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Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/26/2017 17:58:41

So, earlier this year I had a moment of realization. I came to see that while I'd been ignoring the written adventures of both yore and today I'd been missing out on learning design from other people's effort. It's not that I can't run a game, or write an adventure for myself, but going through the process of writing one for other people made me realize where I tended to say "fuck it" and just improvise. Not a bad thing, but not a great thing for published product.

So I've been looking at various bits of advice in this regard. The latest of which is "Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss" which is a title that really says something about the confidence level of the author...

What's In It?

Advice that strips out most of the bullshit. Seriously, there's very little pretension here, which is a good thing. Hell, it's probably the best part of this product that it doesn't treat itself as being too far "above the reader." In what amounts to about 9 pages of text if you strip out the art, cover, and credits the author lays down the foundations of adventure writing. As a GM for decades there's not a lot here that's "new to me" but it's refreshing to see it all laid out and bare.

The content is broken out into fifteen sections ranging from about 3 paragraphs to a dozen or so. The author starts off by detailing why you may want to write your own adventures. OK, fair enough, but probably anybody who has gotten this far already made that choice. It then goes into the idea of the elevator pitch as a metric for good and bad ideas. This is pretty reasonable, if you cannot sum up an idea into 2-3 interesting sentences it's probably not an idea that will yield an interesting adventure. Or it's too much, and you need to consider breaking it up into smaller parts; perhaps your epic idea can become fodder for a series of adventures instead. From there we get some advice on finding your own writing style and trying to make the best of it. There are some words of wisdom here in regards to over-writing.

Next we get a discussion of the adventure rails. Ah, to railroad, or not to railroad, that is the question! Actually, no, screw that, NEVER railroad. But, to the author's point, knowing when to toss in "guardrails" to keep the adventure from going entirely ... ahem ... "off the rails" ... is wise. Players are ... unpredictable creatures, and having mitigating factors in place to help keep the session from going bananas is good. Most GMs simply cannot keep up improvising after a certain point without abandoning the original adventure, which sucks.

At this point we're on page four and getting into the meat. First we get "Anatomy of an Adventure" breaking down the basic (and classic) structure for storytelling. Then the author dives into scenes and starts discussing each component therein. The fact that adventures and scenes have the same basic structure is makes this all the more valuable.

From here out the product fires on all cylinders for me, right up until the last section, which just didn't float for me, but hey, that's cool, it's only one page. The writing keeps being punchy and direct, and breaks down how to build a scene up without getting overwrought. It's presents the idea of a "Trailer Test" to help prune scenes much in the way the Elevator Pitch helps prune out bad adventure ideas. This is just the fractal nature of things in my opinion.

After scenes we get a quick hit of the three most basic aspects of gaming (and storytelling) and how these should all be present in some form to make for a good session. Lastly there is some advice for "moments" or interludes, the stuff between scenes that adds color, as well as the idea of callbacks.

The layout if functional, the art is minimal (which is fine) and of a good quality, but I couldn't stand the full color version with these angry red veins rimming each page. It added nothing, and it detracted plenty. Thankfully there's a printer friendly version without that. I will say the cover is quality, and I imagine that's just good marketing to put an attractive eye catching cover onto any product. Duh.

Closing Thoughts

I'd say that if you're new to GMing, and new to writing up your own adventures this is a pretty damn good purchase for $3. If you've been at it a while it may make for a nice refresher course, and the clean and bullshit free presentation of the writing does help make this a nice reference or refresher. Will this make you a "fucking boss" at adventure writing? I'm not sure about that, but it sure as shit will help prevent you from making an ass of yourself. There's plenty more to writing good adventures than structure, but if you don't have good "bones" the flesh won't matter for shit.

Score: 85% - Pretty good for those wanting a refresher course or those who are new to adventure writing. Maybe not what you're looking for if you've been GMing for a while.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss
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Sight Unseen
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/20/2016 12:22:52

Sight Unseen is intended for use with the Cypher System Rulebook in games of modern investigation and horror. It's a resource for player and GMs looking to run games not of supernatural horror, but of the subtle conspiracy sort where the players uncover the horrifying truths that are being kept from the average Joe by the powers that be. These characters may soon find themselves in too deep, and with too much knowledge of dark things. Sight Unseen provides:

Twenty-seven new Cyphers Five new Descriptors Three new Foci

Let's tackle those in reverse order (because I am contrary). The new Foci focus (foci focus) on investigation. These are Interrogates, Seeks the Truth, and Wields Science. If you want to play the bad cop, the guy who uses whatever methods are required to get the information the team needs, you may want to consider Interrogates, which does pretty much what you would expect. Seeks the Truth and Wields Science are pretty much the Mulder and Scully foci (respectively). Seeks the Truth is similar to Solves Mysteries but as the author states "Seeks the Truth is more about enmeshing oneself within the web of deception." Meanwhile Wields Science is about analysis and understanding. Connecting clues and interpreting those into actionable information to further the investigation.

The five new Descriptors, Dangerous, Intimidating, Nervous, Prescient, and Vengeful, are pretty self explanatory. Descriptors focus a character's mindset and outlook and inform how they play. A Vengeful Explorer who Seeks the Truth should be a very different character in play than a Clumsy Explorer who Seeks the Truth. The author also suggests that using changes in descriptor can be a great way to lay out character growth arcs and storylines, and I agree, I think it's a great way to show a character change and grow over a game.

Lastly there are 27 new Cyphers. All of these are subtle cyphers, and they are designed to fit into many of the typical encounters you would expect for a game of investigation and conspiracy.

Closing Thoughts

The result of all of this is a very focused product that knows what it wants to be and accomplishes that goal easily. If you and your group are into running games based on the likes of The X-Files, The Manchurian Candidate, Enemy of the State, and the Illuminati then you probably could really get some use out of this. The foci interact strongly with the Insight mechanic in the CSR (pg 216) and the subtle cyphers are very flavorful and help to bulk out the options for subtle cyphers in a game genre that really needs them. My only complaint is that this product doesn't really offer any GM advice with regard to running such a game. Perhaps that's yet to come in one of the three advertised companions products, but I think their inclusion here would have been a nice addition to help GMs crack a genre which can be difficult to run.

Score: 85% A lot of solid character and GM options are here, but a little GM advice for running these kinds of games would have been a good add, and the lack is a bit of a miss.

Author's note: A complimentary review copy of this product was provided for the purposes of this review.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sight Unseen
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The Translation Codex
Publisher: Ryan Chaddock Games
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/04/2014 13:25:18

What's In It

The Translation Codex is the first third party supplement for The Strange. It's fitting that for a game based around traveling to different worlds and assuming new abilities for each that the Translation Codex features one hundred new Foci for GMs and players to use. Of course it goes without saying that any fan of Numenera, or any other game using the Cypher System, could use this product to greatly expand the core offerings of Foci for player characters.

From the outset the presentation shows a great deal of forethought. The product is broken into sections of major themes, from paranormal to earthly and more, allowing the GM to quickly find like foci for use with a given recursion. Each foci is formatted for a single page, ensuring that they can easily be printed for use at a table. Chapters also contain a one piece piece of short fiction and a handful of short recursion ideas. Each recursion is only given half a page worth of space and so detail is light, but given that this product isn't geared toward recursions the light detail can be forgiven.

Rather than traditional artwork each foci has an icon, similar in style to the kind of line art one sees on safety signs, and presented in a color that ties it with the themed section to which it belongs. This is an interesting choice, but the art doesn't always sell the foci as well as traditional artwork would. These icons also pose one of the few sore spots in my mind. The oddly shaped icons, are usually placed between the two column layout with text wrapped around them. This results in strange line breaks and a great deal of hyphenated words broken across lines and spaces to accommodate the icons. The focus "Follows the Old Ways" is by far the most guilty in this regard, with the focus' symbol, a crooked staff, being placed in the center of the left hand column, breaking two paragraphs into difficult to read split columns.

But how are the actual foci? Split into five major themes and five minor themes the foci cover a lot of ground thematically. The writing is quite good and with a few exceptions each foci had well balanced Tier 1 offerings. It gets more difficult to assess the utility of the focus powers from higher tiers but none of the foci seemed overly strong or weak. A number of the foci utilized the long term benefits available for purchase with experience as part of their advancement. Gaining a contact or wealth is a nice reward and works well within the foci that utilize such benefits to deepen the thematic tie between mechanics, character, and gameplay.

Of course in any such collection of foci there will be those that stand out and make people want to play them. For my part, I was delighted to see "Brandishes a Death Ray" most of all due to prior gaming experiences. Meanwhile foci like "Bears a Holy Symbol," "Just Won't Die," and "Dies" (yes, you read that right) are all standouts that I would like to try in future games. The foci also go a long way toward showing the flexibility of the Cypher System, with entries like "Dons a Power Suit", "Controls Weather", and "Wields Cosmic Power" showing that the Cypher System could host a superheroes game as easily as it can low fantasy and high concept science fiction.

Closing Thoughts

One of the most common complaints I have heard about The Strange since launch is that the number of available foci within the game is small when split across the three major recursions. With the release of The Translation Codex that shouldn't continue to be a problem. Containing one hundred new foci this third party supplement ensures that GMs and players will have access to a wealth of foci for nearly any recursion they could hope to visit. Some formatting issues do create some clumsy word and/or line breaks, but only in rare cases is this more than an annoyance. The quality, variety, and number of foci this product provides more than make this product a worthwhile (and value packed) addition to Cypher System games.

Score: 90% - A fine addition to the Strange (or any game using the Cypher system).

Author's note: A complimentary review copy of this product was provided for the purposes of this review.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Translation Codex
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In Strange Aeons: Lovecraftian Numenera
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/02/2013 00:00:00

"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die."

  • H.P. Lovecraft, The Nameless City

What’s In It?

Split into three parts In Strange Aeons provides tools to partially or fully re-skin Numenera into a far flung future of the Cthulhu Mythos. New player character descriptors, new creatures, and discussion on how to incorporate the themes and motifs of Lovecraft’s works into Numenera are detailed within.

Part 1: Bringing Lovecraft to the Ninth World Four pages in length, this section details how to tune Numenera in such a way as to evoke the themes and motifs of Lovecraft. Discussion of how the magic and alien gods of the Cthulhu mythos can be reinterpreted as advanced sciences possessed by alien beings whose personal power is seen as godlike, and how the Numenera theme of discover can be twisted toward the horrific, are included. Likewise there is extensive advice on how to run horror games both in a general sense and specific to Numenera.

Part 2: Lovecraftian Descriptors and Skins This section is two pages long and includes two new character Descriptors, Mad and Doomed, for your games. Both Descriptors help to evoke the flavor of Lovecraft’s characters and prose, while affording mechanical ways to bring about the aspects of the often insane or ill-fated characters therein. Also included are suggestions for ways to re-skin current Numenera creatures to better fit into a Lovecraft inspired game. The skins are all fairly simple modifications that take advantage of adjectives and aspects commonly used by Lovecraft such as ‘unnameable’ or ‘non-Euclidian’. These also include small mechanical alterations to help fit the skin’s theme, such as adding to a creature’s level for a specific subset of tasks, or increasing its health or other capabilities.

Part 3: Lovecraftian Creatures These four pages are given to presenting write ups of four of Lovecraft’s more iconic creatures including shoggoths, and deep ones. Each is given a full page including short descriptions, suggested GM Intrusions, notes, fully detailed stat blocks with special attacks or actions and the like.

Closing Thoughts

In Strange Aeons provides a well thoughts out guide to hacking Numenera to work in Cthulhu and Lovecraftian horror into you game, adding the themes of horror, madness, unknowable alien knowledge and power, and the like to the game’s primary themes of discovery and advanced technology. Sprinkled throughout are quotations direct from various works of Lovecraft that help to establish the tone, themes, and flavor of the materials; several new pieces of artwork as well as a new list of recommended reading (and watching) help to cement these themes as well. Overall the product feels like a good value for your $3, and should be useful for almost any GM looking to add “Cthulhu-esque” to the list of adjectives describing their Numenera game.

Rating: 90%, a fine addition to Numenera (and one supposes any Cypher system game) for hacking some elder horrors and Cthulhu inspired madness into your game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In Strange Aeons: Lovecraftian Numenera
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The Paradox Room
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/02/2013 00:00:00

The Paradox Room is a two story anthology for the upcoming (expected in August 2014) The Strange RPG. This product is short, clocking in at two stories of 29 and 21 pages each. The page size seems very good for reading on a tablet, and more than adequate to read on a full sized screen while sitting back (something that usually requires zooming in beyond page width).

The first story, The Stranger, by Monte Cook tells the tale of a dragon come to Earth. The creature finds that the way it has passed into our world from its native recursion has removed its power and the laws of reality are slowly killing it as they attempt to force it to comply to the rules that govern Earth. The story is told from divergent view points, one from the first person perspective of the dragon, the other from a 3rd person narrative view of two investigators who find the creature. The creature's first person narration gives an air of personal horror and a view of how our world appears to those foreign to it, while the second story line drives the narrative and gives a view of how player characters might see a story progress.

The second story, Four Winds, by The Strange co-creator Bruce Cordell, is written entirely in the first person and sends us to our first trip into one of Earth's many recursions, or alternate realities. This story also serves as a way to show that recursions need not be entirely alien to the reader/player, as it shows that the stories, myths, and legends of various cultures can have created recursions in millenia past that still exist in the modern day. We see the result of a person's translation into a recursion, complete with their adoption of new abilities that fit into that world's paradigm, and get a hint at some of the threats to these worlds that exist from our own Earth.

Though fairly short, both stories are as entertaining to read as they are quick, and after reading these I found myself more interested that I had been before in The Strange. Both stories give a good sense at some of the ways that the game will be able to process stories of differing tone and theme even within somewhat similar subject matter. The second story hints at the way that discovering a new recursion could open up an entire narrative simply by virtue of providing a new world and new story hooks.

As a Gamemaster I can look at what is provided here and see that there is significant potential to be able to dramatically alter the flavor of a game session to session allowing a single GM to create a series of linked narrative sessions across a spectrum of genres that all manage to form a large cohesive whole. Add in the promise of characters being able to change their abilities for each new recursion they encounter and not only will theme and tone become mutable but so will the actual feel of play. I can't think of many other games that can say the same and the promise here makes me anticipate the game's launch next year that much more.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Paradox Room
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Ptolus Bonus Map Pack
Publisher: SkeletonKey Games
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/27/2013 07:53:41

Free. Hard to argue with that price tag, even if you don't play the game in question. Free is what led me to pick this up with the thought that maybe I would get some measure of use commensurate to the cost out of these maps. I was right, and then some.

The Ptolus Bonus Map Pack is basically a reprint of maps from other sources as stated on the product's cover page. The book contains two versions of each, one with areas labeled and some degree of notation, and a second with nearly all that removed. In some instances taking "Dining Room" off the map isn't going to matter when the map is clearly a home and that room is clearly meant for dining in, but the majority of notations are numerical call outs referencing some features list that was part of the original product the map came from. In either case these maps a beautiful, full color affairs with a clearly marked scale and compass. The "blank" versions could be of immediate use to any GM in need of a quick layout for anything from a home, to a city, to a series of sunken caverns. The prelabeled versions might be useful for a GM looking to detail the location on his own for a more pre-meditated use.

Rating: 100% - Regardless of you needs this is an outstanding "buy" for GMs. You can't beat the price of Free, but I have certainly seen lower quality or less useful items at the same price point and higher. If you need some cheap maps for a fantasy game this would be a good pick up.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ptolus Bonus Map Pack
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Tales from the Ninth World
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/25/2013 10:43:47

Tales from the Ninth World is a mini-anthology of three stories set in the world of Numenera, the Ninth World. The product is about 75 pages and the stories run about 20, 28, and 25 pages each. For $3 this seems pretty reasonable but I backed the Numenera Kickstarter campaign, and as a result this anthology was "free" (depending on how you look at it I suppose). Either way the $2.99 price tag was never a thought in my mind. Instead I was eager to dive into the Ninth World and get a bit more cohesive view of the upcoming game I've been awaiting.

The Smell of Lightning tells the story of a boy living within one of the artifacts of a prior world - a castle that seems almost alive, and is capable of it's own growth. The central theme of the piece seems to be the lost knowledge of the prior worlds, and the lack of understanding on the part of the current world's inhabitants.

The Taste of Memory tells the tale of a thief returning home. We learn that the protagonist is an addict, and her "drug" of choice is called ink. Where the first story's main character was the castle itself (even if the tale was told through the eyes of the boy), this story is much more about the people, the thief and those who enter her life as she scores her next fix, and the repercussions that come. This story gives a good idea of the culture of part of the Ninth World, where the prior had been a more focused study of an piece of ancient technology.

The final story is called The Sound of a Beast. It is easily the most "traditional" piece of RPG fiction, telling the story of a group of adventurers hired to escort a prisoner of sorts. The scale of this part is the grandest of the three, covering four characters in some detail, and dealing with the Ninth World in terms of weather, beasts, and numenera (the term used for all items from prior Worlds). We get the most insight into what an adventuring party of player characters could look like from this story and what kinds of special abilities they could bring to the table.

The three page preview of the core book that is included gives us a very high level introduction (it being the first few pages of the book's first chapter). Most interesting to me was to see the layout, with sidebars on every page to allow for quick definitions or cross-references without gumming up the main text. Likewise it demonstrated that we can expect a clean layout with a variety of artwork styles.

Overall the quality of the stories was high, and each gave some nice insight into the Numenera world in different ways. As an appetizer for the upcoming RPG Core book (due in August) this has done its job to whet the appetite well. The preview gave us only a teasing glimpse into the forthcoming book, but what it showed is promising.

Rating: 85% - An excellent first taste of the Numenera setting.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tales from the Ninth World
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Due Vigilance- SixGun
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/05/2013 19:41:58

Claimer: As a reviewer I do my best to maintain objectivity with regards to the products I review. For rules supplements this is usually easy. For character folios and genre sourcebooks that objectivity can sometimes slip away in the face of a particular theme or genre that you either love or hate. Why do I mention this? Because, I freakin' love cyborgs!

Who are Sixgun? Sixgun is a group of mercenaries that you can drop into your game setting to run amok. Outfitted with high tech cybernetics, high end weaponry, and in one case cutting edge genetic modification, Sixgun are a ready to work for whomever will pay the bills, often with little in the way of reservations or compunctions about the job's specifics. Not shockingly Sixgun has six members.

  • Camo - The group's lone woman and infiltration specialist. Her bionics make her the ideal "face" of the group.
  • Deadeye - Outfitted with incredibly advanced cybernetic eyes and a powerful rifle Deadeye is the group's over-watch and their sniper.
  • Echelon (stylized as 3chelon) - The group's recon and hacking specialist. His cybernetically controlled network of drones provides the group with scouting and additional surprise firepower.
  • Headcase - The "full conversion cyborg" of the group. Headcase is a full on sociopath who's brain is all that is left of his human body.
  • Marauder - The group's leader, and both the glue that keeps the team together and the oil that keeps them moving.
  • Spot - The genetic chimera of the group, a beast built from the best predators on earth and then wired into the group with the same cybernetic communications implants that the others have.

As in prior Due Vigilance products each character is given a full workup; background, personality, artwork, and fully detailed character sheets. In addition we get both written group dynamics and, returning from the first in the series, a relationship map which allows for the reader to quickly ascertain how each character sees the others in the group. A page of tactics, group history, and a sidebar on how to use mercenary groups round out the first eighteen pages.

Character write-ups are interesting and well written, with thought given to character's backgrounds and how those influence their role within the group. The character sheets are generally clearly laid out and are very diverse within the group, again giving each member a clear role that their build backs up.

Extra Ammo In addition to the above there is a history of OPC, the company that built Sixgun and now hunts them, a sidebar on how mercenary groups work in the real world, a handful of plot seeds, three additional NPCs, and standees for use at your table.

The history of OPC, combined with Sixgun's own history, gives a good idea of the company. They become yet another antagonist group for the GM to use,and could easily be a recurring element in a campaign. The extra NPCs are supporting players, providing Sixgun's primary employer reference (a.k.a. Mr Johnson), their chief repairs specialist, and an outsourced transportation specialist. A clever GM could easily build multiple sessions worth of material around Sixgun, their supporting players, and OPC, generating an entire campaign around bringing down OPC and bringing Sixgun to justice. Alternately Sixgun could easily provide additional firepower for a less powerful "mastermind" style villain to use against the heroes.

Art & Layout As is quickly becoming evident Vigilance Press really cares about the presentation of their products. The layout is as clean and accessible as it has been in prior products. Meanwhile, the artwork is top notch, easily looking as good, or better, as anything coming out of the major publishers. As before, this artwork is used on the standees as well, ensuring that if you use them they will really stand out attractively on your table.

Closing Thoughts For the price Sixgun is easily the match for prior Due Vigilance products and stands out very well compared against Green Ronin's Threat Reports from two years ago. The quality of the artwork, writing, and the thoughtful nature of the product's extras provide a very usable product. This is easily one of the better character folios I have read.

Rating: 100% - Maybe I'm not at my most objective here, but this is the Due Vigilance product I think I'd use before any other thus far.

Author's note: A review copy of the product was provided to me by Vigilance Press for the purposes of this review.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Due Vigilance- SixGun
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Fiasco
Publisher: Bully Pulpit Games
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/03/2013 16:07:25

Maybe you've seen Wil Wheaton's Table Top episode, maybe not (if not you might want to check it out, it's fantastic). That's where I first encountered Fiasco, and I'm thankful to Wil for that. Fiasco is a GM-less Role-Playing Game, designed specifically to emulate the kinds of no holds barred disasters as seen in movies from the Cohen Brothers and countless others. Beyond that however, Fiasco presents a way for a small group of freinds to get a role- play experience in a short period of time (one and a half to two hours for three players, longer with more), with no need for a pre-planned session and no requirement for one player to act as GM.

Set up requires only a handful of dice in two colors and some paper and pencils (I find that index cards are really damn near perfect for this). Somebody throws a number of dice into the center of the table and using the dice players take turns slowly determining their relationship with the other players to their left and right (each player having two defined relationships), objects, needs, and locations that are relevant to the game. Tables for each are provided as part of a playset (there are a few in the book, and dozens more available for free online). Dice first establish the broad category of a relationship, object, location, or need, then further dice determine the specific detail. Example:

• Player 1 takes up a die showing 5 and decides that the first relationship is going to be one from the Family grouping. • Later Player 2 grabs a die showing 1 and establishes that he and Player 1 are estranged siblings.

• Player 3 takes a die showing 6 and establishes that there is a Need "To Get Even..." • Later on Player 1 takes a die showing 2 and further defines that Need as "To Get Even ... with the one who laughed at you.

The process continues around the table until every player has a relationship with the players to their left and right and there are at least one Need, Object, and Location (more than three players add more Needs, Objects, and Locations, in that order). Once all the dice have been used and/or everybody is satisfied with the setup play begins.

Play takes the form of scenes between two or more players and usually two of the main characters (though sometimes a player may need or want a scene with an NPC character played by somebody else for that scene). The player who's turn it is chooses to either Establish or Resolve. When they Establish the set the scene, stating where, with whom, and why, and then the players play it out. Once complete that other players decide if the scene worked out well for the player or not and assign a die to the player accordingly (if using black and white dice, white are "good" and black are "bad"). Play then continues with the next player.

When a player chooses to Resolve they take a die of the appropriate color and ask the group to Establish the scene for them, with the intended outcome of the scene to be good or bad for their character. Once the group sets the scene it is played out as usual. Regardless of the choice to Establish or Resolve each scene is played out, usually in just a few minutes, and each player gets a total of four scenes that revolve around their character over the course of the game.

After each player has had two turns (and thus two scenes with their character being central to the action) the first Act ends. The remaining dice are rolled and the two players with the highest total on black dice and white dice choose two Tilt aspects to complicate the second Act. Tilt is determined the same as setup with dice being take to determine the category and then the specifics. For instance:

• Mayhem → Misdirected Passion • Innocence → The Wrong Guy Gets Busted • Failure → A Stupid Plan, Executed to Perfection

These Tilt aspects will alter the course of events from the first half and inform the second as the players' character begin (or continue) the downward spiral from "Powerful Ambition" to "Poor Impulse Control", or, to put it another way, well laid plans become a complete clusterf&%k. Scenes played out during the second Act need to be more resolution focused so that the story begins to converge on an end, but apart from that play is generally the same as the first Act with the addition of the Tilt.

Once all the dice are gone and every player has played their parts the game moves to the Aftermath. During the Aftermath we find out just what happened to each character after the events of the story. Players roll their dice (those they got from scenes) and consult the aftermath table, which is generally grim, and often worse, to find out generally how their characters' fare. They then take turns playing a die and narrating a brief montage of scenes (usually just a few sentences) that bring their characters' to their ultimate fate.

That's the gist of play in a simplified manner. With three players I've taken part in half a dozen games and none of them were longer than two hours including setup (even the first game where I was teaching the game was only barely two hours). Things are fast and furious with a focus on an entertaining story that twists and turns (often twisting out of the control of the players). The numerous play set options available online mean that nearly any time period, setting, and genre are available from Superheroes to Suburban Housewives.

Closing Thoughts With genuinely simple and quick mechanics to setup, and direct play and a strong focus on role-playing and improvisation, Fiasco is a perfect game to fill in after a short session of your weekly RPG, or to fill an entire evening with multiple plays. The book is excellently written, conveying the rules clearly and providing a bunch of great advice on what to look for during set up and play to ensure that your game becomes a true Fiasco. The wide variety of FREE play sets available online mean that there are near endless replay options.

Rating: 100% - Pretty much perfect. This game is everything a lite RPG should strive to be, and I find that the more I play the more I enjoy it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fiasco
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Devilish Duos: Smoke and Mirrors
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/03/2013 08:01:52

Devilish Duos, as one might expect, provides a pair of villains who work together. In this case the supernatural pair of Smoke, the ghost of a murdered woman, and Mirrors, a woman who long ago made a dark pact with evil entities from beyond our world. Similar to the Threat Report products from Green Ronin the meat of the product are the two villainous characters.

Smoke is a ghost, wronged in life, and murdered, she was unable to move beyond after death and instead has become a restless spirit who kills to ease the pain of her soul. Her powers revolve around her ghostly condition and manipulation of the powers of fire and smoke that ended her life. Her partner, both in mayhem and in love, is Mirrors. Mirrors made a pact with dark gods that granted her powers of invisibility and stealth. In return she kills to make sacrifices to those same dark gods.

Both characters are given full background and personality write-ups, as well as complete stat blocks for Mutants and Masterminds Third Edition. In addition there are character standees, a page worth of adventure hooks, a sidebar about using the pair with the Oktobermen, and some nice full color artwork.

Closing Thoughts: For $2 you get a pair of supernatural characters, suitable for any darker superheroes game, or modern or gothic horror. The product dovetails nicely with the Oktobermen, being the same genre and approximate power level, and would make a nice add-on for that team in a game (or even possibly villainous rivals).

Rating: 90% - Easily on par with the Threat Reports from Green Ronin.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Devilish Duos: Smoke and Mirrors
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Due Vigilance- Black Chapter
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/03/2013 08:00:25

Last year I reviewed the first product in the Due Vigilance line The Oktobermen. Within that was mention of a organization dedicated to sequestering dangerous magics known as the Library. Well Black Chapter picks up on that and provides a high level overview of the Library and then dives deep for a character portfolio of Black Chapter, the Library's top "wet works" team. These guys are the ones who go after the worst of the worst, the most dangerous of the dangerous.

After the cover and credits we jump right into a brief history of the Library and the Special Collections branch. This covers three pages plus two more to stat out the director of Special Collections. The text here is good providing a well planned out high level overview of the organization while leaving plenty of room for GM interpretation to fit the Library into their games. I found this especially useful as it will allow a person to place the group into their game as they see fit without needing to make wholesale edits. In the case of RPG setting expansions like this less can often be more.

After this we get directly into the core of the book: Black Chapter. We get two pages that run down through the group's dynamics and tactics (as well as sub-groups that are commonly deployed for specific mission types), followed by eight members of Black Chapter (or maybe seven members and one provisional member). Each character is given two pages including a portrait, background write-up, and a fully rendered character build. Those characters include:

• Cabaellero - a young man guided by Fate and wielding a mystic sword • Elizabeth Tower - a woman who has a score to settle with the Oktobermen's Bookbinder • Lockleann Sheeramanneth - the spirit of a dragon locked within the body of a (possibly?) brain dead young woman • Mirka - an enlightened yeti armed with mastery of martial arts • Sister Hyde - an alchemist with a dark side • Talespinner - the resident mage, who's powers are all tied into books • Weaver - a disciple of an Arachne worshiping cult on loan to the Library as a "consultant" of sorts • The Mad Monk - a former member of the library who is now an inmate and a weapon of last resort

That's fourteen full pages and eight fully detailed and usable characters all with art (nine if you count the write up of Special Collections direction Oracle Sphinx). Generally the artwork is on the good to great side, though I did feel that Weaver's simple bodysuit clashed with the more "layered" and complex wardrobe of the other characters. Their write ups all present thoughtful and thematically strong power sets often with a number of interestingly built powers.

The last eight pages are given over to four pages of story hooks and second tier characters, two pages of standees for use at your table (if that's your thing), and then the OGL and a back cover.

Closing Thoughts With strong artwork, solid writing, and well designed and executed characters Black Chapter is a very solid mini-expansion if you are looking to deepen the supernatural and magical communities of your game's setting. The premise is well wrought and even if (like myself) you find that the character's are too high a PL for your own use (without modification) the Library and its plots and sub-groups will serve well as a launch-pad for more PL-appropriate allies, or foils, for your characters.

Rating: 90% - A solid third party offering for games featuring a more supernatural bent.

Author's note: A review copy of the product was provided to me by Vigilance Press for the purposes of this review.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Due Vigilance- Black Chapter
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Secondaries #02 PSI Files Edition (M&M3e)
Publisher: Rhinotaur
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/14/2012 20:03:57

The Secondaries are a a series of short PDFs that propose to provide not a single super powered NPC, but rather a handful of low powered, secondary NPCs (hence the name). These are fairly no frill products designed, art free, with compact stat blocks and backgrounds and game use that run roughly 1/3 of a page, with the stat block each NPC is roughly a half page. The intended use is to provide GMs with second string and backup NPCs that are more than just a generic collection of stats without personality. Each character is presented with a background to distinguish themselves from the stock template and make for a more unique and memorable character

Secondaries #1 Three characters are provided here: Aunt June, Jenn Marie, and Butch all at PL 2 and filling the roles of elderly relative, attractive young woman, and athletic teen respectively.

Secondaries #2: PSI Files The three characters here are intended to provide depth to the PSI Files: Grey Ops product also from Rhinotaur. Each of the characters here, Dr. Terra White, Derrick Chase, and Colonel Philip Prowess, is elaborated on in greater detail here than in the Grey Ops product.

Closing Thoughts The idea behind the Secondaries line is an interesting one, and while I didn't see a strong need for it based on the first product, the second showed the promise of the idea as implemented. By expanding on second string NPCs from the Grey Ops product the Secondaries provided additional information for those GMs who desired additional detail, while allowing the publisher to maintain the focus of that product on the Grey Ops team. In this way the Secondaries proves a useful addition without also diluting the core intent of the primary product.

The idea here has merit, and I would like to see more of it covering other NPC types, especially characters within the Law Enforcement community, underworld characters, and other NPCs that player characters would use in-game as contacts, informants, or have interactions with, during the course of a game. Personally, as a GM, I would find more use from those forms of NPCs rather than character specific ones, which I prefer to see players work up on their own to better dovetail into their character;s background.

Rating: 75% - a good idea that would benefit by focusing on more GM used NPCs rather than character background NPCs

Author's note: Review copies of these products were provided to me by the gentlemen at Rhinotaur for the purposes of this review.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Secondaries #02 PSI Files Edition (M&M3e)
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Secondaries #01 (M&M3e)
Publisher: Rhinotaur
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/14/2012 20:03:11

The Secondaries are a a series of short PDFs that propose to provide not a single super powered NPC, but rather a handful of low powered, secondary NPCs (hence the name). These are fairly no frill products designed, art free, with compact stat blocks and backgrounds and game use that run roughly 1/3 of a page, with the stat block each NPC is roughly a half page. The intended use is to provide GMs with second string and backup NPCs that are more than just a generic collection of stats without personality. Each character is presented with a background to distinguish themselves from the stock template and make for a more unique and memorable character

Secondaries #1 Three characters are provided here: Aunt June, Jenn Marie, and Butch all at PL 2 and filling the roles of elderly relative, attractive young woman, and athletic teen respectively.

Secondaries #2: PSI Files The three characters here are intended to provide depth to the PSI Files: Grey Ops product also from Rhinotaur. Each of the characters here, Dr. Terra White, Derrick Chase, and Colonel Philip Prowess, is elaborated on in greater detail here than in the Grey Ops product.

Closing Thoughts The idea behind the Secondaries line is an interesting one, and while I didn't see a strong need for it based on the first product, the second showed the promise of the idea as implemented. By expanding on second string NPCs from the Grey Ops product the Secondaries provided additional information for those GMs who desired additional detail, while allowing the publisher to maintain the focus of that product on the Grey Ops team. In this way the Secondaries proves a useful addition without also diluting the core intent of the primary product.

The idea here has merit, and I would like to see more of it covering other NPC types, especially characters within the Law Enforcement community, underworld characters, and other NPCs that player characters would use in-game as contacts, informants, or have interactions with, during the course of a game. Personally, as a GM, I would find more use from those forms of NPCs rather than character specific ones, which I prefer to see players work up on their own to better dovetail into their character;s background.

Rating: 75% - a good idea that would benefit by focusing on more GM used NPCs rather than character background NPCs

Author's note: Review copies of these products were provided to me by the gentlemen at Rhinotaur for the purposes of this review.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Secondaries #01 (M&M3e)
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Hero Happy Hour: Super Shot #1 - Guardian (M&M3e)
Publisher: Rhinotaur
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/29/2012 06:54:14

This is a line review for the first seven Super Shots ...

The Super Shots product line details a series of characters from the Rhinotaur comic Hero Happy Hour, which is something I have not read ... yet. I say that because after taking a look at these seven characters and knowing that I was also sent the omnibus edition of the first five comics, I really do want to check out the comic, I probably would even if it weren't sitting for free in my DriveThruRPG account.

But enough about a comic I'm not here to review (yet) and have not read (also yet), let's talk about the characters. Each Super Shot is a single character, their background, details on their skills and powers, and a couple paragraphs about how they fit into the Hideout Bar & Grill, which is a bar catering to supers within the comic. There's also a brief adventure hook. All seven characters follow that basic format with only minor variation.

Each Super shot has two pieces of artwork; a full color full body shot on the first page, and a small B&W headshot. The art style is stylized, and a little chunky/blocky, but I think it works as well as any other for conveying the look and poise of the characters. The roughly half page size color shot is really the only color in the product outside of company identifiers and the like, but that's fine too; I'd rather not have full color borders and layout if it means that a small press can keep costs down, and at 99¢ a pop nobody can complain they don't get what they paid for.

The profiles and descriptions work well as written and in some cases got a good laugh out of my by way of clever wording/phrasing. Making a product entertaining to read is as important as making it useful in my book, so the occasional chuckle is welcome. The stat-blocks for the characters, all in Mutants and Masterminds Third Edition, are generally laid out cleanly. There were a couple of instances where an Array was losing a grappling contest to some of the other powers, but nothing I couldn't get over once I figured out where one ended and the other began.

1 - Guardian, PL 14

One part Superman and one part Green Lantern. Police officer finds a dying alien and gains the powers of a paragon, super strength, flight, and a duty to patrol for super criminals and aliens. I loved the adventure hook with this guy, a loopy nod to the more innocent days of comics involving a "slightly evil" alternate twin.

2 - Phantom Dread, PL 14

A super villain with magic and a cape with darkness powers. Dread is a staple villain, apparently willing to throw down with any hero, or perhaps unfortunate enough to have to deal with all heroes, I guess that depends on how you look at it. He is fairly flexible in use, and downright powerful considering the main oomph of his powers comes from a magical variable effect. By the time I got to the end of his adventure hook I knew that this product line and setting were as much about the humor as the super heroics.

3 - Eradicator, PL 10

He doesn't sound like a hero does he? Well he's an anti-hero/vigilante really. He's also the one who made me chuckle the most. Eradicator an un-powered guy with an attitude, weapons, and a willingness to use both to give villains what they deserve. He's a little like Casey Jones from TMNT in that respect.

4 - Krimson Klaw, PL 9

What do you get when a punk gets his hands on an advanced piece of military power armor hardware? A punk with an advance military power armor suit. Klaw reads like the joke villain he's meant to be (at least I hope he was meant to be a joke). His armor's Klaw is still a dangerous weapon, but he's just not his own villain, being a pawn of the bigger fish (like Phantom Dread).

5 & #6 - Night Ranger, PL 12 & Scout, PL 8

An inventor with a tragic past and a desire for revenge, by way of justice. Night Ranger has all the usual crime fighter toys, and a crime fighter's problem sidekick as well. The Night Ranger's sidekick, Scout, is the kind of sidekick who needs a kick. An early life that was a bit rough, and a lack of real responsibility, mark him as a bit of a foil for his mentor.

7 - Trouble, PL 10

Trouble is hard to put a finger on. She's an amnesiac with impressive combat skills and no powers. She's a villain, but it seems that is as much a factor of being a "wild child" type and less that of the world dominating, city destroying, monomaniacal type. She's a martial artist type with a penchant for improvised weapons, and impressive physical abilities, including a nicely wrought healing trance.

Closing Thoughts On their own each character has enough going on to well justify the price of admission, especially, I would imagine, if you were already a reader of the Hero Happy Hour comic. As stand alone NPCs to drop into your campaign they work, though in such a situation I would actually recommend the bundle for $3.96 as there is a great deal of cross reference between the characters with regards to their backgrounds. Plus $4 for 7 is a great deal no matter how you shake it. Plus they give me a hint at what to expect from the comic, which looks to be rather fun. I'll review that soon.

That said these aren't perfect either. I mentioned that I had some trouble with the formatting of arrays not being clear, its a minor issue, but it's there. There are also a fair number of typos and spelling errors. Not an egregious number, but enough to catch my eye. Again, not a deal breaker by any means, at least not for me. The art style may not appeal to everybody, but honestly art is subjective, and I don't ding points unless it fails to convey the subject. The artwork here is stylized, but it works. Luckily you can get a taste for it from the preview pages on DriveThruRPG so if art is enough to steer you away from something look before you leap.

Rating: 85%, These are solid characters running across a number of PLs and backed up with some humorous writing. Spelling and formatting issues are present, but not cripplingly so. Art snobs should look before they buy.

Author's note: Review copies of these products were provided to me by the gentlemen at Rhinotaur for the purposes of this review.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hero Happy Hour: Super Shot #1 - Guardian (M&M3e)
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Devilish Duos: Strange Attractors
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Marc P. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/26/2012 07:27:00

The second product in the Devilish Duos product line comes out taking a swing at Valentine's Day with 18 pages of romance-themed content. The product greets the reader with a stellar cover by Denise Jones and colored by James Dawsey. If you saw this on a bookshelf at your FLGS you'd know what it was about even without reading the title. As customary the artwork is reprinted on the second page without the titles and branding.

The credits page has an "Obligatory Introduction About Romance, Sex, and Squid-Men…" which had me laughing, and readies the reader for what's to come; all with tongue planted in cheek. Going into the meat of the book things start out with a discussion about romance and comics; a history lesson, and a reminder that though it may get overlooked romance is a part of even superhero comics. Segueing from history into a lite discussion of the way that super powers dovetail into romance introduces the reader to the four "C"s of superpowers and romance.

The rules section takes up a massive seven pages. Starting with a discussion on Advantages, both those in the core rule set, as well as some new ones, it moves on to talk about Features and Skills, before getting into a rules system. The system is fairly low impact, calling for rolls only at major milestones (first impressions, dates, and eventually break ups) while also encouraging role-play not only to help set the stage and tone of the romance but also as a means for the GM to provide bonuses or penalties based on that same role-playing. Extensive examples are provided and are both entertainingly engaging, and very well written to showcase the rules, as well as the various ways that powers, Advantages, and skills interact within the system they have created.

Lastly, but not least, are the Devilish Duo themselves; Amp and Rail are a pair of super powered characters who used to be an item, but have recently taken a trip to Splitsville. While not villains as such they are both deep in the throes of post-breakup recovery. Three adventure/plot hooks are provided, and show how each character can be used, either as a foil for PC-NPC romance, or as a potential thorn in the side of the other NPC. A third character is given a brief write-up as well, as part of one of the hooks. The characters are interesting, with believable backgrounds, and Amp in particular has a very interesting and original power-set.

Closing Thoughts: With two complete characters (plus a 3rd with stats but limited background), 7 pages of optional rules, and a page of discussion, Strange Attractors is jam packed with content. Everything within is written to a high standard, and the rules and discussion present a well put together way to add some mechanical crunch to the soft and squishy side of love. I've never once wanted rulesy crunch in my RPed romances, but the rules presented here all service the story while still giving "roll-players" something to chew on.

There's nothing to be found in these 18 pages that doesn't work on one level or another. I can't even find a nit to pick.

Rating: 100% - Vigilance Press really knocked it out the park with this one. At the current sale price of $3 this product is a steal when compared to Green Ronin's own Threat Report and Power Profiles lines.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Devilish Duos: Strange Attractors
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