[generic] What rpgs have you read recently?

R

ragr

Guest
#1
Latest rpg read was Heart Of The Wild for ToR.

A confession; I find gazetteers to be a bit of a struggle. So many in the past have contained so much information and content that I've had to forget the cool stuff from 20 pages ago just to fit in the current page's cool content. I read them, put them down and go....what did it say again? So, I was a little trepidatious about Heart Of The Wild. I needn't have been, however. Yes, it looked at the broad geographical sweep of the Anduin and Mirkwood - a pretty vast area - but it did so with the cunning knack of providing just the right of information to be interesting without overwhelming with location, character and plot. That was a pretty nifty trick. I'm sure you've mostly all read it so I won't go into much detail but each subdivision of each region was superbly laid out with history, flora, fauna, occupants, notable npcs and key locations all wrapped up in between 3-10 pages. A satisfying bitesize for me. The artwork was to the usual evocative ToR standard (man, Dol Guldur looks sweet) and the maps clear and usable. The writing carried on with the atmosphere from the previous two books. It is pretty clear that I'm going to run out of superlatives for ToR fairly quickly so forgive me if I repeat myself but this was excellent.

I can see from reading through this how much of an influence that Middle Earth had on EGG when designing the World Of Greyhawk; there's nothing absolutely specific but an historical storyline here, a descriptive location there or an npc's personality. I loved the WOG and it still remains my favourite D&D setting, but reading through this feels like you're reading an original world rather than a very good analogue seen through someone else's lens.

Travelling forward to Darkening Of Mirkwood. This will be coloured a little by having started and then abandoned the campaign as a player.
 
R

ragr

Guest
#4
That's The Darkening Of Mirkwood finished then. Absolutely no let up in the quality of the writing or presentation and it was an engaging read that hooked you in with the characters and the overarching plot. This takes a different approach to Tales From Wilderland, being an epic 30 year campaign with each year represented by a section that relates events that take place within the campaign over that year, an Adventuring Phase scenario for the companions and then, in most but not all years, a Fellowship Phase. The first of these sections may include events that the pcs are involved with but for the most part are things that happen off screen; in some cases the events can be woven into the Adventuring Phase although this would require some preparation for the LM. Some of these events it would be disappointing to miss given their importance to the campaign and others are just things it would be nice to play out because the players may never actually get to hear about them otherwise, which seems a waste.

The scenarios range from a full on expedition type mission to nothing more than a social encounter which is where some of the events could be used to fill things out for the year. Some of the scenarios are sketchy and leave the LM with some work; I'll say that at least a handful will have the LM doing a lot of work to make things satisfactory and filling.

The campaign itself is epic in scope with the basic theme of good vs evil and light vs dark prevalent in both descriptive and encounter terms. There is a degree of flexibility built in for outcomes so things don't become too linear, although there are a couple of "along for the ride" moments which may jar if you're annoyed by such things or may well pass by with a nod of acceptance. Some big npcs get involved in events at times but they don't dominate the actions of the pcs. There is a real chance of defeat in the campaign which is perfectly suited to the source.

I have reservations, however. Not the least of which is the fact that this isn't really a campaign. It's actually more of a campaign framework throughout which the LM is going to have to do a fair share of heavy lifting to get things to the table and to keep it there, which is going to mean putting time aside to write things up and detail things where needed. For me that's a big downside as time can sometimes be scarce. On the other hand, if everything were laid out like a complete campaign this book could easily be 5 times the size. Having The Heart Of The Wild is essential as well. There's work for the players too in terms of getting their heads around the concept of the campaign and then generating characters that will not only fit but are willing to be yanked around a bit to be in the right places for events.

Overall it looks like a memorable campaign and, once more, more than capable of delivering that special Middle Earth feel. I have significant reservations about some of the gaps in content and details, however, and it's the only ToR product so far to leave me a little underwhelmed. I'm pretty sure though that in the hands of a group willing to invest time to fill in those gaps then an epic experience is guaranteed.
 
R

ragr

Guest
#5
Rivendell read and up to the usual ToR standards in terms of writing and presentation. One interesting thing for me in reading this was the reminder of how bleak and storied Eriador is. I mean, I knew, but with all the early attention on the situations east of the Misty Mountains it was easy to forget how incredibly doom-laden the immediate west is as well. The book uses the same initial format as HotW with a regional history followed by zooming in on specific areas. The same flora/fauna, npcs and locations format is used and as with HotW the detail is just right. There's a lot of focus on Rivendell itself and the artwork is absolutely fantastic in bringing it to life; there are also gorgeous portraits to admire and maps of Elrond's house to pore over. The other areas all come alive with descriptive text and the scenario possibilities spring off the page - not that I'll need them with Ruins Of The North up next.

There is a bestiary for the region that mostly consists of the undead that haunt this region. All of these are suitably powerful and full of dread; looking at the stats these would be a real challenge for most fellowships, which is fitting.

There are a few rules sections in Rivendell which I was initially wary of - I'm becoming very tired of added rules in products unless they're very specifically tied to the region and are light in nature. The first rules section deals with the possibilities of wondrous items found in hoards in which a character rolls a dice to see if they discover something wonderful in a given pile of treasure. This section seems a bit fiddly to me but it does present an option in a way that is very true to the source material and the atmosphere that's trying to be created so I'm choosing to be forgiving and will indulge it unless it grates. One of the good things is that the players decide whether they want to discover something or not as gaining something interesting does involve sacrificing experience points.

The second section introduces something called Eye Awareness and is essentially a form of mechanical numeration for when the fellowship might come to the attention of the Enemy, drawing some kind of event; parallels here to the Heat mechanic in NBA. I like the idea and the intent and it doesn't seem too complex so time will tell if my strong dislike of bean-counting will be cancelled by the possibilities of flavour considering that this could be achieved without the numbers as long as there is a measure of trust between players and LM.

Finally we have two new Cultures in the form of Rangers and High Elves that are playable. These are far more powerful than the standard Cultures in the main book so I'd be wary of introducing these without some serious consideration. On the flip side there are numerical counter balances put in place to ensure a degree of balance as characters progress. Does it even out? Only one way to find out.

Overall this carries on the standard of the rest of the range so far and calling it excellent is becoming par for the course, which shouldn't detract from how good it actually is.
 

Dom

SuperMunchkin
#6
The second section introduces something called Eye Awareness and is essentially a form of mechanical numeration for when the fellowship might come to the attention of the Enemy, drawing some kind of event; parallels here to the Heat mechanic in NBA. I like the idea and the intent and it doesn't seem too complex so time will tell if my strong dislike of bean-counting will be cancelled by the possibilities of flavour considering that this could be achieved without the numbers as long as there is a measure of trust between players and LM.
Works smoothly in the background in Dr Mitch's TOR game. It's noted in chat and we are conscious of the Eyes of Sauron coming up. A recent death march to Angmar showed it to great effect.

Finally we have two new Cultures in the form of Rangers and High Elves that are playable. These are far more powerful than the standard Cultures in the main book so I'd be wary of introducing these without some serious consideration. On the flip side there are numerical counter balances put in place to ensure a degree of balance as characters progress. Does it even out? Only one way to find out.
Experience of having a Ranger in the party now is that they seem to have the balance pretty much there.
 
R

ragr

Guest
#7
The Ruins Of The North is the follow-up to the Rivendell sourcebook and offers six adventures set in Eriador for non-starting characters that can be tied together to form a campaign if desired. The book continues the visual form of the previous releases in the line with excellent quality illustrations, maps and backgrounds. Unfortunately, this book cannot keep up the very high standard of the previous books in terms of the writing and creation of the Middle Earth atmosphere. Though it tries hard and succeeds more often than it fails it just lacks consistency. A glance at page 2 reveals all; where in previous books the writing was almost exclusively Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and Francesco Nepitello, RotN sees a total of 6 writers and suffers because of it. Of the six adventures, half hit the usual standard and would require little work to fit into an ongoing campaign and continue the rich atmosphere of those from Tales From Wilderland and Darkening Of Mirkwood although the links between each are a little tenuous, as you'd expect when they're written separately; the main link is, quite naturally, Imladris wherein the characters are assumed to be "spending time." It's not a strong link campaign wise but shouldn't stretch credibility too far if players are charitable. The final adventure contains a very nice curtain closer with a strong challenge for the characters to face; there's a slight dissonance with the final adventure as it takes on a little of the tale of the years format from DoM, where the previous 5 adventures are more traditionally framed.

Of the remaining adventures 2 require a little tinkering with to make a little more sense; one of them is a little confusingly written and caused some flicking back over previous pages to ascertain salient facts that weren't as well flagged up as they might have been. Many of the previous ToR scenarios had some complex plotting but were easy to remember, but this one was just not as clear. The second of these two scenarios really had me shaking my head in annoyance at a lazy resolution; this particular scenario features a prominent npc who is integral to the unfolding story and accompanies and assists the fellowship at times. Imagine then, this wonderful footnote at the end of the adventure; "The adventure as written does not offer a way to free X of Y. We have chosen not to provide a solution here, to leave the LM free to engineer the story into his own campaign in the way he sees best." That's just weak for me. If you're going to introduce an npc to work with the fellowship and one of the reasons they're working with the pcs is the removal of their problem then you need to write about the solution to the problem rather than lamely hand it over. Yes, the LM could design their own solution but I don't really purchase a scenario book for the writer to say "you figure it out." The scenario itself is mostly fine but was weakened by this lazyness.

Finally, one of the scenarios is just plain poor. In fact, it feels like a generic fantasy scenario shoehorned into ToR; even the npc naming conventions are way off and there's absolutely no Middle Earth atmosphere to this one at all. I would drop this one from the campaign when it gets run.

There are some potential problems going forward with the game line in terms of the dilution of the fantastic atmosphere that has been created by FN and GRH; it wasn't noticeable in Rivendell, but was in this book. It's understandable that the two previous writers wouldn't be able to consistently take on the joint burden of writing for the product line forever but I'm hoping that this won't lead to an ongoing dip in quality. Perhaps it's something that is less likely to effect region books and more obviously an issue when you're trying to formulate a consistent storytelling narrative - see The Curse Of Nineveh for the effects of split writing on a connected campaign.

Anyway, these are my first disappointments with the ToR line; maybe the very high standards of the previous books have coloured things slightly. A dip then and there's still enough here to make for a great campaign and gaming experience.

On to Rohan.
 
R

ragr

Guest
#8
Horse Lords Of Rohan completed. Business as usual in ToR world with the usual production values, very few typos, something I've not given them credit for previously when it was deserved, and some great artwork; Isengard, Helm's Deep and Edoras in particular. The previous sourcebook format is kept from the other books with the regions, creatures, additional rules and playable cultures sequence. The regions seemed to be a little more detailed this time and were a little more of a slog this time around as a result; this might also be because of the lack of variety in describing each particular sub-region of the Riddermark compared to previous books being broader in scope. It was a bit of a relief to get to the Dunlending, Isengard and Fangorn sections for a touch of variety. This was not a huge problem but I found that names and places began to blur a little through lack of clear definition; I'm a bit concerned about Erebor as a result. As with the last two books this was a group effort in terms of writing although variation wasn't overly noticeable. Overall, for me this was the weakest of the sourcebooks so far but I think its real value will become clear with the arrival of Oaths Of The Riddermark.

The additional rules devoted to actions and combat actions while mounted initially filled me with trepidation but they seem quite simple coming off the page and shouldn't be hard to incorporate. The Cultures also have flavour with the Dunlending one flagged up as sub-optimal initially but with scope to gain advantages later; I don't mind this kind of thing as I find artificial balance a little annoying.

A touch below par maybe, but the bar is set very high on ToR products.
 

Dom

SuperMunchkin
#9
Not finished it yet, but got so hooked on the Delta Green Handler's Guide that I find myself 142 pages into it (out of 370) and up far too late. The hook of an integrated timeline (which layers all the old scenarios in and extends it to 2017) was too much to resist.
 

Dom

SuperMunchkin
#10
Migrated from the 'What have you read?' thread:

## *The Sword, The Crown and the Unspeakable Power* (Todd N. & Tom J.)
This was an RPG I backed indirectly last year on Kickstarter thanks to Steve Ellis pulling together a group order. It promised a ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ engined game aimed to create the kind of power politicking seen in *Game of Thrones*, as endorsed by Niccolò Machiavelli. On an initial read through, it may well have achieved that aim. Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the playing, and unfortunately this arrived too late for me to try at *Revelation 2018*.

The default setting is the traditional western world take on fantasy, but there are notes on using other settings and mythologies. Playbooks have a variety of archetypes who can be common or elite, and may be patrons or agents of others. You can be Crown in this game, but it does expose you nicely. The initial play defines mythology and also who controls what resource. Some moves are powered by spending your *honor* (effectively a stat that shows your reputation with the faction to whom you are aligned). Each character will have a faction (which may not entirely overlap with their core activities).The Unspeakable Power is magic, from whatever source it comes from.

The game is definitely PVP, across all areas (social and physical) and there is guidance for making sure that the players are all comfortable with this. The X-card gets a run out, as do lines and veils. As one of the playbooks is effectively the Palace Torturer, this is probably a good thing.

In conclusion, on initial read this is one of those games that makes me want to get it to the table. I hope it delivers.
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r
Staff member
#11
Migrated from the 'What have you read?' thread:

## *The Sword, The Crown and the Unspeakable Power* (Todd N. & Tom J.)

...

In conclusion, on initial read this is one of those games that makes me want to get it to the table. I hope it delivers.
Thanks for the nice mini review. I hope you do wheel it out. If I am brave I will play. It s very clear of the PVP premise, and probably means it will get little interest from me, but I'd love to try my hand at Peter Stringfellow's Lord of the Rings sometime.
 
R

ragr

Guest
#12
Erebor was a bit of a treat as it happens, as my fears about it being one dimensional disappeared with the chapter devoted to the Dalelands as well as the entries for the Dwarven kingdom. The writing was consistent throughout despite a plethora of different contributors and the atmosphere was retained throughout the whole book. The usual sourcebook format was used with the creatures section replaced with a treatise specifically dedicated to dragons. There's a nice synopsis of the whereabouts and interests of the remaining companions of Thorin and how thay may intervene in the affairs of pcs. The maps and illustrations of both Erebor and Dale were up to the usual excellent standards of the other books. There's an additional section covering the Dwarf/Orc wars with a brief history and how it might impact upon Dwarven pcs; this was nice touch which allows for a little deeper background. Finally there are two new cultures with Dwarfs of the Iron Hills and Grey Mountains presented as playable. Again, the true value of the book will become clear with any subsequent, specific campaign book although parts of Tales From Wilderland and Darkening Of Mirkwood take place in the region. Overall a fine read.
 
R

ragr

Guest
#13
I'm up to date with my ToR reading then with the completion of Bree. This was up there with the rest in terms of writing and presentation with some gorgeous renderings of both Bree and The Prancing Pony. What a cover! I just want to walk in, order a beer, take a seat and observe the goings on in the common room. The book follows the previous source books (up to a point) with history of the area, prominent npcs and descriptions of geographical features. There's playable culture in "Men of Bree." This though is little more than a third of the book and here is where things get a little perplexing for me. Granted, Breeland is not as exciting and interesting as the other areas thus far covered and the amount of content here is testament to that, so the previous route of sourcebook - scenario book has been abandoned and replaced with the two combined. Which is okay as the material on the region is great and the scenarios are decent and well tied in to the region. But - there had to be one - there's a lack of grandeur or sense of the epic running through the scenarios in particular. Where Tales from Wilderland and Darkening Of Mirkwood (in particular) have a grand arc with gentle beginnings leading to epic threats, the scenarios here are all very low key; they're linked by a common antagonist but that doesn't really convey quite the same feel of oppressive threat. I suppose that's fitting to the area and in key but loses something in the big picture; it's like an acoustic version of a favourite "big" song. One of them isn't helped by having a key named npc appear and disappear with little or no dramatic impact, like a perfunctory guest spot to remind you we're in Middle Earth.

Overall it's still a great read and good resource for the game although I can't help feeling the region wouldn't have been better served by being linked to another as part of a larger sourcebook and then separate campaign. Maybe they wanted to keep it quite short to avoid repetition as there's only so much homely parochialism most of us can endure without wanting to set things on fire.

One thing I do want to applaud the writers and C7 for is the variable page count of all the ToR books. I well remember the old TSR 2e sourcebooks rigidly tied to the same page count regardless of how much content was really available and this is something that ToR has avoided.
 
#14
Star Trek Adventures - Seems like a canny game, that I know I'll end up running. Lots of stuff packed into here, including a lot of in-character boxed text which is nice. However, I wonder whether losing that and upping the text size a couple of points wouldn't have improved readability somewhat. Also, I know there is a black-on-white version, but the white-on-black version (with the grey, purple and orange occasional text for shits and giggles) hurts my eyes and brain (I won the book in a raffle, I can't really argue!)
 
#15
I wonder whether losing that and upping the text size a couple of points wouldn't have improved readability somewhat.
I totally agree. I'm not suggesting I know everything about Trek, but I skipped it all - assuming that it was either something I did know or STA-specific material I would never use. It made the reading experience far easier and much much quicker.
 

Dom

SuperMunchkin
#16
So I finished reading the Delta Green Handler's Guide tonight, and I like it. It's a solid background book with hooks on how to play DG from the 190s through to the modern day. The rules are all pretty much in the Agent's Handbook. There's good material on running 'the Unnatural' and how to drive a campaign. It's definitely much more bleak than The Esoterrorists (but I knew that already as I've owned pretty much everything for the setting for a long time. The Great Old Ones etc are not really statted; you get abilities but they are entities of true power. The descriptions of the Unnatural are vague enough that you can easily play around with them (and are encouraged to do so, with guidance on making unique Entities), but I think Trail of Cthulhu wins out on the suggestions for divergent takes.

The change from CoC6 is solid and feels good; much more modern in feel and lighter, even if it isn't. I like the touches lifted from Unknown Armies in the sanity aspects.

I have a nice spiral bound version now for North Star as the Slipcased version from the Kickstarter won't arrive until after the convention. Next game up is probably a recap of the Agent's Handbook.
 

Dom

SuperMunchkin
#17
I finished the Agent's Handbook last night for Delta Green. It was a re-read, but I'm still impressed with the way that this is written. Clearly laid out, great art and focused writing come together for a very readable package. It tells you virtually nothing about the background, but gives lots of hints on how Delta Green behaves, how it hides itself and the book finishes with a useful section on tradecraft for the players.

System-wise, it is officially built under the OGL and cites Legend as a reference. That said, the evolution from BRP/CoC is clear, as is the link to Unknown Armies (2nd, not sure about 3rd).

Skill rolls are still d100, with higher level successes - crits - coming from rolling a pair the same number under your skill level. I think that these were called 'cherries' in Unknown Armies, but don't have those rules to hand. Opposed rolls look for the highest skill roll under the skill to win.

Combat is pretty much as you'd expect, given its parentage, except for the lethality roll. Certain weapons have a lethality rating and perhaps a kill radius. The targets affected make a percentage check, and if they fail they're dead. If they succeed, they take the sum of the roll (i.e. 2d10). This is pretty nasty, but gives a very streamlined mechanic.

There is still a SAN rating which is based on POW x5. You have a fixed threshold determined by your POW that will give you disorders and drive insanity if you drop too low. You can be forced into a fight/flight/freeze reaction if you lose too much SAN in one roll. The game is brutal on SAN loss. You will lose SAN repeatedly if you find bodies, see people killed etc. SAN is split into 3 areas - Violence, the Unnatural and Helplessness. Like Unknown Armies, you can become hardened to losses in Violence and Helplessness after repeated exposures, but you can never become hardened to the Unnatural.

Being hardened may mean that they don't affect you the way they did but it costs. Your Bonds - relationships with friends, family, lovers - will deteriorate with SAN loss and when you become hardened to an aspect. As this happens, you will most likely build a new bond with Delta Green. Eventually, everything you love will have gone, burned away by the effects of the war with the Unnatural on your behaviour leaving only the mission and your colleagues. It feels so much more brutal than Call of Cthulhu. You will go insane. You will lose everything. In return, you will keep the rest of humanity in blissful ignorance for a few more months and years.

Very well written; I'll see how it plays out at North Star.
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r
Staff member
#18
Two recent ones:

Alien: Campaign setting for Genesys - amazing what high quality fan work you can pick up on the Interwobble. Nice summary of setting, gear and archetypes to mine for high volume of ammunition gaming out in the cold empty scream. I'm enjoying the simple adaptability of Genesys right now, and this taster shows what you can do.

King for a Day - by Jim Pinto - I keep coming back to this brilliantly described fantasy Anglo-Saxon sandbox systemless setting, that just cries out for a short campaign. I'd probably customise an Ironsworn character sheet and get cracking, but Fate, Dungeon World or Mythras would all sing along balefully too. How can I get this to the table?

I'm also reading Infinity. Actually, it is quite good.
 

Dom

SuperMunchkin
#20
Are there any decent reviews anywhere on that? The PDF is on the high end of the price and I usually like to get the book version, which means it's close on £30 but very light on info.
 
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