Skeletons of Scarwall (written by Greg A. Vaughan) is the next-to-last installment in Paizo’s “Curse of the Crimson Throne” adventure path. It’s a combatfest, but for once it looks to be a good combatfest. Set almost entirely in the brooding, ancient castle of Scarwall, there is a definite air of old Ravenloft here – boosted by the all-too numerous undead that inhabit and guard the place. There are lots of nifty ideas and encounters and the whole thing reads like good fun. Assuming you’re ok with lots of combat, of course, the idea here is that the PCs need to fetch the McGuffin… err, I mean the holy weapon “Serithtial” from the depths of the castle, since it looks like that weapon is key to defeating the queen. Ancient evil that requires an ancient artifact to defeat it… we’ve seen this one before. More than a few times. Still, ignoring the cliche setup the whole module seems very well put together, so I won’t complain too much. Besides, you can always get rid of the artifact and replace it with something else – maybe just key information. As long as the PCs need to fetch something from the castle, it really does not matter much what it is. Thus, McGuffin.
The book also contains a very nice article about the (nasty) god Zon-Kuthon and its almost-as-nasty followers, and the usual fun “pathfinder journal” entry plus some new monsters.
You know how some old computer games used to rock and probably still would, despite retro graphics and limited technical merits? And you know how hard some of those games can be to actually find nowadays, even via eBay and such? …and if you answered “sure” to both of those, you’re probably familiar with the frustration of finally getting that game (or installing an old favorite) and finding out that no, it no longer runs in Windows XP or Vista. Or if it runs, it runs at 60x speed and is totally unplayable. Or some such.
Well, the guys behind Good Old Games are trying to do something about that, and make some money on the side. They are promising a selection of classic games (including Fallout 1 & 2, Freespace 1 & 2, and so forth), tweaked to run on XP/Vista, with absolutely no DRM, and for a cheap price. Sounds a bit too good to be true… but looks like it isn’t. The site is currently in open beta test (I have an access key), and judging by my experiences so far: they are delivering what they are promising, and more besides.
I signed in to my beta account and bought a copy of the first Fallout game for $6. Download was smooth and included a bunch of extras including wallpapers and the game soundtrack in mp3 form (!). It installed without a hitch and ran perfectly (on Windows XP). I’ve never really played Fallout before, just tried it out a bit on a friend’s computer – so I’m now actually playing it for the first time. Sure, the graphics are pretty retro, but the game itself is great. I hear Fallout 2 is even better
…and since beta testers apparently get one free game as thanks, so I also got me a free copy of Fallout 2. That one also worked right “out of the box” (so to speak), and included an mp3 soundtrack etc.
I find it really hard to find anything negative to say about this new service. The games really do work, there is no crap DRM, the price is low, and the website is both stylish and has a nice and smooth user interface. Sure, the game selection now in the beginning is small, and that’s the only bad thing here – but if there is any justice in the world, this thing will take off and their catalog will expand.
Want to try it out? Head over to the site and sign up in the beta, I think they are still open. Getting both Fallout games for a total price of $6, with runs-on-XP tweaks, is a bargain.
Quick heads up: Delta Green: Eyes Only, which previously was only available as a hardcover limited run which quickly sold out, is now available again in paperback form. Needless to say: it rocks. Seriously.
If you like Delta Green and/or modern Call of Cthulhu and don’t have this book yet, I suggest you grab a copy before they run out, once again.
The Underworld provides a 2nd edition update to the Underworld, where Exalted’s dead (and other creatures) “live”. The locale has already been explored to some extent in some 1st edition books and in the 2nd edition Abyssals book, but this book provides a “real” overview of things.
It’s pretty good. Lots of things were familiar to me from the 1st edition books (though having 2nd ed stats for things is always nice), but many things were new and interesting. Far from being just a generic “land of the dead”, the Shadowlands in Exalted have a very specific history and “cosmology”. Like Exalted’s “heaven”, Yu-Shan, the Underworld is far from generic. The place acts as a dark mirror to Creation, in many respects, also mirroring the vast complexity and regional variance.
We get stats for many NPCs, some of which are very high power. You do not want to mess with the Green Lady, in case that wasn’t blindingly obvious. You also do not want to mess with the Deathlords without lots of prep – their stats and capabilities are elevated to a much more suitable level from the joke stats in the 2nd edition core, where Mask of Winters didn’t look too scary. These new stats for the Deathlords make destroying them seriously difficult… which is the whole point, they should never be pushovers, even to a group of experienced Solars. Especially considering what the Deathlords originally were…
Together with the new Abyssals book, you now have the tools to run a Shadowlands game if you wish. You also get lots of great toys and flavor to throw at your Solar players, in the more likely game scenario. Of course, Creation is vast and so are the Shadowlands; one book can’t hope to give anything but a brief overview. In that, this book succeeds well – lots of story hooks, local flavor, and ideas. While not quite as cool a read as the Yu-Shan book (perhaps because much of this material was familiar to me from the 1st edition), this is still an extremely solid supplement.
Ok, so on to A Dirty World, which is Greg Stolze’s new “film noir” standalone roleplaying game. As I mentioned eariler, I was lucky enough to play in a demo run by Greg at Ropecon and I had a blast. The game really seemed to promote the “feel” of film noir, though of course part of that credit goes to the very nice demo scenario we were playing, and to Greg’s quite excellent GM skills.
It’s a small, compact game engine, based on the ORE engine (as seen in Nemesis, Wild Talents, Reign, etc) – though this incarnation has been tweaked heavily in the “Forge” direction. In a good way, I think. The stat/ability design is quite clever, and the game has your stats changing every scene – the player characters get challenged and change all the time. A “femme fatale” character might begin her slow climb from corruption to purity – or become even more corrupt with every scene. It’s up to the player, and dependant on how the character acts in the scene. As befits the genre, going towards the “bad” direction is much easier than “good”, generally. This mechanism rocks, since “noir” tends to feature people confronted with difficult choices and being forced to compromise, and then to live with the results of those choices. The ruleset is extremely abstract and combat is handled in the same way as any other test in the game. For some games this might be a problem but here it seems to work wonders, since in the noir genre social skills (and attacks & backstabs) are at least as common and deadly as are flying bullets.
The book includes a “random noir plot generator”, in the style of the random one-roll generators found in Reign. It’s very cool, and gives you a basic story framework to build on. Greg also includes a couple of nice examples of how to build a story with it.
All in all, this is an excellent, modern “indie” roleplaying game that is tightly focused on one genre and one type of story theme. It also shows how versatile the core ORE framework is. Recommended.
This book is pretty much what it says: a compendium of South gear and strider designs for the Heavy Gear roleplaying game. It gathers together designs from a couple of earlier books into a one-book reference.
Not much to say here, really. The gear writeups are mostly quite interesting, since they contain lots of game flavor (“this gear was popular with pilots due to X but was hard to get because of part Y shortages due to factor Z”) and aren’t just lists of technical data. I would have liked to see more side and back profiles of the gears – in most cases we’re only given a front view – but that’s a fairly minor complaint. This is a solid reference book into South gear designs and you’ll probably want this (or one of the later vehicle compendiums) if you’re running a South-based HG game. It’s also probably a fun addition to the bookshelf for people only playing the Blitz miniatures game, it gives a lot of history and background on the gears that’s (understandably) missing from the miniatures rulebook.
That, people, is a good deal – it’s a thick book, and judging by a quick browse-through of my PDF copy it’s pretty awesome. I’m still waiting for my print copy to arrive before reading it, so I can’t say anything more specific quite yet.
In the “best news for a while” department, the kick-ass scifi military / power armor game Heavy Gear is coming back in rpg form. Dream Pod 9 and Steve Jackson Games just announced that they will be collaborating on a new 4th edition of the Heavy Gear roleplaying game, coming out in 2009. The line design will be headed by the esteemed HG-guru and line editor John Buckmaster, and will feature a new streamlined version of the Silhouette rule system with focus on making it flow smoothly and fixing some current warts in the design (Complexity, etc). There will probably be 1-2 core books in print format, and then a pile of setting material and support stuff in PDF form (and possibly POD, as well) via e23.
This is fantastic news. I’ve always had a fondness for Heavy Gear, it’s probably the most detailed scifi world in roleplaying today and it tries very hard to be realistic on many levels (well, as much as a game featuring giant power armor suits can be “realistic”). There is enough “realpolitik” in the game to make your head spin. A new edition which would compile it all into smooth form for newcomers is just what the game needs, and we can always hope that it’s reasonably easy to integrate with Heavy Gear Blitz, DP9’s excellent miniatures wargame set in the Heavy Gear world.
There’s also a thread about this on rpg.net.
In other but also game-related news, my signed copy of the Magic Burner limited first batch (#62/200) arrived today, along with a spiffy t-shirt. I’ve only had time for a quick browse so far, started to read the thing on the way to work today. So far, looking extremely good. The guys quote Ursula K LeGuin as one of their main inspirations on “how magic might work”, and that gets huge points from me – I’ve always preferred LeGuin’s (and Cherryh’s) subtle magic to the D&D “eat fireball, kobolds!” style… though that does have its charms, too :). Like the other Burning Wheel books, this is more of a toolkit for building magic for your game than a ready-made list of spells.
If the rest of the book ends up being as cool as the beginning, I may just have to actually run a test game of Burning Wheel at some point.
Flight of the Red Raven is another strong adventure module from Paizo, this time set up in the snowy north… though the writer has said that it actually ended up being placed further south (in Golarion, Paizo’s game world) than he had intended. Due to that “up north” setting, the writer has decided to use Finnish and pseudo-Finnish names for town inhabitans and sites. While there is nothing wrong with this (Finnish is an obscure language that sounds quite alien enough for a fantasy game), it does cause some hilarity for Finns. A house called “sahtisauna” is quite ok, especially since it’s what it claims to be: “a combination of bathhouse and brewery” – but I have a hard time believing Finnish players will manage to keep a straight face when NPCs have names like “Antero Ikonen”… so some renaming may be in order, for Finns.
The adventure itself is good. There’s a mystical artifact that gets stolen and the PCs go after it. So far so good. The motivation of the thief is understandable and leads on to other complications, and the motivation for the PCs is also well-realized: the artifact was protecting the town from the ravages of winter, and now that it’s gone the town faces real danger from the elements. There is a nice bit of social scenery in the town to set things off, including a celebration with lots of opportunities for mayhem. After that, the action moves on into the wilderness (as befits the “W” designation) and ends up in a very interesting and challenging situation.
One of my favorites from among the newer Pathfinder modules.
Revenge of the Kobold King was Paizo’s offering for this year’s Free RPG Day. People lucky enough to have a participating shop nearby could pick up a copy for free, the rest could either download a (free) PDF version or buy a print copy for $5. I went for the “buy a copy” option, since that was the only way for me to get a print copy. Me likes print copies.
The module is a sequel to Nicholas Logue’s earlier popular scenario, Crown of the Kobold King, and it’s a lot of fun. In the first part, an up-and-coming Kobold warlord was laid low by a bunch of “pink-skinned sword-waving psychopaths” (from the Kobold point of view). Now, the humiliated (and dead) warlord is given a new lease on (un)life and a chance for revenge. It doesn’t even matter if your players played through the first part or not – one pink-skin looks pretty much like another to a pissed-off undead kobold, anyway.
The action starts off with an attack on some lumberjacks and escalates to the PCs once again assaulting the poor would-be ruler. There’s lots of dark humor involved and it seems like a great little romp, either by itself or as a continuation to the earlier scenario. Either way, good stuff. It’s a quite compact module, clocking in at only 16 pages, but I don’t see that as a bad thing.
Poor Falcon’s Hollow. That place has been subjected to more than a few menaces so far by Paizo’s modules, and it never was a very nice place to begin with – which has always been quite refreshing, for once we have a D&D “campaign base town” which isn’t an idyllic, boring collection of farmers and the required pub (in which to meet dark strangers and be offered quests). Falcon’s Hollow owes a lot more to Charles Dickens than it does to most D&D inspirations.