Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 15 July 2019

Miskatonic Monday #20: Of Wrath and Blood

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Depository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Depository.

—oOo—


Name: Of Wrath and Blood

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Jon Hook

Setting: Jazz Age Baltimore
Product: Scenario
What You Get: 6.96 MB, 24-page full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: A sequel to ‘The Haunting’, the Classic Call of Cthulhu scenario, which achieved second place in the ‘And Theeeennn?’ competition in 2010.

Plot Hook: Two boys go missing after their family is driven from a haunted house
Plot Development: Two newspaper morgues, a maddening visit, and some lost boys in a twins showdown.
Plot Support: Straightforward plot, a new spell, six reasonable handouts, and three maps.
Production Values: Decent beyond a slight edit.

Pros
# Sequel to ‘The Haunting’
# Lots of roleplaying investigation
# Nice cover

Cons
# Workmanlike plot
# Denouement needs stronger foreshadowing
# Lacks information on 1920s Baltimore
# Weak hook for a standalone scenario

Conclusion
# Workmanlike sequel 
# Much desired sequel, but not the ‘official’ sequel

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Bringing Barsoom to your table

For over a century, fans of Science Fiction and planetary romance have been thrilling to the adventures of John Carter, American Civil War veteran and prospector on the alternate Mars known as Barsoom as he won himself a place as a warlord—or Jeddak—and won the hand of a Martian princess, Dejah Thoris of Helium, as well as delving into the mysteries of the dying planet. This is a world at war, between the city states of the Red Martians, each of which stands guard against attacks by the barbarous, four-armed Green Martians, whose great tribes fight amongst themselves. It is also a world of mysteries, much of it dating back into Barsoom’s long past and ancient civilisations. The eleven books in the series, penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs and starting with A Princess of Mars, have long had an influence upon gaming, most notably the latter’s inclusion in E. Gary Gygax’s ‘Appendix N’ of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but also upon roleplaying games set on Mars such as Game Designer’s Workshop’s Space 1889, Adamant Entertainment’s MARS: The Roleplaying Game of Planetary Romance, and Onyx Path Publishing’s Cavaliers of Mars. Of course, it has been a direct influence on earlier war games and roleplaying games like the John Carter: Warlord of Mars – Adventure Gaming Handbook, as well as Modiphius Entertainment’s Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom, the recent and first proper roleplaying game to be based directly on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories.

Yet, despite the John Carter movie of 2012, neither the stories of John Carter nor the world of Barsoom are as familiar to the gaming hobby or the readers of Science Fiction as they once were. After all, the John Carter stories never got turned in comic strips, radio series, Saturday morning serials, or movies the way that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ own Tarzan, Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, and Philip Francis Nowlan’s Buck Rogers all did. So, it is as if the core rulebook for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom has to actually introduce the licensed property almost as if it was something wholly new. Thus, having been published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom begins with an explanation of both who Edgar Rice Burroughs and John Cater are, what Barsoom is, and perhaps, most importantly, how its “Rationalism, Romanticism, and Pulp Roleplaying” mark it as different from other roleplaying games. Here is a world where, “Heroes fight enemies born of lust, ignorance, and tyranny to save their friends, loved ones, and those places and cultures they call home. False gods, lying priests, deceitful nobles, treacherous assassins, and many other cruel adversaries are the biggest threats.” Notably, “There are no “evil” races on Mars.” Thus, villains need to be drawn of a richer cloth, with motives more than mere vileness. Although the practices and attitudes of the natives of Barsoom may be callously pragmatic and emotionally muted, there is room for sentiment and for firm action, perhaps upon the part of man or woman of Earth, or even one of the several species that make Mars their home, to overcome the native reticence and thus make friendships, dispel falsehoods, forge alliances, and so on, much like John Carter did in uniting Barsoom.

What all of this will involve, will depend on when the Narrator is setting her John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom campaign. Three eras of play are suggested—‘Dotar Sojat’, when Carter arrives on Mars and has his earliest adventures; ‘Prince of Helium’, when John Carter has married Dejah Thoris, become a Prince of Helium, and has most of his adventures and discovers many of the planet’s secrets; and ‘Jeddak of Jeddaks’, when John Carter has unified much of Mars and brought about a fragile peace which has pushed conflict and adventure to the planet’s furthest locales. The latter is the default period for playing in John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom, a time when the player characters have the opportunity to make a name for themselves and perhaps bring about the greater era of peace that John Carter’s unification has promised. The other eras provide plenty of scope for adventure, especially if the player characters take the roles of characters from the books, one of the Champions of Barsoom—the legendary John Carter, the inspiring Princess Dejah Thoris, the daring Kantos Kan, the loyal and mighty Tars Tarkas, and so on—one of the given options in the roleplaying game, either by creating them themselves or using the more powerful versions included in the book.

John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom employs the same 2d20 System as Modiphius Entertainment’s other roleplaying games, like Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier and Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, but in a stripped down version designed to be played using experienced and talented pulp-style characters in a planetary romance. This is will be reflected throughout John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom and its iteration of the 2d20 System.

Characters in John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom are defined by their attributes and their Talents. There are six attributes—Daring, Cunning, Empathy, Might, Passion, and Reason—which range in value between four and twelve for player characters. Talents are unique or developed abilities which make a character special, such as a skill, a natural aptitude, an arcane power, or a psychic power. They typically require a player to expend Momentum, or allow a character to undertake actions which Momentum would not normally allow him to do. Now what is missing here is skills. Unlike most other 2d20 System roleplaying games, characters are automatically deemed to be competent from the start.

Character creation in John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom involves a player coming up with a concept, selecting a Race, archetype, descriptor, before setting starting Renown and equipment. Lastly a character needs a flaw. The given concepts include Wandering Princess, Reformed Assassin, Airship Raider, Adventuring Scientist, Panthan Warrior (Martian sword-for hire), or Lost Explorer, which although has no mechanical benefit, will influence a player’s further decisions in creating the character. A player’s choice of Race—Earthborn, First Born, Green Martian, Okar, and Red Martian—provide some attribute modifications and may give a character a Talent, but primarily tell a character what he knows, what he does not know, and what he can do. So, the copper skinned and athletic Red Martians can speak and read Barsoomian, has knowledge of his home kingdom and its neighbours, plus their customs, politics, and threats, knows of Barsoom’s great cities, and the basics of airship operation and Red Martian science. He knows little of people and places far away or hidden, but can defend himself in hand-to-hand, melee, and ranged combat, operate the basic machinery and use medicine common to Red Martian culture, and can fly most vehicles and ride trained mounts. A Red Martian receives a +2 bonus to Daring, Cunning, Empathy, Passion, or Reason, and two +1 bonuses to any other attributes.

Of the five races open to the players, the Red Martians with their great airship navies and the tall, six-limbed, betusked, and aggressive Green Martians are the most numerous. The yellow-skinned Okar from the polar regions, and the arrogant onyx-skinned First Born who serve Issus, the living goddess-tyrant, are rarer, whilst Earthborn are all but unique. It is possible to create mixed heritage characters, but features common to all Martians include limited telepathy and egg laying instead of giving birth to live young.

Some fifteen Archetypes are given, including Airship Officer, Assassin, Beastmaster, Duelist, Envoy, Explorer, Fugitive, Gladiator, Guide, Healer, Panthan, Rogue, Scientist, Soldier, and Spy. Again, these provide a character with more of what he knows and what he can do, but give attribute bonuses and a suggested Talent. A Descriptor—again from a choice of fifteen—adds further attribute bonuses, whilst a player has five points to invest in Talents, which come in grades. So for example, Expert Aim (Grade 2) grants a player two extra twenty-sided dice when shooting, but not moving, and Witty Repartee (Grade 2) enables a player character to take an additional Spoken action as part of an attack, defence, or other action. Of the given Talents, most are combat or action orientated to reflect the pulp action nature of John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom, with only a few reflecting knowledge or a social skill, and none being of an arcane or psychic nature, their being saved for NPCs later in the core rulebook. All characters bar Earthborn receive ten Renown with which to invest in allies, contacts, titles, and so on, reflecting status in their kingdoms or tribes. All characters receive the standard equipment for their archetype. This is their Core Equipment and something that they always have or can easily replace. Only a few Flaws are given, but all enforce a character to lose Momentum points when they do not roleplay that flaw. 

Our sample character is Jane Miller, a young lady from Yorkshire who family was wealthy enough for her to study chemistry at university. Yet before she had a chance to complete her degree, the war against Germany broke out and she volunteered to train as a nurse. An ardent romantic, she never managed to find and keep a young man for herself, ultimately finding solace in books. The last thing she remembers was rushing to get the men recovering under care into the shelter during an artillery bombardment. Now she is on a dry, dusty world with red sands and sky and no idea quite where she is. 

Name: Jane Miller
Concept: Romantic Lost Explorer
Race: Earthborn
Archetype: Healer
Renown: 0
Flaw: Softhearted

Daring 4 Cunning 3 Empathy 6
Might 7 Passion 7 Reason 7 

Talents
Leaps and Bounds (Racial) (Grade 2)
Show Me Where It Hurts (Grade 1)
Perceptive Scientist (Grade 2)
Skilled Physician (Grade 2)
Empathic Rider (Grade 2)

The process is relatively quick, but throughout, there is advice on how a player can create his own Archetypes, Talents, and Flaws as well as modify existing Talents. The latter is probably easier than creating new Talents, which comes with the danger of being too similar to existing ones or being too powerful.

In most 2d20 System roleplaying games, such as Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of and Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, a player rolls two twenty-sided dice and get successes by rolling against the value of an Attribute or against an Attribute plus the Expertise value of a skill in Attribute Test. A success is achieved by rolling under this combined value, but two successes if the player rolls under the Expertise value of the skill. Of course, John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom does not use skills. Instead combining the total of an Attribute and a Skill, it combines two appropriate Attributes, a player rolling two twenty-sided dice to get successes by rolling under the combined total, or two successes by rolling under the value of the lower Attribute. If a player rolls a twenty, it does not necessarily mean that the character fails, but rather that he suffers a Complication to his action, though as an alternative, it can add to the Narrator’s Threat pool.
For example, not long after she has been stranded on Barsoom, Jane Miller has been captured by the Red Martian bandit, Tavsark On. She has managed to get him drunk and slipped out to the edge of his camp where the bandits have their thoats penned. These riding animals are not used to Earthmen, so she is strange to them, but Jane wants to steal one and ride it away. The Narrator asks Jane’s player for a roll, telling him that since the task is Challenging, he will need two Successes in order for her to be able to calm and ride the strange beast. He suggests that Jane’s player will be rolling against a total of her Daring and Empathy, since she needs to calm the thoat quickly. This gives the player a target of ten to roll against, but if he rolls four or less—equal to Jane’s Daring—her player will generate extra Successes. He rolls 1 and 6. The 6 generates one Success, but the 1, which is under her Daring in this situation, generates another two for a total of three Success. The two Successes mean that Jane sneaks past the guard, calms a thoat, and manages to ride away from the camp. Further, she has an extra Success left over, which can be kept as Momentum.
Most of the time, a player will need to generate no more than a single Success to do whatever his character wants to do, but it can be as high as five or Epic Successes needed, depending upon the action. Any Successes generated above the difficulty generate Momentum and Momentum can be saved or spent. Typical uses for Momentum are to add another twenty-sided die to an attribute test, make an opponent’s test more challenging, increase quality or scope of a success, to obtain information, or reduce the time a task takes. In another change from other 2d20 System roleplaying games, Momentum in John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom is not saved into a communal pool to be used by all of the players, but into individual pools. Although each player’s pool maximum Momentum is equal to their character’s lowest Attribute, it means that there is more Momentum in play overall. Another aspect to having individual pools is that players can transfer Momentum between each other’s pools and so help each facilitate the action.
So for example, Jane Miller has managed to escape the camp of the famed Red Martian bandit, Tavsark On, but the guards quickly realise that she is gone, and with Tavsark On at their head, they give chase. Since she is trying to get away, Jane’s player will roll against Daring and Passion, but Tavsark On will lose face if he does not catch the stranger, so the Narrator will roll against his Might of 5 and Passion of 4. Jane also has the Empathic Ride Talent which not only allows her to always use her Empathy when riding or controlling a living mount, but also allows her player to reroll a failed roll. To ensure that Jane outrides her former captor, her player decides to spend the Momentum from the earlier success to add another die. This means that Jane’s player will be rolling three dice versus the Narrator’s two. The Narrator rolls 1 and 8, which is enough for three successes. This sets a high bar for Jane’s player as Tavsark On gains on her. Jane’s player rolls 1, 10, and 14, which also gives her three success, but that is not enough. Fortunately, her player can reroll a die because of her Talent and chooses the 14 to reroll. This time it rolls a two and generates another two success. This is two more than Tavsark On and so not only does Jane get away, but there is more Momentum to save or spend.
In addition to Momentum, characters also have Luck, but where Momentum needs to be generated and the amount a player holds in his pool degrades from one scene to the next, a player always begins a session with his Luck refreshed to the value of his character’s lowest Attribute. Luck can be spent to add more dice to a roll—but such dice are always set at 1 and thus always generate two successes, to perform an extra action in combat, gain a second wind and recover from stress suffered in combat, inflict more damage in combat, overcome an affliction, and to influence the story. Luck points can also be earned for noteworthy actions and roleplaying, and so on. Another way to gain Luck is by accepting voluntary failure—it also adds to the Threat pool for the Narrator’s use, as does purchasing extra Momentum should a player run out. The size of the Threat pool is equal to the number of Luck points the player characters start a session with and Threat is used in a similar fashion to Momentum, but for the Narrator’s NPCs rather than the player characters. Another use for Threat is to seize the initiative in a conflict from the player characters and let an NPC act next.

As with other 2d20 System roleplaying games, what the Threat and Momentum mechanics do is set up a pair of parallel economies with Threat being fed in part by Momentum, but Momentum in the main being used to overcome the complications and circumstances which the expenditure of Threat can bring into play. The primary use of Threat though, is to ratchet up the tension and the challenge, whereas the primary use of Momentum is to enable the player characters to overcome this challenge and in action, be larger than life.  In other 2d20 System roleplaying games, these parallel economies are more balanced because there is only one of each, but in John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom, because they generally have access to more Momentum, the economy favours the players and their characters. It also means that the Narrator will want to be slightly conservative in expending Threat from her Threat pool, saving them for her story’s villains rather than rather expending them necessarily on Mooks and minor incoveniences.

Rather than combat scenes, John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom has Action scenes, which can involve speech, movement, conflict, and free actions—the latter never requiring an Attribute test, whereas the others probably will. Action scenes also vary in length, depending upon the situation, from a single clash of swords to the great flying ships spending minutes to maneuvering for position. Combat itself consists of opposed rolls, but the attacker will roll and the defender will roll varies. For example, to make an attack with a sword, Cunning and Daring are typically used, whilst Daring and Reason are used for ranged attacks. To defend against the sword blow, Daring and Passion would be used if the blow was bravely defended against, or even Daring and Empathy if the defender was trying to read the attacker’s movements. These combinations define how a character undertakes an action, and they work as well with movement actions and spoken actions as much as they conflict actions.

If the attacker rolls more successes than the defender, then action succeeds. Momentum here can be spent to increase the number of damage dice rolled, to disarm an opponent, get rid of a minion, to move closer or further away, and so on. Depending upon the type of action, damage is inflicted upon a character’s Confusion, Fear, or Injury stress tracks. Take too much damage to a stress track and a character can suffer from an affliction—Madness from Confusion damage, Trauma from Fear damage, and Wounds from Injury stress. Each type of affliction increases the difficulty of Attribute tests, but suffer too much of one affliction and a character will black out.

In addition to the standard twenty-sided dice, John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom uses Combat dice. These are six-sided dice where only the rolls of one, two, five or six count with rolls of five and six also inflicting an Effect, such the Sharp quality of a sword, which inflicts extra damage.
For example, prior to her successful flight from his camp, Jane Miller found a way to sneak out of Tavsark On’s tent. The bandit has been drinking, trying to find out more about his strange captive, whilst she has been demurring. At the right moment, Jane snatches up his dagger and despite him laughing at her that she is not going to do anything, stabs him! Her player will roll her Daring of 4 and Cunning of 3 against an Average difficulty, whilst the Narrator will roll against Tavsark On’s Might of 4 and Reason of 6, but since the bandit has been drinking, it will be against a Challenging difficulty. Jane desperately wants to get away, so her player spends a point of Luck to give her two Successes. This is enough, but her player still needs to roll, but needing more of an advantage opts to purchase a point of Momentum in return for adding a point of Threat to the Threat pool. Jane’s player rolls three dice and gets 10, 7, and 2—three success, which with the two from the Luck point, gives her five. This is enough to succeed and generate four Momentum. The Narrator rolls two dice for Tavsark On, but rolls 14 and 20, so not only a failure, but with a Complication too! Jane’s player elects to turn all of the extra Momentum into Combat dice, which gives him four extra to roll with the single Combat die for the wine jug! Jane’s player rolls 2, 4, 5, 5, and 6. All but the 4 inflicts a point of damage on Tavsark On’s Injury, plus the 5, 5, and 6 all have an effect, which for the dagger is Sharp! So for each effect rolled, another point of damage is inflicted, for a total of seven. This fills Tavsark On’s Injury stress track, inflicting a wound and it is more than five points of damage, inflicting another Wound! Tavsark On roars in pain and anger, attempting to grab his assailant, but the Narrator describes—and here the Complication comes into play—how the bandit staggers back, gets caught up in a tapestry and trips up, banging his head and knocking himself out. Now Jane can make her escape...
One notable fact about combat is that John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom does not differentiate between weapons. So all daggers do one die’s worth of damage, swords do two, and so on. Firearms and bows are similar. This reflects the lack of variety of weapon design—or the efficiency of weapon design—on Barsoom over thousands of years. Barsoomians know what works, and are also honourable enough to always face each other with equal weapons, so if a Red Martian armed with a radium pistol is faced by an opponent with a sword, the former will holster his pistol and draw his sword. What this means mechanically is that John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom eschews the need for an extensive equipment list and that in John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom, it is a character’s skill which matters rather than the weapon. Another aspect of John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom genre is that the player characters are powerful, with only a few NPCs approaching or equalling their power and skill. Such NPCs will be challenging, especially when supported by the Narrator’s Threat pool, but many other NPCs, especially minions do not represent such a challenge.

The technology section in John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom highlights the differences between the advances made by Barsoom and by Earth. Barsoom is more advanced than Earth, but has lost much understanding and access of the scientific and technology their ancient forebears once had. So whilst the Red Martian kingdoms field navies of fliers of all sizes, kept aloft by anti-gravity, and pneumatic trains run between the twin cities of Helium, and are widely understood, how exactly the planet maintains a breathable atmosphere is a secret known to a very few… 

In terms of background, John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom provides information on the history of Barsoom; the culture, traditions, laws, languages, and more on the tribes of the Green Hordes and the kingdoms of the Red Martians. Each of Red Martian nations is given roughly two thirds of a page, which includes notable personages and places as well as suggestions on how to use each in a Narrator’s campaign. The far northern kingdom of Okar is given a similar treatment, whilst the other planets in the Solar System are accorded a varying amount of detail, all depending  to what degree they figure in Edgar Rice Burough’s stories. Further background—specifically for the Narrator’s eyes only—explore the mysteries and secrets of Barsoom, all of them drawn from the books. This includes the secrets of Barsoomian religion, such as where the Barsoomians go to die should they survive long enough to reach a thousand years old, hidden locations, strange powers, and lost technology. It is interesting to note that the relative obscurity of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom stories actually means that they are likely to be fresh and unknown to many gaming groups.

As well as the section detailing the secrets of Barsoom, the Narrator is given some solid advice on running John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom, as well as handling the mechanics and setting both tone and theme for a campaign. This includes how to create suitable villains for a campaign, adhere to the conventions of the genre, and expanding Barsoom beyond Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, giving new kingdoms and cities for the player characters to visit. Numerous sources of inspiration are discussed, surprisingly more than just the novels—which are even more surprisingly, not actually listed in the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom—including classic myths, other works of fiction, and more. Stats and write-ups are provided for almost twenty of Barsoom’s creatures, most notably the iconic White Ape, along with a guide for the Narrator to create her own, followed by stats and write-ups for all of the major characters from the novels—including John Carter, Dejah Thoris, and their family, as well as some archetypal ones too.

Rounding out John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom is ‘The Mind Merchants of Mars’, a short action-packed adventure. It begins with the characters being thrown into an arena and forced to fight experienced gladiators. Whatever the outcome, they end up being sold into slavery, escape, and more. This is a decent introductory scenario, throwing the player characters straight into the action and get them involved immediately. It is supported not only by a cast of villains which deserve to make further appearances, but also some nine quite detailed adventure hooks, each with variations.

Physically—and this is the very first thing which will strike anybody about it—Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom comes not in the traditional portrait format as almost every other roleplaying game and supplement does, but landscape format. This gives it a singular appearance and provides a wider space for the roleplaying game’s artwork. Vistas here, really can be vistas. Much of that artwork is excellent, the cover in particular is spectacular, but some of the internal illustrations feel a little murky. The writing is good throughout, though an edit is required in places. Where the game and rules are lacking is in having more and fuller examples of both the rules and play, as more would make it easier for new players and Narrators to learn. Another issue is the organisation, which could have been better, in particular, the Talents could have been all listed and explained in one place, rather than placed throughout the book where they appear with NPCs. This would have been useful as a reference for the Narrator. It would have been nice if there had been a few maps than the one given of Barsoom, perhaps of a city or a flier, basically to help the Narrator visualise places if not support the roleplaying game’s use of miniatures, which is an option. If there is a real issue though with the core rule book for John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom, it is actually the format. As lovely as it is, the landscape format is a little unwieldy for easy use. 

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom is the lightest and easiest of Modiphius Entertainment’s 2d20 System. It plays fast and easy, the Momentum mechanics supporting an action-oriented Pulp style of play in an old fashioned setting. Indeed, were Modiphius Entertainment to find a Pulp style property it wanted to develop into a roleplaying game, then the version of the 2d20 System used in this roleplaying game would serve as a very solid basis for it. In the meantime, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom provides everything necessary for a gaming group to visit Barsoom for the first and gives Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories the roleplaying they deserve.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Lovecraftian Dungeons & Dragons

Arc Dream Publishing is best known as the publisher of the Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game, the roleplaying game of conspiratorial and Lovecraftian investigative horror, but now it has published its first release for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. This is The Sea Demon’s Gold, a scenario designed for a party of five First Level adventurers, the first in the publisher’s ‘Swords & Sorceries’ adventure line and the first release for its ‘Broken Empire’ setting. The scenario is quite short and should be playable in a session or two, comes with notes to adjust the difficulty up or down depending upon the number of players, and is primarily focused on exploration and combat, although there are some nice roleplaying opportunities along the way.

The setting for the line and the ‘Broken Empire’ are the remnants of the Zyirran Empire, which once conquered and enslaved all of the lands around the Sea of Storms, ruling over a long, uneasy peace. Once enthralled to its patron and god-king, Surkat the Conqueror, Father of Furies, devil-god of water and the underworld, patron of sailors, traders, and soldiers, a century ago, the paladins and priests of the sky-gods of the eastern Samarran kingdoms overthrew the empire, supplanting temples dedicated to devils with those to the  sky-gods. The empire disintegrated and was so replaced by petty kingdoms and city-states, separated by long stretches of dangerous wilderness that are home to chaos, monsters, and ancient ruins. None of this is given in The Sea Demon’s Gold, but the feel of both this background and the scenario itself is of the northern Mediterranean, of Greece and a fallen Byzantium-like empire, placed of course, in the Swords & Sorcery genre. Although the scenario can be easily slotted into another setting, the scenario, its setting, and its genre are fully supported by a set of pre-generated player characters ready to be downloaded and the scenario played.

As the scenario begins with the player characters aboard the Heart of Iron, heading for a long-lost island said to be home to an abandoned temple of the Sea Demon. The extinct people of the island are rumoured to have appeased the Sea Demon with sacrifices of wealth and their own criminals, and with the temple having been abandoned, then that wealth is just lying there, ready to be plundered. They have been hired by the ship’s captain to go ashore and delve into the temple in return for half of the wealth they find. As the scenario opens though, the Heart of Iron is caught in a violent storm and being attacked by raiders from the depths, just as the ship is about to be driven onto the shore…

The set-up gets the adventurers and their players nicely involved in the action and it is nicely counterpointed by a roleplaying encounter which hints at the dangers to be found within the temple itself, that leaving may require a greater sacrifice than they are willing to make. This is only the first hint of the dangers to come, the other hints coming whenever the player characters take long rests to heal and recover spells. This includes presenting another roleplaying hook which is likely to have long term consequences to both character and the adventuring party in general.

The temple of the Sea Demon consists of just ten locations, much of it warped coral covered in fleshy slime and interrupted by chitin. Lit by algae and dripping with water, it feels almost alive as air seems to pass through it, and for the most part, the danger to the player characters really comes in their meddling and being greedy, the temple seeming to respond to their actions, although they may encounter an NPC who definitely wants to help their progress. Overall, the player characters will need to work for the treasure and will probably need to be wary to of the dangers within its slime encrusted walls.

Physically, The Sea Demon’s Gold is well presented in full colour with some decent illustrations—starting with the excellent front cover, which really reaches out and grabs you. The deckplan of the Heart of Iron feels superfluous, whilst the map of the dungeon perhaps could have done with a little more detail and it would have been nice if some descriptive text had been given for each location. The writing feels a little brief in places, but that is down to the brevity of the scenario itself at just eighteen pages.

The Sea Demon’s Gold nicely models the Swords & Sorcery genre in offering  more dangers than rewards, doing so in a weird, dank, and squelchy environment. There is a pleasing sense of corruption to both location and the scenario’s storyline, one that should be fun to roleplay out should both the Dungeon Master and her players embrace it. Overall, The Sea Demon’s Gold feels grimmer than most scenarios for Dungeons & Dragons, with a strong undercurrent of the Lovecraftian that has been mapped onto traditional Dungeons & Dragons stylings. 

Friday, 12 July 2019

[Free RPG Day 2019] Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court is a bit of both. For starters, it is a scenario for use with theKids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns roleplaying game published by Renegade Game Studios, but it also feeds into the publisher’s forthcoming roleplaying game, Teens in Space.

Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns is a roleplaying game of small town life before there were smartphones in everyone’s pocket—so no access to cameras, the internet, and GPS which would make investigations into the mysterious and the unknown all the easier. Although the mysterious and the unknown may found around any corner and behind any door, it is the kids who are ready to believe and ready to investigate. The only way for them to investigate and confront such mysteries and unknowns is to work together, know their strengths, and be prepared to ride like hell when the mysteries and unknowns turn on them and their meddling!

Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court provides a town, a set of five pre-generated investigators, and a mystery to explore. The town is Hebron, Indiana, a quiet place with a combined school for all of the town’s children, a grocer’s, a gas station, and a bowling alley for socialising and entertainment. There is not a great for Kids to do in the town, though the school organises numerous after-school activities and clubs. One of the after-school clubs is the Investigation Club, set up by several of the students, but not really endorsed by the school, to investigate mysteries in the town as well as research monsters and how to deal with them. The Investigation Club definitely does not have the support of School Principal Davis, but there are other members of the faculty who can be persuaded by the club’s members to look the other way when access to the right research material or resources is needed. The other issue, of course, for the members of the Investigation Club is Zane Madison, the school bully, and his cohorts. 

Five pre-generated Kids (or investigators) are given. They include an eager Boy Scout, a Popular Kid and athlete, an insightful Conspiracy Theorist, an ambitious, but Stoic Professional, and a wealthy, but Reclusive Eccentric who likes to invent things. All five come with a short background and a couple advantages and disadvantages, so are easy to read and use.

The mystery in Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court takes place during the summer vacation of 1985. There have been rumours of monsters in the nearby woods and things been moving outside windows, but this weekend the head of the Investigation Club has decided that the club’s members are going to investigate a strange, abandoned house at the end of Poplar Court on the edge of the town. The adventure plays out in three acts, the first act being essentially a haunted house mystery which sets up the second act—a monster hunt! Under the direction of an NPC, the Kids are encouraged to hunt down a quartet of monsters which have got loose in the town. The creatures are not evil per se, but all are designed around the Universal Classic Monsters though the Kids will not necessarily know this (the players on the other hand…). As part of the Monster Hunt, the Kids will need to research each of the monsters, track them down, and then capture them before returning them to the house. Tracking down each one is an adventure in itself, played out across the sandbox that is the town of Hebron. The third act is a whole other matter…

The sandbox structure of the second act enables the Game Master to bring in the various NPCs and places into play, depending upon what the players decide their Kids to do. To that end, both NPCs and locations are neatly summarised and each of the monster quarries is given a list of clues for the Kids to discover as well stats and some staging notes for the Game Master.

Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court is neatly, tidily presented. Although both the front and back cover are nice colour pieces, the inside is simple black and white with not a single illustration in sight.

As an adventure, Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court offers a bit more play than just the single session that a quick-start typically provides. If there is an issue with ‘The House on Poplar Court’ scenario it is perhaps the ending, which goes off in an unexpected direction. It is designed as a lead in to Teens in Space, but it would have been nice if an alternate ending had been provided for the Game Master who does not want her campaign to go in that direction. That it can work with the Kids on Bikes Free RPG Day Edition is a nice bonus, but Kids on Bikes presents… Strange Adventures! The House on Poplar Court is a decent little adventure, one which provides some fun with some classic monsters for Kids on Bikes RPG - Strange Adventures in Small Towns.

[Free RPG Day 2019] Mythic D6 Quick Start

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. The Mythic D6 Quick Start published by Khepera Publishing is an example of the latter, designed to provide an introduction to the Mythic D6 mechanics and a scenario for a total of four players plus the Game Master. It comes as a small, sixteen-page booklet, which includes the rules to play, a two-act scenario, and four pre-generated characters. Now it does not say any of this on the back cover blurb—and to be honest, it really should have done, because the Mythic D6 Quick Start does not sell itself on appearance alone.

With so little space, the Mythic D6 Quick Start does not waste any time in getting to the rules. Mythic D6 uses a dice pool mechanic, with the Game Master or player rolling—as the title suggests—handfuls of six-sided dice to succeed. A dice pool is typically equal to a character’s attribute plus a skill, for example, Reflexes plus Fighting in melee combat, the aim being to roll as many successes as possible. A roll of one, two, or three on a die is a failure, whereas a roll of four, five, or six counts as a success. One of the dice in a pool is always a different colour and that die is the Wild Die. When a one is rolled on the Wild Die, it counts as a critical failure, whilst two or three count as standard failures. Similarly, rolls of a four or five on the Wild Die count as standard successes, whilst a roll of a six on the Wild Die is a critical success. A critical failure cancels out another success, but a critical success allows a player to reroll the Wild Die. As long as a player keeps rolling a six on the Wild Die, he can keep on rolling.

In addition, some attributes and skills have modifiers—negative or positive, ranging from -2 to +2. This number is always applied to a single die to make it succeed or fail, although it cannot make the Wild Die into a critical success. The number of successes required for an action, ranges from Very Easy (one) and Easy (two) up to Super-Heroic (nine) and Legendary (ten), with Moderate being three and Difficult requiring four successes. The core mechanics are clearly explained in three pages before the scenario is presented.

‘Mannequins for Dummies’ is set in small town America. The player characters are members of a secret organisation called ‘the Institute’ which helps them use their superpowers to track down and destroy monsters. Tonight though, they have taken time off from monster hunting to get a little R&R at the County Fair held in Bandersnatch, Illinois, adjacent to the local high school. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose as shop mannequins attack the local event. Of course, it is up to player characters to intervene to help the quickly overwhelmed security for the County Fair. Clues—if you count the mannequins individually—point to the abandoned town mall, which is where the scenario’s second act takes place.

The adventure is okay. It is mostly all action, with some nice notes on the fight at the County Fair, though none are really given for the second act. As written, it could have done with a roleplaying opportunity or two and it could have done with some variation on what the player characters needed to do to succeed. That said, there is scope for the Game Master to develop the scenario as is her wont.

The Dramatis Personae or NPCs are reasonably well explained with values given both for how many dice an NPC rolls to act and the average number of successes this generates should the Game Master not want to roll the dice. Unfortunately, there are a couple of things that the section does not explain. First, what ‘PL’ is short for, but presumably ‘Power Level’, and second, what Hero Points are used for. Even the example of their use given is unhelpful.

Yet worse, this lack of explanation only escalates when it comes to the four pre-generated player characters. The four include an Adventurer with cyberlimbs which can stretch, a Bravo with a skills focus, an Icon capable of flight and electricity manipulation, and a Protector who is a trained (and lucky) pistoleer. The problem is that whilst it is generally obvious what a character’s attributes are, definitely obvious what his skills are, and definitely obvious what his powers are, it is not at all obvious how the powers work, how the advantages work, and indeed, how the disadvantages work. Of course, the Game Master could just make it up, but that is not the point of a quick-start or indeed, the Mythic D6 Quick Start. The problem is that the information is just not there.

Physically, the Mythic D6 Quick Start is short and small, just sixteen pages in length. It is done in greyscale throughout with some decent artwork.

The aim of any quick-start is simple. Explain the rules, provide a scenario that can be played using said explanation, and some characters ready to play that scenario. Now the Mythic D6 Quick Start does some of that—it does explain the core mechanics and it gives a scenario, but where it fails is in explaining the characters it does provide. As it stands, all it needed was an increase of say four pages to give each player character a fuller explanation of its abilities, advantages, and disadvantages, but right now, any Game Master coming to the Mythic D6 Quick Start will find that she needs to refer to the Mythic D6 full rules for the explanation needed—and that defeats the point of the quick-start.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Miskatonic Monday #19: The Premiere of the King

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu Invictus, The Pastores, Primal State, Ripples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in Egypt, Return of the Ripper, Rise of the Dead, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Depository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Depository.

—oOo—

Name: The Premiere of the King

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Jonathan Baxter

Setting: Jazz Age Hollywood
Product: Scenario
What You Get: 1.09 MB, 19-page full colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Double ‘Yellow’ Peril in Hollywood Babylon.

Plot Hook: A missing ingenue gets lost behind Hollywood’s bright lights
Plot Development: Sleazy producers, a driven matinee idol, the fate of a nation, and a cloud of opium smoke.
Plot Support: Straightforward plot, four vibrant maps, four lurid handouts, and a rooftop chase.
Production Values: Decent beyond a slight edit.

Pros
# Familiar setting
# One-session scenario
# Needs little preparation
# Adaptable to other modern periods with mass media
# Low suggested price
# Atmospherically sleazy

Cons
# No final Sanity losses
# Underwritten Sanity rewards
# Plot all too obvious
# Atmospherically sleazy
# Keeper may want to check for stereotyping

Conclusion
# Sleazy, one-session scenario
# Low suggested price

Sunday, 7 July 2019

A Beta Supplement?

The Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is the first setting supplement for Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game. It covers the quarter of the Milky Way Galaxy where the Federation was founded and expanded out into, encountering species like the Orions, the Nausicans, and the Gorn, and of course, coming up against the major powers, the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire. Over the course of two centuries, relationships between these powers have waxed and waned, sometimes escalating into outright war, sometimes entering periods of peace and diplomatic relations. Currently, the Federation has ventured out past the Klingon Empire into a region of virgin space known as the Shackleton Expanse. Here in co-operation with the Klingons, the Federation has established the Narenda III starbase—named after as the system where the USS Enterprise-C came to the defence of a Klingon colony under attack by Romulans—and is beginning to explore the region. This is the default setting for Star Trek Adventures and is supported by the publisher with an ongoing ‘Living Campaign’. This is in the roleplaying game’s default period of 2371, during the era of  Star Trek: The Next Generation, the middle of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and before Star Trek: Voyager—just like the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook. Of course, advice is given throughout n how to use supplement’s content during the time of both Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Enterprise, but what it does mean is that the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook has a lot to cover, both geographically and chronologically.

The book’s introduction sets everything up, explaining how the exploration of the Beta Quadrant has been primarily politically driven given how it is dominated by a number of major powers, how the supplement focuses on the quadrant’s major powers, and how its contents can be used as part of a campaign. Here it highlights the differences between the default period of 2371 and those of the earlier periods of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: Enterprise. From the outset though, the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is written as a briefing to a prospective ship’s captain being posted to the Narenda III, and when not directly addressing the players or the Game Master, this voice is carried throughout the book.

It gets down to its remit proper with an examination of the Federation, from its founding, astrography, and political structure to its culture, new word economy, and science and technology. It highlights its particular executive agencies such as the Federation Archaeology Council, Federation Science Bureau, and Department of Temporal Investigations—all of which should interest the Star Trek Adventures Game Master and provide her with some potentially interesting allies and a source of possible missions. The culture section showcases how not just how the Federation embraces a wide variety of cultures, but also how cultures mix, thus both the Klingons and Andorians enjoy ice hockey, Klingons appreciate Moby Dick, Vulcans and the Japanese have swapped tea ceremonies, Risan event planners are engaged everywhere, and so on. Other sections cover how a post scarcity, moneyless economy works, where and how free traders and cargo ships operate, how various planets control their weather using satellites, and more. Throughout, there are commentaries from luminaries such Doctor Carol Marcus and speeches from Andorian General Shran, whilst various reports from various Starfleet officers, Tal Shiar operatives, Klingon captains, and others all serve to give an array of different points of view. They also serve to add a lot of colour alongside the description of the Federation.

This is followed by descriptions of various Federation planets within Beta Quadrant, some of them obvious, others less so. So Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan are covered in quite some detail, as you would expect, whilst Benzar is an odd choice for such treatment. As with the previous section, these descriptions are accompanied by extra sections which focus on particular subjects, like the Kolinahr for Vulcan and the Ten Virtues of Andoria, though there are not as many. Lastly, minor worlds such as Risa, Corridan, and Nausicaa are given a few paragraphs each. One obvious omission here given that Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan are three of the four signatories of the Federation, is that of Tellar Prime, the homeworld of the Tellarites. This is easily explained by Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan all being in Beta Quadrant whereas Tellar prime is in Alpha Quadrant. This of course highlights the fact that the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is not the Star Trek Adventures Federation Sourcebook. Yet even for the Beta Quadrant, this is an odd mix of worlds. The inclusion of Andoria, Earth, and Vulcan makes sense, whereas none of the others really quite do. 

Fortunately, the treatment of both the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire, feels a little more balanced, with more information and fewer of the boxed out sections. Both cover each empire’s astrography, history, conflicts between other powers, political structure, military and culture, and science and technology, as well as various worlds within each empire. So for the Klingon Empire, it covers its founding by Kahless the Unforgettable, how Qo’noS was invaded by the Hur’q, the empire’s Great Houses and High Council, along with aspects of Klingon culture such as marriage ceremony, followed by good write-ups of worlds including Qo’noS, Boreth, Khitomer, Narendra III, Rura Penthe, and Ty’Gokor. For the Romulan Star Empire, the section explores its origins lie on Vulcan and focuses on its labyrinthe politics and the role of the Tal Shiar. Only two worlds are covered here—Romulus and Remus.  In technological terms, the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire are of course, linked by their use of the Cloaking Device, and full rules are given its use by either Klingon or Romulan foes.

Rounding out the first section of the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook are two shorter write-ups of the Orion Syndicate and the Gorn Hegemony. Part of the pleasure of reading these two sections is seeing what both are doing in eras other than when they appeared on screen, so the Orion Syndicate seen in Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: The Original Series, has both expanded and made greater efforts to keep hidden its criminal activities, so the Gorn Hegemony seen in Star Trek: The Original Series have continued to reinforce its borders. Nothing particularly radical, but the Orion Syndicate is probably easier for the Game Master to use than the Gorn Hegemony, given the isolationist nature of the latter and the fact that the criminal  and conspiratorial nature of the former means that the Orion Syndicate can be encountered everywhere. 

The second section, ‘Species of the Beta Quadrant’, adds several new species as New Lifepath Options, broken down by particular television series and era in which they appear as playable character species. Thus the Ardanan, Deltans, Erfrosians, Rigellian Chelons and Rigellian Jelna are from Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation; the Benzites, Bolians, Klingons, the Xindi (Arboreal, Primate, Reptilian, and Insectoid), and Zakdorn from Star Trek: The Next Generation; and the Risians are from all eras of play. It should be noted the Klingons are here intended to be Starfleet officers rather than soldiers of the Klingon Empire (and similarly, the Romulans are not included because none of them join Starfleet like Worf does). This is a good mix of classic and new species, although some like the Ardanans, are likely to require the Game Master and or her players looking them up before bringing them into play, as they are really quite obscure.

The selection of starships in the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook provides support for the Game Master rather than the players, presenting a mix of vessels from the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, the Gorn Hegemony, and the Orion Syndicate, as well as civilian craft. So no Starfleet vessels, but really most of the Starfleet starships the Game Master and her players are going to need are to be found in the pages of the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook, and anyway, the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is neither the Federation Sourcebook nor the Starfleet Sourcebook. The starships include the D5-class cruiser, Raptor-class scout, K’t’inga-class battle cruiser, and Negh’Var-class warship of the Klingon Empire; the Romulan Star Empire’s Bird of Prey and Scout Ship of Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: The Original Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation respectively; whilst for the Orion Syndicate, a Scout Ship, Interceptor, Blackguard, and Pleasure Barge are given, and for the Gorn Hegemony, just a raider and a Varanus-class battleship. Lastly, civilian ships such as generic freighter, transport, colony, and survey vessels are given, the sort of working vessels that fill the space routes, whilst the inclusion of a Vulcan Science Academy vessel is a nice addition for the Game Master running a campaign in the Star Trek: Enterprise era.

Lastly, the ‘Encounters and Adversaries’ chapter provides the Game Master with a new cast of characters and NPCs and adventure seeds. These are arranged area by area, so for the Romulan Neutral Zone, the NPCs include the Tal Shiar Saboteur, Lead Scientist, Warbird Commander, and more, either minor, major, or notable NPCs. The encounter seeds have the player characters’ starship answering a distress call within the Neutral Zone, making contact with the Romulan underground, and hosting a diplomatic event involving the Romulans. They are accompanied by potential plot developments, but the Game Master will need to develop them further herself. Then the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook does the same with the Briar Patch, a rough area of space inside the remnant of an ancient supernova, giving stats for Orion NPCs (and potential player characters) and multiple notable NPCs, though only player character stats for playing Gorns! Then it does the same for the Klingon Border—though not quite to the same extent, before exploring the Shackleton Expanse in much greater detail and with much better support for the Game Master.This includes lists of colleagues, allies, and adversaries, as well as plot components broken down by Starfleet department—Command, Operations, and Sciences, which although far too brief, is an excellent way of handling this information.

Physically, the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is a decent looking book. There are some inconsistencies in the layout, but otherwise the book is generally well-written and decently illustrated with a fully painted images. The layout is done in the style of the LCARS—Library Computer Access/Retrieval System—operating system used by Starfleet. So everything is laid out over a rich black with the text done in soft colours. This is very in keeping with the theme and period setting of Star Trek Adventures, but it is imposing, even intimidating in its look, and it is not always easy to find things on the page because of the book’s look. The other issue is that the none-more black pages are easy to mark with fingerprints. 

Ultimately, considering just how much the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook has to cover—and it is a lot—it is not quite up to the job. The problem is that any one of the governments and organisations, from the Federation and the Orion Syndicate to the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire could have had whole sourcebooks of their own devoted to them, some of them much bigger than the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook. Then there are the locations detailed in the last section, the Briar Patch and the Shackleton Expanse could have had whole campaigns devoted to them rather than the few scant pages here. So it is not difficult to come away from this supplement and feel slightly disappointed for many different reasons—because it does not cover a particular aspect of the Star Trek universe in more detail, does not mention a particular planet, event, or species, and so on.

Yet there is no denying what is in the Beta Quadrant Sourcebook is solid, much of it useful material, whether that is descriptions of certain worlds, stats for particular starships, details of a new species, and so on, all of which can be brought to a Star Trek Adventures campaign—depending upon era of course. The Beta Quadrant Sourcebook does not though, amount to more than a broad overview of each of the subjects it covers and doubtless, most Game Masters are going to want more information.