak a target’s fate, causing a suggestion – if the target disobeys it, he is cursed. Cool! The ability may be used more often by expending spell slots, but only may target a creature 1/day. Similarly, rerolls for allies (9th level) may also be used more often via spell slot expenditure and at 11th level, we get, following a similar design paradigm, the dispelling of charms, curses, compulsions or mind-affecting effects, potentially redistributing them. Two major hexes and grand hexes complement a flavorful, cool archetype. The keeper of souls warpriest is locked into repose and builds on it, with the soul shepherding and planar ally options representing the agent of the valkyries and their agenda – nice!


The raven feeder would be a bloodrager who modifies bloodrage to add bleed damage. Raven familiar and the ability to select alus instead of bloodline powers complement this one, building on the bleeding theme. The runecaster magus is one of the coolest archetypes for the class I’ve seen in a while: Basically, arcane pool is replaced with a rune pool, which allows for the improvement of weapons to provide passive benefits, from which other characters can benefit. These runes, once inscribed, may be activated, granting fitting benefits, getting stacking issues right and unlocking combo’d runes add higher levels, which is, engine-wise, amazing and could carry its own class. Runic tattoos and armor also are included. Cool one! The Saga singer skald’s song can yields Diehard and further improves if the target has Diehard already. The telling of heroic sagas (urgh, I shudder when writing that plural, even though it’s the commonly used one – to me, the correct term for the plural is sögur, but that as an aside) replaces several passive abilities with these active boosts, which btw. may be combined at higher levels.


Speaking of which: We get no less than 5 bardic/skaldic masterpieces, all of which are epic: Brynnhild’r Lament nets an improved rage; Deliberation of the Norns nets save rerolls for allies. Kenning is amazing, allowing for the prevention of verbal communication of tactics, aiding, etc. via potent poetic allusions. Love it! Saga of Unbreakable Fate nets a slew of immunities, and the epic Ragnarok’s Requiem, usable only by the mightiest of heroes, provides a combo meteor swarm/mass cure serious wounds. All of these are worth taking for their price.


All right, so let’s move on to the valkyrie paragon, shall we? The class gets d8 HD, full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The class begins play with a mount that works as a druid companion. If the character has the valiant steed trait, the mount is treated as class level +1, which makes it really strong at low levels. The mount may be called to the valkyrie’s side 1/day. First level also nets 3 + Cha-mod deathwatch as a SP, usable versus creatures she is unable to see, but sans pinpointing them. 5th level allows for somewhat status-like information for those under the effects of her deathwatch. 7th level also adds knowledge of conditions to the information and 13th level makes the ability constant.


6th level yields a 1/day plane shift with up to 8 other creatures – it is not perfect, though, and may put the valkyrie and her entourage at other places if she is not familiar with them. Yes, random plane table provided. This risk is eliminated at 13th level and 19th level makes it flawless. At 11th level, the valkyrie can attempt to choose unwilling souls slain (which can be a really cool plot point!) and 17th level allows the valkyrie to destroy souls of the slain she carries to grant herself boons – a decision she should not lightly make. The capstone yields automatic critical confirmation against all creatures with a soul, as well as 1/day attack, skill, save or ability-check reroll with + Cha-mod added. Additionally, she can force such a reroll 1/day on a foe, using her Cha-mod as a penalty.


Of course, this is Rite Publishing, and as such, the class obviously sports some serious player agenda. This time around, that would be represented by the insights the class gets, which are the talents. The first is gained at 2nd level, with an additional one unlocked every 2 levels thereafter. Some of these build upon another and some have minimum levels – at 10th level, we for example have automatic planar adaptation. The theme of future’s sight is represented by the very potent augur’s strike at 4th level, which nets true strike as a SP, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day…with the difference that she must select the foe against which the bonus applies and the fact that the bonus lasts and halves in subsequent rounds, as the ability represents seeing into the future. This also prevents novaing of the ability, which is a really smart way of handling the concept. Swift action performance-like minor boosts , bless with temporary hit points added, bonus feats…At high levels, full attack charges are possible (again, locked behind a sufficiently high cap), seeing in perfect darkness, sensing deceit, a variant lay on hands, retaining AC when charging, making the return of those slain by her from the dead harder, ensuring that the sanctity of the dead is retained – the insights are MANY. We get more than 4 pages of different insights, which run a gamut from mechanically potent and engine-wise interesting to extremely flavorful, often blending them. You can make a really potent guardian valkyrie with constant detect spells; you can make a fearsome charge, a true champion of spear fighting, guardians of the fallen and any combination of such themes. The leitmotifs are represented in a concise and well-crafted manner.


No, we’re not done yet! Remember how I mentioned the cup of welcome before? Well, the pdf also contains 6 potent valkyrie-themed items, including the cup, which represents the classic theme of hospitality from the myths; a potent armor, a shield, seiðr runes, a bracelet from the world tree and a very potent spear complement this book.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no issues in either. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s new two-column full-color standard and is really nice. The pdf is chockfull with cool full-color artwork, with only one piece being somewhat less nice. It should be noted that the artworks do not contain unbecoming cheesecake and just depict badass warrior ladies. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


As some of you know, one of my fields of academic expertise is actually Scandinavian literature and culture. I am actually fluent in Norse. I loathe most depictions of valkyries in mainstream media, mainly because they don’t get what makes them fascinating. The whole ideology and culture that provided the cultural underpinnings of the concept of the valkyrie is, ultimately, not one that has stemmed from the Judeo-Christian dichotomous thinking process and ideology that resulted in the creation of cultural artifacts like our RPGs – in a world where good and evil are absolutes, it is hard to properly convey the concept of valkyries and the depiction of paladin-like battle-angels makes me barf internally. It is testament to the obvious love and attention to detail, that the representation of the valkyrie-concept, in spite of being codified with the confines of a system where good and evil are tangible forces, works here.


The love for concept and lore is apparent in each of the design-components, and detailed stacking caveats and a vast amount of small stumbling stones are avoided left and right, with the grace befitting of the valkyrie. Now, Kendra Leigh Speedling has already penned one of my favorite hybrid classes, but I *think* this may be the first time I have reviewed anything by Mara Lynn Butler – and the two ladies and their designs seamlessly gel together herein. No authorial voice clash can be found and the book, beyond getting the tone right, juggles complex and unique concepts in an admirable manner. There is a ton to love in this book, with race and paragon class as well as archetypes being pretty damn amazing; the addition of the PrC as a central concept is another huge plus here, and once we’re almost done, we also get the neat mead-engine, which represents the cherry on top of something truly amazing. This is a phenomenal representation of the concept, that neither compromises the rich lore associated with valkyries, nor the integrity of PFRPG. The pdf manages to actually blend the two components in an elegant and amazing manner.


In short: This continues the streak of absolutely phenomenal books in the series, standing as an impressive and amazing example of the cool things you can do with the system, even after all these years: From tweaks to SPs to new items, this oozes care and passion, always takes, design-wise, the high road. Now, excuse me, I have a distinct craving to listen to the Crüxshadows, a ton of good pagan metal, and build some badass valkyries. Rating? Oh yeah, forgot that, didn’t I? Obviously, this is an easy 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation. “Fate is armed with arrows – and she watches our battlefields.”


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

AM2: For Faerie, Queen, and Country Universe Book

28 February 2018 - 8:49am
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Rating: 4
This, the first 'universe book' for Amazing Engine should be used in conjunction with the System Guide, the combination making a complete game.

It opens by describing the alternate history of the setting, a Victorian England where the fey do not only exist, they have seats in Parliament and are invited to all the best parties. This all dates back to Roman times if not before, but at that time the dark powers of the Unseelie Court were defeated in a great battle, and from then faerie blood has mixed with that of human beings throughout the history of Britain. Needless to say, the Unseelies haven't gone away, they've just gone underground, and still cause problems upon occasion although due to their appearance they have to recruit and operate through human allies and agents.

History has taken a largely similar track to the real world, although a descendant of Napoleon rules in France, a foil to Bismarck in Germany, and the big surprise, America is still a colony of Britain having been defeated in 1812 after their brief flirtation with independence. Fey live openly in Ireland, having an enclave named Tir Nan Og that operates as a separate country - or is that countries, as each sidh or barrow has its own British Embassy! Many challenges face the British Empire at this time. This opening portion, The State of England, is presented as a report suggesting the provision of 'special agents' to troubleshoot any problems... and this is where the player characters come in.

The role of both player characters and the GM are briefly touched upon and then the matter of creating player characters based on the existing player core (as detailed in the System Guide) is dealt with in detail. The first thing you have to determine is whether or not your character has fey blood - there's quite a high chance of having at least some, although full-blooded fey are quite rare. There are usually some visible hints of fey blood such as a greenish tint to the skin, pointy ears - or maybe hooves instead of feet. The more fey blood the character has, the more noticeable it is. Apart from full-blooded faeries, you next need to choose nationality. This determines where you come from and the language(s) you speak - apparently everyone from Wales speaks Welsh, which certainly wasn't the case in real Victorian England (in fact, the Welsh language was discouraged!). Next up in social class and occupation. These choices lead to background and to the skills available to that character. Naturally there is plenty of information to aid an informed decision. Much is (mostly) historically accurate, but magic exists and so sorcerer is an established profession.

Setting-specific notes on awards and experience follow material on wealth and resources. Many genuine Britsh awards and medals are listed here. Next up is magic. In this setting, magic works rather like a recipe, with a magic formular being constructed like a sentence including the action, the target, special conditions and so on. Each part has a range of options, this results in every spell cast having the potential, indeed likelihood, of being unique. The best spells are researched in advance, but they can be created on the fly although the chances of success are lower. A skill check is necessary every time a spell is cast, and it takes a physical toll on the caster. There are guidelines and examples aplenty, but spell-casting is something that the player will have to work at, there's no handy spell list to pick a spell from and just cast it as needed.

The next section, By All That is Holy, deals with religion. Faeries are pagan, it's somehow so deeply embedded in their being that they cannot embrace any other religion. There are various Christian denominations - based on real ones although with different names - and it is in their clergy that divine power is concentrated, although they do not cast spells as such but have certain powers that they can wield. No other faiths are mentioned, not is there any detail on what being a pagan entails.

This is followed by a section on Combat. Here we read about violence and the law, along with a note that combat is by and large deadly and ought to be avoided whenever possible. Much fighting is little more than brawling - mostly fistfights, perhaps a knife. Gun crime is rare, although a prudent fellow may take a pistol when entering a situation about which he is nervous. There's plenty of detail on both firearms and melee weapons.

We then turn to details about the fey, presented as Peak-Martin's Index of Faerie, a series of lectures to the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1877. It makes for fascinating reading, categorising the different varieties of fey folk and classifying them... and providing game statistics so that they can be used as opposition! For those who want to know more about the geography of the setting, there is also Crompton's Illustrated Tourbook of Great Britain, a quite comprehensive gazetteer. Back to everyday life, The Glorious British Life provides ample detail on what it's like to live in this setting: time, money, incomes, city and country life... and even how much you ought to be paying your servants! Modern conveniences, or the lack thereof, are discussed, along with price lists for the things characters may require and details of transportation - rail between towns, carriages or horseback within them, or out in the country once you have alighted from your train. The current state of knowledge and the policical scene are also covered, along with foreign relations and law enforcement. Much of this is historically-accurate, but with a distinctive spin on things to reflect the differences between this setting and historical Victorian England.

There's a rather entertaining guide on How to Speak Proper, which seems to be mainly aimed at Americans. This covers not just "the Queen's English" but Scottish and Irish dialects and a somewhat bizarre attempt at Welsh (which, it must be said, is my native tongue), claiming that Welsh words are unpronouncable... Best to move on to the underworld slang section. There's also a note about the role of women in Victorian times: strange to modern attitudes but historically accurate. Likewise, provision for the poor and disabled - mostly woefully inadequate by modern standards - charities and leisure pursuits are also covered. Various leading Victorians are introduced, perhaps the party will bump into them, or they will at least know about them.

The setting, then, is well presented with as much historical accuracy as the introduction of the faerie folk permits. Character creation is a bit clunky, but once you have built the characters and formed the party there's an impressive amount of background to set the scene in which they will operate. The GM, however, is left to come up with adventures. Some of the background might suggest ideas, but nothing is provided in the way of suggestion or plot idea, although the setting is good.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

AM1: Amazing Engine System Guide

26 February 2018 - 7:21am
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Rating: 4
The book opens by trying to explain just what it is. Whilst it wasn't the first attempt at a generic ruleset, most people were publishing discrete games that included both rules and setting (or at least, genre) or they'd gone whole hog at the generic concept, put out some rules and left you to it. Amazing Engine was designed from the outset as a two-part system. You'd have the core rules (this book) and then you'd add the 'universe book' of your choice to make a complete game. These core rules contain all that's needed to create player characters and have those characters use skills, fight, and move. Hence, any character can be played in any universe, and experience from one can be applied to another.

The concepts of a 'player core' and a 'player character' are introduced to facilitate this. The idea is that this System Guide is used to create the player core, which is the framework from which player characters are built. The same player core is used from universe to universe. The player character is the actual collection of numbers, skills, and other abilities used to roleplay in a given universe. A player will have a different character in each universe, but these characters may all be generated from the same player core. It doesn't however mean that they're all the same character, just they share the core framework. That's fine if you like playing, say, sneaky and intelligent characters whatever sort of game you are playing... but may be a bit problematic if you prefer to fine-tune even the underlying nature of your character to the setting in which he will exist.

In the player core, you have to decide how much emphasis you want to put on four core aspects: physique, intellect, spirit and influence. Just how these are expressed will depend on the universe in which you will be playing. This is done by having two attributes associated with each aspect, and it is these, not the aspects, that are used to describe the player character - and can be quite different for each universe. You start by ranking the core aspects from 1 (the strongest) to 4 (the weakest). Then you begin in on your first player character by picking any four of the attributes - it doesn't matter which aspect they relate to at this point - and roll 4d10 and add them together to get a number. For the other four, roll 3d10. Then you add together the numbers for the two attributes belonging to each aspect - this becomes part of the player core and is used to create each subsequent player character (who are made slightly differently from the first one). It sounds a bit complex but the examples given and just getting some dice and playing around make it all come clear. As is often the case, rules really ought to be written by someone other than the person who created them - they understand how they work already and don't always explain them as well as someone who has had to learn them can!

Many other choices have to wait until you have decided on a universe in which to play. You cannot be an elf in a universe that doesn't have them, after all, nor can you wield magic unless you are in one where it works. Although your skills, too, will have to wait until you know about the universe you'll be playing in, the way tasks are resolved when you use them is standard, and is covered here - along with general notes on how they are chosen and so on. It's a slightly odd feeling trying to understand this in abstract, but again the examples are clear.

The next part of the book looks at experience: how to gain it (or award it if you're the GM) and what to do with it. This is when things get interesting - your player character's experience, gained in one universe, may be applied to your player core (and so benefit every player character you have across all the universes you play in... even though they are different people) or you may apply it to the player character who earned it. You also have the option of using them immediately to boost some ability temporarily as the situation dictates.

Other topics such as movement and the all-important combat are also covered here, again in fairly general terms. Whatever you are fighting with, the basics of how to resolve a hit are going to be the same, and the general overview of how combat works is constant. Finally, there's a note on magic, psionics and special powers. Mostly, it says that they are left to the universe books, which will determine what is possible there.

This isn't a game for shifting genres with the same character, yet it allows for some measure of continuity. That's particularly nice if you don't like starting from scratch every time you begin a new game in a different setting, or if you lose a character during play. More than that, it's a bit difficult to say - this is very much half of a game, I'll need to read a universe book to see how the whole hangs together... but that's a matter for another lunchtime! For now, this shows some promise.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Digging Up Trouble

23 February 2018 - 6:30am
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Rating: 4
A neat little adventure that can be slotted in to your campaign when the party are going about their own business (if their own plans don't take them to the right place, an errand for them is provided), with the opening being an encounter with a dog beset by bandits. Hopefully, like the Good Dogs they are, the party will come to his rescue.

The background provides an explanation about who that dog is and how he came to be there, and tells of who is after him and why. The main NPCs are introduced in detail, and then we're off with the various encounters and scenes explained clearly and vividly, everything laid out so that a novice GM should have little difficulty in running the adventure. Likely player choices - including those that might derail the adventure - are anticipated and dealt with in a way that brings things back on track without it appearing forced. There are at least two good brawls, probably three plus the excitement of finding buried treasure... and a few suggestions for further adventures.

Oh, and there are pirates involved! You never go far wrong with pirates...

Overall it is a nice straightforward adventure for an inexperienced party to get their teeth into. Any Good Dog ought to enjoy it!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Secret of Vinsen's Tomb: A Pugmire Jumpstart

22 February 2018 - 6:53am
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Rating: 4
This 'quickstart' introduction to Pugmire comes in three parts: a rules and setting overview, an adventure, and a collection of pre-generated characters. It opens by explaining the core concept of the game. In a distant future, human beings have vanished and the place has been taken over by anthropomorphic dogs. They live in the ruins of the world human beings have left behind, now having evolved to walk upright on their hind legs, talk, and have developed opposable thumbs so that they can manipulate items and wield weapons. Despite wearing clothes they are still furry, though!

Many dogs deify the long-lost human beings and are driven by the desire to be adjudged a 'Good Dog' by their peers. They scavenge amongst the ruins for the legendary material 'plastic' and attempt to learn to use the things that human beings left behind - even if they consider them to be magic rather than understanding the underlying technology. These are the player-characters of this world.

The first section moves on to discuss the rules. These are based closely on Dungeons and Dragons 5e, with the standard abilities (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma), with Skills and Tricks defining what each character is good at doing. Everything is explained in very basic terms, making this an excellent introductory game for children. Task resolution is by rolling a D20, adding apposite Skills and other bonuses and trying to exceed a target number. There's information about time in the game and about what happens when a fight breaks out, too; and the section ends with some notes on magic and spell use.

Next comes the adventure itself, The Secret of Vinsen's Tomb. This starts with a list of the primary NPCs, then there is a synopsis or overview of the entire adventure. Basically, the tomb in question is that of Vinsen Pug I, the very first king of Pugmire, and the plot concerns the retrieval (or looting if you prefer) of certain artefacts supposedly buried with him. It all starts with an assignment to find a cat who is an informant with criminal connections who has recently vanished. Where has she gone and what was she doing? Rumours hath it she was on the trail of ancient artefacts.

Once you have the information to get the party involved, the various scenes that can take place are laid out in detail. There are loads of helpful hints and tips for the first-time GM, too, so even if this is your first time it should flow smoothly. There's a clear plan of the tomb with atmospheric room descriptions coupled with notes on who is to be found there and what they are likely to do when the party wanders in. It all ends with a few ideas for further stories...

Finally, the pre-generated characters, complete with loads of background and even portraits to bring them to life. With a two-page character sheet, the entire package for each character runs to four pages. There are six of them in total, all nicely put together and - if you study the backgrounds - ready to work as a team.

Overall it makes a good introduction to the game, and should give you sufficient information and experience to be in a position to decide if Pugmire is for you and your group (or not). Presentation is to a high standard unless you use the PDF bookmarks, which start well in the first section but fail thereafter. The internal hyperlinks are a little hit and miss too. So, are you a Good Dog? Play this and find out!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

vs. Dragons Adventures: Magic’s Demand

5 February 2018 - 9:49am
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first adventure for Vs. Dragons clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 9 1/3 pages of content. It should be noted that, much like the main-book for the system, the layout is a 3-column-standard in kinda-landscape, with 8.5’’ by 11’’ as the size; this means that there is quite a lot of text per page.


This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.



..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! About a month ago, strange things began to happen in the quiet village of Hazelmoure, beginning with a three-beaked chicken and escalating to iridescent clouds, etc. The strange happening have the townsfolk concerned, seeking shelter in the temple by day, the tavern by night. The tavern is operated by the elf Eldwind (full stats provided) and may act as a start of the adventure – though just finding weird occurrences will do the trick as well: A full page of strange occurrences, governed by simple draw, can be used to establish a sense of weird magic. Drawing a Spade is suggested as a means of scene progression, though personally, I’d suggest only employing this after a threshold of a certain number of such occurrences. The effects include spontaneous out-of-season blizzards, reverse gravity, or the whole town being reduced to 1 toughness AND extreme pain – ouch! (Minor complaint: “is reduce” should probably read “is reduced.” – unfortunately not the only such glitch; we e.g. have missing “as” and similar minor hiccups accumulate throughout the pdf.)


Now, the village is obviously the focus of a strange font of magic and the pdf provides rules for this, allowing for a fluctuating amount of magic. The rules here are nice, though I was a bit puzzled by the chance of taking points of pain when tapping into the font – RAW, pain is not tracked in points in Vs. Dragons, but in steps. Just as the PCs are investigating the strange phenomena, a “hero” comes into town: Dracom pretty much immediately ends the weird phenomena, stealing the PC’s thunder, big time. He is, unsurprisingly, hailed as the savior of Hazelmoure, immediately instated into power, outlawing magic and non-authorized weapons. Yes, the PCs will not be happy, but hey, they may be hired as village guards.


Dracom then proceeds to call for taxes and the PCs will have their hands full, as a random creature table suddenly sports an influx of strange and dangerous new creatures the PCs will have to handle. Things will become personal at the very latest when Dracom sends villagers to collect the vanquished monsters and, worse for most players, the loot! The PCs, at one point, will have to confront Dracom – who is actually a magic eater dragon in disguise – and the PCs should take care, for collateral damage is very real, considering the power of the dragon. The pdf provides suggestions for Good of Bad outcomes of the adventure.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not bad, but sport a couple of unnecessary glitches, some of which influence the rules-integrity of the chaotic magic rules in minor ways. As mentioned before, the 3-column layout is elegant and the pdf sports thematically-fitting b/w-public domain-artworks. The pdf comes with bookmarks.


Kiel Howell, with additional content by Lucus Palosaari, weaves an interesting, brief yarn here: The module can easily be expanded to the desired length: Due to all important aspects being pretty modular (occurrences/combats), this can work equally well in the context of a convention slot or for a longer game at the table. The strange occurrences in the village are nice, though the Ace-effect can be pretty lethal; similarly, the monsters are not easy – there is a definite chance of death here. The adventure is fun and delivers, considering its limited page-count. All in all, this is a pretty nice scenario. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

How Do I Use Magic Items

29 January 2018 - 5:04am
Publisher: Straight Path Games
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „How do I...“-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content. As always with Straight Path games-supplements, we do get a second version optimized for use with tablets. This version clocks in at a total of 14 pages laid out in landscape format, but content-wise remains identical to the other version. All righty, let’s take a look!


We begin with a reiteration of categories of magic items – this list is great, particularly for newer players. There are a couple of notes I’d like to add here: While the pdf is correct in stating that unarmed attacks are usually enhanced by amulets, this is by now not the only way to affect them. It should also be noted that two spell-references in the explanation of potions have not been italicized – though the pdf correctly points out an NPC Codex issue. It should also be noted that references to precise magic items throughout the pdf have not been italicized. As another minor addition, while the pdf correctly states that staves can usually act as quarterstaffs, there are a few exotic exceptions, so a “usually” qualifier would be nice here. The pdf also lists the various forms of wondrous items and then mentions cursed items, intelligent items and artifacts, though sans elaborating on the mechanics of ego etc.


After we have established the categories , we take a look at activation types, starting with use activated items, noting potions as special and then lists the peculiarities of command word items and spell trigger and spell completion items. It should be noted that use activated magic items that require an extra action to activate, as correctly stated, do not per default provoke an attack of opportunity, unless the action undertaken to activate the item would provoke an attack of opportunity. On the plus-side: The pdf takes the notes of spell completion items and scrolls and blends them into a concise whole that is easier to grasp for new players.


Finally, the pdf mentions the Use Magic Device skill’s basics.


Conclusion:

Editing is tight and well-done; formatting is problematic, failing to italicize pretty much all spell and magic item references. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with a touch of color, but remains pretty printer-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Michael McCarthy’s summary of how magic items work represents a really handy little pdf; while I could list all the odd exceptions to the rules presented, as a whole, this represents a concise and precise summary that can easily be handed to a new player, helping them grasp the basics of the game. As a PWYW game-aid of sorts, this is worth checking out if you’re not need a quick explanation of the basics here. All exceptions and deviations I noticed are the more obscure components that go beyond the basics – and as such, they are not necessarily required for such a pdf. While the formatting oversights are annoying, the PWYW-status of the pdf makes it a fair offering. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Infinity: Adventures in the Human Sphere

27 January 2018 - 9:22am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
This is a collection of ten full adventures for the Infinity RPG, taking your party all over Human Space as agents of Bureau Noir attempting to make a difference, to help in holding the fragile balance that holds humanity together. Each one takes place in a different system, so this book provides wonderful opportunities for the party to tour known space as well and get to know people, organisations and places that may feature in future adventures of your own. The adventures are, however, designed as stand-alone missions rather than as a campaign although naturally you can weave any or all of them into your own plotline, using them as side-adventures when the party is in the right location, for example.

First up, set on Acontecimento, we have Operation: Honeywasp. There's a massive celebration in progress, major by even Acontecimento's standards (and do those guys know how to party!), and the party are drafted in to help maintain order in a festival that lasts almost four weeks. It's a normally peaceful place but of course there's at least one fellow determined to cause mayhem for personal gain. As for each adventure, there's an 'official' mission briefing and a selection of faction side-tasks if you wish to muddy the water further. There's loads going on here, with several of the events having the potential to develop into full-blown missions in their own right.

And so it goes on with a dizzying array of places to go, people to meet and things to do. Tracking down a novel drug and preventing its release. Quelling riots. Seeking a distinguished fellow-agent who has gone missing. Another missing person, the offspring of an executive who has pulled strings mightily to get Bureau Noir to investigate, it's not really want they do! Getting embroiled in the war between the alien Combined Army and the forces of humanity under the Combined Command scrabbling to keep them at bay. Stopping terrorists from blowing up half of Earth. Investigating the crash of a courier ship. Defusing tensions between factions after the destruction of a research facility. Thwarting some underhand dealing in resurrection technology. These are just the highlights of a rich and turbulent mass of events awaiting the party as you run these adventures.

Each adventure is extremely well-resourced, with a plethora of things to get involved in and ample scope for virtually any of them to spin off into even more adventure, now or later. These are the stories on which the legendary Bureau Noir of tomorrow will build their reputations as you tell them together. All have been designed to combine physical, quadronic and social conflicts in the distinctive style that marks out the Infinity RPG, using all three to good effect. It's an excellent collection to dip into, fitting them around your own plots, using them to spawn more as events play out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Infinity: Quantronic Heat

26 January 2018 - 6:35am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
This is a mini-campaign comprising three linked scenarios, issued free with the Infinity RPG core rulebook or available separately. It embroils the party, as Bureau Noir agents, in what appears to be a rather extreme case of corpoerate espionage and competitiveness on Neoterra.

The Introduction explains who is actually behind all that's going on and why, and presents a brief synopsis of the entire mini-campaign. The core plot the perpetrators are attempting is quite believable within the concepts of the game setting - indeed, it's the sort of thing that might appeal to some in the real world were the technology available! - and the antagonists themselves are well rounded individuals that fit in with the setting.

Part 1: Conception begins when a distinguished computer scientist is kidnapped from the corporate headquarters of Thaler Quantronic Systems on Neoterra. As a defence contractor, the initial thought is that the kidnapping is the work of a rival corporation and Bureau Noir agents are tasked with finding out who is responsible. There's plenty of background to help you set the scene and more intrigue going on than you can shake a stick at - and that's before you add in faction sub-missions, should you wish to use them. There's plenty of evidence to pick up, and it is explained clearly just what is required to find it. There's plenty of action too, so those less interested in investigation will have a lot to do as well. Make sure that you are conversant with the 'infowar' rules as the antagonists will be making use of their talents in this direction. There are tips and hints aplenty to help you get everyone involved in the action. By the end of the adventure, the party ought to have at least some idea of who is responsible for the kidnapping and why, but they won't know where to find them. This will not emerge for several months, and you may wish to insert other adventures before moving on to the next one in this campaign.

Part 2: On Your Marks begins with the party being sent to an orbital around Saturn, where they are informed that certain key words associated with the previous investigation have surfaced. To investigate, they're going to have to masquerade as a team participating in a Remote underground racing circuit. There's plenty of background on this illegal but exciting sporting event; indeed it makes for a fun investigation even without the futherance of this particular plotline! In this scenario, psyops are paramount as the party needs to manipulate the other teams to gain the information that they are after. What's really going on is explained clearly (apart from one sentence that's got a bit jumbled, although it's possible to figure it out), and it all plays out through seven events which include two races. There are a lot of well-developed NPCs to keep track of, and you'll need to be familiar with them to handle all the interactions this adventure involves. Before even embarking on this mission, the party will have to develop a convicing background for a Remote racing team and the individual members of the team. A couple of sample team backgrounds are provided if they need a hand with that, and there's a list of the various roles that they'll have to fill. There's plenty of high excitement and tense moments, and the potential for combat especially if the party, once they've identified which of the other teams is indeed their target, decide to investigate their ship. By the end of this part of the campaign they should have a good understanding of who the antagonists are, what they are doing and where they are doing it... and hopefully will have tagged them with trackers!

Finally Part 3: Birth Pangs takes the action to Svalarheima, where the party has the opportunity to nip the antagonists' plot in the bud. The consequences of failure are dire, so they'd better succeed! Things are likely to get quite weird at times, but with the PanOceanic and Yu Jing factions close to open warfare over the region that the party will be conducting operations in, well shall we say that they are in for interesting times? This part provides a suitably-dramatic climax and finale to the campaign.

The campaign uses the full capabilities of the Infinity RPG system to good effect, and adds even more to an already rich setting... and should prove great fun for the whole group whichever aspect of the game appeals to them most.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Infinity: Infinity: Player's Guide

25 January 2018 - 6:43am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 4
In essence, this is a cut-down version of the core rulebook containing material of use to a player, with extensive notes on how the 2D20 game mechanic works and everything you need to generate a character using the detailed 'lifepath' system designed for this game. Given the sheer size of the core rulebook, this makes some sense, but it does leave out quite a lot of the setting background as well - stuff that a character would know, even if his player does not. If your intent is to play and never GM this game, and cost/portability is important, it's a good option.

The Introduction begins with general notes on the setting and the tone of the game, then presents an overview of the inhabited planets in the Human Sphere and the factions of the future - as despite technological advances and rises in living standards, human beings seem as quarrelsome as ever. We also hear about the Combined Army, an AI-led group of alien races who are at war with the Human Sphere, attacking at any opportunity, as well as a couple of the major alien races involved.

Next comes a section on Life in the Human Sphere which presents an overview of everyday life. While not everything is wonderful for everybody, it is the case that the bulk of economic activity is directed at fulfilling desires rather than meeting basic needs. Quite a bit of space is devoted to explaining Maya - the successor to the Internet - and the way in which information and communications are handled seamlessly and immersively, with artificial reality (AR) playing a large part. It's a mesh-based system (everything connected with everything else) with integral encryption and tracking based on 'hyperledgers', which are the successors to blockchains and probably as little understood by the average citizen! It is so pervasive that it's unthinkable for the lights not to come on when you enter a darkened room (OK, so that already happens in my office at university, even if that it merely a motion sensor!), but the idea that you could query the drink you put down a few minutes ago as to precisely where you left it appeals. Travel between the colonised planets is effected by wormhole, there are some notes on that as well as on popular spectator sports and much more.

The next discussion covers the nature of the games you'll play. The default is that characters are agents of the Bureau Noir, the 'secret service' of an organisation called O-12 that exists to maintain some level of peaceful cooperation across the Human Sphere. Within that, however, many individuals hold allegiance to one of the factions and often find faction errands piggybacked onto a Bureau-assigned mission. Of course, outside of this there are no end of adventures to be had if you prefer to go exploring or trading, join the military, or work more overtly for your faction in some manner.

We now move on to more detailed analysis of 2D20 game mechanics. This - and the following sections on character creation - are as detailed as the core rulebook versions, so if game mechanics rather than setting are most important for you, you will not lose out by getting the Player's Guide rather than the full rulebook. The cinematic nature of the 2D20 system is explained well, with the use of Heat (for the GM) and Momentum (for players) providing extra edges and drama to proceedings. There's a lot to take in, but once you understand it (and have run through the odd skirmish and other tasks) it's logical enough that things will fall into place. An added dimension is that combat comes in three types (which can run concurrently): actual brawling, infowar and psychological warfare. This can get confusing at first, but as it becomes familiar it's extremely powerful and quite fascinating.

Next we meet the Lifepath system, which creates well-rounded characters with a ready-made background. This system begins with the character's birth and tracks through what happens to them right up to when play begins. Mechanically, there are nine Decision Points that shape his life - but you have five 'Life Points' to guide him through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You end up with a personal background that - like your own - is shaped partly by chance and partly by the decisions that you make. It all begins with determining initial abilities, then the faction and planet where you were born, and your family's status there. After a 'youth event' you gain an education, go through an 'adolescent event' and go through one to three career phases, before putting the finishing touches to your career. There are random tables for each of these, but you may use your Life Points to make choices for some of them - with five Life Points and nine Decision Points you won't be able to choose everything, so decide what's vital to the character you want. An elegant system which can provide hours of endless fun... a good idea, as you don't knock out characters that quickly with such a system, so have a few in your folder ready just in case you need one mid-game! However, as resurrection is now possible, you might not need that.

Loads of detail about each stage is provide to help you understand everything you need to know. All through this process, you gain skills and traits just as in any character generation process. Some you choose specifically, others come associated with the choices you make or what life throws at you. There is also an alternative point-buy system which, with the GM's permission, you can use to custom-design a character without any random elements. Nice if you have a very detailed character concept in mind, but the random element does make for a more interesting character! Just reading through all the tables spawns many ideas for characters... and should give the GM plenty of plot material for when your past catches up with you! This is followed by details of how to improve a character and extensive notes on all the skills available.

A cut-down version of the information provided in the core rulebook about equipment follows, and then there are two appendices. The first contains information about 'agent handlers' - if you work for a faction, who tells you what it needs you to do? Find out here. The other appendix contains all you need to convert your Infinity RPG character into one playable in the Corvus Belli miniatures skirmish game on which the RPG is based (or, of course, the other way).

A useful abstraction of the full core rules for players, but missing an awful lot of the background information that really brings the setting to life - it's more like the setting information in the Quickstart coupled with the rules fully-expanded from that to the complete ruleset. Useful, however, if you want the game mechanics concentrated in one convenient package.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

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