Sector Zero is supplement for Paranoia XP, the new version of the Paranoia game. It’s a set of three “missions” (pre-gen adventures) which can all be classified as “punishment duty” (Sector Zero being Alpha Complex slang for such). Now, experienced Paranoia players may wonder about that – isn’t life in Alpha Complex already punishment duty in itself? Well, not necessarily; there are always various shades of “bad”, and the new version of Paranoia encourages games that actually may see clones surviving for a game or two. Or not.
So, let’s see. We’re given “Bubblegum Run”, in which the Troubleshooters are sent to watch over some kids, and to investigate a certain bubblegum shipment. Sounds harmles, right? Well, obviously, wrong. Most Alpha Complex citizens have zero experience with “kids”, and here we learn why.
Next up is “The Dinner Party”, in which the team is tasked with setting up a formal dinner for a bunch of Indigo citizens. Considering their normal culinary sophistication is limited to choosing between Red or Stripy Tast-EE-Gruel, this may (=will) present a few tiny little challenges.
Last but not least we have “Lightning Rod”, where the team is sent to the upper reaches of Alpha Complex, to guard the top of the dome against Communist infiltators. Since this happens a mile or so above ground and is already quite dangerous, it would be cruel and unusual to throw subverted robots, insane military personnel, mad scientists and dangerous experiments into the mix. Maybe that’s why all that and more is included.
All in all, a worthy set of Paranoia missions, well suited as continuations to an earlier failed mission. And let’s face it, pretty much all missions fail, so these can be used almost anywhere.
Paranoia XP continues to be a brilliant reinvention of a classic game. If you haven’t already checked it out, you are ordered to do so at once, Citizen. It’s Mandatory Fun Duty.
Just heard that RedBrick has managed to negotiate the rights for the game Blue Planet. This is great news; I’ve been really impressed by what RedBrick has managed to do with Earthdawn and Fading Suns, they use PDF and print-on-demand publishing in a very effective way. Now they have Blue Planet, a fantastic hard-scifi game with an enviromental focus, and one which has been in limbo for quite a while. While I have all the 2nd ed books on my shelf, one of the books (Ancient Echoes) is already in the “very hard to find” category. RedBrick intends to do a reprint, which should make a lot of people happy.
Blue Planet: a game in which you can play a cybernetically enhanced killer whale, while keeping the tone quite serious. Good stuff.
More and more, companies and individuals are exploring alternatives to the traditional ways of publishing and releasing stuff. Two new examples saw the light of day just now.
First off, we have Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) releasing a whole new album, just scant months after the last double-disk instrumental set. This time around, the whole thing is absolutely free, you can download “The Slip” in various digital forms, without needing to pay Trent one dime (or having to deal with DRM or other nonsense). Trent says that he intends to also release the album in more traditional CD form later, but for now the digital download is a “free gift to the fans”. Apparently his previous “decide how much you want to pay” foray with the Ghosts set was a success – or else he just wants to thumb his nose at the big record labels. Or maybe both. Me, I’m not complaining, I’ve really liked the new NIN stuff – lots of energy and actual melody, instead of just industrial drones.
The second has to do with roleplaying books, where the guys at Pagan Publishing / Arcdream decided that they would like to publish a new Delta Green book (which is at least partly complete already), but all their cash is tied down in other book projects. The Ransom Model to the rescue! So, we now have a new Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity book ransom running; you pledge $50, and if they manage to raise the full $20,000 there will be a print run and you’ll get a copy of the book. If not, you don’t get charged anything and they’ll possibly publish it later via more traditional means, but there’s no guarantee or timeframe on that. So in effect, it’s a binding pre-order for a book, which also gauges how much interest there is for the thing. Very cool, and Greg Stolze has been doing it for a while now with his Reign supplements. Because it’s a printed, hardcover book, international customers will need to Paypal an extra $25 to cover shipping if the book goes to print.
Personally… well, a new hardcover book filled with more Delta Green goodness? Of course I’m in. Besides liking the ransom model in general, Delta Green rocks and the writers on this one are once again first-class. Here’s hoping they get enough pledges so we’ll get the book sooner instead of (much) later. It’ll cost me $75 with international shipping, but with the current $-vs-euro rate that’s about 50e which is quite a normal price for a big hardcover book.
So… if you like NIN, hop on over to their site and download the new album as a gift. If you like Delta Green, pledge your $50 and support the excellent cause of “pay great writers to create tons of cool new modern Cthulhu stuff”. Can’t really go wrong with either choice.
I think the blurb tells it all:
It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year… For EVIL!
The miserly villain Doctor Scrooge hides behind legal technicalities as he steals from the pockets of the impoverished… explorer-gone-mad Jacques Frost preys upon the peoples of the north with his resurrected prehistoric murder monsters… the immortal Baroness Blackheart quests for the Elixir of Life, threatening to destroy all foundations of happiness for mankind… meanwhile Antiochus the Defiler and his spectral Seleucid Squad attack anything sacred or holy…
… and it’s up to Nick Saint — Codename: Secret Santa! — his Reindeer Men, their Chanukah allies, and you to save the holidays from their vile clutches!
So yeah, Spirit of the Season is a small Christmas/Chanukah expansion for the pulp game Spirit of the Century. It’s mostly a listing of NPCs, some on the “good list” and others on the “naughty list”, with stats provided for both SotC and for Truth & Justice. It’s more a booklet than a book, really.
Nothing earth-shattering, but good fun (hey, pulp heroes called “Codename Dancer” and “Codename Cupid” can’t go wrong!) and a nice toolkit fo building a Christmas-themed pulp oneshot, with the forces of Santa fighting the evil Jacques Frost and Baroness Blackheart – or vice versa.
Do you want to run a Christmas-themed pulp oneshot game? That’s another question (but of course you do!).
The first of Paizo’s “urban” standalone adventures, Gallery of Evil by Stephen S. Greer is a fun little romp.
It’s set in a high-class district of Absalom, a city in the Pathfinder game world of Golarion, but it could be transplanted to pretty much any D&D city with minimal effort. The plot is nicely nonstandard and involves paintings with murderous intent (yes, really). The villain of the piece is not just another stereotype “evil guy”, there are actual motivations involved… nice, for a change; all too many D&D adventures have “bad guys” doing bad stuff “just because they are evil”. Also provided are some pages of detail on the part of the city the events take place in, with a list of important people and places with some plot hooks – very nice in case the players go into freeform mode, and also useful in case you want a pre-populated section of city for some other game.
It reads like it should provide a fun evening or two of play. It’s fairly straightforward, and as written the players are almost spoon-fed clues about what’s going on. Were I to run it I would probably tweak it to make it a bit less linear and to involve a bit more actual player investigation. Matter of taste, I guess.
In any case, this is yet another classy stand-alone module from Paizo. I can’t find anything much to complain about here; the straightforward nature of the scenario can’t really be called a “fault”, since it does make this runnable with minimal prepwork and it’s easy enough to provide more complications if needed.
Spires of Xin-Shalast, written by Greg A. Vaughan, is the conclusion to the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. It starts out very strong, with a great sequence involving dwarven ghosts and a Wendigo spirit. After that, the party is supposed to make their way to the ancient city of Xin-Shalast, and while it’s pretty good it has some problems. To be fair, though, most of those problems are due to the fact that it’s a huge place, and the page count limit here just doesn’t allow the writer to do it full justice. A GM running this would either have to keep the players on a very tight railroad or do quite a bit of prepwork. The final confrontation reads like it should be a titanic battle – which may or may not be your thing.
Overall, I’d give this whole adventure path something like a “four stars out of five” rating. The first half is excellent, with varied moods and encounters and fun subplots. The second half is still ok, but suffers a bit in my mind from being a combatfest most of the time. Maybe that’s the way D&D adventures tend to go as the level increases, but still…
Besides the high amount of combat, another problem crops up in that some of the plot connections between the parts of the “path”, and even within the parts themselves, are quite vague. The players are apparently expected to follow the plot with very meager leads at times, and I found myself wondering at times “why on earth would the players do what’s expected here?” With a good GM and some prepwork I’m sure that those problems would be minor (and ideally not even noticed by the players), but I think it’s fair to warn prospective GMs of this “adventure path” that it would be a good idea to read the whole thing, or at least some parts in advance, before starting a game. That way you can start dropping hints early, and provide lots of alternate plot hooks for players in case they miss the “default” ones. As they will, more often than not.
As far as main plot went: pretty standard “ancient bad guy is waking up and needs to be stopped” thing. I found the use of the seven deadly sins as a central power motif to be a bit hokey, but hey… this is D&D, hokey is part of the game. It worked well enough, though I’d love to see a main plot that wasn’t a variation of “ancient evil rises”. That’s… been done. A lot.
In case the above sounds too negative: I found this to be a high-quality set of linked adventures, with lots of really cool ideas and settings. Some GM tweaking will be needed, but that’s the case with pretty much anything.
I’m looking forward to the next adventure path, the city-based Curse of the Crimson Throne. It sounds interesting, and urban scenarios often offer lots of nice social interaction. The second half of Runelords took place mostly in the wilderness, which may also have been a factor in my feeling that it was combat-heavy.
On the other hand, the main plot of Crimson Throne seems to be… wait for it… “ancient evil rises again!”. The goggles! They do nothing!
Yu-Shan is the third book in Exalted’s “Compass of Celestial Directions” supplement line, detailing various “extraplanar” locales (using the word “locale” very loosely) for the game. The first book detailed the Blessed Isle – and as such was a somewhat weird start, since the Blessed Isle is a very concrete location in Creation. Maybe it was a reference to the fact that it’s the center, in both the physical and metaphysical sense, dunno. The second book detailed the Wyld (where the Fair Folk exist), and now we have Yu-Shan, the city of the gods.
That’s one of the many things to love in Exalted: where many fantasy games have gods, and the concept of a “heaven” (or “plane”) where they live, those locales are usually left abstract and undetailed; usually for the reason that gods are so far above “mere mortals” that such detail is unnecessary. However, since even beginning Exalted characters have the ability to kick (minor) god ass or at least talk to it as an equal, the game needs to be much more specific with regards to gods and their abode. So… Yu-Shan, the magnificent city where the Celestial gods live.
As an Exalted GM, I love this book. It brings tons of detail to what up to now has been a fairly loosely detailed location, and contains tons of plot hooks all over the place. You’re really forced to to face the fact that it’s a city… not an abstract one, but a very concrete and vast one, with many of the problems you would expect to find in a huge city. Crime, unemployment, traffic problems, you name it (yes, unemployed gods exist in droves, and provide plot hooks galore). We get detail on the (deadly) constant bureaucratic infighting, the personalities involved, and the historical reasons of how things have gotten to the messy state they are in. We also get a lot of background on the limits the Sidereals have to operate under, and of the multitude of still-extant legal loopholes and rights available for Solars; should they ever find out about those rights, things could get very interesting fast. One of the oft-encountered setting questions in Exalted has always been “why don’t the Sidereals just kill all the Solars, they seem to have the power for it?”. Well, we’ve already gotten a lot of the reasons “why not” in previous books, but here we get even more. The Sidereals are constrained (screwed, even) in a multitude of ways, and in ways that make sense given the history of things.
So, lots to love here if you’re running an Exalted game. While a Sidereal campaign set in Yu-Shan would obviously get the most mileage out of this, I can see it being very useful in a more “generic” game, too. Solars will encounter gods now and then, and may find their way to Yu-Shan too… and then there’s always the Carnival of Meeting, which you can use to introduce Heavenly politics into pretty much any type of game.
The next VTES expansion, Twilight Rebellion, will see daylight (figuratively) near the end of May, and as has been the tradition we’re organizing a tournament around it. This time around it’s a “post-release” event, where players build decks from 5 Twilight Rebellion boosters and 5 Anarchs boosters. These events have been lots of fun, traditionally, and I don’t expect this one to be any different. Always cool to play around with brand-new cards when everyone else is in the dark about them, too.
More info on the VTES page.
Scroll of Kings is one of the batch of new Exalted books that arrived recently – due to various delays at White Wolf’s end lots of books got pushed forward in time until now, so now we get a pile of new books in one fell swoop. Fine by me.
This book is about warfare in Creation (Exalted’s game world), and goes to detail about how the various cultures think about warfare and extend that thinking into practice. I wasn’t expecting too much from this book, afraid that if would mostly just consist of army lists and dry “crunch” like that. I was happy to be proved wrong; this book is more of a “military gazeteer” of Creation, and goes into detail of how the various war gods think of war, how this affects mortal nations, and how the environment also affects thinking and practical matters.
The book is divided into sections by geographical direction. We get information about the varied forms of warfare in the East, the fast-moving skirmish mentality of the South, the naval paradigms of the West, the commando raid mentality of the North, and the traditional massive army paradigm of the Realm. While the organization mostly works nicely, it has the downside of spreading the rules crunch over the whole book in a semi-random fashion. Said crunch has to do with extensions to the mass combat rules in Exalted, which I have yet to use in practice. Didn’t bother me, but more crunch-oriented readers may find this type of organization very frustrating, especially combined with White Wolf’s traditional total lack of index and bare-bones table of contents. There is literally no way of searching for anything, other than by leafing through the thing.
Despite small organizatorial niggles, I liked the book quite a bit. While it could not focus on any area for very many pages (Creation is huge), it did add lots of useful information and nice local color all over the place. The writeup on the Linowan managed to not conflict with stuff I had created for that area, amazingly enough (though that’s mostly because the Linowan chapter was very short). Each described location/nation gets one or two sample statted mass combat units, which is probably very useful if you intend to use the mass combat rules – examples always help.
The end of the book lists some new large-scale weapons (steam cannons, yay!), stats for various vehicles, ships and flying thingies, and ends with a list of (mundane) traps that soldiers might create or encounter, with some required skills for creation and other details. Nice.
Crown of the Kobold King is the first “proper” module in Paizo’s “GameMastery” module line, with the very first one being an offering for “Free Rpg Day”, Hollow’s Last Hope (by the way, I’d love to get a print copy of that one, if anyone has pointers please let me know). This module is coded as “D1” (where Hollow was “D0”), with the “D” standing for “Dungeon”. So ok, we have a dungeon crawl on our hands.
Of course, since this is written by Nicolas Logue (an rpg author I’ve become to appreciate more and more), it’s anything but a boring, straightforward affair. The thing is set near Falcon’s Hollow, the setting of both D0 and the later scenario Carnival of Tears. It’s a lumber town with lots of built-in conflicts, darkness and social injustice (i.e. not quite your normal “we’re all happy farmers” D&D town) – and this time around a bunch of children have gone missing and it’s up to you, the players, to rescue them. Why? That’s largely left up to the GM, though hints on motivation and “how to get started” are given.
The adventure itself involves kobolds (surprise!), but they have been given quite decent motivation and some culture of their own, not just “we’re evil so we do evil stuff!”. There are even some quite distinct personalities among them, which is all too rare in this type of scenario. It reads like it should be a very fun affair to play or run, lots of room for total mayhem.
I’m reminded of the old TSD AD&D module N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God, which I still consider to be one of the best entry-level D&D scenarios. There, like here, we have a town with interesting social interaction material, and then a quest into a dungeon/lair to free up kidnapped people. I don’t know if this was intentionally written as some sort of “spiritual successor” to that module, but in any case: I liked this quite a bit, I think it should make for a very good beginning scenario for a D&D 3.5 game.
As an aside, I recently used the town of Falcon’s Hollow (to a very tiny extent) in my Exalted game, transformed into a snowed-in Linowan logging town near the Haltan border. The players didn’t stay other than to spend a night with the luxury of “sleepin indoors for a change”, but had they opted to do stuff I would have had some specs of the town itself to fall back on. Products like these don’t have to be limited to just the game system they’re written for, cooking up new stats and (sometimes) names for NPCs isn’t an impossible chore, given decent basic material to work with.