Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tommy's Take on the Savage Worlds Horror Companion

Earlier on in the lifespan of Savage Worlds, Pinnacle began releasing the Toolkit PDFs. As the popularity of Savage Worlds has grown, they began releasing Companions, which incorporated material from the Toolkits, along with new material. The first was the Fantasy Companion, the second the Super Powers Companion (culled from Necessary Evil rather than a toolkit) and now, the Horror Companion. It should be noted that I absolutely love the two Horror PDFs (Toolkit and Bestiary).

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Horror Companion PDF will run you about $15, so be aware of that.A couple of years ago, I would have complained about that, but I use digital stuff more and more, so as I become comfortable with the utility, I become comfortable with the prices. The PDF is 145 pages, cover and all.

Let's dig in.

Right off, we get new Hindrances and Edges. Doubting Thomas is bumped up to a Major Hindrance, and if you are using Sanity points (a setting rule included in this book), they lose Sanity at a faster rate. Bullet Magnet is pretty self explanatory, and would be HORRIBLE to have in a Deadlands posse with a Grim Servant o' Death. Victim just makes you a magnet for all kinds of nasty.

Some great Edges are included, such as Relentless (allowing you to act if you get even a Success on a roll to become Unshaken), Monster Hunter (assuming your hero has a focus on a certain kind) and One of the Chosen, just a good all-purpose Edge for tacking onto your champion/Slayer/etc. Other than that, anything new?

Holy crap.

Rules for playing as monsters. Yeah. Angels, Demons, Dhampyrs, Patchwork Men, Phantoms, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies. And yeah, while most of these are pretty "set" in powers and abilities, they're a great jumping off point for doing your own thing.

Given how put-out I was by vampires and werewolves no longer being an option when Deadlands become Reloaded, color me excited.

The equipment chapter very clearly has a horror bent to it, with different substances that weapons can be made of (like cold iron and its effects on demons) as well as bits like silver nitrate bullets and UV flashlights.

The setting rules get a little campy, with "sprays of blood" (use a cone template to show the splatter when someone dies) and "marks" that add up to damage penalties when someone does Bad Things (making them more likely to die, ala horror movies). We also get the Sanity rules, which is a secondary stat that can be lowered...personally, I prefer the Realms of Cthulhu version, which treats Sanity as "mental wounds", although I like the Psychosis table in the Horror Companion more.

We also get rules for casting Rituals (complete with modifiers for things like sacrifices), as well as simple systems for Signs & Portents (a fortune teller can be a good thing) and Warding and Binding (always relevant for these sorts of things).

New powers include Binding powers, Consecrate Ground, Grave Speak (conversing with the dead) and Summoning spells.

There are also a number of creepy Arcane Items, like a hockey mask that provides regenerative powers and turns its wearer into an emotionless killing machine, dust that makes the dead speak, knives made from werewolf teeth and voodoo dolls.

A good portion of the book is taken up by the bestiary, with Wild Card creatures like the Black Coachman as well as lesser creatures such as the Blood Mist. Some "generic" stat blocks are also included, like Slayers. Many barely re-skinned D&D classics are also included, if you're like me and thinking "MAN this makes me wanna play Savage Ravenloft". I didn't check closely, but MOST of the Horror Bestiary looked to be present, and updated to fall in line with SW Deluxe Edition.

The GM section takes an approach not unlike that of Realms of Cthulhu or Agents of Oblivion, essentially categorizing elements of the campaign (like where occult knowledge is Open or Closed...does everyone know about vampires and werewolves, or just the PCs, etc). The rest is a lot of stuff that's been said at one time or another in these sorts of things.

WHAT WORKS: The updated Bestiary, the swell new powers and PC Monsters. Yes, it may not be your cup of tea, but I love-love-love-LOVE seeing that in here. The fortune telling rules also look great (and simple), as well as the ritual rules.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The GM section is nothing special, and nothing we haven't read before. The cover is another cheesecake scantily clad cover like the other companions, which is kinda disappointing.

CONCLUSION: Probably my favorite companion thus far, as I felt like the Fantasy Companion kinda lost something from the Toolkits and I like Necessary Evil and its plot point campaign more than I like the Super Powers setting rules and slew of NPCs. This one, on the other hand, felt packed full of goodness and whatever it may have lost from the Toolkit PDFs, it more than made up for with better organization and the monster races. Best companion by far, in my book.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tommy's Take on Agents of Oblivion

Agents of Oblivion, the latest offering by Sean Preston and Reality Blurs, is a Savage Worlds Spy-Horror game written by Preston and Ed "Pinebox, Texas" Wetterman.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, layout wise, don't expect anything quite on the level of Reams of Cthulhu. The layout is a bit more spartan, nothing ugly, just more "functional" than "eye catching", which isn't a bad thing.

The premise is a conspiracy-filled monster-mashing modern world, in which the PCs are, um, Agents of an organization called Oblivion. Oblivion characters gain a few perks, including some free skills and a choice between a free Edge OR a free Attribute increase!

Additionally, they can belong to one of three branches (Assault, Occult and Operations), which can grant them temporary Edges as well! The "Defining Interests" mechanic from Realms of Cthulhu makes a return appearance as well.

The Skills List is expanded, adding notable additions such as Demolitions and Forgery, valuable assets for any spy.

Reality Blurs apparently does not like Power Points (which is fine, neither do I) as all of their uses of the Powers system in this book ditch Power Points completely. Speaking of, in addition to some fairly standard powers options (Magic, Psychic and Sacred), you can essentially be a "mutant", starting off with a power that you were born with.

Of course, there are new Edges to play with, like Gun Fu (which allows guns to be fired even in close combat), Hindsight (which actually means you are immune to gang up bonuses) and Silent Kill (pretty much a must for assassin types). Powers Edges can let you tweak your powers and Professional Edges like Hacker and Cleaner help the agents specialize.

I always love to see Legendary Edges, and there are some great ones here, like Last Man Standing (allowing the Agent to ignore all wound penalties), Empty the Clip (for when you absolutely MUST unload the entire gun) and Up Close and Personal (allowing an in-close gunman to force their target to default to the generally much easier to hit Target Number 4).

The Setting Rules include some tweaks to the Powers as well as new uses for existing skills, like applying your skills to a manhunt, for instance. This section also includes the Requisiton point system, as agents rarely have to deal with money hands on.

The equipment section covers most of the bases you would expect, as well as Perks, which are awesome bits like Emergency Evacs, a Cover Identity and, yes, an Air Strike. You can even, with GM discretion, "buy" Edges in the form of enhancements that mimic the mechanics of Edges (and there are enhancements available for a good chunk of the Edges, like the Flip Chip, which makes you ambidextrous). There are even Single Use devices that mimic powers: Like an Anti-Grav device that lets you Fly.

The GM section provides background in the form of Oblivion and the Pandora Institute, essentially rival organizations, one hoping to surprise the Bad Stuff in the world and the other hoping to use it.

That said, the book does more to provide a framework for you to work off of, with a number of factors on a sliding scale of None, Low, Moderate and High: Alien Factor, Conspiracy Factor, Occult Factor, Horror Factor and Technology Factor, along with example campaign types and how to combine them (like the "settings" for an X-Files ish campaign, for instance).

A ton of agencies are detailed, divided by their regions of origin, including Pandora, the Thule Society, the Bilderbergs, Al-Qaeda, the Illuminati, and more. Each is "ranked" by their involvement with various factors, and each is purely optional, but are rather inspirational.

More importantly, we not only get a random mission generator (somewhat based off of the Realms of Cthulhu one, but definitely tweaked for the setting), but an Agency generator and a monster generator.

Seven campaign arcs are provided, one for each of the campaign types given earlier in the book, each with the major "plot points" broken down. While none of them are fully fleshed out adventures, a GM with some experience should be able to run with what's given. The X-Files style arc, for example, involves a world domination plot partially orchestrated by parasitic aliens and another shadowy agency.

While we don't get a bestiary per se, we do get a list of generic stat blocks, as well as the major players in each of the Savage Story Arcs fully detailed.

WHAT WORKS: A great alternative for people who may have liked BLACK OPS or CONSPIRACY X but decided they weren't fans of GURPS of Classic Unisystem anymore (like me!). The book is all about options, options, options, not about shoe-horning in a single way to play...(sometimes, that shoe-horning is fine, and sometimes, you just want options, options, options). And I do so love me some random tables, even more than I do Legendary Edges.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I always prefer a character sheet IN the book, and the PDF is also sans index. Now, while that's not a HUGE issue in a searchable, bookmarked PDF, it can be noticeable in a printed book. Also, I likes me a good bestiary, and this does look a true bestiary (though there is a sample alien or two to play with, to say nothing of the generator).

CONCLUSION: At only $10, I'm not shocked at all that this book shot to the top of the sales charts upon release. You can do straight up spies, you can do X-Files, you can do mutant super agents if you like, and it's at least 95% compatible with other Savage Worlds stuff to boot, so how can you go wrong? (Bonus points if you combine it with the Gritty options from Realms of Cthulhu for some real bone breaking action).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Walking Dead Brings War of the Dead Sale!

To celebrate the beginning of The Walking Dead Season 2, from now until the end of the month, you can get War of the Dead Chapters 1-3 half off at RPGNow!

War of the Dead is an epic zombie apocalypse campaign for Savage Worlds that is building to a head in Chapter 4 next year, and exploding into the Savage Setting World of the Dead! You should get caught up now, before Chapter 4 comes out.

Chapters 1 and 2 were reviewed by me, and Chapter 3 edited by me!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Demon Codex: Lochs is currently on sale

Just a quick post to let everyone know that Eloy Lasanta and Third Eye Games has put Demon Codex: Lochs for Apocalypse Prevention Inc on sale for half off at their website. API is pretty great stuff, and the Lochs really come alive in the Demon Codex. Pop on over here for my full review, then on to the Third Eye Games website to order.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tommy's Take on the Totems of the Dead GM's Guide

Apologies for the lack of reviews...working on some deadline intensive products, including the
two Horror of Trevala releases coming out later this month.

The Totems of the Dead GM's Guide came out four days ago, so let's take a look at it.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The PDF is $13 and 140 pages, and pretty entirely for the GM, as you may have guessed. The production values are the same, top notch values we have come to expect from
Gun Metal Games, including a fantastic cover by Jason Walton.

The GM chapter is a good guideline for making your own adventures, as well as providing a few campaign frameworks for Totems of the Dead. Not quite as robust as some setting books, but useful. One nice touch is the NPC Personality chart, which links each of the 20 personalities with animals, very appropriate for the setting.

A BIG chunk of the book is made up of the bestiary, so if you like monsters, here ya go. The first chunk are animals, with giant snakes and scorpions, wolverines and sabretooth well as creepy things like pterodastros, which are weird bat/bird/lizard hybrids. The next section, Spirits and Monsters, is where things start getting really interesting. Corrupted Ones are dark magicians who can evaporate water with their lips, and the Void Dweller Demons are 9 foot tall winged demons who avoid sunlight. There are multiple varieties of mummies (including arctic ones), and snake-like vampires. And the wendigo...yeesh. It is a very evocative bestiary with some unique twists on old favorites, as well as some plain old unique surprises. With several of the beasts, the real trick is to learning what the weakness of the beasts are.

As is always great in a setting, especially one not set on modern earth, a series of NPCs archetypes are presented, like different types of Feral Ones, hunters, assassins, neanderthals and so on.

Also included: An adventure generator, and we're gonna play around with that right here.

Adversary: Angered Spirit - That's not good.
Adversary's Agenda: Recognition - Huh...that's kinda interesting.
Adversary's Ally: Beast - usually see beasts having issues with spirits, not joining them.
Major Supporting NPCs: Wanderer - A drifter of some sort.
The Call To Adventure: Wrong Place, Wrong Time - Seems to fit the drifter more than the PCs, but could work either way.
The Setting: Large settlement/City - Easy enough, especially with the Wrong Place, Wrong Time stuff.
The Plot: Crimes of Love/Lust - Huh.
Plot Complications: Ally's Capture/Betrayal - Well, at this point, I like to make the ally the bad guy and the adversary misunderstood.
Reward: Wealth - Always a good thing.

Anyway, that gives you an idea as to the elements of the adventure generator. As with any random table, you're gonna get some...interesting...elements.

Also included is a nameless horror generator, for those times when you need something just completely off the wall, rather than the "standard" monsters in the bestiary.

A dozen Savage Tales are included, spread out over the various regions of the game world, with each region also including a random encounters table for that region. Each Savage Tale even includes a "Further Adventures" section for building off of the events just played through.

The Savage Tales are followed by a series of plot hooks that aren't fully fleshed out adventures, but give you plenty of information (at least a some cases two or more), further developing each region.

A slew of diseases, poisons and traps fill out the book, followed by a character sheet and map.

WHAT WORKS: I love a good bestiary, and this is a very good one, as well as random tables, and this has both an adventure generator and a nameless horror generator. Worth the price of admission right there.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: In a perfect world, it would be nicer if the Player's and GM's guides had been folded in together, but my understanding is that would have proven prohibitive to printing costs, if for no other reason than the information in each book feels SO complimentary to the other that each book feels a bit anemic on their own.

CONCLUSION: Totems of the Dead is a nice twist on the Swords and Sorcery genre, and with the release of the GM's Guide, players and GMs have a ton of material available for tribal butt-kicking action. The monsters in the bestiary may be a tad too specific to the setting to be of use for non-Totems of the Dead games, although a little re-skinning can go a long ways, and that Nameless Horror generator can be busted out in a variety of games...(say you need something for the Whateleys to summon in a pinch in your Deadlands game, for instance). Another great product from Gun Metal Games.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tommy's Take on Realms of Cthulhu

Savage Worlds is often, erroneously, cited as only being playable one way: Pulpy, high action games. The Cthulhu mythos is often cited as only being playable one way: Dark, defeatist, investigative horror in which you are almost certainly doomed to insanity or death or both. Realms of Cthulhu has developed a bit of a reputation for proving both theories wrong.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Well, the first thing you need to know is that Realms of Cthulhu is on sale right now over at Reality Blurs' website, and you can get it at RPGNow in PDF format or in hardcopy from Beautiful Brains Books & Games (since this review should remain up WELL after the sale ends). This review covers the PDF version, which is 162 pages and layered for printer friendliness. It is not complete in and of itself, requiring a Savage Worlds rulebook in order to play.

The format covers the standard "formula" for Savage Worlds books, and I want to stress that this is not a bad thing. In addition to standard Savage Worlds character creation, characters have a Sanity score (2 + half your Spirit minus your Corruption) as well as Corruption. Characters also have Defining Interests, which can be used to add a bonus to a Common Knowledge roll.

Realms of Cthulhu also includes a number of new Hindrances and Edges, like Glass Jaw (making Soak rolls harder) and Flexible Thinker (allowing characters to get around madness penalties).

The book assumes three different time periods: The 1890s, the 1920s and modern day, with the equipment lists divided up among them (with appropriate costs and availability).

The Setting Rules allow you to twist and turn the dials up and down, with Pulpy and Gritty damage options for both Physical and Mental damage that can be mixed and matched for different play styles, with other options (like losing all of your bennies when you roll snake eyes on a roll, as well as options that tip things in the PCs' favor, like giving them the Common Bond Edge for free if they Rank Up together).

There is an extra level of complexity added with these setting rules, but they are both flavorful and they build off of existing rules. They also add guidelines on team "roles", much like Reality Blurs did with Iron Dynasty.

The Campaign section also adds another optional rule, for those times in which you need to replace a PC (due to death or insanity): They can keep the previous PC's Knowledge (Mythos) skill, but with the the same cumulative, negative effects.

Magic is an important part of the game, but Realms of Cthulhu not only removes Power Points, but also Arcane Backgrounds...meaning that anyone with access to reference books can attempt to cast the spells within...with casting being based off of Knowledge (Mythos)...and yes, there is a Backlash table for it.

In addition to a whole slew of new spells, namely rituals that can be used to find and summon elder entities and the like (as well as a disturbingly easy to cast Resurrection spell), the magic chapter not only includes important tomes (such as five versions of the Necronomicon), but a generator that you can roll on to create your OWN tomes, complete with the spells found within.

There IS also a Mythos Tales Generator, and I love that sort of thing. For instance:

Hook: Supporting Cast (Friend) - So a friend needs help.
Lynchpin: Supporting Cast (Friendly) - They could easily be one and the same. Or the Hook could be the spouse of the Lynchpin, who has gone missing, for instance.
Location: Ruin/Lost City/Temple - Thinking we could see where they went missing at.
Proximity: Regional - Within a day or two's travel.
Plot Type: Escape - Hmmm.
Plot Complication: Shock/Revelation - The gimme on this one seems to be "Old flame calls Investigator up because their spouse has gone missing near the investigators area of operation. The Investigators discover a hidden temple there and find out that the spouse is, in fact, trying to summon some Lovecraftian horror and must now be stopped."

There are also generators provided for rolling up Tainted Humans, Servitor Races and so on. And, unlike some settings, it's okay if you get something just completely off the wall, ya know?

There are no plot points, though there are four Mythos Tales, and a location called Drake Manor, with its own Mythos Tale, NPCs and such.

A number of generic NPC stats are provided, as well as an extensive bestiary, ranging from cultists, ghouls, rat things and such on up to named entities such as Dagon, on to a whole other section on Elder Gods and Great Old Ones, with a paragraph or so detailed them as best as one can describe something like, say, Cthulhu.

Conversion notes are included in the back, for folks who might want to use their Chaosium Call of Cthulhu stuff with Realms of Cthulhu. Special notice must be given to the character sheet, which is one of my favorite character sheet designs I've ever seen.

WHAT WORKS: Savage Worlds can only be played one way? Think again. Sean Preston and Reality Blurs tackled the enormous task of taking a game known for high octane adventure, and making it entirely feasible to run it as a dark, gritty, defeatist setting...or you can keep the dials turned up to 11 and scream back into the face of madness, as befits your group. That's a win right there. The character sheet is a fantastic design, and the PDF is a gorgeous piece of work.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: We'll go with...I dunno...could have used more Savage Tales. OH. Deity was mispelled Diety in one heading (at least on my copy of the PDF), SO THERE.

Conclusion: I would call this an almost essential buy for a Savage Worlds GM, especially as the options inside go a loooong ways towards helping you adjust your own games to fit the lethality or harshness you may want from it. I'm working through the Complete Works of HP Lovecraft myself right now, and so this review was very timely for me to do right now. Just an amazing product on every level, and a fine example of the potential of Savage Worlds.