Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advanced Feats: The Cavalier's Creed

Advanced Feats: The Cavalier's Creed (PDF)
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

The Cavalier's Creed is that latest offering from Open Design in the Advanced Feats line of Pathfinder RPG compatible books that focus on the classes presented in the Advanced Players Guide. It is a 16-page PDF that consists of a full color cover with artwork, a credits page, the customary OGL page, a split-page of Advanced Feats line advertisements, and 12-pages of content.

As with previous entries in this series, we are presented with an examination of the advanced class, 30 feats for it, and build ideas and three examples. It also has a nice cover by Christophe Swal that is quite evocative of the cavalier.

Okay, there's the cut-and-dry aspects out of the way, now onto the editorialization...

It'd be a slight understatement if I said that I like the work of Sigfried Trent on the Advanced Feats series, as well as that of his wife, and graphic designer of the series, Anne Trent. I really do as they put out a quality product for the folks at Open Design each and every time and The Cavalier's Creed is no exception.

In addition to the crunchy mechanics within, we are also presented with various author notes about historical footnotes, design notes, and factoids that are a combination of interesting and useful for the reader. Whether the reader is someone who remembers cavaliers in their various incarnations in d20-based roleplaying games, as well as a certain overly entitled pain-in-the-backside from a certain fantasy-based cartoon, or they are someone new to the class, this PDF will be quite useful and informative.

The black-and-white illustrations are a nice touch, as well, especially given their period feel and flavor. In fact, I would say that the illustrations lend an ambiance to the text, given the subject matter, and it helps put someone in the right mindset for playing a cavalier.

See, it is not just about being noble, talking flowery language, or being the hopeless romantic, and The Cavalier's Creed helps show that quite nicely. A quixotic knight is not a career, it is a calling. It is not a character trait, it is character exemplified. It is not just tilting at windmills, it is knowing that one of them one day will be a dragon.

Basically, being a cavalier is taking an unreasonable ideal or belief and instilling it as such a core concept for a character that it becomes reasonable, nay even admirable. It is when chivalry leaves a cavalier that the unreasonable occurs, but fortunately with a piece like The Cavalier's Creed that will not happen.

Buy yours today, for $3.95 (PDF).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Unkindness (PDF or Print)
Michael Satran
Cover Art, Illustrations, and Layout by DT Butchino
Published by BlackWyrm Publishing

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Atomic Array.

First off, let us get the basics out of the way: Unkindness is an adventure for used with Heroes 6th Edition or ICONS that is 36-pages in length, which accounts for the front and back covers, blank inside cover pages, an informative credits page, an advertisement, a two-page license, and 28 pages of adventure material. There's color art and maps, a wide variety of dual statblocks for non-player characters, and more.

Secondly, it ain't often that I come across a gaming product that shares a touchstone with my academic life, yet Unkindness does just that with its psychological subject matter. Often when folks here 'mature themes' they think danse macabre, erotica, or some untoward thing, yet with Unkindness we're exposed to an all-to-common untoward act, as both a motivation for the events in the adventure and focal point for the heroes and their actions and re-actions. Not only did I find this an interesting avenue with respect to adventure design, but I applaud the message at the core of the adventure.

Yeah, I know, that's a bit vague, but I hate spoilers and I think that this is one best left discovered via player, or while laying out an adventure.

Basically, as a soon-to-be-graduated professional in the field of psychology, I'd like to take my hat off to Michael Satran and BlackWym Publishing for working with a difficult subject in a way that was both creatively sound, and morally sound.

But, enough of the lofty thought, and on to the grit of gamerness.

Unkindess is an adventure that you can drop into pretty much any location with only a modest amount of shoehorning. It includes some crisp maps that can not only be used for the adventure that they're included with, but also any contemporary roleplaying game. The art is very comicbookish, and it reminds me of some of the more indie comics, or small pressed from the 80s or, possibly, some of the later 70s.

You've a mysterious villain, unusual henchmen, and Norse mythology all rolled into a plot that's deeper, and perhaps more twisted, than a first or second look would suggest.

As the tag line suggests, "And even the mightiest of gods can be inspired by the evil that men do..."

Unkindness does just that. Not only could it pluck at heartstrings, and mash buttons on issues of the heroes, but perhaps their players as well. But, that's what roleplaying games can do for folks. Empathy is an interesting skill to hone, as not only seeing how someone else walks in their shoes, but why they walk as they do can be a powerfully moving thing.

So if you're up for an interesting game with your players, one that might have them think beyond the table while still having a good time, then Unkindness is definitely the right choice for your table.

Buy yours today, for $3.95 (PDF) or $6.95 (Print).

Want to learn more about Unkindness? Read on...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tales of the Old Margreve

Tales of the Old Margreve (PDF or Print)
Tim & Eileen Connors
published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

There are many stark contrasts between urban, suburban, and rural lifestyles, and all are quite telling of the communities that inhabit those environs. One of the more apropos, with respect to the topic of this review, would be that of the feelings of the people toward forested areas and what can be found within them. Those within an urban environment see the forest in two different manners, those verdant places outside of their borders that have a nostalgic veneer to them and the controlled parks within their border that are places of tranquility sometimes disrupted by the disdained segments of their populaces. However, the further away from the sprawl you get the truer notion of the old woods comes to the forefront...the deep dark of the wooded fringes are best feared and respected for we have forgotten the unfettered wilds within them.

Tales of the Old Margreve is here to remind your players of this very fact, that sometimes there are more dark things within the woodlands than found within mere dungeons.

Within this adventure anthology are all the resources you would need to craft a campaign with The Old Margreve forest as the centerpiece. Not only is there an open piece of fiction, to give you the flavor of the area, but also a gazetteer. There is also a bestiary and region-specific magic section, full of encounters and more flavor. Yet the bulk of this modest tome are the eight adventures that cover the ranges of play from 1st to 10th level that easily add to the potential sandbox nature of this product.

You've Richard Pett's Hollow (1st-level), The Honey Queen by Jonathan McAnulty (2nd or 3rd level), Challenge of the Fang by Dan Voyce (4th level), The Griffon Hatchling Heist by Michael Furlanette (5th level), Gall of the Spider Crone by Tim Connors (6th level), Dan Voyce's Blood and Thorns (7th level), Grandmother's Fire from Ben McFarland (8th or 9th level), and The Lustful Dragon by Steven Robert (10th level), all barely contained within these pages.

If you're looking for an imposingly ancient woodland, a place that would make even the longest of the long-lived whisper, then Tales of the Old Margreve is for you and your table. If your players seem jaded toward stone walls and tunnels, and you'd like to surprise them with an old thought or memory, then this is the product to use. It'd be easy to use the adventures as need, work up an adventure chain, or sandbox a campaign out of this book.

In addition to the main product, there are also supplementary products that include a useful web compilation and a cool set of Ashton Sperry's paper minis.

Buy yours today, for $9.95 (PDF) or $24.95 (Print). The web compilation for $1.95 (PDF) and the Paper Minis $3.95 (PDF).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Advanced Feats: The Summoner's Circle

Advanced Feats: The Summoner's Circle (PDF)
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

If all I saw was the Eidolon Character Sheet, that would be enough.

Yeah, I know, I paraphrased a quote from A Knight's Tale, I'm cool like that. It could have been Roar, as my Heath Ledger man crush is that dated. I'm just warning you all.

Anyhow, on toward the review...

Seriously, there's an Eidolon Character cool is that?

Sigfried Trent offers further exploration of the new classes found within Paizo's Advanced Player's Guide for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, this time the focus is upon the Summoner. As with prior Advanced Feats works, we've a series of new feats (30 in total number), example builds (3), discussion of builds, and an examination of the classes its self.

I know, that's a wee bit dry, but that's just the quick and short version.

See, I like the Summoner as it's hits that boy-and-his-monster vibe for me. Whether it's Stanley and his Monster, Puff the Magic Dragon, or what not, there's a vibe that taps into a child and his uncanny companion that I like a lot. In fact, I'm fairly certain that early readings of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea instilled some of that in me, too, but I digress.

Trent hits the nail on the head, with respect to the Summoner, as it really is a class that folks can tinker around with and customer to their particular desire. Not only do you get a class, but you get a companion as a sort of two-for-one character.

There is a lot of focus on building the right Summoner for you, but there is also a fair amount of focus on fine tuning your eidolon and that's a big win for this product. Yes, the character sheet is useful, however the volume of focus on various things to do with and to an eidolon is full of utilitarian joy and win.

Are you in the mood to be all steampunky, then how about summoning clockwork beasts instead? It's right there.

Wanna go all Shiva on your foes? Multi-arm is there, too.

On that note, I should point out that there is a fair amount of advice on balance for GMs who might be worried, which is always a nice touch.

Overall, The Summoner's Circle is a continuation of the useful series that Open Design has been offering. It is a solid treatise on the class with useful feats, solid examples of build ideas, and is very helpful for those interested in the class.

Buy yours today, for $3.95 (PDF).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Advanced Feats: The Witch's Brew (PDF)
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

The Witch's Brew, the latest in the Advanced Feats series from Open Design and Sigfried Trent, covers the Witch class from the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide, with respect to paths and ways to grown one. It's 14-pages, from cover to cover, with about 12 of those being inspiration for characters, and 11 being informational.

For this who've not explored this series before, the Advanced Feats takes a look at the new classes for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, introduced in the Advanced Player's Guide, and explore the class, possible tropes and themes to explore with it, as well as various build ideas. Drawn from the OGL 'verse, as needed, Sigfried Trent provides some interesting, and well-formed ideas in this series.

Which brings us to The Witch's Brew, illustrated nicely by the cover, which bears an interesting iconic image by Christophe Swal.

The Witch's Brew offers three class-builds, 30 class-related feats, as well as a discussion about the class, its features, and ways to use and demonstrate them. One of my favorite parts of the Advanced Feats series, thus far, are these discussions. Yes, the feats are good. Yes, the builds are useful. But, it's these discussions that sometimes offer another perspective on a class, how to use it or build it, and other interesting ways to show that.

Now it might be the timing of it, as I'm currently playing a witch in one of my games, but I really found this offering to be quite useful. Not only because of the talk about the class and its flavor, but also for the feats and builds. If you're in a campaign where you're interested in playing a witch, I doubt you could go wrong with this modest offering. Short, sweet, and concise, The Witch's Brew is a very useful class-feature book.

Buy yours today, for $3.95 (PDF).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Dresden Files RPG - Vol. 1; Your Story

The Dresden Files RPG - Vol. 1: Your Story (Print+PDF or PDF)
Leonard Balsera, Ryan Macklin, and Chad Underkoffler
Published by Evil Hat Productions

Disclaimer: Although product was offered for this review, I declined as I was a pre-order customer for both volumes one and two of The Dresden Files RPG. I'm a fan of Jim Butcher's, and his involvement was enough to entice my pre-order...what follows is a testament to that fanatical trust.

First things first, The Dresden Files RPG is based on the novel series of the same name, by Jim Butcher. If that was all I knew about the game, I'm fairly certain that it would be enough. Also, it uses the FATE RPG system, which is based on FUDGE. That's about all the detail that I'm going to go into the resolution mechanics of the game, as I'm sure there are other reviews out there that do a fine job of it and there are also the links that talk about the gaming systems. Instead, I'm going to talk about my favorite aspect of the game, outside of its setting and source material, which is the nature of its cooperative play and city designing.

Traditionally most of the campaign designing lays behind the screen, with the bulk of the non-player characters, locations, and other aspects of a campaign being decided upon by the person running the game. However, The Dresden Files RPG takes an interesting, as well as enjoyable, twist to this by turning many of the aspects of campaign design into a cooperative play dynamic.

Whether you're converting a city from the real world, or crafting one wholecraft from the minds on both sides of the screen, The Dresden Files RPG encourages a cooperative style of city creation with the use of a variety of city creation sheets that help the group work through the NPCs that make up the city, its locations, trials and tribulations, and all other aspects of the city that the campaign will take place in and around. Small township or large city, it's easy to turn it into a part of the Dresdenverse.

As most role-playing gamers know there is no real winning or losing to RPGs, but there are varying dynamics to the groups and how they approach gaming. Sometimes there is the versus dynamic, where it's one side of the screen versus the other. Other times there's Monte Haulism, with little challenge and lots of reward. Then there is the cooperative dynamic, with both sides of the screen working through the story and its challenges. There are many more dynamics, but its the cooperative dynamic that is encouraged by the designers of The Dresden Files RPG, sharing in the themes and threats, the faces of the city, its locations, and other details, high and low.

It's this cooperative dynamic that is a strong point of The Dresden Files RPG, an aspect that compliments the series whose name it bears. By having the folks on both sides of the screen work together toward a better story. It can allow for a richer environment as everyone talks about local folklore, haunts, and other details that add depth to any setting. Why do folks avoid the pond near the train tracks? What's wrong with that shake under the overpass? What is it about that Old Miller?

In the end The Dresden Files RPG's city creation not only encourages cooperation, but depth of knowledge about the locations and the people within them. It's through here that folks know who they can go to for information or help. What place has the best coffee, but that odd barista who knows too much. Are there lots of vampires? If so, what courts and where? What's the White Council's influence in the area? All of these questions, and more, are fleshed out during the start of a campaign and added to as time goes by. It helps tie the players closer to the campaign, yet adds more items to the toolset behind the screen. All in all, The Dresden Files RPG excellent addition to any bookshelf and gaming table.

Buy yours today, whether for $49.99 (Print+PDF) or $25.00 (PDF).

Want to learn more about The Dresden Files? Read on...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist

Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist (PDF)
Sigfried Trent
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

One of my favorite things about niche products is that they delve into the minutia of a subject, and do so in an enjoyable fashion while also being economical. And it is in this spirit of what I enjoy that Secrets of the Alchemist — the first in a new PDF series from Open Design that looks into the new classes for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game — does not let down.

Within Sigfried Trent's first solo-offering, not only are we presented a slew of new feats, 30-in-all, but we are also offered a look at the small details of what an alchemist is, with respect to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. What can they do, what makes them special, and various builds focusing on the different kinds of alchemists that a player character can be. Is an alchemist simply just a brewery of potions? A drinker of draughts? An exploder of things that need to go 'splodie?

Yeah, I typed 'splodie. I'm from the Pacific Northwest, and I have caused things to 'splode once or twice, and enjoyed it every time. Sue me.

For a 12-page PDF, Secrets of the Alchemist covers a lot of ground, including the 30 feats mentioned above, 3 alchemist build suggestions with a brief leveling outline, and an examination of what it is to be an alchemist. Clear, concise, and economical; Not only does this describe Sigfried Trent's work within, but it also accurately describes these offering from Open Design.

Buy yours today, for $3.95 (PDF).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Kobold Guide to Game Design. vol. III: Tools & Techniques

The Kobold Guide to Game Design. vol. III: Tools & Techniques (PDF or Print)
Wolfgang Baur, Monte Cook, Ed Greenwood, Rob Heinsoo, and Colin McComb
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

Volume Three of the Kobold Guide to Game Design is use for folks behind the screen, or keyboard, with respect to game design and development. Whether you're an old hand at running a game, or new, the seasoned advice from veterans like Wolfgang Baur, Monte Cook, Ed Greenwood, Rob Heinsoo, and Colin McComb could help improve your game.

Over the course of this guide the reader is walked through a myriad of aspects of creative game design, aspects that can be applied to the traditional tabletop part of the hobby or the contemporary games for computers. Also, this guide covers whether you're designing an adventure, a campaign, or a whole new mechanic or system. There's also advice for plotting, locations, and, of course, the ephemeral game balance.

Awash with luminaries and masters of game design, The Kobold Guide series lends advice to nascent game developers, yet the information presented is just as useful to veterans. When most think of the folks whom they'd like to ask these questions of, these are some of the names that often top those lists. There are few folks in the world today who design and develop games professionally, yet these are some of those more well-known names with articles on some of the very topics we wish to hear about.

In the end, The Kobold Guide to Game Design may help your game, may help your design and development, but that's up to you. Sure, I could use all sorts of overblown hyperbole and make all sorts of promise with "cans" and "wills," but that'd be a disservice to you and the folks at Open Design. Whatever you do with the concepts and ideas presented within, volume three of this guide has the capability to help you behind the screen, or the keyboard.

Buy yours today, either in PDF ($14.95) or Print ($18.95)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Conflict Roleplaying Rulebook

Conflict Roleplaying Rulebook
Mark M. Scott
Published by Conflict Books

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided through Atomic Array in conjunction with Episode 042.

Every style of gameplay has its purpose and those who enjoy it, just as there is a platform and form factor for every gamer to enjoy. Whether you are a die-hard simulationist, an emotive role-player, a number cruncher or somewhere, everywhere, in-between and beyond those definitions. If there's a game, then there are gamers who play it.

So diverse are the options, so known are the flavors that we gamers even have our touchstones, be they labels, stereotypes, or common jokes and anecdotes. One such anecdote, that I'm sure we're all familiar with is the common place, "My player character can beat your player character" moments.

When you look at the tropes of roleplaying games it is commonly an activity where it is the player characters against some obstacle, foe, threat, or challenge setup by the person on the other side of a screen. However, from time to time, there are those moments where folks sometimes wanna compete with one and other. Be it for fun, be it for pride, or be it just because you wanna smash their toy, player-versus-player happens.

Now, thanks to Conflict Books, we've a set of rules to help folks play through these sort of encounters in a fun and enjoyable way.

Gone is the "Us versus the GM" stance of some styles of play, as the Game Master is literally an arbiter of the rules and the point of conflict is now between individual players, or various combinations of groups and/or team of players.

Conflict Roleplaying Rulebook provides guidelines for a tactical style of play with the focus of players facing off against players in a direct competitive style of play. It ain't just a hack-n-slash, gut the dungeon and steal the fixtures kind of game, but a game of tactical combat between players and groups of players.

In a way, it's like chess, with a fantasy force of characters using their powers to help you win the day.

It uses a very familiar rules set for many gamers out there, as it is compatible with the Open Gaming License and Paizo's Pathfinder RPG, however Conflict adds a very new terms and concepts to the familiar game.

These concepts are designed so that folks know whether or not they've the right character for a match (such as Battlepoints), ones to combat metagaming (such as the style of Conflict Maps and things like the Passcards), various types of events (Matches), and features that support the style of play (such as the Laws and Team Feats).

All in all, Conflict Roleplaying Rulebook is an excellent resource for those who wish for a more competitive, tactical style of gaming while still using a familiar rules set. It brings to the table the ability for players to challenge one and other, directly, in a grand way, while still encouraging it to be a fun, worthwhile gaming experience for those involved.

If you'd like to pick-up Conflict, please go here.

Also, if you'd like to know other thoughts on the game, please look below.

Want to learn more about Conflict Roleplaying? Read on…

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Danielle Lewon
based on a design by S.R. Knipe
Published by Cream Alien Games

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided through Atomic Array in conjunction with Episode 041.

Kagematsu describes its self as a role-playing game of shame, honor, and love that takes place in a 16th Century village in Japan that is under a dire threat. Kagematsu is a ronin whose sojourn is, perhaps, interrupted by the villages need.

Will he stay and defend the village? Why?

In simplicity, Kagematsu is an example of small group improvisational theater and gender role reversal. It is a usage of "on the rails" gaming, but in a rather interesting and unique manner, with a focus on having a female control the male character of Kagematsu while male and female players portray the other female characters of the scenario.

While it is slightly heavy handed, as well as something that gamers could ignore if they so choose, I'd say that this role reversal is part of the unique draw of this game. Of course, that'd make sense, since it is a core design element and factor in the game.

Kagematsu is about interactive and cooperative storytelling, where the players help craft the story, the village and its folk, its threat, and even Kagematsu himself. Can the women of the village woo Kagematsu to stay and defend them from the Threat? Should they? Is it love? Is it something lesser?

While there are mechanics to the game's rules, they are quite light and very easy to learn. Perhaps the hardest part, for some, in playing Kagematsu will be the role-playing that is encouraged by the game, for it can be of a more dramatic and romantic nature than is common to various systems, even those with a focus on storytelling.

All in all, Kagematsu is a thought provoking role-playing game with an intriguing premise, an enjoyable depth, that are an example of how our hobby can be more than angst or greed, with respect to emotional breadth of play. While the game might not be for everyone, it certain could be if they tried.

Kagematsu can be purchased here.

Want to learn more about Kagematsu? Read ...

Atomic Array: Episode 041: Kagematsu

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Free Copy of Kobold Quarterly #10

Fresh from the dexterous hands of a demure kobold is the news that the folks at Kobold Quarterly are giving away a copy of KQ #10, from now through January 31st.

If you head to the KQ Store and enter KQ10Free then you'll be able to download an awesome edition of one of the best gaming periodicals out there. I've had a subscription to this quarterly since it's inception and I've never had a reason to regret it, as it covers a lot of what I play today. Be it things that'd work with 4th Edition D&D, Open Design Projects, Pathfinder, or OGL, Kobold Quarterly fills my tabletop needs quite nicely.

So why don't you head over to Kobold Quarterly and checkout what they have to offer. Unless a free issue with the likes of Jason Bulmahn, Monte Cook, Ed Greenwood, and John Wick aren't your cup of tea...but, then again, if they aren't, it's not like you'd be reading my blog. Would you?