Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New products and slow updates

Before I jump into long-winded excuses, let me discuss the newest arrivals, so those who aren't interested can skip the bottom half of this post.

Friday I got two slips in my mailbox telling me I had to go to the post office to pick up products. Due to the holiday weekend, however, I couldn't actually pick them up until Tuesday. Those were from Margret Weis (Castlemourn and Price of Courage) and Arbor Productions (Autumn Arbor and the Hunter and Prey PDFs). On my way home I checked my mail, and had two more. Those were a very cool combat pad from Open Mind, and a CD full of maps from Fabled Environments.

There are a lot of great things about living in the country. The terrible postal service isn't one of them.

Anywho, now onto my lame explanation for the slow updates.

As the deadline for submissions draws near (just two more days) I feel compelled to crack down and get to work on judging. Not just reading, mind you, but actual judging. What's the difference? Details mostly. As you may have noticed from the few little mini-reviews that I've done, I read the books like I do most games I intend for personal use. I read through them, cover to cover, seeing what I like, but not really studying them in-depth. Where possible, I go through and playtest the systems I'm unfamiliar with to get a better grasp for the rules, but for the most part, I'm just reading.

Now that I've read the majority of books I'm going back through and studying the details, taking notes, looking at the art and production values, that sort of thing. Basically I'm narrowing the field. There are a lot of excellent games out there, and I've read some of the coolest, most innovative, and interesting games over the last couple months, but I only get to pick five in each category, and that's tough. Especially for the broadest categories, like Product of the Year. How do you pick a top five out of everything that has been entered? Heck, how do you compare something like the Galleon I got (which just floored me with utter coolness) with a book like Hollow Earth (which completely drew me in from the first few pages)?

To be honest, it's a little bit overwhelming, and the whole time the deadline looms, and more products pour in at the last moment.

So, that's why. I honestly don't know what more to say. All of my free time has been spent reading or studying entries, and what time I do tear myself away from them, I tend to use to decompress and don't feel like delving back in.

Don't get me wrong. I love it. It has been a fantastic opportunity, and has really reignited the love for gaming that I didn't even know had dimmed, but it's just a lot to do right now.

I will try to be better, and I'm sorry to those people who actually take the time to check here just to go away empty handed for a week at a time. I promised to update this thing more regularly, and if anything my updates have slowed. I'll try not to let that happen again. Right now everything is getting pushed to the back-burner, and I let this blog get swept away right along with everything else.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Even yet more books

My thanks to Fred for saving me the trouble of coming up with a title. It really is the hardest part.

Anywho, if you read the comments from my last post you probably already guessed that I got my shipment from IPR. It's quite the selection. There was Spirit of the Century and Don't Rest Your Head, which I was expecting, but also a massive Dawning Star book, Panty Explosion, Zorcerer of Zo, Mortal Coil, Cold City, Passages, and Agon. Certainly my most diverse shipment to date.

As we enter the last week for submissions things are really starting to pick up. I've redoubled my efforts reading (and actually put a campaign on hold to do so), there has been more discussion of favorite products among the judges, and of course the last minute entries pour in.

In addition to the box from IPR I also a few more entries. My copy of Burning Empires came in a week or so ago, but I forgot to enter it. Tabletop Adventures sent Against the Darkness, Mother of All Treasure Tables, and a selection of PDFs. Dog House Rules sent in a Cd of PDFs. Word Mill Publishing sent in Mythic Game Master Emulator. Lone Wolf sent in Hero Lab. Last but not least, Black Industries sent in another WFRP book and three novels for consideration in the new regalia catagory.

It's been a busy couple of days.

As a side note, I think I managed to hit all of the major shipping centers today. The shipments came from FedEx, DHL, UPS, and the USPS. My neighbors must think I'm having some sort of convention.

Anywho, I have a lot of interesting books to read, and Tivo is recording the season finale of Lost as I type, so I had better get a move on.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

PDFs by the dozen

I got a couple new CDs in the mail over the last couple days.

The first was from Your Games Now, with a selection of PDFs from Dog Soul, DragonWing Games, Dreamscarred Press, Forever People, Lame Mage Productions, Paradigm Concepts, Silver Branch Games, and Swords Edge Publishing.

The second CD was from Final Redoubt Press, who had an interesting entry. They submitted nine products, six of which are apparently the same setting and adventures released under four different rule sets. Basically it's four separate series of six PDFs, each focusing on the same content, but with different rules. I haven't read them yet, but color me interested. I have never been interested in settings completely divorced from rules, but I have always been the kind of person to experiment with using different settings with my favorite rule sets. If this manages to blend the best of both worlds I will be mightily impressed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Newest arrivals

Two new sets of entries came in yesterday. Black Industries sent in The Witch Hunter's Handbook and Liber Necris, and Ironwood Omnimedia sent the Fantasy Sagas series on PDF.

For those keeping score, no this isn't a review of Qin. I'm sorry, but I didn't have time to read it. When I promised to get the review out I forgot that Sunday was Mother's Day.

I'll finish it tomorrow and try to get a review out for Thursday.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Where I'm at

In a thread over at I said that I had read 40 or 50 books so far. Last night, when one of my players asked how much I had read, I said I thought it was close to 100. That didn't sound right, so I actually went through and counted all of my notes, and I thought I'd share some actual numbers.

Thus far I have received 103 products for review. I know there is a shipment from IPR still outstanding, and a copy of Burning Empires, but for now that is all I actually have stuffed into the two large boxes in my living room.

I have read 68 of those. That does include products that aren't actually books, but doesn't include fan sites or podcasts. I have actually rated 27 of those 68 products. The rest I'm still thinking about, or I'm waiting until I review the rest of the line.

So, as we approach the end I'm roughly 2/3 of the way finished. Assuming, of course, that nothing else comes in.

That's not really the whole story though. There are a number of books that have gotten put off for a while for various reasons. The 35 books that remain include some of the largest and most popular selections. Ptolus is in there, as is Qin, and a whole box full of WFRPG books. Still, it's getting done, and the remaining time should be plenty to finish it off with no real problems unless a lot more stuff comes in that I'm not expecting.

Anywho, just thought I'd share. I probably won't be blogging again this weekend, but I'll be back by Tuesday with a review of Qin, which is sitting next to me as I type, waiting to be read.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ship ahoy!

Which is more sad, that I spent like an hour trying to come up with something clever to say, or that was the best I could come up with. I was trying to think of something clever and witty to say about the fact that I just got a freakin' galleon in my mailbox, but either there's nowhere to go with the whole ship thing, or I'm not as clever and witty as I had hoped.

I keep hoping it's the former, but I'm pretty sure it's the latter.

Anywho, seeing is believing, so hopefully Mr. Amodio doesn't mind me linking to the pictures on his site.

The ship itself is beautiful, clearly marked with 5' squares and ready for use with minis.

It's made in three levels, which separate in case your characters go below decks, and comes with a number of likewise beautiful wooden counters representing cannons, powder kegs, and even fire.

Every surface is clearly marked for use, even the cross-beams for the sails can bear your chosen minis, so you can feel free to swash-your-buckle anywhere on board.

Doorways and stairs are marked, and the cargo hatch even has a hole that goes straight through to the bottom deck.

There are even separate levels for the cabins and such on the top deck.

This thing is amazing.

Every once in a while you see something and know it has to be inserted into your game somehow. For me, this was one of those things. I'm going to have to re-write tonight's adventure.

I don't even know how to rate it. On a scale of 1 to 10 I give it an "awesome".

I guess that makes it my very first 10.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hollow Earth Expedition

Hollow Earth Expedition was one of the first games that I received to be sent straight to the top of my "to read" stack. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love the idea of a good pulp game, and from everything I had read about it HEX seemed to be exactly that.

It didn't disappoint.

The book is absolutely beautiful. Every piece of art, from the cover through the interior artwork evokes the pulp theme. It's attractive, well-made, and hits the mark squarely.

The book starts with a piece of opening fiction that really serves to set the mood for the game. It manages to do with eight pages what Scion was unable to do in forty, it makes you want to sit right down, make a character, and start exploring.

After that it jumps right into setting information, explaining the world of 1936 in an interesting, entertaining way. It sets the whole vibe for the world, delving not just into history and world events, but explaining the fashions and popular entertainment of the day. This, in my opinion, is the game's real strength. It's fun to read, tells you everything you really need to know, and does so without needing a hundred pages of exposition. In less than twenty pages you get a basic overview of the upper world told in a fun way that leaves you a little disappointed that it's over.

After that we get into the rules themselves. As a crunchy kind of guy I feel like, if this game has a weakness, this is it. Not that the rules are bad mind you, it's just that the rest of the book is so rich and interesting that you almost want to push past them to get on with it.

For me I think that is because the rules feel so familiar that you can jump right in and know what you're up against right away. My first thought was that the rules felt like some kind of unholy union between d20 and White Wolf. Not that it really borrows much from either, but to me at least that's how it feels.

The layout of the rules section probably serves as the strongest reminder of the d20 system. The clean, easy to navigate rules section will be familiar to DnD players, and the Talents section has the smell of Feats about it. The die system is your fairly standard "count successes" type, which should be immediately familiar to anyone who has played using White Wolf's system or the newest iteration of Shadowrun. They even use White Wolf's assumption that more damaging weapons are easier to hit with, which I think it a real shame.

Not that it's all just a clever rehash of existing stuff. The system, like everything else in this book, serves to evoke the pulp feel of the game and keep the story flowing. Unlike other systems where you roll and count successes, your dice will succeed far more often. In fact, there is a 50-50 chance that each die will be a success. To that end you can also "Take the Average", letting you simply take the average roll for the number of dice you throw. If you have twice as many dice as the difficulty of the roll, no need to throw dice. You succeeded, move on.

There's a lot of good stuff here, but it's time to press forward. Simply stated, the rules maintain the flow of the game, and add to the flavor and theme. Heck, I haven't even had time to talk about Style Points yet, which are probably my favorite part of the game. Like the various benefit points from other games these help the player to turn the randomness of the game and their die rolls in their favor, but unlike most other games, you get these points for playing or expanding your character and making the game fun for everyone.

I need to wrap this up, but let me at least touch on the Hollow Earth section at the end of the book, since it is really the meat of the game. Like the rest of the setting details this section is a fun, interesting read. Details are explained as simple fact, like real science or history. They don't take you out of the world to explain to you what the world should be. The tell you how it is and make you want to believe.

This book is easily one of the best I've read thus far. It's at least a 9 out of 10, and probably deserves more. Every part of this book makes you want to read more, until you finally run out of pages and are disappointed that its over. I can't wait until I can get my hands of the expansions advertised in the back of the book.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

More from Green Ronin

I think the guys at Green Ronin must be poking fun at me for complaining about the number of packing peanuts that came with the White Wolf shipment. Either that or their offices are drowning in the things and they had to bail a few out before they were consumed by them.

I added the actual books that I received to my list on the left, so I won't go into them in too much depth for now. I'll touch on them more when I have time to read them all and give them real reviews.

I will take a moment to comment on the Deck of Many Things, because I already looked through it last night, and it's an easy review.

Obviously this is not something everyone needs. If you don't intend to use a Deck of Many Things in your game, then these cards are not for you.

If you do, however, these might make for an excellent purchase. The cards are beautifully illustrated and surprisingly useful. Not only do they add to the feel of the game (who wouldn't rather actually draw a card than roll on a chart?), but the quick-reference cards are well written and contain all the necessary information to use them in the game.

Several years ago, I forget how long at this point, Dungeon magazine printed a Deck of Many things as a hand-out for an adventure. I've kept those and treasured them for years. Now I'm going to retire them. These cards will definitely be replacing those.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Scion: Hero (redux)

If you've been reading my blog for a while, then you may have read that my group and I played the Scion demo a while back. This review covers the actual game itself, not that demo.

Let me preface this by saying that I really enjoy playing this game, and it may well take the place of one of my regular systems when next I finish a campaign.

That said, I found the book itself to be very disappointing.

The system is great, the idea is fun, but there's just not a lot of information given. Instead of setting information we get a 39 page short story that takes up the beginning of the book. Instead of a reasonable number of example birthrights or titanspawn, we get a 60 page adventure module that is really only designed to be used with the pregenerated characters. It's not even a particularly great adventure. It manages to be both too railroady and too wide open at the same time.

It's too bad. the game has a lot of potential, but it just doesn't give any real information telling a GM what to do with it.

To make matters worse, the art is a greatly varying quality, and I found several of the watermarks to be too dark to read the text over them easily. For a game that will be receiving limited additional information (two companion books, but no splats) it's just too shy on things it needs, and too thick on stuff that is of limited usefulness.

I see this game doing well in the technical aspects (like Best Rules), but as an overall product I was unimpressed. 7.5 out of 10, and I feel that may be on the generous side since I like the actual game so much.

More filler

I added the stuff from Expeditious Retreat Press and my newest arrival, Faery's Tale by Firefly Games to the list on the left. I'm still waiting on a couple more shipments, including a copy of Burning Empires, which was apparently sent to the wrong address, but should be on its way now.

I've gotten back into reading adventures, which is good, but I probably won't be reviewing many of them in a lot of detail. It occurred to me last night that my mini-reviews simply aren't thorough enough to do these products much justice. I just put them out to give people an idea of what I am thinking and where I am coming from. If you want real, thorough, good reviews let me recommend or

My reviews tend to take a 350-page rulebook and distill it down to a three or four paragraph review. What would a 16-page adventure look like? Besides, the crux of the matter is, I wouldn't really know what to say. The best ones mostly make me excited because of the plot, and if I tell the plot in a review I would just be spoiling the adventure.

*sigh* I'll think of some way to do it. At very least I may do blocks of several small adventures at once, while still trying to do what I can about individual reviews for the larger ones.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Warlords of the Accordlands: The Master Codex

I'm glad that I read the Warlords books in the order that I did, because it helped me to understand what was going on behind the rules before I read them. I feel that's kind of important in this case, because In almost every way Warlords takes the standard DnD game and supercharges it. The rules are no exception.

At its heart this game is your standard d20 fare. It even bears the d20 logo, though I didn't see a STL declaration, and it seems to be in violation (it has attribute and experience rules) *shrug* That doesn't really effect the game itself though.

I say its the standard d20 fare, but that's a little unfair. The game has the usual feats and prestige classes, but like all aspects of the setting, it takes them, tweaks them, and pushes them a bit further.

The races seem to be the usual elves, dwarves, and humans, until you read about what makes them tick. The classes look like those you are familiar with, until you read through their abilities.

More importantly, this game takes into account how exactly the races, classes, and feats interact. Each class has specific abilities available to it based on what race you are playing. The feats don't just make you more powerful (though there is a bit of that when compared to standard DnD), they broaden your options and deepen your character.

Sure, there are feats that would make a power-gamer sing. This world is darker and more brutal than your average world, and the characters are larger-than-life. There are also, however, feats that add depth and story to your character. Quest feats that help to define his purpose, and Lunar feats that explore his origin.

This feeling of depth and empowerment even continues into the item lists, with ways to customize your weapons and equipment. Everything from what material your sword is made from to the pattern that it was forged in.

Everything about this book is meaty and exceptional. I give it a 9 out of 10.


As you may have noticed, I took some time away to avoid a little burn-out and do some much needed work on my home campaigns. Things should be back to my normal 3 to 4 posts a week now.

Also, to add at least something of value to this post, I received a shipment from Expeditious Retreat Press last week. One was a CD, which I haven't had a chance to look at, and the other two were adventures.

The first is for OSRIC. That one should make a couple of my players very happy, as we've been talking about going a bit old-school for a while.

The other is a solo (one player, one GM) adventure, which is neat. I've always enjoyed playing one on one, and look forward to getting one of my players to help me playtest it.