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Review: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition

TL:DR

The latest edition of the Savage Worlds core rulebook, the Adventure Edition, formerly known as the Black Edition. 210 page PDF from Pinnacle Entertainment Group, $10 at time of writing.

You will not be surprised to learn I was an early backer of this on Kickstarter… I reviewed the last edition here, so let’s look at the changes since then.

As usual, I backed this at a high enough level to get all the PDFs, so expect reviews of those later.

If You’ve Never Played Savage Worlds…

It’s a multi-genre roleplaying game with a point-buy character generation system, best suited to pulp action adventure.

To succeed at a task, you need to roll the target’s Parry score (when rolling to hit someone in melee), or the target’s Toughness (when trying to wound them), or a 4+ (for anything else). More experienced characters roll dice with more sides, giving them a better chance of success. If you beat the required roll by 4 or more (called a “raise”), you get a better result. Any die which rolls its maximum (an “ace”) allows you to keep that score, reroll the die, and add the new result to your total.

PCs roll a d6 as well as the die for their skill or attribute whenever they roll, except when rolling damage; you can choose to use the result from the normal die, or the d6. PCs also start each session with three “bennies”. You can use a benny to reroll any one die, try to recover from wounds, or influence the narrative. PCs have 3 wounds, NPCs have one.

The combat system encourages swashbuckling and teamwork. You can attempt multiple actions per turn, although the more you try, the worse the penalties to your die rolls. You can also taunt or intimidate foes to reduce their chances of success, or support friends to increase theirs, meaning a PC can play an important part in fights even without combat skills.

Do I Need This?

To be honest, only if you want to keep up to date with Savage Worlds. There are no dramatic content changes from the previous (Deluxe) Edition, just a number of tweaks for speed and clarity, and the incorporation of a few rules from the key settings. I expect Pinnacle to release a free-to-download conversion guide at some point, but even without that you could carry on playing previous editions without much trouble.

What sold me on it were the changes to the Situational Rules, now renamed the Adventure Toolkit – essentially the improved collection of GM tools.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The most immediately noticeable change is the format; Savage Worlds will henceforth only be available as a PDF or as a hardback with the “graphic novel” form factor, i.e. 6 5/8″ x 10 1/8″ (168 x 257 mm if you live anywhere except the USA). I shall miss the old Explorers’ Edition softbacks, which were extremely portable and great presents for fellow gamers; but they’re no longer commercially viable, and nothing survives that for long. The new format works well on modern smartphones and tablets, with their “letterbox” screens.

The artwork and layout have been completely overhauled. I especially like the illustration of a couple of kids in chemotherapy being cheered up by a roleplaying session. That is an excellent idea.

There have been a lot of mechanical changes from SWD to SWADE. Individually, none of them are dramatic, but together I expect them to change the feel of the game significantly.

General mechanical changes – shifts in philosophy, if you will:

  • There’s been a shift from the specific to the general. A lot of things that were scattered and repeated in the rules have been abstracted into more generic statements; status conditions and power modifiers are good examples. At first glance, it looks like the rules have become more complex, but actually they haven’t, they’ve just been consolidated and clarified.
  • There are now options for more narrativist play styles. The rules for Networking and Quick Encounters show this best; if you think of your SW sessions as movies, you now have options for montages, in which hours of (say) relatively unimportant legwork is condensed into a single skill roll.
  • There’s more scope for player creativity. Want to change your power trappings on the fly? There’s an Edge for that. Want to use your Persuasion to support your buddy in defusing a bomb? Go ahead.

Specific rules changes worth calling out:

  • A few subsystems have been deleted; Charisma is now subsumed into specific dice roll modifiers, experience points have been replaced by guidelines on how often PCs should advance. We’ve also lost the archetypical PCs (boo!) and much of the World War II gear (meh).
  • Some rules have been rewritten; chases are the most obvious example, but there is now a hard cap on how many actions you can take per round (namely three), power points recharge more quickly (5 per hour) while powering spells for longer (usually 5 turns rather than 3), and there are a couple more things you can do with bennies.
  • Some things have been added; an abstract Wealth system for those who don’t want to track every last coin, and (at last!) a summary sheet of powers. All PCs now begin with a d4 in five specific skills, and have 12 points instead of 15 to buy others.

Conclusions

I think this will take a little getting used to, but once I’ve internalised the changes the game should play faster at the table – mind you, this means it will chew through plot even faster than it already did.

Game masters and players alike have more options now, and more scope for creativity.

I have always wanted Savage Worlds to have options for solitaire play, and with the new options in the Adventure Toolkit, it’s getting very close to having them. I’ll have to try that and see how it works.

Overall? I will adopt SWADE, but not with a feeling of “OMG I have to play this right now!” more with a nod and a comment of “Yeah, some solid incremental improvements here.”

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Review: Traveller Starter Set

There are some games that I pretty much always buy again when a new edition comes out, mostly out of nostalgia I suppose. These are Dungeons & Dragons (although I have resisted 5th Edition so far), Savage Worlds, All Things Zombie, and Traveller

TL:DR

This is the starter set for Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition, which at the time of writing costs £50-55 in dead tree format and a bit over £30 as a PDF download. As a starter set, it’s aimed at inexperienced players and intended to introduce them to the hobby.

I’ve already reviewed Mongoose Traveller 2 here, so this will be a quick overview with a focus on what’s different from the core rulebook; mostly, it has pregen PCs and a few ready-to-run adventures.

Do I Need This?

If you’re reading my blog, probably not; but if you know some kids around 12 or so and want to introduce them to SF roleplaying, this would be one good place to start. (Alternatives would be the Classic Traveller Starter Set or Stars Without Number.)

I thought at first that £50 was a bit steep, when my first set of Traveller cost me £6; but taking into account inflation over the 40-odd years since then, that would be the equivalent of over £40 today. As Albie Fiore used to say, “Where else can you get an evening’s entertainment for six people for that kind of money?”

I was disappointed in the adventure and the enemy aliens, but bear in mind I am not the target demographic; twelve-year-old me would have been all over it like a rash in a cheap suit.

Tell Me More…

The first thing one notices is that the starter set is several items rather than one big book. Specifically, the set contains:

Book 1: Characters and Combat (129 pages). This has an introduction, and the rules for character creation, skills, tasks, combat, equipment and vehicles. Think of it as the players’ guide; it’s basically the bits of the core rulebook you need to play a character, and it looks to me like they have been simply copied from the main book.

Book 2: Spacecraft and Worlds (105 pages). This is more of a Game Master guide, and covers encounters, environmental hazards, spacecraft, ship operations and ship combat, psionics, trade, and world creation. Again, looks like the main book reformatted.

Book 3: The Fall of Tinath (105 pages). This is a campaign in four main scenarios which pits the travellers against the Esseray, aliens previously hinted at in Traveller 5 but (so far as I know) not detailed before. This book covers the Athwa subsector, the world of Tinath where much of the action occurs, a GM’s view of the Esseray, a cast of NPCs and advice on how to run the game, aimed at the inexperienced GM.

You can find Tinath on the Traveller Map, but it is pretty much on the other side of the galactic core from Charted Space. There’s a story to be told there about how humans got there, and when, and why their civilisation and equipment is so much like that of the Third Imperium. The key thing is it’s far enough away that it’s completely isolated from other Traveller products, giving the referee a free hand. It’s the only subsector in Calidan which has been detailed, and the GM is encouraged to fill in the blanks.

There are six pregenerated player characters, and a variety of maps; Athwa, Calidan, blank subsector, blank sector.

The PDF version also includes some printer-friendly deck plans, which I like because I don’t get on with the isometric ones Mongoose currently prefers. I don’t think they are in the hard copy version.

Review: Agents of Oblivion

“As far as I’m concerned, our characters should be running through burning alien fortresses, guns blazing, pausing only to say something heartbreaking and witty and true, and then more things blow up. This is why Savage Worlds tends to be my gaming system of choice.” – John Rogers, creator of Leverage

I got this because I am planning to start running the Dracula Dossier under Savage Worlds next year, and hoped it might save me some effort; it won’t. But since I have it now…

TL:DR

This is a 218 page PDF from Reality Blurs, a setting book for Savage Worlds which bills itself as “the perfect cocktail of horror and espionage”. The intent is that you should be able to play, as Rogers says in his foreword, “anything from Spellslinging Spy vs. Alien Brain Eater to Harry Palmer vs. That Unpleasant Fellow from Bulgaria.” Personally, I think it would work much better for the former than the latter – YMMV.

This is a game that I might cannibalise for parts, but am not likely to GM in its current form.

Could I Do This with Stuff I Already Have?

Well, depends what you have, obviously. But my answer was “Yes, I can, and I will.”

Tell Me More…

Slightly more than half the book is GM-only territory, with the first not-quite-half aimed at the players.

AoO is essentially urban fantasy; the modern world, but with some combination of elder gods, insane villains, and ancient aliens lurking in the shadows. The PCs are agents standing between these indescribable horrors and ordinary citizens.

Character creation follows Savage Worlds core for the most part; there are some new hindrances, edges and skills, and arcane backgrounds are slightly modified, but the general approach is the same. PCs start with four skills at d4 and a major hindrance tying them to their agency, which doesn’t count against their hindrance limit. They also pick a branch within the agency – assault, occult, or operations – which loans them a free edge so long as they work for it. In effect, they start somewhere between Novice and Seasoned. Ten archetypes are provided for those who just want to grab something and start playing right away, and a number of standard loadouts for those who feel the same way about gear.

Setting rules cover:

  • Extended trait checks – the core rules have moved on since AoO was written, and now offer dramatic tasks, which address the same problem (how to handle tasks over an extended period without risking everything on one die roll) in a different way.
  • Skill applications – things like how does my PC disguise herself as a customs officer? These will be useful to me, actually.

Gear is handled using “equipment picks” and “resource points” rather than actual currency, but the principle is the same; gear costs points or picks, and you have a limited number of them to spend. Picks can also be used to customise gear, points can also be used to have something on standby like a cover ID or an air strike, or to gain temporary use of an edge or power (justified in-game by special gear or focused training).

At this point we move into GM-only elements, starting with the secret history of the world, and moving on to describe Oblivion, the PCs’ patron organisation, and Pandora, their great foe, before speaking to how the GM should use the shared elements of the horror and espionage genres – action, violence, suspense – to merge them into a satisfying game. Before the campaign begins, the GM decides whether it will include aliens, conspiracies, the occult, horror, or technology, and if so, how much of each; the book provides half a dozen example campaign seeds – turn all the dials down and you get Spy vs Spy, the Cold War; turn them all up and you get the Company Line, in which everything is true and alien sorcerors in UFOs abound. The Company Line is the default option. There’s also a range of GM advice on how to run an AoO campaign.

Next is a region-by-region view of over 30 assorted secret organisations the PCs might bump into, each rated for its involvement with aliens, conspiracies, magic, horror, technology, and influence, with notes on its nature and agenda. A mission generator is provided, using dice for the mission’s structure, target, goal, plot, and what complications might arise, and in case you need more spy agencies and strange new creatures, there are a dice-based random generators to create your own.

Seven example adventures are given, each consisting of 2-5 barebones session descriptions, and a sampler of foes – mostly human(ish) opponents, these.

Review: The Universal World Profile

“Realistically, how much do you know about an international destination you have visited just once, perhaps on vacation? Let’s say you visit Jamaica. After having visited this holiday island for a week, do you know the name of the prime minister, or the names of its major cities and provinces? Do you know its history, decade by decade, the method it uses to elect its judiciary or the national level of literacy? Of course not. Why expect a player to pay the slightest bit of attention to these same facts? There are plenty of ‘quick guides’ to Jamaica on the internet, imagine if something similar existed for Deneb or Algol…” – The Universal World Profile

TL:DR

A world-building supplement for Cepheus Engine and other 2d6-based science fiction games *cough* Traveller *cough*. 62 page PDF by Zozer Games.

It’s a useful adjunct to Traveller world creation, with some good advice on how to interpret world statblocks; if you prefer another game, it will be less useful.

Could I Do This with Stuff I Already Have?

Sure; the value of the book is that the author (Paul Elliot) has done a lot of the research for you, and summarised it in a usable form. But, if you have the time, inclination, and either an internet link or access to a good library, you could replicate that.

Tell Me More…

I’ve become aware that without any deliberate intent on my part, Zozer Games has been slowly and quietly taking over a corner of my hard drive. ZG products are unassuming, but useful at the table, which gives them a longevity many other games lack.

This latest addition is based on the earlier World Creator’s Handbook, which was explicitly for Traveller. It’s divided into four main parts; Introduction, Star Systems, The UWP, and The Process. After that, we find a blank subsector map and some legal information, but I won’t go into those.

Introduction (2 pages): This explains the purpose of the book; generating Traveller-style planetary statblocks and then turning those into short descriptions that the players can use to understand the world, and the GM can use to inspire scenarios. The author also explains where his thinking comes from; his background in physical and human geography, geology, and ancient history.

Star Systems (2 pages): This gives a quick recap of how star mapping and system generation works in 2d6-based SF games.

The UWP (44 pages): Here’s the meat of the book; a recap of Traveller-style world generation, followed by a more in-depth look at each of the eight characteristics a world has under that system, and what can be inferred from them, which turns out to be quite a lot. Section by section:

Size suggests surface gravity, density, vulcanism, and notes one can use rotation, axial tilt and orbital eccentricity to explain the other stats, what weather you create by doing so, and likely impact on local lifeforms and colonists.

Atmosphere focuses on the possible pressure and composition of the local air, and likely effects thereof. It touches on a problem I’ve often noticed, namely that all airless and trace atmosphere worlds tend to turn out much the same in play; Elliot recommends placing settlements at interesting locations to make them stand out in the players’ minds.

Hydrographics splits worlds into dry, wet, and waterworlds, and speaks briefly to the implied physical geography; it’s one of the shorter sections.

Population is likewise divided into low and high; the author’s contention is that the high population worlds dominate the subsector and determine the culture of the subsector as a whole (and in his home game he caps population at 8 to control this), but the low population ones are the frontier locations where the fun happens; and since the low population worlds are dependent on their high-population cousins, the book recommends thinking about what that relationship is exactly, and flavouring each world accordingly to make it unique.

Government is covered in more detail, and is used to “provide form or shape to the lump of clay that is the population”. I won’t go into detail, but each possible government type gets about half a page of examples and suggestions. I tend to focus on how the author of such works – for there have been several – handles government type 5, feudal technocracy, which has no real historical counterpart; Elliot advises treating them as cyberpunk corporations headed by a noble family. I’ll have to try that, as well as his suggestion that charismatic oligarchies are historically transient governments, created as a reaction to an unpopular regime and quickly morphing into something else. (This made me realise that I’ve never really considered where my planetary governments came from or where they’re going, they just are; maybe I can freshen them up a bit by thinking about that.)

Law levels again are divided into bands; none, low, moderate, high and extreme, with a paragraph or two about the implications of each. This is a short section – understandably so as Law Level has actual rules about its effect in the source game.

Technology level is treated by the book as a guide to the technology currently in use, as this is easier to explain than why a planet of a few thousand nomads can produce its own grav vehicles. Each tech level in turn is discussed, explaining what technology is likely available at each; the author considers TL 12-15 as so closely related as to be arguably subdivisions of one tech level.

Starport type comes at the end of the generation sequence in Cepheus Engine, rather than at the beginning as in Classic Traveller. Starports are adequately defined in the rules as things stand, so the useful addition here is the set of examples comparing starport types to modern airports. The most useful part of this section is the advice on using the starport to introduce the planet and its unique aspects.

The author recommends not using the later addition to the process, temperature, as it constrains the outcomes too much; better to apply it later, with malice aforethought. This matches my own experience; I tried using temperature in Mongoose Traveller world generation and found that it slowed the process and stifled creativity without actually adding anything that helped me. YMMV of course, but judging by the published materials not even Mongoose themselves use the temperature or factions rules.

Trade classifications are derived from the other statistics, and while originally intended as an aide to interstellar trading (showing what goods are cheap, or expensive, locally), this does allow one to infer a good deal about local industry, agriculture and so on.

Bases are assumed to be naval, scout or pirate bases, and there are a couple of paragraphs on each type, considering their likely size and impact on the local economy and population.

Likewise, the two restricted travel zones – amber and red – are briefly considered, with short discussions of possible reasons for their status, and how interdiction might manifest itself.

Next, we move on to a brief discussion of interstellar governments and trade routes, something that isn’t much covered in the core rules. To be honest, it isn’t discussed in much detail here, either.

The Process (7 pages): Here, the author explains his process for creating worlds, first looking at the physical characteristics, then the social ones and trade codes, then flipping back and forth between the two to explain the social as a logical development of the physical, and finally creating a unique hook for the world, a gimmick to tie things together if the statblock doesn’t inspire – note that this is not necessarily a plot hook for a scenario. Three specific examples of the process are given, and leave me with the impression that the author treats a high law level as an indication that the government is unpopular; food for thought there.

-o0o-

You’ll notice that if you only want to generate a subsector for play, you can pretty much do it with this book. This makes it a useful supplement not just for Traveller, but for other games whose world generation systems either don’t exist or aren’t to the GM’s taste; it’s a mini-game you can drop in to another RPG for that purpose.

The book is liberally peppered with examples from the real world and science fiction movies and literature, which helps in visualising the author’s ideas.

The obvious comparison here is Stars Without Number, but it has a different approach. The Universal World Profile is more Old School, in that it generates random statblocks and seeks to explain them, thereby generating scenarios; Stars Without Number starts by assigning tags (its equivalent of what this book calls hooks and trade codes), which link directly to adventures, and only then generates the world background, which – at least in the revised edition – is then edited to fit the tags. In fact, I’m sure you could create an SWN sector just using the tags. Other contemporary SF games tend not to go into such detail about worlds, often because they have a set list of worlds baked in to the setting.

Either the SWN or the Traveller approach works well in game prep; SWN is faster, but the Traveller-style rules create worlds I find easier to use at the table, principally because they speak directly to the starport and government types and the law level. That’s probably because my players and I have a lot of Traveller experience and thus certain expectations of what one should know about a world, rather than because of any innate superiority of the rules.

Review: Sundered Skies

TL:DR

180 page setting and adventure book for Savage Worlds; sky pirates in the post-apocalyptic ruins of a fantasy world. It’s part Slipstream, part Firefly, part 50 Fathoms, part Tales of the Ketty Jay, part plain vanilla fantasy setting.

Like All for One, I didn’t expect to like this, but I do. It has much more promise than I anticipated.

Could I Do This with Stuff I Already Have?

Probably not. Sundered Skies is weirdly unique.

Tell Me More…

The Sundered Skies (4 pages): This introduces and describes the setting. The premise is that millennia ago, a standard fantasy world was shattered, leaving behind only a few islands floating in the void, connected by skyships under the control of a Trade Council. The void is lit by an orange glow which drives humanoids slowly mad with rage.

Characters (20 pages): This follows the standard Savage Worlds method; playable races are drakin (who eventually grow up to be dragons, but remind me of Traveller droyne), dwarves, elves, glowborn (souped-up goblins), humans, orcs, and wildlings (anthropomorphic animals). There’s the usual range of new edges and hindrances, and six fleshed-out characters, ready to play.

Gear (12 pages): The usual fantasy staples, plus items suited to fantasy sky pirates, notably flintlocks and skyships, together with rules covering trading between islands.

Magic and Religion (12 pages): Available arcane backgrounds are engineer (Weird Science), sorceror (Magic) and priest (Miracles). As usual in Savage Worlds, priests select a god to worship (there are 9) and there are new spells (about 20 of them).

Setting Rules (6 pages): These cover glowmadness (which drives characters into a rage); and skyships – combat, travel, repairs and crews.

Gazetteer (6 pages): The basics known to every PC; capsule descriptions of the various islands, guilds, notable NPCs, organisations and so on, in alphabetical order, much like the old Traveller library data.

A World in Hell (4 pages): This is the beginning of the GM section, and explains the secret history of the world – what really happened.

Islands of the Skies (12 pages): This is the GM’s equivalent of the Gazetteer, with random encounter tables for travel in the void and on islands, and more detailed information on the main 17 islands of the setting.

Adventures (14 pages): This is an unusually thorough random adventure generator, one of the best I’ve seen. It also looks like it would be easy to repurpose for Traveller freighter crews.

Savage Tales (43 pages): This is actually a plot point campaign in 30 scenarios, each keyed to a location – the idea is that the PCs meander around the void, and when they land on an island, there are a couple of adventures waiting for them; over time, these form a long-term campaign, punctuated by the 8 plot point scenarios.

Characters and Creatures (38 pages): Roughly 90 monsters and stock NPCs, followed by a dozen major NPCs who appear in the plot point adventures.

The book ends in an index.

Review: All for One

“A great story should always trump historical accuracy.” – All for One

The thing about buying bundles is, you invariably wind up with some things you would not have bought normally. I bought the TAG@Ten bundle for the Hellfrost items, I already had Necropolis 2350, and I’m not interested in the Incinerator’s Handbook that came with it, but All for One and Sundered Skies are things that pique my interest enough to be read, although I’ll probably never run them. So:

TL:DR

Alternate history 17th century setting for Savage Worlds. Musketeers, and magic, and things that go bump in the night, oh my. 168 page PDF written by Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams. Does that man never sleep?

I wasn’t expecting to like this, but I do. A lot. It goes into the queue of stuff I’d like to run someday.

Can I Do This With Stuff I Already Have?

In theory, yes; the rules are not that distant from core Savage Worlds, and much of the setting material is taken from real history, which lies in the public domain. In practice, the amount of time it would take you to create such a detailed 17th century magickal setting renders that impractical.

Tell Me More…

A Sick Land (2 pages): This introduces the setting (France during the 30 years war, but with magic and monsters), and explains how close to real history it is (surprisingly, given the premise).

Character Generation (12 pages): This generally follows the core Savage Worlds rules, with the exception that every PC has a lackey, a companion or servant of some kind. Let’s focus on those for a moment.

Lackeys are created and controlled by another player, which allows the PC to interact with his servant in play without talking to himself. Lackeys are Extras with 4 attribute points and 10 skill points, and may never have combat skills above d6. They don’t gain experience, but the player may choose to use one of his PC’s advances on the lackey instead.

This chapter also includes the setting rules (which you may need to build your PC). As one might expect, these focus on fencing styles (modified versions of skill specialisation) and “social duelling” (witty repartee). Fencing is supported by a number of new edges, each of which requires membership of a particular fencing school (see below).

Female musketeers are fine, by the way.

Sample Characters (10 pages): Ten pregenerated stock PCs. This is something most other games and settings could usefully adopt; for a new campaign in an unfamiliar setting, it helps the players to grab a fully-developed archetype and just start playing. One can always come back and create a character later – or not.

Fencing Schools (10 pages): PCs may be aligned to a particular fencing school. The chapter details 16 of these, each with a particular style it teaches, a signature move (which allows members of the school access to an edge or special rule of some kind) and background information which allows the school to act as a source of adventure seeds.

Artes Magicae (6 pages): The available backgrounds are Magick and Alchemy, and the No Power Points setting rule is in force. A magician must choose one of three traditions; ceremonial, natural or theurgical, all based on summoning and binding spirits in some way. Magicians have one or more Arts (effectively arcane skills), and each of the dozen or so Arts grants access to a list of powers which are known automatically; this is balanced by the higher cost of such skills and the rule that no power can be cast until its penalty has been reduced to zero by spending extra actions on casting it.

Alchemists mix mundane chemicals to create powders, oils etc which can be used to cast a power. It is essentially a fourth tradition. The big mechanical difference is that the alchemist makes his casting roll in advance, to create his concoction, and can use it later, knowing in advance what the die roll result will be.

Gear (14 pages): What you’d expect; descriptions and stats for coinage, melee weapons, firearms, artillery, armour, fancy clothes, survival gear, tools, transport, and a variety of things you can buy in taverns.

Living in the Era (36 pages): A simplified version of history, alchemy, fashion and daily life around the time of the Thirty Years’ War. Solid, interesting stuff, but you could find most of it on Wikipedia if interested, so I won’t go into detail; however, I will say that if you’re interested in a campaign set in 17th century France, this chapter is worth the price of admission by itself. It interested me to the point that I started wanting to run this campaign.

Adventures (8 pages): All for One assumes this is not your first rodeo as GM, so it focuses on the themes; morality, romance, cliffhangers. Then there are styles of game – dials the GM can turn to adjust the amounts of swashbuckling, or supernatural events and beings, and investigative vs action adventures. Eleven generic adventure seeds are provided, each of which could be used several times. Special mention is made of Richelieu and his role as the chief villain; no spoilers, but do not boogie with Richelieu, he will mess you up.

Friends and Enemies (58 pages): Unusually, this focuses on organisations allied, enemy and neutral, with relatively few statblocks, and most of those for human opponents. I approve; antagonistic organisations are more useful than individual foes at the table, as the latter have a very short lifespan once they encounter the PCs.

We close with the obligatory character sheet, a map of Paris, and an index.

Review: Hellfrost – Land of Fire and Arcane Lore

The TAG@Ten bundle is the gift that keeps on giving… in this case it’s giving me more Hellfrost goodies from the prolific pen of Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams.

Land of Fire Core Setting

Think of this as the Arabian Nights expansion for Hellfrost, a counterpart to the icy Scandinavian wastes of Hellfrost proper. You will need the Hellfrost Player’s Guide to use it (and also the Hellfrost Bestiary if you are the GM), since elements common to both are not repeated in Land of Fire.

Today, I’m in a lazy mood and will summarise the 198 pages very concisely.

Character Creation: Five races, and rules for native PCs from the Land of Fire. The races are the ubiquitous humans (two different cultural flavours), jinn-blooded (who are humans with a natural affinity to jinn magic), cakali (jackal-men), hyaenidae (hyena-men), and sand goblins (part goblin, part camel). There are a few new hindrances and quite a lot of desert-themed edges.

Religion and Magic: The history and culture of the Land of Fire is dominated by Suleiman, who spawned two religions, the Devoted and the Faithful; each PC must choose one of these, and the main difference in gameplay is that only Devoted may have magic as their arcane background, and only Faithful may have miracles. There are six new types of magical arcane background, and 12 new gods as foci for miraculous arcane backgrounds.

Desert Life: Calendars, daily life, diet, customs, travel and trade, organisations, and whatnot.

Setting Rules for desert survival and adventure; the effects of and variations in temperature (if you’re an ice wizard – sorry, hrimwisard – you might want to think twice about coming south), water consumption, nomad hospitality. So far this is all player-friendly and occupies about the first third of the book

Gazetteer, bestiary, and map, in that order. These take up about two-thirds of the book and are for the GM only. As with the Hellfrost Gazetteer, there are detailed generic settlement types (the GM is encouraged to add settlements to taste, except for cities which are all shown on the map already), sections on the various states and important locations within or between them, and details of organisations to use as adversaries. There’s a selection of desert-themed monsters and finally a two-page colour map.

It’s Wiggy’s usual broad and deep treatment of the Hellfrost setting. Nice work, although you should think of it as an expansion rather than a new setting per se, because you’ll need the base Hellfrost setting to stand it on.

Arcane Lore

This is a short (36 pages) expansion of the magical traditions of Rassilon, home continent for the Hellfrost setting, and is tightly bound to that setting; I don’t think it will be much use to you in other fantasy worlds.

The main traditions are druidism, elementalism, heahwisardry, hrimwisardry, rune magic and song magic. The book also adds three new and lesser traditions; glamour (illusions), solar magic (a lost art whose existence is known only from records), and soul binding (preserving heads to retain access to their knowledge) – these last require access to the Hellfrost Expansion books to use, and I don’t have those.

Each tradition is presented with notes on its beliefs, organisation, favoured trappings and schools if any, which races favour it, specific new power edges that members of the tradition gain access to, and so forth.

Finally there is a short selection of new edges.

This isn’t the sort of thing I would normally add to my collection, as I am almost obsessive about minimising the number of books I use in each campaign; it’s on my hard drive now as it was part of the downloaded bundle.

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