Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tommy's Take on Darwin's World Campaign Guide

I hoped to get to this a bit quicker than this, but life is what happens when you're making other plans. Let's tackle the Darwin's World Campaign Guide. Apologies for the brevity, but my original review got eaten when my laptop randomly shut off. Whee.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, holy crap...222 pages. The first big was a tight 76 pages, and for only about $5 more ($14.95 in PDF and $24.95 in print) you can get the Campaign Guide. As you may recall from my review of the Survivor's Handbook, I wasn't blown away by the Twisted Earth setting, though I thought the rules were great. We'll see if this book can sell me on the setting itself.

The Adventuring chapter dives into surviving the Twisted Earth and all of the struggles that entails, adding rules for gamma radiation, new diseases, chemical contamination and parasitic infection. Despite fun with mutations, radiation is BAD and will kill you. Diseases range from things like rabies and tuberculosis to the Plague Zombie contagion and the Muta-Virus. This chapter also discusses the topics of drugs and slavery, which are both prevalent, before wrapping up with a pretty extensive scrounging/scavening table.

Chapter 2 covers adventure locations, but is more of a generalized affair than a guide to Twisted Earth. For instance, trade towns are discussed in general, then a detailed example is provided with a sidebar giving ideas on how to use it if you don't want to use Twisted Earth. Other locations include the Survivor city of Styx (10,000+ strong, an admitted rarity for the genre), Fallout-style Vaults and Cities of the Dead (Los Angeles serving as the example). A number of minor locations are provided, a paragraph apiece, like power plants, universities, military bases and prisons.

Chapter 3 is the first chapter that is very Twisted Earth specific. Each Faction is defined by Typical Backgrounds, Attitude, Symbol and History, with a pair of stat blocks per Faction every major faction (and most minor factions) having an art piece serving as an example of each. Some Factions include the anti-technology Brethren, the militarist goods-mongers The Cartel, The Doomriders (who aim to "cleanse" the world via rape, murder and pillage), the flesh-eating Ghouls, the Rangers (who serve as the only law left in the world), and more. The Factions cover the gamut of evil folks, good folks, deranged psychos and people just trying to scrape by.

Chapter 4 is the bestiary, which immediately begins with the caveat of "apply mutations as you see fit". It is an impressive bestiary at that, including Abominations (no two of which are ever the same), Giant Amoebas, Ch'kit (giant bug people), Cyclats (one eyed bats that shoot energy beams), Gronts (dog-things the size of horses), Marionette Worms (parasites that infect people and animals, then take control of the corpses), Monstrous Cockroaches, Night Terrors (jet-black, skeletal humans), Plantmen, Sandmen (burrowing mutants), Shadow People (a near-mythical race of psychics), Terminals (those who should probably be dead but hang on, the creepiest of which are the Abortion Terminals) and Two-Headed Mutant Bears because, well, how do you top that?

Chapter 5 is all about the machines, detailing the difference between robots, androids, droids and cyborgs...the main differences being that robots are programmed for certain tasks, androids are humanoid and droids can take on any shape. There's a set of base stats to build off of, with a massive selection of modifiers to play around with and build unique machines with. Some of the machines included are Pleasure Androids, War Droids, Police Droids (which were in use heavily before The End) and more.

Chapter 6 covers the Artifacts of the Ancients and it completely blows up the Gear chapter from the first book, adding chainsaws, Not-Lightsabers, Powered Armor, all kinds of grenades, laser weapons, electro-saw throwers, flamethrowers, X-Ray Goggles, translation devices, pain collars, jetpacks and a lot more.

WHAT WORKS: Despite being the Darwin's World Campaign Guide, much of this book can serve any needs you may have for a Post-Apocalyptic Savage Worlds game. The art is very well-placed and well-targeted, providing examples of the various monsters and factions without overwhelming the book.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The setting still doesn't really "pop" compared to other PostApoc settings, and the Terminal Abortions may be a bridge too far for some folks.

CONCLUSION: Darwin's World seems like it can handle the basic assumptions of most Post Apocalyptic games for Savage Worlds, and this book only has one chapter that seems geared specifically for Twisted Earth (even then, you can still reskin the stat blocks easily enough). I have no idea if there are any more Darwin's World releases planned for Savage Worlds, but the two books released do a great job of serving as a Post Apocalyptic toolkit.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Christmas in July!

Yeah, RPGNow/DriveThruRPG is doing the Christmas in July sale again!

This means that a crap ton of stuff is marked down 25% until July 30th, including lots of Savage Worlds stuff (like Suzerain, Interface Zero, Deadlands, Beasts & Barbarians, Wellstone City), the Cortex+ games (Smallville, Leverage and Marvel Heroic), the BASH series of games, Scaldcrow's great generic supplements and a LOT more.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tommy's Take on Darwin's World Survivor's Handbook

Converting your setting to Savage Worlds is a
great way to get my attention.

I'm still doing a theme on the list? Darwin's World Survivor's Handbook for Savage Worlds!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Darwin's World is a post-apocalyptic setting by RPG Objects that has been adapted to some manner of the d20 system (sorry, I'm not up on the variations), but was brought over to Savage Worlds last year. That puts it in my wheelhouse just a bit. The Savage Worlds version has two books, the first of which is the Survivor's Handbook. You can get the 76 page PDF for $9.95, or get it in print for $19.95. The PDF download includes a printer friendly version as well as a "screen" version, and a map of the United States portion of Twisted Earth, which has been ravaged by disaster.

Darwin's World assumes that after American intervention ended World War II, the US reverted to isolationist policies. This ultimately set off a chain reaction where America - no longer the stewards of the world - developed faster than the recovering world, which spawned jealous reactions that led to invasion and nuclear (and biological) war. At the time the campaigns are assumed to have begun, no one is really sure how long it's been since The End. In the aftermath, the world is changing - man and animal alike - but the whole planet is dying.

Setting rules include the addition of Tech-Level, which determines what kind of gear the PCs can use, the new languages used on the Twisted Earth (like Ancient and Gutter talk), and a few skills being altered in how they function. A glossary of in-universe terms are also provided.

Character creatio is a lot like standard Savage Worlds, with the addition of Backgrounds. First things first, you decide between being Humans, First Generation Mutants, second Generation Mutants and Third Generation Mutants. Humans are pretty straight forward, with the free Edge and all. First Gen mutants are often outcasts, and start with three Mutations and a Major Defect. Second Generation mutants are a little better off, with less noticeable defects. Third generation mutants are "Super Mutants", with fewer defects but a superiority complex.

There are 11 Backgrounds, and they give bonus Edges, default Hindrances, starting languages, special conditions and the character's Tech Level. Ferals, for example, are Tech Level 1 and get bonus dice in Guts, Notice and Survival while Ritual Preservationists start off with a Vow, but also an Artifact Cache.

There's a whole mess of new Edges, such as ones the remove Defects, the interesting Horrifying Kill (in which you make enough of a mess of your opponent to give other opponent's pause), Boarding Party (for diving onto someone else's vehicle) and Power Edges that provide bonuses to Psionics (the only Arcane Background in the game). Occupations are also recommended, but have no mechanical impact on the game (other than helping to guide character creation).

The Major and Minor Mutation charts are handled with d100 rolls, with Minor Mutations granting things like Claws, Blindsight, Multiple Stomachs and Expanded Optic Orbit (which helps defend against Blindness). Major Mutations include Wings, Psychic Powers and even Eye Beams. Each mutation is given a description, complete with game mechanics. The Major and Minor defects also have random roll charts (d100 and d20, respectively). Minor defects include things like smelling bad, underdeveloped longs and dwarfism, while the Major defects can be things like Skeletal Deterioration, Cannibalism, Night Blindness and Cystic Fibrosis.

Psychic Powers are divided into three groups (Precognitive, Telepathic and Telekinetic). Where appropriate, Powers are merely reskinned versions of existing Powers with Trappings explaining how they fit. For example, Bolt becomes Telekinetic Throw, where you hurl objects at the opponent, Blast becomes Rain of Objects, and Boost Trait becomes Precognitive Trait. New Powers include Battleplan (which lets you redistribute your side's initiative cards...and take an opponent's card on a Raise), Perceive Outcome (which essentially lets you roll an action, including the spending of bennies, then deciding if you want to keep the action), and Telepathic Blindness (which removes the opponent's ability to see).

The Gear Chapter is what you would expect, complete with discussion on the Barter economy. It does include weapons up to energy weapons, for those curious.

The last section is the Survivor's Guide to Twisted Earth, essentially the Player's Gazetteer. For instance, The Big Hole is the treacherous - yet awe inspiring - pass those that are heading  west must deal with, while the Deadlands (no relation) hold the City of Lights, which is the other name of the oasis called Vegas. In fact, every location gets multiple paragraphs of description, and you can have fun matching up descriptions with the map locations to figure out what has become what. The book concludes with PC relevant information on the various factions in the wasteland, like the Knights of Route 66 (bandits that travel the legendary highway), Amazons (female survivalists), Rangers (the brutal law of the Deadlands), Ghouls (human and mutant cannibals) and several more.

WHAT WORKS: It's a very well done Savage Worlds presentation, especially with the combination of re-skinned powers combined with the selection of new Powers. The Mutations and Defects are very cool and well done without adding a ton of extra crunch to the rules. Many of the new Edges are similarly impressive.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Mutants don't seem to be particularly balanced. That is, from a game balance perspective I'm not sure why anyone would pick a Gen 1 over a Gen 2 or a Gen 2 over a Gen 3. The setting isn't anything that just pops out in comparison to other post apocalyptic settings. Very minor complaint, but two of the Edges do require access to the Campaign Guide in order to use (the Artifact Cache Edges).

CONCLUSION: The setting feels fairly standard for the genre, but that could have a lot to do with this just being the Player's book. My tune may completely change with the GM's book. That said, most of the material here seems incredibly easy to strip for any post-apocalyptic Savage Worlds game with sci-fi elements, and the setting does also seem to lack a metaplot which can be a very good thing in many eyes (including my own). Recommended for Savages to at least strip mine the rules material even if they don't want to play around in the Twisted Earth.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tommy's Take on Irradiated Freaks

My understanding is that Colin Chapman wanted to make a fairly "straight" post-apocalyptic RPG...and folks wanted more "gonzo" ala Gamma World. So Irradiated Freaks was born...

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Irradiated Freaks is a completely optional supplement of a whopping 58 pages and running $4.99. It requires Atomic Highway in order to use, but that's a free download so don't let that stop you.

Chapter One covers mutations and flaws, with slews of tables to roll on based on the creature type. Amphibian mutations include things like Toxic Skin, Leaping, Chameleon and Wall Crawler. Bird mutaations are things like Drill, Mimic and Stealthy. Bugs have a ton of options, like Furnace Gut, Sticky Silk, Exoskeleton and Acid Bite. Mammal mutations are things like Natural Weapons, Night Vision and Prehensile Feet. Plant Mutations include Carnivorous, Spore Cloud and Toxic Sap. Reptiles can get things like Water Runner, Burrow and Spines. If that's not enough for you, there's the Mondo Mutant Mayhem table(s), which allow you to get ANY mutation or psychic power. Nine new flaws are also provided (like Glowing). New Psychic Powers include Elektrokinesis and Psychic Healing. There are plenty of options to completely flip the lid on the game right here.

Chapter 2 covers new humanoid animal options. This covers a TON of options...including turtles! Snakes of various stripes (no pun intended), apes, emus, meerkats, wolverines and even the mighty platypus is an option. Each entry includes animals that fall under the animal heading, as well as Attribute Points, Customization Skill Points, Abilities and Flaws.

Not enough? Chapter 3 provides humanoid plant options. Want to play a mutant eggplant? You can do that here. Mutant sundew? Check. Venus Flytrap? Oh...yes.

Chapter 4 blows up the bestiary. The first entry is "Angels". Angels? In a post-apocalyptic game? Seen that bef--wait, THESE angels are cute mutant bats that eat humans. Other new creatues include Hawk Squirrels, who look to be part bat, part squirrel. Giant rats and giant sundews are here to creep you out, as well as 25 ft long cockroaches called Stench Roaches. Another freakish entry are vampires: Giant black snakes that latch onto vehicles and drain their gasoline. Bugs aplenty are also included to round out the list (for the arachnaphobes in your group).

The first appendix is a group of random charts for rolling up a character type from scratch, in case the choices are completely overwhelming. These charts also leave the question of whether or not you are mutated up to chance.

Appendix two provides guidelines on making monsters, including an example of taking a lion and turning it into a mutant lion with quills.

An index wraps it up.

WHAT WORKS: Well, it's all completely optional, but this and the main book gives you almost a complete replacement for the After the Bomb RPG with better rules for $5. The mutations are divided between "sensible" and "completely crazy", depending on your tastes...and humanoid plants are included. And charts. Random charts.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: If you didn't care for Atomic Highway, this isn't going to be much use to you.

CONCLUSION: Was Atomic Highway too "safe" for you? This will completely blow it up. It's completely optional, in no way invalidates anything in the assumed Atomic Highway setting and can even take a lot of the guesswork out of it for you with the random roll charts. Do you need it? No...but it sure does up the zany fun factor playing a mutant humanoid Venus Flytrap Bounty Hunter that can burn things with his mind.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tommy's Take on Atomic Highway

Next on the slate is Atomic Highway, a post-apocalyptic game by Radioactive Ape Designs. See a pattern developing here?

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The price for the print version of the book is listed at $29.99, but the PDF is now free on RPGNow. This actually caused me to go check out the Radiaoactive Ape Designs website to make sure this wasn't a very bad sign, but apparently this is entirely because of the success of Atomic Highway. So go download it. It's free.

Unlike the last two games I've reviewed, Atomic Highway focuses more on toolkit stuff than fleshed out settings. It assumes a pretty basic post-apocalypse, with barter towns, scrounging, things like that. In wealthier communities, they have battlecar duels, but the days of cinema and pro sports are long gone, that sort of thing.

Character generation is point buy (18 points) spread out over seven stats: Muscle, Understanding, Tenacity, Appeal, Nimbleness, Toughness and Senses, with each ranking from 1 to 5. Each character gets a handful of skills at level 1, then you pick a Rearing and Pursuit which further customizes your character, with 4 points to finish it off. Other options include playing as a mutant (complete with random mutations) and other optional races if the GM approves.

Rearings grant you skills, weapons and gear and are basically how you were brought up. There are seven in this book, like Feral, Nomad, 'Steader and Trog (cave dwellers).

Pursuits are your main training as of the start of the game. These grant you further skills and equipment and include options like Bounty Hunter, Pit Fighter, Road Warrior and Shaman. There is more than double the amount of Rearings, giving you customization options.

The Attributes and Skills chapter gives you a helpful set of descriptors for what a given rank in a skill or each attribute means. For instance, skill of 3 is Professional, 5 is Master. Muscle of 1 is Weak, Tenacity of 5 is Indomitable, Toughness of 3 is Fit and so on. 20 skills supplement the 7 attributes.

The Mutations chart has 18 options, from Armor and Enhanced Senses to Natural Weapons and Winged. If you want a second mutation, you have to roll for a random Flaw as well, most of which aren't too crippling. Each mutation entry includes Possible Traits to help round out your character, like Echolation causing you to develop batlike ears, for instance.

The equipment chapter is pretty realistic, avoiding laser beams in favor of rocks, grenades, axes, mines, shotguns and etc. Atomic Highway doesn't use encumbrance, and doesn't even list "costs" for items, taking the stance that values of items will vary dramatically depending on circumstances.

Given the name of the game, you may not be surprised to learn that Atomic Highway (powered by the V6 Game Engine) has pretty extensive vehicle and vehicle customization rules. Take a base vehicle (some Pursuits start you off with Vehicle points), subtract the cost from your starting points, add Flaws if you like, and spend excess points customizing. For instance, the Road Warrior gets 20 points and can buy an SUV for 13 points. With the remaining 7, he can add an Oil Slick Dispenser, a Ram, a Heavy Machine Gun and light armor, and that's without adding Flaws! And there are a bunch of options provided.

There's also charts upon charts for scavenging, ranging from junk to food to clothing to weapons, like any good post apocalyptic game should have.

The game system is a dice pool. You roll your die pool based off of your Attribute, and each 6 is a success. You can reroll 6s, and if they come up as 6s again, they count as successes. Skills come in play as a pool of modifiers, which you can spend to bump up your dice to 6s. It's an interesting mechanic and one I'm not sure I've seen before. Rolling 1s means bad things happen (even if the PC succeeds), and there are rules in place for things like team efforts. PCs also have access to Fortune, which they can use to reroll 1s, reduce an opponent's successes, gain extra successes, make "Plot Tweaks" and so on.

Combat uses static initiative (based on Nimbleness), and while everyone gets one action a round, they can defend against a number of attacks equal to their Notice skill. Health is derived from Muscle, Tenacity and Toughness and tracked via boxes on the character sheet with both Lethal and Non-Lethal Damage in a manner similar to White Wolf games. Number of successes are generally multiplied by a Weapon Modifier to determine total damage.

There is also a second combat chapter focusing entirely on vehicular combat, with rules for collisions, chases, and even mounted combat, for the folks who can't afford cars.

There's a GM chapter that's fairly detailed, but basic stuff. Nothing most of you haven't read before...though there is a nice set of plot seeds to work with.

The setting chapter focuses on customizing your apocalypse aftermath, with a series of questions for you to answer to fill in the blanks. There is the History (when was Doomsday, why the did the War begin, how long ago was it, etc). This carries through, asking about what the world is like now, the weather, the settlements, etc. A few settlements are provided as examples.

The "bestiary" covers examples of most of the Pursuits, as well as a selection of common animals, including snakes, cows, canines, etc. However, it also includes a selection of more off the wall entries, like lopers (mutated horses), morlocks and abominations. Images are included for all but one of the monster entries, in a nice touch.

Gas Gouging is a sample adventure, involving the PCs having to take a refinery back from a gang that has captured it and forced the mutants that were there into working it for them.

There are two appendices, the first being guidelines for playing humanoid animals (no, Turtles are not an option and no, I don't know why)...the second is an optional addition to the mutation rules: Psychic powers. For the math guys, a full list of the V6 Engine Probabilities are also included, as is an index and character sheet.

The PDF also includes new vehicles and customizations, like airboats and loudspeakers as well as the Homebrewer's Guide, which breaks down the math on Rearings and Pursuits for folks wanting to make their own, as well as touching on the formulas for mutations, humanoid animals, vehicles, etc. Very nice addition for those that like to tinker.

WHAT WORKS: It's free and well-written. What more do you want? For a change of pace, it's lower powered and less "out there" than most post apocalyptic settings, though there is a supplement that can help you change that if you like. The vehicle emphasis makes for a nice change of pace as opposed to other post-apocalyptic RPGs. Oh...and random tables. I love random tables.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Again, it's free and well-written. What more do you want? I'm really not a fan of the Health system, personally, and some folks disliked the lack of gonzo, though that's what Irradiated Freaks is for. All those random tables and no adventure generator?

CONCLUSION: It's free and well-written. What more do you want? For a more "grounded" post-apocalypse setting, this gets you there without having to any dialing down of elements, as that's the default. There's one supplement out, and another still supposed to on the way, adding in zombie apocalypses, alien apocalypses and machine apocalypses. It's worth at least the download, though, because it's free.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tommy's Take on Hell on Earth Reloaded

The Reckoners are gone, the world still sucks.

As you may know, I'm a pretty big Savage Worlds fan and a pretty big Deadlands fan (understatements on both of those things). I've never played Hell on Earth, though I own all of the Classic books. Hell on Earth Reloaded finally brings Hell on Earth to the Savage Worlds rules.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Hell on Earth Reloaded is currently up for preorder, though the PDF is available. The PDF runs $24.99 and Hell on Earth does require the Savage Worlds rules, though it doesn't require any of the Deadlands books. For those who don't know, Hell on Earth is a possible future for the Deadlands setting, a post-apocalyptic crapsack world.

As is Deadlands tradition, this book is divided into three sections: The Player's Guide, No Man's Land and The Marshal's Handbook. The Player's Guide covers the players' setting knowledge, character creation, gear and setting rules. The setting is 2097, America is a blasted wasteland, and has been since 2081, when ghost rock bombs killed six billion people. Since it was ghost rock that powered the bombs, Ground Zero at each blast isn't an irradiated pit, but a Deadland. Even though it's the future, it's still very much the wild, lawless west, with society collapsed. Law Dogs take it upon themselves to defend the innocent and punish the wicked, Doomsayers are trying to eradicate what's left of humanity, Ravenites are Native Americans that have embraced technology, Templars religious zealots...and that's just a taste of the factions fighting for the soul of the Wasted West. Hell on Earth Reloaded picks up after the The Harvest, for those that played the Unity adventure back in the day, and the Reckoners have not been seen since.

Some classic Deadlands Hindrances appear in familiar or altered form, like Grim Servant o' Death (which causes folks to die around you), Heavy Sleeper and Slowpoke, as well as new Hindrances like Mutant (complete with a random draw chart to determine the mutation). Arcane Backgrounds include Doomsayers (who have mastered radiation), Junkers (the evolution of Mad Scientists), Sykers (psionicists), Templars (the evolution of Blessed) and Toxic Shamans (who communicate with the mutated spirits). Other Edges include Veteran o' the Wasted Waste, Don't Get 'im Riled (an old Deadlands standby that lets you add Wound modifiers to your Fighting and Fighting damage rolls), Law Dog, and even Harrowed is now available as a starting Edge. The equipment chapter is pretty extensive, including Scrounging rules alongside weapons, armor, equipment, drugs and vehicles (complete with list of modifications you can make to vehicles).

Harrowed in Deadlands could "Count Coup", stealing abilities from Hell on Earth, ANYONE can count coup. Of course, you can also comeback from the dead as a Harrowed...if fate smiles(frowns?) on you.

No Man's Land pretty much focuses on the Arcane Backgrounds. Doomsayers have tried to master the radioactive storm, gaining mutations (often favorable), and have a couple of new powers exclusive to them, like Mutate!, which can force Mutations into others. The Harrowed section looks a lot like the one from Deadlands Reloaded, but Harrowed are largely the same, so it makes sense. Junkers get access to a huge variety of powers and a free version of the Gadgeteer Edge, with other Edge options including one that gives a bonus on Scavenging rolls. Sykers are the psionicists mentioned above, who have tapped into the power of the Hunting Grounds. They can fry their own brains, but can also get vicious Edges like Overkill that allow them to take on Fatigue in order to ramp up their damage with their powers. Templars are Knights who have a handful of Powers and some great Edges like Shield of the Saints (which prevents supernaturally evil enemies from ganging up on them) and Blessing of the Saints (which lets them roll a d10 Wild Die if they spend a benny). Toxic Shamans come in two stripes: Caretakers and Corrupters,a a Good/Evil flipside of the same coin.

The Marshal's Handbook covers...everything else. Like how spirits can speak through radios, as well as things like the Mutation table, Veteran o' the Wasted West table, Scroungin' tables and so on. Each of the important locations of the Wasted West is covered in this chapter, with relevant encounter types (as well as random encounter tables for the regions). For instance, Fort 51 used to be a Fear level 0 in Deadlands...but is now Fear level 6 thanks to a bomb being dropped on it. The City o' Gloom has now become Junkyard, with a reference to the new Smith & Robards catalog for those wanting to incorporate bionic enhancements. Denver, which seemed a focal point of activty in Deadlands (though maybe that was just our groups) is now under the control of General Throckmorton's Combine, and is a Deadland itself. Devil's Tower (one of the more polarizing locations in Deadlands lore, due to the adventure trilogy it's tied to and the inhabitants of the tower) also gets a decent sized treatment. Mardi Gras is now a city, oil is the alternative energy source (downright safe and friendly next to ghost rock), and there's even a tractor-trailor convoy called the Night Convoy, which serves as a callback to the infamous Night Train. There's even a line in there that implies that the Reckoners are not gone, just hiding.

The Monsters & Misfits section is a suitably impressive collection of Hell on Earth favorites, starting with a slew of automatons. Bloodwolves (vampire/werewolf hybrids) make their return, alongside classic Deadlands beasts like Devil Bats and Maze Dragons. Generic stat blocks about, with Doomsayers, Black Hats, Martial Artists and so on represented, ending with a section on named personalities, starting with Dr. Darius Hellstromme.

The book ends with an index and character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: A good, one book overview of the setting, covering all of the major bits of the Hell on Earth. A lot of the camp has been toned down, focusing on the world being a harsh and deadly place, and that's included here because I see so many people saying that can't take the Deadlands games seriously because of the "camp" (which I've never understood, but there you go). Even if you never use the setting (or use it straight), there's a good chunk of material to mine, from Edges to Powers to Monsters.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Hell on Earth no longer uses Fate Chips, which makes me sad as I have always associated "chips" with "Deadlands". It also makes the Fate Eater's name a little less "on the nose". Given the sheer amount of Hell on Earth material out there, and the treatment of the Deadlands Reloaded line, you can't help but feel like you should hold off diving in and playing before the rest of the (unannounced, as far as I know) books come out. The implication that The Reckoners are just in hiding takes some punch away from the Classic adventure in which your PC group can hunt them down and kill them on Banshee, though this is also mitigated somewhat by the realization that there might not have been a ton of folks that even read that, much less played it.

CONCLUSION: I love Deadlands, but I've always held the Weird West above the Wasted West (and Noir interests me more than Post-Apocalypse), but I've sure always heard good stuff from people who have PLAYED and not just READ Hell on Earth. If this is a standalone product, and I doubt it is, it's a "really good" product. If it's the first of a new line (like I figure it is), then it's a great starting point. For my money, it's really hard to go wrong with Savage Worlds...or Deadlands. I'd sure like to play a Law Dog...or a Templar...someday.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tommy's Take on Reclamation

Reclamation is an interesting's a post-apocalyptic RPG about hope. See, the title refers to the move to restore the planet, rather than let it fester in a post-apocalyptic waste.
"My only advice to you is simple: Do as much good as you can in this world for as long as you possibly can." - Nikolai Federick

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF has copy and paste disabled, but is clickable, searchable and bookmarked, which is good since it runs almost 300 pages. The book is black and white, with art ranging from "alright" to "really good". The PDF is $14.95 and the hardcover is only $29.95, with a bundle available at RPGNow.

The Prologue lays out the premise: Essentially, the Sickness swept across the land, drove people nuts, and pushed the world to nuclear war. And sometimes people get completely consumed by The Sickness and its gets worse, they become part of the Mortis-Horde. So, yeah, it tosses a little zombie apocalypse in there on top of the "regular" end of the world. It's a good fiction piece that provides the set-up, hitting all the big points like the world is wrecked, but nature has adapted strangely (including maze-like forests sprouting up and deserts flooding), people gaining powers and people organizing into "cells" (setting up the perfect starting point for PC groups, may I say). More importantly, it introduces the reader to the Reclamation, which injects some hope to the setting.

The Introduction covers the basics in plain English: Post-apocalyptic, this is an RPG, breakdown of the character sheet, etc. The game doesn't use dice, it uses decks of playing cards. That is, a deck per person. When performing an action, you flip over one or more cards depending on your attributes and you add black cards to the total but subtract red cards...and aces are kind of a big deal, both ways. There's an optional rule for taking two cards off of the deck, called "Burn cards", to skew attempts at counting cards.

Character creation is handled through a few steps. First, you select your Mark, which is how the Fallout has affected you. You can be a Survivor, which means that you bear no outward signs of being affected by the Fallout (but you have been). The Magi can cast spells and bend reality to their wills. The Host have become part machine. Pariahs have become, essentially, monsters. Paragons have become something more...the next step in humanity. These all have little history bits to them, with information like where the Marks started, or linking them to aspects of our history and mythology.

Next, you pick a Generation, which determines your trait points and talents. Forerunner has more talents, God's Ten Percent has more trait points, Descendants are in between.

Then, you pick a Background: There more than a couple dozen of these, with options like Anarchist, Avenger, Dreamer, Nomad, Prophet and Warrior. Each one gives you a mechanical advantage in the game and a role-playing advantage. A Cynic, for instance, can spend a Drive Point to determine if someone is trying to screw them over, and can gain a Mark of Experience when they expose the truth about someone.

With that all done you spend Trait Points, spread out over 8 traits (Strength, Dexterity, Speed, Resilience, Intellect, Manipulation, Perception, Spirit), with 20 being the mortal limit, 1 being poor, and the rest scaling in between. Pariahs and Paragons can actually break those human limits, by the way. You also get a number of Secondary Traits (like Movement, Damage Bonus and Dodge) that are derived from your Primary Traits.

Next are Talents, which are divided into four groups (Scholar, Rogue, Leader, Hunter) and cover most of your basic skill options like Biology, Intimidation, Diplomacy and Stealth. There are 32 talents in all. Each one is broken down with flavor text, basic description and in-game examples of uses.

You also get Kewl Powerz, and some book keeping with things like Pain Points, Drive Points, Injury Points, Radiation Points, the Soul Path (which tracks from Despair to Hope) and thresholds for The Sickness.

Chapter 3 is the rules chapter, explaining HOW the system works. Essentially, your ranks in your talents (1-5) determines how many cards you draw, which you add or subtract from your relevant trait. Target numbers are listed on a simple chart, broken down into two types of actions, Measured and Threshold checks. The former involves degrees of success, the latter involves straight up success or failure. There are also Competition checks (contested stuff) and Luck checks, which are pretty much straight card draws.

Drive Points are kinda like bennies, action points, can spend Drive Points to re-flip new cards (hopefully removing a red card, for instance), add flat bonuses, even bend the rules a bit.

Once all that is out of the way, the book dives into Combat. Initiative is based off of your Speed (Alertness) trait and talent, and there are rules covering things like surprise. Interestingly, you set the Aggression Rank for your attack (from 1 to 20), with a lower rank meaning you are being more aggressive. You would always use that, right? Well, your opponent can either defend or counterattack...and counterattacking is easier, the less careful the attacker is. Nice bit of strategy there (and examples are provided all over the book). The amount of actions per round is based off of your Warfare skill.

Damage is handled with Pain and Injury Points. As you get hurt, you lose Pain Points. Then you start adding Injury Points. Every 5 Injury Points requires you to make a check to avoid passing out. Flipping Aces is a big deal in combat as Aces are critical successes, red aces are critical failures.

Ranged combat has a slightly different set of rules (like no counter attacks), and there are contingencies for stuff like Headshots, Gag n' Stab (think stealth kills from modern video games), Quickdraw, even using terrain to your advantage.

You can even gain Epic Action points, which lets you do crazy, over the top stuff (but they are rare). And there's even optional minis rules (that are very detailed for being optional), along with an in-depth combat example. One other thing I loved in this chapter is how there are stat-free enemy profiles scattered all over the section. Good stuff.

The gear section is a bit different in this book, covering things like food, water and shelter, which are just as important as weapons (especially when you have Kewl Powerz). There's even an interesting paragraph on some Hosts serving as power sources. There's no laser guns, but there are plenty firearms to choose from, and damage for things like electricity and falling are covered here as well. Equipment purchases are handled with Resource Points, rather than cash.

Facing the Fallout covers a lot of the setting aspects, like The Sickness, including theories on what it is and where it came from (The Magi believe it came from a devilish being called The Usurper), and how gaining Radiation points makes you vulnerable to The well as the nasty part: The Marks are powered by Radiation. Using your Kewl Powerz can let The Sickness get its claws deeper in you.

It's all very cool and creepy, with multiple steps that can be fended off essentially by doing Good Deeds. The Sickness can leave psychic scars on you, and that's if you kick the effects of The Black Dream (the feverish state when The Sickness digs in).

Chapter 7 explains the Kewl Powerz in detail. Surivors can rack up Radiation to make Luck Checks to change events. Paragons have five Disciplines, each with their own effects, and can build their way up to Paragon Transcendence. Magi learn rites from four Traditions (Osiris, Gaia, Odin and Khronos), and there are a BUNCH of them (from tricks like Invisibility and entanglement, to making wounded enemies stop fighting you to resurrection). Hosts can "evolve", having a slew of powers they can gain in steps. For instance, they can grow claws...this allows them to form pistols...which allows them to grow shotguns (and so on). Pariahs can develop along different lines, like Daemons, Moon Beasts, Hercules, Psionics, Seraphim and more, each with their own powers. Vampires can regenerate by drinking blood, for example, then gain supernatural strength, and even gain the ability to enslave people. This all culminates in a Pinnacle Power. The Vampire's Nosferatu Power, for instance, activates all the other powers from his gene pool (aside from Enslave). Each gene pool has an Achilles Heel, though, keyed to the type of Pariah.

And can mix two types of Marks, and the last part of the chapter breaks down what each combination is like.

The last chapter is the GMing chapter. A lot of it is pretty basic stuff, but this is also where the enemy stat blocks are, like the dregs, abominations, thugs, and so on. It's not a HUGE selection, but it's a broad one. A sample Haven is provided (set in New Orleans), as well as a sample protagonist group.

I didn't much care for the Epilogue piece, as it seemed too grim for a setting that appeals to me because of the hope of Reclamation.

The book ends with a character sheet and index.

WHAT WORKS: Reclamation. Seriously...I LIKE that there's this growing viral movement of "let's take back this world." That is reason #1 why I would pick this over other post apocalypse games. Reason #2 is the kewl powerz. (Seriously, there's some great options for Magi, Host and Pariahs, and the Survivors and Paragons have their own cool tricks, if not as flashy). Tons of examples, both short and in-depth. The flavor fiction is generally well done and kept short and to the point.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: At times it seems like it might get over complicated, but nothing that a few cheat sheets can't handle. Some of the art sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the pieces. Needs more random tables.

CONCLUSION: The biggest thing that sells me on the book is the whole Reclamation thing, followed by the coolness of the Marks. I like the card deck game system, but some of the book keeping seems like it could get excessive at times. Way more plusses than minus, and probably the post-apocalyptic setting that has interested me the most in a very long time. It does need more random tables, though. You have a big, crazy, kitchen sink setting with fantasy, sci-fi and horror need random tables that you can draw cards against. That said, I always love a setting where the odds are stacked up against the PCs, and then they are expected to go save the world anyway. Big thumbs up.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tommy's Take on A Touch of Evil

I *like* the photo art. Quite a bit, actually.

I like board games quite a bit, as I've alluded to in the past. Board games have become impressive creations these days, with miniatures, glossy game boards and so on. And A Touch of Evil is a game that nearly derailed my Savage Worlds group when we found it a few years ago.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Retailing for $49.99 (but you can find it cheaper on Amazon), A Touch of Evil is the second board game released by Flying Frog Productions (their first being the best zombie board game I have ever played, Last Night on Earth). It is also probably my favorite board game ever. Set in the 19th century, in the mysterious town of Shadowbrook, A Touch of Evil is a monster-hunting game filled with twists, turns and secrets.

The players all play as travelers who have arrived in town, taking up the call to arms against a supernatural horror threatening Shadowbrook. The extra twist is that the town's six Elders have secrets of their own...they may be dirty gossips, they may be monster hunters themselves, they may be in league with the villain, and they may BE the villain itself.

The game uses a static game board, with the town in the center (divided into the Town Hall, Church, Blacksmith, Magistrate's Office and Doctor's Office), and has four "corner" locations (The Manor, The Windmill, The Abandoned Keep and the Olde Woods), as well as Fields, a Marsh, a Covered Bridge and a Crossroads.

You can play Competitively, Cooperatively or even Solo, moving around the board, investigating locations, encountering minions, unraveling the secrets of the Elders and trying to pin down the location of the Villain's Lair so you can attempt to destroy it.

Eight heroes are included in the base game, each with stats of Spirit, Cunning, Combat and Honor, each with a different number of Wounds depending on the character, and each with their own special abilities:

Karl, The Soldier - The simplest option to play as, having the highest Combat among the characters, three Wounds and the ability to ignore the first Wound in play. Note that not all encounters can be thwarted in physical Combat, though.

Heinrich Cartwright, The Drifter - Gets to draw extra cards (and choose the one he keeps), but isn't trusted by the Elders or other travelers (which can have an effect in gameplay).

Victor Danforth, The Playwright - He can take back any card that's been played whose title is a quotation, has high Spirit and Cunning and can draw Event cards more frequently than others (Event cards being good things, generally).

Thomas, The Courier - A stranger with a dead eye, Thomas moves more swiftly than the rest of the travelers, and can begin play knowing an Elder's secret.

Inspector Cooke - High Cunning and he can generally pick up more Investigation per action than anyone else.

Isabella Von Took, Noble Woman - Generally regarded as the most broken of the initial characters, in that if she's given the time and opportunity to hoard Investigation points, she can steamroll through most anything given her ability to spend Investigation to prevent Wounds.

Anne Marie, The School Teacher - Can't use anything bigger than a Pistol, but her Combat goes up for every Book she owns.

Katarina, The Outlaw - High Honor (Honor among thieves and such), hits more frequently than others, and is tied with Cartwright for the highest number of Wounds in the base set.

Each hero includes a mini figure and a character card, as well as a short bio in the rule book.

The four Villains in the main set cover the iconic choices for a horror setting like this, each having a token, a villain card (with rules for the Basic game and Advanced game) and a two-sided Minion Chart (Basic and Advanced). They are:

The Spectral Horseman - He likes to appear in a location and ride to Town Hall, attacking everything in his path before disappearing. He gets stronger with every kill, and summons hounds and ghost soldiers to do his bidding.

The Scarecrow - As the fear level in Shadowbrook grows, he gets stronger and stronger. He summons locusts and crows, and can turn the very environment against the heroes, though he does have a vulnerability to fire...if you can find him.

The Vampire - Looking like a classic Nosferatu, turning into mist, unleashing bats, wolves, succubi and walking dead, and he's even able to turn Elders into vampiric minions to do his bidding.

The Werewolf - He attacks before you, he hits more frequently than you, he can turn you into a werewolf...pretty much the only advantage you have is that he's easier to find than the rest because he doesn't cover his tracks very well. His minions include werewolves and rats.

Each of the Six Elders have Spirit, Cunning and Honor scores, which can be used in place of your characters if you have them along with you, and each has a special ability, with some elders being more useful against certain types of enemies than the other. If they go evil, you flip their card over to get a red-tinged, evil version of their portrait, with a new tagline for them.

Various events can force the Shadow Track down as the game goes on, and if it ever reaches the bottom, the town has collapsed into fear and chaos and you have lost. Throughout the game you can get Event Cards, either by landing on certain spaces or rolling low for movement (as compensation), which include things like ability bonuses (represented by tokens placed on your character card), "I Think Not" (which can stop the Shadow Track from moving, or cancel cards being played), Reassuring Speech (which can push back the Shadow Track if you play it in town) and Militia, which allows you to put Militia tokens in play on spaces, allowing anyone in that space to join the Militia in fighting any adversaries there.

These are countered with Mystery Cards, which prompt additional villain attacks, spawn new minions, turn the Elders against the heroes (for instance, forcing Magistrate Kroft to confiscate Guns in play, taking those weapons away as options for the heroes), and Weather Cards like Fog that reduce movement.

Exploring a location is a matter of card draws as well, with each "Corner Space" having its own deck.

The Manor has allies you can recruit like Lucy Hanbrook, as well as events like Nightmare (which lets you witness one of the Elders doing unspeakable things, allowing you to draw a Secrets card, look at it and add it to an Elder), Secret Passage (which, if found, lets you travel anywhere on the board) and items like the Sabre (which boosts you Honor and your Combat).

The Abandoned Keep includes cards like Collapse (which causes the floor to give way, making you take Wounds and lose cards AND draw a new card at the Keep), Old Prison (which can give you clues if you roll well enough with your Cunning), weapons like Rogue's Rapier (bonuses to Combat, Honor and Cunning) and enemies like the Spectre (which has to be fought with Spirit and not Combat).

The Olde Woods include cards like The Witch of the Woods (which can either give you a bunch of Investigation or can cost you clues and dump you off at Town Hall), Timber Wolves (who are more ferocious the more allies you have), Franklin the Old Hound (a useful ally) and Crossroads (an eerie encounter with an owl that can give you clues if you roll well enough on a Spirit test).

The Windmill gives you chances of things like Pitchfork (which boosts your combat but can break), Wicked Altar (which can give you Investigation, but also exposes you to attack), Whistling Wind (which can give you a Lair card for free if you roll Cunning well enough) and Murky Water (dipping your hand in can net you Investigation, an Item card or merely a Wound).

In Town, you can spend Investigation to buy Items that can help you, like some weapons, Torches (which fend off Weather cards), and even neat items like Tools of Science that allow characters to use their Cunning in place of their Combat, which can be a huge game changer for some characters.

When you gain a Lair card, usually by purchasing them with Investigation (they get cheaper as the Shadow Track goes down and the Villain gets stronger), you can initiate a Showdown with the Villain by going to the Location on the card and spending the amount of Investigation listed to "find" the Villain. Not all Lair cards are created equal, however. One Manor Lair card, for instance, lets you immediately recruit Town Elder Lord Hanbrook to your side, while another Manor card makes you immediately roll an Honor Test and, if you fail, an Elder is killed.

Combat is handled by rolling a number of dice equal to your relevant trait (usually Combat) and every 5 or 6 counting as a hit (unless you or the Villain has a trait that says otherwise). There is no player playing as a Villain, you just take turns rolling for them depending on who is fighting the Villain (or their minions).

If you defeat the Monster in a Showdown, you win. If the Shadow Track bottoms out, the Monster wins. If you are playing Solo or Co-Op and the Villain KOs all heroes in play at once, you lose.

Multiple expansions have been released, free, premium and even fan-made, and I plan on covering the official ones at a later date.

With the exception of the map, which was drawn by Matthew Morgaine (who also portrays Heinrich Cartwright), virtually every piece of art in the game is a combination of photography and special effects. Some folks have scoffed at how some of the characters (especially villains like the Vampire) look, but I've always thought it added a certain charm to the game.

The game also includes a soundtrack CD, which I've actually kept in fairly regular rotation in my CD player. Yeah, I'm a fan.

Lastly, there are optional rules, like Team Play and the Showdown Chart, which can add extra chaos to the Showdown with the Villain, but can also dramatically extend gameplay.
Showing off the Werewolf, Lucy Hanbrook, some of minis and more.
WHAT WORKS: Theme, theme, theme. The whole game oozes it. When I had a regular roleplaying group, there were many times that our planned adventures got derailed for playing this instead...and that was BEFORE I got the expansions. The different combinations of cards, characters and villains have provided a flexibility to the game that I didn't even expect, and aside from a time or two when the Noble Woman overtook the game, I haven't experienced nearly as many balance issues with this game as I have with others.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The more you add, the bigger the set-up time is, unless you keep things VERY organized. There's technically no solo rules in the base set, but you can push the Coop rules there with little effort. I have had one person play it with me who could not wrap their heads around Investigationt tokens as an abstract for all currency in the game, from buying items to powering abilities to finding the Villain's Lair.

CONCLUSION: Look, I don't have a lot of bad to say about this, because the proof is in the fun, and after my first time stumbling through a game, I haven't had a bad time playing this, whether solo, with my kid, or with a whole group of buddies. The villains all feel distinct, the characters all feel distinct. Yeah, you can have bad runs where the dice or cards fall against you, and there are certain combinations of Hero vs Villain that are easier or harder, but there's not a villain that we haven't both beaten or lost to. I've heard the game called Arkham Horror-lite, and I've heard it called a rip-off of Arkham Horror. I've recently played Arkham Horror for the first time, and so far I prefer A Touch of Evil (though they both have their merits). I like the feel of it all so much that I've even been tempted to turn it into a Savage Setting a time or two. I firmly believe it doesn't get enough love at all.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

AetherCon - You Going?

Grab your virtual dice bags folks and mark down November 16-18, 2012 on your calendar, as the AetherCon Online RPG Convention is coming to your computer! Best of all, it’s FREE!
We will be featuring tabletop RPGs of all types throughout the weekend, highlighted by four three-day tournaments of Pathfinder Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and Shadowrun. Game tables will be run on the powerful, yet easy to use, Roll20 browser-based virtual tabletop. Learn more with the Roll20 tutorials and the Roll20 Live Stream.
Grab your virtual dice bags folks and mark down November 16-18, 2012 on your calendar, the AetherCon Online RPG Convention is coming to your computer. 

We will be featuring tabletop RPGs of all types throughout the weekend highlighted by four three day tournaments of Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Savage Worlds, and Shadowrun.

Additionally vendors, industry guests, and artists are also in our plans. We will be releasing free downloadable wallpapers throughout the months leading up to the con. 

Members of the Artists Enclave currently include Paul Abrams (TSR, Shadowrun); Alex E. Alonso Bravo (DC Comics, Pixar, AEG); Brent Chumley (AEG); John L Kaufmann (Shadowrun); Eric Lofgren; (Paizo, White Wolf, Mongoose Publishing), Chris Malidore (Fantasy Flight Games, PEG), Patrick McAvoy (WotC, AEG, Fantasy Flight Games), Brad McDevitt (Chaosium, CGL, Battlefield Press), Jesse Mead (Fantasy Flight Games), Aaron B. Miller (WotC, AEG, Open Design), and Stanley Morrison (AEG) among others.

Additionally, to date game publishers confirmed as taking part in AetherCon either through prize support, supplying guests, or taking a vendors booth include: 

Battlefield Press, Catalyst Game Labs, Chaosium, Chronicles of the Void, Flying Buffalo Inc., Immersion Studios, Imperfekt Industrees, Kenzer and Company, Paizo, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Stardust Publications, Sundered Epoch and The Design Mechanism.

Confirmed guests to date are Wedge Smith and Doug Bush (Chronicles of the Void), James Sutter (Paizo),  Steven ‘Bull’ Ratkovich (CGL), and Lawrence Whittaker and Pete Nash (The Design Mechanism).

Confirmed games to date include:

All Flesh Must Be Eaten
A Thousand and One Nights
Atomic Highway
Call of Cthulhu
Castles & Crusades
Dark Heresy
Dragon Age
Eclipse Phase
Fantasy Craft
Labyrinth Lord
Legend of the Five Rings
Mouse Guard
Mutants & Masterminds
Pathfinder Society
Savage Worlds
Time Lord
Star Wars WEG D6
Swords and Wizardry

and more are on the way.

If you’d like to play in a game use our Player Pre-Registration Tool.

If you’d like to run a game use our  GM Pre-Registration Tool.

If  you don’t see your game in our lineup, would like to lend a hand, or need to inquire for any other reason, feel free to use our Contact Us page to do so.

Be sure to visit our websites and show your support for AetherCon via Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

I don't know for sure how much participation I'll personally be able to have with AetherCon, but I've been playing around with Roll20 and it seems pretty great...and, for someone like me who lives in the middle of nowhere, this just sounds like an awesome idea, and I hope it turns out to be huge.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Michael Rohan Memorial Bundle

From Fabled Environments:

Fabled Environments is proud to announce a Charity Bundle to benefit the Michael Rohan Memorial Fund. This bundle, slated to be released July 2nd through OneBookshelf (DrivethruRPG/ contains great submissions from Pinnacle Entertainment Group(the folks that brought us Savage Worlds), Fat Goblin Games, Reality Blurs and others. There is even amazing original artwork from Aaron Acevedo.

The Michael Rohan Memorial Fund

On June 10th of this year, the Creative Director of Silver Gryphon Games, Kevin Rohan, lost his 6-year-old son in the aftermath of a tragic accident while swimming at a local water park. This loss has deeply affected the Rohan family as well as the friends of the Rohans and hundreds of families that they are close to and through out the community.

Seeking to turn this tragedy into community outreach, the Rohan family has decided to start the Michael Rohan Memorial Fund which will be used to help pay for swimming lessons for local families, assistance for CPR and lifeguard training, as well as help with grief counseling in the wake of a tragic loss. There are plans for more and bigger things as well, and with the appropriate funding we will be able to achieve some great things and extend our assistance beyond just our local communities. 100% of the money raised through this bundle will go to the fund and will allow us to begin helping other families almost immediately.

My thoughts:

The Rohans have been truly inspirational with how they have worked to make a horrible tragedy into a positive for the world. Support this bundle, please...not because it's $176 worth of amazing products for only $12, but because it's a good thing to do...the rest is just icing on the cake.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tommy's Take on Civil War Event Book Essentials Edition

Psst...the good guys aren't teamed with Venom.

Civil War was one of those mixed-bag kinda stories. Great concept, some great stories within the event...horrible execution. It's also the first Event Book for the Marvel Heroic RPG.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This review covers the Civil War Essentials Event Book...the difference between that and the Premium version is about 10 bucks in print and 6 in PDF, and the Premium version includes the Operations Manual from the Marvel Heroic rules (that is, the rules to the game, just not the Breakout Event), meaning a difference of about 136 pages. Essentially, no pun intended, Margaret Weis Productions is all about options. When looking at the cover (featuring Pro Registration forces squaring off with Anti Registration forces), you can tell the good guys from the bad guys because one side has Spider-Man and Captain America and the other side has Venom. As in, the psychotic Max Gargan Venom. But I digress.

Mike Selinker does the intro, bragging - and rightfully so - about how he made Captain America the best character in Marvel SAGA (and he really is, or he's very close) because of the Edge mechanic (and about how he got to brag about this to Joe Simon, who co-created Cap with Jack Kirby). From there, it dives right into the event.

First off, I want to note something: Pretty much any time there's a page reference, you can click it and go there. That's in addition to the bookmarks, table of contents and index. That deserves some kudos right there. The Preparing for the Event chapter does a breakdown of the event, as well as recommended number of players (4-6) and some optional rules (like Troupe Play, so your group can cover all the major players of the Pro or Anti Registration sides...or even both sides, if the group wants to cover ALL sides). There's also rules suggestions on making Scene Distictions more dynamic, by adding extra features that people can use by spending Plot Points. Advice is also given for covering Watcher-Controlled Support Characters, addressing multiple characters getting unwieldy (something that was never really addressed in Marvel SAGA aside from hand waving it).

And then...the Civil War Sourcebook itself. The first thing it tackles is the Superhuman Registration Act, as well as making the Pro and Con arguments for it. It also tackles what's at stake for each side, as well as a sidebar on people playing characters who choose different sides (depending on the interpretation, you could easily flip Captain America and Iron Man, especially Ultimate Cap and Movie Iron Man). Lastly, there are bullet points for what can happen if the Act passes or fails, and the consequences thereof. A full dozen new Milestones are included, all event specific, such as Evil For Justice (recruiting Supervillains to your side), My Ally, My Enemy (where you and a close friend wind up on opposite sides of the conflict), or Convert the Enemy (where you become focused on swaying heroes to your side). There are also a number of Factions, with advice on playing Civil War from their perspective (complete with their own Unlockables), like Atlantis (including Unlocking Namor, with a number of implications as to what that means), Wakanda (would you like the blessing of the Panther God?), AIM, Hydra, SHIELD, The Media and even The Illuminati (the behind the scenes power players like Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X and Dr. Strange). I should note that there are tons of major and minor datafiles all over this thing, from Hydra Agents to J. Jonah Jameson to Man-Ape. The section ends with a number of important locations involved in Civil War, complete with Scene Distinctions for them (like Artifacts From Avengers History in the Avengers Mansion Ruins and the Statue of Liberty serving as a Beacon of Hope).

When it's time for the Event to begin, it's all broken down into Scenes. Buildup Scenes include Titanium Man attacking Washington and Thor's Hammer crashing to Earth (and Doom trying to retrieve it). This includes datafiles for Doom, Titanium Man, Doombots, Thor's Hammer...and options like crazy. Like, say, allowing a hero to pick up Thor's Hammer and just what all that MEANS...with options for it both being a temporary measure to fend off Doom or a permanent one! To prove that it's not all slugfests, one of the Buildup Scenes even takes place with a hero appearing before Congress. The event proper begins with the aftermath of the Stamford explosion and covers a number of Scenes which could become whole sessions in and of themselves, like hunting Nitro (believed to be the sole survivor of the Stamford incident), appearing before the Commission on Superhuman Activities (complete with a chance to actually flip Henry Peter Gyrich to the Anti-Registration side, if they so choose). Act One ends with a roleplaying scene involving numerous heroes gathering to discuss the SHRA.

In Act Two, the SHRA has passed, because there's no Event without it. The Scenes get even more flexible here, as the PCs could be on either (or both!) sides of the Act. The Spider-Man unmasking scene is presented with more options, with Spidey only being used as an example, and even a suggestion for an underhanded twist like a Life Model Decoy being used to unmask in the hero's place! Other Scenes include hunting/eluding friends, the wedding of Storm and Black Panther (complete with Storm datafile), investigating Atlantean sleeper agents, culminating in an epic Superhero Battle Royal involving Thor's clone (though there are other options provided,  like the Sentry and a Hulk Robot).

In Act Three, the pro-Registration forces are running across the moral Event Horizon, with supervillains being actively recruited to hunt anti-Registration heroes, captive anti-Registration forces being locked up in the Negative Zone and more good stuff. This adds a slew of new datafiles, like Songbird, Moonstone, Venom and Bullseye. The Thunderbolts debut scene includes options like making pro-Registration PCs "ride along" with them, or anti-Registration PCs injected with the same nanotech to work alongside them. Other Scenes include negotiating with Atlantis (and hopefully getting Namor and his resources on your side), busting AIM or Hydra (complete with Nick Fury datafile), getting to the truth of Norman Osborn's actions in Civil War (complete with a variety of options again, such as him being under control of Namor, who is using Osborn's attacks on Atlanteans as an excuse for war, or maybe it was Chameleon all along, and not Osborn), both sides of a Negative Zone Prison Raid (busting heroes out or stopping a break in), complete with a second epic brawl between both sets of forces that spill onto the streets of New York. The last scene also ups the lethality, assuming people will die. Act Three ends with a number of options for wrapping things up, no matter which side wins and includig a Third Option where the heroes band together against a villainous force (my favorite option, which isn't listed in the book, involves Nova crash landing on earth with the dire warning that "The Annihilation Wave is coming!").

A sidebar details the three books coming to supplement this event: Fifty State Initiative (which covers what happens in the aftermath of Civil War), Young Avengers/Runaways (which covers the teen heroes, including the New Warriors) and the X-Men (which covers the X-Mansion's residents and the Sentinels sequestering them).

Friends and Foes includes a crap ton more datafiles, starting with Ant Man (Erin O'Grady), the obscure Bantam, the Serpent Society, Doc Samson, the Kingpin, Sentry (complete with a d12 strength), Vision and more.

And THEN we get FULL datafiles for 32 heroes, including Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine, as well as folks like Cable, Punisher, Moon Knight and Goliath...oh, and Deadpool. Each with bios and two sets of character specific milestones.

The book ends with a glossary, a clickable index of datafiles and a bibliography.

WHAT WORKS: Well...there's a crap ton of new datafiles, including Dr. Doom (held up alongside Magneto as an inexcusable omission from the rulebook). There's a LOT of leeway and options given for playing out Civil War with your own twists. New optional rules like Troupe Play and handling multiple support characters is great. Oh, there's a table of contents, an index, bookmarks and EVERYTHING IS CLICKABLE. Except links to the Operations Manual, but I would bet those are included in the Premium Version.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: No Baron Zemo. No Winter Soldier. What? I can't complain about MY favorites not being included? The art is really pixelated a lot of the time, but I am assuming that's a digital only artifact and hopefully they'll fix that for the print versions. If you absolutely hated Marvel Heroic, I don't think this is going to convince you otherwise. For a pre-written adventure (essentially), it'll get steadily harder to run straight out of the book as the twists and turns mount (though that certainly has it's own pluses, as it's not really a railroad at all).

CONCLUSION: An incredibly promising start to the Event Book formula, as there's a huge amount of options included to customize it yourself. The pixelated art doesn't bother me in the digital book, but I would be annoyed to have it present in a print book. Just a huge amount of information, including new datafiles, and while having many of them mixed around the book could annoy some, if you're working from the PDF this thing is so user friendly to navigate that it's not a big deal. Heck, maybe someone wants to play one of the characters not included as a full datafile (with Milestones) here (like Ant Man or Patriot)...just slap on a pair of Civil War milestones that make sense and run with it. If you didn't care for Marvel Heroic, I don't think this is going to sway you...but if you're a fan of it, there's a lot to like from this product.