The Patchwork Scroll is a print collection of four small (originally) PDF expansions for Exalted. All share the trait of being “leftover material” from their respective main books, material that was actually pretty good but did not within the page count limit. Releasing it as PDFs, and now, later, as a print compilation, was a nice move. Especially so since there is a lot of fun stuff here, I’ve used quite a few bits and pieces from this in my own game. Nothing you absolutely need, but a pile of extra options for martial arts, Wyld creatures and encounters, Dragon Kings and ghosts.
The first supplement is The Imperfect Lotus, containing some extra martial arts styles (left over from Scroll of the Monk). Many are quite specific to certain regions, but can provide fun flavor. There’s also a weird set of MA for gods, based on the Virtues.
Splinters of the Wyld is next, providing some extra Wyld locations (and creatures), leftovers from the main Wyld book. Lots of good stuff here, I ended up using quite a few of these when my players were off in the Wyld. High weirdness factor, which suits the Wyld perfectly.
Debris of the Fallen Races contains some martial arts styles for Dragon Kings, some Chaos Pattern Charms, and some extra subterranean creatures. Useful if you have Dragon Kings or the Underfolk in your games, useless if not.
Lastly, Lost Arts of the Dead has some extra Arcanoi for ghosts. May or may not be useful, depends on the game.
Each of these can also be purchased separately as PDFs, of course.
The One Tree forms the midpoint of the second “Thomas Covenant” trilogy, and while (very) dark, it’s more varied in tone than first part. Whereas the first book introduced us to Linden Avery, with most of the book going into illustrating the ruin that has befallen the Land, here Linden starts to gain a distinct personality, and the interplay between her and Covenant forms an important story element.
There’s a lot of sailing about here. First off, the protagonists along with their giant allies sail off to find the mysterious Elohim, a fae race who may have knowledge of where the One Tree is. The encounter does not go well, and I have to say… if you must place “elves” into your fantasy book, at least make them as absolutely alien as they are here. After that encounter, the group runs into aquatic monsters and must seek a place for repairs – which leads them to a desert nation ruled by a sorcerer of some sort. Things eventually become ugly, once again. Lots of imaginative scenes here, and I liked the Sandgorgons. The book ends up at the One Tree – but as most things in this book, it’s a dark encounter and brings little relief.
I’m still not sure I actually like the Thomas Covenant books. They are imaginative and at times very different fantasy. That much is good. However, they are also deadly slow and meandering, and too much time is often spend underlining how broken and bitter the various people are. Also, Donaldson’s habit of using obscure words as much as possible gets to be a bit annoying.
If you like light, happy fantasy, these books aren’t that. Not by a mile.
Still… this book focuses on Linden Avery, who is becoming a force in her own right, quite separately from Covenant. This changes the tone a bit from the earlier books, for the better (it also helps that Covenant has an emotional foil somewhere). In addition, some of the scenes here are quite fantastic (the Elohim, the Sandgorgons, etc). In all, I’m glad I read this, and intend to read the third and final book, too.
Requiem for Rome presents a look at the Vampire: the Requiem world during the times of the Roman Empire, with a focus on Rome itself. While it tries to stay true to known history, it specifically notes that gaming takes precedence over strict historical accuracy. Fair enough. Since my knowledge of ancient Rome comes from decidedly lightweight sources like the tv-show “Rome” and assorted movies, everything sounded suitably “ancient Roman”… but people with actual knowledge of that period will no doubt find “creative interpretations” here and there.
It’s dark stuff, and focuses on the fact that the Roman times were in many ways quite barbaric by our modern sensibilities. Life was cheap, slave labor was a major factor of civilization, and the leaders tried to quell unrest by endless foreign wars of conquest coupled with cheap entertainment for the masses. On second thought, that last part mirrors our own times a bit too accurately…. Anyway, it’s in many ways an alien civilization, and that’s without vampires. Here, the vampires move behind the scenes, residing in the vast crypt networks underneath the city. In this age, their predations go largely unnoticed and if someone does see them – well, the people believe in the supernatural (in various forms) anyway, there is not much need for a “Masquerade”. Of course, the vampires do try to stay secret, but it’s not an obsession.
The vampires also have an organization, “The Camarilla” (name copied from Vampire: the Masquerade). It’s very different here, being a Roman-style forum of vampires, split into several “wings”. One of the big drivers of tension here is the rise of Christianity; the new “Lancea et Sanctum” (later bastardized to “Lancea Sanctum”) sect promotes a variant of Christianity among vampires, while other mortal preachers promote it (and fight the “pagan” gods) during daytime. Historically, that rise of Christianity has strong ties to the eventual fall of Rome, and here too it’s presented as an element of strife and violence (as religious conflict tends to be, especially when coupled with political interests).
There is also a supernatural threat, in the form of the Stirges. Nobody knows what they actually are, but they hunt vampires (especially of the Julii bloodline) and they are seriously nasty. I don’t want to spoil details here, but they are among the coolest elements in the book. They are also detailed in some of the other Vampire: the Requiem books, and are an antagonist type which is quite usable in modern tales too (with tweaks, since the Julii are now gone forever, at least by canon).
Overall, it’s an excellent take on “historical vampire”, in a somewhat unusual setting. It does a good job in presenting ancient Rome as an alien environment (to modern people), before introducing any supernatural elements at all. Of course, actually using this book in a game needs a player group interested in this sort of stuff, which might be tricky. At the least, it should be easy to run some one-shots and mini-campaigns based on this.
The only real criticism I have of this book is font-related. There is a fiction piece, split into multiple short parts, which runs throughout the book. It’s a nice story and brings some good extra color to certain parts of the book. All fine and good, but White Wolf has done one of their typical artistic layout brain farts here again and presented the whole thing in a “handwritten” script which is ridiculously hard to read. I understand wanting to have the thing look like an actual character diary… but come on, at least make it legible.
Karak Azgal (subtitled “Adventures of the Dragon Crag”) brings a small touch of D&D dungeon crawling to Warhammer – but with a distinct Warhammer touch, which is a good thing. The setup is quite amusing: the Dwarfs have an ancient stronghold (the titular “Karak Azgal”), which was overrun by Chaos hordes some time back and is now slowly being reclaimed. The problem is that the cavern are infested with all sorts of nasty monsters, and the Dwarfs simply don’t have the manpower to clear them out. On the other hand, this is an ancient stronghold, with lots of valuable relics sitting around down there, and the Dwarfs aren’t crazy about a general call to come help fight against Chaos either – they assume (probably correctly) that all too many “helpers” would only go in to grab some quick loot and then vanish with their ancient heirlooms. What to do?
Well, here they’ve invented a wonderfully pragmatic solution. They’ve opened up the caverns to “adventurers”, with a catch: everything brought up is taxed (heavily), as is access in the first place. So they get a steady stream of fortune-hunters, which provide an equally steady stream of tax income… and if they’re lucky, they might also manage to kill some Chaos nasties and make the caverns a bit more habitable (by their rightful owners). Of course, not everyone likes this arrangement, there are groups of Dwarfs who are (violently) opposed to the idea of grubby strangers coming in to loot their ancestors’ tombs.
Take all this together, and you get a lot of story options. In addition to the “dungeon crawl” action, there’s also the fact that most PC groups will likely try to evade the dwarfish tax system, providing fun “interaction” with the law and all sorts of plot possibilities. In addition, the resentment that some Dwarf feel towards looters is in itself a great plot element; the PCs may face both covert and overt opposition to their looting plans (in addition to Chaos beasts, that is).
So, if you’re feeling like adding some good ol’ dungeon crawling to your Warhammer game, this book provides a pretty nice framework for such. It’s a thin book, but crammed full of stuff. In fact, somewhat over-crammed – the font used is ridiculously small. My own eyesight isn’t what it used to be and I’ll need reading glasses at some point, buy honestly guys, the font size used here is tiring to read even with good eyesight. Probably this was due to a pre-ordained page count, and then getting more material than could comfortably fit in the allotted space… at which point someone said “can’t we just use a smaller font?”. Yes, you can, but it’s not always a great idea. Thankfully, the later Warhammer books seem to have a more legible font size, so I guess I’m not the only one who found this somewhat tough reading.
Night of Frozen Shadows (part 2 of Jade Regent, written by Greg A. Vaughan) is one of those adventures that sound like they’ll either be awesome or tragically bad, based on main idea: this thing has vikings and ninjas. Ninjas and vikings! They go together like… well, they don’t. Not really. Except that here, they kindasorta do.
The plot has the PCs taking a caravan to travel up north, to the frozen
Viking Ulfen lands, in search of a guide to take them over the mountains to lands unknown. The caravan, though skippable, is very nicely detailed – there are lots of NPCs and some minor intrigue. I can see a game session being spent just in the caravan stuff, for some groups. Of course, some PCs will skip that and go on their own, and for those this is arguably wasted word count. I liked it though, it continued the emphasis on NPC relations and social dynamics from part one.
Once they reach Kalsgard, the game changes. Here they need to find a suitable guide, and unfortunately those are rare. As in, none to be found. Except for that one guy, who has recently vanished… I’m sure you can already sense the PC plot hook. So the PCs are forced into so local intrigue, with an interesting twist: there is a subsystem (using “notoriety points”) which determines what moves the antagonists do. If the PCs keep quiet and do their investigations on the sly, they might not raise any alarms. If they are loud and violent (and PCs tend to be)… well, they’ll get ninjas. And other nasty stuff.
Despite the wtf-inducing “vikings and ninjas!” combo, the whole thing is actually very good. There’s a lot of emphasis on NPC relations, as noted, and the optional-event-based structure of events at Kalsgard makes the whole thing quite free-form. Of course, it’s assumed that they’ll hunt down one specific guide – if they insist that they can just go out on their own (or make do with some poor substitute), the GM should be free to show them what happens to random wanderers in the northern mountain wastes. On the other hand, if would probably be reasonable to let them proceed however they like; just be sure to make things significantly harder for them later on if they insist that a good guide is optional.
So far, Jade Regent looks like a very nice “road trip” adventure.
Feast of Ravenmoor is a nice little mystery adventure for Pathfinder. A tax collector has gone missing in a remote, rural village, and the PCs are sent to investigate. Needless to say, there is something nefarious going on. I liked the fact that there is a large investigative aspect to this module, and also lots of room for social maneuverings. For a “D&D” module, the combat is mostly in the background here – though there are of course combat encounters sprinkled here and there.
There is a scene right at the beginning which sets the tone. Without spoiling it, it’s a sort of set-up for the PCs: if they react as normal D&D PCs would, the results will be bad for them. It’s a nice scene, but does need some deft GM description, since the PCs do need clear clues that something is not quite normal here. While there are shades of “The Wicker Man” here and there, the plot isn’t a direct copy from anything.