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

Monday, 8 August 2022

[Free RPG Day 2022] Curse of the Dread Marsh Crew

Now in its fifteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2022, was celebrated not once, but twice. First on Saturday, 25th June in the USA, and then on Saturday, 23rd July internationally. This was to prevent problem with past events when certain books did not arrive in time to be shipped internationally and so were not available outside of the USA. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally 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. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3Reviews from R’lyeh was get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.

—oOo—

Curse of the Dread Marsh Crew is an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Loke BattleMats, a publisher best known for its maps for roleplaying games, such as The Towns & Taverns Books of Battle MatsThe Wilderness Books of Battle Mats, and The Dungeon Books of Battle Mats, the scenario takes place in the same setting as the Box of Adventure 2: Coast of Dread. It involves pirates, a cemetery, a curse, and undead in short encounter which easily be played in a session. It comes with four pre-generated Player Characters of Second Level as well as a doubled-sided map and a sheet of counters, both on heavy cardboard. The adventure involves a good mix of combat, interaction, and a big puzzle, and is highly thematic, but in terms of its plotting, it needs a bit work.

In Curse of the Dread Marsh Crew the Player Characters are members of the privateer, Dread Marsh, who have been sent on a mission by the ship’s quartermaster, Axell. They were to acquire the Emerald Eye, a great gem, said to be held in the tomb of the legendary pirate, Foxbeard, which is in the Windward Cemetery. As the scenario opens, with Axell’s advice, they have successfully entered the tomb and exited with the Emerald Eye in hand. Yet as soon as they make their exit, the tomb entry slams shut, a mist surrounds the cemetery, and their very flesh begins to rot. It appears that they have been afflicted by the ‘Curse of the Black Mark!’

So the Player Characters begin the scenario being dead! Which brings with it a host of problems—terrible speech, looking and smelling like a zombie, a vulnerability to Radiant damage, and being unable to benefit from any type of Rest, as well as being unable to leave the cemetery. Their first problem though, is that the cemetery watchman along with his dog, Snuffles, arrives to keep an eye on the place overnight. Fortunately, he is short-sighted and so will not spot that they undead so easily. This is not the only difficulty the Player Characters will face as a torch and pitchfork-wielding mob will turn up from the nearest village, but for either encounter, there are plenty of options detailed, so the players can approach them in numerous ways, not necessarily via combat. Similarly, the two locations of the scenario—Windward Cemetery and Foxbeard’s crypt—are both nicely detailed.

In the second part of the scenario, arcane symbols light up around the entrance to Foxbeard’s Crypt. These are part of puzzle which must be solved before the Player Characters can get back into the crypt, but surely, they would have solved that when they broke into the tomb the first time? Inside, they face Foxbeard himself, wanting revenge for their having stolen the Emerald Eye, as well as members of his undead crew. Also, why did Foxbeard not rise and take his revenge when they were they broke into the tomb the first time? The obvious solution would be for the Player Characters to have been brilliant when they originally plundered the tomb and not disturbed the dread pirate in his final resting place  and then forgotten the solution to the puzzle as a result of their suffering from the ‘Curse of the Black Mark!’ The Dungeon Master may instead come up with a solution of her own, but either way, it is a problem in terms of the narrative.

All the while this is going on, the Player Characters are under the effects of the ‘Curse of the Black Mark!’. If they kill anyone in the cemetery—and there is a warning to found if they search the cemetery—the Black Mark on their hand will grow. Kill too many persons and the Black Mark will grow and grow until they are permanently transformed into one of the undead. There is a means to lift the curse to be found, but that means entering the tomb of course.

The four Player Characters include a Fighter, a Rogue, a Warlock, and a Wizard, all Second Level. All come with a back story, a thumbnail portrait, and a tracker for the ‘Curse of the Black Mark!’. The latter s nicely done as a hand, but there are no other mechanical effects as the Black Mark grows. It might have been fun if there had been to help enforce a sense of impending doom if there had been.

Physically, Curse of the Dread Marsh Crew is decently presented. The scenario booklet is general, well written and laid out. It lacks a card cover and so is flimsy. The double-sided map is done on sturdy card and in full colour. One side depicts the cemetery and the entry to the tomb, whilst the other shows the tomb proper. Both maps are easy to use with either the included counters, or with miniatures if the Dungeon Master and her players have them. The counters are decently done, but do need to be cut out carefully.

Curse of the Dread Marsh Crew is potentially a lot of fun and it takes the classic combination of pirates and the undead and does something different with it. The scenario also contains some nicely scenes as a consequence, such as making friends with a dog when you appear to be undead and persuading a baying mob that you are actually alive. Whilst the scenario can be played straight as written, it does have some plot holes which the Dungeon Master will have to fix to really bring out the fun to be had in Curse of the Dread Marsh Crew.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

[Free RPG Day 2022] Iron Kingdoms: A Strange Light Breaks

Now in its fifteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2022, was celebrated not once, but twice. First on Saturday, 25th June in the USA, and then on Saturday, 23rd July internationally. This was to prevent problem with past events when certain books did not arrive in time to be shipped internationally and so were not available outside of the USA. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally 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. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3, Reviews from R’lyeh was get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.

—oOo—

Iron Kingdoms: A Strange Light Breaks
is a scenario fo Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, the version of the Steampunk and high fantasy setting best known for its miniatures combat game, Warmachine: Prime, for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Privateer Press, Iron Kingdoms: Requiem and thus Iron Kingdoms: A Strange Light Breaks—and Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness before it for Free RPG Day 2021 bring the setting and intellectual property full circle, both having been first seen in The Longest Night, Shadow of the Exile, and The Legion of the Lost, the trilogy of scenarios published for use with the d20 System in 2001. The three would later be collected as The Witchfire Trilogy.

The Iron Kingdoms is noted for three things. First, its interesting mix of races—Gobbers, Ogrun, and Trollkin alongside the traditional Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. There are no Halflings or Gnomes, and even the Elves are different to those of more traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy. Second, the prevalence of technology, in particular, the use of firearms and Steamjacks and Warjacks, steam-driven robots with magical brains, used in heavy industry and on the field of battle. Third, the tone of the setting is fairly grim, there being an island to the west, Cryx, where the sorcerers have long experimented with combing the undead with Steamjacks and Warjacks, and have long planned to invade the Iron Kingdoms.

Iron Kingdoms: A Strange Light Breaks is not a quick-start for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, but a scenario, so the Game Master will need access to a copy of Iron Kingdoms: Requiem as well as Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, to run the scenario. It is designed to be played by between three and seven Player Characters of First to Fourth Level, but is optimised for five First Level Player Characters. As the scenario opens, a new branch of
the Strangelight Workshop, the premier organisation in the Iron Kingdoms dedicated to investigating the supernatural, which has opened up a new branch in the city of Merin in the nation of Ord. It is looking for candidates and the Player Characters have decided to apply for whatever reason. Several motivations are provided to that end. A large sign above the door to the new branch reads ‘Post Delivery Outpost #113’ and the scenario feels reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal as well as possessing an enormous dollop of Ghostbusters.

The Ghostbusters feel starts with the equipment that the Player Characters are assigned. This includes antispectral ammunition for targeting ghosts, charged gauntlets to deal lightning damage to or grapple with ghosts, a Handheld Lumitype to take ‘spectragraphs’ of ghosts, and Strangelight Goggles and Strangelight Projectors, which gives the scenario a very technological feel.

The scenario is built around a job board on which are pinned three little jobs, each with a little commentary by the branch clerk, Emil Todmann, a constantly scowling if friendly ex-postman. These are quite colourful and should influence the order in which the Player Characters tackle them. They are free to do them in any order, but ideally should be run in the order that they are presented. In the first gig, ‘Branston Gunwerks’, the Player Characters, now newly-minted ‘spectral investigators’, are directed to a manufactory which is beset by gremlins doing all sorts of damage. They need to get into the building and in and amongst the machinery to ferret out the Gremlins who are having way too much fun in the Gunwerks. It is an action orientated opener which should be fun.

The second gig is ‘210 Aurora Street’ which takes place a few streets away from the branch office. There the occupants of a house have been beset by a spirit known as ‘Headless John’. The Player Characters have a chance to do a little research before he makes an appearance. When he does, they are free to approach however they want, so they can fight ‘Headless John’ or persuade him to move on. The latter is a less bruising option as ‘Headless John’ is quite a tough opponent, but again, this is another decent little encounter.

The third and final gig is ‘The Red Mare of Lime Gate’. A burning figure astride a red horse has been setting warehouses in the dock alight and Emil Todmann warns the Player Characters that this is an unknown entity and needs to be careful of what it might be. This is a slightly more complex scenario and there is plenty of opportunity for the Player Characters to conduct some investigation—interacting with the locals, examining some of the warehouses, and so on, before the spectre strikes! Ideally before then the player Characters will have picked up some clues that something is not right here and so it proves in a rousing finale to the scenario. Its secret is not the only one to be revealed in the scenario, as there is another in the scenario’s epilogue, which is entitled ‘End of Watch’ and has a double meaning. Both the finale and the epilogue can be played out in a few different ways, all of which are covered in the scenario.
Physically, Iron Kingdoms: A Strange Light Breaks also comes with plain and simple, decent maps of each location for the scenario’s three gigs, as well as ‘Post Delivery Outpost #113’, full stats for all of its monsters and NPCs—from Gremlins to Emil Todmann, and full descriptions and stats for all of the equipment that the Player Characters are assigned as newly hired members of the Strangelight Workshop. Many of these are illustrated, as appropriate.

Iron Kingdoms: A Strange Light Breaks contains three very different ‘gigs’ or encounters and offers players a very different style of play to that of traditional Dungeons & Dragons in Iron Kingdoms. It involves a more investigative and technological mode of play and thus has a more modern feel. Iron Kingdoms: A Strange Light Breaks is an entertaining Ghostbusters-style scenario which is not fun to play, but definitely deserves a sequel.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

[Free RPG Day 2022] Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start

Now in its fifteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2022, was celebrated not once, but twice. First on Saturday, 25th June in the USA, and then on Saturday, 23rd July internationally. This was to prevent problem with past events when certain books did not arrive in time to be shipped internationally and so were not available outside of the USA. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally 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. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3Reviews from R’lyeh was get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.

—oOo—

Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start is the release from Modiphius Entertainment for Free RPG Day 2022. It is the quick-start for Homeworld: Revelations, the roleplaying based on the real-time strategy video game series Homeworld, which includes Homeworld, Homeworld: Cataclysm, Homeworld 2, and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, as well as the forthcoming Homeworld 3. The series tells the story of the  Kushan, a people lost in space after the destruction of their home planet, Kharak, and their attempt to find Hiigara, a new homeworld, journeying in fleet lead by a massive mothership. In Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start, the players take the roles of members of The Dreamlands team, archaeologists brought together to gather historical records and artefacts from the wreckage of the great ship, the Khar-Toba, on the planet Kharak. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones interested the Khar-Toba. Others want to stop anyone from discovering the knowledge and technology which lies within the bowels of the great ship, and will do anything to prevent that from happening.

Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start is designed for play by five players and come with five pre-generated Player Characters, printed separately. It contains all the rules necessary to play, including skills, action, combat, and interaction, all the way up to ship-to-ship combat. The five pre-generated characters include a security officer, a researcher, a medical officer, a technological operations manager, and pilot. All five are simply and clearly laid out and easy to read and use. Each also comes with a good illustration as well as a little background.

A Player Character in Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start and thus Homeworld: Revelations is defined by Attributes, Disciplines, Focuses, Values, Traits, Talents, and Truths. The six Attributes—Agility, Brawn, Coordination, Insight, Reason, and Will—represent ways of or approaches to doing things as well as intrinsic capabilities. They are rated between seven and twelve. There are six skills—Combat, Command, Engineering, Exploration, Flight, and Medical—which are fairly broad and rated between one and five, whilst Focuses represent narrow areas of study or skill specialities, for example, Expert Pilot, Jury Rigging, Field Surgery, Unfamiliar Technology, and Chain of Command. Truths are single words or short phrases, which describe a significant fact or aspect about its subject, whether that is a scene, person, place, environment, or object. A Truth can make an action easier or more difficult, or even simply make it possible or impossible.
To undertake an action in the 2d20 System in Homeworld: Revelations, a character’s player rolls two twenty-sided dice, aiming to have both roll under the total of an Attribute and a Skill. Each roll under this total counts as a success, an average task requiring two successes. Rolls of one count as two successes and if a Player Character has an appropriate Focus, rolls under the value of the Skill also count as two successes. In the main, because a typical difficulty will only be a Target Number of one, players will find themselves rolling excess Successes which becomes Momentum. This is a resource shared between all of the players which can be spent to create an Opportunity and so add more dice to a roll—typically needed because more than two successes are required to succeed, to create an advantage in a situation or remove a complication, create a problem for the opposition, and to obtain information. It is a finite ever-decreasing resource, so the players need to roll well and keep generating it, especially if they want to save some for the big scene or climatic battle in an adventure.

Now where the players generate Momentum to spend on their characters, the Game Master has Threat which can be spent on similar things for the NPCs as well as to trigger their special abilities. She begins each session with a pool of Threat, but can gain more through various circumstances. These include a player purchasing extra dice to roll on a test, a player rolling a natural twenty and so adding two Threat (instead of the usual Complication), the situation itself being threatening, or NPCs rolling well and generating Momentum and so adding that to Threat pool. In return, the Game Master can spend it on minor inconveniences, complications, and serious complications to inflict upon the player characters, as well as triggering NPC special abilities, having NPCs seize the initiative, and bringing the environment dramatically into play.

Combat uses the same mechanics, but offers more options in terms of what Momentum can be spent on. This includes doing extra damage, disarming an opponent, keeping the initiative—initiative works by alternating between the player characters and the NPCs and keeping it allows two player characters to act before an NPC does, avoid an injury, and so on. Damage in combat is rolled on the Challenge dice, the number of ‘Homeworld: Revelations’ symbols rolled determining how much damage is inflicted. A similar roll is made to resist the damage, and any leftover is deducted from a character’s Stress. If a character’s Stress is reduced to zero or five or more damage is inflicted, then a character is injured. Any ‘Homeworld: Revelations’ symbols rolled indicate an effect as well as the damage. In keeping with the tone of the various series, weapon damage can be deadly (and nearly every character—Player Character or NPC, is armed with a firearm of some kind), melee or hand-to-hand, less so.

Lastly, the Player Characters all begin play with several points of Fortune, which can be used to pull off extraordinary actions, perform exciting stunts, make one-in-a-million shots, or provide an edge during life-or-death situations. These can be spent to gain a Critical Success on any roll, reroll any dice, gain an additional action in a round, to avoid imminent defeat, and to add new element to the current scene. More can be earned through play, such as accepting a Complication, changing a Defining Aspect about a character, or good roleplaying.

The rules themselves in the Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start take up almost two thirds of its pages. The rest is taken up by the scenario. This starts in the outer desert region known as The Dreamlands where the wreck of the Khar-Toba can be found. The Player Characters are part of a team lead buy by the archaeologist Mevath Sagald, sent to investigate the wreck and glean what historical records and artefacts they can from it. However, the wreck is guarded by the Gaalsien, a kiith or clan religiously opposed to all thoughts of discovery and exploration, fearing that the Kushan took part in a great evil long ago and were punished by being exiled. The Player Characters will need to find a way into the wreck and avoid detection, exploring the ships and recover archaeological artefacts, and then escape both the ship and any attempts by the Gaalsien to stop them. Divided into five scenes, the scenario primarily involves stealth and exploration, although there is scope for combat and interaction depending upon what the players decide to do. There are moments throughout for each Player Character to shine and the scenario builds to an exciting climax chased by Gaalsien spacecraft. Overall, it is good adventure, and it should provide a good two sessions’ worth of play or so.

Physically, Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start is a good looking affair with excellent artwork and decent layout. Unfortunately, the whole affair does feel rushed and needs another good edit. On the plus side though, it is well written, and there are lots and lots of examples of play and sections of advice for the Game Master. There is no cartography and thus no deckplans of the Khar-Toba. The scenario is not difficult to run without them, but their inclusion would have helped.

Ultimately, Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start is let down by one factor and one factor alone. It has rules, it has pre-generated Player Characters, and it has a scenario. What it entirely lacks is background. There is no explanation of what Homeworld is or what the setting of Homeworld: Revelations is like, so leaves the Game Master to do her own research and prepare it for her players. This is disappointing as a quick-start is designed to both introduce a setting and a roleplaying game to players unaware of the setting and introduce a roleplaying game to those who know the setting. Homeworld: Revelations – A Tabletop Roleplaying Odyssey Quick-Start does a better job of doing the latter than the former and so does not fully succeed as a quick-start.

Friday, 5 August 2022

[Free RPG Day 2022] A Familiar Problem

Now in its fifteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2022, was celebrated not once, but twice. First on Saturday, 25th June in the USA, and then on Saturday, 23rd July internationally. This was to prevent problem with past events when certain books did not arrive in time to be shipped internationally and so were not available outside of the USA. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally 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. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3Reviews from R’lyeh was get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.

—oOo—

Without a doubt, the slimmest of offerings for Free RPG Day 2022 is A Familiar Problem. There is good reason for that. It consists of a single sheet of light card, done in black and white on the one side and in full colour on the other. The full colour side consists of adverts for other releases from the publisher, Darrington Press, most notably, Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn, the supplement for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, based on the Critical Role YouTube campaign setting. Which is a bit strange. Strange because it is the adverts which get the colour and so take attention away from the roleplaying game on the other side. Strange because if Darrington Press had instead released a quick-start or a scenario for Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting Reborn for Free RPG Day 2022, then it might have got a whole lot more attention than A Familiar Problem is likely too. Putting that aside, what you get with A Familiar Problem is either a flyer with a mini-roleplaying game on the back or a mini-roleplaying game with a lot of advertising attached. Take your pick.

A Familiar Problem is a one-page roleplaying game in which the players take the roles of wizards’ familiars. Their masters and mistresses are away on an adventure and left them behind. Having been forgotten about them, they decide to have an adventure of their own and so prove to their owners that are useful and perhaps worth taking along on the next adventure. A Familiar might be a bat, a crab, an owl, a rat, a raven, and others. Each Familiar has four attributes—Clever, Fierce, Sly, and Quick, and a BREAK like Paranoia or Narcissism. The attributes range in value between zero and three, whilst the Break represents atypical behaviour if the Familiar acquires too much Stress. Each Familiar also knows three pieces of Pocket Magic, three spells such as Butterfingers, Door Magic, or Summon Horse. These are single use spells. To create a Familiar, a player rolls or chooses from the table of twelve and then does the same for his Familiar’s spells.

Lizzie the Lizard
Clever +0, Fierce +1, Sly +2, Quick +2
BREAK: Cowardice
Pocket Magic: Limited Invisibility, Soak, Speak with Object

When a Familiar wants to undertake an action in A Familiar Problem, his player rolls a ten-sided die and adds the value of an appropriate Attribute to the result of the die roll. The aim is roll equal to or higher than a Difficulty Number, which ranges from five or Easy to Very Difficult or ten. If the roll is failed, the Familiar gains a point of Stress. Subsequently, each time a player rolls for a task and rolls under his Familiar’s Stress, his Familiar’s Break occurs. Then the player has to roleplay that behaviour until the other Familiars calm his Familiar down and rescue him from the situation which triggered it.

As to what the Familiars do, there is a set of three of tables, one for generating the mission and two the adventure location. For example, ‘Sabotage the villain’s scheme in the Opulent Castle’. And that is it… The rest of it is left up to the Game Master to make up, perhaps with some input from her players, for example, whatever the villain’s scheme might be, and then play out. Which should take no more than a single session—and probably a short session at that.

A Familiar Problem is plain and simple. Whether that is physically, conceptually, or playfully. One of the best features of the simplicity is that it is easy to teach, is suitable for some younger players (depending how far they can cope with the BREAK rules), and requires no preparation. The only thing that it really requires is the ten-sided die and a Game Master happy to make things up and help tell the story.

[Free RPG Day 2022] A Fistful of Flowers

Now in its fifteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2022, was celebrated not once, but twice. First on Saturday, 25th June in the USA, and then on Saturday, 23rd July internationally. This was to prevent problem with past events when certain books did not arrive in time to be shipped internationally and so were not available outside of the USA. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally 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. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3Reviews from R’lyeh was get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.

—oOo—

One of the perennial contributors to Free RPG Day is Paizo, Inc., a publisher whose titles for both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have proved popular and often in demand long after the event. For Free RPG Day 2022, the publisher again provides a title for each of these two roleplaying games, A Fistful of Flowers for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Second Edition, the other being Skitter Warp for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. In past years, the titles released for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game have typically involved adventures with diminutive Player Characters, first Kobolds, then Goblins, and this year, Leshys, humanoid sapient plants of various species and Classes, typivally crafted by a druid as a minion or companion. Four pre-generated Player Characters are included, each of Third Level, each independent of their creator, and the scenario requires the Game Master have access to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Second Edition, Pathfinder Bestiary, Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide, and the recently released Pathfinder Lost Omens Ancestry Guide. The scenario can be played in one good session or two and offers a good mix of skill challenges, stealth, interaction, and combat.

A Fistful of Flowers begins in Verduran Forest, a large woodland in Avistan. There is a Wildwood Treaty in place between the forest and the nearby settled lands, affording the forest certain legal protections. However, the Player Characters have become aware that some of their numbers are missing and as the more powerful Leshys in the woods, it is their duty to investigate. The trail begins down at a river crossing and leads across first to a campsite and then beyond the limits of the forest canopy to a nearby village. Here the Leshys will find themselves readily accepted by the villagers and able to gather clues as who might be responsible. This will lead to the first of the two main scenes in scenario which are fully detailed and mapped and serve as its two climaxes. This first takes place in the wax laboratory of Crystals and Candlewax, owned by the alchemist who has been stealing into the forest and kidnapping Leshys! He though is not the true villain of the piece, his ambitions having got the better of him and found him serving a snooty, venal aristocrat, Lady Constance Meliosa, who wants the Leshys as showpieces to display at parties to her friends. The climax of the scenario will see the Player Characters crashing her afternoon tea party.

A Fistful of Flowers packs a lot into its sixteen pages and gives plenty for the Player Characters to do. There are problems to overcome and NPCs to interact with, the scenario providing multiple means for approaching either, and whilst the confrontation with the brute of an alchemist is likely to end in combat, the confrontation at the tea party need not do so. The Player Characters can sneak in, crash the party, persuade the guests that Lady Constance’s misdemeanours break the Wildwood treaty, and so on. Whilst the encounter in the alchemist’s shop is a traditional sneak and combat affair, the aristocrat’s fancy tea party deserves to be played out as a riotous assembly of flying skirts, scattered cakes, and soured sensibilities.

To accompany the adventure, A Fistful of Flowers includes four pre-generated Player Characters. These consist of a Gourd Leshy Druid, Leaf Leshy Bard, a Vine Leshy Barbarian, and a Fungus Leshy Rogue. Each is neatly arranged on their own individual pages and complete with background and clear, easy to read stats. Of course, the players do not have to use these, but could instead substitute their own characters, created using the rules in Pathfinder Lost Omens Ancestry Guide. Otherwise though, these are a decently diverse range of characters. 

Physically, A Fistful of Flowers is as well presented as you would expect for a release from Paizo Inc. Everything is in full colour, the illustrations are excellent, and the maps attractive. The only issue is that the map of the alchemist’s laboratory is not numbered, though the locations are easy enough to work out. The Game Master might want to create stats for Lady Constance and her guests, but neither are absolutely necessary to run the adventure.

A Fistful of Flowers is an entertainingly likeable adventure. It provides a diverse range of Player Characters and has a pleasing different feel to its fantasy than that atypical of most roleplaying fantasy and packs a lot of adventure into what is just a handful of pages. Overall, A Fistful of Flowers is a fun showcase for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Second Edition

Monday, 1 August 2022

Propping up Nyarlathotep

Call of Cthulhu
is a literary roleplaying game. Its play is predicated on the ability of the Player characters—or rather the Investigators—to be literate and so be able to read the array of clues to be found as part of the enquiries into the unknown. Newspaper reports, diary entries, letters, notes and marginalia, books and scrolls, and of course, the much-feared Mythos tomes such as the dread Necronomicon and Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Just as the Investigators—or at least some of them—are expected to be able to read them, then so are their players. Thus, we have clues and handouts, especially if the roleplaying game of our choice involves a mystery—mundane or Mythos related. There had been clues and handouts before, for example, U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, the 1981 scenario for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition from TSR (UK), included a clue showing the pattern of signals needed to contact a smuggling ship, but Call of Cthulhu took the role of the clue and the handout to new heights as they became more and more integral to game play. And since newspaper reports, diary entries, letters, notes and marginalia, books and scrolls, and more are all modern, the Keeper can create her own—such as soaking paper in tea and then drying it to age it—and easily copy those provided in particular scenarios or campaigns. Which is what the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has done, and not just for its own campaigns, but your campaigns.

The Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set is a big box of handouts and clues designed to be used with Masks of Nyarlathotep, the classic campaign for Call of Cthulhu, often regarded as one of the greatest ever produced by the hobby. This no mere set of tea-soaked, faux-aged handouts and whatnot, for just as Call of Cthulhu took the role of the clue and the handout to new heights, the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set takes the clues and handouts for Call of Cthulhu to new heights. There are over one hundred props in the box—telegrams, letters, a match box—just like in the original boxed set for Masks of Nyarlathotep, maps, charts, diary and ledger entries, business cards, photographs, memos, and newspaper clippings, oh so many newspaper clippings. Then there are bonus props. 

Open up the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set and the first thing that you see is a scroll, from the Shanghai chapter. It is not simply presented as a scroll on heavy paper, but done on cloth with actual wooden rollers so that it can be unfurled with ease. Of course, few of the players are going to be able to read the Chinese script, though some of their Investigators might (so there is a translation), but putting that down on the table gives it an immediacy that no mere sheet of paper would. And once given to the players it is going sit there, a constant reminder of both just how brilliant the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set is and the fact that their Investigators really, really want to get it translated.

Alongside the scroll is an ‘Ediphone Wax Cylinder Case’ containing not a wax cylinder—as after all, who owns a device capable of playing one of those these days outside of a museum?—but a USB drive with eight MP3 audio recordings which can be played at the appropriate points in the campaign. And these are not done by anyone, but professional actors, so instead of having the Keeper portray Jack Brady telling the players and their Investigators what is going on once they eventually find him, the Keeper can play the recording and so pull them both into his story.
 
Below that are a set of six Nansen Passports, issued by the League of Nations and recognised around the globe plus a set of passport stamps. What this means is as a group begins the campaign, each player can record the details of his Investigator in the Nansen Passport and as he travels around the world as the part of the campaign, from Peru to New York to England to Cairo to Kenya to Australia to Shanghai and back again, the Keeper can affix the right stamps—which come on sheets designed to be peeled off and stuck in the passports—to indicate the Investigator’s entry and exit from each country. It is a fantastic physical record of an imagined travel and achievement, one that does not actually directly relate to the campaign itself, but it is a lovely bit of verisimilitude. As is the fact that the stamps include options for ‘Cancelled’, ‘Expelled’, ‘Deported’, ‘Return Forbidden’, ‘Code 1644 Psych. Hold’, and more is just a delight. Of course, six passports are not going to be enough unless the players and their Investigators are very lucky because Masks of Nyarlathotep is a notoriously deadly campaign and Investigator deaths, and retirements are highly likely. So, replacements are probably going to be needed.

Below that there is a double-sided sheet of paper detailing everything in the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set. This lists everything folder by folder, according to which chapter each handout appears in. Now unlike the props included in the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign itself, none of the props are numbered. Thus, they are more realistic and both Keeper and her players will need to keep track of which props their Investigators have discovered so far and which ones they have. Open up the first folder, for the new Peru chapter in the most recent edition of Masks of Nyarlathotep. A clipping has been torn from a newspaper, but it is no single article, there are others surrounding it as well as on the reverse. None of them have any bearing on the campaign, but they impart a sense of the wider world in 1925 and they are simply fun to read. The clipping is also on the right paper, so it has a flimsiness just as it should. Below that, there is a letter in Spanish, clearly torn from a notebook, then copies of period maps and of the scenario maps. The Peru chapter is quite short, but it sets up expectations for the rest of the campaign. The players will be wanting to see what is next and find out just how good each handout feels.

After Peru, the chapter of Masks of Nyarlathotep get progressively more complex and so each corresponding folder in the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set is thicker, the New York one notoriously so. The original start of the campaign in previous versions of Masks of Nyarlathotep, the discovery of Jackson Elias’ body in his Chelsea Hotel room is combined with a welter of clues and a corresponding torrent of handouts. So what the Investigators know about Jackson Elias, almost all of the front of a newspaper—with articles front and back, numerous other clippings, a business card or two, several slightly crumpled letters (one of which includes the letter it came in), a telegram, one photograph of Jackson Elias dead on his bed and another of the Dark Mistress in Shanghai (infamously poorly portrayed in previous versions of the campaign), a submission from Jackson Elias to his publisher, Prospero House, an excerpt torn from Nigel Blackwell’s Africa’s Dark Sects—complete with book stamp, maps of New York and Harlem, and even the book cover to Jackson Elias’ own work, ‘The Hungry Dead’. It all culminates in a folder containing the patient records for Roger Carlyle and the folder is sealed. That is just the one folder. There are seven folders, one for each chapter in the campaign, and they are all like that.

Physically, Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set is a superlative presentation of the clues and handouts to the campaign. The right paper, a letter slightly crumpled as if pulled from an envelope (plus the envelope torn open itself), papers ripped from a diary, but held together by a paper clip. Perhaps the plainest of handouts are the ones that provide written copies of the audio files and details of things that the Investigators already know. They are the simplest and they do break the in-game feeling of the campaign, but they are all necessary. 

The Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set is definitely not needed to run the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. It is entirely optional. Yet the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set is a physical reflection of the effort which Chaosium, Inc. put into upgrading the previous version of the campaign to Masks of Nyarlathotep, Fifth Edition. It would seem almost like an oversight for the Keeper to keep the campaign’s improvements in terms of its presentation and support to herself and not share them with her players through the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set. Then there is the fact that Masks of Nyarlathotep is likely to provide somewhere between sixty and seventy hours of gameplay, so why not match that investment in terms of time with the physical investment of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set?

There is, of course, precedent for all of this. When Masks of Nyarlathotep was first published in 1984, it was a box set which famously included a matchbook from the Sleeping Tiger bar in Shanghai as amongst its first set of clues. It was an oddly physical thing to include, but it showed how clues and handouts could be presented and from that matchbook, H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has taken the idea and run and run with it… The resulting Masks of Nyarlathotep Gamer Prop Set is a magnificent presentation of the clues and handouts Masks of Nyarlathotep, bringing the investigation in the greatest roleplaying campaign ever published into a physical reality barely even imagined when it was first published in 1984.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

You and the Realm

The Realm of Legendlore and of Azoth lies at an unstable nexus of reality, and where that instability touches other planes, including the Earth, Visitors can make the Crossing from one world to another. Sometimes intentionally, often unintentionally, perhaps because they inherited a keepsake which enables a Crossing, simply opened a door, or found a portal, perhaps a wardrobe or even a suitcase. Crossings have happened many times in the past—and not just by people. Both the Library of Alexandria and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia have both appeared in Azoth, Boudica and the Ninth Legion continued to fight each other for decades in Azoth, and even Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed there in 1937, and even though they were never able to replicate powered flight, but gliders launched from hot air balloons are common in certain parts of Azoth. The scientific knowledge brought from Earth continues to influence the world of Azoth where magic is common, leading to synergistic devices such as an Ensorcelled Typewriter and Food Wave Machine (microwave). Previous Visitors have left other Strange Things behind, more recently electronic devices which quickly run out of power. Whilst Visitors bring knowledge, certain attitudes, and perhaps a Strange Thing or two with them—typically no more than what they have in their pockets or a bag, what they find after the Crossing is even more amazing.

Visitors find that the Realm is a world of magic, of elves and dwarves, goblins and troll, minotaurs and dragons. They find themselves changed, because however when Visitors make the Crossing, what they find on the other side is a stronger You, a greater reflection of each of their inner selves, an Other You. They find themselves capable of casting magic, working with alchemy, fighting with swords and bows, or handling guns. They find themselves changed into different Peoples—Bryzine Trolls, Dwarves, Elves, Hairfoots (Hairfeet?), Orcs, and Pixies, as well as Humans. They find themselves as Clerics, Rogues, Wizards, Rangers, Bards, Alchemists, Sorcerers, Gunslingers, and more. They may also find themselves unchanged, so if wearing glasses is part of their identity, then they wear glasses in the Realm. Visitors are also greater than themselves—they have a Legend attached to them, a Destiny that they are only partially aware of. Thus, they might be an Avatar of Peace or a Regent of Dragons. They will have great adventures in the Realm, but ultimately, they have a choice—to stay or return home.

This is the setting for Legendlore, a roleplaying adaptation based on The Realm, the comic book series first published by Arrow Comics and then Caliber Comics. In the comic book, four ordinary, modern-day teenagers are thrown into an alternate realm where magic is real, dragons roam the skies, orcs and hobgoblins terrorise travellers, where unicorns prance through the forest, and kingdoms wage war for dominance. Although a fantasy world, it differs from the atypical Dungeons & Dragons world. Not just in the mix of magic and science, but in Legendlore the roleplaying setting, there is a sense of self-awareness. There are roleplayers on the Earth of Legendlore and they can be Visitors too, so they make the Crossing fully aware of fantasy roleplaying such as Dungeons & Dragons and all that entails. There is no equivalent of the Legendlore Roleplaying Game though, so they are not totally forearmed with knowledge. Published by Onyx Path Publishing, the adaptation is written for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. It includes new Backgrounds and Classes and sub-Classes, as well as rules for being Legends, sample beginning Player Characters, a starting adventure, and setting material for the Realm.

From the outset, it is clear that Legendlore is designed to be as gender and identity inclusive as possible and that if a player wants to and is happy to do so at the table, that player can bring as much of themselves into the game as they want. What this means is their real self, their Earth-self can be exactly what they are in real life, but their Realm-self can be their best-self, their best You—or a reflection of it. Alternatively, each player can simply play a fantasy version of themselves, whether on Earth or the Realm, or on both. All of which should be discussed and agreed upon as necessary in Session Zero, which is discussed in the chapter on running the game.

Although it is possible to play Realmborn Player Characters in Legendlore, which would perhaps be the closest that Legendlore gets to a traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style set-up, the emphasis is very much on playing Visitors. Their creation begins with selecting a Visitor Background, for example, Academic Education, Activist, Born into Wealth, High School Student, Writer, Working Poor, and of course, Roleplaying Aficionado. Several Realmborn Backgrounds are given too, which are all nation-based. The Realm Races—Bryzine Trolls, Dwarves, Elves, Hairfoots, Orcs, and Pixies—all provide certain traits and bonuses as you would expect, but these are cultural rather than innate. So a player has the flexibility to match and change as he wants. There are two new Classes in Legendlore. One is the Alchemist, which blends chemistry and magic, crafting potions which have spell-like effects, whether thrown, imbibed, or applied. The other is the Gunslinger, which specialises in the use and maintenance of firearms, including the Culverin, an actual cannon! The other options are all sub-Classes of the standard Classes in the Player’s Handbook. These include the Ocean Raider and the Woad Painted for the Barbarian, the Eye of Otharis for the Cleric, primarily sages and oracles, Paladins have Oath of Fealty, which they take to a nation, and Sorcerers are Sourceborn, who draw directly from the Pool of Magic for more powerful magic.

A Player Character, certainly a Visitor, also has a Legend. Each has a Reputation and a means of acquiring Legend Points. For example, the Avatar of Peace grants when a Player Character refuses to commit acts of violence, persuades others to lay down their weapons, and lead negotiations for peace. When acquired, they can either go into a communal pool or a player can keep them, but when expended they can either gain Advantage for a Player Character on an attack, saving throw, or ability check, or they can be used to add a new narrative element to play. The Legend system replaces that of the Inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, adding a little more flexibility. Just five are provided—Avatar of Peace, Bane of Ardonia (who oppose the isolationist and walled scientifically-advanced nation of Ardonia), Caln of Stone (uncompromising stability and construction), Regent of Dragons (dispensing wisdom and justice), and Suzerain of Blossoms (encouraging others to follow their own path and cultivating strengths and talents). Alternatively, a player can create his own for his character, but the advice for doing so does feel underwritten and the five given in Legendlore are not really enough—certainly not if there are more than five players or the Realm is being visited a second time with new Player Characters.

All magic in the Realm draws from the Pool of Magic, but its casters—apart from Sorcerers who are Sourceborn—can suffer from ‘Menthruac’ or mind-lock if they attempt to cast too much magic, too quickly. When a Player Character casts an arcane spell, he can opt to gain a level of Menthruac, up to four levels. Each level provides several extra effects to choose from, such as ‘Careful Spell’ or Twinned Cantrip’, but comes with a downside such as Disadvantage on attack rolls or ability checks, all the way up to Hit Points being reduced to zero or even death! Menthruac is removed after a long rest, but gives a spellcaster the option to power up his magic should want to. Legendlore also includes some seventy or so new spells, as well as twelve new rituals. Rather than draw fleetingly upon the Pool of Magic, like most arcane spells, rituals draw deeply from it and require a greater understanding of magic, period of study, and time to cast. For example, Open Crossing is a nine-hour ritual which opens a Crossing from the Realm to another destination. These should all take extensive game play to really learn and cast as they do have potentially very powerful effects.

Legendlore includes a decently comprehensive guide to the Realm and East Azoth, starting with its history from the arrival of the first humans and the wars that would result from their settlement, through to the peace following the end of the Forever War and then the Plague War that led to isolationism amongst many nations. The gazetteer is comprehensive too, detailing all of the nations of the region, even the Night Land, which even if it can be found, can only be entered during the hours of darkness. In addition, the gazetteer is littered with numerous adventure seeds. The bestiary, covering allies, adversaries, and creatures is likewise nicely detailed. Some of the races, such as the Dwarves and Goblins, adhere to their usual depictions, although others, notably the Orcs are different. Orcs have a porcine look and a poor reputation as raiders and pillagers, though that was long in the past when they found themselves being pushed out of their lands. These days they seek the return of their original homelands by diplomatic means and building trust. The bestiary also details demons, some of whom, such as Shinde Imas, the Elven Slayer, and Terrorek, the Plague Bringer, are the major villains of the Realms. Not included in Legendlore are writeups of any of the characters who made the Crossing in the comics—Alex, Dom, Majorie, or Sandra—and this is intentional. The starting point for Legendlore in terms of time frame is the first issue of the comic, and it is up to the Game Master to decide whether or not they made the Crossing or not.

The advice for the Game Master on running Legendlore is a mix of the general and the specific. There is good advice on handling Session Zero and on specific elements of the Realm as a setting. In particular, on handling good and evil since as a setting for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, there is no Alignment in the Realm, and also dealing with Player Character death. Resurrection is possible, but the resurrected often return changed in some way. The Game Master can make the process as simple or as complex as needed—but must be consistent. The other option is a new Player Character, but the Player Character need not be wholly new. It could be an earlier version of the player’s You before his lost character made the Crossing, or even a version from a slightly alternate Earth. The new version of the Player Character arrives bereft of knowledge of his predecessor’s adventures and could be of a wholly new Race or Class. There is advice too on getting home, and whether that is a Player Character objective, and also how much the campaign involves the Player Characters going back and forth between home and the Realm.

Rounding out Legendlore is ‘Voices from Afar’, an introductory adventure in the Realm for four to six First Level Player Characters. After they make the Crossing, they find themselves caught in a plot to use a strange artefact to spread the borders of the dread Night Lands. Accompanying the scenario which should take two or three sessions to complete, is not one, but two sets of pre-generated Player Characters. These are the same, but First Level and Third Level respectively, the latter for a group which wants to try out a more powerful set of characters. At the end of the scenario, the Player Characters have the option to stay in the Realm or go home.

Physically, Legendlore is well presented and laid out with a nice range of illustrations. What it does lack though is an index and that makes finding certain things challenging. A glossary would also have helped. The setting description is pleasingly balanced by some enjoyable pieces of colour fiction that follow the fortunes of several adventurers as they make the Crossing and discover the world of the Realm.

Legendlore is not a definitive guide to the Realm of Legendlore and of Azoth, and nor does it set out to be. It is a comprehensive and gameable guide, making the setting accessible and playable. If there is an issue with Legendlore, it is that it does not include much in the way of advice on handling the transition from Earth to the Realm, and in particular, from the ‘ordinary’ You of the Player Characters of Earth to the ‘best’ or ‘inner’ You of the Realm. After all, that change is going to be more significant to some players than others. Some advice and suggestions as to long term play and campaign objectives would also have been useful. Other than that, Legendlore is an engaging exploration of a familiar fantasy set-up, of ordinary folk transported to a fantastic world. Fans of The Realm who game will doubtless enjoy Legendlore, but for players wanting an identity positive and inclusive fantasy setting for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, then Legendlore not only supports that, but welcomes You to it.