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  1. Pandemic Publisher: Z-Man Games • MSRP: $34.99 Theme: Pandemic is a cooperative play game in which the players take on the role(s) of various agents of the CDC or WHO and must travel the world combating disease and collecting the needed research to be able to create a cure. The theme is strong in all aspects of the game play, with each role being a specific research or aid worker (eg. Medic, Scientist, Operations Expert, etc), the board is a map of the world, with the major cities marked and linked by the allowed ground travel routes the cards for the "infection" deck have images of various viruses, and those same are on the board as well. The only real abstract thing in the game from a theme standpoint is the markers used for infections which are little colored cubes, but that gets a pass because it keeps cost down compared to plastic cast virus models, and is probably easier to use and store any way. [end_news_blurb] The Bits: The four diseases are abstractly represented by colored wood cubes roughly 1 cm on a side in blue, yellow, red, and black. The player pawns are colored to match the border of the role card they belong to and in the base set are a little big, the expansion released all new smaller pawns thankfully. The cards are full color back and front, plastic coated, and fairly sturdy. I've played many a game and they haven't become marked up yet. The board has a matte finish which reduces glare, and seems to wear well, there is space on the board for both decks and discard piles as well as two tracks for infection rate and outbreaks as well as spots for the cure tokens. It's well laid out for the most part but there was some early confusion about locating some cities. Gameplay: A cooperative game for 2 to 4 players, it can also be played perfectly well by a single person using multiple roles, and I have had fun playing 2 player with 2 roles each. After numerous games I can actually say that the game is more challenging the more players/roles you have, which makes for a more interesting group experience. Setup is fairly quick. The Player Deck is seeded at roughly equal intervals with a number of Epidemic Cards equal to the challenge you wish to face; 4 is a beginner game, and 6 or 7 is insanely difficult. Each player is given a few starting cards based on the number of players, fewer players means more cards to start with. The Infection Deck is shuffled/randomized, and then 9 cards are rolled off the top, the first 3 are infected with 3 cubes of their color, the next 3 with 2 cubes, and the final 3 with 1 cube each. This lays out a random assortment of 18 Disease Cubes on the board. Depending on the number of each color and their proximity you may immediately see that a game will be harder or easier. A single Research Station is started on the board in Atlanta, GA to represent the CDC and the player's pawns all start there. Game play begins with the player who was sick most recently (nice touch), and proceeds clockwise thereafter. Setup with 2 players who need not check the rules takes about 5 minutes, which is a lot less than some games out there, and with the random placement of Disease Cubes ensures that the games are always different right out of the gate. The goal of the game is to discover a Cure all four diseases before one of the losing conditions comes up. It sounds simple but it has proved to be more challenging that it seems. Players lose when one of the following happens before they have cured all four diseases: If there are 8 or more Outbreaks over the course of the game the players lose. If a player, at the end of his/her turn, cannot draw 2 cards from the Player Deck the players lose. If, during the Infection Phase a Disease Cube cannot be placed on the board because that color's supply has run out. That's it, one way to win, and 3 ways to lose. Once the game is setup up the players take a moment to read their role cards which detail what special action they can take, or what special rule they have. The Scientist can create a Cure with one less card for instance. They then look at their play hand, which will be between 2 and 4 cards. The cards from the Player Deck depict either a color and a city, or a special event. Special events let you do things outside of the normal turn order, and also things that cannot normally be done. The Location Cards are used to move around, and to create Cures. On their turn players have a total of 4 actions which can be combined and repeated as needed. They can Move, Treat, Create a Cure, Trade Cards, and Build Research Stations. Movement is done by either following a ground route from your city to a connection city, discarding a card depicting a city to fly to that city, or discarding a car depicting the city you are in to fly to any other location. Each act of movement costs 1 action so driving from Atlanta to New York to London (a "ferry") takes 2 actions, but discarding the London card from your hand while in Atlanta will get you there in 1 action. The balance of all of this is that there are only a finite number of cards, and only 1 card for each city in the deck. If you discard London (blue) now you will not have it later on to use to travel, create a Cure], or build a Research Station. Combined with a maximum hand size of 7 cards, players will often find themselves balancing the razor's edge between economy of movement and being able to maintain the cards they need to create Cures. While a player's pawn is in a city with 1 or more Disease Cube he can spend 1 action to Treat and remove 1 cube. The Medic, as his special action, can remove all cubes of the same color from a city for only 1 action. The prompt treatment of Disease Cubes is important because the maximum cubes of a color that a city can hold is 3 cubes, if there are already 3 cubes on Paris, and a 4th is to be added this will cause an Outbreak and bring you one step closer to losing. Outbreaks also cause additional cubes to be placed on all neighboring cities, meaning that not only do you slide closer to a loss from Outbreaks, but you also infect more cities (which will need treatment). Chain reaction outbreaks are possible as well, meaning that things can go from bad to worse quickly. Treating diseases to avoid Outbreaks becomes a huge part of the game as a result. While a player's pawn is in a city he may discard a card from his hand that matches the city to place a new Research Station on the board. Research Stations are useful because players can travel from one station to another as 1 action regardless of the distance, making strategic placement of Stations early in the game crucial to fast efficient travel. Research Stations are also crucial because only at a Station can a Cure be created. When at a Research Station the player may discard 5 cards of the same color to create a Cure for that disease. In addition to getting you 25% closer to a win it allows players to remove all cubes of that color from a city with a single Treat action. In addition the Medic, awesome fellow that he is, can Treat and remove all disease cubes of a Cured disease from a city he/she enters without spending an action. Eradication of a disease is difficult, but not impossible, if the player's have cured a disease and then removed all cubes of that color from the board the disease is Eradicated and further Infection Cards of that color pulled during the Infection Phase (below) will not produce cubes on the board. Lastly players can trade cards between them as 1 action per card. The limit is that the character's must be in the came city, and the card traded must be the card depicting the city they are in. Getting cards to the right players to be able to create Cures can become very difficult. The Researcher role has the special ability to give cards to other players even if the card does not match the city they are in, but they must still be in the same location. At the end of the player's turn he/she draws 2 cards from the Player Deck and adds them to their hand. If one of the Epidemic Cards comes up that card is played immediately. The player also must discard down to 7 cards at this stage if they are above that number in hand. The balance between limited actions, limited cards, movement costs, and performing important tasks like Treating and creating Cures becomes the core of the player's gameplay and strategy (such at it is). Epidemics are an event that players will dread. Mechanically they cause the bottom card of the Infection Deck to be pulled up and 3 cubes (a hot zone) to be put onto that city, the Infection Rate is then increased 1 step, and last (and by far worst) the discard pile of the Infection Deck is shuffled, by itself, and then placed on top of the Infection Deck. This results in the same cities which have been getting infected becoming infected again during subsequent Infection Phases, and mimics the difficulty in treating and eradicating disease in the real world. After each player completes their turn the Infection Phase is carried out. Cards equal to the Infection Rate are rolled from the top of the Infection Deck and 1 cube of the appropriate color is added to the city shown. The Infection Rate starts at 2 and goes up to 4. Adding two cubes (or even 4) may not seem like much but combined with action consumption of Treating it quickly adds up. Replayability: Given the randomized setup, the random nature of the Player Deck and the Infection Deck there is a ton of replay value inherent to the basic mechanics of the game. In addition the multiple player roles add a different twist on playing each character type that will change how the game fares. Games with Medics tend to be a little easier to control the madness of Treatment, while games with the Researcher and the Scientist make it far easier to create Cures, if no easier at all to treat the disease on the table. This game has very high replayability, and, in my opinion, is one of the best games I have played in the past few years. Rating: 100%, I really can't find anything to dislike about this game (expect how often it has kicked my ass).
  2. ,, Numenéra ,, Vitals: Published By Monte Cook Games • 416 pages • on sale August 14th • full color PDF or Hardcover ,, Introduction: ,, Let me start out by making a few things clear: I backed the Kickstarter campaign, which is how I have an early copy of the rules. This review will come in parts, mostly cause this book is huge, and my time is finite. I have yet to play the game, so opinions on the mechanical aspects are thusly informed. I'm reviewing a PDF so I cannot speak to the physical quality of the book until such time as mine arrives. That said this thread will grow as I add to it with additional chapters of the book as I go, I am hoping to have the entire book reviewed by the end of the month. ,, First Impressions - The Look & "Feel" ,, ,, This book looks amazing, plain and simple. The artwork is a mix of full color paintings and pencil or line art. The art ranges in size from tiny sketches in the margins to half page paintings. Quality of the artwork is generally very high and helps to establish the look and feel of the setting throughout. The remainder of the layout is full color as well, with color page borders, section transitions, and even portions of text use color as a highlight. ,, Text is a mix of one and two column format with a generous margin on the outside of each page. These margins are populated with copious small artworks, definitions of key terms, and hyper-linked cross references of important terms and sections. Many people seem to prefer reading a physical book to a digital one, but the quality of the hyper-linking and cross-referencing makes this book read almost like it were a Wiki page (this is a good thing). ,, The only downside to the digital format is that there is no file Table of Contents (ToC). This is not to be confused with the book's Table of Contents (there is one), but digital ToC that is accessible from a toolbar would make some degree of navigation between chapters without the use of the hypertext more useful. As it stands currently flipping back to the book's ToC page and hyper-linking from there is functional, if less than perfect. Lastly the file is huge topping out just over 70 MB, which means that Adobe can occasionally be a bit chunky when navigating. ,, New World, New Game and Part 1: Getting Started - Or, How I Learned About the Year 1 Billion ,, The Ninth World is about discovering the wonders of the worlds that came before it, not for their own sake, but as the means to improve the present and build a future. - Numenera, page 12 ,, The book starts out with a short introduction by Monte Cooke about the origins of Numenera and his goals in creating this setting and game. Immediately following this is a story The Amber Monolith that tosses the reader head first into the the Ninth World and immerses them in a story that showcases the world through the eyes of a character who could easily be a player. ,, The first two chapters provide high level introductory overviews of the setting and the rules. The setting, The Ninth World, is set one billion years in the future, and is built on the rubble and remains of the prior either worlds. The game is a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, with medieval level cultures using the remnants of the prior ages' technology as typical fantasy-world denizens would use magic. As the book reminds early on, Clarke's Third Law applies: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ,, Mechanically the game uses an entirely new system that operates on a d20 dice mechanic and a ten rank difficulty system. To facilitate a mechanically light system that focuses on storytelling over combat the system is light on skills, stats, and even dice rolling - the GM never need toss a die during normal play, all rolls are made by the players. I'll get deeper into the mechanics later, but the light rules seem like they will do well to facilitate a more story driven play style similar in some ways to FATE, or the various Apocalypse World variants. ,, ,, Next up, Characters and Chargen ,, Feel free to comment or ask questions, I'll try and reply as I am able.
  3. ,, The Paradox Room Vitals: Published By Monte Cook Games • 55 pages • $2.99 • B&W PDF (full color cover only) Some of you may recall back in June when I reviewed Tales From the Ninth World, a short anthology set in the world of the then upcoming Numenera RPG. That product helped to tease Numenera by both giving us a glimpse into the game world, and also giving us an idea of what kinds of stories Numenera was built for. The Paradox Room does the same thing for the upcoming (expected in August 2014) The Strange RPG. This product is shorter by some twenty-odd pages and one story, which makes this one clock in at two stories of 29 and 21 pages each. Compared to TFTNW the pages are smaller though (when viewed at the same level of zoom through Adobe on the same screen) and so these stories might actually come in shorter than those in TFTNW. That said, 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). Format aside though, know that you are getting two short stories, not two novellas. 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 almost 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. 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: 90%, provides an excellent taste of the upcoming The Strange RPG's tone, themes, and flavor. ,,
  4. ,, In Strange Aeons: Lovecraftian Numenera ,, Vitals: Published By Monte Cook Games • 12 pages • $2.99 • full color PDF ,, "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.
  5. ,, Gadget Guides: Magic, Traps, & Alien Tech Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF Catching up on the last couple of guides and one I missed from a bit back with some quick fire thoughts. Plus some of my rambling thoughts on the product line as a whole as things start to wind down. ,, Magic Gadget Guide: Magic discusses some potential descriptors for magic equipment. It also notes that only in cultures with a high degree of magic “industrialization” should magic items be equipment. A number of sample magic items are described, some of which don’t remotely fall into the definition of equipment and are really more like removable powers and artifacts. ,, Generally the product is well written and the examples are interesting and present a number of alternative types of magic items to expand upon. Likewise the sidebar discussing magic artifacts offers suggestions and advice for using items of game breaking power as focal points for your game. ,, Traps Gadget Guide: Traps fills in some of the blanks on how to operate traps within villainous lairs, secret headquarters, and the like. Sidebars detail using character’s weaknesses within traps as well as having traps and circumstances turn back on the villains. The mechanical suggestions for traps, as well as the non-mechanical suggestions for deal with springing traps on players, are potentially invaluable. ,, Alien Tech Gadget Guide: Alien tech likewise covers a great many items that might not be viable as equipment in a given campaign. With items like teleporters, camouflage fields, and mind readers there are as many items that really don’t fall into the realm of equipment as there are items that do like blasters and vehicles. The sidebars on Unfamiliar Technology and Alien Advancements both provide useful suggestions for helping to integrate technology advanced beyond human ken into your games. ,, Closing Thoughts ,, As the Gadget Guide product line begins to wind down (as of this writing there are only two or three left to be published) it seems clear to me that perhaps this line might have been better suited as a “year two” extension of the Power Profiles series. Some of the best of these guides have dealt with subjects more akin to descriptors than lists of equipment, and in many cases the scope of the Guide’s content are not appropriate for equipment for characters within most campaigns. Magic and Alien tech both seem to fall into this category, while Traps almost exist in a region that is outside of both, being primarily of use as aspects of Headquarters, and not discrete equipment of their own. ,, None of this detracts from the quality or utility of the lion’s share of the gadget guides in general, and these specifically. Alien tech would be very helpful for a character looking to play a foreigner to Earth, while Magic expands on the materials already presented within the Power Profile of the same name, while offering some useful discussion on Artifacts, and descriptors of its own. Similarly Traps feels like it probably should have been included in the Gamemaster’s Guide had it been written when that book saw print, as almost any GM will find something of use for their campaign; player’s on the other hand may find it entirely optional. ,, Ratings: Alien Tech – 80%, high utility to a certain subset of games and players, with some sidebars that offer value to all Traps – 90%, indispensable for GMs, entirely optional for players. Magic – 85% - a good follow up to the Magic Power Profile, dealing with the non-spell/power side of magic. ,,
  6. ,, ,, Gadget Guide: Spy-Tech Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF "What appears to be an ordinary gentleman's wristwatch conceals a fifty watt laser, a powerful electromagnet, one once of high explosive, a tracking device, three lock picks, one hundred feet of high tensile carbon fiber rappelling line ..." What's in it? All kinds of stuff. This is definitely a guide containing gadgets. From swing lines to lock picks to biometric spoofers, Gadget Guide: Spy-Tech contains the tools of the trade for spies, thieves, secret agents, and the like. The Guide is broken into six major sections discussing: Hidden & Concealed Tech, Infiltration, Surveillance, Concealment & Stealth, Disguise, and Forgery. Two sidebars covering Burglary Skills and Infiltration Challenges round out the product. With the exception of the first section on hidden and concealed devices each major section has one or more examples of items used within its purview. The discussion length varies from section to section, with little given to some, but a great deal (relatively) given to Forgery and Infiltration (especially when one considers the sidebars). Example gadgets run the gamut from, obvious items like swing lines and cameras to clever twists on common gear like bugging equipment and disguises. Nothing stands out as missing, but there are likewise no stand out "that is cool" gadgets either (at least not from my view). Still this Guide provides a welcome resource for certain hero types and will no-doubt be indispensable for GMs wishing to use M&M for espionage and spy themed games rather than the usual straight up superhero fare. Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Spy-Tech is generally good, but not great. It covers all its bases well and ensures that players and GMs planning to use stealth, infiltration, and surveillance techniques (among others) in their games will have access to a ready-made pool of items to use, or to inspire. Capable discussion and writing makes this a solid purchase, but the lack of any real stand out items or rules expansions may drive down the utility of the product for some. Rating: 85% - Thorough coverage of the subject without any stand out misses, but neither any stand out hits.
  7. ,, Gadget Guide: Biotech Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF "Behold ladies and gentlemen, I have engineered the perfect minion - bred for strength, intelligence, and, above all, loyalty ..." What's in it? Much like the past couple of these products (nanotech & cybertech) Gadget Guide: Biotech really isn't a guide to gadgets of any kind. You could call it a power profile after a fashion, but I think at this point that Biotech has completed the metamorphosis that the began in Nanotech and Cybertech. Biotech could perhaps best be considered a Descriptor Guide (oh!, perhaps Descriptor Download). Aside from a single example of a living/biotech vehicle, a single power write up, and two new modifiers the product stays away from mechanics of any kind. Instead we get detailed discussion of Descriptors and what I could call major power "categories" ranging from Biochemicals to Living Technology. Each of these gets a few or more paragraphs covering the nature of the topic, the possible uses, as well as some examples (mostly textural only). The product references a handful of Gadget Guide and Power Profile products (meaning you don't get a lot of repeated ground, which I think is a wise directional choice for this guide), and likewise references several sections of the core rules for additional examples or explanations. Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Biotech should probably not be a gadget guide, but one might suppose that I am arguing semantics. The important thing is that regardless of its applicability as a "gadget guide" it is most certainly a useful extension of the rules in much the same way that many of the Power Profiles were. Though it comes a year later and has a different structure it is similar to that line in spirit and theme. In that capacity it does its job admirably. Rating: 90% - A worthy line extension containing both new rules add-ons and well written and thematic discourse on the chosen subject.
  8. Gadget Guide: Installations Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF "Welcome to my lair ..." What's in it? It doesn't call itself Gadget Guide: Headquarters, and I understand why, as it explicitly covers only non-mobiles structures, bases, facilities, etc., but that is a minor quibble, and everything here can, and will, be useful for HQs. Discussion of the effects of power levels on HQ (pardon, Installation) traits, installations shared between PCs (or NPCs), and the implicit features and environmental effects of these facilities is all included. Moving deeper into the product we get detailed discussion of various features and powers that an installation could have, including modifiers applied to other features and powers like having remote hanger bays, or an isolated laboratory. A handful of example features are provided that are either new or expanded from the core rules. Personnel are also covered, discussing what base workers should and shouldn't be able to do, and the scope of their own usefulness. Closing Thoughts ,, Gadget Guide: Installations finally steps back into the realm of equipment and gadgets. Headquarters, lairs, secret bases, and remote monasteries are all integral to the genre, and this product does a great job of expanding upon the system in the core rules. While lite on specific options it gives the players and GMs the tools needed to create their own. If there is any fault it is the lack of new examples in addition to those in the Hero's Handbook. I'd call this a very good buy for GMs and any player who wants to expand on the options they already have. ,, Rating: 90% - A worthwhile addition to the product line, and a helpful expansion on the core rules. ,, Note: I'll attach a picture and link once I get out from under the firewall that prevents me from accessing the GR store.
  9. ,, ,, Gadget Guide: Nanotech Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 7(6) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF [insert flavor comment here] What's in it? Two words: Power Profile. Oh sure, maybe in a sci-fi game this kind of stuff could be equipment, but in a setting advanced enough for nanotech to be equipment what would constitute a power? That said, much like cybertech before it this does not diminish the profile, err, Guide. The product starts out detailing some possible descriptors to use with nanotech before details how nanotechnology is particularly appropriate for inventing. Nanofabrication is the next major section, which hits closest to current real-world potential for the technology. Nano-construction, repair, and reshaping are covered by effects like Create and Transform. In addition to the base effects there are several suggestions for limits, flaws, and extras that could be applied to the powers to separately to the character. Personal Nano comes next, being uses for nanotech on, or in, a character's person. Ranging from suits of active nanotech to body-ware that flows through the character's bloodstream, or even invades their entire being, Personal Nano provide protective effects to the bearer. The most extreme example being a character who is a construct made entirely of active nanites. ,, Nano-Weapons come next with an initial discussion on delivery systems before diving into various attack methods. From mono-filament weaponry to nano-dissemblers this lays out several attack forms. A sidebar about rogue nanotechnology and a section on nano-sensors close out the guide. Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Nanotech tackles a difficult topic, one capable of justifying an very wide array of power effects, and gives you the tools needed to implement it. The product is very strong in theme and suggests a number of power effects across a range of categories. This product is once again closer to a Power Profile in terms of scope and use, but still serves as a strong addition the the M&M Product line. Rating: 85% - Strong in theme, nanotech provides a great deal of advice for using micromachines if your games.
  10. ,, ,, Gadget Guide: Cybertech ,, Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 7(6) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF ,, Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster. ,, What's in it? ,, Let me be blunt: this is not a Gadget Guide. Oh, it looks like a Gadget Guide, and it is coming out amidst that run of products, but this is most surely a Power Profile. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, just that fairly early on it states that the fact that Cybertech is generally part of the character’s body and cannot be easily removed makes those items not equipment, or even removable powers, but instead a descriptor of traditional power effects. Ergo what follows is not equipment, but Powers under a specific descriptor. Power Profile: Cybertech Powers perhaps. ,, The Guide (if you want to call it that) starts out, as mentioned, by getting into Cybertech as a descriptor, and details on what constitutes cybertech, as well as options for variants on the theme. After that it gets into Cyberlimbs and details some common Features that can be found in cyberlimbs of various sizes, from hands to a complete leg. This accounts for roughly a page, and as with most discussion of Features it is always nice to see about what a point can buy you. ,, After Cyberlimbs we get into Bodyware. Bodyware covers everything in the torso of the cyborg, from armor and organ upgrades, to various enhancements. Among all of this is an interesting form of Summon called Semi-Autonomous Weapon. I don’t think I have encountered this specific concept before, but the idea is that implanted into the character is a weapon system that can function on its own. This could be a small weapon turret, an additional limb, or even a concealed mode of attack that activates on its own (much like a Reaction effect). I think this is an interesting play on the Summon effect and could easily be used for both hidden weapons (as in this instance), or in more obvious systems (think Warmachine’s shoulder gun). ,, The next section discusses Headware including cyber- eyes, ears, hair (yes, hair!), and various brain upgrades or interface systems. Skill Software seems like it could (depending on the genre and style of a game) be over powered, but it does present a viable use for Variable to allow a character to download skills as needed. ,, The final section discusses Cybertech Complications and includes a sidebar called Tech Support dealing with damage to Cybertech systems during the game. There are seven complications ranging from stalwarts like Power Loss or Weakness, to theme specific complications like Cortex Bombs and Cyberpsychosis. The latter two would be especially useful in re-creating the cyberpunk genre, but might not fit in theme with most Supers games. ,, All of this sounds pretty good, and Gadget Guide: Cybertech is pretty good. It puts some new twists on Cybertech, covers all the standard bases well, and delivers a thematically rich product. So where's the poop? Well, this isn't the first time that we've seen "limited to one arm" as a full flaw on a power, but if anywhere I would have expected to see what that really means it would be here. If you have higher strength in one arm does that one arm have the ability to lift to that full amount? If so where is the downside limit, and what value is having the same strength on both arms? ,, Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Cybertech is good. It's really quite good, and for groups looking to recreate games in the cyberpunk genre it probably steps up from good to great. It's not without a couple of minor flaws, but those flaws hardly exist in a vacuum that fails to make up for them. In general I would say that if you want to play a cyberpunk type game, or plan to play a bionic hero this is well worth the price of admission. Rating: 90% - A fairly solid Power Profile … err, Gadget Guide. Stronger still for use in cyberpunk genres. ,,
  11. ,, Power Profiles ,, Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 224 pages • $39.95 (hardcopy) • $20 (pdf) • full color PDF "What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I really am." What's in it? For starters, the collected Power Profiles pdf series from 2012, but also some new material in the form of a half dozen "By Design" essays, an index (which will be extremely useful), and some revisions and additions. As I have already reviewed the individual Profiles in great depth as they were released last year (find a list here, or use the tags on this site), I will not be going into such detail about them again. The new material is why you're probably here, and certainly why I am. The first question is likely one of quantity: jut how much new material is there? There are eleven pages of the aforementioned "By Design" essays, a page long introduction, a six page index, and a couple pages of credits and table of contents. If you already bought in to the series as they came out you will be getting perhaps 5-10% new material depending on your personal criteria. You'll also be getting the benefit of updates t fix the errata in the individual Profiles. So how is the new material? The index is exhaustive, which also means it is thorough, and will aid players and GMs in locating specific powers. The real meat though is in the new By Design essays. The six essays cover the following topics: Boosting Powers Powers Beyond (dealing with Power Level X and the like) Point-Accounting: Threat or Menace? Shifting Powers Plot-Stopping Powers Power Complications Boosting Powers and Shifting Powers are useful for both players and GMs. The former has suggestions and discussion about how to deal with boost theme concepts within the confines of the PL system. The latter discusses ways to support a shifting character at the table to ensure a smooth game play experience for all involved. The Point-Accounting essay may also prove useful for both players and GMs. It deals with the problems that can accompany a point-based system, and how to approach the idea of "build efficiency". In addition to dealing with ways to ensure that one player doesn't dominate the game, or conversely get sidelined to ensure that the others don't, it suggests ways to move away from strict point buy for characters. The remaining essays are more focused on the GM dealing with issues that may impact a game from their side of the table. Powers Beyond deals with ways to scale powers for antagonists, and even entire play groups. PL X is discussed in detail, which will be extremely useful for certain types of games. A "PL O" (that's the letter O not a zero) is optioned as well for scaling players up to god level without the heavy lifting of adjusting character sheets. The Plot-Stopping Powers discussion will likely be the most referenced by GMs. It deals with typical problem powers, either situational effects, such as a character with mind control using said power to strip away a game's mysteries by reading a villain's mind, or a healer saving the life of an NPC who is meant to die. The Power Complications essay looks at the boundary line between a power Flaw and a Complication, and suggests possible uses for Flaws as temporary Complications. Closing Thoughts As reviewed previously the Power Profile series is largely good, some are truly great, and a few are slightly disappointing. As a collection, combined with the additional materials here the Power Profiles series excels and truly becomes a whole who's sum is greater than its parts. Between the detailed power breakdowns, expansion of the core rules, and game play discussion and advice, there are unlikely to be players or GMs who will not find this product of extreme value. Those who bought into the series in its micro-payment form will be glad to hear that Green Ronin is currently offering the PDF at a discount. For those who did not this book will become a valued addition to the Hero's Handbook either in digital or hardbound format. Rating: 100% - I was a strong advocate for the Power Profiles series, and this collection may as well be titled Hero's Handbook Part 2. It's indispensable for both players and GMs in my opinion.
  12. ,, Gadget Guide: Guns Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? What's in it? Guns, obviously. The first two pages are given over to brief descriptions of various types and classes of firearms and non-firearm guns (e.g. paintball guns, etc.). This information is a slight expansion on the exceedingly brief equipment section of the Hero's Handbook, but is largely light or completely lacking in game relevant information. Ammunition and Accessories fill out the next two and a half pages. I suspect that this will get some use simply as it helps to lay down details on game effects for things like scopes, silencers, and the like. Generally though I suspect that most players would not find it difficult to puzzle out what effects or extras to use for much of these items. An entire page is given to a weapon stat table, which is only about 50% new material and actually repeats most of the game information of the Ammunition and Accessories sections. This proves fairly disappointing, as I think one, or the other, would have been acceptable, but repeating the Handbook's gun stats and then adding line items for the prior sections' seems like an attempt to fill volume. Two sidebars round out the Guide. The first covers making your character bulletproof via use of the Impervious extra and the Immunity effect. The second discusses Track Shots and Gun Powers. Suggesting various Advantages that are appropriate for use, as well as citing the Talent Powers Power Profile. Both of these sidebars are helpful to some degree, though mostly geared toward newer players. Closing Thoughts The best parts of Gadget Guide: Guns are the sidebars. Much of the remainder of the document is basic introduction level information. While I am sure that this might prove useful to some who are unfamiliar with firearms a great deal of it will be of limited or no use to many readers. The sidebars on Trick Shooting and how to make a character bullet proof are nice, but cannot redeem the Guide. Rating: 35% - Unfortunately Gadget Guide: Guns fails to hit the mark.
  13. ,, Gadget Guide: Heavy Weapons ,, Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF *Whump! ... KA-BOOOM!* What's in it? In a word: lots. Gadget Guide: Heavy Weapons brings the goods, expanding on the core rules and detailing ways to simulate the really big guns. Starting out with about a page of rules for targeting heavy weapons and the effects of hitting or missing. Multi-attack gets some expansion, with GM options for adding penalties to especially wide arc fire. The Indirect extra gets a little love to describe how indirect fire weapons, like artillery weapons, function. Generally this is a useful expansion on the rules, and the clarification for direct hits with partial ranks of Area (as seen on the Rocket Launcher in the Hero's Handbook) will likely make some people very happy. Next Heavy Weapons are broken down into five broad categories: Machineguns, Artillery, Missiles, Nuclear Weapons, ans Super-Science Weapons. Of these Missiles and Nuclear Weapons get the majority of the text. Missiles get broken into four sub-sections on Guidance, Warheads, Defeating Missiles, and Torpedoes. These sections are largely discussion, as often descriptor based as not, though the section on Defeating Missiles does provide rules support on suggested difficulties or modifiers to apply. As one might expect the section on Nuclear Weapons focuses primarily on the blast effects and how to model them, complete with suggested power effects and ranks. Three side bars help to fill out the Guide. The first discusses area effects and scatter, allowing for a more "realistic' (as heinous as I find that word often becomes in a game designed for Supers) by allowing the GM to institute attack checks on indirect fire area of effect attacks. The amount of scatter becomes dependent on how much the attack roll misses the target number. The second sidebar discusses the Penetrating extra on heavy weapons and how in most cases save anti-tank weapons it is simply not needed. The third sidebar brings planet busting weapons and effects into the game. This sidebar had been featured on Steve Kenson's own blog in the past, but it's inclusion here is welcome detailing just how powerful an effect would need to be to do damage on a planetary scale. Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Heavy Weapons is definitely one of the better Gadget Guides. Easily worth the price of admission if you intend to use large scale "conventional weaponry" in your game, or if you have a character who uses powers that mimic these kinds of weapons. The discussion and rules support here is top notch greatly expanding the limited offerings of the Hero's Handbook. Rating: 95% - Easily worth the investment, especially if you want to blow stuff up.
  14. ,, ,, Gadget Guides: Mecha & Vehicles Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • Mecha 7(6) pages • Vehicles 8(7) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF I've said before that I feel that these kinds of products do their best when they don't just regurgitate what we already have and know, but add, expand, and clarify on rules to show players and GMs new ways to use them. In this regard vehicles, and mecha more specifically, are a perfect opportunity for the Gadget Guides. Vehicles of all types are only briefly detailed in the Hero's Handbook. This is generally not an issue because vehicles in comics and super heroic genres tend to be transportation and little more. I say tend, because there are those who do use vehicles: Batman has a garage full of them, and Japanese manga often features robot vehicles commonly known as mecha, for instance. In game terms vehicles present a number of avenues of play, from car chases and aerial dogfights, to mecha on monster smack-downs. [As an aside, Green Ronin certainly hit the sweet spot by giving us Mecha the same week that Pacific Rim opens.] So what do these Guides do to make the M&M rules more friendly toward all manner of vehicular mayhem? Both products open with discussion of vehicles and how they interact with power levels within a game. From there both discuss abilities, environmental compatibility, and movement modes. The discussion and advice here is solid. Dealing with the variable power levels needed for mecha games, to clarifying how various movement types might function and what form they might take. The discussion of extra effort and fatigue as it applies to vehicles is an especially welcome point of clarification. While this could have been puzzled out, it is welcome to have this set in stone. Likewise the expansion of Features and piloting rules helps to codify areas that were thin in the core material. Diving into powers and how they can be applied to both mecha and vehicles is probably the briefest and weakest section. Brevity is welcome, as at this point most players have ample understanding of how to implement power effects. Likewise that understanding makes this section of each Guide perhaps the least needed, though both are well composed. The additional discussion of modifiers for vehicles (including summonable vehicles, and transforming mecha) do help to expand on the basic powers and power extras however, and are a strong point in both Guides. Both Guides end with roughly a page of examples. The eight example vehicles are a good cross section of vehicle types, though perhaps an example with an exotic movement effect (like time or dimension travel) would have been nice to see. The mecha Guide only provides three examples, and while they get the point across an example of transforming mecha and combining mecha would really have been ideal as these are more complex and may not be as easily understood. Closing Thoughts Overall, taken individually, these are both excellent examples of the Gadget Guide line. Both expand on the existing Third Edition rules to add functionality that was limited or absent in the core rules. The addition and clarification of existing rules, especially piloting rolls and the use of "fatigue" for extra effort, is especially helpful. Both are excellent additions to the Mutants & Masterminds product stable, and well worth the price of entry. The only real drawback here is found when you take the two Guides together. There is a good chunk of shared and/or similar material between the two products, and one cannot help but think that these could have easily become a single product in the twelve page range for a slightly higher price point. Still, though, the aim of each Guide is slightly different and while they do reference each other, each could stand on their own and satisfy a buyer looking for a specific material. Ratings: Nearly perfect expansions on the core rules to encompass vehicles of all types. Mecha - 90% Vehicles - 95%
  15. ,, Gadget Guide: Energy Weapons Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF Pew! Pew pew pew! What's in it? So you want to build a blaster, eh? This Guide isn't going to give you any fancy new effect extras, nor will it show you how to use something in new and different way. What it will do is give you four pages of descriptors, with suggestions on possible effects other than damage when appropriate. More than just covering the basic descriptors of fire, ice, electricity, etc, this dives deeper and looks at variations on those descriptors. Ice versus Freezing, Flame versus Plasma, Force vs Gravity, and more. A short sidebar details the idea of energy weapons as equipment instead of removable powers/devices. It's valuable to note that in some games these items might be as common as a blaster in a Star Wars game, or as rare and unique as a Taser in a 70's era crime game (the Taser was invented between 1969 and 1974). The former is most surely equipment, while the latter would likely be a device, but ultimately the Gamemaster is recommended to use their own judgement for the good of their game. The final page the Guide is a discussion of energy weapon "configurations", e.g. weapon classes, pistols, rifles, gauntlets, swords, and more. What makes this especially valuable is that beyond simply describing the various configurations it also suggests an acceptable effect range for each ranged weapon style. An energy pistol with a rank range of 4 to 6 differs from a rifle configuration with ranks between 8 and 10 for instance. Melee weapon damage ranges are left out however, which is an issue in my mind, but each also gains suggested modifiers based on the style of the weapon. A short list of generic modifiers for all of these weapons is also included. Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Energy Weapons doesn't bring us any new, expanded, or revised game mechanics, but it does bring five solid pages of discussion on the topic. Diving deeply into the descriptors of various types of energy weapons as well as the various forms those weapons can take, this Guide provides the tools needed to build a wide variety of energy weapons. It's strength in this regard is the quality of the descriptor discussions, and weapons configurations. If this Guide has a weakness it is its lack of new or expanded rules content, but as it stands that weakness is a minor one buoyed by the strength of the remainder of the product. Rating: 85% - A good guide to energy weapons in various forms and types.
  16. ,, Gadget Guides: Archaic Weapons & Asian Weapons ,, Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF ,, In my previous reviews of the first two Gadget Guides I mentioned how a lot of the material feels like it should have been in the core rule book. That isn’t as much the case with these two Guides. Granted some of the weapon features from the Archaic Weapons guide (the better of the two IMO) is handy, and maybe even useful for what it is a “guide”, but the unfortunate truth is that there is rather sparse value for the price to be had here. The Archaic Weapons guide covers all pre-modern weapons. From swords and clubs to bows and arrows. The guide breaks these weapons down to their most basic, giving quick descriptions of basic weapon types (for those of you who had no idea what a spear or a sword was). The list of weapon qualities is somewhat useful, mostly for the features that aren’t simple Advantages from the original rules. In general though the six pages are largely wasted. A page long table that largely re-prints weapon stats from the core book. A page of the aforementioned descriptions of weapon types. Unfortunately as disappointing as the Archaic Weapon guide is the Asian weapon guide is largely the same. I’ll grant that there may be some subset of gamer who has no idea what a Kukri is, or what climbing claws are, but much of this guide is once again given over to basic description of weapon types. Between the general internet in general, and Wikipedia specifically, there is no reason why somebody unfamiliar with a Kusari-Gama (which is not in this product) should not be able to find out what it is. Back twenty odd years ago when Palladium Books put out their own weapons guides (which at least had the advantage of being exhaustive and providing pictures for nearly every weapon they listed) there was no internet; but nowadays if you don’t know what a Yuri looks like you can find out with a Google search faster than you could load and read this guide. What is left is a page long table of Asian weapons and their game effects. Useful, perhaps, to benchmark stats, and for those too lazy or untrained in the system to build their own, but hardly worth the price of admission. The first few paragraphs discussing hidden/concealed weapons, and Paired Weapons, is perhaps useful, but again, too little for the value. Closing Thoughts I think that this could, and indeed should, have been a single product combining all non-firearm weaponry. The weapon trait tables aren’t un-useful, but their value alone cannot carry these guides. Likewise the weapon traits can be helpful, and I think a combined product might have been a better buy for the price of a single guide. Comparing these against even the worst of the Power Profiles finds them lacking in content and value. Ratings: Archaic Weapons - 35% - limited utility in the form of some useful weapon traits and features Asian Weapons - 20% - extremely limited usefulness, mostly as benchmarks
  17. ,, Gadget Guide: Armor Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 7(6) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF I decided to take a break from weapons, and so I am skipping the firearm trio of guides in favor of Armor. I’m glad I did, because this guide provides a great deal of useful advice. In fact, Gadget Guide: Armor almost reads like a Power Profile, which is fairly high praise in my mind. This guide opens with a discussion of the basic defensive effects, how they relate to armor, and rough limits of ranks for normal equipment versus removable powers. I would have liked to have seen a little more discussion around why Deflect as a free action can break the game (because I have dealt with this in the past), but its inclusion at all was appreciated. The remainder of the guide is given to discussion of the various archaic, modern, and futuristic armor types, with suggested game effects, such as Protection ranks. Likewise description and discussion of major types of shields and protective gear (such as gas masks, and environmental suits) are given space. Thankfully these descriptions are light on readily available information and heavier on game usage. The real strength in the guide, as was often the case in the Power Profiles series, are the little peeks into the workings of the system. Suggesting that the Unreliable flaw might be a good way to model armors that cover only part of the body for instance, or noting that traditional defenses like Will or Parry can be upgraded with extras like Impervious or Redirect. Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Armor is a step in the right direction for this series. Providing both a good depth with the chosen topic, but also giving suggestions and hints about ways to use the game’s rules in new or less common ways. Rating: 95% - An overall very useful product that achieves the level of utility we saw with the Power Profile series.
  18. Ptolus Bonus Map Pack Vitals: Published By SkeletonKey Games • 55 pages • $0 (FREE!) • Full color PDF ,, 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.
  19. ,, Tales from the Ninth World ,, Vitals: Published By Monte Cook Games • 83 pages • $2.99 • B&W PDF (full color cover and preview pages only) ,, 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 of content (discounting covers, intros, ToC, etc., and the Numenera preview) 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.
  20. ,, Fate: Accelerated Edition ,, Vitals: Published By Evil Hat Productions, LLC • 50 pages • $ pay what you want • B&W PDF (color covers only) ,, Fate. Maybe you backed the KS; maybe not. Maybe you've played prior versions; maybe not. Perhaps you've gotten sick of hearing about it of late; hopefully not. ,, Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) is the stripped down, bare-bones, almost-but-not-quite-the-same version of Fate Core (FC) that reduces the rules down their absolute simplest. The only real change between FAE and FC is the use of Approaches instead of Skills. Otherwise you are getting all of the essentials of FC in a tiny little package. ,, For those of you not familiar with it, Fate uses a heavily narrative approach to role playing. Characters are built using a collection of descriptive phrases called Aspects that describe who and what your character is. A small handful (six unless you make up your own) of Approaches replace skills entirely. Approaches are adjectives like "Quick", "Flashy", and "Forceful" that you rate from +0 to +3. When you try to do something during the game and the GM feels there is value in seeing how well you do it, or if you fail to do it, you pick an approach and add that to the result of your roll. ,, Nearly any Aspect can be used so long as you can describe the action in a way that makes sense. A character could use Quick to complete a task that another might do with Careful. The Approach dictates how the action is completed and suggests how it might fail (should that be the outcome). Quickly disarming a bomb might result in an explosion if you fail, while Carefully doing so might mean you get another chance, or have time to try and flee (which would then be a good time to use Quick). ,, In addition to a handful of Aspects and Approaches you might have a Stunt or two. Stunts are things that either augment your Approaches or allow you to do special things. You might be "Quick with a Blade" and gain a +2 to your rolls when using Quick to use a blade in certain ways. Or you might be "Really Darn Charming" and once per game you can dictate that you get what you want from somebody through force of pure charm. In addition to your Aspects and Approaches these Stunts help to define and differentiate your character. ,, Once you get a hang of the basics of the system game play moves quickly with players taking a much more active role in narrating their characters' actions. The actions themselves are minimal as well; attack, defend, overcome, and create an advantage/aspect. The first three are pretty self explanatory. The fourth allows you to add temporary Aspects to people, places, or things. Aspect like "Off Balance", "On Fire", or "Gut Punched" can then be invoked for a bonus on rolls by you or others. ,, Invoking Aspects, be they your own, somebody else's, or ones you create allow you to either re-roll your dice, or add +2 to the result. You can invoke multiple Aspects during a single roll, allowing you to take your time preparing for an action by creating a number of temporary Aspects and then invoking them all to create exceptional successes. ,, The flip side of Aspects are Compels. Compels are the GM using your Aspects to complicate play for the characters by asking them to make in-character bad decisions or story turns that will amp up the drama and adventure. A character is "Curious as a Cat" might be compelled to check something out against their wiser instincts. Compels and Invokes form the two sides of the Fate Point economy. Fate Points are gained via accepting Compels and spent for Invokes, and to resist/cancel a Compel. In this way there is a back and forth, rise and fall of the character's fortunes during the story. ,, I've had the chance to run two sessions of FAE via Google Hangouts and play in a third and though there is a bit of a learning curve once the GM and players get comfortable play becomes fast, easy, and extremely fun. If you are willing to not sweat the small stuff you can run all kinds of genres with these rules. The one drawback is the learning curve. FAE might take a session or three to really get your head around. ,, Rating: 95% - Really a very well done rules lite RPG. It's not for everybody and its not for everything, but it has a lot of potential and is a great deal of fun.
  21. ,, Gadget Guide: Utility Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 6(5) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF "I've got just the thing, right here ..." What's in it? The venerable utility belt is the focus of the second gadget guide. In five pages this details both rules options for utility belts, as well as samples of common utility belt items, from weapons to tools and equipment. The product is split into six sections, laying out the basics of utility items and belts, and contains two sidebars. The first two sections discuss the utility array, how it works within the game as well as the option for "wide arrays" similar to Dynamic Alternate Effects, and the use of Features within an Utility array. The Wide Array option is a nice one for "crime fighter" type characters, and the argument could easily be made for its inclusion in a Batman write-up. The section discussing Features is something that truly helps to solidify the design principles behind Features. After a year's worth of Power Profiles, each with a handful of features, this will go a great distance to allow players to make their own. The remaining four sections of the product are broken into offensive, defensive, movement and general utilities. Unlike the equipment section of the Hero's Handbook the much of equipment/utility items here are presented with a variable cost in points per rank instead of fixed costs. For a great deal of the equipment this allows for far greater variety and variability, and for many items suggested maximum ranks are provided. The variety of items here is on par with the Hero's Handbook, and some items are essentially repeated from that book, but this does make the guide comprehensive, Closing Thoughts Gadget Guide: Utility is a good rebound effort after the less than ideal Robot entry. The expansion on the basic Utility Array and Feature rules combined with the additional commentary about how certain pieces of equipment function (like the often argued over Cutting Torch) add to the value of the product. The rather comprehensive list of utility items in various categories also makes this a potential go to product to augment the equipment section of the Hero's Handbook. Rating: 90% - A much stronger effort than the prior product, with good rules expansion and support, and a comprehensive take on the classic utility belt. ,,
  22. ,, ,, Due Vigilance #3: Sixgun Vitals: Published By Vigilance Press • 28 pages • $8.66 • full color PDF 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 OPS, 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 OPS, 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 OPS, generating an entire campaign around bringing down OPS 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.
  23. ,, ,, Gadget Guide: Robots Vitals: Published By Green Ronin • 7(6) pages • $1.29 • full color PDF "Kiss my shiny metal ass!" The start of 2013 brings a new supplemental product line from Green Ronin to support Mutants and Masterminds Third Edition. After last year's Power Profiles series (to which the Gadget Guides will be compared thoroughly) there was a great deal of expectation for the announced Gadget Guides. Power Profiles was a generally strong series that at times touched on true "must buy" greatness; would the Gadget Guides be able to do the same? What's in it? The first Guide is seven pages in total; six of content and one for credits and licences. There's a half page splash of artwork, much like that in the Power Profiles, as well as an inset of the same on the front page. Layout, headers, borders, and the like are up to Green Ronin's usual high standard. Section headings are Robot Design, Basic Capabilities, Abilities, Skills, Advantages, Powers, Complications, Robot Creation, and Sample Robots. These sections run from a single paragraph for some to a page or more for others, providing some level of insight into common purchases for robots as well as discussion on how specific aspects will impact a robot. In this way this Guide reads somewhat like a sort of Power Profile, instead of building powers it builds robot minions. Unfortunately that is also its greatest weakness. In delving deeply into the fundamental tasks to needed to create a robot the Guide ends up reading like material that was left out of the Hero's Handbook (where we only got two pages) instead of being additional, and presumably advanced, material worth shelling out additional funds for. The final page, which contains five sample robots ranging from PL 4 to PL 9 is useful, and I could have done with another page or two like it, providing ready made robots of various design. Ultimately the quality of the writing itself isn't worthy of harsh condemnation, indeed it is generally good, but its value as a micropayment product two years out from the initial release of this edition of the game is unfortunately limited. This makes it difficult to justify as a product for most of the game's player-base. Closing Thoughts Aside from the page of sample 'bots there is limited use in this product for players and GMs who are familiar with the M&M system. Players who are not familiar with Robots, or those very new to the system mechanics might find some degree of useful information within, but there is little to love for what is likely to be the core audience. Unfortunately the content really feels like it should have been in the Hero's Handbook when the new edition was launched two years ago, which only serves to lower its perceived quality. Rating: 40% - Unfortunately much of the product feels like material that should have been in the Hero's Handbook, and the section of pre-made/read-to-use Robots is too short. ,,
  24. Fiasco A Game of Powerful Ambition and Poor Impulse Control Vitals: Published By Bully Pulpit Games • 134 pages • $12.00 • partial color PDF 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.
  25. Due Vigilance #2: Black Chapter Vitals: Published By Vigilance Press • 34 pages • $10.99 • full color PDF 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.
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