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Part II of my review:
The final archetype herein would be the Studied Theosophist, a cleric archetype. This fellow uses Intelligence rather than Wisdom as governing attribute for all class features, extending to spells etc.1st level nets all Knowledge skills as class skills and instead of domains, he may 1/day while preparing spells select a domain associated with the deity and choose it, gaining, its benefits until another domain is chosen. Also at 1st level, he receives a metaphysic pool equal to 1/2 class level (min 1) + Int-mod. These points may be used in a variety of ways: He may spend any number of points to cast a domain spell of a level equal to or less than the number of points expended. I assume that to only work for the domain chosen, as per the example, but I am not sure- this represents pretty much the one instance where the rules are not mega-precise. Secondly, any number may be expended to spontaneously cast a cleric spell of equal or lower level than the points spent. Thirdly, the theosophist may lose a prepared spell and spend an amount of metaphysic points equal to the spell level to spontaneously cast any cleric spell of that level. All of these abilities do follow spontaneous spellcasting rules and if this looks powerful, it's because it is...however, the archetype loses spontaneous casting and channel energy. And yes, once again, an FCO's provided.
Editing and formatting are excellent on both a formal and rules-language levels - apart from one nitpick, no complaints. Layout adheres to Forest Guardian Press' two-column standard and is pretty neat, with numerous of the evocative and well-made paper-cut-style artworks providing a unique sense of identity on a visual level. As a minor complaint, the ends of archetypes tend to leave a bit of blank space on the pages. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and also with a second, more printer-friendly version - kudos for going the extra-mile here.
The author has penned this under the nom de plume of "Secret Wizard" - and frankly, dear lady or gentleman out there, let me thank you: I read A LOT of uninspired, bland archetypes. This is the anathema to that. Each and every single one of these archetypes is meticulously balanced; additionally, and more importantly perhaps, in spite of some hybrid-y themes, each of the archetypes herein features not one but multiple unique tricks that set it apart and make it more than the sum...wait, scratch that. This is not the "Let's cobble stuff together"-school of design, this is "Blend two concepts and make them UNIQUE." This pdf manages to actually make me excited about some classes I am not the biggest fan of. Oh, and it does so with rock solid rules operations I HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. It's actually creative as well!
In short: This is one massive all killer, no filler file for an amazing price point. Well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans the slightest bit of hesitation. Get this gem!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The third expansion-book for the wargaming/RPG-hybrid Frostgrave clocks in at 70 pages, minus 3 for editorial, etc., leaving us with 67 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!
This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a physical copy of the book.
All right, so what is this one about? Well, forging pacts. D'UH. So how does this work? Well demons and similar entities have two names - the commonly used one and a true name. True names may never be bought, exchanged or traded, but can be received as treasure. Forging a pact requires at least level 10 as well as a Will-roll versus 18; on a failure, the wizard starts the next game at -1 health. On a success, the wizards notes having a demonic pact and the Demonic Servant spell. He also gains one sacrifice and one boon; sacrifices can be reductions of health, gold, less warband members (someone must stay behind, worship the entity) randomly lose one spell for the game or lose one action at the begin of the game, gaining only a move. The boons include options to mitigate the wounded optional rule, random demonic attributes, rerolls on treasure tables or a one-use bonus to an out-of-game spell, among others. getting a nasty chilopendra demon as one warband member is also possible...and generally, you'll notice something here: While flavorful, I am not 100% sold on the balance of the sacrifices. With enough spells and them being pretty easy to learn, losing one is something that can be cheesed much easier than the other sacrifices. An easy way to eliminate this is to have the other player(s) choose the spell. I'm frankly a bit surprised the book didn't go that route.
Anyways, at level 25, you gain another boon and must provide another sacrifice; if a wizard dies, the apprentice has the option to take over the pact when taking over the wizard's role. The book also diversifies how the out-of-game version of Summon Demon works, with 20 minor and 20 major demonic attributes adding some serious randomness, but also flavor to the extra-planar entities you can conjure forth. These powerful options range from numerical escalation to unearthly beauty, being insubstantial, etc., adding some serious options to the demon in question, which in turn makes playing characters dabbling in these dark arts more rewarding. The book features two out of game spells, the first of which would be Demonic Servant (guess what this one does...) and the second being Mystic Brand, which can be applied to non-animal, construct, undead or demon members of the war-band and adds some seriously needed flexibility for the sigilist.
There are two categories of these marks: Burning Marks can be sacrificed to deal additional damage; 5 options for burning marks are provided...but one a rolled natural 1, a character with this mark turns temporarily insane, becoming an uncontrolled creature until the end of the "battle" - I assume this can happen beyond fights in game and is supposed to refer to a game. Devotional Marks grant all +1 to Will-rolls and sacrifice them for +3 to a Will-roll; and no that does not stack with itself. 5 of these more defensive marks are provided.
The book also introduces 5 new soldiers: The first would be the assassin: Any creature damage by these guys that is not undead or a construct is poisoned and only gets one action per turn until healed; they also increase their Fight when supported, but never are treated as a supporting figure. At 80 gc, only the sucky armor keeps this strong soldier type in check. Demon Hunters cost at least 100 gold crowns...but if you dabble in demon summoning, you will pay more. With a two-handed sword and a crossbow, F, S and W +2 and a further +1 versus demons and those possessed, these guys are pretty amazing all-rounders.
I already mentioned demonic servants; these guys actually grant you a bonus to summoning via Summon Demon and have a +4 Will...but otherwise are mostly defined by the minor demonic attribute. Weird: The tables of the two final soldiers lack the "gc" part in the cost-entry of their stats in a pretty obvious glitch, that is cosmetic, though. Monks are glass cannons: F and W+4, but armor 10, they fight with a bladed staff that nets +1 damage, while still granting the enemy damage modifier reduction of the base staff. Mystic Warriors are identical to monks in stats and cost, but fight unarmed sans penalties and treat their attacks as magic. They may not use weapons.
The magic item selection of this book is more expansive than those I have seen before, with over 25 items provided. The items per se are cool, though there is more numerical escalation here than in previous books. A good thing, btw.: There are several magic arrows/bolts. These are one use, but powerful indeed: Wraith arrows let you shoot through intervening terrain. Nice here: Since it still requires line of sight, the shooter cannot fire through walls when used with Into the Breeding Pits. Gaining an extra action on a natural 20 can be a gamechanger and immunity versus some particularly nasty demonic tricks, modification of golems...there are some cool options to be found here.
The book "only" contains 4 scenarios...but before you boo and hiss: Two of these are actually mini-campaigns of three sequential parts! One of the briefer scenarios sports telescopes that may summon demons as well as limited escape-routes. Okay, but nothing groundbreaking; mainly a way to showcase demonic entities. The other brief scenario is more interesting: In it, you get a dangerously unstable sphere of magical power that emits random elemental blasts in the center; to complicate things further, notorious barbarian outcast and wooly rhino riding Kornovik alongside some barbarian flunkies enters the game as a deadly boos with a relatively complex "AI", making the scenario rewarding and risky to play.
Okay, let's talk about the first 3-part mini-campaign: It begins with a unique angle: The players divide, in secret, their group by half; one half uses the apprentice, one the wizard as leader. Scenario one thus features two halves of a warband duking it out - potentially with one wizard vs. an apprentice; the goal here is to get an amulet of constancy...though it is not easy to actually get the item, but picking it up paints a big targeting sign on the character...so beware. The second half on the group, in the meanwhile, also tries to get such an amulet...but here, time is subject to flux: On any initiative roll, you get unique tricks or penalties, depending on your roll. And yes, this makes the set-up even more cool. In the climax of the sequence of scenarios, the warbands are reunited...and arrive at a place where an extremely powerful boss demon manifests...the amulets help dealing with this threat, though the scenario is very tricky: It is actually one of the few examples, where the spawning of entities exceeded the ability to kill them off unless the players are really good.
Speaking of properly brutal spawn rates: The second sequence of connected scenarios features barbarian guards for the treasures...however, upon engaging them, two per round will spawn as reinforcements. Considering Frostgrave's lethal, swingy combat, that can be actually rather challenging. After that, the next one features a circle of standing stones with funny glyphs - the most experience can be gained by reading these glyphs...but unfortunately, casting into the circle is hard and there is a very real chance of the wizard not being able to act due to the unique magic of the circle!! Oh, and there is a very real chance of the barbarians on the board spontaneously mutating into chilopendra, significantly more powerful, demonic entities.
Having transcribed the glyphs, the wizards deduce the reason for the barbaric incursion: They have captured a prince and seek to ritualistically sacrifice him to summon their dread demon deity Tiszirain. The barbarian wizard Balken's ritual is well on the way when they arrive and foiling him will be hard...but then again, there is an interesting question of ethics here. Which one? Well, there is 50 experience in for the PCs if they prevent the rite...but if Tiszirain is summoned, defeating him nets a whopping 150 experience points. This can be particularly cool when one player roleplays his wizard as rather good, while the other play his as more evil.
Now the book obviously contains massive encounter tables (including one devoted exclusively to barbarians). I already mentioned the bosses herein: Two barbarians (both with a nice "AI") and two powerful demons (with Tiszirain gaining also a neat "AI") and 6 other creatures, the book offers some nice adversaries to face; the flavor-writing for the entities here is particularly nice.
James A. McCullough's "Forgotten Pacts" is interesting. The density of "bosses" herein is awesome and adds a cool, personal touch to the scenarios. In fact, they, to me, were the highlight of this book and were received very, very well in my playtests. The story-aspect of the scenarios, the one thing I did not consider perfect n "Into the Breeding Pits", is perfectly executed here and the modifications for them are amazing. Similarly, the power/versatility upgrade this represents will benefit i particular sigilists and, obviously, summoners; both can use it in comparison to other wizards, so yeah, I'm pretty cool with the power-increase the options provide. The expansion also plays very well with the other expansions for the system, so maintained compatibility is a big thing.
That being said, the new soldiers are less interesting than the paradigm-changers featured in previous expansions, with only the assassin bringing something really new to the table. In direct comparison to "Into the Breeding Pits", this offers no paradigm-change/multiplication of options...unless you are a summoner...or making a demonic pact. The demonic pact system, while not perfectly balanced in my book, is rewarding and fun, but emphasis design in depth rather than breadth and I'm not sure Frostgrave necessarily needs these minmaxy options. This is by now means a bad expansion, but when compared to the other two Frostgrave expansions, it does feel like it is a slightly bit less refines, a bit more specialized. This should not mean that it's bad, mind you, but I consider it more optional than the previous expansions...unless you are into the demonic gifts angle or want more options for sigilist and summoner; in those cases, this is just what you wanted. Additionally, the superb scenarios and bosses certainly warrant getting this if you are thirsty for more Frostgrave goodness. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. I certainly recommend getting all 3 expansions for the game, though; using all three makes this system truly a fun way to have some neat, relatively uncomplicated gaming. As an intro to or crossover of wargaming and RPGs, this certainly delivers.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here, on amazon, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The first expansion-book to Frostgrave clocks in at 62 pages, minus 4 if you subtract editorial, ToC, etc., leaving us with 58 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This supplement/expansion is the first big campaign for Frostgrave, and it is a cool one (pardon the pun) - but before we go to the linked scenarios, let's take a look at the supplemental material, shall we? The first of these would be the bard - at 100 gc, he clocks in at the upper end of the soldier cost-spectrum, and at Fight +2, Armor 11, he looks like a pretty sucky choice; however, he has a phenomenal Will +4 and conveys a +1 bonus to Will to all soldiers within 6'' of him, but only if they have line of sight. Nice: These benefits cannot be stacked. The Crow Master is just as expensive,, but has both Fight and Shoot +0, armor 11 and +2 Will...so why get him? Well, each crow master comes with a domesticated blood crow that has Move 9, flies, armor 14 and +3 Will...but only 1 Health. So yeah, deadly skirmisher-potential held in check by low Health...and by the restriction that your base needs to have one Blood Crow Roost per such soldier hired...and these restrictions better should be in place, for the blood crow does not count towards the soldier maximum.
Can't afford an archer or crossbowman, but need ranged capability? The javelineer, for only 25 gc delivers that. These guys can use their weapons in melee and ranged combat, but only have a range of 10'' and +0 Fight and SHoot - you get what you pay for, but a couple of these guys still can wreck your day. Finally, for 20 gold crowns, you can recruit a quasi-noncombatant with only a dagger and +0 in all relevant stats as well as armor 10. This would be the pack mule and his draw is that he may carry up to three items and hand them to other characters as an action. Wizards may use actions to take the item from the mule as well....or exchange it. All soldiers presented here have in common that they enrich the tactical options of the game in pretty interesting manners - Blood Crows can e.g. easily follow wizards abusing the Leap spell.
Speaking of spells - in that regard, the book offer three out-of-combat options: Witches may create homunculi; these miniature versions of the wizard decrease his health while in existence, but if he dies during survival checks, his homunculus grows to full size; this is basically an extra life. The other two spells pertaining the ascendency to lichdom; these guys are VERY powerful, but pay for that with increased experience point requirements to level...and, well, obviously, being undead. Thirdly, soldiers that died may be reanimated as revenants by necromancers...though that wrecks the reanimated corpse's Will down to +0.
The book also features a new treasure table alongside 23 new magic itens...some of which become relevant in the aforementioned campaign...while others simply allow for something pretty cool: Crystal Roses that help survival, a book that allows for the recruitment of a rangifier (think savage, undead-hating elk-humanoids introduced in the book's bestiary that are pretty badass: At M 7, F +2,A 12, W +3 and H 12 plus attacks count as magic versus undead and are made at +1.) or the eyes of amoto deserve special mention. The latter is a set of two amulets that allow the caster to cast 1/game through the line of sight of the wearer of the other amulet.
As already mentioned, the pdf does have a new bestiary, including random encounter table - the bestiary spans 10 creatures, two of which I have already mentioned; beyond death cultists (who have a REALLY good Will - +5!), the rest, surprise, would be undead of various powers...including zombie trolls or wraith knights. And yep, several are immaterial and may move through obstacles...which can be really painful. The most impressive creature here, obviously, would be the lich lord, though: His "AI", i.e. his priority list, contains no less than 9 conditions, which makes facing him surprisingly difficult. That being said, the book does suggest to get a player/GM-like entity to play the part of the monsters in the finale of the campaign and I get why.
Now how does the campaign play out? Are the scenarios worthwhile? Well, it all begins as ominous as it gets - in scenario 1, there is a timer running down towards a total eclipse that is accompanied by a significant surge in magical power...but which also limits line of sight while in progress, allowing for some cool tactics and gameplay - this one's mechanics can easily be scavenged and yes, there are bonus experience points for actually being on the table when the eclipse happens, so wizards have a reason to wait at least until it happens before vacating the premises. Scenario number 2 is slightly more complex in its set-up: It takes place on the Meregile, the frozen river; the first 6'' from the tables edge are land---beyond that, you have the river's unsure footing. From a barge on that river, a spellcasting servant of the lich lord sooner or later will emerge and taking the guy out before he can flee would be the primary goal here...though it's easier said than done in the nasty terrain. Scenario 3 is simpler: The PCs basically attempt to loot a caravan of death cultists that had bad luck and a broken down wagon; while reinforcements arrive, they proved to be not too big of a hassle in my tests.
Scenario 4 ups the ante and is called "Storm of Undeath"; not only is a magically charged snowstorm reducing sight, the goal is also risky - in the middle of the table, there'll be pylons with corpses. Each round, there is a chance for magic lightning to hit the pylons, with potentially lethal consequences...of, and the dead may be animated...but being in the area is also the way to gain the big experience points here. Just be careful to not die, or you'll have a revenant on your hands. In #5, the evocative rangifers are in the center - and they are deadly...and it's up to the wizards to prevent them being killed by a deadly wraith knight...problem is, that the rangifers are NOT nice guys...they prioritize destroying undead...but are not above splitting some wizard skull...
In Scenario #6, you best have a second table or cordoned area - the second are, ideally 1' by 1', represents a treasure room: Arcs and doors placed have a chance of teleporting those passing through to the second area, the fallen house's treasure room...problem is, you can also be teleported out of the game or killed by the attempt...risky and interesting. Oh, and if you botch it, you may well end up facing death cultists all alone in the room... One of my favorites in the campaign, however, would be #7, the "lair of the ghoul king": Situated in a vast underground chamber, the players are trapped in the ghoul king's throne room. On his throne are levers that may allow for escape...but you have to get there first. The chamber is also dark and limits sight and makes for an amazing playing experience. Scenario 8 and 9 are somewhat similar - they focus on one unique aspect: In #8, you have the Black Cauldron in the middle, which continuously spawns zombies: Tipping it over is the goal here. In #9, the center of the scenario would be a bone wheel with sacrifices to be in the middle; freeing these guys and getting the treasure is hard, as the wheel is ever turning...oh, and there are the banshees.
After all of that, the lich lord has had enough: Exerting his magical might, he lets his castle fly above the city, held in place by taut chains; escape is not an option and lethal (unless you have the amulet to slow falls...) and the lich lord is a deadly foe...oh, and if you kill him, a generous countdown's running down...be too slow and you die. Yes, DIE. This one has a very real chance of failure and is really epic in its feel. If the wizard persists, he does get bragging rights and cheaper recruitment from there on out, though.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches in either formal or rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a beautiful one-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several evocative pieces of fluffy sideboxes. Artworks are the usual blend of amazing artworks and color-photographs of minis. I can't comment on the electronic version, since I don't have it, but the softcover is a nice little book with high-quality, glossy paper.
James A. McCullough's "Thaw of the Lich Lord" is an evocative expansion - the new soldiers in particular are great paradigm-changers and the scenarios allow for cool tweaks that can easily be combined, changed, modified - but it is also here that the campaign varies a bit in its set-up: You see, there are a couple of scenarios that play like truly unique, interesting experiences...while a few feel a bit more like filler or don't make maximum use of their modifications. The bone wheel is cool, but it's engine tweak could have, for example been expanded upon. The book improves the base Frostgrave, though, and playing the campaign certainly is a rewarding experience. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level - while some abilities can use a bit of clarification, as a whole, the pdf is precise - the orders sport some minor hiccups, but with one exception, nothing too grievous. On a formal level, there are a couple of wordings and italicizations and similar minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games' 1-column standard, is pretty printer-friendly and employs an appropriately Asian-font, which is a nice touch. The pdf sports 2 nice pieces of full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
This is the first book by Nathan Reinecke as a lead designer I have tackled (though Perry Fehr, N. Jolly and Shinigami02, the contributing authors have, for the most part, had the dubious pleasure) - and frankly, I am more impressed than I expected to be. The designs herein are not earth-shattering or wild, sure - but they do their job damn well. The archetypes universally find a very sweet balance in their new features and what they lose; the respective specialists actually excel at their fields of expertise sans becoming complete one-trick ponies...and they are flavorful. While the orders contain a couple more hiccups than I like to see, the feats have some seriously neat ideas and the magic items or mount left me sans complaints.
Here's the thing that made me really like this: It makes the samurai feel more like a samurai. It has a couple of rough edges, yes. But it adds some staying power to the guys, emphasizes commands, social banter, iaijutsu, etc. - particularly the temporary hit points buffer-shield options feel very appropriate for the class with its emphasis on honorable combat, standing one's ground, etc. While I really disliked the order of the pack and the order of the shadow, both peacock and lotus have some serious potential and did not bore me...which is saying something after the number of orders I've read. Traditionally, first time authors get a bit of leeway from yours truly and hence, I will round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars for the purpose of this platform, in spite of the glitches. If you want to play a samurai, this very much is a book you should get.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
Part II of my review:
Speaking of one of the better races: The Tatulani would basically be Thri-Kreen by another name, stranded on Khrone and only finding its place. The 4-armed race may not use the additional arms for full-blown weapon-wielding, but allows for the balanced wielding of 1-handed weapons when TWFing or even wielding oversized monster-weapons. They also begin play with claws (1d4) and +2 to Knowledge (engineering) and a Craft skill. The claws may be replaced with +2 to Disable Device. The tech-savvy may be replaced with +2 to Survival/Diplomacy. Cool: The racial archetype here is for the artisan class and provides functionality with the Technology Guide (and alternative abilities when playing without it). As a whole, the tatulani's racil entry is my favorite in the book - it's also pretty consistent and the only racial entry that managed to elicit a contemplation on whether I'd allow it or not in my non-playtesting games. Tieflings in Khrone may elect to become Dominator eliciters, who replace convincing with the Mind Control advanced talent at 9th level. Yeah, that's it. Pretty cookie-cutting. Oh, no FCOs for any of the new races.
Okay, the racial section done, next up would be magic traditions, which include two drawbacks and the bound creature boon and over 10 new traditions - the cool thing here would be that the traditions actually acknowledge both Pact Magic and Psionics; while the traditions themselves are decent, this little inclusion is well-intentioned...but how do they actually interact with traditions? I read that a couple of times...and simply didn't get it. These traditions, obviously, have also brought forth professions; notes are provided for the roles of classes within a tradition and...we get EVEN MORE ARCHETYPES! So please, bear with me, the book just offers a ton of material! The Gun Chemist alchemist replaces bombs with gunslinging and gets a slightly modified deed-list, with explosive and poisonous shots. Tranquil barbarians gain inner peace instead of rage, which provides a bonus to AC as well as Ref- and Will-saves. Generally decent modification, but I've seen the trope done more interestingly. Now, on the fluff-side, the chapter has some nice ideas for the place of the respective classes and yes, occult classes are included in the deal.
The pdf also sports a diverse selection of feats, upon some of which I have touched before: Better engine-coaxing (more on that later), speak with plants, reduced speed, but better defenses via Steel Skeletons for the created...some nice customization options can be found here. When a character multiclasses and gets two traditions of the same general type, they choose a dominant tradition which then provides drawbacks, benefits etc. of the tradition; to gain more, you need the corresponding tradition trait. These...well, are problematic. There would be, for example, one that lets you use on casting attribute for all your psychic class casting ability modifiers. Trait. Yeah....others, like affecting vermin with Expanded Charm...are pretty much significantly weaker, so not really sure where the balancing/devs looked here; it's not that the traits are bad, but they're all over the place regarding their balance. Oh, and they are utterly confusing - the verbiage implies you get them when multiclassing and never mentions it again; the interaction is messed up...in short, I'd strongly suggest pretending that this chapter does not exist.
On the plus-side, the skill-chapter is interesting, providing concise and neat rules for Craft (cartography), Profession (navigator). Gods are opposed by the "fiends", the dark gods of the setting and philosophies as well as nature gods can be found...that being said, each deity-entry is very short: No aphorisms, no obediences...and while domains are listed, the presentation of favored weapon at the end of the little write-ups deviates from how deity write-ups are usually handled. That being said, it's nice to get symbols for each deity. The ritual writing and creation rules presented next are tight, concise and one of the highlights of the book.
But...skybourne's SKYbourne, right? Well, this is where we finally get to that part, the unique selling proposition of the system, if you will: Airship sailing and combat. This system generally makes use of some optional rules, the first of which would be the overland round: An overland standard action takes 8 hours, an overland move action 4 and an overland swift action 1 hour. Simple. Reputation, as presented here, may range from 0 to 100. Reputation is equal to character level + Cha-mod + modifiers accrued and mythic tier, if applicable. Additionally, fame and infamy are tracked - from -100 to 100 on both the law-chaos and good-evil-axis. Deeds and behavior is codified in a handy table, with alignments notes, if required. Temporary increases are noted and the effects and even secret identities are accounted for. Simulationalists like yours truly may also enjoy the optional rule of reputation distances. This system basically allows the PCs to potentially recognize it if they're about to bite off more than they can chew and steer clear of trouble/gain appropriate options. Thirdly, the pdf employs the GMG's upkeep rules to potentially cap PC power.
Okay, got that? Onwards to airships: Airships are generally defined by hardpoints: One hardpoint is a 10 ft. cube and are used for hull, sails and dirigibles, etc. They determine hit points and carrying capacity. When a ship's so large hardpoints become stupid to track, you track by deck instead; each deck is a collection o 9 connected hardpoints. Airships larger than 5 decks start having locations, which track HP separately -basically, they are treated as connected, Colossal objects. With not enough crew, you get increasingly less power output. Vehicles spaces are 30 ft. Base AC is determined by ship size (Between 4 and -3) and so is ship CMB/D and saves. A handy tables collates movement in spaces per round, ft. per round, miles per hours, etc. Shipsize affects the maneuverability of the vessel, obviously, and the pdf covers siege engines and their use as well. Environmental considerations (wing speed and altitudes) are also covered...so how does airship combat work?
Well, first of all, a ship has a facing. D'uh. At the end of a round, all ships move separately from the creatures involved in the combat, in a sequence from highest to lowest rolled Profession (sailor) check by the pilots, with uncontrolled ships moving as though they had rolled an unmodified 1. Kinda lame: Instead of providing a more fluid system, the rules here just tell us to use group initiative for ship + crew combats...and I HATE group initiative. I don't need a book to tell me that I could use it. On the plus side, hiding in a vehicle's shadow, sharp turns, diving etc. are all covered regarding special maneuvers, though the 20 base DC is pretty high...and the really weird, far-out ace-pilot maneuvers...aren't covered. More space devoted to that aspect would have been really nice to see. Now where I once again start smiling from ear to ear is with the vehicle conditions: From on fire to freefall or rolling, these add a nice tactical edge to combat and are something that I most certainly will employ.
Now here is my main gripe with the system presented herein: It, much like almost every d20-based vehicular combat system, is...just not that exciting for players. The system presents a number of crew roles with special actions that bestow benefits...but with the exception of the head engineer, the roles don't have much to offer in actual combat. I sincerely hoped the aerial combat would offer more things to do for each player...but nope. So, is the whole system flawed here? Not exactly - it just fell short of providing a truly dynamic experience. That being said, the pdf does achieve a resounding success in one component featured here: The crew-rules, which basically represent a twist on the troop-subtype that is EXTREMELY modular, with scaling potency, racial benefits, levels, saves, siege attack bonuses and special perks to further customize them. Even the equipment you buy for them has direct consequences! Yeah, crew-rules here are just as cool and surprisingly rewarding for players and GMs alike and definitely constitute a big highlight here. They may, depending on what you're planning, warrant the pdf's asking price.
The need to hire officers and a ton of tables as well as loyalty checks and modifiers can similarly be found here. The pdf also features some nice mundane weapons as well as several new items tied to the respective races of the themes of the setting and the pdf also offers several magic items, ranging in price point from 42K to 750 gp. From an ersatz appendage that may act as a crawling claw to arm-prosthetics that act as a mighty 4d8 ranged attack that regrows to a conch that draws gigantic creatures closer, the selection is pretty decent, if not mind-boggling.
After that, we're back to ships (slightly odd - why splice the single-character item-info in there?) and their 6 engine-types as well as 14 room types and several direct and indirect siege engines to outfit the vessel with, including modifications of siege engines like weapon swivels and bottom mounts. Dirigibles, pumps and goods are similarly covered, as are trade goods and various fuel types. Trading of goods is a good idea, with settlements being suggested to feature modifiers for the goods, with each modifier influencing the price by 10%. The pdf concludes with 7 sample ships.
Editing and formatting are inconsistent: There are some sections that get everything right; then, suddenly, bonus types are not properly allocated or crunch suddenly does no longer adhere to rules-language conventions. The lack of a truly experienced, nit-picky rules-developer that was NOT one of the authors to bring the disparate elements in line. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a mix of stock-art and original pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Adam Meyers, Mike Myler and David Silver's Player's Guide to Skybourne...is, as much as I'm loathe to say, a mess. The races and racial options provided are mostly cookie-cutter options and failed to grasp my interest; the takes on the races can't decide on a power-level, they have min-maxy lopsided races and worse, are inconsistent with internal rules-terminology and wording. The races, in power, oscillate between slightly over core-level to above and beyond that of aasimar and tieflings. There is no internal consistency regarding the racial power-levels whatsoever. The racial feats have some decent ideas...but ultimately, are based on flawed races and hence will not see use at my table. One final issue I have with the races: I have seen each and every twist before: Evil gnomes? Noble orcs? Yeah, not excited there, seen that done x times, often better.
As mentioned, the tradition-section similarly falls behind, is inconsistent...and then, we come to the aerial combat/airship-rules. And here the problems begin for real. Noticed something above? Yeah, I commented about the parts of the system like liking the crew system; like enjoying the conditions and the general way in which the ships can be constructed...but here's the issue: I have not talked about how everything comes together. Because...frankly, it doesn't. Beyond the organization being pretty bad (why slip character-equipment smack in the middle of the ship-rules?), I had a very hard time actually using this system as presented here; frankly, I think I would have failed, if I didn't have experience with a whole array of ship-building/customization systems for d20-games. I think I have managed to use the rules properly...but it wasn't easy. If I went be just the text here...no dice. I was also shocked to see, instead of a cool system that switches between characters, crews and vessels, this lazy group-initiative solution. It doesn't do a good job simulating aerial combat.
Similarly, the actual way in which aerial ship combat works basically has to be deduced from several disparate locations and then you still have blanks to be filled up. And it frustrates me to no end, because frankly, the system presented here, or what I can see, has the potential for being absolutely amazing, but it suffers from a fatal case of what I'd call designer blindness: When *you* know how something's supposed to work...and then write it down and it makes sense in your head...but to another person, to the reader not familiar with your background knowledge, it becomes opaque and puzzling. The whole presentation here is so confused, even I, with years of experience regarding systems like this, had to halt and look stuff up. Multiple times. Worse, the individual character options to influence ships...are all over the place and similarly confused.
The system looks like it tries to take some of the amazing ideas of Fire as She Bears and adapt them, but gets totally lost along the way...which is an adapt metaphor for the pdf, considering the nice Navigation-rules. The reputation-system, as far as I can see, has no immediate benefits that influence mechanics; the trading system is needlessly complicated and the modifiers suggested add a TON of numbers to a settlement; so many that even I, as a passionately simulationalist GM who loves tracking numbers, equipment, etc., throw the towel and handwave it. The fact that the pdf ignores downtime rules in favor of its own system would be no issue - if the system presented was a bit more concise.
Oh damn. This book is not all bad...but I sure as hell know almost nothing about the world after reading it; so in that aspect, it's not a good player's guide either. I don't want to play any of the races and there are plenty of better takes on each and every concept featured herein out there, both in AAW Games' Underworld Races-series and Purple Duck Games' Porphyran player-guides. Let's sum it up, shall we: The PC-level options failed to impress me; the ship-level system is flawed and obtuse. There are gems here, but ultimately, this whole book feels like it has been pushed out the door to meet a deadline or like the designers had lost interest halfway through. It tries to be many things and fails to get even one truly right. The different voices of the authors never gel, never blend and come together.
As written, there is not a single system I will use in my games in this book; I will scavenge vehicle conditions and a couple of components...and take Fire as She Bears by Frog God Games and modify that system to present aerial combat...or go get Ships of Skybourne, but skip this. FaSB's quick, easy to understand and concisely presented...so adding aerial options isn't that hard. Oh, and each PC gets a ton of cool, relevant stuff to do. Yeah, I know. Where does this leave this pdf? As a book that feels half-finished; that had desperately needed a dev who said: "These archetypes are bland, boring and cookie-cutter-designs"; as a book that needed someone to streamline rules-language and presentation. There is a spark of greatness here, but it is buried deep. I certainly hope we'll get to see a more concise presentation of these rules at some point. As a player's guide, this book sadly fails and leaves me hoping that Skybourne's evocative setting and concepts will receive better treatment in the future. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars, due to the scavenging potential; if you have some serious time on your hand and want to flex your design-muscles, this may be for you.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine, posted here, on OBS, etc.
Yes, indeed - and you have the whole "reality is fluid"-aspect with wizards; you have the ostracization tinmen may experience...etc.
It was pretty obvious to me that X-men-themes are intended here; tales of coming to grips with romance, with one's identity; with negotiating one's identity with the expectations of the environments.
Additionally, a leitmotif certainly would be the establishing of the ersatz-family, which will resonate with a lot of people, me included, who did not have the best or most enjoyable of childhoods.
The problems of cliques, even though they do provide a stabilizing identity element also is a nice aspect; while exclusion is a ritual component of any social collective and to a degree, required to generate a sense of identity, it is ultimately also a potentially very troublesome aspect that the game cleverly navigates by assuming different yogangs; in contrast to VtM with sufficient motivation to not necessarily go at the other folk's throat.
Anyways, I'm rambling; tl;dr: Awesome, underappreciated classic. :)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This rule-book clocks in at 136 pages, minus 4 if you take away ToC, editorial and the like.
This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in question.
So, what is Frostgrave? Well, in-game it was once the center of magics, a metropolis of ridiculous power, steeped in arcane might; then, the ice came and swallowed the city; winter had come and devoured it wholesale. For untold years, the powerful magics of the place had been kept below the grinding glaciers...but now, thaw has come, unearthing ever more of the labyrinthine ruins that make up the city, unearthing countless mystical treasures, rife for the taking for those foolhardy or brave enough to venture inside. From all traditions and lands, wizards and their entourages flock to the place, all hoping for supreme magical power...
So that would be the in-game reply. Out-game, Frostgrave can best be pictured as a beer-and-pretzels, quick-play hybrid between fantasy wargaming and roleplaiyng, one that requires no GM and yes, the game supports more than two players. So how exactly does it work?
Well, you need a couple of things to play, but significantly less than for similar games: You need miniatures...but not more than the average gaming group has on its hands; 28 mm miniatures are assumed as default. Per player, you cannot have more than 10 minis under your command, so the game's pretty tame as far as that's concerned. You also need dice - one d20 suffices, though one per player is better. Frostgrave can be played easily on most household tables; 2' by 2' is enough for quick games, 4' by 4' or larger tables allow for more impressive games, though. A crucial difference between Frostgrave and other games of this type is the emphasis on terrain - the game taking place in the frozen ruins of the eponymous city also means that the ruins are supposed to be crowded and maze-like; if you *have* a ton of terrain, well, perfect; if not, anything from clothes to books suffices. Heck, I once played a game with clothes and coins for a lack of minis (I always carry dice with me) and it worked.
So, the "avatar" and most important figure under the command of each player would be the wizard. The wizard is further diversified by his focus on one of ten schools of magic, specializations, if you will. Each of the schools has one opposed school, 5 neutral schools and 3 aligned schools - these represent the grades and ease with which you can cast spells beyond your school's field. Aligned schools increase the DC by +2, neutral ones by +4 and opposed school spells by +6. In case you're interested, the specializations are Chronomancer, Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Sigilist, Soothsayer, Summoner, Thaumaturge and Witch. For most people with any degree of familiarity with fantasy traditions, these should be pretty self-explanatory. When creating a wizard, you begin play with 8 spells: 4 from your own school; 1 must come from each of the aligned schools and finally, 2 are chosen from the neutral schools, but each must come from a different school.
This choice made, we must talk a bit about the stats: Creatures have 6 stats: Move (M) denotes how far a character can move per turn. Fight (F) is the character's melee capability. Shoot (S) depicts the ranged capability. Armour (A) represents the armor of the creature - natural or otherwise. Will (W) is the character's willpower and ability to resist spells. Finally, Health (H) is basically the hit points of the character. Fight, Shoot and Will are noted with plusses, denoting the modification to the roll - for roleplayers, think of that as basically the respective BAB or base save. In some cases, stats will be noted with splits, like +2/+3, for example - the first stat denotes the actual stat, the second the effective stat, modified by magic, items, etc..
A wizard's unmodified stats are M6, F +2, S +0, A 10, W +4 and H 14. All creatures in Frostgrave can carry items. Wizards can carry up to 5 of them, apprentices 4 and soldiers 1. Wizards begin play with a staff or hand weapon and may buy a dagger, two-handed weapon, bow or crossbow for 5 gold. Dual-wielding sword + dagger nets you +1 effective Fight. This would be the most important character all done...now let's assemble our warband.
I already mentioned the apprentice, who is the most important character beyond the wizard - you may never have more than one and the apprentice costs a whopping 200 gp. The apprentice is the only way to have a second spellcaster and his F, S and W-values are based on the wizard: The wizard's stats -2, to be more precise. Health is equal to the wizard's -4. They get the wizard's spells, but cast each spell at -2. The system also provides a total of 15 types of soldiers you can hire, ranging in price from 10 gp war hounds to the costly 100 gp veterans. The price for these guys, just btw., goes up exponentially with skill. The stats of these soldiers never increase via spells or magic items - they are basically your lackeys or mooks. The system does not distinguish between races - elven or dwarven soldiers use the same stats, though admittedly, you can easily introduce racial modifiers, if you so choose.
Frostgrave knows a total of 6 item classes: Daggers reduce damage by 1; two-handed weapons increase it by +2; staves come at -1 damage, but also decrease the damage received in hand-to-hand combat by -1. Bows have a maximum range of 24''; crossbows take one action to load and one to fire, but hit at +2 damage, with a maximum range of 24''. Finally, unarmed combat means -2 Fight and -2 damage.
Now, since I already talked about setting up the table, let me mention that, at the beginning of the game, after terrain has been placed, the players put 3 treasure tokens per player on the ruins, taking turns when doing so. The tokens must be placed at least 9'' from a player's table edge. After placing the tokens, you do roll which designated player side becomes your starting side...so just placing them close for convenience may fire back big time.
Ok, that covered, we have begun talking about actions, let's take a look at the structure of turns. At the beginning of each turn, every player rolls initiative, ties are rerolled and players act in sequence of the result rolled. Each turn is divided in 4 phases, which, in sequence, are as follows:
The wizard is activated (the term for using a miniature) first and may also activate up to 3 soldiers within 3'' of the wizard alongside with him. When a figure is activated, it gets to perform two actions, one of which MUST be movement. The other action may be a second move, fighting, shooting, spellcasting r any special actions eligible. A figure may only perform one action, if it so chooses or is otherwise handicapped. The use in conjunction with the nearby soldiers is called group activation. During the wizard and apprentice phase, soldiers within 3'' of the caster may be activated alongside him/her/it. The thus activated soldiers must all move in conjunction and the first action of group activation must be movement. All figures thus activated get to act. Once a wizard's turn is done, the next wizard may act. Yep, you don't have to wait through x phases to act - this keeps the game pretty dynamic. After the wizard phase, it's time for the apprentice phase - which follows the basically same structure. Then, it's the soldier phase and after that, the creature phase.
Movement is pretty simple in general: The first move is at the full Move stat in ''; any subsequent move takes half the Move stat; a character with move 6 could e.g. use both actions to move 9''. Moving over obstructions (you agree on those when setting up the table) costs 2'' per inch; rough ground similarly halves movement. Which brings me to one of the very few rough edges of the system - as you may have noted, there is some halving going on. The lack of a grid means that you don't have something and you don't round up or down. For people used to the metric system, this becomes slightly more annoying; at least alternate distances may have helped there and rounding guidelines would have sped up play; in my playtests, the lack of rounding up/down constitutes one of the few instances where the game did not play as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. When two creatures are in contact, they are designated as "in combat" and may not move. Why am I talking about this now? When a figure moves within 1'' of another creature, said creature may force combat, placed immediately next to the creature passing. Movement by spell etc. is btw. not considered to count as movement, but any creature using this that ends movement within 1'' is forced into combat.
Figures moving off the board are out of the game and may not be involuntarily be forced off the board. A creature can jump as part of the movement if it moved at least an equal distance prior to jumping - a creature with move 4 can e.g. jump up to 2'' after moving 2''. If a creature falls more than 3'', the critter takes 1.5 times the number of excess inches in damage.
Combat is simple: You spend one action and both figures involved roll 1d20 and add their Fight stat plus any additional modifiers. The figure with the highest number wins. After that, you subtract the armor score from the winner's roll. If the score is positive after detracting the armor score, the target takes damage equal to the remaining points. In the case of both rolls being equal, the combatants hit each other and cause damage to one another, allowing for double K.O.s. After determining damage caused, the winner can decide to either remain in combat or push back either figure by 1'', directly away from the opposing figure. Figures thus moved are no longer in combat, Combats with multiple figures are slightly more complex, but they are explained in a very concise and easy to grasp manner. The system, as you can see, is pretty lethal due to its swingy nature of opposing d20s - which means that it emphasizes tactics over strategy. You can, if you'd like to, also use a critical hit optional rules for even more lethal combat.
Shooting has two terms to keep in mind: In range, which means within 24'' and line of sight, which is self-explanatory. The comparison here is btw. 1d20 + Shoot vs. 1d20 + Fight., with damage being determined analogue to melee, though cover types and terrain hamper shooting with modifiers. Shooting into melee is random: You have a random chance to hit any participant. Creatures reduced to 0 health are presumed killed, unless you're playing in a campaign (more on that later); as an optional rule, characters reduced to 4 or less health are considered to be wounded, taking -2 to all die rolls and only gaining one move; I'd strongly suggest playing with this rule, it adds some neat drama to the games.
Spellcasting is handled similarly: You roll a d20 and compare that to the spell's casting number; on a success, you cast the spell. The game has a degree of failure system; the worse you fail the casting, the more risky it gets; on a failure, you can take damage. Spellcasters may empower spells, which is determined after the casting roll is made, but before effects are determined. The spellcaster may choose to lose health to increase the roll; if a spellcaster would, for example, fail a spellcasting roll by 4, he may sacrifice 4 health to still succeed. When a wizard colossally fails at casting a spell by 20+, he may empower spells to actually take less net damage. This is intended. The target resisted by the spell rolls 1d20 and adds the Will stat; if the target succeeds, he resists the spell. Spellcasters may empower Will rolls by expending Health on a 1:1-basis akin to how empowering spells work.
The game is about treasure, and a character next to a treasure token may use an action to pick it up; thereafter, it moves with the creature. If the creature carrying treasure is killed, the token remains there, ready to be picked up again. A character can only carry one treasure token. In order to secure a treasure token, the carrying figure must move off the board. Now, Frostgrave features more than just competing warbands - the ruins are haunted by various creatures. The system presents basically the analogue version of an AI for them; simple steps of handling them and priority sequences. So no, you do not need a GM, though obviously, it is possible to play the game with a referee/GM. A game of Frostgrave usually ends when the last treasure token has left the board or when one side has been completely wiped out.
So yeah, short instant games are fast play and can last between 10 minutes and an hour....but you'll get the most out of Frostgrave when playing a campaign. Ina campaign, a creature reduced to 0 Health is not considered to be killed, but out of combat, which means you get to roll on a survival table; wizards and apprentices have better chances to live...and yep, you can suffer permanent injuries; a total of 9 of which are provided with rules-relevant repercussions. After a game in a campaign, you award experience to the participants: Successfully cast spells, enemy soldiers, apprentices or wizards defeated and treasure tokens secured net experience per default. Every full 100 experience points for a wizard grants the character a level, which can be used to improve a stat, a spell (granting +1 to its spellcasting level) or learning a new spell. Each treasure token secured in a campaign nets a roll on the treasure table. There is also a potion table. Scrolls are one-use fire and forget spells; grimoires are books that allow a wizard to learn a specific spell and, if you choose to, you can determine spells randomly with a table. Magic Weapons and armor, magic items, etc. - there is a lot of material here - and yes, the magic items come with concise rules.
Gold crowns accumulated allow the wizard to replace slain apprentices, hire new soldiers, buy items, etc. However, in a campaign game of Frostgrave, the game adds another cool option to using your hard-earned gold: Namely establishing a base, which may contain labs, inns, breweries, etc. - the rules presented here are concise and have relevant repercussions in game. Kudos for that addition!
Now obviously, a game focused as strongly on spellcasters needs a massive magic chapter - and indeed, it is BIG. Some spells are out-of-game spells and happen "off screen"; other are self only, have line of effect, area of effect or a range of touch; each spell has a base casting number, as mentioned before...and that's pretty much already the extent of the framework's rules - concise, easy to grasp and elegant...with a couple of minor hiccups: The damage-causing elemental spells or poison dart are very powerful if a wizard increases the quickly, making the respective character a nasty arcane artillery. The other spell that is somewhat OP is Leap. Yeah, I know, I didn't expect that either until I started testing the system. Leap's benefits: Immediate 10'' move, not hindered by terrain. Considering table size, it's very easy to grab treasure and jump off the board with this one, basically grab and run. Having the spell scale with table size and nerfing it, may be a smart choice; similarly, including a caveat that you can't jump off the table would be appreciated - getting at least one turn to defeat the escaping wizard would be nice. As an optional spell-goal for campaigns, researching transcendence and successfully casting it can be used as a generic campaign goal.
Now, while campaigns make Frostgrave more rewarding, this also holds true for playing scenarios - these would be games with unique rules modifications. Creature spawns are very conservative in the default game and e.g. in "The Mausoleum", you get infinite skeleton spawns; Genie in the bottle unleashes a very powerful and nasty genie when picking up a treasure and being unlucky. Featuring a tower that kills all magic inside and has the best treasure. Libraries with limited exits; museums where statues may come to life, exploring an area where giant worms dwell, exploring a haunted house...pretty cool. Or what about the super-lethal well that also may grant health when drunk from? The keep with the teleportation arcs? These modifications, which may btw. be combined, greatly diversify the game - and they engender roleplaying...when you and your fellow player agree on the need to research and thus pit your wizards against one another in a library...it's an easy means of generating a bit of roleplaying. Speaking of inspiration and dressing - the book features a ton of small boxes that contain VERY evocative little quotes describing the wonders and horrors of the frozen city, acting as a great way to make the reading experience more inspiring and pleasant.
Now, I already mentioned creatures and the optional rule for very limited random encounters...but the book also features a ton of monsters that range from undead to animals and yetis/werewolves or trolls.
The book also contains handy spellcards by school and an easily used wizard sheet; speaking of which - I happen to have a nice, high-quality cardstock version of the sheet, which actually manages to collect the crucial rules of the book on this one less-than-GM-screen-sized sheet.
Editing and formatting are excellent; I noticed no significant glitches in either the formal criteria or the rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a mixture of a two-column and a one-column standard and is in full-color and aesthetically pleasing. The artwork is copious and features both pictures of neat minis in full color...as well as absolutely stunning artworks of the same quality as featured on the cover. This is, in short, a beautiful book. The hardcover I receives has nice binding and has borne the brunt of all my use well. I can't comment on the electronic version.
Joseph A. McCullough's Frostgrave is an amazing game. I came to RPGs from a wargaming background and this book should prove to be amazing for both types of gamers. Wargaming strategists that want to have an edge via placement etc. will not be too keen on it, but personally, I loved the swingy nature of the game here; Frostgrave keeps you on your toes and features these unique moments where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. The focus of the game is certainly PvP, but you can actually roleplay; wizards clashing again and again will enact feuds over campaigns and the game becomes particularly amazing when using more than 2 players, as alliances are formed and abandoned; if you have a passionate GM who likes making complex scenarios, you can bring a campaign up to a whole new level and increase the nastiness of the creatures featured; potentially, you can make scenarios where the wizards have to ally themselves against superior odds, etc. - in short, you can play this wargame like a wargame, like an RPG or like a mix. It's also very fast play: I managed to run a 10-game campaign in a single day without any problems and had a blast.
More important for a core rulebook, the Frostgrave-system used here is extremely simple. Anyone who has ever played a d20-based game will immediately get how to play this. Reading the totality f the rules takes about an hour, tops; you can explain them in 5 minutes to someone else, though. Frostgrave is easy to learn and the presentation of the rules is EXTREMELY concise and well-structured. At no point did I think I could have presented the rules in a more concise, stringent manner. That being said, as mentioned before, there are a couple of rough edges; the lack of rounding up/down guidelines was remedied by house-rule in my games after a few playtesting games. Leap and the wizard artillery spells can imho use a bit of a nerf and thus, balance is not always perfect; so tournament style gaming, admittedly not the focus of the system, is not something it does too well.
If you are looking for an atmospheric, easy to learn and play game that allows you to play a game or two during lunch break and scratch that gaming-itch, then this absolutely delivers perfectly. The game may not be perfect, but it is a good offering...though one that fully comes into its own when adding in more material...and yep, I have the expansions...so expect to see those reviews soon!
The core book, on its own, is a fun, evocative and easy to learn beer-and-pretzels style game with a ton of narrative potential. While short of perfection when played on its own, the core book as a stand-alone still manages to score an impressive 4.5 stars, though for the book on its own, I'd have to round down; if you want to get the game, I'd strongly suggest also getting at least one expansion; with more material (or a creative GM/players designing more), Frostgrave does become 5 star-material, though I can't represent that in the core book's rating.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine, posted here, on amazon, etc.
You did a nice job there and books like this thrive on reviews; the more word of mouth we can generate for this, the better! Two thumbs up for reviews! :)
Btw: In my non-playtest campaign, making any magic item requires ingredients; I have my own system, and this took some serious design-weight of my shoulders...so yeah. Amazing!
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This hybrid class clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages, so let's take a look!
The mariner as presented her gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields except tower shields. As a minor complaint: The header is not bolded here. The class gets a full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves and begins play with +4 to Swim checks (untyped) that is increased to +6 when the mariner has 10 ranks in the skills. The mariner gets +1/2 class level (minimum 1) to Survival checks made to follow ships and aquatic creatures. The class also gains +1 to Bluff, Knowledge, Perception, Survival and Sense Motive checks and +1 to atk and damage, increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. They may also make untrained Knowledge checks to identify marine creatures.
2nd level provides the net and trident style - basically a nice combat style, but the feats may only be used while in medium armor or less. 3rd level provides endurance as well as aquatic armor training, which is represented by the fighter's armor training and being treated as class level +4 fighter levels for the purpose of armor training. A slight complaint here. The ability mentions the "normal swim speed" - but swim speed is a rules term of its own. It's clear that it's supposed to apply to the speed reduction inherent in wearing medium armor. Anyways, 4th level lets the mariner spend a move action to gain allies flanking with him or an ally +2 to atk; range here's 30 feet. 4th level provides limited prepared spellcasting that goes up to 4th level, governed by Wis. Spells are drawn from the ranger list. 5th level provides weapon training, with every 4 levels after that adding another group.
At 7th level, the mariner gets a coastal variety of woodland stride as well as +4 to Swim checks. 8th level unlocks scent, 9th evasion, 16th level improved evasion. 12th level renders you immune to the detrimental effects of the depths of the ocean (like pressure etc.) as well as the option to hide in aquatic terrain sans cover or concealment. 17th level provides a kind of Hide in Plain Sight you may use in aquatic terrain and 19th level nets you DR 5/- when wearing armor or using a shield. As a capstone, the class gets Weapon Mastery, may move at full speed while using Survival to track underwater and make an attack as a standard action against an aquatic enemy (Does that refer to the subtype or the environment he's in?) - on a hit, it's save-or-die. Alternatively, there's a nonlethal option. It can be used 5/day.
The pdf also contains 8 feats: Fast Folder lets you fold nets faster, Net Combat increase the DCs to escape your DCs and concentration to use it. Improved Net Combat provides quicker trailing rope control. Ocean Brawler lets you use a bludgeoning or slashing weapon sans penalty as long as you're not off-balance. Sudden Brace lets you use an immediate action to brace 1/round. Wiggle Free nets you + 2 CMD versus a grapple by a net...which may be too specific. Finally, Underwater Shot helps using thrown and ranged missile weapons underwater - it's still not perfect, but you can at least use them! The pdf ends with a quick note on tracking underwater.
Editing and formatting are solid; I noticed some minor editing/formatting hiccups, but nothing too serious. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf's art is solid and full-color - one piece original, one I have seen before.
Robert Gresham's mariner is pretty much what you'd expect - a coastal themed ranger with bits of fighter sprinkled in. It's not brilliant or mega-creative, but a couple of the net-feats are pretty worthwhile and before you design the material yourself...well, you can get this. Personally, I think the class should probably grant swim speed at some point instead of piling ever more Swim-bonuses on it, but that's an aesthetic gripe. It should be noted that this is a PWYW-book - and as such, it is definitely worth downloading the book and then, if you like what you see, leave a tip you consider appropriate. Personally, I'll settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, and while I like it's PWYW-nature, I can't really round up.
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module clocks in at a total of 16 pages, minus 3 for the editorial etc., leaving us with 13 pages of content, so what do we get?
This module was moved up in my reviewing-queue due to me receiving a print copy of this book at Gencon.
The world of Orbis is one where steampunk influences abound, thanks to a special type of wood called scaldwood, which allows for the cleaner and more efficient generation of steam. Situated on this world, there is a nation roughly modeled after China - the Ten Thousand Scales, where the truth about the function of scaldwood and the actual use of steampunk-y technology is a jealously guarded secret, kept by advisors and bureaucracy from falling into the hands of the public, with the scheming at court keeping most issues far away from the emperor's notice. The PCs are contacted by the bureaucracy to deal with a rather significant issue - with 5 sample traits providing justification for them being chosen. The traits generally are solid and have but one issue: They do not specify their trait type.
Where should they go? Well, the deal offered to them provides a HUGE monetary benefit to go into Shuigong, the eponymous and restricted access filtration/sewer/water-processing system.
Anyways, this module is intended to be used with Gaming Paper's Mega Dungeon 3: The Sewers game aid, but does not require it - the final page is devoted to depicting the set-up of the gaming paper sheets, but also doubles as a map of the complex - player-friendly, in case you were wondering...
...and this is as far as I can go without SPOILING anything. Potential players will want to jump to the conclusion from here on out.
All right, I mentioned the huge reward before, right? Well, players should be skeptical and if they manage to get on the bureaucrat's good side, they may gain some additional information: There is a monster hiding in Shuigong, and its body-count is rapidly rising. While details are scarce, public persons have been eliminated and the military had been sent in. To no avail. The dread "Beast Below" that has been causing the deaths in no monster, at least not in the classic sense of the word; rather than that, it is a man named Zihao, one born as a fourth son, but with serious magical talent. Emotionally and physically tortured by his brothers for the perceived favoritism he received, they sought to break his heart via a courtesan...and instead broke his mind. Zihao stalks the tunnels and has created a web of death below...one the PCs are now in the process of entering.
Shuigong is not a cosmetic backdrop - it is a proper environment: Pitch-black, slippery and potentially lethal, the place's structure influences CMD and Acrobatics and you should definitely know what you are doing - high Dex-characters will have some chance to shine here.
Exploring the dungeon that is Shuigong is btw. an internally consistent manner - it makes sense from the perspective of the deranged mastermind as well as from that of the GM: The obstacles the PCs will encounter focus on crippling PCs, on generating slowly a means of decreasing their potency; from deathblade poison-covered hidden blades to the creatures - which deserve special mention: The first would be hungry fleshes, which not only are diseased, they also accrue growth points and regenerates when hit by the wrong type of weapon, making for basically a puzzle-foe from the get-go.
This level of imaginative potential has been applied to more critters - take the plasmic otyugh, which can change its shape when in water - the interesting component here being definitely that the creature does not need to adhere to the standard formation of creature space, allowing for a creative application of flexibility and interesting tactical options I have not seen executed in any other critter so far. Even skeletons with filed feet or amphisbaena can be found here and astute players will slowly notice a sense of cohesion, that something is amiss - and indeed, the whole structure amounts to a gauntlet to soften up the pesky adventurers. From huecava and necrocrafts, the PCs will need more and more resources, as they slowly make their way towards the darkness and madness of Zihao and his ghoul retinue...
Dan Comrie's Shuigong is a nice, unpretentious, internally consistent dungeon crawl against relatively challenging foes that shows some sparks of brilliance and creativity among the builds for the adversaries; less so for the BBEG, but there is some true creativity herein. Considering the evocative twist on the classic sewer level trope, one can definitely consider this a nice module, particularly for slightly more experienced groups and convention play. While certainly not super-hard, it is definitely a potentially challenging module and I mean that in a good way. Not all encounters reach the highlight-level of brilliance, but for the brevity, the module does indeed deliver a fun excursion. All in all, a fun module - which is why my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This supplement for Veranthea Codex clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let's take a look!
So, what do we get here? Well, we get a massive, high-concept NPC Codex/bestiary with a WuXia-theme. From the mountains of Nestraka, the CR 8 Amigara hail, deadly constructs that encase mortals to use them to tap into the life energy of mortals entombed in their bodies - they can be found in the canyon of the spiral, which features a total of 3 short descriptive sketches to use in concert with the critter.
The pdf continues to provide the Fukujin subtype - native outsiders that embody the virtues of good fortune, with two such entities provided, both of which should put a smile on the faces of genre-aficionados: Benzaiten and Hotei, both at a nasty CR 15, make for powerful, benevolent entities. The Fire Naga at CR 12 comes with a new spell that is basically dominate on speed and the naga can generate enthralling, hypnotic orbs or fire...pretty cool and best take on the concept I've seen so far: In spite of the name, this is no one-trick-pony. Orang-Bati are CR 3 winged apes with a fear-inducing howl. Okay, I guess, but I've seen the concept often enough to not be impressed here.
Now the next critter made me smile from ear to ear: Horror-fans may know of the Orang-Minyak, the oily men - well, guess what? Now we get the guy as a neat CR 6 adversary with cool, connected abilities - two thumbs up! The Seong-Saman, the fan-lady with her aura of breathlessness, night terrors and ability to become corporeal is another critter at CR 5 I very much enjoyed to see here - and gaining one named iteration with mesmerist levels is a neat icing on the cake here. At CR 4, the long-tailed hornless goat sigbin may drink blood from the shadow of creatures (!!!) and is yet another cool critter that very much made me grin. The 3 magic items associated with the creatures just add more dimension to it and the notes for catching it make it feel as something deeply rooted in the mythology of Urethiel.
Tek-tek, undead upper torsos with an axe-blade where the lower body should be, with their vertebrae axe and deranged chittering is also amazing...oh, and they can be taken as familiars or companions via feats, though frankly, I consider them too strong for either. The three magic items (two axes, one set of bracers) are neat and evocative, though. I was positive surprised to see the tsuchigumo translated as a CR 10 aberration, with powerful webs and the horrid ability to create tsuchigo thralls via the CR +3 template provided.
Next up would be sample characters: a human druidess 2, a dwarven samurai 5, an elven pyrokineticist, a half-orc vigilante, a half-elven hunter, a forsaken human two-handed fighter, a blessed alchemist/ninja/monk-multiclass, a forsaken slayer, a halfling oracle and a shòuquán invulnerable rager/conduit are provided, spanning the CRs from 1 to 18. It should be noted that, where applicable, companions are included in the stats. Amazing for guys like yours truly: This pdf features an artifact...that is the Death Note. Not kidding. Could your PCs have bested Light? It's time to find out...
The pdf also sports information on a unique city - Tian-Ti Ang, the city of vampires! The place not only comes with a settlement statblock, it also features notes on the houses, the local laws and rivalries and conclude the pdf on a high note with a deadly vampire ninja at CR 12.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres, for the most part, to a two-column full-color standard, though the pdf switches this up with one-column passages where appropriate. The artworks, for the most part, are public domain, but fit the theme, with some stock thrown in. Like all Veranthea codex books, this book is chock-full with information, but doesn't feel as jammed and busy as previous books, which is a good thing in my book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Luis Loza's Lost Legends of Urethiel delivers in spades: The critters, for the most part, are creative and drink deeply from the wellspring of lesser known pieces of mythology. The NPCs are similarly diverse in their builds and feature some characters that make good use of Urethiel's unique birthrights. More importantly, this pdf left me with the DESIRE to actually use quite a few of the creatures herein. While the lack of artworks for the critters is always a bit of an issue for bestiaries, if you are not solely focused on that component, you will love A LOT of the critters herein: Instead of doing the standard Yuki-no-onna, penanggalan-routine, this instead opts for creatures you haven't yet see hundreds of times. In short - this is a great, fun supplement. While I am not a fan of the two feats and while not all NPCs are genius or that creative, the critters are creative and fun and so are the NPCs - as a whole, a supplement well worth getting, making me settle on a final verdict of 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 42 pages of content, so let's take a look!
As always, we begin this pdf with a flavorful piece of prose before diving into the history of the shield before we receive rules for the respective shield types: The pdf classifies a total of 4 shield types, providing a nice overview of what you can and can't do with shields - like heavy shields preventing you from doing anything else with that hand, while light shields allowing you to use the hand to carry items - which makes sense, I guess, but I would have liked some finer modifications there: Penalties for delicate work like disarming a trap while a shield's still strapped to your arm, for example. Also slightly problematic: "You cannot use weapons with it." I get that...but do e.g. tanglefoot bags count? Torches? The improvised angle could have used some coverage here.
Somewhat annoying: Tower Shields are rebranded as "Body Shields". In a rules-system as crunchy and terminology-heavy as PFRPG, that is just unnecessary and a potential cause for confusion. I get why: The new term is used as a hyperonym, whereas tower shields are used as a subcategory. The issue, though, is that there is a Proficiency for tower shields, but RAW, none for body shields. Shield designs and materials are next...and left me a bit disappointed. Where usually, the Call to Arms-series excels in providing these nice little rules-tweaks for simulationalist games, here, we are basically left with: "It's fluff, no mechanical repercussions." This left me somewhat stupefied, in spite of the discussions being solid - the pdf acknowledges the traditions...but does nothing with them. Weird.
Now where we actually do get some crunchy bits is when it comes to wielding a shield: A total of 3 grips are provided. Shields strapped to your arm require a standard action to strap and loosen, but grant you +2 CMD versus attempts to disarm your shield. Argive grip lets you drop the shield (or don it) as a move action, with Quick Draw-like bonuses for BAB +1 characters, allowing the shield to be drawn as a swift action accompanying a regular move. Finally, the boss grip can be dropped or used as a move action (the pdf here mentions "readied", which is a loaded term in PFRPG - that could have been more elegant), but can be drawn as a free action as part of a move y characters with a BAB of +1 or higher.
The main bonus here in contrast to the Argive would be that you can draw it and a weapon as one action if you have TWF and draw/put back it as a free action if you have Quick Draw, treating the shield as a quickdraw shield. There are, unfortunately, a couple of issues here: 1) Why ever use argive? It's objectively worse than both other grips, bringing literally no benefit the others don't. 2) Regarding boss grip and quickdrawing: Quickdrawing shields, as far as I can remember, exist only for light shields. Heavy shields in PFRPG do not have that option by default, and neither do tower shields. Particularly when looking at the latter and the significant action-investment their use requires, one cannot help but ask whether boss grips can be made to modify tower shields. The interaction of the new rules with the existing ones, alas, is not as precise as I've come to expect from the series.
The next section here covers a diversity of different shields that are used as weapons - think of this as the collating section, where you get all the info in one place, from the tiger claw shield to the klar or the throwing dueling buckler....the array of weaponized shields presented here is nice, but the table's messed up: One, the table lacks cost entries for many of the shields - probably due to them being shield + modifications...but why not simple provide the total cost for convenience's sake? The very first entry has a glitch, where the crit multiplier wandered into the range column and from a layout perspective, the Exotic Ranged Weapon-row does not feature the grey background to set it apart that the other sub-headers feature.
The collated shield modifications provided are intriguing - integrated firearms, bladed edges and throwing shield modifications all are cool. However, considering the usual mission of collating and collecting relevant information, I was somewhat puzzled by the omission of the boss modifications already existing for PFRPG. On a more positive side, the rules for providing shields as cover (first presented in a sidebar-installment, unless I'm horribly mistaken) is nice and adds some tactical dimension and useful upgrade for the shield: You know, hiding behind a tower shield to survive a dragon's breath, etc. - neat. And yep, you can't Stealth-abuse them, which is a nice catch.
Speaking of nice: The pdf provides some generally cool variants of new shield designs; from dueling bucklers to jousting shields, provides a cool selection of new and interesting modifications - but, alas, the devil's in the details here as well. When a dueling buckler notes "Treat this shield as a standard buckler when shield bashing." I cringed a bit. Bucklers cannot, RAW, be used for shield bashes. It's these little glitches that add up and make the chapter less refined than it should be: Granting adjacent allies shield bonuses can be fun and the pdf does have these little glimpses at what I expect to see from the Call to Arms-series.
Among the modifications, straps to keep dropped shields attached make sense, but fail to specify hardness, hp or anything like that - even though sooner or later someone will try to sunder them. Again, one of these avoidable glitches that hamper a great concept. On the plus-side, reinforced straps or integrated weapon sheathes - there is amazing to be found here. The pdf then goes on to collect special materials for shield construction - though only a part of Paizo's materials are collected here. One new material can be found, wicker shields, which are lighter and more buoyant. The pdf also provides relatively concise rules for shields with special bosses etc. - and yes, a sidebar provides Captain America-build guidelines.
After the material component, the shield special abilities are next - on a slightly nitpicky side: The glamered quality has been renamed "glamOred" and lacks italicization. It's these little glitches that are just unnecessary. There is new material here as well, like shields that feature a nice breeze to keep you cool and may also create, for short bursts, clean air and protect against lethal gasses. Feather fall-inducing shields are nice - shields that can turn into gliders are cooler still. I also liked the shield that has a minor glamour to hide you from foes when using total defense (erroneously called "defence" once...). The offensive shield properties are not reprinted and, oddly, they are not organized by bonus, but alphabetically...weird internal inconsistency there, but aesthetic only.
The book then goes on to depict specific magic shield - it basically collects the info from Paizo-books...*sigh*, but the battlement shield's formatting is messed up. Something you can actually see at one glance. That being said, we also get an array of new shields among the reprints...but, alas, they are missing from the table in the beginning...why? On the definite plus-side, the shields that are new generally provide cool visuals and options: Does e.g. a Bullette Maw turned shield sound amazing? What about a buckler that helps with burglary and may turn into tools 1/day? Yeah, it's cool - but e.g. an italicized name in an item's header once again would be a cosmetic, but still, easily avoidable glitch. Charge-enhancing Line Breaker is another nice example; not so cool: The Savage Quill's shield bash is locked into a full-round action, converting its bonus...which makes it a bad choice for shield bash specialists. Amazing: Slider's Shield is basically a shield and a hoverboard at the same time. The pdf also contains two cursed shields, one that is a reprint...and one is a shield -2. Yay? No GM has ever needed a -2 shield designed for him/her. The intelligent shield, Rovan's Round...is not as cool as usual: No unique abilities and "protect others from spellcasters" is pretty bland, even before at-will (!!!) dispel magic. Nope, can't see myself using this guy.
There is a reprint of a mythic shield ability and a shield as well as a new shield, Breathtaker, which adds nonlethal damage after bull rushes...which is per se no big issue. What *is* an issue is that it justifies this by the target beginning to suffocate. Are non-breathing critters immune? Can you hold your breath? No idea. Oh, and, more importantly: THIS IS NOT HOW SUFFOCATION WORKS IN PFRPG. Artifact-wise, the Aegis is reprinted (oddly, again, with italicized header), as is the Shield of the Sun - but there's also a new one, namely Centurion's Fortress - this one can both animate and dance, allowing it to execute autonomous defense and shield bashes. Additionally, the wielder can designate a target as a swift action and have the shield attack the adversary, potentially even adding bull rushes to bashes while granting cover and it may 1/day spawn copies to prevent flanking etc. - while the wording's not perfect here, I love the visuals and everything's functional...so yeah, I may end up using this guy!
Editing and formatting are not up to the standard the series usually has; a glitch here and there is okay, a slipped row can be forgiven when the information's clear...but this pdf feels rushed. There are literally a ton of formatting hiccups that even casual observation should have caught. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks as well as with some neat full color artworks.
Taylor Hubler, CtA-team...what has happened here? I don't get it. Let me make that abundantly clear: I don't object t the reprints herein - that's pretty much the deal of Call to Arms: Collect information and expand it. Here, however, there is not that much new information...and I wouldn't mind even that. If only the new material, the cool rules-tweaks that you can usually find in these books, would be here, the spark of the amazing. It's not. The supplemental rules-material feels half-done; not checked. The pdf acknowledges so many facets...and doesn't really work with them. And when it does, there are some serious hiccups to be found, some of which impede the functionality and the toolkit appeal significantly. I...honestly was flabbergasted here. I usually look forward to reviewing Call to Arms-books, because they often have this neat spark of brilliance this one so sorely lacks.
In fact, at one point, I was just stupefied - between this and other, recent Fat Goblin Games-releases like the awesome Player's Guide to Vathak, the installment on Ropes or Lucus Palosaari's Mantles of Power yawns a huge chasm in ambition, quality and execution. (Btw.: Get those!) In fact, this pdf, to me, felt very much like a WIP, perhaps handed in with a delay and thus rushed through editing/development...that would kinda explain the significant discrepancy. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought this was the first CtA, from even before Axes. And it's about shields, of all things, which have so much amazing untapped potential, which can use the coolness-upgrade so hard. *sigh* Don't get me wrong, there are gems herein...but you have to look for them. The problem is that modification-engines like the one this tries to provide, ultimately, require significant precision and when the crunch feels just not as carefully generated...well...then you have a problem. It breaks my heart, it really does, mainly because I went into this wanting so hard to like it; looking forward to reading it...but I can't go higher than 2.5 stars on this one, rounded down.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive game clocks in at 250 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of ToC,1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive245 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This book was requested as a prioritized review by one of my patreons. Additionally, said patreon has graciously provided a print copy, thus moving this further up in my reviewing queue. Thank you, Chad!
So, what is Cybergeneration's 2nd edition? well, you probably know the grand daddy of cyberpunk RPGs, right? No, not Shadowrun, talkin' bout Cyberpunk 2020, my friends! Anyways, the original cybergeneration was basically a subsystem, whereas this, the 2nd edition, constitutes a stand-alone setting that still maintains compatibility. Got that?
Well, so what about the world? You see, this book's focus is pretty radically different than that of most other cyberpunk games. What does the genre evoke for you? Probably some images of steel-clad towers, mighty arcologies, horrible megacorps and a fight for survival within the shadows of the moloch of an industrial complex that is grinding all free will, right? Well, this one takes place in 2027 and the big fight between the revolutionaries and counter-culture advocates of the 2020s has been decisively won - much like the Hippie culture and many another counter-/sub-culture movement, the sell-out happened. 2027, the former rebels have sold out and been mostly integrated into corporate structure; parents work 16-hour shifts and the nuclear family's a thing of the past. In the absence of family ties, a tribal structure has developed among the chronically bored, the desolate and lost kids of the age. Additionally, the presence of a mysterious plague, oftentimes lethal, but just as well survivable, has basically introduced special mutations among the youth, enhancing them beyond the normal - these are the members of the cybergeneration. This book is the chronicle of their tales.
Anyways, we begin unlike any other roleplaying game I have ever witnessed. You read a screen. A mysterious figure named Morgan contacts the juvepunkers and tries to steer them to safety. You give them a map. It shows weird signs. Some of them represent the patrols out to get them. They avoid them as spinners (advanced aerodyne vehicles) rush overhead. They need to get to safety...and once they have, it's time to choose an allegiance or gang, if you will. Yep. You heard me right. Character creation happens mid-adventure. And after each decision...well, the plot goes on.
The book provides a COLOSSAL amount of options here - a total of 18 such groups, called yogangs, are provided - each featuring notes on how you involved with them, how your relationship with other juvepunks is. Each of these yogangs grants access to a particularly powerful/unique skill that is exclusive for the gang. All right...so what are they? In all brevity: ArcoRunners are the ones who explore the intestines of the grand arcologies - the tunnels, shafts...and use this knowledge appropriately. BeaverBrats are suburbanites, tricksters and infiltration experts. BoardPunks would basically be the cyber-skaters. EcoRaiders would be the radical green terrorists and defenders of nature. FaceDancers are beholden to the idea of a fluid identity and employ technology and acting to impersonate others. Glitterkids are the new money scions of the famous...or famous themselves. GoGangers would be the cyber-equivalent of hardcore bikergangs. GoldenKids are those born with a golden, diamond-encrusted spoon in their mouth...think Dangerous Liaisons. Goths...well, are goths...or what the author thought goths were about. *sigh* They're not goths, they're friggin suicidal vampire-posers. I digress.
Guardians would be basically a combo of neighborhood watch/boyscouts and police; MallBrats are blackmarket dealers and know their way around the megamall complexes. MegaViolents think of themselves as heirs of the Vikings and the warrior-cultures, looking for the thrill of deadly combat...Clockwork orange, anyone? Rads are the smart kids that try to employ the methodology of the system to break it from within. Squats are the consummate beggars/scavengers. StreetFighters would be the disciplined martial artist equivalents to the berserker MegaViolents. TinkerTots are juvenile techs and engineers; Tribals eschew hightech and basically can be called badass urban Neo-native Americans. Finally, vidiots are urban guerrilla media & communication sabotage experts. As a whole, these yogangs can be envisioned as the tropes for groups of youths, seen through the lens of cyberpunk and amped up to 11. The respective write-ups are incredibly evocative, providing unique terminology employed by the group (aka, group-exclusive slang) and thus further increase the sense of immersion.
Once the players have reached the safehouse , it's time for their assessment of the mysterious man (or is he a man?) named Morgan. This would be when you assign your attributes. There are 9 of these: INT (Intelligence), REF (Reflexes), COOL (Cool - resistance to stress/willpower), TECH (Technical ability), LUCK (Luck - these points may be expended to modify die rolls; they regenerate on the next session), ATT (Attractiveness), MOVE (Movement), EMP (Empathy), BODY (Body type; combo of Strength and capability to sustain wounds). You have 50 points and you MUST place 2 in each attribute; you can assign up to 8 points. Assign all 50...and character generation's almost done.
Cybergeneration knows 12 skills per character (one is the yogang skill) - you assign between 1 and 8 points to these and get 40 points to assign. These skills, however, do NOT include hacking, advanced pharmaceutics or heavy weaponry - they represent basically skills kids could have - and considering that the suggested maximum age for a PC here is 19, you can kinda understand why. It should be noted that the book does feature means to "translate" the skills of the youths into "proper" adult skills, so if your game translates their youthful escapades to more serious, adult themes, you're all covered. In fact, the book does expect that, sooner or later, the yogangers will pick up some "adult" skills. The seamlessness of the transition-mechanics is pretty impressive.
Now I've already hinted at the quasi-sentient Carbon Plague; this is where the X-men comparison comes in: There are 5 default mutations the plague may cause in adolescents (and no, as written, you have no control over as what you end up): Tinmen become pretty much living cyborgs without the hassle of humanity. Alchemists contain nanites and may break down and reassemble things they touch. Wizards are basically the equivalent of Otaku in Shadowrun -they understand binary fluently, conjure up virtuality icons by just *thinking* about them, etc. And yes, you may learn to make familiars, independent AI programs. Scanners let you see moods of others and take advantage of this, being basically human lie-detectors/thought-readers, while finally, Bolters can fire quasi-wires - basically, they are living tasers and may recharge easily, shock others...and no, before you ask, you can't use them as grappling hooks. The rules provided are concise and detailed, with noemnclature definitions accompanying the well-crafted fluff. Using a lot of skills will net you IP - Improvement Pints at the referee's discretion. You use these to increase your skills, though not all skills cost the same IP to improve. Learning proper edgerunner skills, obviously, is tougher for yuvegangers.
Your starting equipment is what you purchase at the mall, where massive two-page spreads not only provide the rules, but also the visuals...with the exception of the nice artwork of a pizza place. You buy blackmarket guns. Blackmarket's the emphasis, hence only an artwork of yuvegangers eating pizza. Amazing and retains the internal consistency.
All right, so how do skill-checks work? You take 1d10, add your attribute and if you roll equal or higher the DC, you succeed. 10s are critical successes, 1s critical fumbles and there are opposed checks, obviously. Stat-checks mean you roll 1d10 and try to stay below your attribute. Simple, right? The book also has its own combat system, dubbed "Saturday Night Skuffle." It knows two time units, turns and rounds: Turns take 10 seconds, rounds 3. One turn contains 3 rounds. At the start of each round, one player rolls 1d10. The Referee rolls for the opposition. On a tie, the players go first. Players then decide on order or go by the highest REF-stat. You may wait for an action, but only ONCE per turn. (An optional rule lets you delay two actions thus, though the second is penalized.) One round equals movement based on your MOVE stat. Line of sight is called "Facing". If you fire at a foe, you total REF, your skill, weapon accuracy (WA) and 1d10 - if the result exceeds the difficulty number of the shot, you hit. You may attempt to dodge on your turn, increasing said difficulty number. Auto is really lethal, just fyi: For each point over the difficulty number, one bullet hits the target. Genius guns require no skill, but have a percentile chance to hit, though scramblers etc. may modify that. Microwavers, EMP guns and cap lasers work similarly simple.
Melee works as follows: Total REF, skill, WA, add 1d10 and compare it to the defender's REF + Skill + WA +1d10. When attacking edgerunners, yogangers halve their skills, though -proper training hard to replace. Weapons are categorized in damage classes and hits reduce BODY; at -4, you're dead. The higher you roll, the more damage you'll cause - just compare to the table and there you go. The book covers falling damage, poisons and armor has 2 values: AR (armor rating) and EV (encumbrance value) - EV is subtracted from your REF; AR reduces the damage incurred by its value. Simple, clean and easy to use. Nice, btw.: You may speed up combat by rolling different-colored dice. I tried it. It works perfectly.
Now, obviously, the net is yet another crucial aspect of any cyberpunk scenario - and thus, both wizards and regular licensing is covered. The level in which the like is defined is very concise: AIM Overwatch may take an interest in you any time and programs come with a massive list. Cyberdeck stats and everything in that regard is pretty easy. Even dataforts and combat is similarly simple - simpler in fact, than non-net altercations. The presence of Virtuality, i.e. web/reality-overlap, also means that you have an easy means of adding yet another dimension to the proceedings.
So, character generation's done; the rules are covered...and now, we'll contemplate crucial takes on the adolescent themes; indeed, the book takes some serious time to talk about the mentality of the yuvegangers: Yuvegangers don't do things for money; at this time, idealism runs high and firepower will not solve anything. Let's talk about the elephant in the room: Yes, sex may be on the minds of the adolescents and adults RPing this may be awkward...but at the same time, it is a great plot-element and the book takes on the theme in a mature manner - much like X-men, the problems by e.g. the Carbon Disease and romantic involvement between people with abilities can make for a variety of unique narrative twists. Theme-wise, this is less Bladerunner, and more Streets of Fire - drugs, treachery, the leitmotifs of the yogangs and the option to join the revolution, there is a ton of stories to pursue.
The book also featured a ton of information on the timeline of the ISA, its structure, life in corporate zone America and details of the corps with their equipment and resources. The book also features one massive city - Night City, fully mapped, for your immediate use and provides the stats of edgerunner legends/mentors like Alt Cunningham, Mister John Silverhand and Morgan Blackhand.
The aforementioned adult skills are fully depicted (no need to flip books) and an easy life path generator helps speed up the process. Obviously, though, we do need more than that, particularly the referee: Hence, the final chapter of the book depicts the bad guys - their deadly cyberware; the nasty and not-so nasty organizations in 2027. The book e.g. depicts the plague-survivor-alliance, who may be helpful for the victims of the Carbon Plague, sure...but their mindset also allowed AIDS II to spread and while they are good, they may well require the help of the yuvegangers...or do more harm than good. Of course, more straight villainous organizations can be found as well. Moreover, the book features different sample NPC-stats, as well as a selection of named NPCs for your perusal.
Finally, the book does feature conversion notes from Cyberpunk 2020's base rules.
Editing and formatting are top-notch and professional, I noticed no significant glitches in either formal or rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the book features a ton of great, original b/w-artwork. The pdf does have one seriously annoying issue: The bookmarks do not work and are scrambled - the handful of them that are here, that is. A book of this size NEEDS proper, nested bookmarks. If you can get your hands on the softcover, it may not be the most perfectly made of books, being softcover, but at least my copy is significantly more useful as a dead tree. So yeah, if you can get it, get dead tree or have the pdf printed and bound.
The team of authors Mike Pondsmith, Edward Bolme, David Ackerman, Eric Heisserer, Wade Racine, Karl Wu, Tristan Heydt, James Milligan, Steve Sabram, Craig Sheeley and Benjamin Wright have delivered something I would have never, ever expected.
Heck, I'm German. There is some truth to the cliché that cyberpunk's incredibly popular around here and the one game I have more experience as a player than as a GM/Referee, it's Shadowrun. I'm also pretty big on Cyberpunk 2020...and I had never even HEARD about this book. Without Chad Middleton getting me this book and telling me to review it, I would have never even looked for it. I would have been poorer off for it. This book is remarkable for 2 things: Number 1, this book features pretty much one of the most amazing, immersive means of character generation I have seen in any roleplaying game; swift, creative and immersive, the experience of running this for the first time is pretty amazing.
Secondly, and more importantly, this book provides an aesthetic I have frankly never seen before. An honest jamais-vu-experience. When properly run, this is something I would have considered to be a contradictio in adjecto: Light-hearted cyberpunk. Instead of the doom and gloom noir aesthetics, this can be pretty much a futuristic take on the "Lausbubengeschichten", i.e. the tales of the hijinx of adolescents, as they outsmart and outwit the establishment, the adults. Think of a possible theme that of Emil i Lönneberga or Tom Sawyer crossed with Home Alone and cyberpunk aesthetics. Of course, more serious themes can similarly be used, spliced in; as the characters progress, some may the theme and style mature.
In fact, if there is one regret I have regarding this book, then that I didn't have this when I was a kid/adolescent myself. Cyberpunk's grim and gritty themes may not be 100% amazing for kids...but this can be run as kid-friendly...like e.g. the animated X-men cartoon with a cyberpunk-coat. The range of themes you can take from these cartoons and comics, combined with the whole cyberpunk cosmos ends up with a vast diversity of available tropes. In the end, it can generate a stark and amazing blending of dystopian cyberpunk and more light-hearted themes. What should not work, ultimately and against all possibilities, does work and generates perhaps one of the coolest coming-of-age narratives you can wish for.
This is a hidden gem if there ever was one; the book, frankly, should be much more widely known, more popular. Cybergeneration 2027, frankly, is one of the books that made me really appreciate being a reviewer. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - if you like cyberpunk, please check this out and if you have kids/adolescents intrigued in scifi or cyberpunk aesthetics, this will be a perfect way to introduce them to the game and slowly increase the maturity factor as they age! This may well be the first coming-of-age-roleplaying game.