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Megan Robertson's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 5,517 posts (5,814 including aliases). 514 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 2 aliases.



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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

Designed as a supplement to Dark Worlds and Golden Hells, the planar sourcebook for the Midgard campaign setting, the Introduction notes that most of the material herein just didn't fit into it or, in one case, was thought maybe a bit too dark for the main book. So if you fancy sending your party to explore the wonders and wierdnesses of the planes and want even more to put before them, jump right in.

It opens with that problematic item (apparently one individual disliked it so much that they dropped out of the project altogether!), which is a new 'other location', a plane of sheer horror which it is likely the party will end up in by accident as you cannot really imagine anyone wanting to go there. Called Mora, it is evil-aligned and takes the form of a rocky island in a dark sea. It is filled with female spirits, porportedly neglectful mothers, and riven with fear. Brooding lonliness and sheer panic await those who venture here, a madness that traps wanderers and is hard to escape. Here too, stolen children are auctioned off by bogeymen. It's a vivid reminder that there's a lot of nasty stuff out there... whether you want it in your game is up to you, but it should only be used with care and full knowledge of your players. Someone with childhood trauma in their past might find this too challenging for something that is, after all, supposed to be fun.

There's a brief piece of fiction associated with the Rusty Gears locale described in Dark Worlds and Golden Hells, then it's on to a collection of planar traps, hazards and afflictions that you can place as appropriate when your party is wandering the planes. Perhaps you want to confuse with some non-Euclidean angles, strange shapes your eye slithers off as your brain fails to understand what's going on; or maybe pass around some dead stone, rock from which the very essence of being a stone has leached away. Its very touch is said to make a dwarf cry. There are strange diseases and poisons here, and if you don't find the planes wierd enough, mind-bending drugs.

Then there are magical and wondrous items - some cursed, of course. One catches my eye (because I'm going to be marking some exam papers after my lunch break): a bottled memory. I wonder if any of the students have remembered what they needed to know? They can be useful, entertaining or informative... and then there's faerie food. Many will know it's not a good idea to eat it, but here are the relevant game mechanics to deal with those who do.

Finally there's a Bestiary (which includes a template for creating an Imaginary Friend) and some NPCs.

If you already have Dark Worlds and Golden Hells this could prove a useful adjunct but if you don't it makes far less sense. I don't think I want to actually visit Mora, but it could spawn a few good legends and tales to scare any would-be planar travellers: something that lurks in the shadows rather than occupies centre-stage. The items and traps and other perils are particularly good, they are the real reason to add this book to your library.


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

So you have grown weary of trampling around your campaign world (be it a published one or one of your own invention) and would like to take the party somewhere really different? Then perhaps a jaunt into another plane of existence might be in order...

Chapter 1: Lore of the Planes gets straight down to business, starting with philosophical musings about what the planes actually are (as much as you can imagine then a whole lot more, apparently!). To make it a bit more comprehensible, think of them as tangible representations of concepts and ideas. The main ones are based on the alignments - things like Good and Evil, Law and Chaos - but you might find ones for Art or Music, Beauty or Trade... only they come and go as people find different ideas of importance. You also find the souls of those who have finished their mortal existence here, perhaps making their way to the Underworld or onwards to some final destination with a few devout ones being gathered in by the deity they venerated. And then there are the denizens of the planes themselves. Independent living beings who find their homes in these strange places. Perhaps this is where the Gods are to be found, complete with the minions and companions that their faith holds that they should have. Living vessels for the power of an idea. I don't profess to understand, there again if I did maybe I'd be a deity too!

Next, Chapter 2: Cosmology tries to explain what is contained in a sample cosmology, the Midgard one. Use it as is (even if you don't run your games in Midgard), adapt it or use it as a template and guide as you devise your own. The whole book is designed as a 'plug and play' manual, take the bits you want, add in your own ideas and come up with a set of planes like no other - it's probably as close to being a god as any of us will get! Like any religion, it starts "In the beginning..." How did the universe in which your campaign is run come into existence in the first place? And who found out and started to create legends about it (which may or may not be accurate, of course)? Maybe different groups have different explanations for how everything came to be - these lead to contention, be it academic debate or all-out war. Examples from Migard are given. Was order given to chaos, or the other way around? It's never static, that's for sure, and there is always contention between various aspects of the planes themselves, never mind mortal squabbling below. The Material Plane, the place where your campaign world exists, is at the middle. Denizens of myriad planes squabble over it because they all draw their power from the very souls of those who live there... and often meddle through dreams and visions or outright intervention in what is going on there, too.

And then you - or at least the party - think of going there. Most use magical means (a spell or portal) but some slip through the cracks into some kind of 'sea of possibilities' - maybe it presents itself as a corridor with lots of doors, or it might be something far more exotic. Through those doors (or via whatever metaphor you pick) are all these planes... and each plane has its own characteristics and nature. A selection of the Midgard planes are described here, for inspiration or use as you please. There are loads of ideas here, and many useful sidebars which show you how to use these traits and characteristics to affect game mechanics. In a Good-aligned plane, perhaps 'evil' magic doesn't work, at least, nothing more than a nasty smell or a bit of smoke results from your casting, for example. Or perhaps any spell-casting results in a bright flash of light in addition to the intended effects.

If that wasn't enough, Chapter 3: Other Locations looks at what else is out there besides the planes. The cracks between them, if you will. The places you might end up if you botch that planar travel spell or open the wrong door. Called Between, this unspace has a whole geography and inhabitants of its own and, trust me, you don't want to go there. Neither will your characters, if they know about it. They might be more comfortable in another unspace called The Casino, but beware: it's generally more than mere money that rides on the games played here. You can play - or bet on - just about anything conceivable here, and there's even a 'game development' complex where games from all over the known universes and beyond are tested and honed to a high level. There are other locations as well, if these two do not take your fancy: the Evermaw, the Marketplace, the Plane of Spears, and more. The Marketplace is an intersection of all the markets that ever there were, a place when literally anything is available - for a price. A multitude of adventures await in all these places, and if reading about them doesn't give you enough ideas, plenty of suggestions for how to use them in your game are sprinkled throughout.

Next is Chapter 4: Heroes of the Planes. So far, we have heard about assorted denizens of every plane discussed, but here you get the low-down on new races native to the planes along with new feats, traits, incantations and spells that may be learned here, may be useful here... or may be used against unwary visitors. Then on to the real heart of the matter with Chapter 5: Gamemastering Infinity. After reading thus far, you may be thinking that you have bitten off more than you can chew. Don't worry, there's plenty of helpful advice here. Start small. Add the odd twist to an otherwise-normal adventure. Remember that the planes never stay the same. Then there's an introduction to planar roads, the routes seasoned planes-wanderers use to get from one place to another. Even seasoned travellers find them tricky to navigate and often end up someplace other than they intended. Here also are the strange economics of the planes, the commodities valued here are different from the gold pieces that are useful back home on the mortal plane. This chapter ends with some magical items unique to the planes, and it is followed by the last chapter, Chapter 6: Bestiary. As you can imagine, some mighty strange beasties are to be found here.

This is a book of ideas, of inspiration and of concepts. Even if you stick to the exemplars pulled from the multiverse around Midgard, there is still much to be done before you can actually run much in the way of planar adventures... but this is a starting point to help you think about what you want and how to make it happen. It digs at the fundamental underpinnings of what makes a fantasy campaign world work, and what may lie beyond... but may be a bit philosophical for some tastes. An interesting read, nevertheless.


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

The Midgard Bestiary is a monster compilation with a difference. Born of Open Design's organic development process, it draws upon monsters featured in Kobold Quarterly, the website and already-published materials as well as the traditional folklore that powers much of their output. Keynotes are that monsters ought to be scary and have the potential to be used in unorthodox ways to keep players guessing and on the edge of their seats. There's an overtone of deep-rooted horror that permiates much of the Open Design (now Kobold Press) output, the sort of horror that stems from tales told and retold.

Each of the 89 monsters gets the same treatment: brief 'this is what you see' description, a full stat-block, illustration and full descriptive and ecological notes that supply the GM with all the information he needs to locate and run that monster as an integral part of the campaign world, not just something to fight (although most of them will put up a good fight when it's a brawl you are after!). Who could not delight in the bagiennik, an often peaceful creature with a talent for healing which goes absolutely mad with fury if you interrupt it when it's taking one of its frequent and languorous baths... well, I don't like being disturbed when bathing either!

Even reading some of the entries can send shudders down your spine... like the broodkin, really nasty constructs that are a sort of malignant baby or the beautiful but deadly cavelight moss that delights in devouring passing adventurers. Twisted birds, a host of clockwork creatures, and the carrion-eating death butterfly swarm lie in wait, and the twisted evil of a derro fetal savant is just sick. I think I prefer the ink devil, these prefer chatting, whining, and pleading to any form of combat, being known cowards - and fun to role-play as well.

Twisted, strange, unpredictable, the stuff of the sort of legends you tell around a camp fire late at night... just don't get bitten by a doppelrat! Whether your game is set in Midgard or in your own campaign world, when you want to scare the party as well as provide them with opposition, this is an excellent collection to browse through. To aid in selection, appendices list them by type, CR, terrain and role, while there are also notes on re-skinned monsters (ways to create quick variant critters) and a set of location-based encounter tables if you need a quick random monster. Definitely worth adding to your monster collection - you can never have too many!


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

This work is a collection of additional enhancements for those using Streets of Zobeck (or indeed the Zobeck Gazetteer) in their campaign. It opens with a short scenario 'Nothing to Declare' which should be run the first time that the party arrives in the Free City of Zobek, an adventure that sets the scene and flavour of the place ready for whatever you have planned for later. It's a neat introduction to a place which runs on favours and reeks of corruption, and provides a lead-in to whichever of the adventures from Streets of Zobeck you intend to run.

This escapade is followed by a selection of rules material, each keyed to one of the Streets of Zobeck adventures but of potential use in their own right whether or not you are going to run the adventure in question. Clerics may appreciate the Lust domain - whichever deity they worship does NOT require celibacy of devotees! There are creatures, templates, the odd encounter... plenty to spice up whatever adventure you are running in Zobeck or, for that matter, any equivalent city. Or perhaps you'd like to introduce Goldscale the kobold and his dire weasel mount...

There are other NPCs too, new feats (including some dirty fighting moves!) and traits, magic and mundane items that might come in handy, and more. There's a rather odd incantation called the Incantation of Memories Lost which quite frankly baffles me. It's not clear what the purpose is, the benefit of casting it. Better are some tables for generation the sort of odds and ends the party may find in the pockets of the next body they find in the gutter. If it's fine dining you are after, the Rampant Roach (a kobold-run resturant) is best avoided, but there's a description and floor-plan for those unwise enough to go in. Ulmar's Rare Books may be worth a visit, and there are adventure ideas both for these places and for some of those mentioned in other Zobeck books. Finally if the party finds the city confusing, they might want to engage the services of another kobold called Blackeye who has a carriage for hire, taxi-style. He makes a good ally - provided you are happy with the army of cousins he recommends and the never-ending chatter about Zobeck and its inhabitants.

Overall, a nice addition to the other two Zobeck books, but of less use if you are not using them.


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If you like adventures grim and gritty, enjoy the odd heist, and are not too particular as to which side of the law your characters might be on, this collection of adventures set in the Free City of Zobeck may be just up your street. Set in the underbelly of the city, the characters will need to be cunning, tricky, ruthless and smart to survive... but if they do, who knows, they may end up rich!

This is more than a collection of adventures, however. It starts with some beautifully-detailed and colourful characters and fascinating locations for use both in these adventures and ones of your own. Each NPC comes with notes on their motivations and goals, their long-term activities, and on 'schemes and plots' - ideas for how they might be incorporated into or even spawn an adventure here and now. The location entries also have adventure ideas as well as floorplans and notes on the folk that you might find hanging around. Standout here is the Silk Scabbard, a fight club/brothel... the entry even has suggestions for the party taking over and running it. There's also a collection of feats, traits, spells and gear that might come in handy for adventurers in Zobeck or indeed those who enjoy city adventuring in general.

Then we get to the adventures themselves, a full seven of them, catering to characters of levels 1 to 10. Run them as a loose sequence, pick an appropriate one when the party comes to town, mix in your own adventures in Zobeck or the surrounding area, the choice is yours. The characters will be caught up in the dark underbelly of Zobeck from the outset, with memorable encounters with people who may prove a help or a hindrance in the future (assuming they survive the encounter, that is). It's a fascinating exercise in how to embed adventures in the very fabric of the setting, creating an harmonious whole that gives the impression of a city buzzing with life never mind what the party gets up to, yet enabling them to become movers and shakers in their own right if that's what they desire.

Each adventure stands on its own as an exciting series of events, taking the party around the city as they seek to complete a mission or find something out. The first is 'Everyone Lies' by Ben McFarland, which sets the characters to look for a local thief's missing girlfriend. Naturally all is not as it seems and a massive web of deceit underlies this seemingly simple task... oh, and they are not the only people looking for the young lady in question... and this is the adventure for 1st-3rd level characters!

Next is 'Rust' by Richard Pett. This 4th-5th level adventure sees the party asked to deal with a plague of demented animated metallic creatures that prowl by night. Who made them, where, and why? Finding the answers may give clues as to why competing merchants are taking an interest. This is followed by an adventure from Christina Stiles called 'The Fish and the Rose', billed as suitable for 5th-level characters. The title is the name of a painting, coveted by many but one thinks she knows where it is - and is willing to hire the party to acquire it on her behalf... an ideal adventure for those who dream of pulling off an epic heist. Then comes 'The First Lab', written by Mike Franke, which is for 7th-level adventurers and delves into the very origins of the gearforged as they are hired to retrieve a diary stolen from a senior professor at the Arcane Collegium.

Matthew Stinson is author of the next adventure called 'Rebuilding a Good Man' and appropriate for 9th-level characters. Someone has acquired (read: stolen) a gearforged body for rather dubious purposes, but perhaps if it was stolen back it could be put to better use... there's an exercise in morality as well as one for the swordarm here. Next, Mike Franke is back with 'Ripper' for a 10th-level party who rapidly get embroiled in the search for a serial killer whether they are interested or not. Finally, there's 'Flesh Fails' from Christina Stiles. Also for 10th-level characters, well it's billed as 9th-11th actually, it involves dark goings-on at the Arcane Collegium and murky dealings amongst the political elite of the city. Successful characters could even use this adventure, if concluded successfully, as a stepping-stone to political power for themselves.

If the Free City of Zobeck features in your game, this book is well worth a look... and if you don't, reading it will make you want to run a campaign set in and around Zobeck forthwith.


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