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Dungeon Crawl Classics 2016 Halloween Module: The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/31/2017 01:39:56

A friend asked me to run a one-shot for his birthday, and we happened to celebrate the weekend before Halloween. I did some digging and found this module. The birthday celebrant and the rest of our group are glad that I did! This adventure is appropriately creepy without going too far. There's a moderate amount of body horror, but it relies mostly on macabre imagry and building tension. The players particularly enjoyed the last scene, and not knowing what was the truth and what was a lie. I watched the players squirm, wondering which path to follow. We completed the adventure in about 4.5 hours, which is just right for a one-shot.

If you're looking for a DCC adventure to run on Halloween, I recommend The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics 2016 Halloween Module: The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress
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Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Kinoko Games
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/07/2017 20:07:11

I'm hesitant to allow my players to use third-party classes in my games. I've been burned in the past by drastically unbalanced classes or new options that had unexpected interactions with other options. Given that context, it's all the more surprising that I'm so happy with Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets. My players have created characters using the warlock and abomination classes, and found them to be flavorful and different from the classes in the 13th Age core book and 13 True Ways, while remaining balanced among the other characters in the party. I have many sessions of experience with the warlock, in particular, who my group has playtested for the past year or more. The warlock manages to capture the disparate definition of the class throughout 3rd, 4th, and 5th Edition D&D, without being a carbon copy of any of those versions.

Kudos also go out to Martin Killman, the designer, who has done a great job of incorporating feedback from the community and has been very visible on social media, gathering input and iterating on his classes.

If you're looking for additional character options for your 13th Age game, I recommend taking a look at Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets. It covers several classes that players more experienced with other F20 games may be clamoring for, and does so in a fun and balanced way.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets (13th Age Compatible)
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Cat's Meow: A One Page Adventure for 13th Age
Publisher: High Level Games
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2017 22:55:11

I'm glad to see High Level Games supporting 13th Age. I hope to see more products in the future! I liked this one-page adventure, but there were a few areas where it could've been a stronger product.

The cover is beautiful. While I'm not a huge fan of cat people, the Chatoulim figure on the cover is really well done. It's a professional-quality cover that I would expect from large- to medium-sized publishers, but was surprised to see on the initial offering from High Level Games.

The adventure is sufficiently generic in it setting that it could work in nearly any fantasy world. Even if you don't want to introduce the Chatoulim race to your game, there's likely some race/creature that could be substituted without problems. I appreciated that the adventure mentioned alternatives for a scene that takes place in a fish market, in case the adventure takes place far from a source of fresh fish.

The Chatoulim Monk is a cool monster. There's a tiny mistake in the "Angry Yowl" description, where it should read, "the target IS vulnerable" (the word "is" is missing). I don't think one monk would be a match for a party of six 3rd-level characters (on the upper end of the adventure recommendations). It would have been nice to suggest a number of Chatoulim monks based on the size and level of the party. Even better, suggest reskinning a mook of some sort from the 13th Age core book, and recommend a number of mooks to pad out the encounter.

While the mini-adventure will likely work as written once you get the PCs' buy-in, I struggle to see how the average group would be convinced to accept this quest, given that an apparently mundane little girl is offering a ridiculous sum of money. I wish a sentence or two would have addressed this. Are the PCs meant to believe that she's an ordinary girl, and has no sense of the value of money? In other words, whould they take what she says as exaggeration, just as if a modern-day child offered "a million dollars" to find her cat? That seemed the most reasonable explanation until the end of the first paragraph states that the girl will hand over one quarter of the offered reward, when pressed? Why would a group of adventurers trust this situation? A statement that explains what happens if the PCs follow the girl would help -- I see that as a likely scenario.

Why do the PCs get shut into the monastery by a suddenly evil-sounding monk? I understand that the adventure is intended to be mysterious, but this is pretty weird. Yet the weirdness isn't quite embraced -- if the PCs really stepped into an ambush, then make that clear. It sounds like the PCs may be able to talk their way out of the situation -- how? What was the monk's motivation to shut them inside? What could the PCs have that the monk wants? Does the monk actually attack? The adventure says he speak menacingly, but then goes on to say the PCs may attack him -- what if they don't?

In the final room, is this intended to be the same monk from the door or a different one? That wasn't clear to me. If they fought the monk at the door and this is a different one, this encounter is likely to feel exactly the same. This is where having a skill challenge to solve -- perhaps saving Gata from some terrible fate with the escalation die acting as a timer -- would help add a new element that wasn't present in the previous fight. Maybe this is the encounter that should use mooks.

What does a "cursed companion" mean? Perhaps I'm forgetting something from 13th Age, but I don't recall reading about cursed companions. How does the curse manifest? How can it be broken? I don't need a lot of detail, but some ideas like these would allow this mini-adventure to have long-term consequences for an ongoing campaign.

Next, there's a full page dedicated to the Chatoulim playable race. There's a fair amount of cultural background here, which is cool if you're going to introduce this race into your game. The stats look pretty good to me, overall. I think the Champion Tier feat for The Cat's Meow is a little underpowered. I'd allow the PC to pop free automtaically if the attack hits -- they already have a chance of failure, so why only allow them to pop free one time out of four for the price of a precious feat? It would be helpful to add the description of "Limited Shape Change" from the Chatoulim Monk to the "Limited Shapechange (Racial Power)" of the player race. It contains some limitations on shapechanging that the PC race doesn't mention.

I appreciated that a small map was provided on the title page. A legend would have helped me understand what I was looking at. I assume "C" stood for "cat" and that "A" was the encounter at the doorway.

I would have loved to see a few elements that would have made the mini-adventure feel more like a 13th Age adventure, beyond the mechanics. First, provide ideas for what Gata really is. "Here are six rumors fishmongers share about Gata" would have gone a long way to making this feel more like other 13th Age adventures. The GM can choose one, none, or possibly combine more than one to be true for the adventure.

What would make good icon advantages/complications during the adventure? If a PC has a realtionship with an icon who represents divinity (I realize the adventure can't mention The Priestess by name), what advantage might they gain in the Monastery of Cats? Or perhaps the monastery is influenced by forces aligned to an archdruid, and some advantages could be had from allies of that icon? What might a GM do for any complications that the PCs rolled?

To summarize, this is an interesting scenario, and it's hard to quibble over the content you get for $1. If you're looking for a mini-adventure to run on a night when you're down a player, or your adventure ended early, but your players are expecting another couple hours of gaming, this would be fun to run. My suggestions for improvement are minor, but kept the product from being perfect.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cat's Meow: A One Page Adventure for 13th Age
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Creator Reply:
Thanks so much for your feedback and we will certainly take it to heart. We have five more One Pagers in production and all of them will be offered in 13th Age.
Macchiato Monsters ZERO
Publisher: Lost Pages
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/12/2017 23:13:19

Macchiato Monsters is a fun, lightweight system that captures the feel of classic D&D in just 34 pages -- and that includes the cover, OGL, worksheets, and 50 monsters! The classless system allows you to build a character that fits your concept, providing they live long enough, of course. Combat tends to be fast, and at low-levels it can be qutie deadly. If you're looking for an OSR game that welcomes players using their creativity rather than what's written on their character sheet, Macchiato Monsters is worth checking out.

While it's not the first game to use a risk die (roll a die of a certain size, if you roll a 1-3, the die size steps down the next time you use it), I believe it features the most extensive use of this type of die in any game I've come across. Personally, I like this mechanic as it provides for careful resource management without having to individually track every coin, crossbow bolt, and ration.

The spell system reminds me of Vance's Polysyllabic Verbalizations from 13th Age or the ritual system from that game. Players have a lot of leeway in what effects their spells will have. There's a risk to failing to successfully cast a spell, however. It's not quite as gonzo as Dungoen Crawl Classics' consequences, but it adds an element of risk/reward when casting spells.

I'm amazed by how much content is packed into this book. It offers these little rules that are only a paragraph or two in length and cover a broad spectrum of scenarios that come up in a typical fantasy game. Morale, mass combat, random encounters, NPC reactions, chases, wilderness travel, retreating from combat, determining the weather, hirelings, sanity, stamina, and other subsystems are all provided in a consice manner. Often, the rule can be written with few words thanks to the nearly universal use of the risk die.

Even when I run other systems, I like to use Macchiao Monsters as a quick reference for how to handle situations. For example, I wanted to provide a unique magic item to a player recently, and assigned the item a risk die, rather than a set number of charges. Watching him weigh wether or not each use is worthwhile adds an interesting strategic twist that wouldn't be there if charges were simply be deducted from a total.

In a sense, this book is like a minuscule Rule Cyclopedia. It covers a broad range of situations in a small package.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Macchiato Monsters ZERO
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Whispers of the Dark Daeva (5th Edition)
Publisher: Ondine Publishing
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/24/2016 23:17:46

As a long-time fan of the Parsantium setting and a 13th Age GM, this adventure has a lot going for it. First, kudos to the author for including a half page detailing the Parsantium icons that are likely to be involved with this adventure and how they'd fit in. In 13th Age, icons are impartant for both building stories and for the mechanical benefits derived from PC relationships with icons, and this goes a long way to making the adventure easier to run with 13th Age, even though the stats are for 5e.

Without wanting to spoil too much, I'll say that I enjoy the mechanic that ratchets up the tension as a result of NPC death toll rising as the party goes through the adventure. A smart group of PCs will find non-lethal solutions or they'll face a more challenging adventure. You don't often see adventures written that encourage characters not to go "murder hobo" on most of what they encounter. It was nice to have an in-story reason why the group will want to think twice about this approach.

The inclusion of ideals, bonds, and flaws for the NPCs is helpful in easily picking up this adventure and running these NPCs without needing a lot of prep. While D&D 5e isn't my game of choice, I've run and played a fair amount of it, so it's easy enough to take the monsters and find/create 13th Age interpretations. Several of the monsters can be found in the 13th Age core book or bestiary. Others (such as a couple giant animals found in the adventure) can probably be reskinned from existing giant animals in the core book.

If Parsantium is part of your campaign, this adventure will serve as a nice starting point for a new group of characters. I would have liked to see suggestions on how to use this adventure for a range of levels, rather than just 1st level. In 5e, PCs don't stay at 1st level for long -- they're typically level 2 after just a session or two. So this adventure isn't going to be challenging enough for groups that aren't just starting out. I don't hold this against the adventure: it clearly states that it's a level 1 adventure, and the challenge seems about right, but it would have been a nice-to-have.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Whispers of the Dark Daeva (5th Edition)
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Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 2
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/18/2016 17:01:37

Even as a long-time GM, I found Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Vol 2 helpful in improving my skills. The author explicitly states ideas that I may have stumbled upon intuitively and only half grasped. For example, the section on the use of Killing Fields at different tiers of play was able to put to words vague ideas that I'd used in the past. This book ranges from helpful tidbits, such as compiling your own bestiary from monstesr found in published adventures, to ease your campaign prep and provide continuity between adventures, to an explanation of how to create an unusual session by disrupting the meta-strategies that players develop.

As someone with limited exposure to DCCRPG and even less familiarity with its published adventures, I felt that I wasn't able to utilize every kernel of wisdom in this book. The author states early on that he doesn't want to spoil any DCC adventures, and I can appreciate that, but the text is liberally peppered with references to DCC adventures as examples, yet doesn't provide any description for those of us who haven't read the adventure -- we merely get a name. A handful of TSR D&D adventures are referenced, and these were generally accompanied by a few sentences to either jog the memory of those of us who haven't played the adventure in decades or who have never played it. This work would have benefitted from the same treatment of the DCC references. An exhaustive description of the adventure isn't required, but the reference should be tied to the text with a short description for those of us who aren't familiar. If spoilers are a concern, perhaps the descriptions could be separated into sidebars with clear spoiler warnings.

Overall, this book is filled with solid advice that is applicable to any OSR GM, and to DCCRPG referees in particular.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 2
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Roleplaying Alignment
Publisher: Dancing Lights Press
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/23/2016 23:45:07

I've always found it difficult to wrap my head around the traditional 9 alignments as originally presented in AD&D and since used in each subsequent D&D edition as well as Pathfinder. This book was an immense help in understanding the spectrum that comprises the axes of good-evil and law-chaos. The author has clearly given the topic a lot of thought, and presents a case for considering alignment in what may be a different light than what you're used to.

The most valuable part of the book is the section that describes a way of declaring a character's alignment with a statement that sounds more like an aspect in FATE or a background in 13th Age than the traditional "lawful good." The author offers mechanics that will support compliance to the norms of a character's alignment statement, without unduely punishing a PC when their behavior deviates from the norm.

As a 13th Age GM, I'll consider having my players select one of their backgrounds based on the statements described in this book. How many background points they invest into the background will speak to how powerfully they adhere to the alignment that the statement points to.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Roleplaying Alignment
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Mysteries of the Gods (5E)
Publisher: Tribality Publishing
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/30/2016 18:32:13

This is exactly the type of supplement I'd like to see more of in support of 5e. The cleric is such a versatile class, and Brandes Stoddard has really demonstrated this through these cool yet unusual domains. The spells are both flavorful and well balanced. This last point is crucial, as it's easy for a supplement like this to be forbidden at the table by DMs if the spells introduced are overpowered. I wouldn't have a problem allowing this supplement in my game. I also like that the new spells are explicitly mentioned as being appropriate for other classes (bard, druid, paladin, or warlock).

I'm happy to see Tribality continue to produce such great supplements, and look forward to future installments.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mysteries of the Gods (5E)
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The Race Hack
Publisher: Cross Planes Game Studio
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/25/2016 18:28:41

This provides options for both fans of "race as option" (AD&D) and "race as class" (Basic D&D). I really like that you support both! The racial options capture the essence of the race nicely without introducing a lot of power creep. Meanwhile, the "race as class" features are well-balanced against the Black Hack and Class Hack classes. Nicely done.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Race Hack
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By Flame, Storm, and Thorn (5E)
Publisher: Tribality Publishing
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/22/2016 16:25:48

These ranger archetypes aren't just flavorful, they're well-balanced as well. I wouldn't have any issues with my players selecting these archetypes for their ranger PCs in a 5e game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
By Flame, Storm, and Thorn (5E)
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Conduits of the Age (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Amora Game
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/25/2016 02:20:29

I like the concept behind this class. There's a heavily random component that reminds me of 13 True Way's chaos mage, but isn't as complex to play. Talents allow you to focus more or less on building a martial character, a self-healer, or focusing on conduit powers. Those powers range from spells to buffs to melee attacks to improvements on skill checks. I tied these abilities to my character being a cursed cleric, who was seeking a way to remove the curse and his inconsistent access to his osirons and miracles.

I had some issues with class balance. There's a talent which grants access to heavy armor without penalty and either increases your AC or your PD every round, for example. Another grants access to heavy and martial weapons and increases your attack bonus or adds a damage die each round. 13th Age is hesitant to give out bonuses to defences or attcks, so these struck me as unusual. Feats further increase the defense bonuses to +2 and increases damage die to d12's, respectively. In actual play, this resulted in a character that regularly did more damage than the rest of the group, while being hard to hit. Add to this the versatility of the conduit powers and an at-will chance to counter an enemy's spell, and this character ended up unintentionally hogging the spotlight.

Additionally, there are some unusual uses of action economy in the class abilities. For example, a feat allows a conduit to use their move action to re-roll their conduct die. Several conduit powers require move actions, even though the powers themselves aren't related to movement. These generally felt like they should have been free or quick actions, allowing the PC to move and do something cool this turn. This felt to me like the kind of tradeoff I might expect from Pathfinder, but it felt out of place in 13th Age.

I also found some of the conduit powers unusual in the way they were written. For example, I couldn't wrap my head around applying my dex modifier to intelligence checks for a round. There are a handful of other powers with similar pairings. I also couldn't figure out how to make use of these powers out of combat -- the time when you most often benefit from bonuses to attribute checks. The conduct die is only used in combat, and while I can easily house rule a system where the die is rolled before an ability check out of combat, this would have been a helpful rule to explicitly include in the class ability. Several conduit powers seemed very similar to existing spells or powers from existing classes, but were just different enough that I had to keep referring back to them. The 13th Age class mechanics are OGL content, and I would've rather seen them lifted wholecloth and added to this class (perhaps with a different name). Perhaps my biggest complaint about the conduit powers are their non-scaling damage. A power does the same damage at level 1 as it does at level 4. It even does the same damage at level 10, unless you've paid the feat tax at each tier. This made my conduit powers far weaker at level 3 than a spell-casting class' spells. 13th Age doesn't "do" feat taxes, and I wish each conduit power had featured cool feats that made it even more versatile or potent. Once again, borrowing directly from existing 13th Age classes would have provided ready-made options.

After experiencing these balance and action economy issues, I ended up nerfing my character's talents and spell-negating class feature and porting similar powers and spells and their associated feats over from the 13th Age core book. I kept the basic conduct die mechanic, and had a much better experience.

If you're willing to do some house ruling on this class, it has a fun play style and is different from any other 13th Age class.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Conduits of the Age (13th Age Compatible)
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MonkeyGod Presents: Tsar Rising
Publisher: Highmoon Games
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/22/2016 17:30:21

This was a fun one-shot adventure for my group. No one had any experience with Russian myth, aside from what you might find in the Monster Manual, and this book struck the righ balance between peppering the verbiage with Russian words without making it inapproachable. We used the 13th Age system for the adventure, which it supported nicely. By having the players select icon relationships that were tied to the most important NPCs in the adventure, we were immediately tied to the story. For example, my character had a positive relationship with the empire and the church, whereas a friend had a positive relationship with the druids, who represented the Old Ways. This provided a bit of PC conflict, but also helped drive the story and played to our sympathies.

I would have liked to have seen a few more options provided for when players decide to strike out and do something unexpected. The adventure is pretty linear, and considering the page count, I've seen other products that fleshed out a bit more of a sandbox to play in. As long as your players don't mind a bit of "we should do this because the plot demands it," they're in for a good time.

We enjoyed this adventure enough that we're going to try the sequel, The Dancing Hut. As an additional suggestion, in case the publisher is reading this, I'd love to see a future Bundle of Holding that contained a slew of MonkeyGod Presents products.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
MonkeyGod Presents: Tsar Rising
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Drakonheim: City of Bones
Publisher: Sneak Attack Press
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2016 18:57:57

This book provides a combination of a city worthy of basing a campaign, its factions, notable figures, threats and other areas of conflict, and adventure seeds. It strikes a balance between enough detail to run a campaign and so much detail that you can't make it your own.

As a 13th Age GM, I appreciate that this book speaks in the same archetypical language as 13th Age core rules and default setting. Figures are described as icons of a particular fantasy trope. There's a lich king, an emperor, a dwarven kingdom, a fallen empire, and a hobgoblin lord, for example. Their past actions are described, without detailing their personalities. This leaves the campaign setting open, so you can decide if the hobgoblin lord is completely evil and beyond redepmtion, or is he a more complex figure, with a culture at odds with the human-centric Drakonheim? Once again, there's just the right amount of detail, and it's all presented in a system-neutral manner.

If you like undead, then you'll enjoy this setting. Necromancers have recently begun to work in the open, after securing a victor over the hobgoblins. Undead are now allowed to walk the streets, and a vampire lord has revealed his nature to the city. While this isn't the first fantasy setting to explore the impact of necromancers in an urban setting, it's always an interesting twist on your run-of-the-mill fantasy city.

The art is quite good in this book. Portraits are provided for many of the important figures in the city, and they're well done. The action scenes are dynamic. The quality is more along the lines of what I expect from the larger publishers.

Overall, this book exceeded my expectations. I can easily see dropping Drakonheim into 13th Age's Dragon Empire. The setting's backstory, which involves the defeat of the Lich King and the fall of the Empire would make this an interesting setting for a 14th Age, introducing new icons and locations, while retaining some of the familiar elements of the 13th Age.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Drakonheim: City of Bones
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Book of Icons (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/17/2016 19:18:50

If you've been struggling to use icon relationships and your players' icon rolls in your 13th Age game, this is the supplement for you. The first section is dedicated to providing more options on how GMs and players can use icon rolls. There's more structure offered than the rather free-form suggestions in the 13th Age core book. It also provides recommendations on how to introduce proxies (NPCs), investments (equipment), events, and thematic elements related to the icons. Icon rolls become more of a currency to be spent during the session, rather than a mechanic that's purely in the hands of the GM. If you haven't approached icon rolls this way, I highly recommend it -- my games changed dramatically when I introduced similar changes a while back.

Next, the supplement details 6 new icons, which are open for other publishers to use in their products. That's a nice touch, since the default icons in the 13th Age core book are Fire Opal Media's Product Identity, and can't be used by other publishers. I would love to see other products use these icons and perhaps add to the list. Each of the 6 icons have 3-4 variants, which can also represent different icons that are used simultaneously in your game. For example, you may choose to use The Order - That Which Provides as one icon and The Order - The Glorious Conqueror within the same game. The supplement offers alternative approaches to this, such as a single icon with different groups of followers, multiple icons operating under the same name, or simply making them different icons. It's sure to give you something to think about if you use these icons during the creation of your campaign setting.

Each icon section features random tables for proxies, investments, and events that can be used to "spend" icon rolls, with optional complications for those juicy 5's. This is a nice feature, and I would have benefited from a similar approach to the core book's icons to make my life as a GM easier.

Wrapping the supplement up is a section covering some NPCs, organizations, and secret agendas that can be paired up with icons to become fully fleshed out in your game. I particularly liked the format for the NPCs -- each is presented in a succinct stat block that offers everything needed to run them in and out of combat (when combined with the general creature table from the core book).

Numerous formatting issues, a few typos, and listing a contradicting number of icon variations in different parts of the book was enough that I dropped my rating to 4-stars. I can overlook an issue or two, but there were enough of them that I wanted to pull out a red pen and make corrections. It didn't prevent me from understanding the content, and I'll still be able to make full use of the book.

With the number of posts I see on the 13th Age forums, Google+, and Facebook communities that express a need for more direction around icon relationships and rolls, I intend to recommend this supplement frequently.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Icons (13th Age Compatible)
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Castles & Crusades Bluffside City on the Edge
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/22/2015 00:31:06

I was surprised by the amount of information packed inside this supplement. Bluffside, the surrounding area, and the underworld beneath it are each detailed, along with history, power structures, and religion -- I expected that. Seven black and white maps are provided, thanks to a recent update to the PDF from the publisher. Beyond that, however, you will find monsters, NPCs, items, magic items, spells, races, and classes. While I haven't played in Bluffside yet, the races and classes look like they would work well in any fantasy setting, and could easily expand a Castles & Crusades player's options. The information is really packed into these 178 pages, with few illustrations. While I would have appreciated more art to break up the text, I still appreciate the detail that this supplement goes into.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castles & Crusades Bluffside City on the Edge
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