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Finders Keepers
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/12/2017 12:41:45

This review first appeared on mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com

After reviewing a few adventures by Janek Sielicki for the Cypher System, I’m excited to start in on one for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. The adventures, Finders Keepers, has an interesting premise: an epic story for 20th level characters that you could use as a starting adventure. That’s a tall order, let’s see if he can pull it off!

Note: Janek sent me a review copy of this pdf. I’ve gotten a couple of pdfs from him in this way and always happy to look them over. I don’t think this colored my opinion but, you know, now you’re forewarned.

Introduction To start off with, here are the particulars: it’s for a standard-mix party and set in the Forgotten Realms. Janek explains that he wants this adventure to allow groups that don’t play top-tier characters that often to try some of the most powerful enemies in the Monster Manual and the most devastating of player abilities. The introduction to Finders Keepers admits that it is tackling a difficult subject and promises to provide some advice throughout. It even begins with some preparation advice, nothing ground-breaking but a good run-down of what you want to have at the table when you run a high-level party.

I don’t want to spoil the plot of the adventure but as a taste it involves a set of books containing the true names of the General of Gehenna (see Monster Manual, p. 311) and even some archdevils, a set lost to the passage of ages. Predictably, it never stays buried for long and occasionally the books resurface. This is one of those times. The details of the situation involve fallen angels, ancient dragons, manipulative hags, and the f-ing Zhentarim (you’re supposed to say that as a standard phrase). The Black Network enters the pictures as the former occupiers of Phlan on the Moonsea, though in the canon (as far as I know) they are in charge. In Finders Keepers they have been pushed aside by former murder-hobo and current celebrity King Adran Lichbane.

Epic Adventuring The mission of Finders Keepers, namely to facilitate an atmosphere of epic adventurer, has two distinct parts to it. First of all, it needs to feel enormous and exciting, bigger and badder than your normal D&D fare with the fate of the world in the balance. At the same time, it needs to feel like Dungeons & Dragons which is not a given. There are plenty of ways to run 20th level characters in a game from the Chosen of deities to monarchs dealing with statecraft to monsters providing the flipped version of most campaigns. All of these are great but they’re the sort of high-concept campaign that you might try out for something new. Finders Keepers explicitly doesn’t want “new and unfamiliar,” the author wants to let you play the sort of character you dream of your first-level nobody becoming when you start a new campaign.

So does it accomplish this? Well, the adventure starts in Valejo Castle in Phlan where the party is waiting to meet with King Adran’s seneschal: not quite meeting up in a tavern to hear about an adventure from an old man but close. They can talk and get to know each other and then the door gets kicked in by a bad guy and it’s instantly time for initiative, another classic move for GMs. This might be different from your usual venue but at its heart this beginning is about adventuring vagabonds doing their mercenary stuff and not a departure from D&D norms.

After this comes some classic dungeon-delving with many of the usual haunts just turned up to 11, including those epic-level threats you’d never dream of sending against your party unless you’re trying for a TPK… and certainly not something you ‘d send after them on the heels of an already-epic encounter. The first chapter, in fact, is all familiar enemies from countless sessions of D&D.

There are three chapters, though, and this is where things take a turn from the norm. Simply put, things get a little trippy and the environment changes to something a little more… planar. In fact, chapters two and three seem like a foray into Planescape so strongly that I would be surprised if Mr. Sielicki didn’t intend that. To me, a long-term fan of planar D&D, this is still solidly classic territory but others might not feel that way. If you don’t like plane-hopping then this adventure will take a turn but if you’re 20th level that’s sort of suspected even for a Faerun homebody like Drizzt.

One-Shot? The last part of Finders Keepers is it’s use as a one-shot adventure. This is the stated purpose of the module but this is another tough parameter since epic level campaigns have so much context and baggage that it’s hard to imagine boiling one down to something you could complete start-to-finish in a few hours. Does Finders Keepers manage this? Well, my assessment is yes assuming a few things.

See, the details of the adventure are definitely easily contained in an epic-style nutshell. You’ll need to do some info-dumps to prep your players for the specifics of this story, but no more than other one-shots. The history of Phlan can be summed up in a few minutes and the rest of the story comes out naturally in the course of following the action. This is not to say that there is no bigger picture, however, and the plot of Finders Keepers relies on the already-established history of Faerun, of the Blood War, and of the Dungons & Dragons default cosmology itself. You don’t need expert-level knowledge but if this is the first that your group has ever heard of the Forgotten Realms or the Outer Planes then that few minutes’ worth of explanation can pretty easily turn into fifteen or twenty. Still, not too bad.

The Making of Finders Keepers One bonus feature of this adventure, added after publication, is “Making of Finders Keepers.” This ten-page addendum outlines advice from author Janek Sielicki about how to create and publish an RPG supplement. This is not focused on Finders Keepers (except as an example) and not even on D&D 5e. It’s got some great advice in here including some scans of Janek’s planning notes, advice on graphics and art, and promoting your products once they’re ready. Janek is really good at this and so having his expertise is just as valuable as the adventure itself in my book.

Conclusion This is a really niche product: an epic-tier, one-shot adventure set in Forgotten Realms. Any part of that might turn some potential DMs off and you’re the final decision-maker for what you’re going to run. In the end, though, this is a solid adventure that really nails its narrow focus well. This means that you can take this impressive starting-point and massage it into an ongoing campaign, change details to move it to another setting, or just mine it for interesting and new ideas. I highly recommend this adventure and the great advice section that goes with it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Finders Keepers
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Eclipse Phase: X-Risks
Publisher: Posthuman Studios LLC
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 09:59:56

This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/eclipse-phase-x-risks/

I’m psyched to report that there is a new sourcebook out for Eclipse Phase and that I’ve been pouring through it with great excitement. Titled X-Risks, the book covers… well existential risks but also Firewall’s response to them. How do you decide whether something is an x-risk? What if you have to choose between saving a habitat or chasing down a nanoplague sample? What the hell is an Iktomi kumobot? The answers to these questions and more can be found in X-Risks.

There are five main parts to this book: Facing the Reaper, a description of X-Risks; Active Threat Reports, that covers the Big Four (exhumans, exsurgents, Factors, and TITANs); Threat Recognition Guide, which lists descriptions and stats of old and new exsurgents; Critter Catalog, which describes simpler animals (like the Europan bolatee, police baboons, and tasty squidlings); and Game Information, which provides the numbers that GMs need for the glorious tpk they’ve been waiting for.

Facing the Reaper This chapter is all about existential risks (x-risks) that Firewall is keeping an eye on. “Hurt Alvez, Apocalypse Engineer” describes four different categories of x-risk.

  • Extinction: The threat that all of transhumanity could be wiped out.
  • Corruption: The threat that transhumanity could be enslaved or controlled.
  • Regression: The threat that transhumanity could be reduced to such a primitive state that there’s no coming back.
  • Stagnation: The threat that transhumanity peaks and simply fizzles out. A contentious fifth category, Attenuation, is the threat that transhumanity is changed into something “inhuman.” Some clades don’t see a problem with this. eclipse-phase-fight

Likewise, Alvez lists seven impact levels from the smallest to the largest.

  • IL-0: Small Habitat
  • IL-1: Large Habitat
  • IL-2: Planet
  • IL-3: Region
  • IL-4: Solar System
  • IL-5: Tranhuman Space
  • IL-6: Milky Way Particular x-risks are described with the categories and levels for each. For instance, Alien Conflict is rated as an Extinction-5/Corruption-5 event since it could potentially destroy or enslave all of transhumanity. On the other hand, Mega-Engineering which involves destroying a moon or planet and creating something massive out of it is an Extinction-2/Regression-4 event.

In this chapter there is also a discussion for handling x-risks and surviving x-risks (my favorite is “Running and Hiding”), as well as an awesome two-page spread on the Fall of Earth. It’s also worth noting that the x-risks above mention the Case or Operation that concerned sentinels should check with for more info and it seems like they’re all tied to the descriptions in Firewall.

Active Threat Reports The next chapter describes some specific threat groups that Firewall might face off against. Exhumans are given a lot more detail and context, including some writing from their perspective and a listing of eleven exhumans out there and a description of major exhuman clades. I think this is a lot like the treatment of uplifts in Panopticon or of infolifes in Tranhuman: it takes an awesome idea and makes it into a complex, breathing, compelling part of the setting.

The Exsurgent Virus is the big boogeyman of Eclipse Phase and a source of whatever evil you like. The briefing and the vectors of the virus found in this book provide some excellent detail (and it’s all in character as usual so you can hand it right to players) but my favorite part is the “known strains” section which describes nine different strains (yes, including Watts-MacLeod). This section rounds out with case studies of several Firewall operations against outbreaks and a review of Contamination and Containment Protocols.

Next up are the Factors and this is probably the part of the book that I was most excited about before getting a copy. The Factors’ culture, language, relationship with transhuman groups, capabilities, and assets are all outlined in this section, as are some speculations by Firewall sentinels about the true nature of the Factors. All of it makes me think of dozens of new adventure scenes just reading through for the first time.

Lastly of the four with have the TITANs themselves. The big bad guys of the setting may seem like they’ve been covered before but this description is unlike previous treatments of the seed AIs. The history of the TITANs is covered from American military project to galactical-scale villains, and their enigmatic agenda receives some speculation. A lot of this section, though, is what I’m thinking of as “how to actually include TITANs in your game.” Let’s be honest, if you send your PCs up against a TITAN they will probably run or they’ll end up as corrupted exsurgents. So how can you have a TITAN be the actual bad guy of a campaign? Well the answers are right here: TITAN infighting, lesser TITAN forks, and rival ASIs. There are also profiles on some known TITANs to frighten your PCs with. My favorite is Akonus, the TITAN that manipulates transhumanity through social entineering.

At the end of this chapter is a section on Other Threats, something that could take a backseat to the rest of the chapter but that holds some awesome surprises. The Church of Luminous Saints, for example, is a church following the divine word of a being that may or may not be a TITAN. The Red Five Advanced Heuristics Lab, on the other hand, is trying to reverse-engineer TITAN memetic warfare… you know, for the good guys or something. Even the Ultimates are discussed here as a potential x-risk, although that just makes me want to play them all the more. Lots of great ideas here.

Threat Recognition Guide The threats described in this chapter of the book are given one-page write-ups in the same easy reference manner as the morph write-ups in the Morph Recognition Guide. Each threat has a description of the locations to find it, the numbers they usually come in, stats, Firewall comments, game stats, and “What Do Sentinels Know?”

Threats also come with levels, but these are different than the impact levels of x-risks.

  • Yellow threats are only a threat in groups.
  • Orange threats are equal to a standard Firewall sentinel.
  • Red threats are as strong as several sentinels together.
  • Ultraviolet threats are off the charts and are best met with a GTFO response. There are so many in here and all of them are awesome. Some are familiar from other Eclipse Phase products like the fractal trolls from Rimward, the ny’knikiin from Zone Stalkers, or the skrik from Million Year Echo. Others are new like the horrific gut eater, the insidious hollow nanoplasmas, or the pile of screaming mouths known as the immolator mother. Every one of these will eat up your PCs and spit them out, and isn’t that what we all want?

Creature Catalog This is the shortest of the section but still extremely helpful for the GM. Animals and creatures have been a part of Eclipse Phase since the core rulebook but they end up scattered here and there through books. This section gathers them all together in one spot for easy reference.

These creatures aren’t really x-threats but many are serious threats to individual Firewall cells. The carnivorous avian-primates called clown sprites which are found on Echo IV, for instance, are hardly comparable to wrappers or fractals. If sentinels don’t prepare, however, they can be just as deadly.

Game Information Like the other sections of this book, the Game Information section is more than just it’s title would imply. Sure there are rules on running swarms, expanded rules on the exsurgent virus, and more psi-gamma sleights but the real star section of this chapter for me are the expositions.

It starts off with “Making X-Threat Scnenarios” and there’s a lot of non-intuitive advice from people who know what they are talking about. I consider myself a veteran GM of Eclipse Phase but I will freely admit that I was stopped short when I saw subsections titled “Transhumanity is Scary Enough” and “Why Now, in AF 10?”

In many ways, this sets the tone for the chapter. existential threats are huge, that’s why they rate the “existential” part, and they can easily overwhelm. Recently someone commented, after running me and a friend through a scenario where we were like transhuman Jason Bournes only to be overwhelmed by a TITAN virus in seconds, that 50% of Eclipse Phase scenarios end in TPKs. Maybe that’s as it should be but if you’re involving TITANs then the number can easily reach close to 100%. The real skill in GMing with things on this scale is not killing everyone in sight.

Take, for example, the exsurgent virus strain called babel. When someone gets infected with this, they lose the ability to comprehend any language whether text or spoken. This covers both understanding and speaking, and they start to see anyone not speaking Babel gibberish as aliens. Stage 2 involves them speaking in Babel entirely (which they start to understand as a language) and this gibberish works as an aural basilisk hack. The final stage involves the Babel-speakers developing a paranoia that anyone else is out to get them. They arm up, barricade in, and try to kill all the other “hostile aliens.”

So there you go: deadly, creepy, brilliant, crazy-powerful, and totally doable for a team with their head in the game. Great tools for a GM looking for action and terror without sacrificing fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eclipse Phase: X-Risks
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Ultramodern5 (5th Edition)
Publisher: Dias Ex Machina Games
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 09:57:13

This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/ultramodern5/

He’s done it again.

Chris Dias published a modern-fantasy setting called Amethyst eight years ago and it really impressed me.Growing out of that came the adaptation of the D&D 4e ruleset called Ultramodern4 which offered classes and rules for playing modern and futuristic characters with the Fourth Edition rules. The understanding of the system and the innovation of the rules were awesome and now Chris has repeated this accomplishment with Ultramodern5.

This book is aimed at providing game support for the 5e rules for “pre-modern settings, contemporary settings, and those that are far-flung, fantastic and futuristic.” This is a tall order and other games and settings have tried but they don’t always succeed.

One thing that Chris and his company, Dias Ex Machina, does really well is not to try to fit firearms and cybernetics into the D&D Player’s Handbook. Settings like Dragonstar are awesome for the settings they are written for but they don’t always expand well to new settings for enterprising GMs.

Instead, Dias Ex Machina approaches translations of rules by tearing them down to the studs and starting from there (also their approach to their many, many adaptations of Amethyst). They look at what the core rules from Fifth Edition are and builds out with a modern mind-set. This means the classes, feats, character creation… everything incorporates the book’s purpose fundamentally.

New Rules The list of new rules that Ultramodern5 adds to the D&D 5e core is surprisingly short. There are rules for autofire with automatic weapons, some new skills (Computer Use, Deomlitions, Engineering, and Sciences) and a new type of proficiency (vehicles).

There are also a few new feats: Exo-Armor Proficiency (mecha!), Crossfire (you’ll get caught up in the…), Fidgety Fingers (tech crafting), and Firearm Expertise (better with reloads and damage).

Character Creation One thing that’s pretty nifty is the expanded rules for human characters. I always love to check out the different racial options in an RPG and it can be dull when everyone needs to be the same. Here there’s a d20 table to randomly determine a genetic benefit instead of getting a stat boost or by taking a shortcoming.

There’s also a great lifepath system (I’ve been in love with these ever since I started using the one in Transhuman) that starts with PHB-style backgrounds (tearing down to the studs, right?) and then has a series of tables to work through your background situation. This would be very useful for traditional D&D characters, by the way… In fact expect that in a future post.

Ladders This is a system that is optional (though every character should use it if anyone does) and it showed up in earlier Dias Ex Machina projects. Simply put, you gain a ladder ability at the levels you also get ability score boosts and you get smaller bonuses at 1st, 5th, 11th, and 17th level. These abilities are pretty cool and the system “accounts for the lack of magic in most non-fantasy settings.”

For example, the Born Leader ladder starts off with the ability to sub Intelligence for Wisdom on Perception skills and a bonus to Charisma after a long rest until you attack or cast a spell (that fresh “ready to have you take on the day for me” lok). After that they get abilities that let them issue commands, focus your team, and (my favorite) take a long rest in the span of time you normally take short rests.

By contrast, the Survivor can swap Wisdom for Dex when making ranged attacks and Constitution for Dex when determining AC modifier. Later you can push down exhaustion, gain a benefit for pushing your limits, and gain resistance to damage types.

Classes The big selling point for me, as with Ultramodern4 was the new classes. These work just like the fighter, druid, wizard, etc from the Player’s Handbook, but they are meant to replace them. They could work side-by-side, I guess, if you had some situation with both SWAT teams and faeries (like, say, Amethyst) but these martial classes provide enough variety that I don’t think your players will ever miss the missing classes.

The Face is a great social class with abilities to read NPCs, distract them in combat, improvise a proficiency bonus, and hustle people. I like that the class doesn’t go out of its way to make a social character that “is just as effective in combat” but there are still lots of options for Face characters to fight.

The Grounder (not sure about the name) is the modern tank. They get special-ops-style abilities, “brotherhood abilities” to benefit their party, and up their shots-per-action. These guys are sort of meatheads but some people really want that, and there’s definitely no denying that they do it well.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised that the Gunslinger is all about firearms. They get “kata” abilities to make them outrageously good shots and take impressive numbers of shots with each action. Like the Face, you get a few chances as a Gunslinger to shine outside of your purview but the focus is on making you awesome at what you do best.

The Heavy fills some of the same role as the Grounder but is like a thundering bastion in the firefight. There’s no special-ops training with these guys, only barroom brawls and obsessively watching Mr. T’s scenes in the A-Team. They carry the biggest guns and they use them to shoot the biggest number of bullets.

Infiltrators are the sneaky spies of this line-up. They don’t get sneak attack like rogues, but they do have lots of abilities to increase their critical range and double-up on their attack’s effectiveness.

For the leaders of the group there is the Marshal which is like the marshal class from the 3e Heroes of Battle book or the 4e warlord. They boost their troops (or parties) and they lay down suppressive fire to cover their brilliant maneuvers. They’re a great half-martial, half-social choice for people into that.

If you don’t like guns, try the Martial Artist. You probably don’t need a review of what this is all about but I will say that you get both a series of Combo Chain and a Martial Exploit abilities to custom-make your own martial arts style. For a class that seems like it would be the most uniform in the book, it’s actually probably the most adaptable.

The Medic is the party healer, and I have to say I didn’t expect to like it. Lots of games have “non-magical healers” that end up just having reskinned cleric abilities (I’m looking at you, warlord) but these guys aren’t that. Their “medical applications” are actually mostly about buffs to saving throws and stabilizing dying creatures with only a few giving actual hit points (and even then on the order of 1d4). Kudos on this class, but the bottom line is you should really try to avoid getting shot at in Ultramodern5… And also real life, I guess.

The Sniper actually reminds me a lot of Iron Heroes classes. All the Ultramodern5 classes have pools of points to manage their abilities but the sniper is one who has abilities that can be stacked on a successful attack. When you hit someone you deal out “marksman points” to boost the damage or make it a crit or shock the creatures around your target.

Lastly, the Techie is just what is says on the tin: a class completely devoted to modding and boosting equipment. Interestingly, their biggest abilities are for their own equipment so they can make cool things for the party but mostly they create explosive rounds and pop-up eyepieces and rapid reloaders for themselves.

Archetypes Sharp-eyed readers will note that I didn’t mention anything about the archetypes for these classes. There’s a simple reason for this: they don’t have them.

In keeping with the create-exactly-what-you-want philosophy of Ultramodern5, there is one set of archetypes and they are shared by all the different classes. This reminds me of the Flavors in Cypher System Rulebook to create a particular genre’s feel.

  • Anti-Heroes are badass, stone-cold jerks.
  • Authorities are knowledgeable experts.
  • Banner Heads are career soldiers.
  • Brawlers are… well folks who like brawling.
  • Brothers of Blood are platoon veterans (requires at least one other Brother of Blood in the party).
  • Cleaners are calculating assassins.
  • Country Gunmen are quick-draw cowboys.
  • Diplomats are skilled negotiators.
  • Drivers are… well folks who like driving.
  • Field Machinists are tech troubleshooters.
  • Field Medics are combat docs.
  • Grandmasters are expert martial artists.
  • Gun Dancers fill the air with bullets.
  • Infantry Support Specialists are basically Starcraft marines.
  • Machines of War are what Starcraft marines would be like if they were Hunter S. Thompson.
  • Men-at-Arms are professional, trained soldiers.
  • Militarists are expert generals.
  • Pathfinders are trackers and guides.
  • Pistoleros are keen shots.
  • Recon Intelligences are shadowy spies.
  • Ring Fighters are untrained pit fighters.
  • Sappers are combat demolitionists.
  • Selfless Protectors are peerless bodyguards.
  • Skirmishers are fast and deadly.
  • and Suaves are cunning charmers.

The Rest With all of this, we’re only halfway through the book. There are chapters of Equipment at various tech levels, a great smattering of Antagonists & Enemies, some sample Adventuring locales, and two adventures: the classic Biohazard and the creepy Invasion Proxy. The whole book ends up with a great collection of ready-to-run player characters.

Conclusion Get this book.

If you want to play D&D with an emphasis on guns and tech, drop the fighter and use these classes. If you want a great and familiar system for your sci-fi campaign idea, hand out this book and get started right off the bat.

Even if you don’t particularly want to change things up and have modern guns in your D&D campaign, this book has so many new ideas and mechanics that are just awesome so cut and paste at will to add whatever new mechanics you want to your game.

Thank you, Chris Dias, and keep ’em coming!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ultramodern5 (5th Edition)
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Adventures in Middle-earth Loremaster's Guide
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 09:52:22

This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/loremasters-guide-review/

It’s here! The Loremaster’s Guide for Adventures in Middle-Earth has been released by Cubicle 7. Given my interest in the game line, I quickly snapped this one up pretty quickly. I haven’t even leafed through the pdf yet… care to join me?

I used to write this sort of review all the time, a first-in approach that I called a One-Hour Review, when I wrote for another site. I’m not going to do that here, though, because I want to take my time on this one and go through this book methodically.

Specifically, I’m looking for a few different things in this. First of all, does this book offer something more for creating the world of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth that I don’t already have from The One Ring sourcebooks? Secondly, does this book offer me new character options that are interesting but also in line with the Fifth Edition Player’s Handbook and, more pressingly, the Dungeon Master’s Guide? Lastly, does this book offer me a good spread of creatures to use in a Middle-Earth campaign, something I really missed from the first book?

Let’s see!

Setting Material Well, right off the bat the cover is absolutely gorgeous. I’d seen pictures but seeing a full-scale version is just… wow. Inside, the book starts right off with an overview of Wilderland and it seems to follow the same set-up as The One Ring, which is great since that’s an awesome way to frame the campaign. In fact, this material is all directly cribbed from The Loremaster’s Book for The One Ring. I don’t really blame them for reusing the material and it was pretty awesome the first time around!

Something different from The One Ring is that the discussion of each area (split up into the Lands About the Mountain, Lake-town, the Land of the Beornings, the Land of the Woodmen, Mirkwood, and Other Lands) include adventure seeds for each one. The section on Dale, for instance, has an idea for sending heroes out to find a farmstead for a veteran to give to his daughter and Erebor has an awesome idea of finding the jerk who’s been killing the Dwarves’ ravens. My favorite, though, involves masquerading as Radagast while he takes care of business elsewhere. Whatever your gaming style, plenty to start your characters on.

There’s stuff on Lake-town too which you won’t find in the Loremaster’s Book, but you will find in the Lake-town supplement that came with the GM Screen for The One Ring.

There’s also some new paragraphs on Eriador to the west and Gondor and Rohan to the south. Necessary when those cultures are in the game from the start… In all, though, there’s not much new material here that I didn’t already have. Also, the Tale of Years covers all the events up to 2951 just like in the Loremaster’s Book, which means you’re right up to when things get really bad and still nearly 70 years before the start of the War of the Ring.

Character Options To get things started, there is a great section of advice called Before the Game which is a lot like the Master of Worlds section from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It contains advice on GMing in a world where absolute good and absolute evil are definite and real things, on playing out a campaign with the backdrop of a slow, inexorable darkening, and making your players feel every mile walked and every year survived.

The second section of the Adventuring Phase chapter deals with melding the core D&D 5e rules with Adventures in Middle-Earth. As the book says, there are two “guiding lights” to help the Loremaster: the core rules and the spirit of the books you are emulating. To that end, the Loremaster’s Guide offers a few changes to what you find in the Player’s Handbook.

The most immediately helpful is the advice on Inspiration. I’ve been wanting to use this more in my game but, given the vague rules of Inspiration and the different nature of Middle-earth, it hasn’t been easy. The Loremaster’s Guide presents Inspiration as the counterpoint to Shadow points, which makes sense. It suggests using Inspiration points when you see some of the amazing sights of Middle-earth, meet some of the more legendary figures of the land, and even at the start of an Adventuring Phase to represent the buoying power of Fellowship (something that characters in The One Ring get, so it makes sense).

There’s also a section on multiclassing that opens up a lot of options for players. That part is exceedingly short so I’ll make my mention of it the same.

The next chapter is on Journeys and has some interesting suggestions on how to adapt the rules. First of all, you’re not supposed to let your players use long rests during a journey, which I see the wisdom of. Exhaustion is a powerful consequence of failing rolls during a journey but my players regularly keep their exhaustion levels down during the journey since they are always sleeping (the lazy bastards). On the other hand, if they can’t remove levels of exhaustion during the journey things could get pretty hairy for the PCs, particularly if there’s a fight at the end of the journey.

There’s a section to address this, pointing out that dangerous journeys with deadly fights at the end are part of the books and so it’s no problem to have them in your game. Still, games that feel like a grind aren’t (always) fun so you can give the players a chance for a quick night’s sleep before they fight the Goblins (or whatever) and you can provide a chance to use skills to regain some Hit Points (maybe they find some athelas).

In fact, the book suggests some criteria your players have to meet before they can take a long rest: safety, comfort, or an air of tranquility. These things are very unlikely to be met during a journey, explaining the limitation, but you can always throw in a quiet Elven ruin or a feast put on by Tom Bombadil might allow some recovery before the actual event.

There are also suggestions for sights the PCs might see on the road and suggestions for when to tweak the journey rules, when (and where) to interrupt a journey, and guidelines for making new travel tables. This last part seems especially useful to me, particularly since my players have taken a half-dozen journeys at this point and there have been a few repeat results. You can improvise a new take on a journey event that your players have already seen but this is another option.

Towards the end of the book are three chapters that make me want to revamp everything in my game. The first is entitled “Wondrous, Legendary and Healing Items,” although I would call it “Including Magic Items While Still Feeling like Tolkien.” Artifacts (I refuse to write “artefacts,” Cubicle 7) are equivalent to what we used to call “wondrous items:” general-purpose magical items that help with skills or do something special. These items do the same (providing a bonus equal to your proficiency bonus) but the special uses are a little different.

In Adventures in Middle-Earth, artifacts don’t do specific things. There’s no portable hole or ring of spider climb. Instead, the artifact has a certain character (reflected in what skill it helps) and players can spend points of Inspiration to push that a little. For example, if a cloak provides a bonus to Stealth (say, a gift from the Elves of Lorien) the player might decide that it let’s him completely slip right through the ranks of a group of Orcs or hide a companion too.

In addition to the Inspiration, the player spends Hit Dice depending on whether it’s a small, medium, or large effect and how many creatures it’s affecting. This is a really interesting approach to magic and is a great way to include players in the narrative. Also, don’t worry: there’s a random table to roll for skills. Plus there’s some advice for bringing in other 5e items from other sources (short answer: be careful).

The other category of magical items is legendary weapons and armor, your standard magic weapons. These are not like the magic weapons found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, though, they are much more like the legendary items from D&D 3e which grow in power and ability as their wielders do. The iconic version of this for me is the sword Narsil, shattered by Sauron during the Siege of Barad-dûr, reforged into Andúril in Rivendell, then carried by Aragorn against the final battle with Sauron at the end of the Third Age. Every step of the way the legend grows and, it would seem, the sword’s power does the same.

Weapons and armor of legend don’t start out with a slew of magical abilities, but rather gain them as you level. The magical abilities (sorry, “enchanted qualities”) of the items are more drama-filled: weapons that strike terror into the enemy, weapons that burn creatures of the Shadow with their touch, armors of mithril or scored with Dwarven runes.

Last is a small section on magical healing including rules for Lembas bread. These all tend to remove a level of exhaustion, though some restore small amounts of Hit Dice. I think this is a good compromise between healing potions and nothing, since it still requires people to rest in order to heal up.

The section on Magic in Middle Earth is short and sweet. There are discussions about why spellcasters aren’t really part of the PC make-up, what spells really are in Tolkien’s world, and guidelines for making spells work thematically, from fairy-tale enchantments to the Unseen World to powerful names or words. There is also some suggestions for how to include D&D spellcasters in Adventures in Middle-Earth… although that’s not really the direction I ever see taking this game. I mean… Just play in Eberron or Faerun, right?

The chapter on the Fellowship Phase adds some much-needed clarification for me. It discusses when players mess up your Fellowship Phase plans (“alright, so you guys are going shopping in Lake-town and you’re going to find Gandalf and you’re going… into Goblin-town?”) and it adds some specific uses for Sanctuaries. Personally, I’ve wanted my players to do something with Sanctuaries every Fellowship Phase of the campaign so far and they keep asking “why?” I had no answer… until now. Plus there are some moreideas for patrons (as in the Adventurer’s Companion) so there’s some extra clarity there too.

Middle-Earth Creatures The first section of characters for the Loremaster to use is a collection of NPCs with a discussion of the various races of Free People and then some specific stat blocks. There are chieftains, messengers, farmers, Rangers, Elf-lords, and more. These are not just reskinned NPCs from the Monster Manual either (although I recommend that as a DMing tool as well) but new characters with different abilities. The farmer, for instance, can whistle for his dogs to come help in combat and the Dwarf NPCs can reroll their damage against Orcs.

There’s also a section on Motivation (a one line sentence for guidance) and Expectations (some mechanical benefits for different tactics) for each NPC listing. This previews the next section on Audiences with some guidelines for planning and running Audiences (as described in the Adventurer’s Guide). This section is a lot more detailed and I look forward to using it. The mechanics are all the same from the last book but they are laid out here i a much more intuitive way that is obviously geared towards the Loremaster designing Audiences rather than the players participating in them.

The next chapter is probably what I’ve been anticipating the most: stats for enemy creatures and monsters. It’s also the part of the book that is least like I expected.

There’s some solid advice for creating battles that emulate Tolkien’s big battles (defensive position, setting that appears to favor the enemy, etc), and some great new terrain for adding color to your battles (bogs, crags, rotten trees, freezing pools) separated by setting. There are even some weather effects which I have been yearning for in my own game.

After that is a Bestiary with many of the things you’d expect: Orcs, Mordor-Orcs, spiders of Mirkwood, Trolls, wolves, Werewolves, and Vampires. This is the same list (more or less) as in The One Ring‘s Loremaster’s Book which isn’t that surprising. I was kind of hoping for some big hitters, though. I mean, this chapter has a picture of Smaug breathing flames into Erebor… Maybe a mention of how to run dragons? And what about the Ringwraiths? Sure those things weren’t in the first collection of monsters for The One Ring, but Cubicle 7 has done them and knows how they’d handle them. Plus there are already so many 5e monsters available, why not use those as a stepping-stone and give us a little something?

I’m not disappointed in the collection of monsters (far from it), I just wish there were a few more. On the other hand, I’m very excited for the remainder of the chapter which is a list of creature abilities and actions for making new adversaries. There are general ones, bonus actions, creature reactions, troupe abilities (like a wolf pack), especially strong abilities, and ones intended for a specific type of creature (like trolls or spiders). This is something that not even the Monster Manual offers: guidelines for making interesting, unique creatures that are more than just CR-appropriate stats. Expect some fresh Middle-earth adversaries in future blog posts using these abilities.

Conclusion This book had a lot of surprises and some areas where I was hoping for a bit more. Overall, though, it is brimming with help for the Adventures in Middle-Earth Loremaster. If you already play (or at least have access to) the line of The One Ring, don’t expect a lot more lore or setting information. You still have much more in the way of detail from mining those books and porting the information over to your AME game.

I have had a lot of questions about how to adequately implement a lot of what’s described in the Adventurer’s Guide, though, and this book does a really excellent job of answering them. A must-buy if you are running this game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventures in Middle-earth Loremaster's Guide
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Eclipse Phase: Argonauts
Publisher: Posthuman Studios LLC
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 09:49:45

This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/argonauts-review/

The latest Eclipse Phase release is one that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Argonauts is a small-scale sourcebook funded through the Transhuman Kickstarter way back when. This book is intended to fill in some of the details on the Argonauts faction the way that Zone Stalkers filled in information on the TQZ and the beginning of The Devotees filled in information on Nine Lives. How did they do? Well, no surprises, amazingly.

Argonauts has four major areas that it covers: History, Organization, Plot Hooks (my own assessment of several different sections), and Game Information. Let’s go through each of them in turn.

History Some of the Argonauts’ history was covered in the Firewall sourcebook since the two organizations share some of the same origins. In a nutshell, the Argonauts are the successors of the real-life JASON advisory group that advises the U.S. government. They weren’t the such group in the years leading up to the Fall but they were well-funded and fairly international. The result is a group of concerned scientists who have a front-row seat as the world was ending. They had a few conferences (Argo 1 and Argo 2) close to four decades before the Fall and from these hashed out the start of the Argonaut movement.

Numerous details are provided in this section for setting up the Argonauts in your game, including their founding doctrines, the debate over the precautionary stance (No to dangerous tech!… Until we can vet it, at least…”), and the Magna Cortica (their official policy on transhuman intelligences and basic rights). There is a ton here to lay the groundwork of scenarios dealing with the time before the Fall and it has the distinct advantage of centering on a group that has advanced tech, private labs, and a reason to protect their findings from falling into the wrong hands. Just reading through gave me dozens of ideas for Firewall missions.

Oh, and in case you think these things are talked about in vague, hand-waving ways (maybe you haven’t ever actually read an Eclipse Phase book, I don’t know) then you should know that there are multiple, in-character sidebars detailing how your characters (PC or NPC) might interact with the Argonauts’ principles as well as the full text of the “Charter on Scientific Responsibility” and the Magna Cortica. Seriously, so much in here.

Organization Eclipse Phase originally presented its factions (from the Planetary Consortium and Titanian Commonwealth to the criminal syndicates and anarchist collectives) as general intersections of physical territory, social memes, and foreign relations. There was plenty for GMs to build from there and I certainly have done so in my games. However, the creators have also done a great job of fleshing out these organizations with each new sourcebook and providing us with new ideas as well as meaty details.

This section is the latter. The Argonauts are lead by an elected Senate and a triumvirate of positions: the Chancellor, who sets the vision of the faction and represents them externally; the President, who handles operations, resources, and security; and the Provost, who oversees consultants and the dissemination of research findings. Not only are these positions and their offices described, but the current occupants are given a paragraph or two to outline their details and how they might interest a group of PCs. As usual with Eclipse Phase NPCs, they are colorful and complicated.

The Senate of the Argonauts gets its section next, detailing its responsibilities and providing some hilarious digs at higher education (for example: “Unlike in academia, though, the Senate has some real power, and thus some inducement to act.” … Can you tell that some of these folks are academics?). Although the Argonauts aren’t a government, the Senate acts a little like their legislative branch and approves plans from the Chancellor as well as electing the triumvirate positions described above.

Research is overseen by the Directors, a group of people given wide discretion in the running of particular lines of research. If this sounds like Firewall proxies, I think that’s entirely intentional. They might wear two hats or provide the role of “boss” in an all-Argonaut campaign. There are also project heads which are sort of like baby Directors hoping for their project to be formally backed by the Argonauts.

Some description is given of the faction’s rank-and-file (i.e. the PCs and their friends) then Factions and Groups within the Argonauts. There are five of those given: AutoSub (the futurist’s futurists), Backups (similar to the same group of safeguarders in Firewall), the Great Dismals (socioeconomists who quietly calculate when revolution and war are coming), the Institute for the Study of Emergent Trends (ISET, the publicly innocent think-tank that doubles as a Firewall operation), and the Medeans. Personally, I’d like to see more on this last group, the Argonauts’ group of badass problem-solvers: if you have the Firewall book, you can combine the information there with this short paragraph but there’s still so much more that could be said about them. Ah, well…

Plot Hooks The next five sections of the sourcebook are all focused on providing plot hooks for the GM. First is a section on Important People and this runs the gamut from a former Chancellor and Director of the Argonauts’ extrasolar research teams to an influential journalist who regularly writes about x-threats and a “rockstar polymath” who lives an ascetic lifestyle. My favorite, though, is Ravinder Khan (unfortunately one of the shorter sections) who leads the proactionist wing of the Argonaut Senate. He has some past accomplishments, including being one of Extropia’s founders, and is constantly pushing the envelope. His potential as both a patron and an opponent for a team of PCs has me giddy.

Next up are Locations that are important to the Argonauts. These four locales (Hooverman-Geischecker, Ilmarinen, Mitre, and Markov) have all been described before but I still really like this section. First of all, it identifies four prominent Argonaut strongholds through the solar system (around the Sun, in Lunar orbit, near Neptune, and in the Kuiper Belt) for GMs to use as bases where they need. Secondly, and relatedly, it’s good to have all of these places together so that you can do things like identify the extent of the Argonauts’ reach. Lastly, there is information here that updates and clarifies things based on information in books written since those locations first appeared, including Argonauts.

The section on Life As an Argonaut is for players and GMs alike. There’s suggestions here for players to make their Argonaut characters more than just the party’s resident egghead. There’s also lots of suggestions for how to create compelling stories focused on the Argonauts and how the education community looks in Eclipse Phase. It’s less than a full page all told, however, so again I could stand to have some more.

Last of all, the Argonauts’ Relations with Others are explained to give the GM some tools for creating conflict outside of the faction’s research labs. This is done in general terms but also with reference to specific NPCs and projects listed here and in other sourcebooks. I particularly like the discussion of how the Argonauts relate to the RNA rep-network. In a game where the Argonauts are playing a big role, it’s good to know what effect if any your r-rep can have with hypercorps executives and autonomist clades.

Game Information I think it’s a testament to Eclipse Phase‘s writing that the game mechanics section of their sourcebooks are not the part I go to first. In fact, I often get there last and not just because it’s at the end of the book. In the case of Argonauts, I definitely combed through all the setting detail repeatedly before I even looked at the red pages of stats and equipment.

It’s definitely worth it, though. There are short profiles of various PC roles that might be used when the Argonauts come up in your campaign: the async, the consultant, the field scientist, the hacker, the journalist, the Medean, the psychosurgeon, the reverse engineer, the xenoscientist, and the x-risk generalist. In an all-Argonaut party this is a must-have list to differentiate player characters. After that come some NPC archetypes: the consultant in distress, the info liberator, the lab scientist, the mathematician, and the ordinal (experienced and resourceful Argonauts). There are no stat blocks for these NPCs (a weakness of Eclipse Phase in general) but they are ready-made descriptions of people within the Argonauts that can definitely help with your campaign planning.

After this come some Prometheans (!) in the organization, some mechanical benefits of registering with the movement, and some Argonaut plots to get your campaigns going. In the interest of protecting your campaign secrecy, I’ll leave the latter for you to peruse on your own time. You should also print out and keep close the “Argonaut Index” which refers you to Argonaut matters throughout the line of Eclipse Phase products.

Conclusion This is a great book and a must-have for any GMs who are even considering having the Argonauts in their campaign. It’s full of excellent ideas for both sides of the screen and adds both depth and breadth to the faction. I think it could have been twice as long and still seemed to short but I understand that this came out as a stretch goal on a Kickstarter and so I understand why it is only 25 pages. I just hope we get more products like this and will hand over all my credits for them.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eclipse Phase: Argonauts
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A Breath of Fresh Air
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 09:43:50

This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/a-breath-of-fresh-air/

After reading through The Bridges We Burn, I was eager to look at Janek Seilicki’s newest scenario: A Breath of Fresh Air. It’s a strange mix of D&D tropes and bizarre sci-fi, much like Numenera itself, that provides a great plot for a gaming group through one session or beyond.

Disclaimer: The product’s author, Janek Seilicki, has once more been kind enough to give me a free copy of his adventure for review purposes. I have no other investment into this product, though, so take that as you will.

A Breath of Fresh Air is a shorter product than The Bridges We Burn, a single adventure as opposed to a campaign, and it’s for Tier 2 characters rather than Tier 3. However, the lower power level and smaller page count do not mean there is any less imagination packed into these pages. It takes place in some kingdom of the Steadfast (GM’s call) where a Rift delves into the ground with strange and otherworldly growing in its depths. In any other setting this would probably be a major site but in the Ninth World otherworldly rifts are just part of the landscape.

The themes of this adventure include dark legacies and survival: the group is dealing with the mess left by a group of mad nanos and they are venturing into a realm where the odds are stacked against them. In some ways this is a classic dungeon delve with heroes venturing into the depths of the earth where monsters dwell in their strange lair. As always with the Ninth World, however, things are not always what they seem and there are as many connections to Alien and The Descent as there are to Rage of Demons.

Depending on your group’s speed you can probably finish this up in a single session but two will definitely get it done unless the GM adds a bunch of side stories. That said, this is a great entry point into a whole subterranean plotline and A Breath of Fresh Air could easily be the first part of a longer series if you want it to be.

That’s about all I have that’s plot-safe so only GMs should continue from here…

Basic Plot The Rift is an ancient site with a nasty reputation that a group of “mad scientists, wizards, and prophets” called the Cabal ventured into long ago. These have no connection to the Cabal of Whispers described in Character Options 2 for Numenera but if I were to run this for my gaming group tying this Cabal to that group of excommunicated Aeon Priests would be my first move.

Before the group’s grand scheme of world domination could be launched, a traitor among them named Roh’dak-tun turned on the Cabal in order to protect the slave-race of fungus-creatures he had made that he didn’t want to see destroyed in the Cabal’s war. So he killed the others, melded with the fungus colony, and the whole plan faded away as the fungus festered and the secret weapon waited. A fantastic set-up for adventure.

Numenera - A Breath of Air - AutomatonThe party needs to first be in the vicinity of the Rift (the adventure provides some suggestions) and they find a hexagonal plate left by the Cabal to summon up their doomsday weapon. More on that later… Once activated, the plate starts to count down and then summons up horrible, insectile monsters called Badooks that threaten to overwhelm the characters with sheer numbers. Luckily, salvation shows up just in time. Unluckily, it is in the form of a massive colossus creature with space inside to hide.

Once the characters are in the colossus (again, more on that later) it begins to climb down into the Rift in a bone-jarring descent. Once at the bottom, the party has a chance to explore the giant war-machine they rode down in and the fungoid growth that surrounds them. The fungus colony seems to be growing over the top of the infrastructure left by the Cabal and there are enough areas to explore freely as the characters’ interest permits. Plus, there are lava pools and cascades of molten rock so… that’s fun too!

The party stays down there for a while, trying to figure out how to get out, and probably makes contact with the sentient fungoids. They might be interested to see that the fungoids die off every day and new ones are created with the hivemind’s memories. Amidst these strange surroundings they can try to repair and repurpose the automaton, build their own machine, or do something else. Let’s face it, they’ll probably do something else since players are the worst.

Tools for the GM This adventure is an excellent way to showcase the weirdness of the Ninth World. The fungoids “speak” in a spore language that conveys mixes of emotions (there’s a guide providing a two full pages of emotional terms to use) which means you get to make every conversation into a riddle. There is a great map that shows the fungoid colony, lava-filled cavern, and sectioned automaton, as well as helpful sidebars on topics that are likely to come up (such as food and water, talking to the remnants of Roh’dak-tun, and reskinning creatures) to make GMing this scenario easier.

I also appreciate the exploratory nature of the cavern and automaton. Though this scenario is broken up into six sections, it can really be thought of in three parts: freeform getting to the Rift, a wild scenario of panic where characters wind up at the bottom of the Rift, and then another freeform section as they figure out how to exit. This is an opportunity to make the scenario your own and the options are outlined nicely.

Railroading Issues It may seem odd after I just talked about the freeform aspects of this scenario but the weakest parts of A Breath of Fresh Air are the railroading parts. Once the characters are at the bottom of the Rift, the scenario can unfold as the GM and players want it to… But first they need to get to the bottom.

I don’t know about your players, but the hexagonal plate that summons the Badooks and the automaton would set off all sorts of warning bells. They might be willing to go along with things or inexperienced enough to just start pressing buttons. Most players, though, will take one look at this hexagonal plate and say “well that’s definitely bad news!” before moving on, which means the whole plot grinds to a halt. If I were running this, I’d definitely need to spend a long time figuring out how to make this seem like less of a tripwire so that the players might actually trigger it.

Likewise, the next step of the adventure requires players to run into the automaton to escape the Badook swarm. You can make this as enticing as you want to get them to do that but offering the players a deus ex machina (machina ex deo?) to sweep them into parts unknown for adventure is the definition of railroading. If your players particularly hate this device you might get pushback from them. Unlike the hexagonal plate, there’s little chance they won’t take this chance to escape certain death but they might be resentful.

There’s also the perpetual problem of teleportation. If your players’ characters can teleport, fly, step through time, or otherwise hop out of the Rift without exploring then you don’t have much of a plot. The scenario advises you take a look at abilities and items that can circumvent things and avoid giving those out, but if the characters already have them then there’s not much to do.

Conclusion This is a great scenario that offers a lot of chances for players to immerse themselves in the Ninth World. It’s also an imaginative story which, in the style I’m coming to expect from Janek Seilicki, blends familiar tropes and new details into a compelling narrative. It does have some problems with the beginning but experienced GMs can rewrite things to better fit their player’s expectations and tendencies, besides which if you just use the material regarding the inside of the Rift itself you still have more than seventeen pages of material to use in your campaign.

I recommend this scenario for beginning GMs and/or beginning players and appreciate the attention to detail and the GM help that the author has provided. Check it out and make your fungoid BFFs today!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Breath of Fresh Air
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FARFLUNG: Sci-Fi Role-Play After Dark
Publisher: Sanguine Productions
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 09:41:09

This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/farflung-sci-fi-rpg/

I made a really great find on DriveThruRPG the other day and thought other people might be interested. Farflung is an excellent, narrative game that combines elements of FATE Accelerated and Apocalypse World to great effect. Usually when DTRPG recommends things to me I give it a passing glance but this time I was really intrigued by what I saw and so I snatched it up.

The premise of Farflunt is to create an open-ended space opera RPG of epic scale and heroic stories. This is something right up my alley and I think it’s done in a really cool way. I’ll say up front that the layout is a little busy with bright, neon colors and lots of changing fonts. The artwork, byillustrated by Mama Bliss (NSFW) and Matt Howarth, is also a little cartoon-ish and reminiscent of Octopus Pie or PvP rather than the hyper-realistic style of, say, Wayne Reynolds. Normally I like my games clean and simple with art that doesn’t mess with my suspension of disbelief so this wasn’t my favorite opening up the pdf.

If you are also in this boat I recommend you look past that. Once you get down to brass tacks this book is actually laid out very well and there is a surreal, dreamlike quality about the artwork that really complements the book once you start in on it. While it didn’t look like the kind of game I normally love, it has quickly intrigued me and I’ve spent more and more time flipping through it. Just… you know. Fair warning.

The Attributes

Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd. The first quirky thing about Farflung that you will notice flipping through the book is the attributes. There is no Strength or Wisdom here, the attributes in Farflung are based on quarks. You heard me.

They come in pairs (just like quark flavors) which represent a subtle or forward approach to things. Each of these attributes is rated from -3 (terrible) to +3 (awesome) according to your playbook (more on that below).

Social matters are determined by your bottom and top attributes which respectively indicate a quiet approach and a loud approach (as in the bottom or top of the pecking order). Your ability to reason is split into down (working with your hands) and up (working with your mind). Finally, your general demeanor is described by charm (winning people over) and strange (freaking people out).

“Indicia” of Health

Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd. I have no idea why they chose this term (instead of the actual plural of “index”), but there are three different indices that you can suffer damage to: doing is like hit points, feeling is like social points, and thinking is like sanity. When you’re hit by something you can try to deflect harm from one track to another, but only if the damage you’re taking is indicated in your playbook (again, more later).

When any one index drops to zero you are incapacitated which means you’re out of the game for a bit. The actual result depends on which index: you might be knocked out (doing), reduced to a sobbing mess (feeling), or retreat to a fugue state (thinking). Death is rare in this game so it’s up to your group when someone actually dies.

Points in Time

Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd. Now we arrive at quirk number two. In order to power special abilities (moves) there are two pools of points to spend. Future represents amazing, nature-bending abilities that defy explanation. History represents contacts, wealth, or training that you’ve already done in the past. They’re weird names but they make sense as the two halves of characters’ moves in this epic game: you can either bank on cool new stuff or plan for eventualities.

You spend points when a move tells you to ante it, and the individual move will tell you what happens after that (you might lose it, get it back, or move it someplace else). Sometimes these future and history points end up in other pools such as eternal or battered which ties up your points from being used for other moves.

Connections

Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd. Your character comes with a handful of connections as well which give you some ability to customize the character outside of the playbook you choose.

Your connection to other players’ characters allows you to give them inspiration while your connection to NPCs allows you to give them orders. Your connection to knowledge allows you to reveal new stuff as does your connection to gear. Lastly, your connection to organizations lets you order things too like requisitioning stuff or calling for a special mission.

Connections are measured by ratings that start at 1 and go up from there. You get these from your playbook but you also can gain increases during play. You can lose points too, though, and if a connection drops to zero then you lose the connection (the person stops talking to you, the gear breaks or is lost, the group blacklists you, etc).

Taking Action

Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd. There’s a great introduction to taking actions here that can apply to all RPGs (putting things like dominating the table into focus and explaining why sometimes you roll and other times you don’t worry about it) but I’ll skip that for now. You don’t roll against a target number in this system; like FATE you roll 2d6 and see what the sum is. You can achieve nothing (6 or lower), get a weak success (7-9), get a strong success (10-12), or a grand success (13+).

To this roll, of course, you add your modifier (which might be negative) based on your attributes and connections, and there might also be situational penalties to make it harder. The GM might also require a minimum level of success to achieve what you want, such as saying that the security system is top of the line so you have to get at least a strong success.

There are moves in all the playbooks but there is also a list of Common Moves that everyone can do. Assault (based on Strange) is your standard attack action and Schmooze (based on Charm) is your standard social roll. There isn’t really a defense roll (to keep your secrets or avoid being hit) you just have to modify the other person’s roll. Avoid (based on Bottom) is stealthing around, Block (based on Top) is taking a hit for someone, Lore (based on Down) is knowledge checks, Reveal (based on your a connection and requiring Future points) pulls out the perfect item, and Scope (based on Up) is insight and perception rolled together.

Image © Sanguine Productions Ltd. In addition there are Support Moves which allow you to help out others. Inspiration (based on a connection) can boost another player character’s roll after the fact, Prepare (based on whatever makes sense) lets you buff someone’s roll before they try it, and Order (based on your connection and requiring you move a Future point to History) let’s you direct your NPC companions or allies around.

One really cool thing is that there are tactical mechanics with all of these rolls, affecting subsequent and preceding rolls. For example, when you use Assault and you get a strong success then you get +3 to Assault if you do that next. Likewise, when you Scope a situation or person you ask a question of the GM and then gain +1 to your next action if it’s based on the answer.

Playbooks There is just so much in these playbooks that I can’t shoehorn it into a review with the rest of the book. That means you can look forward to next time! Check out Farflung if this review strikes your fancy and if you get itthere will still be something for you next time since you can focus on my analysis of each playbook. Let me know in the comments if you have further questions about the game or if you already have Farflung and want to share admiration, criticism, or confusion!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
FARFLUNG: Sci-Fi Role-Play After Dark
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Cursed Necropolis: Rio
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/24/2017 12:40:15

A great addition to the MtC canon with some interesting takes on how a totally displaced Iremite culture in Brazil might deal with the new beliefs of their worshippers, something that can help you adapt the mummies to everywhere around the world, and some great new mechanics for impressive tombs.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cursed Necropolis: Rio
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The Bridges we Burn - a Numenera Adventure
Publisher: Janek Sielicki
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/07/2017 10:39:02

This review originally appeared at Mephit James' Games blog: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/the-bridges-we-burn-review/

The Bridges We Burn is a five-part adventure series for Numenera written by Janek Sielicki intended for Tier 3 characters. It’s a Cypher product, meaning that groups in other Cypher games might find a lot to use in here, but it should be most exciting to Numenera fans. And excited you should definitely be.

Disclaimer: I was given a complementary copy of this product by Janek to read and review. I’m not being paid, but it’s pretty sweet to get a free product and I want to give him credit and be up front about it. I also want to credit Filip Gutowski with all the artwork in this post, snipped out of the adventure pdf.

The first adventure series to come out for Numenera was the quasi-horror story The Devil’s Spine. For many, this was their first venturing into the Ninth World and it certainly doesn’t disappoint: criminal organizations, gruesome cults, hive mind infections, deadly tombs, deep-sea diving… it’s got it all.

The Bridges We Burn sets itself up as the spiritual successor to this series both in terms of location and in terms of wide-ranging, genre-mixing adventure. It’s set in the city of Uxphon (the cramped, canyon-of-pipes city located on the edge of the Cloudcrystal Skyfields north of the Steadfast) and this book both expands upon the city and makes use of the information in The Devil’s Spine and Numenera core book. It doesn’t have to be run in conjunction with The Devil’s Spine but the start of The Bridges We Burn fits nicely with the ending of the first adventure.

There is also a similar spread of ideas and scenes in this adventure. Characters will find themselves in a royal ball, a seedy undercity, and a cultish temple while facing off against scheming nobles, doomsday zealots, and horrible monsters. If The Devil’s Spine is quasi-horror then this adventure is quasi-heroic quest. The chapters follow a linear flow of one to another, but your players are unlikely to find the breath to even wonder if they’re being railroaded along given the breakneck pace of the plot.

If you have The Devil’s Spine you have lots of useful information about Uxphon to bring into this adventure, but you don’t really need anything except the Numenera core book’s description of the city. Likewise, there are several creatures from the Ninth World Bestiary but in each case there are alternatives from core Numenera suggested. Other than that, the more Numenera products you bring to bear the more you can make it your own but all the details you need are in The Bridges We Burn.

Spoilers Ahead

That concludes the spoiler-free review of the book. I’m not going to post anything too revealing below but if you plan to be a player in this adventure I’d stop reading now. If you don’t… Well you won’t know what’s coming when but you will have some idea of where things are headed.

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Just the GMs now? Good.

The main enemy in this adventure is the Convergence (Numenera core book, p. 223-224), one of my absolute favorite groups in the Ninth World. They are complicated and everyone has their different take on them but they have the twin advantages of being master numenerists and master assholes. They gather together numenera devices for personal gain and power (as opposed to the Aeon Priests who gather it for knowledge… which sometimes comes with power) and in The Bridges We Burn they’ve found a doozy.

A nano who is part of the Convergence has found a machine that could allow them to take control of the entire city of Uxphon. Whether they live in Uxphon or are just visiting, the players should immediately smell a Heroic Opportunity (TM) when they see one. They are initially hooked into the adventure with an invitation to a party in honor of the nevajin Eenosh from “The Mechanized Tomb” (Part 3 of The Devil’s Spine) where the Convergence muscles in.

The key to starting their machine is a poor young noblewoman who has just the right genes to get things going. As the author states “it is a 9th world take on the classic story of the hero, the princess, and the dragon.” This makes The Bridges We Burn a great intro to Numenera if you want to go that route… You could even use this adventure (classic fantasy tropes) to introduce a group familiar with D&D to the Ninth World, and then run them through the darker The Devil’s Spine series of adventures.

The biggest criticism I have about this series is that it’s very linear. Once the Convergence breaks up the party the PCs track them down, then fight them and rescue the ingenue, then defend Uxphon from the bad guys’ secret weapon, then cheer and party. It would only take a group of player characters a little messing around and dallying to get off track. What if they go to the Steadfast for help from the Aeon Priests? You have to come up with a reason why the Convergence doesn’t do anything with their captive until they return. What if they continue to explore the undercity where the Convergence was holed up? They might come topside to find the entire city leveled.

This isn’t such a big deal if your players are good at picking up on clues or they don’t mind you giving them a firm push when they start to wander off-track. It’s also not a problem if you are used to improvising and rolling with things as this adventure comes with eleven pages of NPC write-ups for you to work with. You can adjust on the fly using the biographical information there and the author has provided some excellent tools in an appendix for managing the players’ actions.

There are notes for running the scenarios separately as stand-alone adventures, which might provide some means for regaining control if the story starts to spiral because of wandering PCs. There are also some nice charts for each part of the story giving the location and status of major NPCs at the beginning of that chapter and providing space for you to note where they end up. If you modify the story because of crazy decisions the players make you can glance back at these to remind yourself when they last saw Mr. So-and-So and what state they left him in.

Either way, this is an excellent adventure that can be used for a range of GMs. For beginners, the story is straightforward and you have lots and lots of information to help you craft a fantastic world for your story. For experience GMs, you can use the tools that Janek has provided to really make the story yours and deal with flighty PCs or unexpected twists with a modicum of control.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Bridges we Burn - a Numenera Adventure
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Assault on Singularity Base
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/27/2017 15:29:21

This is a really fun adventure with a simple but innovative approach, using different teams to accomplish the overall mission. This would be an excellent con scenario.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Assault on Singularity Base
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Rusthaven: An Iron Wind Sourcebook for Numenera
Publisher: Dark Liquid Games
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/21/2016 11:20:18

This book is amazing! Excellent job and well worth the price, even if it were doubled. If you are interested in the strange and the frightening parts of the Ninth World, or you want something to tie together a long-running campaign with a threat the grows in the background, this book is for you. For that matter, if you just want a ton of new descriptors, foci, creatures, cyphers, and adventures, then you should also pick it up. Rally great.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rusthaven: An Iron Wind Sourcebook for Numenera
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Cosmic Handbook
Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/29/2016 13:03:53

Great expansion on cosmic games and the future state of the Freedom Universe.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cosmic Handbook
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Eclipse Phiasco: an Eclipse Phase Fiasco playset
Publisher: Playful Leviathan Press
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/29/2016 13:02:37

If you have Eclipse Phase and Fiasco this is a great product. There's not quite enough background information here to understand what's going on in the transhuman, post-Fall universe with just this product alone but there's more than enough to give familiar players a great Fiasco experience.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eclipse Phiasco: an Eclipse Phase Fiasco playset
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Eclipse Phase: Firewall
Publisher: Posthuman Studios LLC
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/10/2015 14:58:31

An amazing and vital resource for anyone running Eclipse Phase with Firewall agents.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eclipse Phase: Firewall
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Sothis Ascends
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Colin W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/10/2015 13:55:28

As someone who loves the deep history of Mummy and is excited for the upcoming Dark Eras setting, this book is a must have. The settings are rich enough that you could run other lines in them as well.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sothis Ascends
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