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Megan Robertson's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 5,839 posts (6,136 including aliases). 573 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 2 aliases.



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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This work is a collection of material and resources designed to enhance your game. There are chapters on environmental hazards, anomaly mapping and survival, a couple of new campaign frameworks and some conspiracies, complete scenarios and even some new monsters. Plenty to get your teeth into.

First up, Environmental Hazards. Just because there is a dinosaur snapping at your heels it doesn't mean that you are safe from other threats, after all! It runs through quite a lot of other problems like bad weather and natural disasters that can cause you to wish you had stayed at home that day. In every case as well as describing the nature of the hazard, the applicable game mechanics are also supplied, along with a useful sidebar for GMs on calibrating damage and notes on how to use hazards in your game to best effect (preferably without killing off the party, at least not until they've had fair warning and ignored opportunities to prepare themselves!).

Next, Survival looks at the challenges of surviving in a prehistoric world (or indeed anywhen else when you are far from civilisation). Taking the four priorities for survival – water, food, fire and shelter – it looks at each in turn showing why they are necessary and what the party can do about making sure that they get them. There's a useful note on what you ought to have in a survival kit. For characters who spend too long in a survival situation – like being trapped in prehistory – there are a couple of new bad Traits that can be applied. These model the veneer of civilisation being stripped away as the character’s focus shifts to staying alive at all costs.

Both these chapters are applicable to any game, but the next – Mapping Anomalies – is pure Primeval. Mainly for GMs, this provides a system for being logical about when and where they pop up. Will the party spot the pattern? Will they be able to make use of it? Up to them...

Next we have a couple of campaign frameworks which you might like to try out if you are tired of having the party involved with the ARC. The first is Operation George, set at the beginning of World War 2. There's a brief history, sample characters and the interesting thought that even if you don't chose it as your framework, maybe it did happen and traces of it will turn up whatever your party is investigating! The other is The Village. This is centred on a present-day (but ancient) village situated near an equally historic wood in which strange lights are sometimes seen and, it is rumoured, strange creatures as well. There's a group called the Wardens, locals who watch over the wood and protect the village from monsters. Your group can play the Wardens… or again, this may be something that is stumbled across in the course of other adventures.

These are followed by two 'conspiracies' - the Panacea Corporation and the Mathers Gang - organisations that have an interest in anomalies and seek to exploit them for their own ends. Then there's a chapter full of More Monsters, mostly new dinosaurs (using the term quite loosely), all with full descriptions, stat blocks and other notes – often a picture as well, although these are long on teeth and claws and short on biological detail!

Finally, the adventures. Message in an Anomaly which starts with the characters dealing with what seems to be a typical incursion until they find a note HELP ME. That's when things start getting complicated. With plenty of scope for interaction and investigation, this should prove fun. Next is The Devil and Mr Sutton. This involves stories of a ghost train, but of course there's a fair bit more to it than that! Another richly-detailed adventure with plenty of investigation to keep curious characters busy. The third adventure is Earth Serpent, which can be used to kick off a whole new story arc in your game. It's all about this artefact, you see...

There's a lot here and most groups will find uses for at least some of it… and the adventures are fun, catching the spirit of the game well.


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

Back to Absalom for this adventure, with a backstory concerning a centuries-old tale of a wizard/astronomer and his observatory, the site of which was later built over to form a palatial villa and museum for antiquities - the Blakros Museum (encountered before in Pathfinder Society Scenario #5: Mists of Mwangi. A child of the house who enjoyed exploring the remote reaches of the house developed a taste for adventure and became an artefact-hunter in her own right... and found something in an Osirian tomb that brought her back home. Only she's vanished somewhere in the bowels of the museum and the curator has asked the Pathfinders for help. The backstory explains, for the GM, what's actually going on, of course.

After a synopsis of what ought to happen, the adventure itself begins with the party getting their briefing from Venture-Captain Adril Hestram in the Grand Lodge and being sent round to the museum to start their investigations - although it's worth taking the time to do a bit of research before they go. The rest of the module describes the basement (and points below) in plenty of detail... pick up a copy of Mists of Mwangi if you want to know what is above-ground. Once down in the basement, there's plenty to keep the party busy with the emphasis on fighting... pity any poor docents who venture down there to catalogue the reserve stock! There is little scope for role-playing or interaction, the only way to deal with what's down there is to attempt to kill them.

However, despite the lack of anything other than fighting, it's very atmospheric, indeed quite creepy - an excellent dungeon crawl with some unusual opposition. What is going on down there is very interesting, and it's almost disappointing that destruction of the core artefact is inevitable and expected. Come to fight and you can have an enjoyable game.


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An RPG Resource Review

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The Introduction begins by asking what would happen if dinosaurs came back... and that's basically the premise of this game. It is based on a TV show of the same name, but provides plenty of background information that those who haven't watched it are not at a significant disadvantage, even in the Introduction, and there's plenty more information later on. The usual 'What is a role-playing game?' piece is so similar to one of the ways I explain the hobby - like a computer game only better because you are interacting with a real live game master not a program - that I think the author must have heard me holding forth on the topic! It also explains that the book is made up of four sections. The first talks about creating characters and building a party. Next comes the rules. Then there is a section covering the dangers that can be encountered (yes, dinosaurs!) and finally there is material for the GM's eyes only. Players can certainly read the first two parts, and also the third if they are interested - especially if they are playing paleologists or just happen to like dinosaurs.

The first chapter, Primeval: The Basics, covers basic concepts and rules, Primeval in a nutshell, with a glossary and quick reference. This might be the best bit to show a new player who wants to join your group. It boils all you need to know to play both mechanically and conceptually into a few pages, and still manages to cram in a fair bit of background and a breakdown of the first three series of the TV show (the final two series being left to a promised supplement... which in due course materialised as Primeval Evolution). If you haven't watched the TV show, by the time you're read this you will probably want to (or this game isn't for you), but you will have sufficient background detail to be able to play anyway.

The next chapter, Genesis, looks at character creation in detail. It starts by determining what everyone wants to play and the sort of focus your game will have. There's no harm - in fact, some advantages - in having quite a disparate group: in my last game I was a zoo veterinarian, with a conspiracy theorist and a military man as my companions, we all brought different skills and outlooks to the events we had to deal with. Basically, the party (whoever they are) will be investigating anomalies, time warps and monsters... but there are several interesting, outlandish even, suggestions as to what will be going on in your game. Perhaps you are people from the past or the future whose main goal is to get back to their own time, and of course the game doesn't have to be set in the present day, your characters could be present day folk stuck in the future or the past, after all! Getting a grip on the basic premise for your game will help in coming up with appropriate characters, and next we learn how they are created.

Mechanically, characters are described by Attributes, Skills and Traits. The Attributes tell how strong, fast, clever, etc., your character is, while Skills describe what he knows and the Traits what he can do. Attributes and Skills have numerical ratings that show how good (or bad) you are in that particular area. You either have a Trait or you don't. A point-buy system is used, and the rest of the chapter goes into a whole lot of detail about using it to create just the character you want. There are informative notes on their use in play, including a note that just because you have a good Convince skill, you cannot just roll dice and get your own way - this is a role-playing game so coming up with a good scheme about how you intend to persuade people is important: the GM is advised to make things easier for players who are willing to try and act out what their character is saying in a given situation... and to make things harded for a really implausible scheme! Everything is beautifully illustrated with stills from the TV show (alas, uncaptioned so unless you know it well and have a good visual memory they are a bit baffling at times) and apposite quotes as well.

Characters done, you need to establish some Group Traits as well. These are primarily for game purposes - like access to weapons, medical facilities or vehicles, for example - but also can have mechanical advantages as well. Of course there are some bad Group Traits that you can take to get more points for good ones... I like the 'Boss from Hell' one which has the simple comment 'GM: enjoy!' beside it.

Next, some background on the Anomaly Research Centre (ARC), the organisation from the TV show and the default one for the game. Should you want to use the characters from the show, they are presented here with complete stat blocks and background material. This section also covers the ARC base and resources, day-to-day life there and more... including some of the major bad guys from the series - you could use them as NPCs, or even invert the entire concept and become them!

But you may not want to use the ARC. Next, Dinosaur Hunters presents a completely new outfit called Dinosaur Hunters Inc., the brainchild of an avid hunter and wealthy man who had hunted virtually everything and was hungry for more. Finding out about anomalies and what could come through them (or be found on the other side) just provided him with even more creatures to hunt and he has built a business around it, providing safaris for the super-rich. Perhaps your characters are the staff that makes it all happen. More sample characters are provided to that end - or you can reverse things here too, and use DHI as the bad guys, an unethical crew who view dinosaurs and indeed the past itself as their plaything and don't care what gets damaged!

All that covered, we move on to Playing the Game. The chapter is divided into two, you only need read the first part if you haven't role-played before as it covers the real basics - useful to show to novice role-players even if it isn't Primeval that you intend to play, and probably aimed at fans of the TV show who have picked up this book without knowing what they are letting themselves into. The second part has more advanced ideas for those who are comfortable about role-playing, and relate more to this particular game (although they would still be useful to anyone).

Next is Action, which covers the game mechanics you'll use in actual play in great detail, building on notes about how you use Attributes and Skills that came earlier. For task resolution the basic role is Attribute + Skill +2d6, with the aim being to exceed a target set in order to succeed. Of course there's a whole more to it than that, but it's explained in detail with lots of examples, and if you keep the basics in mind the rest comes together quite swiftly during play... especially if you are familiar with the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game from the same publisher, as it is very similar in concept. It also includes a detailed analysis of the rules pertaining to combat - which includes 'social conflict' as well as brawling - and covers matters like injury, illness and healing. It ends with the use of Story Points, a mechanic designed to enable players to influence the course of events over and above their characters' actions.

The next section covers equipment, and it's a lot more than a kit list to choose from. There's stuff about how you obtain what you need, or improvise it, and even about how to handle whether or not someone has that all-important bit of gear with him when he needs it the most. But if you do want a kit list, that's there as well.

The next chapter is called Cover-ups. Part of the ARC's remit is to keep all the anomany and dinosaur stuff secret. This covers how to deal with all those well-meaning folks like police officers and ambulance crews who might have turned up when an incident is reported by a member of the public. The premise is that, whatever the nature of your game, the party will also want to keep this under wraps... and there's a page of dire warning about what could happen if word did get out. There are some NPCs presented in full here who can be a help or a hinderance in maintaining this secrecy.

And now on to some knowledge: Anomalies. What are they, what do they mean and how do they work anyway? Temporal issues, getting stuck and much, much more are covered here. After that, Deep Time looks at the prehistoric past exploring the different eras and what you might find there... or what might come from there, more to the point. Much of this is reminiscent of the recent Doctor Who RPG supplement The Silurian Age, unsurprising given that they share an author! This work came first, it just happens I read The Silurian Age last week. And then of course there are Monsters, the next chapter. There are descriptions of how they work, from a game mechanical standpoint, and plenty of sample ones to unleash, as well as resources for creating your own or putting game statistics to other creatures you want to include.

Finally, Gamemastering provides a wealth of information of use to whoever is the GM. A lot of it is of general application to GMing in general, and it makes a good primer whatever you intend to run, but naturally there is plenty specific to this game as well. There's a chapter on Adventures, showing how to create and run them to effect, with lots of ideas about individual adventures and plot arcs, even two-part or multi-part adventures in the style of a TV show, with opening adventures and finales. There's material on Conspiracies (including example ones) and how to incorporate them into your game if you so wish, and on The Future and how to handle that, too. And there's a sample adventure, Primeval Woodlands, showing how this all hangs together - and you can, of course, run it for your group particularly if they are involved with the ARC.

All good stuff... if you like the Primeval TV show, dinosaurs, time-travel and cracking good adventure, this game is worth checking out!


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

There's a lot of warfare going on in this game, it isn't called Qin: The Warring States for nothing! As the seven states squabble there is plenty of opportunity - perhaps the party wish to become mercenaries or they may see their attempts at diplomacy (or spying) fail, they may become involved in a border skirmish or a siege... whether it's a small scuffle or all-out war, this is a good time and place to display your martial prowess. This supplement gives you all the tools you need, from comprehensive descriptions of the forces maintained by each state to rules for fighting out any scale of brawl right up to epic battles, and several scenarios and ready-to-play characters to thrust your party headlong into the action. Or you may wish to play out battles to form a backdrop to the characters' exploits...

First up is The Armies of the Zhongguo. Drawing on the work of the real-world Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, here called Sun Zi, there is a discussion of how - and why - war is waged in the Zhongguo. War may be the last resort in dispute resolution, but for many it seems to be the first resort... so there is an impressive list of past battles to study and learn from, as well as plenty of 'modern' tactical thought. Fiction is interspersed with information about recruitment and training, the structure of the armed forces and even warlike artefacts that have power within the game. There are scenario seeds, new items of equipment (and new skills to use them), details of mercenary groups and weapons, tactics for the battlefield and even notes on military intelligence gathering and battlefield communication. There is a wealth of information to help you wage war, mystical China style.

Next is The Armies of the Warring States, which takes a detailed look at military provision in each of the seven states. Naturally, some are more warlike than others, but all need to be prepared to defend themselves at least. There's a wealth of detail here that can be used as background if one of your characters has seen service, or if the party interacts with the military somewhere; or if you are so inclined, to provide information for more wargame style combat. Individual commanders and other notables are presented with complete stat blocks, so they can take their place amongst your NPCs as required. Each state has its own style, quite distinctive in composition of their forces and in the way they are deployed, which makes for interesting reading. And if you wish to stray beyond the borders, there are notes - less detailed but of use nonetheless - about the armed forces of nearby lands.

Then Battles in the Warring States presents a mass combat system for when you want to stage a really big war. It is simple and flexible, designed to weave around your role-play rather than serve as a full-blown skirmish wargame, with the aim of allowing you to determine the outcome of any battle that may take place. The party may see a combat, participate in it or perhaps even rise to become Generals and lead it, and this system provides a non-arbitrary way of resolving it. It begins with each commander issuing orders and making dispositions for his troops and then making a Battle Test which determines which side has the advantage. Then it operates with a series of turns in which orders are given and acted upon, and allows for the intervention of Heroes (i.e. the party, should they be actively involved). It is reasonably straightforward and logical and works best when a player controls each army - or if the party controls one army and the GM the other. Handled well, it provides an exciting backdrop to character actions.

Finally, Running Military Battles provides advice on how to incorporate warfare into your game with lots of suggestions as to how to get the party involved, and how to run campaigns (in the military rather than the role-playing sense) to effect. This ends with two complete scenarios - A Conspiracy in the Desert and The Battle of the Reeds and Willows - which use the mass combat system and place the party in command of a small force. They are both exciting and add a new dimension to the steady fare of adventure.

For many, this adds the exciting new dimension of larger-scale warfare to the game, yet handles it in such a way that it supports and enhances character-based role-play rather than swamping it. For others, who prefer battles to stay in the background, the mass combat system will be overkill: but even they might find the other information herein of use.


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

This is possibly one of if not the most solid high-quality Game Master screen I possess. It's solid enough to keep out hordes of angry players, should you upset them... and certainly durable enough to survive years of play.

The player-facing side has a wonderfully-atmospheric painting of a mountainous scene with an exotic yet natural stone arch rising out of the vegetation. It's not done in a classical Chinese style, but it does conjure up the atmosphere well. In the foreground two heroes do battle, one leaping through the air with a polearm, the other awaiting him with a sword.

On the Game Master's side, the screen is jam-packed with game mechanical information: success thresholds and difficulties, actions, examples of continuous tests, opposition test results, shields, armour, ranged combat weapons, combat adjustments, damage calculations, melee weapons, first aid, long-term injuries, equipment and service costs, speed adjustments, transport and distance calculations, and weights and measures. It helps you keep play flowing without having to pause to look stuff up - it even tells you the average cost of being entertained by a lady of negotiable affection, should a character feeel the need...

An extremely useful screen no Qin GM should be without - even one like me who runs more games online than at a tabletop!


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