The quite excellent Carrion Crown adventure path continues with Tim Hitchcock’s Broken Moon, which deals with werewolves (with generic “gothic” horror themes and “Frankenstein’s monster” having been previous themes here). It continues with the high quality, especially the beginning which is really good. It gets a bit more generic towards the end, but still the adventure earns high total marks.
The PCs are led into the depths of Shudderwood, on the trail of certain evil cultists. They end up in an hunting lodge meant for local aristocrats and high rollers, and may need some social maneuvering or such to gain entrance. Once there, they are dumped in the middle of a murder mystery. Yes, the whole story involves werewolves, but to the writer’s credit it’s far from a simple “ravaging monster on the loose” story – in fact much of that overlay is more of a red herring for the PCs. The full story is complex, with various NPC factions involved, and the PCs have lots of ways of dealing with the situation. It reads like it should be a blast to play. As noted, the second half is a bit more generic, and while not bad it lacks the inventive flair of the beginning.
“Carrion Crown” has been really good up to this point, assuming you’re ok with an intentional “Hammer Horror” B-movie feel here and there. We’ll see what the second half looks like, next up should be some Cthulhuoid action with definite “fish men!” overtones.
Kiln People is a standalone novel from David Brin, describing a world where people can create temporary copies of themselves in order to truly multitask – for example, you might create a study-focused version of yourself to cram for a test, then merge those memories back to yourself. The temporary copies only have a limited lifespan (typically about a day), and are actually made of a sort of claylike substance which slowly starts to decompose and break down. I find that bit a small damper on my suspension of disbelief, some other mechanism would have been a bit more believable. I suspect Brin mostly went for the clay option because “clay people” are great metaphors for temporary, fragile copies… and also so he could do the pun with the book’s title. Yes, “Kiln People” is a clay reference, but it also sort of sounds like “Killing People”, which ties to the detective story plot of the book.
The book itself is told from multiple viewpoints, though many are temporary copies of the same person. The main protagonist is a private detective named Albert Morris, who is recruited to solve the disappearance of one Yasil Maharal – one of the founders of the whole “kiln” technology. Naturally enough, things get complicated fast, and the return of Yasil soon after the search begins only complicates things. There’s a “femme fatale” involved, though not quite in the normal “film noire” stereotype; in this case, Albert is happily engaged with a steady girlfriend and isn’t quite the stereotyped “lone wolf” operator.
There are good ideas here, dealing with multiple split personalities, the identity of “self”, and the effects of pervasive surveillance in a society. The plot is decent, but it could have used some tightening up here and there and the ending is just… strange. It was an ok read, but I was left a bit unsatisfied by the whole thing, Brin has written better books. This one felt like a vessel for the basic idea of “copies of humans and the society that results from it”, but is a bit lacking on the storytelling front. Brin has never been all that great at character development and that shows here: many of the people here come off a bit flat. It’s by no means a bad book, it’s just not quite what it could have been given some more editorial restraint.
Police in role-playing games tend to be treated as a stereotyped fixture, usually modeled after TV shows or movies. Either they are shown as heroic defenders of law and order, or as totally corrupt entities (typically under the sway of some powerful entity). In either case, they usually don’t act like real police would – sometimes because of plot reasons, but often because the GM really has no idea of how real police operate. Tales from the 13th Precinct for the new World of Darkness tries to fix that, to some extent.
It’s a sourcebook about how a police precinct (in the U.S.) would typically operate, and it also describes a fictional 13th Precinct in the equally fictional city of Midway (modeling a typical large U.S. city). While it’s obviously geared for gaming use, there is a lot of actual information about everyday police procedure here – radio use, standard operating procedures, all that stuff. This makes it a useful book for gaming in general, not just for WoD games; there isn’t much WoD-related here, most is generic description and the things that are statted (NPCs etc) are easy to convert.
The book consists of three parts. First off there is a section on general police procedure, next there is the titular “13th Precinct” with fully statted NPCs and description of the police station, and lastly the book gives you a short pre-generated police-oriented adventure. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s decent enough. I liked the approach taken here; the general info is very useful (obviously), but having a ready-to-use pre-generated police precinct (with NPCs and internal subplots) which can be plunked into pretty much any modern game is a great thing. I’d be tempted to use this directly if I needed a detailed police force (with signature NPCs) in some game.
As the book notes, some of the procedures and equipment described here are starting to be obsolete. This is partly a realism and partly a gaming choice: realism because the latest and greatest equipment is rarely available everywhere (budget constraints are a universal constant)m, and gaming because in some cases the old equipment (or procedures) just make for better plot hooks. So no, this isn’t a 100% accurate analysis on police procedure. However, it is the most detailed such that I’ve read for gaming use. The disclaimer, of course, is that it describes the U.S. police force, methods and equipment in other countries can be quite different.
Forges of Nuln is the finale of the Paths of the Damned adventure trilogy for Warhammer (2nd edition). From a design viewpoint, it’s a mix between the tight railroad of the first one and the almost total free-form sandbox of the second one. It’s also pretty good, on par with the previous book (and much better than the first one).
As the title implies, events take the PCs to Nuln. As always, this sort of transition involves a bit of railroading, but that railroad is made somewhat more interesting by framing it as a river cruise, with a murder mystery. It’s a fun diversion, marred by the fact that the PCs have extremely little chance of actually catching the guilty party. Since this subplot it mostly disconnected from the main one, it can also be left out if it doesn’t seem to fit in. After the cruise the PCs arrive in Nuln, and the main plot kicks into motion again. As in the previous parts, the driver here is the recovery of an artifact – a cursed chalice in this case. The PCs are given free rein in the city and a pile of clues and starting points, but on the other hand events outside their direct control are on a set timeline here – certain events happen at certain points unless the PCs interfere. Things spiral towards chaos, with a cataclysmic endgame which the PCs may or may not manage to stop or at least temper somewhat.
As with the previous parts, the book begins with a section describing the city of Nuln. It’s shortish, but contains enough locations and general flavor to let the GM improvise city events without needing to make everything up.
As a whole, the trilogy is in the “ok” category. It has great segments, but also a weak (i.e. over-railroaded) beginning. The “find X artifacts to prevent bad thing Y from happening” main plot is more than a bit tired, but at least the artifacts themselves have some plot potential and the three books are all quite different in style and plotting. It’s probably a fun campaign to play through, but the GM needs to step easy on the railroading and maybe rethink some bits and pieces to better suit the play group’s style.
Sunward is the first sourcebook for the Eclipse Phase game, and like the title implies it describes the “Sunward” part of the solar system – that is, everything from the Sun itself out to the beginnings of the asteroid belt near Mars. Like the core book, it’s quite excellent and contains a ton of information.
The first item here is the sun itself. While obviously ridiculously hostile to life in any form, some extreme biomods still exist in the sun’s close vicinity. Somewhat like “space whales” in shape and also lifestyle, they use hitech methods of avoiding heat damage and form strange societies in a place where not much else can live. After than we get Mercury, which is one of the more extreme planets in the solar system. Here, groups of miners race the dividing line between the scorching sun and the freezing shadow, trying to extract valuable minerals while always keeping on the move. It’s a cool idea, with lots of game potential.
Next up is Venus. Venus is hellish on its surface, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead and the perpetual darkness (due to cloud cover) hiding both acid rain and valuable minerals. Suprise surprise, there get mined too – though this time by bioforms designed to tolerate the conditions, with remotely uploaded “people” running them. All this is mostly run by the hypercorps, or by the Morningstar Consortium, a newish power intent on both developing a power core of its own, filling the Venusian upper atmosphere with floating cities (think Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back), and fighting the hypercorps on many levels. The politics here get complex, and the Venusian floating cities make good places for the PCs to visit (or have their home in, for that matter).
Then it’s Earth and the Moon (or Luna, as it is now called). Earth remains a hostile, quarantined wasteland, though we get more details here on both the quarantine zone and the dangers on the surface – it’s obvious that some people survived, though the hypercorps do their best to suppress this information. It’s also obvious that some hypercorps (and other parties) are running covert operations on the surface. Luna, on the other hand, it solid, (reasonably) safe and civilized. The cities are underground, and some of them are huge. There is a lot of detail here, and Luna is clearly meant to be a strong contender for an origin point for PCs.
After Earth, it’s Mars, naturally enough. Mars is interesting; lots of “frontier” feel, and well-grounded resistance to hypercorp domination. There are still dormant TITAN leftovers here, and between those and the vast and fairly hostile desert, it provides lots of opportunities for PCs to vanish from prying eyes. For some reason Mars tends to be pictured in a “Wild West” tone in many scifi books and games, but it works very well here and provides and counterpoint to the sterile and corporate-controlled environs of Venus and Luna.
Lastly, there is some description of the first fringes of the asteroid belt(s). Some nice locations here, but there’s not a huge amount of material – I expect more of this stuff from the upcoming book detailing the rest of the solar system. The book also contains some NPC templates and new biomorphs suitable for the locations described here.
It’s a great book, and well written; instead of reading like a gazetteer, it’s written in a very entertaining fashion (told with several quite different narrator voices, representing different NPCs with different agendas and biases). Sure, it’s a hodgepodge of lots of scifi ideas from all over, but it’s mostly coherent and the sum total is a very entertaining and interesting game world.
Upgraded to version 6.0.8 of Typo (the blog engine I’m using). I’m hoping that it will fix some of the annoying bugs the earlier 6.x releases have had. At least image uploads should work again…
Long silence here, but the blog’s not dead yet; it’s just been an… eventful time and I haven’t had time or energy to tackle my review backlog yet. As you’ve seen, that’s mostly what’s here nowadays: reviews. The everyday stuff and notes I used to put here now tend to go to Google+ (or Facebook), but I still prefer a standalone platform like this for articles (like reviews).
Anyway, taking care of Saiga (now over 4 months old!) has been a bit taxing at times, even though she’s a sweet and easy kid – whatever the case, it’s still a bit of work and a serious loss of available free time.
Then there was a stupid thing, a serious accident. We were working clearing some lakeside shrubs at our country place, and we got the bright idea of using gasoline to light the bonfire. Well, one thing led to another, the gasoline had time to vaporize into the surrounding air, and I went to light the thing carelessly… boom, one huge fireball which enveloped me. T-shirt protected my body, but my face and arms got scorched badly (2nd degree burns all over). Now, three weeks later, I’m starting to be ok, but it was a painful affair. Could have been a lot worse of course (I managed to close my eyes and didn’t breathe in the flames), so there’s that.
Then we had Ropecon, and the big VTES tournament there. At 90 players it was both a huge success and also one of the biggest ones we’ve had. Everything went really well, and the win went to Otso Saariluoma. I’ll post a tournament report to vekn.net (and maybe link it here) once I get it written, but that will have to wait till next weekend, since…
… we’re now leaving for a week-long sailing trip in the Turku archipelago. First time at sea with Saiga, will be interesting to see how it goes.
So that’s that. Between childcare, a gasoline fireball, and a huge tournament to organize (plus tons of other stuff), my review queue had stood still for a while now. It’ll get moving again, a bit later.