Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tommy's Take on Captain America: Super Soldier

Something I haven't done in a while (since Zombie Pirates): A full-fledged video game review...Captain America: Super Soldier for the PS3.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Captain America: Super Soldier is a multiplatform game (PS3, XBox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS). This review deals explicitly, and entirely, with the PS3 version. Captain America retails for about $50 brand new, $10 less than your typical PS3 game, and I pre-ordered from Amazon for about $37, which seemed really hard to pass up.

The game is based off of Captain America: The First Avenger (even featuring the voice talents of Chris Evans, Hailey Atwell and other cast members, notably excluding Hugo Weaving as Red Skull), though the story is set during the middle of the film, with Captain America and the Howling Commandos assaulting Castle Zemo, which has been taken over by Red Skull, Arnim Zola, Baron Von Strucker, Madame Hydra and Iron Cross...(comic book writer Christos Gage crafts a very nice backstory for this which is unraveled through a series of diaries Zemo has left around the castle that Captain America can find).

Gameplay is reminiscent of Arkham Asylum, heralded by a great many people as the greatest superhero game of all time, with "free-flowing combat" as Captain America moves from Hydra goon to Hydra goon.  Captain America also has "Tactical Vision" which is reminiscent of, but not identical to, Batman's "Detective Mode". Shield control comes in two forms of attacks, a straight up, computer targeted attack, and an "Aimed" mode for finer targeting, which can be further refined by spending bars from your Super Soldier meter to "lock on" to multiple targets, ensuring that your shield bounces to each of them.

While you can go back and revisit every other section of the castle, the story is very linear, not a lot of choosing your objectives at all. As you gain Intel Points (by defeating enemies, finding intel files in the castle, etc), you unlock viewable extras, Challenge Maps (which can be completed for more Intel points), and Combat Upgrades, which include stronger counters, the ability to ricochet the shield off of more targets and specialized shield maneuvers.

You can also unlock Ultimate Captain America and Classic Captain America, complete with the ability switch costumes before you load up your game, although unlocking Classic Captain America requires enough Intel points that you will not do it before you complete the game unless you spend a fair bit of time on Challenge Maps (you can use the unlocked costumes on Challenge Maps, and in the free-roam mode that is unlocked after you beat the game, allowing you to finishing finding the remaining Zemo diaries, Zola films reels and the like).

Another nice tidbit is finding Hydra schematics around the Castle, which allow Cap to exploit weaknesses in the various Hydra troop types.

WHAT WORKS: The combat feels very much like Captain America, allowing you to wipe out whole squads of Hydra mooks hand to hand or with your shield as you see fit. The dialogue never felt repetitive, and Chris Evans sounds like a very authoritative Captain America. Christos Gage provides a script that hews very closely to the moral of the Captain America film, and doesn't actually contradict it, even when it seems to (notably with certain plot developments involving Arnim Zola). The Challenge Maps provide a lot more variety than Arkham Asylum does, for the most part, in large part because the various enemy types in Captain America provide more variety than the Joker mooks in Arkham Asylum does. While the various mini-games (such as decrypting codes) are repetitive, they are quick enough to not slow the game down to the point of annoyance.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The game feels pretty short. I got it in the mail on Wednesday, beat it on Sunday, and had no "marathon" sessions with it. The animation is stiff at points, especially when people are talking, and the lighting effects also get strange, especially with Captain America's shield at certain angles. Not being able to carry over the costumes to a new game is very disappointing, as I'd be willing to give it at least one more playthrough as "classic" Captain America.

CONCLUSION: Captain America's not a long game, but it is the best in-game representation of Captain America I have ever seen, and one of the best movie games I have ever played. The story isn't some deep, complex affair like you're going to get from, say, Dragon Age or Heavy Rain, but tapping Christos Gage to write Super Soldier was a great idea, though I am a bit biased, being a big fan of his work. The game borrows from ground laid by Arkham Asylum while tweaking the formula enough to make it feel like Captain America and not like Batman in red, white and blue. Personally, I was very pleased with the purchase.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Totems of the Dead Preview - Characters

I recently got a chance to take an advance look at Totems of the Dead by Gun Metal Games, makers of Interface Zero. Showing diversity in their publishing plans, Totems of the Dead is nothing at all like Interface Zero, which is a great cyberpunk setting for Savage Worlds. Totems of the Dead, on the other hand, is a swords and sorcery setting based on Native American myths and culture.

In addition to 14 different subcultures of humans, each with their own in-born Edges and Hindrances based off of their lifestyle, including Atlantean Outcasts (descendants of Atlantean rebels), Skadians (an expy for vikings in the setting) and Grandfather Mountains Tribesmen (who begin with d6 in Climbing, due to their home region), there are also two completely new races: Feral Ones, who organize in packs and can quickly give into a berserker rage, and Skinwalkers, who can assume an animal form through the power of a Talisman.

A number of new Edges are included, among them combat maneuvers like Pounce of the Jaguar (mechanically similar to a Wild Attack, but from a distance) and Wolf Pack Tactics, which can be beneficial for gang-up tactics. A new Leadership Edge will even allow other Leadership Edges to apply to animal allies.

An impressive seven new Legendary Edges will also be provided to round out the ranks.

And here is a sample character, a Feral One named Terk, who is a starting Seasoned character (default for the setting). I'm not going into HARD details about the new stuff because, well, buy the book for that stuff.

Agility d8
Smarts d6
Spirit d6
Strength d8
Vigor d6

Climbing d4
Fighting d10
Guts d6
Intimidation d6
Knowledge (Religion) d4
Notice d6
Swimming d4
Survival d6
Tracking d8

Charisma: 0
Pace: 6"
Parry: 7
Toughness: 5

Spartan (Poverty Hindrance)
Vengeful (Minor)

Berserk (Berserk Edge)
Keen Senses (+2 Notice)
Mark of the Warrior (+2 to Intimidation and Taunt)
Pounce of the Jaguar (Wild Attack at half-Pace range)
Survival Instinct (d6 in Tracking and Survival)
War Cry (Free Intimidation roll in Combat)

Next time, we'll take a look at the magic system in the book, and I'll bash out a magic-using character to go with it.

Christmas in July!

It is Christmas in July over at RPGnow, with a BUNCH of publishers putting a lot of products on sale for it. You have little over five days left to partake in the awesome, so get to crackin'!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tommy's Take on The Price One Shot

Doing something a bit different here, reviewing "The Price", a one-shot comic by Glenn Arseneau and Allen Byrnes, published by 215ink.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The cover price is $3.99, but I picked it up on Graphicly for $1.99. It is a self-contained one shot, although the resolution could be used as a springboard pilot for a supernatural series pretty easily, in my opinion.

The basic premise is a very familiar one, with a young woman driving down a dark road at night, lost, stumbles on a secluded diner with some creepy inhabitants, etc. Like I said, familiar stuff. The resolution is what separates this from other "haunted road" type stories, and it does a pretty nice job in that regard.

My only major quarrel with the writing is that the resolution feels a tad rushed. I generally appreciate a story that doesn't feel the need to hold my hand to the resolution, but I didn't feel that QUITE enough information was given to make all the pieces fit.

Initially, the art didn't impress me, but while the style is more simplistic than I prefer, the visual storytelling is very much present, as each character looks unique enough that scene shifts are not hard to follow at all. In fact, some of the background features really add to the creepiness, and the final panel of page 22 (I believe, page numbers don't seem to appear in the reader) is a very effective shift that especially works in the panel by panel reader.

The lettering is generally well done, though I did pick up the odd typo and balloon placement that interrupted the flow of dialogue, but that only happened once or twice, and the script was clear enough for me to quickly correct my reading.

The use of color is brilliant and adds a great deal to the story. One of the most effective coloring jobs I've seen in recent memory, in an indy book or a major league title.

the book is marked for Mature readers, but all of the foul language is censored and the violence is pretty restrained and effective when used. I wouldn't give this to my seven year old, but I didn't see anything I would keep from a 14 year old, for instance.

WHAT WORKS: This is a great example of a two-man job in which both creators are on the same page with what they are trying to accomplish, and had the tools and skills necessary to accomplish it, with the extra touches that the lettering and coloring add to the final production. The cover is a brilliantly evocative piece of work as well, though not necessarily indicative of the interior art style.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: There is no credited editor, and an editor is usually a good thing to have. The resolution feels rushed (and almost like a Deus Ex Machina, but it *was* foreshadowed, so I won't hold that against them).

CONCLUSION: With a few more pages or a tighter reworking, this could have been a GREAT comic, but instead I'd call it Really Good. I would have preferred not having to read between the lines *quite* so much as to the true nature of a couple of the characters, and the POV character doesn't really seem to DO much in the story, though that can be quite effective at times (and it is here for probably 85% of the story).

While an editor always helps, Glenn Arseneau and Allen Byrnes pretty clearly know what they are doing, and I will be shocked if we don't at least see regular indy work from the both of them in the future. The Price is a very nice twist on a familiar tale.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tommy's Take on Courtesans: Sex & Society

Courtesans is the latest title by Ian Warner of Postmortem Studios, developed from the same basic system (Beer & Crisps) that also powers Invaderz and Tough Justice.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Courtesans is availible in PDF format for $9.99 and in print for $19.23 (love Lulu's very specific pricing). Courtesans is a great lesson in context: If the game were not a historical RPG about ladies of the night (kinda), then it would just be downright tacky...but yeah, if you're buying into the concept of the game, then bust size and waist size are pretty important things here.

Your Courtesan also has to have an Origin, which can be Actresses, Professionals, Fallen Ladies, Goldenhearts and Upstarts. Each Origin provides its own advantages and disadvantages, such as Goldenhearts having an affinity for charity or Fallen Ladies being too sheltered to be aware of proper use of contraception.

Interestingly, resources are also divided into Legend, Reputation, Wealth, Influence and Scandal. They are used to perform acts of Procurement, which in turn provide more resources, etc.

The premise of the game revolves around a number of Courtesans all part of the same house, and the game provides six sample characters (one from each Origin, as an extreme example of variety). Whereas Tough Justice pitted the players on opposite sides of a trial, the Courtesans  do more backstabbing. Speaking of which, the game is largely divided into four sections: Procurement (getting admirerers), Pleasing (what comes next), Intrigue (nicer than saying "backstabbing") and Aiding (in which you actually help another lady out).

It is worthing nothing here that Pleasing entails more than just sex, as it can range from polite conversation to playing a (seemingly innocent) game to pillow talk (assuming, of course, sex occurs).

Intrigue is also very interesting, ranging from gambling (and thus taking their money) to spreading lies about them to seducing your fellow ladies!

The Aiding section is pretty normal stuff for the most part, though it does have options veering into Divine (and Infernal) intervention.

In addition to normal Courtesan activity, Courtesans can also become "kept" (which limits their partners unless they are willing to risk Scandal) or even sell their wombs when a couple can't reproduce.

Admirers are handled pretty simply: The have one stat - Pliability - and four archetypes they can belong to: Fops, Saviours, Students and Lovers. From there, the customization gets surprisingly deep, with a list of modifiers similiar to those a Courtesan has, such as Chest and Belly, and an optional rule that an Admirer will fall in love with with the Lady in question.

The GM (also known as the Landlady) actually hasa physical character in game, who is created as a normal 18 year old character and then aged 9 years. Then you add her Keeper to the mix.

once all that is done, the game is meant to be played in fairly structured sessions called Seasons, with each Courtesan taking two actions apiece for each of seven turns, all building to the Cyprian Ball, in which you make your grand entrance, dance, and then ultimately perform a sex act on your partner. Once the ball ends, so does the season.

Of course, sex runs the risk of pregnancy, and there are a number of options for how a pregnancy is handled, from the Courtesan running off, to the Admirer asking for her hand in marriage, to the Courtesan going the route of abortion...and THEN you get to childbirth itself, which can have complications ranging from the mother becoming infertile to mother and child both dying during the process.

Optional rules include vengeful spouses (complete with weapon attacks!), disabilities, misfortunes (from money troubles to developing psychoses!), drugs (and the harmful effects of the common drugs), and more.

A second appendix covers play by post games, as well as LARPS and different time periods (an optional supplement veers into different settings altogether, such as fantasy and sci-fi).

A very helpful summary of the turns and what goes into them wraps up the main game section.

The afterword (though poorly edited) details where Courtesans came from and is well worth the read (at least for me, but then, I've became quite the fan of Ian Warner's writing, and so I enjoy the insight into his thought process).

Lastly, it is worth noting that the PDF is both indexed and bookmarked.

What Works: I would say the game does a very good job at cartoonishly tackling the subject of Ladies of the Evening screwing (and screwing each other over) in historical England. Despite getting into some...interesting...territory, the writing never feels as crass and tasteless as it EASILY could have been. Far from it, in fact. As well, the sheer amount of options available for customization (of the ladies and their Admirers) is very impressive.

What Doesn't Work: A lot of the art and layout felt a step below what I've come to expect from Postmortem, and it didn't feel particularly evocative, either. The game's concept would seem to be a pretty hard sell, even moreso than Tough Justice is. Given some of the options provided, I'm at a loss that miscarriage rules were left out for simplicity's sake. Since the game never goes into straight parody, nor is it deadly serious, it is hard to say if the right tone was struck with some of the riskier source material. The afterword appears to have not been proofread.

Conclusion: This game is certainly not for kids, for starters, or for anyone feeling particularly prudish. While I think the game is well written, and I have come to expect nothing less from Postmortem in general and Mr. Warner in particular, it isn't something that particularly interests me. Tough Justice, another hard-sell type of game, captured my attention in a way that Courtesans does not, and I am sure it is due to the concept and not the execution. Still, I applaud the effort at putting something new and different out there, and I hope it finds its audience, even if that audience is not me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tommy's Take on Resolute: The Splintered Realm

I have reviewed one or two of Michael T. Desing's products in the past, and I think he does a GREAT job of cramming a lot of material into a low cost, no frills product. With Resolute: The Splintered Realm, you get everything you need to play the Resolute game system in a fantasy setting.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF is 20 pages and $3, and jammed full of text. There is a tiny bit of art, a little cartoony but certainly nothing bad. The character sheet is included right up front, and is pretty basic but functional.

The premise is pretty cool: people decided, rather than just be happy with the protection from their goddess, to get greedy and they killed her...which had very nasty, chaotic effects around the world. Now, Bad Stuff is happening and new heroes need to rise up to save the day.

Abilities are rated from -1 to +13, with 0 being average. You use points to buy your abilities up, with the amount depending on how powerful the GM wants the game to be. The basic mechanic is roll 2d6 plus the relevant ability and determine the margin of success (which is +1 for every five points beyond the target number). Optionally, instead of rolling, you can take a "Static 7"...this is particularly helpful for speeding up gameplay with NPCs. For 2 points, you can also buy an Application, which is kind of like a specialization.

Abilities are fairly wide open, but a large list of commonly useful abilities are provided, like Might, Resolve, Arms, Leadership and Burglary. In keeping with fantasy tropes, however, you can pick an Archetype with four provided: Disciple, Fighter, Magician and Scout (covering the Cleric, Fighter, Mage, Rogue mix of D&D)...note, however, these archetypes are optional, and largely there to help you pin down the fantasy basics. However, the downside to not taking an archetype is that they have Unique abilities that you can only get if you select an archetype.

There are four races to choose from: Chosen humans, forge gnomes, moon elves and storm dwarves, again hitting some of the common races. The magic section provides some basic spellbooks for Magicians to start with, as well as covering magic for non-mages, such as Valor Magic (which, incidentally, covers most of the basic Paladin abilities).

29 monsters are included in the bestiary, along with guidelines on how to shift them up into "bosses" or down into mooks.

Lastly, the book includes a basic dungeon crawl adventure.

WHAT WORKS: Plenty of information for 20 pages, more than enough to get your game rolling. There are also some decent benchmark guidelines for character point totals actually mean, as well as ability benchmarks. The author does a great job of conveying a lot in a few words. Nice setting premise.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: While cross-referencing with the Resolute Book of Beasts, I noticed a bit of overlap in the contents of the two bestiaries, which was disappointing. It is also hard to call the archetypes "optional" when you basically penalize someone for not taking an archetype. Given the size of the book, there is virtually no setting information once you get past the blurb that sets up the premise.

CONCLUSION: Unlike some other "low-end" or "budget" RPGs, this feels very much like a complete game (like the Resolute supers game does before it), even if it doesn't feel like the premise is executed quite as well here. I would also have liked to have seen even the minimal crossover with the Book of Beasts avoided, as the small size of the books basically means that every page matters. That said, there is plenty of room for microsupplements that could expand it out, both within the setting and the realm of generic fantasy. If you only buy one Resolute RPG, I say stick with the supers version, but this is definitely a fine product on its own merits.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We Have A Winner!

That didn't take long!

Devin Curtis correctly guessed that the most read RPG review on this blog is...Smallville's Cortex Plus sister game (and one of my Top Six picks): Leverage!

Congratulations Curtis!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Free Copy of the Smallville RPG!

Because I haven't done a giveaway in a while.

A free PDF of the Smallville RPG to the first person who e-mails me the name of the most read RPG review on this website (according to my data). The e-mail is tommyb(a)sstelco(dot)com.

Contest is open immediately, and ends when either someone answers correctly or August 15th comes and goes without a correct guess.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tommy's Take on Kiss of the Frog God

Kiss of the Frog God is a 6-Pack Adventure by Postmortem Studios for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG, written by Michael "The Crazy GM" Garcia...that is, the adventure was written by Michael Garcia, not the RPG.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The 6-Pack Adventures line are meant to be pick-up and play one shots that can either be played standalone or dropped into your campaign. They have been released for a few different systems, most of which have their roots somewhere in D&D. Kiss of the Frog God includes everything you need, including map, tokens and pre-generated characters and sells for $1.99 in PDF format.

The adventure itself involves pilgrims seeking atonement (the PCs) stumbling across a town that is being tormented by a corrupted pagan spirit. In addition, a pair of young lesbians who have been deemed sinners by the town have went looking for said fey spirit, under the mistaken impression that it can wed them. As is my policy, I won't get heavy into spoilers, though I will say that the Big Bad's underlings are freakishly terrifying and the Boss Fight itself has a very nice hook to it that prevents it from being a straight-up "stand up and fight".

Each of the six pre-generated PCs are fleshed out in such a way that each is given a hook that haunts them, making them more than just a group of statistics.

Although the adventure itself is only five scenes spread out over three pages, there certainly feels like enough material here for a full night of adventure, especially with the extra options for Scene 4.

WHAT WORKS: First off, the Frog Men (the underlings for the adventure) are downright terrifying, and do a good job by themselves of capturing the "weird fantasy" aspect over just any Basic D&D adventure. The catch for the boss fight is also a nice touch, forcing a bit of thought for the resolution, without feeling like it is cheating. The map is really well done, with some great production values. Two of the NPCs are set up as dueling personalities, and while we are clearly meant to sympathize with one, they are both at least partially responsible for the events that draw the PCs in, a nice bit of writing that makes the characters feel more real.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Two of the pregens are closeted homosexual lovers, and the author's notes about playing the gay couple come across a bit defensive and condescending. Gamers in general have come a long way from the days when homosexuality was on the mental illness chart in Palladium games and while some folks may have issues with the "two gay men" aspect, in my experience a lot of folks are going to be equally uncomfortable with the solution of "just change one of them to a female and play the couple that way". I don't really think it's a matter of being insecure in one's sexuality, but a general aversion towards roleplaying romantic relationships among PCs in general, ESPECIALLY in D&D-type adventures. That said, it IS a good hook in that it ties into adventure's hook thematically. The "Pilgrims seeking atonement" plot hook works great for a demo or con game, but is *really* specific for a "drop into your own game" session, but that's a minor quibble as the town could be dropped onto any road along the way, and the PCs drawn into the affairs of the village. The proof-reading could have been a lot tighter, as I not only caught homonyms that made it past editing, but mis-use of apostrophes and even a typo in the editor's name in the credits.

CONCLUSION: I got more "weird fantasy" from this adventure than I did from reading Lamentations of the Flame Princess in its entirety, and I mean that as a compliment. This adventure provides compelling reason to re-read LotFP and see if there wasn't something I was just missing in there (I had high hopes going in, initially, but was underwhelmed). I applaud the author for tackling themes that aren't commonplace in fantasy adventures, as it didn't feel like political correctness for its own sake, nor did it feel like an attempt to be "shocking" and "in your face" the future I would just toss in a blanket warning up front (if the author feels like it is necessary at all). As usual for a Postmortem Studios project, it's certainly worth the money, even for a guy like me who doesn't play the system it is designed for (a Savage Worlds conversion would take very little time at all, I'm thinking). Good buy for an evening's worth of play and, if you're like me and re-use maps a lot, the map included is a very nice piece of work (a swampy grove, to be exact).

Ennies Reviews

So the Ennies are kind of a big deal among the RPG community, so I thought I would take the time to post links to the (few) products that are up for nominations that I have reviewed since I opened this blog.

The DC Adventures Hero's Handbook (Product of the Year)

Progenitor (Best Setting)

Shanghai Vampocalypse (Best Electronic Book)

Road Trip (Best Adventure)

Mythic Menagerie: Kingdom of Graves (Best Monster/Adversary)

I dunno what it says about the blog that I have reviewed so few of the nominees, but there you go.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July, and a General Update

Yeah, I luvs me some Captain America.

So I haven't been around much lately, and that is due in no small part to my new job. I went from working four days a week with my laptop and an internet connection with me, to five-seven days a week, 9-14 hours a day. I have a little less "free time"...but it is worth it, as my wife is now a stay-at-home Mom, and - especially with an autistic child - that's a good thing.

- The blog will be undergoing some changes, though what those changes are, are still up in the air. The fact is, I have less free time AND I have fewer review copies coming in, due to the changes in the review program at RPGNow...and frankly, I couldn't afford to purchase all of the products I'm reviewing, not at the rate I tend to review.

- One thing that will help is that I have been contacted by a potential guest blogger, and I feel fairly certain that we will work something out. They are a long-time gamer and blogger, but their blog is pretty focused, and in such a way that gaming posts would be a tad out of place, I'm sure.

- As I noted in the last review I posted, I have permission from Small Niche Games to post notes for running their products in Savage Worlds. I like what they have done, but I'm not a Labyrinth Lord guy, so I thought I would ask about that, and they agreed.

- I'm still hoping to release...something...for Halloween. Been trying to decide how ambitious to get with it, but I have basically ruled out applying for a publisher's license from Pinnacle.

- I have a short fiction piece appearing in the Age Past rulebook, which is up on Kickstarter right now. They are just shy of half-way to their goal, with 27 days left to go. Working on writing up the characters that appeared in said fiction and posting them here for your benefit.

- Also working on some Totems of the Dead (by Gun Metal Games) previews.

- You should all check out Beautiful Brains Books & Games as well. Jodi Black (wife of Pinnacle's Clint Black) runs this swell store, and every Thursday night in her chatroom gives away free shipping. Plus, you can use the code ILUVBRAINS to get an additional 10% off your order. I just picked up All For One: Regime Diabolique from Beautiful Brains. And yes, a review will be forthcoming.

- Eloy Lasanta's Part-Time Gods Kickstarter was a huge success, and he launched a new Wu Xing kickstarter, which hit ITS goal in just about 24 hours. And yes, a review will be forthcoming.

- Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition is out, and is awesome. There is no Smilin' Jack, Leadership Edges now affect Wild Cards, and much more. And yes, a review will be forthcoming.

I think that hits most of the basic points off the top of my head. Thank you for your continued support of the blog. Even with the last post of June being on the 19th, June was still my second highest traffic month since I opened the blog. That means a lot to me.

Take care, and I'll keep writing as long as you keep reading!

And God bless America!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tommy's Take on Chronicles of Amherth

Hey, remember me? Got a new job, been crazy busy. So let me try to jump back into things here with Chronicles of Amherth, a Labyrinth Lord setting by Small Niche Games. As you may recall, I've done reviewed other Small Niche Games adventures in the past, so here we go with their first full setting.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This is actually two books: The Chronicles of Amherth setting and the Atarin's Delve adventure. You can purchase this for $4.95, Atarin's Delve by itself for $2.95 or the entire run of LL material by Small Niche Games for $9.95. The production values are pretty old-school, as Small Niche Games tends to do. Atarin's Delve is a mere 15 pages, and the setting book itself is 77.

Amherth is scaled for characters of 10th level or lower, specifically stating that NPCs at 9th level or beyond are exceedingly rare. Small Niche Games has exhibited a knack for putting PCs in situations seemingly beyond their "level", as it were, and making it work, so it is little surprise that Amherth takes this approach.

Amherth also introduces a pair of great new rules: Latent magic and arcane bleed. Latent spell-casters have a knack for casting spells, they just can't always control it. Arcane bleed, on the other hand, basically helps explain how magic items exist in such a lower-level, lower-magic setting: Latents can unknowingly bleed magic off into items, empowering them. For instance, a latent warrior may bleed power off into his long sword, gradually increasing its bonus. Personally, I have ALWAYS liked the idea of "your sword become powerful during your exploits" over "you find a kewl new magical sword".

Adventuring companies are also a big deal, governed by The Adventurer's Guild, which forces merchants to track all commerce with companies and so forth.

The world itself is painted in fairly broad strokes. Each kingdom gets a page or two of detail, with some adventure seeds to go with it. There are not masses of NPC stat blocks here, just overviews to let you hit the ground running. All of the previous Small Niche Games adventures are namedropped in the Duchy of Valnwall, as well as adventures from a couple of other companies.

The demihumans each occupy their own places, and the author notes that modern peoples have not explored many areas of the world, leaving it open for exploration...(the world is ancient, but a number of cataclysms have rocked it throughout its history, so there isn't a great, unbroken line of history).

There are many new monsters (some of which hail from the previous adventures by Small Niche Games) as well as a number of plants that each have their own unique properties, look a wood that is as hard as metal and requires magic in order to be worked into weapons. As well, a slew of magic items are included, two of my favorites being the weir-skins (which allow the wearers to transform into animals) and the Godmaps, which can "zoom" in on areas and provide a "live" map of the area...including creatures that are moving around.

There is also a page on how Monks incorporate into the setting, for those using Advanced Edition Companion.

Atarin's Delve is a fairly straightforward dungeon crawl, designed as an introductory adventure. It has a couple of plot threads intersecting in it, as the heroes are hired (via letter) to assist an archeologist who has gone missing by the time they arrive.

The adventure lacks some of the charm of the previous Small Niche Games adventures, although the enjoyable backstory threads that make the Small Niche adventures stand out are still present as they are in the others.

WHAT WORKS: I really like the Latents and the Arcane Bleed. Easily my favorite parts of the setting. Ample detail is provided to get your games rolling, while giving you more than enough room to stretch your creative legs. The callouts to the Small Niche adventures was a good thing as well, and I may have to check out those adventures tied to Amherth that aren't made by Small Niche, to see if they have the same "feel". There is MORE than ample value for $5, even if you left out Atarin's Delve.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Atarin's Delve is the weakest Small Niche adventure thus far, but a) I was never a fan of dungeon crawls and b) I really like what has come before. There is a section of the world on floating islands that seems a tad out of place given the "low magic, low level" approach to the setting. I would have liked trade dress similar to the adventures on the Amherth book itself. Just seems like its missing something without it.

CONCLUSION: Chronicles of Amherth never tries to reinvent the wheel, just put some tweaks on familiar D&D/Labyrinth Lord tropes. Small Niche Games provides a setting that not only accomodates their previous adventures, but room for most of your old school or retroclone adventures as well. In fact, I enjoy the adventures so much, that I plan (with the author's permission) to adapt them to Savage Worlds and post the conversion notes on my blog. Check it out if you like your fantasy a little darker and little lower level.