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Megan Robertson's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 5,196 posts (5,493 including aliases). 442 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 2 aliases.



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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This book opens by introducing the Firefly TV show, and does so well even if you have watched it before (likely you have if you are interested in a game based on that show... although the Leverage game from the same company actually started me watching that show, but I digress). This overview is linked neatly into what the game's about: you will form a crew similar to the Serenity one (if you are confused, Firefly is the name of the show, this game and the class of ship they went around in; Serenity is the name of the ship, the movie spin-off from the TV show and a previous RPG...), and have adventures similar to the ones in the show. Indeed, if you want you can play the characters from the show. The adventures will be new, though. It would be rather dull to play out ones you've already seen on TV! This opening section finishes with there's some background on the place you'll be adventuring in, the 'Verse, and basic notes on what you need to play.

The next chapter is an episode guide of all fourteen episodes of the show that were broadcast. Naturally it's a bit more than that, with notes on how things work in the game - e.g. what dice would be rolled by a given character to perform some stunt that he did in the show - ideas for adventures spinning off from what's already happened, stat blocks for people who feature and more. Weapons and items, for example, are both described and given their game statistics, should you want to use them yourself. It's all lavishly illustrated with screenshots - alas uncaptioned. Each episode ends with several full-blown adventure outlines you could use, and there's plenty and enough detail there that you could throw the episode itself at your characters and see if they can do any better than the originals!

This is followed by Find A Crew, a chapter that explains all you need to know to create your own character. It also has full work-ups in game terms of all the show's characters if you'd rather play them and a set of archetypes that provide a half-way house, most of the hard work has been done for you and all you need to do is personalise them for yourself. If you have Serenity Crew, you'll already have the show characters and archetypes, but here you also get to find out how to create a character from scratch, if that's your preference.

Next comes Find A Ship, which provides a similar service for working out the details of the ship that will be your characters' home, transportation and business. There's even a handy technobabble chart for those who want to sound like they know what's happening in Engineering! There's plenty of material here for you to design a ship from scratch as well as a range of ideas about all the other ships that are out there in the black... not to mention other modes of transportation that you'll find when you land as well.

Ship and crew sorted, all that remains is to Find A Job: and the chapter of the same name starts with the basics for novice role-players, explains how the game is played and how the rules work, and ends with more customisation, how to create your own options and how characters advance once they've been played a bit. This continues with the next chapter, Keep Flyin', which is aimed at whoever wants to be the Game Master (GM). This looks at the rules from the GM's point of view before delving into the running of adventures, how to keep the excitement high and the pressure on, and how to create and run the myriad NPCs needed - for Firefly is, above all, a game in which interactions with other people is central.

The penultimate chapter, Into the Black, looks further into that black art, game mastering, showing you how to use those gamemaster characters to best effect, create the atmosphere and the surroundings and bring it all to life. If it all sounds a bit hard at first, everything soon becomes plain - it's a good solid overview of the game master's art. These skills learned it is time to put them into practice with a complete ready-made scenario to run: What's Yours Is Mine. In this, the party's help is enlisted by someone wrongfully gaoled for murder who wants to get their company back from the individual who framed them... well, you would, wouldn't you.

There's an Appendix jam-packed with useful bits and bobs, including enough Chinese to sound authentic (but perhaps best not practiced on the local Chinese takeaway!), schematics for a Firefly-class ship, system maps and blank sheets for both characters and ships.

Overall, it's a fine introduction to the game - go enjoy yourself out in the black!


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This is a resource for a Firefly RPG Game Master (GM), whose role is of course to ensure that thing's don't go smooth for the characters... er, that they may live in interesting times. After all, who wants a game where all plans execute as intended and the bad guys never show up? Keep that for real life...

The Introduction lays this all out, in the rather slangy approach that is standard for Firefly resources. Whilst the book is mainly intended for GMs, there is material that players can use, however - like new distinctions, signature assets and ships. You may prefer, however, to introduce these in a controlled manner rather than letting them loose in these pages, particularly if you intend on using the army of antagonists or the plot suggestions to be found here.

Antagonists are not necessarily villians. They're just people whose interests or inclinations run contrary to those of the characters and so can be relied upon to object to or counter whatever they are trying to do... or whose own schemes will impact in a negative way on them. Some are out-and-out bad guys, but even villains don't necessarily see themselves as evil: they may have a quite reasonable (to themselves, at least) rationale for whatever they are doing.

The bulk of this book, then, is a collection of antagonists who can be relied upon to ensure things don't go smoothly for your characters. They are divided into various categories, so you can pick ones appropriate to what you have in mind... and of course, reading through all the details presented sparks ideas for stories if you haven't a plan in mind already. Spies and crime bosses, rival crews and gangs, and assorted other potential opponents are to be found here.

The first lot - the spies and crime bosses - are all individuals although most command a fair few minions to do their bidding. There are notes on what makes a good - great, even - crime boss, which you can apply to individuals of your own design as well as appreciate in these ones. Each one comes with detailed background information and some atmospheric illustrations - not just them but things like appropriate advertisments or scenes - as well as full stat blocks. Notes include typical locations and details of their followers, but the main focus is on the individual in charge. If you are wondering about the spies... well, strip away the followers, tone down their activities a bit and any one of these people could make a career out of espionage, if that suits your plans better. The individual details are followed by some appropriate signature assets. Some might be appropriate for your characters... or they may, ahem, liberate them from a passing crime boss in the course of an adventure. The chapter rounds out with some plot seeds that would work well with these antagonists.

Then come the rival crews and gangs. After all, it is extremely unlikely that the characters are the only bunch of somewhat questionable types crusing around the 'Verse in a ship looking to make a score. There's bound to be other groups with the same idea in mind. Some may be intrinsicly similar to your crew, with enough differences to make them interesting and challenging - their cortex hacker maybe enjoys a good brawl whereas yours hides under a table when a fight breaks out, for example - others will be completely different with their own motivations. Ideas for how to present them in interesting ways are provided before descriptions of several groups are provided, with full stats for the leader and summaries of everyone else in the crew or gang, along with copious background notes replete with suggestions as to how to incorporate them into a good plot. Again, illustrations and notes bring them to life, adding atmosphere to the listings. The chapter ends with a neat system for coming up with a rival crew on the fly (which will work just as well if you are short a few ideas but know you want a rival crew...) and a selection of plot outlines to embroil them in.

The final collection of antagonists are quite strange - things that might be completely unexpected. There are some guidance notes on setting up the right circumstances to introduce them and what makes them tick, too, which empower you to weave them seamlessly into whatever's going on. And they are weird indeed - a rogue AI, perhaps, which has got religion or maybe someone who is a nice person who just happens to be (unbeknownst to themselves) a programmed assassin... or even someone - something? - that may be a ghost or is it merely an urban legend that the unscrupulous are capitalising on? More new signature assests and a whole bunch of stuff about the Reavers and how to bring them into your game with the right amount of terror and confusion that they should generate.

The next chapter presents a veritable fleet of enemy boats. A memorable enemy has to have a ship to match, after all. Several are described in detail all ready for the using (or the stealing if your crew is anything like mine...) and there's also a complete system for designing your own ships, based around devising new signature assets and new classes of vessel.

This is followed by a chapter called Scheming and Narratin' - this is jam-packed full of hints and tips on game-mastering and in particular how to give your antagonists every bit as much life, individuality and interest as your players lavish on their characters. There's all sorts of stuff here including combat, location and much, much more... material that could easily be retooled for any game and so is well worth reading whatever ruleset and genre you run games for. Spend a lot of time reading and rereading this chapter, it will reward you amply.

Finally there are two complete adventures ready to run - Merciless and Thieves in Heaven. The first involves a heist in a museum and the second a collective of shipyard dogs who have fallen on hard times and are coming down with a mysterious illness to boot. Of course, there's plenty more to each of them and they should prove interesting entertainment for you and your group.

If you are serious about GMing Firefly, this book should be snuggled up next to your copy of the core rulebook.


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This supplement deals with World War 2 on the Eastern Front, that is, the conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union. As the introduction points out, it is less familiar in the west than events in Europe or other parts of the world, due in part to the long Cold War that followed the ending of overt hostilities with former allies becoming enemies eyeing one another balefully through the Iron Curtain.

Chapter 1: Welcome to the Eastern Front sets the scene with a brief introduction to the Achthung! Cthulhu setting, mention of the dual-statted nature of this work with game mechanics provided for both the Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds rulesets and a chronology of events running from 1831 (when the founder of the cult Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, was born) right through to May 1945, taking in revolution and developments in occultism right along with mainstream history. Plenty of neat little details about notable individuals too.

Next, Chapter 2: Tundra, Taigia and Steppe looks at the dark nature of the conflict, two totalitarian states clashing leaves little room for individual opinion and intolerance and brutality are the order of the day. This section concentrates on Russia, explaining the history and the nature of daily life during the war years. There are notes on major cities, rationing and many other things that affect the population - and anyone else roaming around, of course. What transpired as the Germans advanced is also covered, as well as the Baltic States, Poland and Yugoslavia.

Then Chapter 3: The Soviet War Machine looks at the forces arrayed against the Germans, including organisation and their unique mindset - part based on the Russian character and part imposed by the Communist regime. This is followed by Chapter 5: Heroes of the Soviet Union - nothing to do with the decoration of the same name, this tells you how to generate Russian characters under both rulesets covered, and includes new occupations including vor (Russian organised crime) and military ones such as the cavalry (the Russians continued to use the horse in battle until 1943!). If you are interested in getting your character a medal or two there's a very simplistic chart, it is worth finding out more and relating awards to exploits that you have in your backstory or perform during play!

Characters in order, Chapter 6: Weapons and Gear provides the information that you need to kit him out. (Or her, unlike everyone else, the Russians allowed women to enlist in every aspect of the military.) There is also a new weapon quality: Unreliable, to reflect the often poor quality and dodgy supply chain with which Russian troops had to contend... it would be later on that Mikhail Kalasnikov came up with the simple and durable rifle bearing his name! Chapter 6: Across Land and Sky discusses transportation issues and presents a range of Russian vehicles, including tanks (LOTS of tanks!) and aircraft.

Next, Chapter 7: The Weird and Wonderful turns attention to matters occult, including an establishment by the name of the Brain Institute who, amongst other things, make use of Mi-Go technology in their experiments. There's a heady mix of other organisations, cults, individuals and expeditions to get your teeth into as well, ending with a gazetteer of occult activity - plenty to spawn ideas for adventure here. Chapter 8: Hidden and Forgotten Knowledge follows, mixing genuine Russian occultism with Mythos lore seamlessly.

These are followed by Chapter 9: Beasts and Behemoths - an array of monsters - and Chapter 10: Cogs in the Machine, which contains several notable historical figures and a regular army of NPCs for you to make use of, all dual-statted of course. Finally (just in case all that has gone before hasn't given you enough ideas) Chapter 11 provides some adventure seeds and Chapter 12 presents source material that can help you develop atmosphere as well as provide even more ideas.

An enlightening book that provides plenty of resources if you wish to take your campaign into the frozen lands of Mother Russia!


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

In many ways, North Africa seems tailor-made for the concept of mixing World War 2 action with the Cthulhu Mythos... after all, it's got Egypt in it! But as this book reveals there is a lot more to be found than the secrets of ancient Egypt, although they do come in handy in the fight against the Things That Should Not Be.

After an introduction that tells of the wartime exploits of the lead author's father (somewhat similar to tales told by my dad!), Chapter 1: Welcome to North Africa sets the scene and provides a time-line from 1869 (the opening of the Suez Canal) right up to 1945, although as far as actual combat is concerned, things went quiet after the middle of 1943. There's still plenty of scope for espionage, archaeological investigations and more, however.

Chaptet 2: A Sea of Sand and Stone then talks about the desert and more, starting with a gazetteer of the countries along the Mediterranean coast from Egypt in the east, including notes on those all-important places, oases. Water is vital when travelling in these parts, of course. The notes provide brief yet vivid pen-sketches of many places most have heard of in passing, such as El Alamein or Tangiers. This is followed by a discussion on the war in East Africa, down the east coast of the continent and involving countries such as Sudan, Somaliland and Kenya; many of which were drawn into the conflict due to being colonies of various European powers. The chapter ends with a detailed look at Cairo, the capital of Egypt and seat of much intrigue although untouched by actual combat. It's a melting pot of a city and an excellent setting for many an adventure.

Next, Chapter 3: Secrets and Lies discusses the tremendous amount of espionage and other secret operations that were rife in the region during the war. Plenty of scope here for plots, be it the activities of the British Special Operations Executive (and you thought they spent their time parachuting into France, didn't you? Nope, they spread their net far and wide...) or even the antics of the world's press, sniffing out stories despite censorship and military needs for secrecy. The Americans and the Germans were not far behind with their own clandestine affairs.

Then Chapter 4: The Shifting Sands of War provides game mechanical resources for creating and playing area-appropriate Investigators, complete with both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds rules. Fancy being an archaeologist or even a Bedouin tribesman? Or perhaps the Kepi Blanc as a member of the French Foreign Legion is more your style? Details of how to set up characters in these and other suitable occupations are provided. Naturally the Long Range Desert Group and the newly-fledged SAS are there too; and there is scope to play Australians, South Africans and New Zelanders as well.

Characters generated, you will need some equipment and Chapter 5: Coffee Pots and Jerry Cans should meet your needs. The uniforms worn by various armies and specialist groups is covered with special note to footwear (a soldier's best friends are his feet and they need to be taken care of!)... whilst apparently every Italian soldier has his own personal expresso coffee pot. There is an array of weapons and some rather more esoteric items as well.

Next Chapter 6: Ships of the Desert covers the whole range of issues about travelling in the desert, it's not only about camels (although my favourite riding animal is included, of course). Here we read about getting to North Africa in the first place, and getting around by various vehicles on land and in the air, not to mention the perils of navigation when landmarks are few and far between. Once you have your means of transportation the next chapter (Chapter 7: Just Deserts) covers survival and the dangers that the environment poses to the unwary and unprepared.

Chapter 8: A Most Dangerous Game then explores the occult forces at play in the region and with ancient Egypt there's plenty to be had! The Germans have been investigating here since the mid-1930s under the auspices of the Ahnenerbe and more conventional archaeologists have found more than they bargained for as well. Here is told the origins of the Necronomicon, possibly the most infamous text in Mythos lore. Locations for investigations abound, if you can but hang on to your sanity long enough to explore them. There are mysterious societies and cults to join, infiltrate or combat, and plenty of mysterious and powerful people to provide opposition and others who may prove to be friends or allies. This chapter is definitely one for the GM or Keeper alone!

Chapter 9: Of Magic and Magicians goes further into the murky depths, detailing arcane treasures and strange magical knowledge that go only to fuel the region's reputation as an exotic, romantic and mysterious place. There are several tomes that belong in very secure libraries and a handful of new spells to cast... if you dare.

The next two chapters - Chapter 10: Beasts, Real and Imaginary and Chapter 11: Friend and Foe - provide a host of creatures and people to interact with and to fight against, including known personalities of the time as well as generic examples. Finally, there are adventure seeds and suggestions for sources of inspiration in the final two chapters to set you up for some memorable adventures, campaigning in North Africa.

Everything is presented in the by-now familiar 'bunch of papers' style, with atmospheric pictures, scribbled notes and sidebars with snippets of information, all skilfully blending history, Mythos and more. Where's my camel?


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This supplement equips you to take your Achtung! Cthulhu adventures across the world to the Pacific Theatre, where ferocious battles in the Pacific islands and Southern Asia and the perils of jungle warfare are mixed with the emergence of ancient evils. Chapter 1: Welcome to the Pacific sets the ball rolling by setting the scene with a time-line of events pertinent to the Far East from 1854 right through to the events of the Second World War. Mostly historical, it is enlivened by snippets of information - often presented in the form of 'notes' apparently pinned to the page - that add colour and suggest ideas as wekk as adding further material about people and events of the times. It ends in April 1945, with a note that if you run the forthcoming Achtung! Cthulhu: Assault on the Mountains of Madness campaign, events in Europe from 1944 on are likely to be world-changing enough to disrupt matters here in the Pacific.

Chapter 2: The Land of the Rising Sun gives an introduction to Japan, a mysterious land that until the 1830s had deliberately isolated itself from the rest of the world. Since the succession of a new emperor, rapid changes turned the nation from feudalism and mediaeval standards of living to a modern technological country ready to take its place on the world stage. This is coupled with an aggressive military stance directed against China and Russia... and the development of many secret societies whose tentacles reach out through every part of Japanese society. This sets the background against which Japan enters the Second World War by attacking Pearl Harbour in December 1941, dragging the United States into the conflict.

Next, Chapter 3: The Balance of Power looks at the state of affairs in the Pacific region during the run up to World War Two, as well as giving a brief overview of how events unfold as time progresses. It's to be noted that few people had much idea of the situation there unless they have some connection with the area, this applies to Investigator characters as much as anyone else. Apart from China, Thailand and Japan, much of the region is under colonial control from elsewhere - and even a fair bit of China's territory is under Japanese control.

This is followed by Chapter 4: In Captivity, which expands on earlier references to the cruelty of the Japanese to those they invade as well as to prisoners of war. Although game mechanics are provided, it is probably best that characters do not find themselves in captivity.

Next comes Chapter 5: New Beginnings. This provides rules for generating characters who come from the Pacific region as well as providing appropriate new career paths and other material, with mechanics for both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds. There are also additional military careers and training packages relevant to this theatre of war. Characters sorted, Chapter 6: The Whole Kit and Caboodle provides all the weapons and equipment that they could dream of, with Japanese weaponry included as well.

Chapter 7: The Best Laid Plans discusses the challenges of conducting combat operations in the Pacific region. This includes notes on Japanese combat doctrine and methods as well as the perils of jungle warfare... and as if that wasn't enough, Chapter 8: Exotic Beasts and Vile Beings provides plenty of wildlife and more hostile adversaries with plenty of detail of Chtulhu Mythos presence in the area. Piling more on, Chapter 9: Artefacts, Spells and Tomes delivers information on notable items and books that might be encoungtered and a few new spells to cast.

Then Chapter 10: The Many Faces of War provides a raft of NPCs from famous people to generic soldiers and civilians that the characters might encounter in the course of their adventures. Chapter 11: Adventure Seeds provides several ideas for plots to be run in the Pacific region, although they are just brief outlines and will require work before they can be played through. Finally, Chapter 12: Suggested Resources provides reference to books, films and other materials that can set the scene, provide further information or just get you into the right mood for a Pacific campaign.

Overall, this is a comprehensive introduction to a lesser-known aspect of the Second World War with sufficient Mythos involvement to keep any investigator intrigued.


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