Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tommy's Take on API Worldwide: Europe

Okay, my streak ends at two.  I admit it, I don't know what the cover of API Worldwide: Europe is.  Not that it's, like, indecipherable or anything...I just don't recognize it.  Is it the European Union flag?  I am a flag-waving, jingoistic American...I can't be expected to know this stuff.  (Editor's note: Apparently it is the EU Flag.  Yes, I should have known that already, but at least common sense mostly worked that out for me.)

Europe is about 90 pages and the PDF does have one strike against it: No bookmarks.  Sorry, I need bookmarks anyway.  I like to be able to pull 'em up and click around as I see fit.  It is searchable and includes an index, but bookmarks would have been great.

We get a five page fiction piece that actually ties in with the adventure included in the book.  Its not bad, really, as it serves to show the difference in the temperament between API US Agents and API UK Agents.

Chapter one begins with a brief and almost apologetic overview, noting that there is just a ton of diversity to cover in Europe.

A Cliff's Notes version of the European Union is presented, along with a sidebar on how the fall of the Iron Curtain has affected API operations in Europe, and how the London and Moscow offices are increasingly at odds.

The overview of London provides a pair of plot seeds: A cyborg serial killer known as Red Jack, as well as a Spectral claiming to be Shakespearean actor John Gielgud...who has drawn a crowd of other Spectrals, as well as Spirit Eaters.

Big Ben is a giant antenna for magical energy, while Merlin's Eye, the giant ferris wheel, is a mass hypnosis device!

In fact, all the little “zoom ins” on London have at least one plot hook that could be expanded into a full blown adventure or two with a little work.

Zooming out into England outside of London, we get towns sacrificing virgins for power and longevity, ghouls that feed on fear and more.  Other fun nuggets include a peaceful demon uprising in Wales seeking to limit API's control.

As the chapter looks to the rest of Europe, again it takes a slightly apologetic approach, because there is just So Much.  Grendel, apparently, is alive...or at least something big and scary that the Danes believe is Grendel.  Four Taylari singers called the Bridez of Dracula are secretly using their music to call out to the dread lord Dracula, in hopes of bringing him back...assuming he was ever real at all.

Honestly, for the first time, I feel like the line stumbles a bit.  There is clearly a sense that they are trying to cover too much ground here, leaving it all feeling a bit flat.

Chapter two delves into the European branch of API and their operations.  The API was forged in Europe, doing battle with the Rat Queen, who unleashed the Black Plague.

Two other power groups exist in England, and have very different outlooks on API: The Knights of Solomon consider them upstarts who should not have interfered against The Rat Queen, while API and the Rosicrucians have had a pretty open exchange with one another.

The Great Fire of London was an attack on API by The Knights of Solomon, which devastated the Taylari, but ultimately allowed API to rebuild bigger and better.  Later, while API London's leader (at the time) Damon Nesbitt was out of the area, Fauns converged on London and started a panic.  Trying to calm the people, they used their music...invoking a wave of orgies.  Nesbitt cut a deal with the Chiron (centaurs), who mass poisoned the Fauns to end the problem.  Nesbitt was removed from power, sparking a rivalry with his replacement, his brother Brennan.  This ultimately ended in Damon's death.

We also get a sidebar here like we did in the Canada book, showing some of the techniques specially used by the Elites in Europe...my favorite being Ghost Hands, which allows them to affect Spectrals and the like with their bare hands.

We also begin to learn about the importance of Oaths, and Oathkeepers.  Oaths are apparently a Really Big Deal, and it is the responsibility of the London Branch to watch them make sure API doesn't go around accidentally breaking them.

The London HQ itself is actually divided up into a network of places beneath London, with my favorite bits being that King Arthur's Round Table is still being put to use by current Director Jonathan Nesbitt, and the Trove: A vault of magical goodies.

Next up, we get to learn about how the various demon races interact with API Europe: Burners are second class citizens, Carriers have a pact with the Nesbitt family, the Company deals somewhat reluctantly with Chirons (who are not Nice Guys), Ondine have pacts with API London, which is causing problems when Lochs attack Ondines as it puts the London office in a tricky political position, and Spectrals from throughout Europe's history hang around, playing a role.

Finally, we get profiles on important staff in the London office.

Chapter three gets into some of the other organizations in the area, beginning with the Rosicrucians.  The Rosicrucians are staunch allies of API, teaching them magic in exchange for combat training, and both sides joining forces to face off the impending Apocalypse.  The two sides are such allies, in fact, that API cells ofter call on Rosicrucians for assistance on missions.

The Inner Circle are a bunch of corrupt politicians that are making deals with demons and circumventing API...but have something FAR more sinister than even that going on.

Knights of Solomon are dangerous foes who could easily have been allies of API...except for the whole “demon” issue.  API thinks some are okay, the Knights do not.  The Drawbacks almost make playing one of these too difficulty (you have to make a check to avoid flying into a rage if you even encounter someone who is friendly with demons), but they make a very cool addition to the world.  Impressively, they even have the Holy Grail among their resources.  Seriously, the Knights of Solomon are one of the coolest additions to the game, by fair.

The 7 Keys are the descendants of seven British soldiers who (kind of) fell under the sway of a powerful demon in World War II.  I say “kind of” because the demon is imprisoned and needs the “7 Keys” to set it free...however, the families have instead used the demon's imprisoned state to leech off of it.  The book only provides five of the Keys, giving you free reign to decide the other two as you will.

The Greyfire Club are adventurers and artifact seekers who will do whatever it takes to acquire their targets...destroying half of the rain forest, murdering relatives, killing villages, you name it.  To make it worse, often times their efforts wind up allowing demons a foothold into the world or allow artifacts to fall into the hands of those that should not have them.

Chapter four gets into the new crunch, starting with the Path of Oaths, where we learn about the power in Oaths.  Oaths require two willing participants, and Oath magic used to be used in marriage ceremonies, although nowadays, they don't bother.  There are three “levels” of Oaths: Lesser, Greater and Legendary, with examples of both duties and punishments.  And Oaths really are big deals, as magic backs up the pact, meaning it backs up the punishment if someone breaks the oath.

The Path of Fortune also gets a few spells added to it, including a spell that allows a caster to take his own life to save another.  Nice flavor, but I don't see that one getting used a ton.

New equipment gets added here, including the “required by the London office” Demon Scanners and the pretty awesome Black-Flame Thrower that is designed to only hurt demons and leave everyone and everything else be.

Then we get to some awesomeness: artifacts!  Caliburn leads off the list, and all artifacts have both cool bonuses and heinous drawbacks.

New Antagonists include Basilisks, The Furies, Pegasi, Unicorns and the Sphinx, as well as antagonist stat blocks for the new races in this book.

Speaking of: Chiron, Fauns, Hidden Folk and Morgane are the new races added in API: Europe.

Chiron are centaurs, and are vicious, nasty creatures that API has a grudging pact with.

Fauns are also known as Satyrs, and are essentially under the rules of Chirons, whether they like it or not.

Hidden Folk are elves, but are really spirits who hop from body to body.  Initially, they look just like their host, but over time the body begins to transform into more traditional elven characteristics.

Morgane are virtually immortal, mysterious manipulators.  Merlin, in fact, is a Morgane.  In their normal form, they have sunken, black holes for eyes and featureless faces and they must consume human souls to remain on Earth.

Included in the book is an adventure called “Elsewhere?” that picks up with the agents from the prologue, as well as Big Ben, being sucked away into another dimension.  The disappearance of Big Ben is being covered up by magical veils, preventing a giant panic.

The trip into The Wastes allows for fun with giants that utterly dwarf humans, as well as creepy ice spiders native to the dimension.  The fate of Big Ben, the agents and the 500 ft radius around Big Ben is revealed...with a little twist.  In the end, the Agents have the opportunity to put down a giant demonic prince as well as establish diplomatic relations with giants...so long as they don't get stranded in the Wastes.

A London branch specific debriefing form is provided, followed by an index.  One other small change from the previous books, though, is that the last few pages are filled with advertising, a noticeable amount more than was present in the previous books.

In the final analysis?  I like it...with a “but”.  There's some really good stuff here (I love the Knights of Solomon, The Morgane, the artifacts and the Path of Oaths).  The adventure is another great example of what you can do with API that isn't quite like any other adventure released for it so far.  I also love that things like the Ondine were not ignored, even though they appeared in another book.  They didn't shoehorn, say, Wendigo in just because...but if they fit in, like Ondine?  Absolutely use them in the text, building on what came before.  Also, I love a lot of the plot seeds dropped around to be expanded on (from the big, obvious ones like the 7 Keys to John Gielgud drawing his crowd of ghosts)...but whereas API: Canada managed to make the Great White North feel like it was bursting with adventure potential, API: Europe tried to cover too much for its page count, and that made Europe feel a little...lacking.  Honestly, I think I would have preferred API: London, with a slightly less detailed look at the rest of the UK, rather than also trying to cover France, Romania, Italy, Greece and so on.

There were a few other niggling issues worth noting, the first being at least a couple of instances of “see page XX” popping up in the text, placeholder page markers that never got filled in.  It is also worth noting that we get introduced to our third straight beast that is a mass of tentacles and teeth (Grendel, like The Thing Under The Ice and The Vastness before it), although “Grendel” is left vague enough that it could just be a manifestation of The Thing Under The Ice's global reach mentioned in Canada.

It's still a very good book with some great ideas (I LOVE the Morgane, *really* like the Chiron and Hidden Folk, and like the Fauns), just next to Canada it kind of stumbles, unfortunately.