Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview with Third Eye Games CEO Eloy Lasanta

As you may have noticed, I have spent the better part of the last week reviewing every last product in the Apocalypse Prevention Inc. game line.  This came about when Eloy Lasanta, known on RPG boards as Oni, or First Oni, asked me if I would be interested in reviewing wither Apocalypse Prevention Inc. or Wu Xing.  Now, I had most of the API books already, thanks to the Haiti Relief bundle offered at DriveThruRPG earlier this year, and so I agreed to review the entire API line.  After some discussion, I decided to make a week of it, which I have.  To cap that week off, here is an interview conducted with Third Eye Games CEO Eloy Lasanta, conducted via e-mail:

TB: First off, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.  It seems that Third Eye Games' profile has ben raising significantly since GenCon, and deservedly so...but for those who don't know, introduce us to Eloy Lasanta and Third Eye Games.

EL: Well, Third Eye Games is essentially my brain child. I'm a one man army that writes, edits, does art direction and layout as well for our games. I started with Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. at then end of 2008 which was a setting i wanted to write for a long time (corporate monster hunters) and it has taken off quite successfully, which has led to a handful of sourcebooks and digital downloads for the game as well. I'm a writer, but i'm also a single father. My two beautiful kids are what pushes me to continue with my goals for Third Eye Games. I really enjoyed GenCon and, for me, its a con to go out and talk to the fans. I met a lot of new fans this year, so that could be the reason behind the boost in prestige.

TB: Apocalypse Prevention Inc was the first game released by Third Eye Games...was it also your first professional work on an RPG?

EL: Well, i wrote for a fanzine for the oWoD called Ex Libris Nocturnis for years, working as an editor/writer of articles and other fun mechanics and setting info. That was a blast, but i got bored with all the work for free. So, i started looking for professional work and my very first job was to Co-Author a book with called KidWorld. The process showed me how to create a game from start to finish, which was instrumental to the creation of Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. In a "Oh wait, i can do that!" kind of way. I also did some work for Witch-Hunter: The Invisible World, which was nothing but a great and cordial experience. Taught me a thing or two on how to conduct myself with freelancers.

TB: API has been described, and this has stuck with me, as "Joss Whedon's Men in Black".  On some level, it also makes me think of something like "SyFy Original Movie: The Game", and I mean that in good way.  How hard do you find it to inject the necessary camp and humor in the game without going overboard with it?

EL: I honestly feel honored to be compared to such a great writer. While I haven't seen The Game, Joss Whedon and his various works were a huge influence on my writing in general, but Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. specifically. It also taught me how to balance the different aspects of that kind of story together. It's all about having a healthy bit of action, drama AND comedy. How you keep it from going completely overboard is to make sure the characters are grounded in reality, no matter how crazy, magical and supernatural things get in the story. Without firm characterization the agents become characitures of what they are supposed to be. It is a horror game after all. The characters have to have something to lose and they have to have ideals that can be tested and they must have fears. Then you can inject humor to throw them off guard before you start to really scare them.

TB: My initial exposure to API was through the Haiti Relief Bundle.  While I know the desired effect of participation was to help out with the horrible situation in Haiti, did you also notice a spike in interest in API there, or did it fail to have a noticeable impact on API's and Third Eye Games' profile?

EL: Contributing to the Haiti Bundle was the least I could do to try to help with disaster relief. I think there was an initial spike in interest, as it put the game into thousands of hands, which is great. But there were hundreds of games in the pack (a lot of others being awesome as well) and API got glossed over by a few just by being buried. I haven't had the chance to check out all the games myself yet either. lol. I'd participate again in a heart beat though and would remind people that Haiti Bundle supporters already have some of the API books.

TB: Third Eye Games recently announced that API is getting "Savaged"...that is, it will be converted to Savage Worlds (my favorite in print system, actually).  Has work officially begun on that?  Can you tell us anything about the format for Savage API?  Will it be a single release?  Dual stat books?  Will Savage API "replace" the Dynamic Gaming System?

EL: The Savage Worlds Edition of Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. is officially "under construction" as of a few months ago. We're working hard to balance the fun fast and furious nature of SW with the feel of the original API. It will be a single book release with everything from the original corebook, plus a few other things from some of the sourcebooks. Savage Worlds will not be replacing the Dynamic Gaming System. I am a huge fan of Savage Worlds, but there is a reason why I created my own system. Ha!

TB: We have the Loch Codex out, as well as Canada and Europe sourcebooks. The Spectrals Codex was announced as being on the way, and I can't wait. Will we see more Codices?  What about more Worldwide books?

EL: Oh yeah! We plan on going all around the world to delve into the company's goings-on. Work has begun on API Worldwide: South America which should be a grand ole time! There are also the Taylari and Burner Codices under way, as well as a sourcebook about some of the Illegal races, but the release schedule hasn't been finalized on those books quite yet. There's also Volume 1 of the API Anthology series that should be out pretty soon. Lots of things to come for API indeed.

TB: I have to ask, just curious: Were you pulling for, or at least expecting, a Hilary Clinton win in 2008? (Note: To those who have not read API, it's a relevant question).

EL: Actually, i'm not very political. I just thought that would interesting.

TB: I'm a big Spectrals fan, but one thing I love about every race I've read about so far is that not only are they unique (even with races that otherwise have some overlap, like Wolf People and Wendigos), but they are *playable*, so *huge* congratulations on that.  Which API race is your personal favorite?

EL: Thanks for that! I've tried hard to balance the races out as much as possible and to NOT have a power creep with each new book. My motto is, "Sourcebooks should simply give more "options", not more "power"." I have a lot of favorites as far as races go. I think my biggest fave are the Burners (especially since i have a bunch of additional info developed for their sourcebook). Their background and attitude resonates with a lot of people, including myself. I've been happy with all the burner-love i've seen from the fans.

PS: My second favorite are probably the Linx (from Demon Codex: Lochs). They were interesting in concept and to write-up. Their drawback of being servants is also really fun to run in a game.

TB: You mentioned the API Anthology...what can you tell us about that?

EL: Sure thing! It's an awesome series of short stories that gives fans a glimpse of the world of Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. from the perspective of its inhabitants. We have 3EG headliners, like Brennan Bishop and Darren Pearce, as well as industry favorites like Clint Black and Rucht Lilavivat, all contributing to expanding this already lively world.

TB: Wu Xing is your most recent RPG release, and I hope to be reviewing it here soon.  Tell everyone a bit about what Wu Xing is, please.

EL: Sure! Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is a game of rival ninja clans that must work together in spite of centuries of blood feuds with each other. The reason is that the Emperor has called for the head of every ninja after his family was killed in the crossfire. It's has the feeling of a mix of Ninja Scroll/Basilisk with Naruto in a war torn world similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender.

TB: Wu Xing seems to be a huge hit, judging by anecdotal evidence on various sites and message boards.  Obviously, that must feel pretty good!  What does the future hold for further Wu Xing releases?

EL: Yes, i've loved the response the fans have had to Wu Xing. It's a completely different game than API, but it's easily accessible because it still uses the same core rules. That makes exposure for one act as exposure for both, which is a pleasant surprise for me. We've already been working on the first and second sourcebooks for Wu Xing. First is Wu Xing: The Firebrands, focusing on the fire aspected clans, the Blazing Dancers and Virtuous Body Gardeners. The second is Wu Xing: The Land of Seed and Blossom, giving a ton of info on the nation to the southeast of where the core of the Ninja Crusade is occurring.

TB: Lastly, I noticed on the Third Eye Games website that you've mentioned "other" game settings.  Anything you can give us here?  Even a hint?

EL: Hmmmm. I don't want to reveal anything too soon, since the next setting isn't due for about a year. Gotta keep "some" secrets, right?

That concludes the interview as well as API Week.  If you haven't checked the game out yet, I *HIGHLY* recommend it.  It has quickly shot to the top of my list in the modern action/horror genre for managing to neither take itself too seriously or be a bad parody of its inspirations.  As well, I have just begun cracking into Wu Xing, and I look forward to bringing that review to you as well!

Tommy's Take on API: Seafood Chowder

The last Apocalypse Prevention Inc review for now is a free downloadable adventure called Seafood Chowder.

Written by Brennan Bishop, the adventure builds off of the information in the Lochs book for API, as your API Agents find themselves investigating attacks by “fish people” and discover that there is far, far more going on here than meets the eye.

At the risk of spoiling too much, since it is an adventure (albeit one available for free), the agents quickly find themselves embroiled in local aquatic politics, specifically involving a Loch API bureaucrat and a group of enraged Ondine.

The endgame is left very wide open, with the adventure written in such a way as to set up the situation (which has no easy answers to it) and the API Agents get to make the call on how to finish it out.  Let's just say that both sides have done some crappy, crappy things...and there is the possibility of bad political fallout regardless of the outcome.  It doesn't mean that it's no-win, exactly...just far from clear cut.

No less than five possible solutions are given for resolving the conflict, with the possible long term fallout for each solution laid out as well.

Unless you just really rather hate the aquatic races of API, I give this a strong recommendation.  Heck, even if you're not a fan of them, its still worth it as a GM just to get an idea of some of the hairier situations you can involve the agents in.

Also, it is worth noting that if you just have the API corebook, you don't NEED the Lochs sourebook use the adventure, as all the relevant game information is included...though it certainly doesn't hurt, just to give you a broader view of the Loch-Ondine conflict.

Tommy's Take on the API Demon Packs

I am reviewing these next three products together because of both the length of the titles and the subject matter involved.  The titles in question are the API Demon Packs 1 & 2, as well as the free Crooners supplement.

The Demon Packs micro supplements designed to add new demons to the mix, be they PCs or NPCs.  Each Demon Pack retails for $2.99 and includes a three demonic races.  Crooners is free and includes a single race.  No art is used in any of the entries, just pure text.

First, let's tackle The Demon Pack 1:

The first race present are the Naga, a race of devoutly religious vaguely humanoid snake men.  They lived perfect, idyllic lives of peace and labor until two vain Naga Queens, also sisters, pushed their followers into a war over who was the more beautiful.  This war raged until long after the Naga had forgotten the roots of the war, and continued even longer.  A handful of Naga on a special mission found themselves on earth, a Buddhist monastery specifically...where they had their warlike ways shocked back, and they reconnected with their spiritual roots.  Worshipped as divine beings but themselves enamored with religion, Naga went out into the world becoming consumed with learning about the various faiths and began taking an active role in the conflicts involving their chosen faiths.

The Naga get two Passions, the first being Faith and the second being player defined.  They also get a little combat prowess due to striking like a snake, regardless of actual training.  They absolutely abhor technology, however.  This means no cyborg Naga but it also means no e-mail Naga or cell phone Naga either.  This can cause a problem with travel as well, I would imagine.  Also, Naga largely fear magic and their reaction to another Naga learning magic is usually...violent.

The Jaguar Warriors are closer to the Wolf People or especially the Wendigos, in that they are animalistic demons who are very much from this dimension.  Like Wendigos, they are made and not born, selected by other Jaguar Warriors to join their bloody crusade. Many Jaguar Warriors prefer to feast on the flesh of humans, earning them no friends at API and any newly turned Jaguar Warrior that does not embrace their new life is brutally turned on and killed.

Jaguar Warriors are also known as Werejaguars because they can shift back and forth between human form, jaguar form and (sometimes) half-jaguar form.  They are also addicted to flesh, preferring human meat, and can use the Path of Blood like the Taylari.  They also have a hidden, hazardous weakness that I won't reveal here for any potential players that may be reading.

The last race in the first pack are the Hopkins, who may well be the source for all the crazy talk of “Grays”.  Hopkins lived real basic, solitary lives in their own dimension, feeding off of the star there until things we wonky and they started zapping through dimensions, with some crashing here on Earth. 

Mechanically, their big deal is that once a day or so, they have to release pent up energy as an EMP burst or they develop a major glow.  That burst can zap anything around them, including shorting out a cyborg's implants, making them bad candidates for teaming with cyborgs.  They are small, featureless humanoids, looking a lot like the aliens people have come to call “Grays”.

Demon Pack 2 first gives us Dunbars, which are giant rock monsters.  They hail from another dimension, but have spent a great deal of time in our own, and are responsible for Stonehenge in the API reality.  The only thing they devour is other stone, and they cannot stomach synthetic building materials like concrete.  Upon death, they revert to inert stone, appearing to be random, abandoned statues.

Not only can Dunbar shapeshift into other stone forms, but they can also possess other stone constructs.  However, they have no fine manipulation skills and they have a voracious appetite though, unlike some other races, they eat stone and not flesh or the like.  Three days without hitting their allotment of stone and they starve to death, turning into giant, dead statues.

Grandels add to the list of aquatic races in API, fitting in nicely with the options provided in the Lochs book.  They are basically giant, humanoid Angler fish, hailing from a dying planet in another dimension.  They haven't made any attempt to adapt with human society like Lochs have, only recently encountering Lochs and having their eyes opened to a much wider world.  They have a built in story hook, as a statue of one of their Gods has gone missing and could be used to suck them away, back to their home dimension.

Though they are often struck by Earth as they explore it, they aren't often cowed...and they look pretty ferocious themselves with giant teeth and an eerie glow (being like angler fish and all).

The final race in the 2nd Demon Pack are the Olivers, a whole race of impish rapscallions, taking their name from the Charles Dickens character Oliver Twist.  Pretty much sneaks and thieves, they still get work with API because of being so sneaky and fearless.

Olivers have razor sharp hairs on their bodies, and so tend to wear larger than normal clothes, adding to the “street urchin” look and helping the Demon in the Trenchcoat rule.  They also have the interesting ability to mentally “steal” items, so long as there is no solid obstruction between them and the item.  However, they can rarely resist a dare...even one that's not directed at them.

The final race (and product) is a free download released by Third Eye Games called Crooners...and it is an adaptation, essentially, of Lorne from the TV Show Angel, released after actor Andy Hallett's death.  Now, Angel is one of my favorite shows ever, and Andy Hallett's death was an utter tragedy brought on by medical issues beyond his control and not self destructive lifestyle choices, which makes it all the do I approve of the “Crooners”?  Darn straight.

Whereas Lorne was an exception among his people, Crooners are written as being the standard for their race and, unlike many other races, they didn't travel to Earth...API found them.  API fought to liberate them from the giants that held them as thralls, and the Crooners that came to Earth have rather fallen in love with its music.

Crooners are not fighters, and are a useful alternative to Oracles, as they have some sense of the future without all of the crazy bad luck effects that the Oracles tend to have.  Mechanically, they are based very much on Lorne, being able to read auras by listening to people sing, but only being able to advise the subjects of the reading in general terms.

Are they worth the cash?  Well...not if you hate API, obviously...but if you do, I think you're crazy.  Entitled to your opinion, yes...but crazy.  Crooners are awesome and free, while the only real strike against the Demon Packs is the lack of art, and that was due in large part to budgetary concerns.  However, you can get the Demon Packs together in a $5 bundle.  My thoughts on the races themselves?  Werejaguars are going to be MUCH better antagonists than PCs...and Olivers might just invoke the hatred people had toward Kender back in the heyday of Dragonlance.  I really dig the implementation of the Crooners, and the Naga and Dunbar are rather cool.  There is nothing bad here...if you like API, my recommendation is to pick up the Demon Packs.

Dark Heresy Winner

We have a winner in the Dark Heresy Inquisitor's Handbook giveaway: Rich Rogers, also known as the Orklord of the Canon Puncture site!

Congratulations, Rich, and thanks for entering everybody.

Remember that August Awesomeness continues on!  Plus, in a few minutes we are closing up the entrants in the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion contest and a winner will be announced on or before September 1st!

Also, later on today we have a trifecta of articles still to come: My review of the various API Demon packs, my review of the free API adventure and my interview with API creator Eloy Lasanta!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tommy's Take on API Worldwide: Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tommy's Take on API Demon Codex: Lochs

The first (and thus far, only) release in the Demon Codex series for Apocalypse Prevention Inc. is Lochs, detailing the fishy race found in the API corebook.

One minor strike against Demon Codex: Lochs right off is that the cover art is recycled from the interior of the API corebook...the Loch wearing surfer's shorts.  Otherwise Lochs, in PDF form for $9.99, is a fully searchable, indexed, bookmarked digital tome clocking in at 85 pages.  Obviously, its all about the Lochs...but is it worth buying, especially if you're not a big fan of them?  Let's take a look...

The book opens with a piece of short fiction introducing Jonah, a Loch who serves as a quasi-narrator/POV character in the book.

The Lochs are a fish-like demon species who have been cursed with the Contagion, which makes them unable to breed normally.  However, on earth they have discovered that they can implant eggs into humans...though only women have successfully given birth to the new Half-Lochs.  Men...not so much.

Anyway, that's the basic background.

The Codex begins with the history of the Sedrone, more or less what the Lochs were called before they came to Earth.  To sum it up, they were a savage, conquering race who took what they wanted and killed all that opposed them...until a rebel faction plagued them with the Contagion, which killed 90% of the Sedrone and left them unable to reproduce with one another!  A number of Sedrone tried to escape the Contagion by fleeing to Earth in portals, but it was too late.

The Voltics had answered a distress call by the rebels and came to aid them against the Sedrone...but they arrived after the Contagion had ended the war, and so they pretty much enslaved what was left.  API has crossed paths with the Voltics a few times since, and it hasn't been pretty.

Chapter one provides a lot of detail on Domainya, the watery dimension that was home to the Sedrone...literally a dimension entirely underwater...lit by glowing plants on the ground and no overheard source of light, as it all just fades into the Dark Horizon once you get too far removed from the floor.

In the present day, API has a contingent present in Domainya, helping aid the fight against the Voltics in the presumed interest of turning the Spandrels (which was the cradle of the Sedrone empire) back over to the Sedrone.  The human in charge of the operations has developed a growing fondness for the Rebels, while API's official stance backs the Lochs/Sedrone.  This chapter sets the conflict up nicely, then lays out three “this might happen” scenarios for the conclusion of the conflict.

There are a number of cool little layers in this war, such as API recruiting the Ondine (an Earth-based aquatic race) for help, who are motivated entirely by the idea that if they help the Lochs, the Lochs will leave the Earth and essentially stop challenging their supremacy of the seas.  Also, one of the Rebel races, the Scryers, is planning a second Contagion, this time aimed at the Voltics.  Chapter one basically lays out what could be a whole campaign on its own, completely aside from anything else presented thus far in the API line.

Chapter two details the exodus to Earth.  It started off as an invasion, as the Sedrone mustered up a massive army of 500,000 soldiers...then promptly went a different route once they realized how bad they were screwed numbers wise.

Their first portal transport to Earth was in a little body of water called Loch Ness, where they encountered API agents...and thus, they became known as Lochs.

The Lochs arrived en masse in Brazil, and wound up in open conflict with API, which they lost.  They were quarantined and then registered, with a large number of Lochs embracing human culture and even The Company.  However, there are still more than a few “anti-human” holdouts.

As extinction, due to The Contagion, loomed over the Lochs they grew desperate.  Given their dominating and violent nature, some Lochs engaged in rapes of humans and discovered...that they could breed together.  The Lochs have since learned that every attempt to breed, though the child may survive, results in the death of a parent.  So now the Lochs and humans are exhausting every procreational method they can to try to save Lochs from extinction.  Half-Lochs are being born, and the oldest right now is about four years they may yet save the Lochs from extinction.

The human friendly Lochs have utterly embraced human culture, from movies to popular music and so on.  They stole hold out some traditions for themselves, but by and large, they had tried to integrate as much as they can on Earth.  This isn't universal, of course, as a number of other immigrants still hold tightly to their culture and frown on Loch integration...these immigrants also still use “Sedrone” as their identifier and not “Lochs”.

We get a little sidebar here by Jonah, from the beginning fiction, talking about the other demons and how Lochs view them overall...perhaps surprisingly, they like Burners the best and don't care much for...well..most anything else besides humans.

In another nice little touch, API has set up a series of underwater bases that they use Loch agents to man, in the Sea of Japan, Jamaica, the Mediterranean Sea, Antarctica, off the coast of India and in the Pacific Ocean.  Each base serves a specific purpose and has their own internal quirks.

A community in the Florida panhandle, called Black Moss Lake, is also detailed...being the place where the API first brought the Lochs after quarantine ended.  Its described as being a bit of a hodge podge of human and Loch architecture, but the Lochs who are there still consider it very much home.

Lochs and their relations with four other races are also provided, closing out the chapter: The Linx, which were a bit of a servant race back on Domainya, are split: Some still stick close to Lochs, others have begun to latch onto humans.  A very rare few are becoming overtly independent.  Ondine are not demons, but an aquatic race the developed on Earth and have had many a violent conflict with Lochs over the Earth's oceans, as they consider themselves the rules and Lochs as interlopers.  Scryers, the race that infected Lochs with the Contagion, obviously have very strained relations (at best) with the Lochs.  Finally, there are the Voltics.  Much like the Tarks from the core rules, they hit Earth for specific missions...however, their portals also allow the great Kraken known as The Vastness to access Earth as well, making it DOUBLY bad for everyone involved.

Oh, and a final note is included on Lochs...apparently they LOVE cybernetic implants and, unlike Changelings, it doesn't limit their usefulness as agents.

Chapter Three gets into Loch groups...helpfully noting that not all Lochs like humans and not all Lochs are on board with API.

Aquatic Alchemists are creepy.  Aquatic alchemy is where the Contagion was spawned from, and it has been frowned upon ever since if killed 90% of the Lochs and sterilized everyone it didn't kill.  Everything from herbs to animals to people can be used as ingredients...and they are.  Currently, Alchemists are divided into two main groups now: Those striving to cure the Contagion and those who are striving to create a new be used on humans.

Deep Green isn't a Loch group exactly...its a plastics corporation who has inflicted damage to Lochs living in the ocean with their illegal dumping, and sparked a war with them over it.

The Forgotten Tribes are the Lochs that arrived in South America during the initial migration, and have become weakened over the years...the elder immigrants having largely died off now and the younger ones trying to make their way.

Hooks were kind of like the CIA on Domainya, and now are pretty much bounty hunters and PIs.  They welcome any law-abiding member of an aquatic race and are often used as sub-contractors by API, and as an alternate solution for demons that don't want to deal with API for matters.

The Hope Foundation is a group dedicated to save the Lochs from extinction.  It arranges two Lochs and a human, who attempts to carry the Half-Loch to term.  Only two Half-Lochs have been born through the organization, and they have done some...spotty ethical things to get that far, using the salvation of the Lochs as their justification.  They are a huge thorn for API, who would love to take them out, because they couldn't end the operation all at once, and a large number of Lochs look to The Hope Foundation for, well, hope.

The Red Steps are somehow creepier than the Aquatic Alchemists, being Lochs who have taken over Michigan slaughterhouses and are now pumping various races through there, turning them into food that they are selling off to fast food places.


Superior City is an Ondine city in Lake Superior that Lochs overtook.  Nestled in the heart of the city, much like Excalibur, is a trident that is trapped in a statue.  Full stats are provided for the Trident, should you wish to insert it into your game.

Chapter four gets more in depth into actually playing Lochs.

First off, it provides three methods for Lochs to work among humans, from Image Emitters, to the Trenchcoat Rule to the very creepy alchemists who use human skin as a disguise.

A reminder is provided on the creepiness of Loch-human sexual relationships, which have involved rape more often than once in the past.  Also, while Lochs make good fighters, the book provides tips on playing non-combat themed Lochs as well.

A new Passion, Redemption, is provided.  New Gifts include Aquatic Alchemy as well as other physical modifications such as tentacles and crab claws, which have their own advantages.

A new Drawback, Water Breather, is provided for those who just don't breath well out of water.

New equipment includes the H.I.C.C.U.P., an underwater transport, as well as M.U.E.s, which are special diving suits, and Compressor Cloth, which helps condense a large-framed individual who is using an image emitter.

New cybernetic options are provided, such as Waterproofing, a Current Generator (torso mounted, creating strong currents) and Air Lungs, which allow the recipient to adapt between two environments, such as land and sea.

A list of Aquatic Alchemy items are included, like the Siren Choker, which gives a bonus to Perform Checks, Aqua Lung (gives a land lubber the ability to breath in the water), the Infinite Box (made from the pieces of a Husk) and Human Skin, which makes for the ultimate disguise.

New Antagonists include The Afflicted (Scriers altered by the Contagion), Charcadons (scary, shark beasts), dolphins and sharks, krakens, The Vastness' Tentacles and more.

The new races are given profiles like those in the corebook.

The Linx are odd little guys...a single Linx is born into four bodies, which operate with one mind.  They cannot willingly go more than 300 ft apart, and being forced apart is Very, Very Bad.

Ondine claim to be the children of Poseidon, and are essentially merpeople...and as they were The aquatic race on Earth for thousands of years, they don't like Lochs at all.

Scriers are the guys that created the Contagion, and also have a second set of eyes, which allow them to see into the magical spectrum.

Voltics are war mongers who occasionally make in-roads into Earth and are considered very much illegal by API.

Finally, for those who want to run the timeline ahead or play around with the setting in other ways, rules for playing grown Half-Lochs are included, even though there aren't currently any older than the age of four, officially.

Two adventures are included as well, the first being Deep Run in the Tunnels, which serves as a primer on Domainya.  Reports are that a female Loch is apparently pregnant by another Loch, which could be huge news for the future of the Lochs.  The Agents are sent after the missing Agent who reported this phenomena.  The Agents get to experience some Domainya politics as well as possibly snatch up a Loch artifact.

Jaws Snapping In The Dark is a hunt involving a batch cloned Lochs gone bad.  It is pretty much a straight forward investigation culminating in a big, bloody fight (most likely).

Honestly, the adventures are the weakest part of the book...but that might be because the book is just TEEMING with plot hooks, seeds and goodness.  Seriously, even ignoring the adventures this is an amazing book.  The information on Domainya is enough to run a whole campaign on, and then throw in all the great stuff with the factions, plus five new races.

The Lochs are presented as complicated can play them as fun-loving joke characters...giant fish wandering around in trenchcoats...or blood thirsty conquerors...or a fallen, tragic species driven to desperate measures in order to survive.  Throw in the quirky Linx, the poor Scriers who are stuck in a bad place no matter what they do, and the Voltics as pretty much unambiguous bad guys, and this is just a great resources.

Some minor failings bring the book down just a hair, but this is by and large an amazing supplement that really sets the bar for future Demon Codices.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tommy's Take on API Worldwide: Canada

I had no idea that Canada meant “Big Village”.  Seriously.  That's the first little tidbit I learned about Canada from the API Worldwide Canada region sourcebook for Apocalypse Prevention Inc.  The Great White North gets a full treatment, complete with plot seeds, some new rules and a few new races.

The 85 page PDF is fully searchable and bookmarked, again featuring a great index but only a mediocre table of contents.  The book is in black and white, but the cover motif is similar to the corebook's, with the fiery backdrop to a skyline, and this time featuring a blood-splatter in the shape of the Canadian Mapleleaf.

We learn right up front that the API branch of Canada is spread awfully thin because Bad Stuff happens all over the country, but they just don't have the manpower be everywhere they need to its less about “stopping bad stuff from happening” and more “hope too many people don't die before we get there”...which is kinda bleak, really.

Like the US in the corebook, Canada has further tightened their gun laws, leaving guns largely in the hands of hunters alone.  Can't say as the gun stuff thrills me much.  I'm not a gun nut, but I am a pretty hardcore Libertarian type, and I tend to think that taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens tends to just leave them vulnerable to bad guys, but that's neither here nor there.

After the general overview of Canada, the book gets into deeper detail, starting with Montreal, hope of API's main Canadian HQ.  Montreal sounds like a lovely place, where life moves at its own pace, from the laid back record store guy to the hyperactive would be executive.  One of the first plot seeds are dropped here, a Spectral that haunts Montreal's wi-fi network and (apparently randomly) inserts and encrypts files on people's computers through the network.  Another nice tidbit is about a gentleman who owns a carpet cleaning company, and encountered the ghost of a suicide victim while on a job...after peacefully convincing the Spectral to move on, he would up seeking out ghosts, and is now a sub-contractor for API.

Underneath Old Montreal lies the API HQ, protected with an anti-violence ward, not unlike Lorne's club Caritas from the TV show Angel.

Other useful tidbits include the sudden spike in crime in the region due to gang conflicts as well as mafia push, the higher than average Wolf Person population in the area, the Montreal Undercity (featuring a large population of Taylari, who became much more compliant after UV strobes were installed in the area), and more.

Though Montreal gets the prime focus, the book does cover Canada as a whole, and so it moves to the West Coast and Interior.  The Rocky Mountains that run through British Columbia are a hotbed of supernatural activity, for instance, and Tarks have a heavy presence in Regina, Saskatchewan.  Once you get in the Northern Territories, you can have all kinds of fun with tiny, tiny towns being stalked by a single demon or two.  We also learn that the US branch “lets” the Canadian Branch of API protect Alaska, rather than keeping up their “two teams” approach up there.  Hmmm...I wonder if they also think Hawaii is too much hassle, or if they're cool sending isolated teams out there?

The Aurora Borealis gets special treatment here, as it is a pile of discarded Mana and, some believe, where many demonic souls go.  It has in-game effects if a character is brought near death in the proximity of them, warping and transforming the weakened and often screwing with magic cast around them as well.

Chapter two begins to get into the nitty gritty of the API in Canada.  The current leader of API Canada, Gerard Robert, is descended from Guillot Robert, an exceedingly brilliant tactician who apparently planned the breeding of his descendants for maximum effect.  Being an API Agent in Canada means working with fewer resources and less back-up than other places, especially places like America.  Canada Agents are also taught to subdue and not kill unless necessary, a bit of a contrast with US Agents.

We get our first real game mechanics in a sidebar in this book, with four new Elite Training Techniques, including two fairly wicked ones in which the Agent controls their internal body temperature in order to inflict extra damage to creatures sensitive to heat or cold.

Due to the shortage in manpower, Agents in Canada are able to get away with breaking more rules without close scrutiny due to the unspoken reality that the Agency can't afford to crack down on rogue behavior.  There is a bit of sibling rivalry on the Board of Directors, as Gerard Robert and his older brother Serge struggle...with Serge undercutting Gerard often, but Gerard seemingly not moving against him in retaliation.

We also get a bigger look at The Thing Under The Ice, an entity that threatens Canada and feasts on still-beating human hearts, but that they just don't know that much about.  The TUTI has a number of minions, including Possessors that kinda do what their name implies, and cults that have risen up to worship this thing...(as happen when Things Man Was Not Meant To Know make their presence felt).

The Canadian HQ itself is well protected, in that they have eliminated almost all normal entrances, and use portals to achieve access instead.  A sidebar details three of the inmates imprisoned in the HQ, one of whom was a sadistic, blood-drinking rapist who kept up his evil ways as a ghost as well as Patient Zero, who was the Canadian Branch's first attempt at harnessing the power of the Aurora Borealis.  It didn't quite work.

A section is included on Demon expected, Burners aren't terribly prevalent in the Canadian Branch.  Two new races included in the book, Husks and Wendigos, are often used as agents...and while they will turn a blind eye to the Illegal status of some Carriers and Oracles, Gerard Robert tends to only use Spectrals for experimentation and not as Agents.  There is also what amounts to a special ops squad known as The Radicals, which is currently five Demons (the numbers may change, but The Radicals are always Demons).

An overview is provided of major NPCs in the Canadian branch and their uses in the game, including leader Gerard Robert, leader of the Canadian Elites Cassie Fredericks, Francois Chevalier – Wolf Person and illegitimate son of Gerard Robert, and Trask, a Changeling and leader of the Radicals.

Chapter three touches on the other major power groups in Canada.

The Alpha Pack is loosely knit network of Wolf People that has a pretty good working relationship with API.  The Wolf People in Canada tend not to organize into large groups, but instead operating solo or in pairs, then surrounded by “normal” wolves.  The Alpha Pack doesn't do harm to humans directly, though they will take the fight to those that would harm the environment or their wolf brethren.  In addition, they wage war with The Thing Under The Ice, the Wendigo and more.

The Thing Under The Ice is just creepy, as it is apparently located under the thickest ice in Canada, but its reach can wind up global in scope.  It apparently sleeps for thousands of years until hunger stirs it...the begins to awaken, sending its minions out and feasting on the world at large.  Did I mention that its reach has been global in the past?  A whole cult is devoted to it, and they think it is part of the Earth's life cycle...the planet gets overpopulated, The Thing Under The Ice trims the population.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Makes a certain kind of crazy sense.  Stats are given for the TUTI's tentacles, pseudopods and maws, for it can be fought back...but bashing a tentacle tends to have little actual effect on the beast overall.

The Ordo Cryos are a group of Adepts studying the Path of Ice for the purpose of combatting Global Warming.  They have ran afoul of the TUTI's cult, as a deep freeze of Earth makes it harder for TUTI to feed, you see, and the cult can't have that.  The Ordo Cryos come across mostly as flavor in the book, since they keep an incredibly low profile while studying magical cooling on a global level.

LeyLines.Org is an organization devoted magically zipping around the wilderness, finding those who are lost and returning them to civilization.  Gerard Robert, however, has begun to suspect that they use their powers for other purposes, such as trafficking of controlled substances...he just doesn't have proof...yet.

The Two Thousand Sleepers are a Taylari group who are all about any region that is shrouded in night for months at a time.  That, in and of itself, isn't a huge issue for API...but the Two Thousand Sleepers also tend to think that the feral, Taylari Mortus state is a holy state that needs to be revered.

Chapter four is heavy on the rules content.  Weather related stuff, like snowblindness, avalanches and frostbite are covered here, as are a couple of new combat rules.  Tons of new equipment is present, including a laundry list of snow gear.  For the heat sensitive, the Heat Wave is presented: A rifle designed to fire concentrated heat.  Mirror Keys are emergency transport for API Agents, and Neural Gauntlets transmit electric feedback to anything that's hit with them.  A couple of new cybernetics are listed here, such a crampons that extend from bionic feet for climbing.

New monsters are present as well, including Abominable Snowmen, the TUTI's Harvesters, Fenris Wolves and, my personal favorite, Freed Reflections.  Mirror Magic can release a person's reflection, which is then obsessed with killing them...after that, it acts out the original's darkest desires.

Four new Paths are presented, the Paths of Ice, Mirrors, Shadows and Fractures (the latter of which is only performed by Husks).

The three new races are detailed: Husks, Wendigos and Infected.  The Husks are creepy, statuesque creatures that don't eat or breath as normal and have one of the least human outlooks presented so far.  In order to effectively move in combat, they must “crack their shell” and they can't heal until they “set the shell”.

Wendigos are ravenous meat eaters that make Wolf People look cultured and civilized.  They look pale and frostbitten normally, and upon consuming at least five pounds of fresh meat, they transform into giant, ravenous beats.  API has tried to “neuter” a few Wendigos and turn them into Agents, but they are always treated with suspicion and mistrust.

The Infected look utterly normal, except that you can see the Northern Lights in their eyes.  They are created when the TUTI's Slugs “impregnate” human females.  From birth they manipulate those around them, forcing their parent(s) to feed them a diet of human hearts and extending their control from there as they get older.  At the age of 30, they begin making their way to the TUTI...though to what end,  exactly, is unclear.

Two adventures are provided in this book: Danger at the Mine and Splinter.

Danger at the Mine serves as a nice introduction to Canada.  Two Agents and their guide have gone missing, and the PCs are called in to retrieve them.  Along the way, they get introduced to Wendigo, The Infected, the Devotees of the Cull and a Possessor, plus exposure to the weather rules and cool gear from earlier in the book.  The adventure is prevented fairly's “rail-roady” in the sense that you are Agents with orders, but other than that, there is very little “You Must Do This” in the adventure.  Different situations have different potential outcomes that will, in turn, have different consequences depending on what you do.  I think it could be a swell campaign launching point, or you could use it with American Agents “on loan” due to manpower shortages as a change of pace.

Splinter is...kinda trippy.  It involved a Husk serial killer who has found a superthin crack in reality.  Without giving too much away here...don't run it with less than four people...UNLESS you want to run it with two players and add some the adventure requires splitting the party (I know, right?  But it all kinda works out, really).

Danger at the Mine, as written, is the stronger adventure...but Splinter, if pulled off well, is rather cool.

I tend to dismiss game fiction, but there is a prologue with a Canadian Agent suffering a broken leg, as well as an epilogue featuring Gerard Robert pressing him back into action with a replacement leg for his own, unknowable purposes.

Finally, a cute little API “Field Report” form is given, that can be filled out as a record for missions if one likes.

I gotta say...Third Eye Games makes the frozen North seem awfully cool.  You have Wendigos running around, The TUTI and God only knows what its up to, Adepts trying to freeze the world to save it...all cool stuff, none of which is directly tied into the core book, thus making the API World seem even bigger and more active.  Hopefully this is only setting the stage for more awesome Region books.

Monday, August 23, 2010

August Awesomness Part Four: Win the Dark Heresy Inquisitor's Handbook!

Courtesy of RPGNow and Fantasy Flight Games, The Most Unread Blog on Internet. Ever. is pleased to announce one more giveaway this month...for the Dark Heresy Inquisitor's Handbook!

Rules are simple:

Between now and sometime Friday, around noonish or so Central time, just reply to this post with your name and e-mail address and one person will be randomly selected to win!  Note: If you don't have one, you will need to create an account at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG in order to claim your prize.

Friendly reminders:

You still have until Friday at 12 pm Central time to enter the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion Contest.

The great bargain on select RPGnow products rolls on as well!

Plus, the Apocalypse Prevention Inc core book review just went up, and tomorrow the API Worldwide: Canada review goes up!

Tommy's Take on Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. Core Rulebook

Apocalypse Prevention Inc. is a cool game that was offered up as part of the awesome Haiti Bundle on DriveThruRPG earlier this year, and as cool as it looked, I got more than a tad overwhelmed with EVERYTHING that came in the bundle.  However, API has caught my attention all over again, because Third Eye Games just announced at GenCon that API will be coming to Savage Worlds as a Savage Setting!  That tickles me pink, I'll be honest...'cause I loves me some Savage Worlds.  This review, however, is for the first edition of the game, using Third Eye Games' Dynamic Gaming System.

The cover is a striking black and orange, with the silhouette of a city skyline up top and what appears to be flames behind it.  On the center of the page is a blood splatter in the shape of the continents.  The PDF itself is fully bookmarked and searchable, and is available for $12.95 at RPGnow.  Additionally, a print version is available for $24.95.

Written by Eloy Lasanta, API is an action-horror RPG with a bit of a comedy twist...or, as I've heard it mentioned before, it's “Joss Whedon's Men in Black”.  The book begins with a brief overview of the setting, which is about a shadow corporation protecting the world from all the ooky demons that might threaten it, and touching briefly on just what those demons are (many of which are playable races in the game).  As well, it gives a brief paragraph about the core mechanic of the system, which is d20+attribute+skill.

A “What Is Roleplaying” section follows, but it keeps it brief.  Not bad, but nothing you haven't read before, and I appreciate the brevity.

Finally, an in-character memo is posted, welcoming the “New Agent” to Apocalypse Prevention Inc.

The table of contents is a bit broad, listing just the chapter headings...but since there is a full index (as well as bookmarks in the PDF), this isn't a huge strike.  Even in the hardcopy version I would forgive it because of the index.

Character Creation is up first, and broken down into five steps, the first of which is Concept, Passion and Race.

Concept is pretty broad, but should be distilled to a couple of words or so.  Passion is picked from a list, each of which has a situation in which the PC can earn bonus XP, such as Honor providing XP whenever the PC abides by their code even in the face of negative consequences, Rivalry giving a bonus when you get a leg up over your rival, or Death providing bonus XP whenever you survive a near death experience.  As well, a helpful sidebar is provided, giving examples of how different Passions can alter the same Concept.  Finally, you select your race: Human, Burners (fire demons), Changelings (shape shifting demons), Lochs (giant fish demons), Spectrals (ghosts who failed to move on), Taylari (living vampires) and Wolf People (kinda like werewolves).  As well, there are three “illegal” races provided, Carriors (disease eating demons), Oracles (demons who can see the future) and Tarks (massive demonic hulks).  The illegals are held to the back of the book, but are playable with GM permission.

For concept, I'm going with “Boring Pencil Pusher”.  Passion?  Revenge.  Race: Spectral.  Bart Angleman was an API file clerk who had fallen in love with Alyssa, a lovely changeling of indeterminate age.  They cohabitated for a few years, though Alyssa never really returned Bart's feelings, but privately told those she spoke with that “he loves me enough for the both of us”.  Bart, for his part, subconsciously understood that Alyssa needed more than him, and rarely questioned her comings and goings.  He returned home from the office to find their apartment wrecked, and Alyssa dying on the floor.  Angleman never realized that the trio of hunters that had tracked her down and attacked her were still there, and murdered him, assuming him to be a Changeling as well.  He was not...he was just a heartbroken schlub who refused to let go of the mortal, he walks the earth as a Spectral Agent of API, specializing in shutting down monster hunters who would kill otherwise harmless, friendly demons.

Next, we spend 30 points on our attributes, which are Power, Agility, Vigor, Intellect, Insight and Charm.  These are ranked from 1-10, with 9-10 costing 2 points per level instead of one.  Being a pencil pusher, we're going to go a little heavier on the mental than physical attributes, I think.

POW: 3  AGI: 2  VIG: 4  IQ:  9  INS: 7  CHM: 4

There we go...I think that'll work nicely.

Step 3: Distribute 30 skill points, plus an additional point for every level of IQ.  There are 20 standard skills, plus 12 combat skills, as well as a list of Spectral Skills, which is what Bart will need in order to actually affect the outside world.  At different thresholds (4, 7 and 10), the PC gets a Specialty for the skill (when available) as well, something to keep in mind.

Affect Senses (Repetitive Typing Sounds) 4, Computers 5, Float 4, Knowledge (Bureaucracy, Demonology) 8, Manifestation 8, Possess Object (computers) 5, Stir (Typing) 5.

There we go: His main marketable skills from API are represented, and he's quickly become a fast study on the ghost stuff.  Good times.

Unless I am horrible mistaken, Bart gets Appearance (Fear 13), plus Ghost Form and the Drawback Sealed Inner Circles for being a Spectral.  This essentially means he's kinda creepy, and can't affect anything (or even be seen, other than giving people a cold chill) without the skills he took above, and he can't use much in the way of magic.  He also gets a further 10 points to spend on Gifts (or Attributes and Skills if he chooses), but he can also take up to 10 points in Drawbacks.

Perfect Memory (3) seems like a good one for Bart.  Let's take Punctual (1) as well.  Years inside a cubicle has given him Iron Will (4), and he has amassed a huge Library (4).  Now he needs at least 2 points of Drawbacks...I'm thinking Speech Impediment.  Howabout...Stuttering?

Now derived stats:  Using the formulas in the book we get Health of 22, Initiative of 9, Stamina 33, Walking is 5 ft and running speed is 100 yards per minute.  Jumping is only 3 ft horizontally, and he can't swim...poor guy.

Not bad, not bad.  The concept may have been kinda grim for setting, but I could see it working.  Especially with lots of “Office Space” humor.

It's worth noting that there is a lot more depth in the skill system getting into the combat skills, I just ventured entirely into a non-combat character here.  The six attributes are pretty much the d20 Ability Scores renamed, while a lot of the character generation reminds me of White Wolf's character creation standards.  Definitely not a rip-off of either, but I do see what appears to be influence, especially from White Wolf.  In fact, much like White Wolf's books, API provides a character generation summary nestled into the first couple of pages of the section, where it gives an overview of Concept and spells out the Passions and their rewards.

From there, each of the legal Races get a profile, including common nicknames for the race (such as Humans being called Baselines or Spectrals being known as  Caspers), as well as common stereotypes (Burners are hot-headed, Lochs are wise).  Each section, about two pages or so on average, gives the story of the species, their common lifestyles,  how they are commonly recruited into API (Changelings make great spies), any starting Gifts or Drawbacks a well as unique ones available for each race to purchase.  Finally, each race has a picture included, as well as a sample NPC representative of the race, complete with a hook for using them in your game.  There are some nice quirks here: Taylari drink blood, are allergic to garlic and dislike sunlight, but are otherwise living and breathing beings.  However, if they die, they become feral Taylari Mortus.  Lochs are a fallen noble race who mate with humans when they can in order to propagate their species...but humans die in childbirth with a Loch child. 

The Attributes section is well laid out, listing each of the six attributes, with relevant tables and formulas immediately underneath each Attribute (such as the formula for holding one's breath under Vigor).

Skills have a very basic formula for difficulties: 10 is the base difficulty, and each level of complexity one tries to achieve is ten points higher, with a 40 being near impossible...(as it would require having a 10 in the Attribute, 10 in the relevant Skill and rolling a 20, or an 18 with a relevant specialty).  Untrained Skill Checks don't have penalties, they are just Attribute-only checks.  Natural 20s are an automatic success, Natural 1s an automatic failure.  Specialties provide an additional +2 on a roll.  It's a straightforward system, laid out very clearly.  Each skill listing provides common specialties, as well as examples as to just what each benchmark may entail, like a Moderate (20) Discipline check helping you keep your cool in a gunfight.

Combat Skills are a little different, as only Fighting Style: Basic can be purchased through normal skill points alone...each of the trained styles require a a Gift to unlock them.  Each style has a table showing your bonuses at each level, and you gain a Technique at levels 4, 7 and 10, ala Skill Specialties.  Probably my biggest gripe here is the combat Technique “Close Line”.  As a pro wrestler, I HAVE to point out that it should be “clothesline”.  Other than that, the Combat Skills provide a fairly crunchy system without being overwhelming, reminiscent somewhat of the old Palladium Martial Arts system, in a good way.

Gifts and Drawbacks are explained in detail, though a handy reference with point totals is provided at the beginning of this section.  There's very likely room for expansion, but there's still a good number of Gifts and Drawbacks provided here.  Access to Magic is bought through here, as well as quirky Gifts like Dumpster Stomach, which allow the PC to eat pretty much whatever he wants with no issue.

Equipment acquisition is handled through the Wealth Gift, which ranges from 0 to 5.  Every item has a Cost score, and you simply compare your Wealth to the Cost to see if you can purchase it...and yes, people can combine Wealth for more expensive items.

Some of the items listed are fairly normal: Nightvision goggles, first-aid kit, gas mask...but there are also faerie guns, which fire a foam that kills faeries (and also rats), image emitters (which Lochs often use to get humans to mate with them), ectoplasmic reorganizers (which let Spectrals change their “death” appearance) and Blood Beer (a human-safe alternative for Taylari that don't want to kill).

The weapons list hits a number of common favorites, such as swords (including the ever-popular katana), axes, chainsaws and ranged weapons from bows to boomerangs to shotguns.  Armor is also listed, from chain mail to kevlar and rules for breaking objects.

There is a pretty big sci-fi aspect to the game as well, and rules are included for cybernetics.  You use Bonus Points to buy your enhancements, with “aftermarket” cybernetics being cheaper but coming with some “quirks”.  Each basic implant also includes a list of potential upgrades, one of my favorites being the grenade launcher loaded into the cybernetic leg.

Combat is the biggest break I've seen in the game, system wise, from anything I've played before.  Each combat round has 20 Counts, each Count lasting half a second.  Everyone rolls initiative, with the winner starting on Count 1, and for every four points that each other participant rolled below him, they start one Count up.  I.e., if Zachariah the Taylari rolls an initiative total of 25 and the cyborg killer DED-HED only got a 16, Zachariah starts at Count 1.  DED-HED is 9 less than Zachariah, which moves him down the track by three steps, starting him at Count 4.  Typically, each character gets two Actions per round, and every action costs both Stamina and Speed.  The Speed cost means that performing the action moves you that many spaces down the Combat Tracker.  Your opponent can take Reactions, which cost Stamina and Speed, but don't count against actions.  Some of the Reactions have very low Speeds, the lowest being “Take The Hit” if you think you can handle what your opponent is swinging with, put your chin out and there's a good chance you'll get to strike him next.  If you go full defense, he's liable to keep pressing the attack before you get a go.

If your actions taken push you past the Count of 20, then for every Count you go over, you get a -2 on the next Round's initiative.  So if you roll a bad initiative, unless you are just convinced you can take the opponent out, you're probably better off letting some actions go, and rerolling an unpenalized initiative the next round.

A natural 20 is a big deal on both Actions and Reactions, including bonus damage or, in the case of some Reactions, draining Stamina from the attacker.  Similarly, rolling a 1 is bad, no matter what you're doing when you do it.

There is just a fairly shocking amount of depth in the combat rules, including an extensive list of Grappling options that include turning an opponent's weapon on them, using a grappled opponent as a Meat Shield and more.  Other combat options including sacrificing Health for Stamina, Feints, and three levels of basic strikes, starting with quicker and weaker and ending with slower and stronger.

The ranged combat rules remove a common RPG trope, which is the Dodge skill being used with firearms.  Doesn't happen here unless someone is at extremely close range, making guns incredibly useful.

The chapter rounds out with a number of common modifiers, such as Targeted Strikes (called shots), Blind Fighting and more, as well as a number of common damage rules such as fire, falling, poison, etc.  Finally, a two page example of the combat system, in full glory (including Combat Tracker) for clarification's sake.

Again, as noted in the styles: It's definitely crunchy, but I think it's laid out in such a way that it's not overwhelmingly so, especially once you get the initiative/combat tracker stuff down.

Chapter Three brings on the magic section.  API magic does spell lists, divided up into 18 “Paths”.  Anyone who can cast spells is an Adept.  You can dip around into Paths, so you don't have to focus on any one.  The Paths have three Circles, with magic effects getting more and more mindbending as you go.  For instance, one of the spells in the 1st Circle of The Path of Death allows you to commune with the dead.  With the 2nd circle, you can exorcise spirits.  With the 3rd, you can raise the dead (think zombie, not resurrecting a buddy back to full health).  Magic is powered by Mana, which you get by converting Stamina.

Half a dozen magical Orders are provided, each focused on a certain type of magic.  As well, the book clearly states that magic is not inherently good or evil, but is based off of the intent of the spell...and using magic for good or evil over time can have a transformative effect, making one glow with a holy aura, or aging them prematurely, etc.

As well, while the magic system uses spell lists, you can use experience points to upgrade your spells, tweaking the ones that you like to use, by making them stronger, or less draining to use, and so on.  Much like the combat system, the API magic system comes across as a very robust, yet not overwhelming system...with enough crunch to play around in it.  If you're all about freeform magic, you're probably not going to be thrilled with this...but it does look far less tedious than, say, the D&D tomes of spells system.

Chapter Four delves into the world in general, and the organization specifically.  History, especially in the US, makes a pretty large divergence in 2008 when the first female President is elected, and she manages to dramatically restrict gun ownership rights (remember the paranoia from gunowners when Obama was elected?  Yeah, a lot like that, but actually executed by the governnment).  API itself has been around in some form since the 1600s, and is a corporation with approximately 120,000 employees.  It is a known entity, but just what it really IS is the part that the public is unaware of.

API has a main HQ in California and a secondary HQ in Florida, with two cells per state, giving you a good amount of flexibility with the campaign structure.  As well, there are other worldwide HQs, and the entire HQ structure is given a full page (note that Canada and Europe each have their own sourcebooks while I will review as well).

API enforces registration on the part of demons, monsters and anyone interacting with the supernatural, and penalties for infractions can range from small fines up through death or incarceration.

As well, API stays on top of all manner of prophecies, be it from The Bible, Nostradamus, The Dead Sea Scrolls or what have you, and tries to discern the true trouble points.

This chapter also delves into the recruitment and training of Agents, as well as providing details on Elite Martial Arts training, which has some cool tricks to it like Mana Leak, which causes an Adept to lose extra Mana when trying to cast a spell after this is hit.

The details for an Agent cutting ties with their old life are detailed, which even include subtle DNA alterations...once you're in the system, you are no longer who you once were.  A section is devoted to Agents going rogue, which API does take very seriously...however, since they tend to give their Agents the benefit of the doubt, the Agents tend to do a fair amount of damage before API comes down on them.

A sidebar is devoted to The Watchers, a mysterious organization who doesn't actively interfere with API, but is amassing information at a rapid rate.  The belief is that they are hording the information in the event that API fails...but no one has been able to confirm this yet.

Finally, this chapter also covers the effect of cybernetics on the world, which include underground cybernetic fight clubs and doctors that implant extra goodies in their patients, making cyber-slaves out of them.

Chapter Five deals specifically with demons, such as the Trench Coat Rule (meaning that if a demon is making an attempt to be MOSTLY covered, the human mind will fill in the rest).  This chapter also takes the six demonic races from earlier in the book and relays their full racial history, from their home dimension to how they fit into earth society, including how Lochs try to breed with humans and exactly why humans tend to not survive the breeding process.

This chapter is a lot of information that never feels overblown or unnecessary.  It is very easy for game settings to go too far to opposite extremes when detailing their racial options...either painting them with too broad of a stroke to make it easy to grasp just how they are different, or go into sooooooo much detail that, frankly, you just stop caring.  I think API hits a pretty good sweet spot with this chapter.

The final chapter is the GMing chapter, starting with the three main themes: action, horror and humor.  Common squad structures are provided, as are tips for setting up the game world.  A very nice section is included for playing within the game world, but outside of API, from PIs to beings in the supernatural underground to monster hunters who have decided they've had enough.

Two adventure hooks are given for three difference experience levels (rookies, 30+ xp and 50+ xp), giving you some ideas for what it appropriate for a given group within the setting.  Suggested experience awards are also provided here, as well as the point costs for character advancement.

A slew of stock statistics are provided, from basic animals to different types of people (normal schmoes, mental patients, monster hunters) to various demon types, including stock stats for the PC races.  A Random Demon Maker is also provided, in a d20 table that you roll twice on...this can be used for PCs or a random NPC you need quickly.

The chapter ends with the three “illegal” NPC races: Carriers, Oracles and Tarks.  Carriers are often peaceful, but are outlaws because they unleash their digested diseases upon their deaths, leading to a potential pandemic.  Oracles, as well, are not inherently evil...but they cause bad luck around them, and since it does not effect them, they tend to not care about the effects.  Tarks are sent to earth for the express purpose of abducting babies and toddlers, and thus are treated as pretty much a massive honking threat.

The book rounds out with a glossary, index, character sheet and combat tracker that you can print off.

 I think parts of the system are going to be a tad crunchy for some folks...but I dig this game.  After doing this review, I'd not only love to give the game a spin, but I'm pretty pumped about tackling the rest of the game line.  The book is very clearly written, which is a must no matter how crunchy or lite a system is, and while humor is an important part of the setting, the author doesn't beat you over the head with it like, say, the Demon Hunters (from Margaret Weis Productions) or even the Buffy the Vampire Slayer core rules do.  On the flip side, it also doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as CJ Carella's Witchcraft or The World of Darkness does.  The art in the book isn't anything GREAT, but I didn't see anything actively bad, either.  Fully functional and thematic.

I'm going to be awfully intrigued to see the Savage Worlds version, as there are some areas where I could see SW really fitting it, and a few areas where I hope API actually steps Savage Worlds up a bit (I'd personally like to see API bring more to the Powers System, rather than just force the Paths into the existing Powers System, but we'll see).

With good, but not GREAT, production values, Apocalypse Prevention Inc. really brings the goods with the substance, as the corebook alone is chock full of goodies, but the line has a good amount of support ready to go as well.  Remember how I said earlier that it reminded me a fair bit of a mixture of d20 and White Wolf stuff?  It still does, with a little bit of Palladium thrown in...I just like it a lot more than I do any of the above.  Strong recommendation.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Paths of Power: We have a winner!!

First of all, I want to thank RPGNow and 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming for making this giveaway guys are awesome.

Next, I would like to thank everyone who took the time to enter.

However, there could be only one...and they were randomly selected by!

The winner is Chris at Dinky Dungeons !  Congratulations, Chris, and enjoy Paths of Power!

Remember...Monday, the contest begins for Fantasy Flight Games' Dark Heresy Inquisitor Codex, and our Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion Adventure Contest rolls on!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just A Quick Update

No, no Ninja Turtles for ICONS...sorry.

I may take some requests to finish out the series, but as I get further and further down the line, good information on the Turtles characters is getting harder and harder to come by.

Some notes:
  • I posted my RPGNow Wishlist on the front page, not that I expect anyone to use it...but if you wanna get me stuff, who am I to argue?
  • I am finishing up what will dominate next week on this blog: Apocalypse Prevention Inc. Week.  The plan, as it stands, is a week of API reviews, culminating in an interview with Third Eye Games founder Eloy Lasanta.
  • Tomorrow, I pick a winner in the Pathfinder Paths of Power giveaway, so you still have time to enter.
  • We are almost at the halfway point in the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion Contest, and you still have time to get your entry in there as well.  I officially stop taking entries at noon Central time next Friday, and then I'll turn all entries over to the Judges for determination.
  • Next Monday I will also be launching the third giveaway of the month, a free PDF of the Dark Heresy Inquisitor's Handbook.
  • The week after next, I plan to begin resuming a normal review schedule in the wake of API Week, and I hope to have some more non-review content ready to go up as well.
  • Oh, and the August Awesomeness Sale rolls on.
Anyway, just wanted to offer a quick update.  I planned on doing a couple of non-API reviews this week, but I had a crushing deadline that beat me about the head and eyes and derailed me from doing much else.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Superhero

So this entry is going to be just a little different for this has nothing to do with wrestling or gaming or even comics...and no, I'm not going political on you, either.
Faith, Precious and Angelus

I want to take a moment to talk about my superhero.

When my wife Amy told me she was pregnant, back in March of '03, I was shellshocked for...well...quite a while.  Shellshocked enough that I lost a $230 fuel purchase at my job.  Shocked enough that I barely spoke for at least a week.

I didn't want kids.  Amy had seven doctors tell her she couldn't get pregnant.  Heck, we had basically started planning out our lives together, just the two of us.  Frankly, I saw an upside to it.

Let me reiterate: I did not want kids.  I had never wanted kids.  I had an ex-girlfriend who tried desperately to get me to get her pregnant, which always sounded like the worst idea ever to me, for a few reasons.

I was in stages of denial all through the pregnancy.  I was convinced that my life was basically my early 20s...because I wasn't just married now, I was going to be a dad.

It sucked.

This continued, literally, right up until the moment my son was born.  When Angelus was being born, he had gotten flipped around...he was coming out face up instead of face down.  It got a little hairy, because he got stuck in the birth canal...but when he finally came out, facing up, I was staring into the biggest, brightest eyes I have ever seen on a human being in my life.  I was the first thing my son saw.

The nurses rushed him onto oxygen, because during his time caught in the birth canal, it had apparently interfered with his breathing.  I was aging about twenty years, right there on the spot.  Right there, in that moment, my whole way of thinking had been radically altered and I was going to have a very, very hard time with God if my son got taken away from me when I had just met him.

Since then, every day of his perfect, precious life has been a learning experience for me.  It's really been pretty cool, Angelus has turned out a lot like me so far, for better or for worse.  He loves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, super heroes (Marvel and DC), Star Wars, and lately he's becoming a big wrestling fan...preferring John Cena, Kid Muscle and The Greatest American Bolo over most others.  He is so routinely amazing that it starts to become easy to forget just how amazing he is, honestly.

Well, I have had a couple of occasions recently to be reminded just what an astonishing angel we were given.

In the above picture there, you will see my son with his little sister Faith and their dog Precious (I wanted to name her Doggy Bolo), playing in our yard this past spring.  Just a couple of months or so after this, Precious gave birth to six puppies...five of which died over the course of a couple of days.  The sixth one held on for a few months, and I accidentally injured it one morning when it came underfoot at just the wrong moment.  A few weeks later, after seeming to be on the road to recovery, I found it dead on our porch.

I buried the puppy alongside its siblings and later that morning sent Angelus off to school.  I spent all day trying to prepare myself for telling him that the puppy had died...and not knowing how he would take it.

I finally sat him down, told him the news, and his reply was "Wow...that is a really sad story."  But it was okay, he explained, because now she was with the rest of her siblings.  He was sad...but he dealt with it, frankly, better than I could have at that age.

His sister Faith was recently diagnosed with Autism, with a Global Developmental Delay.  She is three to Angelus' six.  As long as she has been alive, Angelus has been a doting big brother.  He stays concerned about where she's at or what she's doing.  He (usually) doesn't go out of his way to cram himself into her space...but he makes it his business to know what is going on with her.  In fact, when he was younger, he would often introduce himself as "Gelus" (Jealous), because his enunciation wasn't clear enough to get all three syllables...and this was especially notable when Faith was born and he would tell people "I'm 'Gelus!" and they would say "Oh, I'm sure your parents love you just the same", and Angelus looked at them like they were crazy...because I don't think he has a jealous bone in his body. I noted above...Faith is autistic...specifically, she does not speak and barely communicates at all, verbally or non.  Nine times out of ten, she will utterly ignore other children, whether they are trying to play with her or not, and this includes Angelus, no matter what he tries to do to reach her...and yet, he never stops trying, and he never takes her refusal to even acknowledge him personally...he just keeps on trying, because he knows how important it is.

Under any circumstances, he would have been an amazing big brother...I am just blown away at seeing him now, and just how kind and considerate he is...and I felt the urge to share that.

My wife's blog, Faith in Angels, is all about our journey with these two crazy, gorgeous kids, specifically as we embark on getting Faith the therapy that will hopefully allow her to communicate with us someday.

Anyway, as I noted above: Remember how I said I never wanted kids...not even for a minute? thing that ever happened to me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

August Awesomeness Part Three: Pathfinder Paths of Power Giveaway!

Not much of a contest involved in this one, folks...courtesy of DriveThruRPG and 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, I am giving away a free PDF of the Pathfinder Paths of Power supplement!  It contains five new classes including the Anti-Paladin and Samurai, three Prestige Classes including the Crypt-Stalker, four Elementalist schools for Wizards and three NPC classes!

All you have to do is reply to this post with your e-mail address and I will collect all the entries and select one at random (using either an online randomizer or an old-fashioned die roll) this Friday afternoon or so!

Don't forget, the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion contest is still ongoing, so get me your fantasy encounters by Friday the 27th!

Finally, the August Awesomeness sale is still going on as well, through September 10th...where you can both support this blog and get an additional 20% off of great games like Colonial Gothic, Suzerain and Horror Rules!

Enter today and come back next week for one more free giveaway for the month of August: The Dark Heresy Inquisitor's Handbook!