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Pathfinder Player Companion: Varisia, Birthplace of Legends (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Excellent BookNavior —
The Pathfinder Player Companion line of books has been a bit hit-and-miss at times. Some of the early entries (before Player was added to the line’s title) seemed uncertain whether they were intended for players or GMs, and almost all of them have been limited by a layout format that worked for some but not for others. I’ve liked many of the books in the line (Gnomes of Golarion is one of my personal favourites), but Varisia, Birthplace of Legends elevates it well beyond anything that has come before. It débuts a new format, one that is more flexible and better-suited to conveying the information the book needs to convey. It is a book that will be a must-have for any player (and GM) about to embark on a campaign set in Varisia or just creating a character who comes from Varisia.
You can read the rest of my review on my blog.
Superb Introductory SetNavior —
See my full review here.
I have to say, I think my old, beloved Red Box just got knocked out of its position as the best introductory rpg set. This is truly a beautiful product. It presents the Pathfinder rules in an easy-to-understand, streamlined manner. It makes use of lavish illustrations and diagrams to complement the instructions. It actually teaches players how to play and Game Masters how to GM.
The final evaluation of whether or not an introductory set works comes down to whether or not it can successfully teach someone who has no previous experience with role-playing games (particularly young players) how to play the game. For experienced role-players, it can be difficult to judge, as what seems simple to us might not be so simple to someone learning the game. I do know that during development, Paizo tested the set on teenagers who had no previous experience with RPGs, and that it tested very positively. Unfortunately, I don’t have any such person available to verify for myself. However, I can draw on my years as a teacher to say with quite a bit of confidence that this set will successfully teach the game. The box states that it is suitable for ages 13 and up, and this is definitely true. I suspect that even many 10- to 12-year-olds will also be able to follow the rulebooks and learn the game from them. Of course, only time will really tell for sure, but I suspect that the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game may find itself with many new players soon thanks to this excellent set.
A Great Resource!Navior —
See my full review here.
Aliens and Creatures is a supplement for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. It provides games statistics for a plethora of monsters and alien beings from the television show as well as an overview on how to create your own alien characters. In addition, there are a few short adventures, more story point tokens, and best of all, detailed creature cards for easy reference. It is invaluable to any Gamemaster running a game in the Doctor Who universe. Unfortunately, it’s out of print now, so you should grab one while you can since there are apparently no plans to reprint it at this time.
There are more than enough creatures in this book to keep Gamemasters busy for a long time, either through the use of these creatures or as examples to help GMs create their own unique monsters and aliens. The traits and abilities of each creature have clearly been chosen with care to represent their TV counterparts as closely and accurately as possible.
The most exciting part of the Aliens and Creatures boxed set is the inclusion of creature cards. Every alien and NPC, including all the variant forms, has its own 4” by 5” card. One side contains a name and picture, and the other side contains the creature’s game statistics. The main book contains a promise that future supplements that introduce new aliens will also have similar cards so that Gamemasters can have a comprehensive library of all creatures in one spot, and can easily select and remove only the cards needed for a particular game session.
Memorable and Flavourful SettingNavior —
See my full review here.
In Feast of Ravenmoor, the PCs are sent to the remote village of Ravenmoor to search for a missing tax collector. Once there, they get to attend the village’s monthly festival and experience the very strange customs of the locals. The adventure is rife with lots of role-playing opportunities. Indeed, depending how the PCs approach their mission, it’s possible to get through this adventure with very little combat at all. Although the story is set in Varisia, Ravenmoor’s remoteness and non-Varisian-like customs make it easy to transplant the adventure to other areas of Golarion or even to other campaign worlds if Game Masters desire. Overall, Feast of Ravenmoor is a straight-forward mystery adventure that should keep players entertained for several sessions.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #50: Night of Frozen Shadows (Jade Regent 2 of 6) (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Print Edition Unavailable
Good second part!Navior —
In Night of Frozen Shadows, the PCs travel to the city of Kalsgard in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings to find the legendary sword, Suishen, and then to find a guide across the Crown of the World to the far-off land of Minkai. The adventure is mostly event-based with a lot of role-playing opportunities, and ends with a dungeon crawl. It contains an interesting system for tracking the PCs’ “notoriety”, and from that, determining how and when their opponents react. It makes an excellent continuation of the adventure path, and only really suffers from having no explanation for the inaction of the party’s NPC allies.
Like all Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, Night of Frozen Shadows also contains several support articles, including a gazetteer of Kalsgard, the most prominent city in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings and the setting of the adventure. There is also the latest article on the deities of Golarion, this one focusing on Shelyn. I have always looked forward to these articles (there is one every three volumes, in the second and fifth instalment of each adventure path), as they give a detailed insight into the religions of the world and are always highly entertaining and informative to read. This one does not disappoint, as Shelyn is one of the more intriguing deities in the Golarion pantheon. Finally, there are the latest instalments of the “Pathfinder Journal” (I’ll wait until all six instalments are available before reviewing this story) and the “Bestiary”, containing several new viking-inspired and oriental monsters.
Overall, Night of Frozen Shadows is a worthy continuation of the Jade Regent adventure path. It is sure to provide players and Game Masters alike with many hours of fun and excitement.
An entertaining bookNavior —
Find my full review here.
I enjoyed Winter Witch quite a bit. If people were to ask me to give them a list a recommended books to read, Winter Witch would not likely be on it, as it’s hardly an example of great literature. However, if they were to ask me whether Winter Witch is worth reading, I would say yes, as it is thoroughly entertaining. It’s a bit slow early in the book (after an attention-grabbing prologue), but soon develops and gets moving. By the end of the book, it had become one of those books that I simply don’t want to put down because I need to know what happens next. The resolution is particularly elegant. It’s not what you’re expecting when the story starts, but it works because it’s true to the characters and doesn’t happen just because the plot says it should.
Winter Witch follows the story of two main characters. Ellasif is a shield maiden from a small village in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings near the border with Irrisen. Declan is a young Korvosan wizard, who really doesn’t want to be a wizard anymore, and would prefer to be a cartographer. These are the only two point-of-view characters, and the character whose perspective we get alternates with each chapter. Neither is a particularly complex character—Ellasif is a fairly typical Viking barbarian and Declan is a young man uncertain of his place in the world—but they are well-written and sympathetic. Their actions are always believable and not simply dictated by the necessity of plot. Elaine Cunningham has a talent for creating vivid characters without being overly wordy.
Excellent AdventureNavior —
See my full review at my blog here.
This adventure is light-hearted and contains a good mix of encounter styles. The setting is interesting and well-detailed and provides a great opportunity for players and Game Masters to get use out of the Harrow Deck published by Paizo (although owning a Harrow Deck is not required to run the adventure; a regular deck of cards can easily substitute for it).
The adventure has a wide variety of creatures and characters that the PCs encounter as they explore the Harrowed Realm, a world within a magical harrow deck called the Deck of Harrowed Tales. Many of them are unique fey creatures or variants of existing monsters from the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary. I particularly like that very few of the encounters assume combat as the default option when PCs deal with them. The PCs can generally make deals with most of the “Conspirators” (the most powerful beings of this world, who long ago conspired against the fortune-teller who created them), although many of these deals may require that the PCs agree to provide aid against, or outright challenge, other Conspirators. The adventure makes no assumptions as to whose side the PCs might join, thus allowing for all sorts of potential play experiences. Indeed, while there is a central storyline and plot to the adventure, it’s loose enough to allow events to unfold in virtually any order or manner (except the initial event that sends the PCs to this world). In this respect, it’s much more of a “sandbox” adventure. It sets the scene and environment, and then lets the PCs do what they will with it.
Harrow decks have been part of the Golarion setting since very early on. However, only a very few adventures have focused on them. In this adventure, each card from the Deck of Harrowed Tales has a specific effect on one person, place, thing, or event in the adventure. These effects vary from bonuses to skill checks or attack rolls to providing minor spell effects or inflicting penalties on the PCs’ opponents. Each effect is thematically linked to the card and each card is thematically linked to the person, place, thing, or event it affects. I am actually very impressed that Crystal Frasier was able to link all 54 cards of the harrow deck in this manner, given that there is very limited space in a 32-page adventure. Of course, this means that some encounters have more than one card that can affect them. This is a good thing for the PCs since they do not know ahead of time which cards will work (they have to figure it out for themselves based on what fits thematically) and they can only use each card once. If they use a card that doesn’t fit with a given encounter, then they are out of luck with that card. They cannot used it again. Having multiple cards affect a given encounter allows for the PCs to make a mistake or two and still have a chance to gain a benefit.
Overall, The Harrowing is an excellent adventure, which will provide groups with many fun and light-hearted sessions.
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Magic (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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An Indispensible Guide to Golarion MagicNavior —
See my full review here.
Inner Sea Magic takes an in-depth look at how magic is used in the Inner Sea Region of Golarion and, in turn, a bit of how that magic affects the setting. Unlike many other Campaign Setting products, Inner Sea Magic has a quite large amount of “crunch”, i.e. game mechanics information such as new rules systems, archetypes, spells, etc., instead of “fluff”, which is story and descriptive material. This makes it a product more in the style of a book like Ultimate Magic than most books in this line. However, whereas Ultimate Magic is a generic look at magic in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Inner Sea Magic looks at magic with a very Golarion-specific spin.
In general, I really like that most Campaign Setting books are fluff-heavy, as that’s the kind of thing I most enjoy reading when learning about a game world. There’s enough crunch in the generic books that, unless it’s very specific to the setting, more is not really needed in a world book. As such, I had a few reservations going into this book. Most of those reservations, however, quickly subsided. This is not just a book with a gazillion new feats and spells that the game doesn’t really need. There are full details on variant magic styles that other Campaign Setting books have only hinted at, new class archetypes that explore these styles, an overview of prominent spellcasters across the Inner Sea, and details on the most prominent magical schools and academies. They are all things that can enrich any game set in Golarion.
There are quite a few new archetypes in the book. Many of these archetypes will be far more useful than those in books like the Advanced Player’s Guide or Ultimate Magic as these ones fit seamlessly into the setting and bring with them the flavour of the setting. To use archetypes from generic sources, you either need to use very generic archetypes (which are less flavourful) or shoehorn them into a setting they don’t quite fit in. I love the tattooed sorcerer, in particular. We’ve heard about Varisian tattoo magic in previous books, but until now, it’s been represented by nothing more than a single feat that only grants a bonus spell and a boosted caster level to a specific school. Now, tattooed sorcerers gain a familiar that can transform itself into a tattoo and hide out on their bodies. They can create tattoos that are magical items or can store spells in their tattoos. There is actually a point to Varisian tattoos now.
Overall, Inner Sea Magic is a very good book that finally fleshes out a lot of things that have only been hinted at in previous products. People expecting the usual amount of “fluff” in a Pathfinder Campaign Setting book, however, may be a bit surprised by the very high amount of “crunch”. However, it’s mostly useful and flavourful crunch that enhances and expands the setting. It will be an indispensable book for most games set in Golarion.
Pathfinder Player Companion: Goblins of Golarion (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Print Edition Unavailable
Great ResourceNavior —
See my full review here.
Goblins of Golarion is a bit of an unusual supplement. As I mentioned in my review of Humans of Golarion, that product is a useful, albeit not particularly exciting book. Goblins of Golarion is the reverse: a fun, interesting read, but not particularly useful to most games. More specifically, it’s not particularly useful to most players. Game Masters are likely to gain much more use out of it, but as a product that is part of the Pathfinder Player Companion line, many people will expect it to be usable by players. Of course, not every product should necessarily be usable by everyone. It makes sense that there would be some niche products. However, it’s important that people be aware that this is a niche product, as there are some players out there who feel that because something is printed, it’s their right to use it, and that’s going to annoy some GMs who don’t want monster PCs in their games. Players should be sure to check with their GMs before making use of this book.
For players with goblin characters, there’s no doubt that it’s very useful indeed. It’s full of information about goblin society, lifestyle, beliefs, and physiology, along with lots of useful game mechanics including goblin equipment, new traits and feats, and even goblin spells. In addition, it’s an engaging read that fully brings across the character and style of Golarion goblins.
For games that don’t allow goblin PCs (or simply don’t have any players interested in playing goblin characters), Goblins of Golarion can still be a useful supplement for Game Masters, who will find a wealth of information. The “Goblin Tribes” chapter, for example presents the most prominent tribes from around the Inner Sea. It allows GMs to keep every group of goblins unique, yet still unmistakeably goblins. From goblin pirates in the Shackles, to freedom fighters in Isger who are devoted to preventing goblins from ever being enslaved again by hobgoblins, to dinosaur riders on Mediogalti Island, there’s a tribe for just about every need. I really like that there are areas of the world where goblins are more common (such as in Varisia) and areas where there are very few, if any. It makes goblins more than just something you roll on a random encounter chart and plunk down anywhere.
Overall, Goblins of Golarion is a fun book that fully fleshes out goblins and makes them a viable race in their own right. Gaming groups that include goblin PCs will find the book invaluable. Game Masters of groups without goblin PCs will still find the book useful for providing interesting encounters with goblins. And even if your group has no goblin PCs and rarely, if ever, encounters goblins as monsters, the book can still provide a fun and interesting read.
Pathfinder Player Companion: Humans of Golarion (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Print Edition Unavailable
Not exciting, but a good bookNavior —
See my full review here.
There has been quite a bit of criticism of Humans of Golarion. Many people feel that the book doesn’t offer much new for people who already own the Inner Sea World Guide or its predecessor, the Pathfinder Campaign Setting. To a certain extent this is true. Each human racial group, for example, gets a one-page write-up like the equivalent one-page write-up in the Inner Sea World Guide. They are not word-for-word copies. Instead, the Humans of Golarion write-ups present a more player-orientated description of the groups. However, there is no denying that the information contained within them is very similar to that in the Inner Sea World Guide, and people who have read that book (or the Campaign Setting) are not going to discover much that is new in them. As such, Humans of Golarion seems a much less exciting or interesting read than the other race books, as it doesn’t provide new insights into humans in the way that a book like Gnomes of Golarion provides new insights on gnomes.
I think one thing that needs remembering, though, is that the target audience of Humans of Golarion isn’t really GMs who are thoroughly familiar with the Inner Sea World Guide or its predecessor. For players who are new to the Golarion setting, it provides a good overview of human cultures, and for all players (new and old alike), it provides game options (such as traits and spells) for human characters. If you want more in-depth information about the various human societies, there are other books available in the Player Companion line that do just that: any of the books on specific countries, such as Andoran, Spirit of Liberty or Cheliax, Empire of Devils. After all, these are primarily human countries, and they provide new insights into those cultures.
One thing Humans of Golarion does offer that you won’t find in any other book to date is full information on the faith of Aroden. As a dead god, Aroden doesn’t have much of a following left, but he was an extremely important god in the history of the world, and his legacy still has a major impact on current life. There may not be any true clerics of Aroden left, but there are still a few worshippers who cling to the belief that one day Aroden might return. The two-page write-up on Aroden provides players and GMs with a valuable resource on what kind of faith those hold-outs follow. Also, if a GM wishes to set a game in Golarion’s past before the death of Aroden, players now have all the information needed to play a cleric of Aroden in such a campaign.
Overall, while Humans of Golarion is not the most “exciting” book in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, it does what it sets out to do: provide an overview of human cultures and offer options for human characters. Indeed, despite its more mundane qualities, it is a book that is likely to see more in-game use than some of the other race books, such as Goblins of Golarion. As such, it’s a book worth having. Just don’t expect to be wowed.
Good fun!Navior —
For a slightly more in-depth review, see my blog.
This adventure is a lot of fun. I ran it as a play-by-post game and had a blast. There is a lot of humour injected into the adventure (not surprising as Pathfinder goblins have a very comical bent to them) and groups may end up spending large amounts of time laughing at the antics they get up to, both from scripted and non-scripted events.
The adventure is split into two main parts. The first part takes place in the goblin village where the PCs undergo a series of comical tests (such as riding an ill-tempered pig like at a rodeo) to prove their mettle as goblin heroes. The second part is a short overland journey to a shipwreck containing the prized fireworks. Although the format of the second part is fairly standard fare, there are a number of goblin-like twists thrown in. The main villain is a cannibal goblin who (gasp!) keeps dogs and horses as pets!
The adventure comes with four pregenerated goblin characters; however, it’s perfectly possible for players to create their own characters. Indeed, a group with more than four players will have no choice but to create some of their own. There are only four tests in the opening section (each one somewhat geared towards one of the pregenerated characters), so gamemasters with larger groups may want to invent some extra tests so that each PC has a chance to complete one.
Since goblins are, by nature, evil, this adventure can bring with it some of the problems of evil campaigns. In my own pbp group, there was some arguing and infighting that luckily did not result in the characters killing each other. But it might have. GMs should be prepared to deal with an evil party when they run this adventure. I, personally, am not a fan of evil campaigns. However, as a short one-off comedy adventure, this adventure works really well.
Doctor Who RPG: Adventures in Time and Space—10th Doctor EditionCubicle 7 Entertainment
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At last, a Doctor Who RPG done right!Navior —
This is an abbreviated version of my full review which can be read on my blog.
As a fan of both roleplaying games and Doctor Who, I am naturally attracted to any attempt to blend the two together. Over the years, there have been a few attempts to make a roleplaying game based on the world's longest-running science fiction television series. The latest attempt is Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space from Cubicle 7 Entertainment. And without a doubt, it’s the best one so far.
The biggest obstacle to surpass when putting together a Doctor Who game is the apparent gulf in ability between Time Lords, such as the Doctor, and humans (and other species). In television, books, or movies there is no problem with having one character considerably more capable than the other characters; however, in a roleplaying game, there needs to be a certain level of balance to avoid one player gaining the spotlight at the expense of the other players. Previous Doctor Who games never really addressed this problem, but this new game finally does.
Time Lords are distinctly Time Lords, and they get the abilities they are known to have in the television series. But the game also gives reasons to play humans and other species. Character creation is handled through the use of character points, and just being a Time Lord requires the expenditure of a significant amount of those points. On top of that, Time Lords have a lower number of “story points” (points that can be used during the game to alter the outcomes of actions) available to them. Time Lords are still special characters, but humans finally have something to make them worthwhile in a game context.
The great thing about Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is that the mechanics have been tailored to fit the style of the television programme. One of my favourite parts of the rules is the combat sequence. In the television show, combat is something that is generally avoided. The Doctor is a pacifist and doesn’t use weapons, even though his enemies often do. In a roleplaying game, this is a bit unusual. Many games have long, extensive rules for combat, and when PCs meet an enemy with weapons, the result is usually combat. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space melds the two beautifully with a system for resolving combat in a way that both discourages combat from taking place and also makes it fun and dramatic to avoid combat. All roleplaying games have a system for determining who goes first in combat. In this Doctor Who game, the sequence is very simple: People who want to talk go first. Anyone who wants to run away goes second. Those who actually want to fight go last. Realistic? Not at all, but it perfectly emulates the tv show. After all, the Daleks forever screech, “Exterminate!” but the Doctor starts to talk and the Daleks sit there and wait for him to finish before opening fire. The system allows for the Daleks to have deadly weapons, but for the PCs to still get away safely without having to carry deadly weapons themselves.
The game is not entirely without flaws. The layout of the books is a bit odd to say the least. The Gamemaster’s Guide repeats large portions of the Player’s Guide word for word. I understand that they wanted certain rules (like character creation) to be readily available to both players and the gamemaster without the gamemaster having to switch between books; however, it seems a terrible waste of space that could have been used in a better way. The sample adventures provided are also rather lacklustre and commit a few horrendous faux pas (such as one which is designed with the assumption that players are playing the Doctor and companions, and then proceeds to dictate what the Doctor does instead of leaving it up to the player). However, the book layout doesn’t impede play much and the adventures are easily modified or just completely ignored in favour of adventures of the GM’s own design, so these flaws are minor in the end.
In short, it’s great to see a Doctor Who roleplaying game that finally encompasses the spirit and fun of the television show while still being a fun and playable game.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #49: The Brinewall Legacy (Jade Regent 1 of 6) (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Print Edition Out of print
Jade Regent is off to a great start.Navior —
The following is an abbreviated version of my full review which you can read on my blog.
I’ve always been a fan of James Jacobs’s adventures, and he doesn’t fail to deliver in this one. The adventure opens with the PCs heading into Brinestump Marsh to investigate goblin activity. While there, they discover a letter written by Ameiko’s grandfather. This letter sends them, along with Ameiko and three other prominent NPCs, north to the abandoned town of Brinewall.
The Jade Regent Player’s Guide provides rules mechanics for developing relationships with these NPCs that could possibly even bloom into romances. Paizo’s adventures often present NPCs as possible love interests for the PCs, but this is the first time they have attempted to codify rules for it. And they have done a pretty good job. Players keep track of relationship scores with each NPC, and these scores determine the kind of relationship they have. The rules for acquiring relationship points are very straight-forward and don’t add a lot of complexity to the game, which is good as Pathfinder is a complex game already.
In addition to relationship rules, there is also a very straight-forward system for handling caravans in the game. The PCs become part of a caravan part way through The Brinewall Legacy and will travel across the world with it. These rules give them the opportunity to expand and develop their caravan in the way they want. The rules provide an extremely useful add-on to the game.
For those less interested in relationships and caravans, the adventure still provides plenty of opportunity to roll the dice and deliver the smackdown on evil goblins, undead, and other creatures. In particular, the adventure makes great use of a rarely used monster, the dire corby.
The only weak spot in the adventure is the opening. Most APs start with a very strong hook that gets the PCs involved immediately and provides them with a motivation to stick together right from the start. Serpent’s Skull opens with the PCs shipwrecked on a tropical island along with a group of NPCs, and they must work together to find a way off. Rise of the Runelords opens with a goblin attack on Sandpoint. However, this adventure provides only the mention of a “goblin bounty” to provide the PCs with a motive to head into the swamp to hunt goblins, something not every party is going to latch onto. Game Masters may find they want to add an additional hook to help motivate the PCs into heading into Brinestump Marsh.
Overall, The Brinewall Legacy provides a very strong opening to Jade Regent and sets the scene for what looks to be an exciting Adventure Path. I heartily recommend it.