Archive for category SGR

Game Review #45 – Ruins of UnderMountain (S)

Hello Readers and welcome to another game review. Now then using my standards some might wonder why I am designating this as a Supplement instead of a Module. I will get into that in a little bit.

SO while the wiki page for UnderMountain is a little underwhelming it does have a few links to other TSR related information that can help you get a little more info about the author and how this ties into the Forgotten Realms setting, especially the city of Skull Port.

From my personal perspective UnderMountain was the first true mega dungeon. Sure the box set only had three levels. But those three levels were mapped out on four poster maps. The guide book only had information on about 25% of the rooms that were shown on the maps. And there were rules and suggestions for how to add, well, anything you wanted into the unwritten areas to specifically enhance any campaign you were running.

This thing is freaking huge… I mean just look…

undermountain-maps

…and if that wasn’t enough (and for some it was never close to enough) TSR also came up with additional materials to support UnderMountain later… Ruins of UnderMountain II : The Deep Levels (not as good but it really kept up the theme), Dungeon Crawl UnderMountain the lost level (this was actually pretty good if you tied it into other things, on its own… meh) And of course there have been reprintings, updates to later editions of  D&D and knock offs by the score that have tried to out do UnderMountain like AEG’s Worlds Largest Dungeon.

The funny thing is that most of the other mega dungeons that are out there exist only to be adventured in. They dont have any real connection to their environment or world. That means you can drop them any place you like and play the crud out of them. However UnderMountain was tied to the Forgotten Realms in some rather interesting ways. Its primary entrance was in a specific city. It had interesting new magic items and spells that were tied into either the Forgotten Realms as a whole, Skull Port the city it resided under, or some of the background characters that TSR authors and creators had been using for a while. Now then this is not to say that you cannot take UnderMountain and just drop it anywhere you want. You can. You just have to ignore or modify the background and characters a bit so the story elements fit, that is if you want to use them. Considering that the publication only has about 25% of the rooms filled at best, it is really easy to mod it out to whatever setting or location you want to use. My personal favorite of all time is putting UnderMountain under the City State of the Invincible Overlord. Giving me a huge and detailed city with a massive underground complex underneath.

One of the things that comes in the box set that I think is very under valued are the DM assistant cards. Not their real names I know. But these handy little cards have information on treasures, traps, and some of the odd magics that are in the dungeon. TSR put similar cards into other products but most of the time they made them 8 1/2 x 11 page sized, and these cards are just a little over the 3×5 note card size. Much easier to use and keep out of the line of sight of your players.

And of course if I am going to be totally honest… without the maps this thing would not be worth it to me. I am all for added information, new monsters and toys, but… mmmmmmmmmmm maps. These things are very detailed, well presented and… sigh… beautiful. One of the reasons I do not like the follow up products as much is because the maps seem more like a cheap imitation and not trying to keep the feel and build on what they already created.

Ok so I have ranted and rambled a bit, how do I call the numbers…

Overall Fluff 3/5 – There is good background material, and some interesting story. However this product is one of the weaker ones that TSR put out in regards to art. And while a part of me wants to call the maps art, I am actually putting them under Crunch.

Overall Crunch 5/5 – The new spells and monsters really do well in AD&D as a whole. The new trap rules and details also build things out in ways that enhance the setting, and the game. MAPS!!!!!!!!! I would almost like to give them a separate score but that would really skew the review.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It is old school AD&D, so you can mod the crud out of it. And I have. And you need to. The fact that you need to in many ways almost made me give this a 4/5 instead of the 5/5 score. Almost. The fact that you know from the ground up that you will need to mod it, and they make no bones about it, saves it from the lower score.

Overall Fun 5/5 – MAPS!!!!!! no not just the maps… heh. Overall this is one of those rare gaming products that encourages you to think. To add the flavor to make it your own, while giving you a solid framework that you can run with to your hearts content even if you never tweak a thing. It is a ton of fun and I cannot be positive enough about it.

Total Score 18/20 – Yeah I think this is a great supplement for gaming. I think it is worth the collectors price if you can find it in the physical world, and I think it is not bad at all if you can get it in a digital format and come up with some way to scale up the maps so you can use them effectively. While this is not something that will change your life it really can change your game.

Ok so thats it for this week. Stay tuned because next week will have another blog entry and I have no idea what I am going to do with it.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many random dungeon levels I can roll up before I need to actually use them for something.

 

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Game Review #44 – Module X1 Isle of Dread (Expert D&D-1981) (M)

Hello Readers

So this post is going to be a little different. I have created links in most of my review posts to Wikipedia so that relevant topics can be examined more in depth. I have also noted that with those reviews, the more links I post the more spam comments I get that I need to delete from my in box, so I am going to use a game module to try and do one up with no links. Lets see how it goes.

In any event… on with the review.

Dungeon Module (already a misnomer because this ain’t no dungeon) X1 – The Isle of Dread is originally a module that introduced me to a few things that… well it sort of changed the way I looked at game modules. Admittedly it was early in my gaming career, and the module came in the original D&D Expert Rules boxed set…

ddexpertset1st01

… and totally set up to take advantage of the new rules added in that set. Ohhh look at those old hard edged dice that you needed to use a crayon to fill in… or some of your moms candles…. yeahhh

Ahem…

This module introduced me to a few things. Pages you could cut out and use as character props for the players. I mean seriously you can just cut the pages out and hand them to the players and say “Oh yeah you found this…”. The island itself is fairly big, and so there are a lot of supplementary maps inside the module. Most surprising though in the maps is that the cover interior is not the major map of the island, it is the map for one of the potential story lines that you can participate in while on the island.

And yeah you read that right… this little thirty page module has a main plot, and several encounters just like any good module. However this module also has notes that give you methods to keep things going on the island.

Now then the other thing that this module introduced me to is the idea that using dinosaurs in a fantasy setting was perfectly fine. I mean when I looked into the Monster Manual I could see dinosaurs, but this gave me examples of how I can use them in games by setting up several encounters that sorta feel like King Kong in a fantasy setting and I am not the only person who has said that.

The new creatures introduced work really well in the setting, and to a certain degree can be  moved into the rest of the game realm, well that is assuming that you are using the published D&D realms.

phanaton

One of my favorite added creatures is the Phanaton, sort of like a mix between a raccoon, a flying squirrel and a halfling, who lives in a jungle.

The main adventure can take you all over the island, or you can get really targeted. On the map below you can see over twenty encounter areas called out. Getting through the core story takes hitting four of them. The rest is all optional.

dread map

I have used this module for a number of things in the past. Being that it is set up for Expert D&D it is really easy to covert over into AD&D or to 3.0/3.5 D&D/Pathfinder. I have had one group of players decide that after clearing out the main story, they wanted to make the island their secret HQ and so they had to clear out the rest of the main encounters, like the pirates, make friends with the natives and try to tame the dinos. In another case I make this a step in the path for a larger series of modules that I had tied together to make one big story. I have also used it as a training ground location for Rangers. I took out most of the encounters for that last one

All in all I really enjoy the location and the balance of information in the module. And apparently I am not the only one as I hear that it is being reprinted by a third party to be updated into 5th ed D&D.

Ok so lets see how I number it up…

Overall Fluff 4/5 – The art is good ( I mean just look at those little Phanaton welcoming that poor confused human who soooooo needs them). Props are good, maps are great. The only thing it is light on is details about the island history. But that is sort of how modules at the time.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – The only real rules added were for new creatures. And they work. However some of the creature mechanics are not balanced.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It is old school D&D, so you can mod the crud out of it.

Overall Fun 4/5 – If you did not guess, I think this is a lot of fun. The only reason I cant give it a five is because the colelctor in me wants to keep the module fully in tact, the passionate GM in me wants to rip out the appropriate pages and hand them to players….

Total Score 16/20 – Not a bad score in the end. Overall I really enjoy this product and when I flashback to the fun modules in the 80’s this is one of the ones that is always at the top of my memory

Well I hope you all enjoyed my first linkless review.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many brontosaurs it takes to fill in a volcano…

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Game Review #42 – GURPS Humanx (S)

Did you know there is not a decent RPG that has been created specifically for Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? SIGH… Ok so for review #42 we will stick with SCIFI and hit something a little unexpected.

You may remember a while back I did a review for GURPS. I was not a happy camper in regards to the system, but did mention more than once that when GURPS does a game supplement they go all out. They treat it with respect and do a great job of it. This is one of those examples.

The Humanx setting is from the works of Alan Dean Foster. I got into the setting back in the late 70’s with the book Orphan Star, with Flinx and his minidrag Pip. And I could never get enough. Foster did frustrate the crud out of me more than once when he would write a new book (and I have to say his writing has never stopped improving over the years) and it would come in-between things he had already established as cannon for the setting and it changed two or three things and so now you have to reread to ensure you have everything right in your own head… but that is between me and Mr Foster.

Published in 1987 GURPS Humanx takes into account not only the series of books that is my favorites (Flinx and Pip) but also takes into account the whole freaking setting. And that is not something that is easy to do given the number of books that Foster had published in the setting by that time. In the books 96 pages you got the whole history of the Humanx Commonwealth and even a look at some of the major players. I was really surprised at how much information they were able to cram into such a small space. The weakest part of the whole thing was the art in my mind, considering that they go permission to use the Michael Whelan cover from one of the books.

To be honest I could rant on for a long time about how much I loved this book. And how it broke my heart that it was in GURPS and not a game system I enjoyed. But on the up side there is so much information here that if a GM cannot take this book and put it into their own preferred game system… well I would be looking for a new GM.

Lets take a look at the numbers….

Overall Fluff 4/5 – The only reason I put this at a 4 and not a 5 is the interior art. The details and snippets from the books are just freaking awesome.

Overall Crunch 4/5 – There are a couple of new rules added for the Humanx setting in this book and while I am not a fan of GURPS they fill in for things that would otherwise feel like big holes in the setting. Like I said I may not like GURPS overall, but when they do a source book or licensed item they do not short change you.

Overall Mod 1/5 – This is in the tank because in my case, you have to mod it, into a whole other system. But the level of detail that is present makes it pretty easy overall. I have in the past put it into Star Frontiers (the Thranx and the Vrusk trade up pretty easy) and into Mekton (yeah I was in a ship to ship combat stage at the time)

Overall Fun 5/5 – Ok so I am totally biased and I admit it. I love the setting and I love the way they treated the material. Even though it takes time to mod it to something I can use in a game engine I enjoy, I still think the book itself is a lot of fun for fans.

Total Score 14/20 – I tried to be as even handed as I could given that I dont like the game engine but love the books this is based on. Not an easy task. For a fan of the setting who games I think the book is essential. For a fan of the books it might be a nice to have just so you can see how other people treat the property. For fans of scifi gaming it could be a very nice alternate setting. For fans of GURPS… … … … … sorry, got nothin’ but snark.

All right so fairly short review this week. Oh and yes this is the official post for the week. Seattle’s Snowmageddon 2019 has brought you everything else published this week. Remember this is all my opinion. Get out there and game for yourself. Make up your own bloody mind and have fun doing it.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see if I can make friends with this minidrag.

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Game Review #41 Classic Organizations for Champions 4th Edition (S)

Welcome readers. Yeah, two posts in under a week. No this is not a sign of the apocalypse, that is already underway and in the hands of other management. 🙂

Having recently found out that Hero Games, the creators of Champions, have been putting a lot of effort into adding PDF versions of the Champions game into online retailers like DriveThruRPG I wanted to pull up one of my favorites from my OVERALL favorite version of Champions. Fourth edition.

Avid readers will remember a while back I did a review for another Champions item. CLOWN. That adventure module, and three others from third edition Champions have been updated, reedited and added to this supplement. What was collected in this book was,

CLOWN, the Criminal Legion Of Wacky Nonconformists.

CLOWN

Neutral Ground, A safe space for heroes and villains to chat, heal, and seek advice or training.

champions ng

PRIMUS and DEMON, A government organization to fight super-crime with an almost military efficiency, and a magical organization bent on world corruption and or domination, either would work.

champions PnD

And Red Doom, a very 80’s look at Russian supers and the teams they had in order to counter evil American heroes who might interfere with the Motherland.

champions red doom

The first thing most folks would think about in a supplement like this is, “Well if you are just reprinting old stuff who cares. I can just use the old books.” And while you definitely could the four original supplements were created in first through third editions of the rules for Champions. Now then while the changes between the four editions are not as subtle as going from AD&D 1st edition to AD&D 2nd edition. They are no where near as extreme as say going from Basic D&D to Third edition. Things like Martial Arts and some of the powers went through major changes. And while you could muddle through quite well, it makes it a little easier to have it all worked out for you.

In addition to the rules updates you also had all four books pulled together to tell a single story. That updated all of the characters from the original four books. And pulled in additional ones from other old supplements. And when they built this new story they also mapped it out completely so that characters could be directly involved and change a number of elements for their own world, or they could deal with the aftermath of what happened. When they did the update of the organizations they made some fairly significant changes in a few of them. Everything from reorganizing teams, to completely changing the origin stories for characters and in two cases of the organizations themselves.

The combined effect of the rules updates and the story that was created, along with the effects on individual characters and the grander implications for the world of Champions gave this supplement something that was close to unique in the evolution of the Champions RPGs. A true sense of continuity. This book told players that yes your old supplements still mattered. And look how you can tie them in with all the new stuff that is being created for the game.

Hero games did one other book for fourth edition that started with Classic in the title. And while it collected characters from a lot of previous supplements, it did not try to build continuity like this one did.

While I did not get to play with much of the material here… finding Champions players can be a pain some times… what I did use balanced well and ran just like I would expect anything from 4th edition Champions to run. Very very well.

In the end this book is one of five books that I would put into a bundle to say this is your core for Champions 4th edition. That though can be the topic of a later post.

So lets take a look at this book by the numbers…

Overall Fluff 4/5 – Using a ton of the original art, and adding several new pieces the art fits well into the whole Champions product line. This however is the fluff flaw as well. The art is not really top of the line when compared to comic books or a lot of the high end art that other games were using at the time or since.What really stands out though is the story and the character narratives. It adds a lot of great material and makes for a very nice bit of ongoing plot and gives a lot of potential for players to run with and build their own stories and for GMs to integrate it into their worlds.

Overall Crunch 4/5 – While there are no new rules in this book, this book has examples of just about everything you can do with the Champions game engine. Using those examples you can really map out how to do a lot of the more complex things in the game engine like vehicle design and base construction with a lot of ease.

Overall Mod 4/5 – Champions as a whole is really easy for me to mod. And plots and character elements are usually very easy to mod too. However the story elements and background are so well integrated that it can be a bit of work to pull out and use only parts of it, or to add a lot of additional items to it.

Overall Fun 5/5 – So I seriously love this book. Even with a few flaws and not great art it is one of the best supplements that came out for Champions 4th edition. At least in my mind. And as noted above, I enjoy it so much I put it as one of the books you would want to consider your core material to play in the Champions universe.

Total Score 17/20 – A high score, but in my mind this is one where if I have a really good game session or three with the material again I would likely bump it even higher. The book is not without flaws, but overall it is a very very useful collection of material that should not be under rated.

Ok so as always, this is my opinion. Get out there, read it, play with it, and decide for yourself if you agree.

Keep gaming and have fun out there folks.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many comic-book villains can fit into the CLOWN car for rapid transit.

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Game Review #40 Night City – Cyberpunk 2020 (S)

Greetings readers. With the still pending release of Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Projekt I thought I would get a little ahead of the curve and pull out a few of the Cyberpunk 2020 books and see if I could give myself an edge when 2077 is finally released.

On the top of my list is one of the game supplements that has been at the top of my list for years when it comes to city guides. City guides have been around for a long time in gaming, and one of the first that really got me going on the idea of an entire publication for a city setting was the City State of the Invincible Overlord. I got the Mayfair Games boxed set version when it came out (1986/87) and was floored at the amount of detail that they had and it got incorporated into many of my game worlds going forward. There were others that I found and read/used/loved/hated after that boxed set. Some older, some newer, but none of them captured my imagination or respect in the same manner that the City State did until I found Night City. I will freely admit that I did not get it as soon as it was printed, but it was not too long there after.

Night City, after I read it, set my new high standard for a City guide. There have been a few that have come close sense, but it takes a lot to equal it.

Let me give you a few ideas why.

To start off with in its presentation the Night City guide is formatted to look like the kind of material you would get from the in city Data Terms. Data terminals that you can use to get everything from maps to the daily newspaper. It then goes from a general overview of the city, with everything from weather to hot spots before going into a history of the city itself. Then it moves into things that get a bit more specific, like depending on your finances where you might live and how you do it, the descriptions of street gangs (the Bozo’s are still one of my all time favorite gangs and I am reeeeeeeeealy hoping they make an appearance in the 2077 game). Then it finally moves into specific regions of the city. Including specific locations, hot spots, local characters and even the types or some very specific contacts that you can develop in each region.

Now then inside that presentation it also slips in game specific stats. However it does it in such a way that you feel like it is supposed to be there. Like when talking about the street gangs they do not give you set stats for your generic members of the gangs. But it gives you averages and then adds a little color as well. For example the Interlock System that Cyberpunk uses has a stat called Cool that defines your mental stability, and a few other traits. Under the listing for the Bozo’s under Cool it has the comment – “Do crazy people truly have Cool?” (Page 53). That kind of added flavor gives a nice touch that does not distract from the presentation and still makes it useful in game.

The third big deal is that this book is actually great for all of the in game roles that players can have and that game masters can abuse for NPCs. Not just in local hots spots or encounters and contacts. It also has layouts for a few sites on the Net so that you can set things up for hacks. It has details on corps and the law so if you are playing a corp or a cop you can have material to enhance your game. And it has details that you can use to add to any character that would have been hinted at in their Lifepath at character creation. And for those that dont know Lifepath is a series of tables that you roll on at character creation to set up a background for our character. Or at least the framework for one that you can flesh out.

Last big deal is that this is one of the few game supplements in a cyberpunk or scifi setting in which, to myself at least, all of the art and technical-esqe art fits. It is rare that you can say that about the art in any game book. Usually there is something that takes you out of the moment and makes you go… why… really, why is that here?

So I have no idea if this game book would be helpful at all when 2077 comes out. The scenes that have been shared so far give me a bit of hope that at least some of the material will be on the nose. And since Mike Pondsmith himself is involved with the creation of 2077, and he is a solid story teller and enjoys Easter eggs as much as anyone, I cannot see it being completely useless.

Ok so thats my rant about it, lets see how I set the numbers.

Overall Fluff 5/5 – Read all of the above and you will see that the fluff is out of control here. I would have given it a six out of five if I could let myself out of my own rules.

Overall Crunch 2/5 – There are no new rules in this book, but there is also nothing that breaks existing rules. So it has a low score here because nothing is added.

Overall Mod 5/5 – Interlock is one of those systems that you can mod the heck out of. The Fusion System and CyberFang prove this. And the material is presented in such a way that it is very easy to drop in your own NPC’s or full fledged features to make the city match you own game, or even game engine if you want to export it.

Overall Fun 5/5 – Again read the above and you will know I think this is a blast. Even though the setting is a dystopian cyberpunk work.

Total Score 17/20 – Ok, pretty high score. And it is WORTH IT. Nuff Said. (Nuff Said credited to the memory of Stan Lee, because he is forever awesome.)

Ok so thats my post. Hope the new year is kicking much ass for everyone already and that your game days rock even harder than last year.

Now gimme the dice, I have to see how many Bozo’s are around here and clowning…

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Game Review #38 – Dark Sun AD&D 2nd Edition (S)

G’day readers. So you may have noticed that I tagged this review as being a game supplement instead of a game. There will be some who say it is a game all its own, but I say it is a setting, and has supplementary rules but not a game all its own. And you wont convince me otherwise.

Dark Sun is my second favorite setting in D&D of all time. And to be quite frank it disappointed me greatly that it got such a shabby treatment into 3rd edition. I know it was brought into 4th. But 4th was such a disappointment to me overall that I never really investigated it. And I have had no interest really in 5th after 4th so I have not even checked to see if they were bringing it in to the latest edition.

In the history of AD&D there have been a number of settings released. A brief history of some of my favorites will include…

  • Greyhawk 1980 (actually the original setting but not codified as such until later)
  • Forgotten Realms 1987 (there were other settings that were part of this world like Maztica, Oriental Adventures/Kara-Tur, and Al-Qadim)
  • Spelljammer 1989 (magic in space)
  • Dark Sun 1991
  • Council of Wyrms 1994 (Dragons as player characters)
  • Planescape 1994 (Where you can get to everywhere)

There is a much more complete list in Wiki but I can tell you it is not fully complete.

Those who know me know which one of the settings on that little list is my all time favorite, but for the moment I aint talkin.

As to what makes Dark Sun such an awesome thing for me, well let me break down some of the coolness for you.

  1. The setting is so lethal that you have to
    1. Start all characters at 3rd level. Minimum.
    2. Create a character tree with at least four characters in it so you can have replacements handy.
    3. The setting calls for using a different method of stat generation
      1. Original 3d6 per stat. Average roll is 10.5 Low is 3. High is 18.
      2. New version for this setting is 4d4+4 per stat. Average roll is 14 Low is 8. High is 20.
  2. Magic drains life from the world around it
  3. There are no gods, but the worlds elements will act like they are.
  4. The new races added include half giants, half dwarves and the preying mantis like thri kreen.
  5. Variants on old races include nomadic thieving elves and cannibalistic halflings.
  6. Even though the Manual of the Planes and Spelljammer set it up so you could access any setting, this world is blocked off from all the others save in very rare places that are so dangerous to get into that you may as well not try.
  7. Even though I love dragons there is only one in this world, and dragons are not a species but something that very, very, evil people can become.
  8. 90% or so of the planet is desert, caused by the over use of magic. The sun is dark for the same reason, as the sun provides life to the planet. So tap it for power and… yeah.
  9. You can either be one of the rare characters that actually believes that things can get better and you are willing to fight for it. Or you can embrace the fact that your world is doomed and be as big a bastard as you want. Basically this is about as dystopian a fantasy setting as you can get.

To be totally honest I was not sure at first that I would like the setting, but when a man a few of us know as ‘Drunken Tom’ decided that he was going to say screw it and invent a new weapon proficiency for his half giant gladiator called paired elves… yeah I gave in and started to see the potential. When I found out just how nasty the place was… and well we also heard things like players saying “Lets go back to Ravenloft where its safe.” I got hooked.

Looking over a copy of the main boxed set I got hooked even further. The cloth map. The player and DM flip books. All the materials present just ramped it up notch after notch. The added books that came out just thrilled me more and more but we wont be going into the additional setting supplements or the fiction right now. This is all about the original boxed set.

I could ramble on about this a lot longer but lets take a look at the numbers instead.

Overall Fluff 5/5 – The original setting box came with so many goodies that they alone would put this at a five of five. But when you add the content, the art, and the detail in the setting, yeah, if I could I would give this a six or a seven for fluff.

Overall Crunch 5/5 – The additional rules added in this setting are well crafted and well balanced within its own setting. Between the variants on magic and the additional races it is really well crafted.

Overall Mod 2/5 – The one major weakness in this setting is its ability to cross over to other settings. Even dragging the races within to other settings was challenging at the time. When you got into third edition the races themselves were overbalanced making it so that even a basic thri kreen was to be a fourth level character with the racial level adjustments in place. Tweaking these rules is a pain in the ass. But it can be done.

Overall Fun 5/5 – Again, this is one of those places where if I could put a higher score than a five in place I would.

Total Score 17/20 – One of the higher ratings I have given and it is totally worth it. I love this setting and all the things that have come out of it. I really think it should be one of the core settings for any future edition of D&D, but that is my mind.

Ok so that gives us my overview in brief. I love the setting. I want more of it. I want it in every game engine you can imagine.

But thats me. Make up your own bloody mind if it rocks or sucks. 🙂

Game on and have fun folks.

Now gimme the dice… I need to see how a cannibal halfling would have dealt with Smaug.

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Game Review #36 Gargoyles : The Vigil

Ok so feeling a bit better and now for something a little different.

Back in 1994 Disney put out a cartoon that I would love forever. Gargoyles. At the same time I was playing a lot of World of Darkness (WOD) by White Wolf. And some time after 1996 someone pointed me to a file they found online called Gargoyles : The Vigil. The author is listed as one Lee Garvin, who makes it very clear in his second edition PDF of the game that neither Disney, nor White Wolf endorsed this creation.

Currently the only place I can find this work is on file sharing locations like Scribed. Since it is totally fan made I see no issue in downloading it.

Now then you should not confuse this with the official White Wolf WOD supplement called Gargoyles. That official book has nothing to do with the animated series and in my opinion is one of the worst additions to the WOD anyone has made. It just… ungh… no… no bad reviews.

Anyway, Gargoyles : The Vigil takes the Disney animated series and drops it right into the WOD. Basically making the Gargoyles the natural enemy of vampires, occasional allies of the were creatures, and known to the other supernatural entities in WOD, but still having totally their own flavor.

The document that Lee Garvin put together, even in its slightly prettier second edition is not all that well edited. And it leaves some serious gaps in describing the rules to add. However when I took a look at copyright law I found out there is a little genius in how it was made. Turns out that fan use usually means that you can use a certain percentage of material before you start hitting infringement territory. That is as long as you do not seek to profit from it. It has something to do with the same reasons that authors can mention real companies in their books without permission. As long as you do not defame the name, use too much about them, and, well there are a few other loop holes. But the gist of it is that Lee Garvin rode that line right to the edge so that neither Disney nor White Wolf could do too much. At least, that is if I got all that information right. However it goes that would explain why it is a little hard to find and not the best edit in the history of fan material.

On the plus side, I think it really catches the feel of the animated series. And the rules make the characters possibilities fit well with any WOD campaign, from Hunters up through all of the mains.

I know a lot of folks over the years have tried to put together RPG supplements and games for Gargoyles, and a lot of folks have felt disjointed in the results. While the editing and the self defense of not using EVERYTHING in either WOD or the animated series makes it a little bit of a challenge to use right out of the gate, I, as a fan, think that it is worth the effort to get it going.

Ok so I am still trying to roll quickly and keep working to feel better so this is not going to be a long review. Lets get to the numbers…

Overall Fluff 1/5 – There is not much. They could have used other fan art and images to keep from hitting copyright issues, but there really is no art. There are quotes from the series, and a little bit of fluff to place the game setting. Overall this is the biggest disappointment in the game, but also the most understandable if you dont want to be sued.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – The rules variants that the author came up with work really well. It is kind of amazing how simply the Gargoyles characters can fit into WOD and how easy it is to create brand new ones that just rock. And yes that should be a bad pun 😛

Overall Mod 4/5 – As easy to mod as any other WOD title.

Overall Fun 5/5 – I am a fan of both WOD (the original anyway) and Gargoyles (RULE THE NIGHT FOREVER!!!!) so yeah I think its fun.

Total Score 13/20 – A rather weak score, but still, I love it. Can I recommend it. Yes. Is it for everyone, no.

Ok so I gotta run…

So gimme the dice, I gotta see if Goliath can keep up in high winds 🙂

 

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Game Review #35 Rifts 1st Edition (G)

Hey there everyone

So while I have reviewed multiple products from Palladium Books before, and I know that in the last year there have been a lot more blow outs regarding the company and its owner Kevin Siembieda. I am not going to rehash that at all though. This post is about the first edition of the most ambitious setting I have ever seen. Rifts.

So let me say I first found this game the year it came out. I was interested right off the bat because after Shadowrun came out the year before, and in my mind blew the doors off of putting Fantasy and Cyberpunk together into a single setting, I wanted to see what one of my favorite publishers, the folks who had brought me Heroes Unlimited, TMNT and other Strangeness and Robotech could do with a setting that essentially mixed… everything… together in one place.

I wanted to be tough on them, to really put the pressure on to make sure they kept up the quality of settings I had seen them do, and license. I gave up on that completely when I got to the RCC (Racial Character Class) section and found that you could start the game playing a dragon. And that while dragons generally preferred not to get cybered up, you could. And they had natural magic. And… well yeah… so…

Anyway they had a ton of other interesting classes. The original book had humans, dragons, psychics and ‘dog boys’ as the races you could play. And if you were human you could pick an OCC (Occupational Character Class) to go with your race.

Your initial setting is on a post apocalypse Earth. Where things had gone high tech. There was a lot of cool gear and toys. Humans got stupid and went WW3 on each other. Massive death toll on just the right time pulled all the psychic energy into the worlds ley lines and they went nuts. Magic returned to the world, the ley lines turned into Rifts bringing things from multiple different dimensions and worlds to Earth. Death toll rises. Things lock into place and humanity has been shattered. Three hundred years or so later a small human empire is up and running in the midwest using Nazi like tactics to get folks under their thumb. And in the setting at the moment the first book came out you could either be a part of the empire, our choose to be outside it.

Later books would expand things, a lot… no really… a lot. I wont go into detail but add in books about parts of Earth, other dimensions, lists of deities (yeah they are wandering around too), alien parts salesmen and all sorts of other stuff and the whole thing gets freakin’ huge. Unfortunately all that growth comes with an epidemic of power creep. However that is not the point of this review.

One of the things that really drew me in was that fact that this setting was in the same rules as every other Palladium Books game I had played. And they stated right in the book that they were going to put out a supplemental book that would tell you how to bring over every other type of character and make it work. So of course the first thing that I did with a game group was to put together a mission in which the TMNT stole the SDF-1 and tried to raid the capitol of that burgeoning new human empire with the assistance of a few super humans and more than a few cybernetic spies. Yeahhh. Thats the kinda stuff this setting lets you get away with.

Now the game itself is far from perfect. My current copy of the original rule book is eighth printing and it still has a ton of editorial errors. The art is the usual Palladium mixed batch where you may have one or two artists that are pretty good, but the cover is the only art really worth drooling over (save for licensed titles and some of the most recent books they have done when they finally got new art teams and the owner quit trying his hand at art from time to time).

My biggest issue with the game is that the leveling system calls back to original D&D, with that poor elf who does elf things. And the fact that you cannot change classes at any point other than to just clear everything you have learned and take on a new roll. So you start at ground level all over again despite how ever long you have been playing. This type of level system does have its benefits, and it can keep a player from over reaching and trying to become a dragon with a borg aspect who pilots giant robots and has made magical pacts to become… ohhhh you get it. If the rules wont let you do it it stops things from getting too far out of control unless you make exceptions and get into power creep (cough cough later books). Even though it would be ten years before we would see D&D 3rd edition and get a really solid look at what you can do slipping between classes ‘officially’, there have been examples for years of a controlled method of mixing rolls so that players can build what they can imagine without getting too far out of control.

Even with its built in imperfections this game has been an inspiration to me for a long time. I love the potential in crossing genres. And while there were other game engines like the Hero System and GURPS that set you up to be able to do EVERYTHING in one game engine. This is the first setting that I became aware of that actually put EVERYTHING in one place from the beginning.

Ok so lets look at the numbers…

Overall Fluff 4/5 – There is enough background info here and in both editorial and character voices that the setting really comes to life. The art helps a little when it can avoid being distracting. There are so many bread crumbs dropped that ties this setting into everything else that Palladium Books published that you cant help but feel things coming together are you read.

Overall Crunch 4/5 – Standard Palladium Books rules. It is a good system if you accept its limits and the things that it wont let you do. If you take it on its own the rules are comprehensive and cover just about anything you can imagine.

Overall Mod 3/5 – Adding things and subtracting things is about the best you can hope for. However that adding and subtracting allows for bringing in things from so many other settings it is kind of hard not to say you can mod it.

Overall Fun 4/5 – I enjoy it a lot. I occasionally have moments where I want to mix classes and it frustrates the crud out of me until I remember where I put my house rules to blend OCC and even RCC. But then I have to find it again and the realize I can do enough with the character I have and … then I am back to having fun 🙂

Total Score 15/20 – Not a bad score overall. If you can get past all the current hullabaloo about the company and the owner/author then you might want to consider this game if you like the mixing of genre. If you do I would recommend going first ed over the later versions due to the fact the book changed to try and compensate for the power creep in its other books and made some changes that hampered some of the choices you could make regarding the character types you could play.

Ok so thats it… my thoughts and opinions. Run with it or dont its up to you 🙂

Now gimme the dice, I gotta see how much more power creep we can work with… hmmm how did a 924 get on my d20…

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Game Review #33 CM4 Earthshaker (M)

Ok so this review has a bit of a twisted origin, but still flashes us back into the 80’s.

The first time I saw this module (CM4 Earthshaker), for a version of Basic D&D I never got into until the 2000’s called The Companion Rules,  sitting in a local book store I knew I had to have it. GIANT FREAKING ROBOT! It was the mid 80’s and I had only recently discovered anime. Voltron, Robotech, and so many others with giant robots. I had to know more.

What I learned did not really help me enjoy… much… when it came to giant robots. Less so for D&D. It also put the capstone on my long lived hatred of all things gnome. However it did cement for me the idea that cross genre stories, adventures and setting could be done. IF they were done right. Looking back at the module today it feels more like an attempt to get players to really feel what it is like to run a kingdom when there is a huge potential disaster coming your way. But this one has an element of the disaster that you can fight directly. It also feels a LOT more like steampunk than anything else. I still hate the gnomes though.

This module also started me asking the questions again regarding the limits on character levels that you see in D&D, the limits on roles per race, and how much better AD&D was because while you still had level limits based on race (which everyone I knew tossed right out the window) it was better than having to have a conversation like…

“So what are you?”

“An elf.”

“And what do you do?”

“Elf things.”

“No I mean what is your job?”

“I am an elf.”

“No I get that I can see the ears… I mean what do you do? I am a Cleric, I use holy magic.”

“No you dont get it… Elves, Dwarves, Halflings (because Hobbits are under another copyright) we dont get careers… I am an ELF, that is my race, my job, my fate… I can only do ELF things… and I cant advance like you do… dont you see!!!”

“I…ummmm… wow….unhhh”

(uncontrolled sobbing)

Yeah, so moving on lets see what the numbers look like before that elf gets back…

 

Overall Fluff 2/5 – Like most early modules for D&D of any version, the fluff is weak. Cool cover art by a D&D legend helps, but that can only take you so far.

Overall Crunch 5/5 – This is where this really shines. The added rules to help you solve problems for a large area/kingdom really can give you a grip on scale, even though they only take up about half a page. The rules for supersized constructs, they rock. hard to imagine it taking several hundred beings working together to make it work, but hey, that is the steampunk way.

Overall Mod 2/5 – Ok so here is a big challenge. You cannot really scale this to lower levels. You cannot really alter a lot of the material. You can however replicate it and make a giant steampunk robot setting with it. So I still have to give it some points.

Overall Fun 3/5 – I may not have learned much but it allowed me to destroy a full tribe of gnomes while taking a giant steam powered robot off their hands and foil some villains and use the robot to set up a new version of the Colossus of Rhodes.

Total Score 12/20 – Not the best module ever. However it does have some nifty little things that you can use to build up a campaign, or just toss a wrench into the day of any group of heroes you might know.

So there it is… look it up, toss it out, whatever works for you.

Now gimme the dice… I need to see if I can roll up a job for that elf so he will stop crying.

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Game Review #32 Marvel Super Heroes – Advanced – TSR(G)

Hello Readers

So this review is a flashback to 1984 and 1986. Back in 1984 TSR published the first licensed superhero RPG, Marvel Super Heroes. Well it is the first as far as I know. DC Heroes from Mayfair came out in 1985 and Palladium Books published their Justice Machine book (for Heroes Unlimited) the same year. I cannot find any others that came out at the same time. Superhero 2044 was the first in super hero games overall (1977). So while Champions (Iron Crown Enterprises/Hero Games 1981) and Villains and Vigilantes (Fantasy Games Unlimited 1979) also had comics associated with them, those comics were spin-offs of the game and not what inspired the game in the first place.

Now then over the years there have been other Marvel RPGs. Heck TSR even did another game using their SAGA system  for Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game in 1998. (Articles on numbers 3 and 4 are in the links on the numbers) And then there was the 250 Point Project (now defunct and only remnants and links remain on the original Tripod web page – visit and follow at your own risk) which was an effort to convert famous characters in comic books into starter characters in Champions which makes it an unofficial Marvel RPG.

All of which tells me that folks really want to play RPG’s in the Marvel Comics Universe. And likely, regardless of a published system just for the setting or not, those folks will continue to find a way.

Now then for myself, I got into the game in the first edition in 1984. Drug a good friend into playing it with me, and while there were some things that made no sense what so ever (the use of Areas to measure distance and an Area was very irregular on the maps, and that base speed is never mentioned, oh and lest I forget the fact that you can loose more Karma [the exp system] for missing a charity event that you could gain by stopping a crime in progress) made for some pretty messy game sessions when we first started out. The second big hit came when we realized that no mater what you did you could never make a character that would be equal to any of your favorite characters, it kinda got shelved for a while. When I got my hands on the 1986 Advance version of the game, it had a lot more options. Strangely the Karma and Area issues were still there (to be honest the Area issue was reduced by having some standardized spacing on most of the new maps but it was still not a grid or the like), but they were softened by having a lot more options for building characters and the chance to actually make something that could go toe to toe with many of your personal favorites. No one could take on Galactus on their own, but hey, you have to have limits.

Something that made the game a lot of fun for me other than being able to make so many characters was the overall mechanic for action resolution. When I was playing regularly I would always call it the FASERIP (acronym of sorts for the game stats) chart.

FASERIP Results

The chart shown here is from the advanced game. The basic one had less to it. Overall the idea is to roll high on a percentile die. You want to be in the red. Green and Yellow are ok. And White is bad. And you get the number you need to roll by looking at the value you have… smeg ok let me just give you a sample. Hero has Monstrous Strength and is trying to lift something heavy. The object has a weight that is above Monstrous so his roll to lift it will move down two columns. So now he has to roll on the Incredible column. Hero wants to lift it over his head and throw it. GM says that means he needs a Yellow roll if he is going to throw it right away, Red if he wants to hold it and actually aim before he throws. Green means he can pick it up but wont be able to toss it, and White means he strains something. So when rolling a d100 player for Hero needs to roll a 61 or higher to do what he wants. And if he rolls a 30 or less then he will hurt himself.

This same type of game engine was used for action resolution in the 3rd edition of Gamma World (TSR 1986) and the overall mechanic looks like it might currently be held by Ronin Arts, for use in their Four Color RPG. However Ronin Arts has not published anything since 2015 and there are several other publishers putting out their material, so I am unsure what is really going on there.

Now then the reason I wanted to work this review with the Advanced version of the game is because it offered so many more details and options than in the Basic set. Even to the number of prepackaged characters there were more. Bigger better stronger. All of the above and then some. The Advanced version really did level up the game.

So was it fun to play, yeah it was, and if you wanted to roll up a character just make sure you have expectations that you would not make someone equal to Thor right off the bat and you will be fine.

They published a lot of additional books that expanded on.. well… everything. And they did modules for two of the biggest events in Marvel history up to that point, the original Secret Wars, and Secret Wars 2. Overall you really only needed one additional book to take character creation over the top. And if you were happy running your favorite characters from the comics you would not even need to do that. Especially given how many characters they published in modules, supplements, and even in Dragon Magazine. You could be perfectly happy without ever getting a rules expansion.

So given the breakdowns above and the fact that I still collect the game and would love to find a group to play it with again, how do I rack up the numbers?

Overall Fluff 2/5 – Really there was very little fluff to it. The art was wicked cool, but everything was written from the perspective that you had read a lot of Marvel comics well before playing. At least in the core game. Supplements had more flavor and feel to them, but the core set relied heavily on the art for its fluff. And there was not really enough art to make up for that lack.

Overall Crunch 4/5 – The rules are surprisingly solid. Even with the flaws in things like Karma, and Areas and Movement, with some creativity they could all be worked around or ignored easily.

Overall Mod 3/5 – It was not easy to mod this system in to other genres. It could be done but it was not easy at all. You also had to mod the rules to make the EXP system something that would work well. And anyone who had played 1st edition knew that up front.

Overall Fun 4/5 – Ya know it is actually really fun for me to get my favorite heroes and villains to fight it out. And to be able to put them into impossible situations and get them out, or even fail on purpose so I can see characters I hate burn to ash… yeahhhh. And in the end I like the engine. Even if I have to tweak it a little to make it work completely.

Total Score 13/20 – Another one that does not get a mind blowingly high score. But also another game that with all its flaws and need for home brew adds that I would play again in a heartbeat. I cant be alone in that with the number of web sites you can find with people posting up to date versions of the characters, and expanding the material in the books. I mean if nothing else look at this versions longevity compared to anything else done for Marvel Comics in an RPG.

All right so in the end… YOU reader needs to take a look at this and see if it is right for you. If it is not then dont worry. Just move along and be happy.

All righty, so gimme the dice, I need to make a Feeble (see chart) attempt to think about dinner.

Have fun out there gaming all 🙂

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