Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene Flood Relief Bundle

Hey folks...

I'll try to get back to regular reviews and such in the coming week, but I wanted to toss a shout-out regarding this Hurricane Irene Flood Relief bundle, meant to help out the Schoharie County Community Action Program in New York.

There's some great stuff in here from several companies, but I'll say that Killer Thriller, Little Fears Nightmare Edition, Savage Suzerain and Zeeks alone make it WELL worth your $25.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hellrazer: The Series begins!

I was gonna do the whole "press release" thing over here, but it would be a bit disingenuous.

HELLRAZER, the first comic project that I worked on that saw any kind of publication (okay, only), has officially launched as a webcomic over at DrunkDuck. It's inspired a bit by shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, as well as Marvel's old Midnight Sons books. It'll be updated every Tuesday and Friday, and the stories will be bundled together for print purchase after their completion online.

I sure do hope you check it out...I'm VERY excited about what's to come here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tommy's Take on Museum Mayhem, Moreau-1 Files and Copperhead Guard


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This Action Scene for ICONS is a little pricier than the Vigilance Press Battlescenes that have been released in the past, but you're also looking at about an additional 10-12 pages this time. The premise is a hostage situation at a museum, in which a sorcerer and his minions are repelling the authorities, so your superheroes get called in to do the deed.

What ensues is a nice set-piece against a sorcerer who has a variety of minions from generic thugs to mystics to mummy wraiths. If the villain's plan succeeds, it provides (intentionally or not) a shot out to the X-Men villain the Living Monolith. The adventure has lots of sidebars and "What Ifs" to help you out in case the whole thing is going too smoothly or two simply.

Two pages of figure flat stand-ups are included, for those who like such things (and I do), as well as a new power: Summon (more commonly used by villains than heroes, but laid out here just the same).

WHAT WORKS: Some VERY nice art here, my favorite piece being an action scene on page 6. A good amount of flexibility is written into the adventure, to help the GM along. The adventure is set in the USHERverse, the "modern day" of Vigilance's WWII setting, but you could easily replace USHER with SHIELD or AEGIS or whoever, if you wanted to move it into a new setting.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: And here we start getting into the problems of open content: Redundancy. Misfit Studios' DOOM filled in the same gap of a missing "Summon" type power, so now we have two third party versions of the power out there...and what happens when Adamant decides to do it themselves? My only other gripe is that I wish Vigilance had handled the new power the way Adamant handles new powers, by providing a "substitution suggestion" for the Summon power, for folks who prefer rolling up characters versus point buy (I hate ICONS point buy).

CONCLUSION: Not surprisingly, this is another great product by Vigilance, with sleek production values, lots of stat blocks you can use for your own stuff, printable stand-ups and more. I believe Vigilance will continue to be a growing force in supers gaming in the future.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Moreau-1 Files is seemingly unconnected to the USHER setting, the Wargame setting or the world being laid out in the Field Guide to Superheroes, but also seems like it would be very simple to insert in a number of settings. This $1 supplement is basically two full character write-ups: The android Moreau-1, and his creation Erapato. Moreau-1, as his name implies, is all about genetic engineering, tinkering with people and animals. It is laid out in the form of stolen intelligence, setting up the menace of Moreau-1. Erapato is an interesting creation, a type of elephant man designed to be the leader of Moreau-1's new race, though he's not so much a fan of his creator's tactics. Three plot seeds are also provided for using the material within.

WHAT WORKS: Moreau-1 and Erapato both have interesting character hooks, with Moreau-1 serving both as a supervillain arms dealer and a mad scientist, and Erapato perhaps attempting betrayal of Moreau-1 could make for some fun gameplay. As noted, the characters could fit well into a variety of supers settings with little work.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not much, especially for the price.

CONClUSION: Personally, I see a fair amount of potential use just out of this release (the first of three). There seemed to be a weird shift in fonts on the adventure seeds, but nothing to get too excited about. Thumbs up.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: A while back I reviewed WARGAMES: HEROES AND VILLAINS OF THE COLD WAR, which introduced General Venom (who is really kinda cool)...this supplement is The Copperhead Guard, General Venom's elite force of female assassins. Incidentally, the sole character image works, because the women all wear uniforms and tend towards similar hair styles (reddish, what with the copperhead image and all).

WHAT WORKS: Well trained mook stats are always nice. And really, anything without an individual name shouldn't be much more than that.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Qualities and Challenges got swapped, unfortunately. This really just feels like an add-on to General Venom, as they are his bodyguards with nary a real personality to be found.

CONcLUSION: Not bad, but nothing particularly interesting, especially compared to, say, Moreau-1 Files, which is the same price but feels "heftier". It is worth noting that the Copperhead Guard aren't complete pushovers, especially when you factor in their Specialties.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tommy's Take on Deadlands One Shots and Angel & Faith #1


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The second one shot in the new Deadlands series by Image Comics has much  closer ties to Deadlands canon than the first one, as the main character is the illegitimate daughter of Raven, who is kind of a big deal in the Deadlands spectrum. Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and drawn by Lee Moder, Massacre at Red Wing is a revenge tale with action taken straight from the Deadlands Reloaded playbook. The back-up continues the tale of The Kid, in a flashback explaining how he came to be aware of the monsters in the Deadlands world.

WHAT WORKS: Avenging, nameless characters are kind of a staple in westerns, and Raven's daughter doesn't really reach much further past that archetype, but that is perfectly acceptable in this genre. It is nice seeing a hard tie-in to Deadlands canon, of course.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Kid's follow-up is a bit of a letdown to the "WHOA" from his introduction, but the whole story is only something like 12 pages once the whole thing is complete, so you can't blame 'em. Raven's Daughter's costume is overtly cheesecake. I'm also not sure where she got her looks from after seeing her father and mother. No "bonus" in this issue for Savage Worlds players, unfortunately.

CONCLUSION: While this one is more of an archetypical western tale than the Devil's Six Gun was, it's not quite as strong as the previous issue, in either the main tale or the back-up. Raven's Daughter's design is very "comic book", and not in a good way, with an outfit that is sure to cause wardrobe malfunctions. The ending is almost surely a set-up for next year's comics, which are promising to tell "The" Deadlands story. Good stuff, if not quite quite as good as Devil's Six Gun.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Written by Ron Marz and drawn by Bart Sears, Death Was Silent is the third Deadlands one shot. When I read that Bart Sears was drawing a western, I was...skeptical. Sears does great, muscular superheroes, but he managed to adapt his style very well to the genre, drawing a tale that is darker and grittier than I expect. This is the tale of Hoyt Cooper, a mute bounty hunter who rides into town with a couple of secrets...and a dead body strapped across his horse. The back-up features more flashbacks from The Kid.

WHAT WORKS: Sears transforms his style to fit the genre very well, producing a very moody piece of work that is, thus far, the pinnacle (no pun intended) of the Deadlands releases, stylistically speaking. Hoyt Cooper wears a magic item on his chest that, at first, had me banging my head at the lack of reaction to it, but it all makes a ton of sense by the end. Not surprisingly, Marz' script holds up nicely, making for a great combination.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: More and more, I think I would have liked that back-up strip turned into its own comic, as the pacing just doesn't seem to work for it here, making the long awaited debut of Billy the Kid a little anticlimatic. Again, I lament the lack of a "bonus" for Savage Worlds players.

CONCLUSION: The potential for great Deadlands comics was always there, but Visionary Comics have really brought their "A-Game" with the releases thus far, landing not only name creators, but *quality* creators who are putting forth great comics. I assume that these one shots, and the Billy the Kid back-up, are just setting the stage for year two, which sounds to be an even more ambitious undertaking...and I, for one, look forward to it.


So long as they avoid the annoying
sexual tension subplot.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: If you stopped following the Buffyverse after the Buffy and Angel shows went off the air, you're going to be a bit lost. However, the set-up is pretty simple: Angel has done Very Bad Things again, and is trying to make amends. This time, his Very Bad Things are at LEAST as bad as his Season 2 stint as Angelus, without the same level of deniability, and Faith is the only one willing to give him a big shot on the whole "redemption" thing (in a call-back to why she's not dead or a villian herself). So Faith and Angel are using the Watcher's Files compiled by Rupert Giles to clean up the world in the aftermath of Buffy Season 8.

WHAT WORKS: Christos Gage does a fantastic job setting the stage for the new status quo for Angel and Faith, capturing their voices very well. Rebekah Isaacs does a nice job drawing the comic in the "style" of Georges Jeannty, who has been handling art duties on Buffy for most of Season 8, making sure that you can tell that Giles is Giles, Angel is Angel, Faith is Faith and that surprise character from YEARS ago on Buffy looks like their TV counterpart.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not much. I mean, we get two brand new characters introduced, who apparently served Angel during his stint as Twilight in Buffy Season 8, and "created for the comics" characters have been a crapshoot through the last few years of Buffy comics, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

CONCLUSION: Angel is one of my favorite characters of all time, and Christos Gage is a fantastic writer, so I had high hopes for this book. If this is any indication, the "back to basics" approach for Buffy Season 9 should work very well, and at the least, Angel & Faith is off to a great start.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tommy's Take on Beasts & Barbarians Player's Guide

If someone had managed to get a Conan adaptation for Savage Worlds out, it really would have been the Summer of Savage Swords and Sorcery, between this and Totems of the Dead.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Currently available in PDF format for $6.99, The Beasts & Barbarians Player's Guide is a primer on the Dread Sea Dominions, a fairly classic swords and sorcery setting for Savage Worlds. The book is 76 pages and includes pretty much everything you need to run a game in the setting.

As might be expected from a book that is detailing a setting, rules and all, brevity is the order of the day, detailing the world - from history to current gazetteer - in a little over 25 pages. The included map has a rough, old school feel to it, more like the ones you would see in old fantasy novels as opposed to the ones you would see in old Dungeons and Dragons books.

One bit specifically pointed out in the setting chapter is that the world is evolving, with cultures developing new technology over time. As it is, steel and magic are the order of the day.

Character creation is pretty standard Savage Worlds fare, of course adding new Edges and Hindrances (Damsel in Distress is a particularly interesting Hindrance basically forcing you into a non-combat role...and it is NOT gender exclusive). Many of the Edges are very interesting, such as a barbarian dichotomy of Savage and Brute, the former helping you survive in the wild while the latter helps make you more ferocious in combat...and Ghoulblood, which provides you with a very unnatural affinity to the (un)dead.

There are even Edges allowing for bare chested "armor", in fitting with the genre, though the book does lack Legendary Edges, which would seem to be a no-brainer for the setting. Arcane Backgrounds in the setting are Lotus Mastery, Sorcery and the Path of Enlightment. Lotus Mastery is kinda like alchemy, but focuses specifically on using Lotus plants to power effects. Sorcery is kinda like magic, except you can Wound yourself for Power Points and the Backlash table is really cool...and potentially quite hazardous (as Backlash should be). The Path of Enlightment is practiced by the monks of the setting, transcending their earthly limits. A few new powers are present (like Analyze Foe, which gives a bonus to a target based off of your roll, and will be stolen like crazy by me for future games even outside of this setting).

Another feature of the book that I am a big fan of is the After The Adventure chart, where you can draw a card to determine what happens while you are between adventures...with both positive and negative outcomes available. For instance, you may get really drunk and be hung over on the next adventure...or you may temporarily retire from adventuring, only to return with a new skill (and a bit of "road rust" until you get back into the groove of things).

There IS a GM's section despite this beinga player's guide, and it gives advice on dialing the setting up and down, making is more or less gritty - or humorous - as your group sees fit. In fact, it also gives advice for tweaking the setting for groups that only consist of PC duos, or even solo heroes (common occurences in my games).

Relics and a small helping of creatures are also provided, though it is far from an extensive bestiary.

WHAT WORKS: Some great setting rules, as well as Edges and Hindrances, which are always welcome. I'm a very big fan of the After the Adventure chart, but random tables are right up my alley. The Ghoulblood Edge nearly made a character spring to mind almost fully formed. The interior artwork is, by and large, fantastic. Early signs are that support for the setting will be strong, with two free adventures released thus far.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Still room for expansion (although that may be a pro, you decide), especially in the bestiary (in my opinion). The setting does nothing to really GRAB me...nothing bad, mind you, just nothing that makes me say "Dread Sea Dominions is THE Swords and Sorcery setting". No Legendary Edges, especially in a genre like this, disappoints me.

CONCLUSION: GRAmel enters the Savage Worlds ring in a big way with a stacked setting book and strong support for the line. They made the best of their page count, providing a lot of material for the price. There are several cool bits that can be lifted for other games if you so choose, and the book heartily embraces flexibilty in your play style within the genre...(I demand a minisupplement of Comedy Edges). Anyone coming into the game with shoutouts to David Jarvis and Sean Preston alongside Shane Hensley probably has their head on straight, and Beasts & Barbarians is a strong addition to the Savage Worlds library. GRAmel should have a bright future in the publishing realm. Strong recommendation.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tommy's Take on Totems of the Dead: Player's Guide to the Untamed Lands

My apologies for not getting that last preview in, my time management skills absolutely suck. Totems of the Dead has been unleashed on the world after being split into two books...and this is the review of the first: Totems of the Dead - Player's Guide to the Untamed Lands.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Currently available in PDF format for $15, Totems of the Dead is a swords and sorcery setting with more than a bit of Native American flavor. The Player's Guide is 161 pages and includes an overview of the setting as well as character creation. We covered character creation in a preview recently, as well as magic. The character creation layout is very similar to the standard Savage Worlds layout, with a list of common archetypes before getting into the specific mechanics of character creation, such as new, altered or restricted Edges and Hindrances, as well as setting rules like Violence Beyond Rank, which allows you to ignore rank restrictions for a single Edge.

I am a very big fan of some of the new additions, including Edges like Blood Brothers (allowing two characters to gain bonuses to fear based Spirit rolls as long as they are in sight of each other), Totem Animal (which hasa variable benefit depending on the specific animal, and there's a pretty big list), a whole slew of combat edges and seven Legendary Edges allowing PCs to almost resemble an archetype, such as Legendary Champion, Legendary Shadow and Legendary Trickster.

The equipment chapter lists prices in beads, but also provides some guidelines for bartering. The gear chapter does go the extra mile to make culter specific designations where applicable, which is helpful given the large number of cultures present in the setting.

I also provided a look at Sorcery and Magic in an earlier preview, and I must say that I am particularly a fan of the Corruption the point that it was annoyingly similar to something I was working on. In addition to the variety of new spells, Totems of the Dead also includes magic items, such as Dream Catchers (which shield a sleeper from all outside mental influence) and Demon Breakers (magical knives made from rocks that break when used to kill a demon).

The setting rules feature some fairly extensive modifications to the Savage Worlds rules, starting with tweaks to the Tricks to a nice rule called Combat Openings, in which characters who score a raise can forgo their bonus damage to either take a free action against the target or give themselves or an ally a +2 to a trait roll. Counting coup is a nonviolent way for a skilled warrior to end a conflict (if the other side has any sense of honor), and a number of rules cover cultural rituals from dancing and singing (and their effect on people) to generic sports rules!

The last half or so of the book covers the various deities of the Untamed Lands, from Atlantean deities such as Dagun (who is NOT a nice guy) to Gods such as Xotec the Flayed One (Who Is Not At All Xipe Totec), as well as the gazetteer to the world. Each region discusses the peoples, architectures, events and so forth, and with a little squinting you can see the real world inspirations for most places (except maybe Atlantis...or especially decide). A little mention is even given to Lands Across the Sea, like the Dark Continent of Borea and the sprawling landmass Eurashi (as well as the countries within).

WHAT WORKS: No Power Points as well as a TON of useful mechanical material and options that can be used even if you're not necessarily a fan of the setting. A swords and sworcery setting with a bit of a different feel to it than what you typically see. The art is some of the most gorgeous and evocative art, especially in a black and white book. Each piece helps drive home the "feel" of the world.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The split into two books hurts it...especially while the second half is yet to be released, with no bestiary present in the Player's Guide, no GM's section, no Savage Tales, etc. Some of the human cultures seem imbalanced among each other, with some gaining bonuses above and beyond the others without any harsher drawbacks than what is faced by the others...(for instance, two cultures being illiterate but one also gaining a skill bonus to boot).

CONCLUSION: While swords and sorcery has been done, Totems of the Dead does look at it through a different lens, as pre-Colonial Americas isn't the most used setting (or even setting inspiration), so it is nice to see a new approach to a classic genre. The layout is as eye pleasing as any black and white book I recall seeing, not a surprise given the company. It just really feels like it needs that "part 2" to make it complete (and I think I would feel that way even if I hadn't already seen at least most of the material). A fantastic offering by Gun Metal Games that shows they are capable of more than just Cyberpunk.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In Case You Missed The Chat...

...I unveiled my new "publishing imprint": The Most Unread Books on the Internet. e-publishing initiative that will cross into RPGs and (at least short) fiction.

First up: A pair of free Savage Worlds adventures peeking into a diseased world of fantasy in which the PCs are the only hope of cutting through the darkness. Inspired by settings such as Ravenloft and Midnight, and video games such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, it's a fantasy world of overwhelming darkness where the heroes stare death in the face...and kick it in the nuts.

Look for the first two installments of "The Horror of Trevala" this fall...and a lot more to come after that...(and not just fantasy, either).