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Mordenkainen's Compendium of Quirks, Vol. I
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/17/2018 02:21:16

If you're familiar with 13th Age magic items, then this book will be familiar to you. In 13th Age every non-consumable magic item has a personality of its own -- a quirk. The quirk serves as a role-playing hook; it's something the characters can embrace, ignore, or only exhibit during times of stress, as chosen by the player. I've watched as a magic item quirk has dramatically changed the way a player has played his PC, and it can be a lot of fun for the table. In 13th Age, characters with too many magic items have their quriks take over their personality, but with limited magic items in 5e, that won't happen. Instead, the authors came up with a clever use of personality traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws, with magic item quirks adding a new one on top of the character's existing personality, and giving an opportunity for the player to receive Inspiration when quirks are role-played.

There are ten new magic items, which is a nice addition to the book. The remaining pages list the magic items from the DMG and give them quirks of their own. This list could come in handy for 13th Age GMs looking for more quirks for homebrewed magic items, too.

The only thing I would've liked to have seen is a tag to show whether a quirk should be added as a personality trait, bond, ideal, or flaw. A DM can certainly make a judgment call on this, but it would add even more value to the product. This is definitely worth the suggested price.

UPDATE: The designers incorporated my feedback into an updated version of the book. The items now state whether a quirk is a personality trait, bond, ideal or flaw. Kudos for listening to readers' suggestions!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mordenkainen's Compendium of Quirks, Vol. I
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Mordenkainen's Compendium of Quirks, Vol. II
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/05/2018 15:37:48

If you enojyed Mordenkainen's Compendium of Quirks, Vol. I, then you're sure to like having even more fun quirks at your fingertips. Before I dive in, I wanted to mention that I received a free copy from the designers for this review. That being said, I'm presenting my honest opinion of the book.

Volume II has the same basic structure of Volume I. There's an introduction that explains how Mordenkainen researched magic item quirks before his spellbook was temporarily lost. It's during this time that the contents of this book were copied from the spellbook and distributed. There's a section that provides Mordenkainen's general observations about how quirks fall into one of five categories. I believe this is the section that is mentioned in the product description when it says, "you learn the method to the madness of some of these quirks such that your mages may craft items of their own." I wanted to point out that there are no crafting rules, here. Since 5e doesn't have detailed crafting rules, someoen reading the description may have been led to believe that those rules would be provided here, but that's not the case. There's no mechanical system for assigning quirks to magic items when they're being created, either. This section is a list of five categories that quirks tend to fall into, and can be used to think through quirks of your own. I view it more as a DM's tool for assigning quirks to magic items that they create for their game (or pull from other products). It's valuable, but lacks the mechanical crunch that I'd initially expected.

I appreciate that the designers were responsive to feedback on Volume I, and have suggested whether a quirk adds a personality trait, bond, ideal, or flaw. Sometimes, there's more than one option for the same quirk, which I'm supportive of. That's very in the spirit of 13th Age.

I thought it was interesting that there's a larger emphasis on quirks that manifest physically in this volume. I'm curious to know if this was intentional -- do the designers view quirks as generally manifesting physically more often as the rarity of an item increases? This is a rough correlation to item power, and seems thematically appropriate.

This book is worth the price for the three pages of new magic items and the list of quirks for very rare magic items found in the DMG. Even a 13th Age GM like me can find fun inspiration here for magic items quirks.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mordenkainen's Compendium of Quirks, Vol. II
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Selûne's Gaze: Class Options for Dragon Heist
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/16/2018 00:45:59

I'm approaching Selune's Gaze mostly from its character concepts, rather than its mechanics, for the most part. I play some D&D 5e, but it isn't my main system, and I don't pretend to have enough system mastery to dive deep into sub-class mechanics. Still, I enjoy reading content written for all sorts of RPGs, as I find that the flavor often sparks ideas for future characters, regardless of the system. I like that this supplement focuses on a single "power source" for these five sub-classes. While I'm not too familiar with Forgotten Reamls lore or deities, I can appreciate that these sub-classes are all themed around the moon.

I love the idea of lycanthropic ancestry driving a barbarian's rage. It seems like a natural fit, in hindsight, yet I don't think I've seen it used before. Brought to an Eberron campaign, a Path of the Beast Within shifter would really double down on the theme (and now that I've reach the last page of the book, I see that this is mentioned in a sidebar—neat!). My only caution on this sub-class is granting the PC a Large size at 10th level if they have Wearboar blood. As we've seen with the recent centaur race in Unearthed Arcana, the designers have chosen to grant certain aspects of Large creatures to PCs, without going all the way. I would suggest this approach instead, granting the same carrying capacity as a Large creature and extra reach, if those are the main benefits that the sub-class seeks.

The Knight of the Blue Moon felt like an Eldritch Knight with fewer options to me. I believe sorcerers have a subset of the wizard spell list, so to grant the Knight of the Blue Moon access to sorcerer spells with the same spell progression as the Eldritch Knight and no other benefits, I'm not sure why a player would want to select this sub-class, other than flavor. Speaking of the flavor, when reading the introduction, I thought this was going to be a Paladin's oath, given the emphasis on religion. Perhaps if you really want to play a race with a bonus to Charisma, and were otherwise looking at the Eldritch Knight, this would be a good pairing for you.

The Way of the Rising Moon monk sub-class reminds me of the Jedi who are able to heal in the Star Wars Legends books. I isn't a trope I often see in RPGs, and I like it. I'm concerned about the Healing Arts class feature as written, in terms of balance. The feature allows a monk to heal a nearby ally by a number of hit points equal to the monk's Wisdom bonus. Let's say that's 3 at 3rd level. This takes place each time the monk hits with Flury of Blows. If I'm reading that right, the monk could heal up to 6 hit points by spending a single ki point (for two successful hits), and then do it two more times before each short or long rest. And that's on top of the normal damage of the Flury of Blows attacks. Granted, you can't rely on this healing, since it depends on hitting an enemy (although if you have some way of gaining advantage, that certainly helps), but it feels strong when you compare it to Healing Word, which would heal for 1d4+3 in a similar situation, but burn a much more limited resource (the cleric only has 4 1st-level spell slots per day at 3rd level). Perhaps granting temporary hit points would be a good solution here. Regardless, I still like the sub-class, and it's probably fine, as long as it doesn't step on the toes of another healer in the party.

The Moonbound Ranger archetype grants several moon- and season-themed spells. The ranger is a spell-casting warrior, casting spells that grant advantage on attacks, pushing away enemies with a sonic blast, and withering away enemies' nearby allies. Tying the four seasons to the moon is a bit of a stretch, but I like the theming.

The Lunar Magic arcane tradition offers several features that would be beneficial in a wide variety of circumstances. Proficiency in perception and darkvision are beneficial to characters who don't already have darkvision (which is the minority of 5e races). The expanded darkvision is intended to help those races that already have it, but in my experience, DMs seldom make the distinction—your mileage may vary, of course. A bonus to saving throws against magic will come in handy at 6th level. Free invisibility a number of times per day equal to your Wisdom bonus will permit a whole lot of sneaking. I don't know how this balances against other 10th-level features for wizards and other classes, as I've never played a 5e game at these levels, but it doesn't feel too far off as characters approach Tier 3. Rerolling your attack or forcing an enemy to reroll a save against your spells is helpful, but I'm not sure how it works when combined with advantage/disadvantage.

There's a small element that I would've liked to have seen different in the introduction. The first couple sections talk about religion in Waterdeep and then more specifically worship of Selune. While I knew that the book's title has Selune in it, I wasn't sure how any of this was going to tie into Dragon Heist. This explanation is given near the end of the first page. I think this should have been the very first paragraph, so the reader immediately understands how Selune ties in with Dragon Heist (because in the adventure itself, she doesn't). Once the connection is clear, the intro could go on to talk about religion and Selune's worshipers. It's fairly minor, but would've prevented me from scratching my head for the first several paragraphs.

Overall, I could easily see incorporating some of these concepts into future characters. I especially liked the Path of the Beast Within barbarian and the Way of the Rising Moon monk, and will ponder how I might incorporate them into my 13th Age games.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Selûne's Gaze: Class Options for Dragon Heist
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Elminster Takes Initiative
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/28/2018 18:00:05

Full disclosure: I don't love standard initiative in D&D and similar games. It's not terrible, but I feel like it can be done better. It generally only affects the first round of combat, and after that it's just a neverending circle until the encounter is over. To me, it feels like it should either be simpler or more complex. It falls right in the middle, so I'm lukewarm toward it. You may feel completely different about initiative, so keep in mind that I'm approaching this with my own bias.

While this supplement isn't groundbreaking, the authors do a nice job of gathering initiative approaches that I've seen in other games or in blogs and converting them for use with 5e. I appreciate the examples provided for each of the five approaches presented. The conversational tone of the sidebars where the authors explain their thought process and what they changed for 5e is quite helpful as well. I already use two of these methods for my one-shots or demo games vs. my campaign games, and it was fun to see them presented here (with slight differences, which were interesting to consider).

There's a nice summary page at the end, recapping the five different options in succinct language. If you make your own house rules handout and use one of these rules, consider cutting and pasting the approrpriate box from this page and including it in your handout.

The only thing that I can think of that would have improved this product was discussion of how 5e abilities/spells that apply an effect until the beginning/end of some creature's turn would interact with the options that are presented. If a PC acts at the top of round 1 and buffs her party until the end of her next turn, and in the next round she acts at the end, her party effectively received twice the value from that spell. A DM could certainly tune encounters accordingly, knowing a PC has that ability, but this is extra work on the DM, and requires that foresight. Another risk is that some classes offer more of these types of abilities than others. Will one player feel like his charcter doesn't shine as brightly becuase he can't take advantage of initiative the way others can?

I should point out that the book has several sidebars that talk about how lair actions and legendary actions would interact with these rules. I was glad to see the designers mention these explicitly, as they're a big part of what makes 5e combat different from other games, and makes it non-trivial to plop another game's initiative system into 5e.

I noticed that the print-friendly and full-color versions of this supplement are the same. It was likely a mistake when uploading files, and I hope this is corrected in a future version.

Despite my desire to see this one aspect addressed in the supplement, there's plenty of value here, and as a PWYW product, you can check it out before deciding whether or not to tip the designers. I enjoyed thinking about how these different approaches to initiative would affect the game, and recomment the book if for no other reason than to give you something to think about.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Elminster Takes Initiative
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Dark Fantasy Basic - Player's Guide
Publisher: Chaos Factory Books
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/28/2018 16:26:33

The Dark Fantasy Basic Player's Guide offers a blend of old-school feel with mechanics that will look familiar to players of 5th Edition D&D. The overview on the product page as an old-school game with modern influences. I would actually turn this around and call it a modern game with old-school influences. That's not a bad thing, by any means, but the mechanics are closer to 5e than to B/X D&D, and I think that should be clear to any potential buyer. But that streamlined core doesn't have the same feel as the more heroic, high-magic standard that 5e offers by default. Instead, we have a very different feel here, which is much closer to many OSR and classic D&D games.

This game's introduction was particularly helpful. I appreciated that it offers some insight into the tone the designer is going for and the philosophy behind several game mechanics. This provides a clerer understanding of how the game is inended to be run and why the rules are what they are. I thought it was especially interesting that while the game is grittier and more dangerous than 5e D&D, this is somewhat offset by the default rule that PCs will start at 3rd level (with the option to start at 1st level). This helps with the conversion of old modules and OSR adventures into Dark Fantasy Basic, allowing levels to align, without having PCs die in a fight against a house cat (the example provided in the book).

The game is based on standard DCs that range from very easy (DC 5) to legendary (DC 30). When rolling to meet or exceed the DC of a challenge, you roll, add your attribute bonus (which is on an old-school scale) and your skill bonus. The skill bonus is similar to the proficiency bonus in 5e, but instead of either being "on" or "off," you either get the full bonus, 2/3 of the bonus, or 1/3 of the bonus, depending on if the skill is a primary, secondary, or tertiary skill. It's important to note that Combat is a skill, as is Spellcasting. Only the fighter can take Combat as a primary. Clerics and thieves take it as a secondary sckill, while magic-users take it as a tertiary skill.

Classes have the same XP and HP progression, which is another break from OSR games. There are no demihumans, which will lead to a different feel than the B/X games that are cited as the influence for this game. In the conversion notes at the end, there's a suggestion on how the special abilities of other races could be modeled using feats (see below), but no examples of what this would look like in practice. I would've appreciated seeing what dwarves, elves, and halflings might use as racial feats in the conversion notes.

Feats are more like class abilities than what we've come to call feats in most games. There are a handful of general feats that any class can select, but the rest are class-specific. This allows you to build a character who is mechanically different from other characters of the same class.

Hit points essentially have two pools, similar to vitality and wounds in d20 Modern. These are the character's hit points and constitution. The character isn't dead when their hit points reach zero, but they're at death's door, and are likely to still be on their feet fighting. However, if they take any additional damage, it comes off of their constitution, which leads to a fast death spiral. Natural healing is as slow as you would expect from an old-school game.

Alignment is on the Law-Chaos axis, with the option of being Unaligned, which is different from the balance-focused Neutral alignment.

The economy uses the silver standard. I couldn't get used to the dollar sign ($) used as short hand for prices in silver pieces. I had to remind myself that this should be "10 silver" when I read it in my head, rather than "10 dollars." It's a minor complaint, however.

Because PC death isn't uncommon in the game, there's a section dedicated to rules that cover new PCs inheriting both material and immaterial benefits from deceased PCs. This would remove at least some of the sting when you have to re-roll a character.

Spellcasting is based on spell power rather than Vancian spell slots. Characters can attempt to cast higher-level spells, but the DC goes up accordingly, and there are some dire consequences caused by spell mishaps. The Spell DC scale is different from the one used in the skill section, so you'll want to keep both handy during play.

Combat draws upon much of 5e's structure and language. Characters take an action including movement and a bonus action, and may take a reaction and one free action per round. Attacks can be made with advantage or disadvantage. Crits are possible on a natural 20 if it also exceeded the target by at least 5, or if you exceed the target roll by 10 or more, regardless of what's rolled. Fumbles are possible for other types of skills, but not for Combat, which is an interesting twist.

I often don't pay much attention to public domain art in RPGs, but the selections were particularly appropriate in this book. The author did a nice job of finding pieces that were thematically appropriate for the section they were included in. I should also take a moment to note the cover art, which I like. One nitpick, though: the cover and the piece on page 29 appear to suffer from what appears to be dithering. There are speckles or lines going through the gray portions of the art that don't look like they should be there. I doesn't take away from the product as a whole, but it would be nice to see an update with these images fixed.

There are a few formatting issues that I spotted. The Encounters section header on page 39 is written in a calligraphic font, but in all-caps, making it tough to read. The Athletics skill isn't bolded when defined on page 12. There are several examples where it's hard to spot a new paragraph, because the previous paragraph ended near the right margin for the column, and there's no indentation or additional spacing between paragraphs.

In summary, I like many of the ideas presented in this book. If you don't like how heroic characters are from the start in 5e D&D, and you want magic to offer more risk vs. rewards, but you enjoy modern D&D mechanics, Dark Fantasy Basic is worth checking out. There are more mechanics than B/X D&D or related retroclones, but if you like a bit more of your game codified, and you're seeking easy conversion between a moern game and old modules, this could be a great choice for you. There a few minor formatting issues I'd like to see fixed, and I would prefer to see demihumans offered as an option. However, this is nothing that a GM can't fix pretty easily.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Fantasy Basic - Player's Guide
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The Phlogiston Books Vol. II: The Stone Heir - English
Publisher: Other Selves
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/15/2018 21:37:08

My first impression was that I was impressed by the professional quality of this book. From the beautiful cover to the layout to the old school black-and-white art, the whole thing is visually appealing.

I plan to use the content within, too. How often do your PCs move from the 0-level funnel to their 1st-level adventure as if a switch had been thrown and they went from a nobody to a stereotypical "adventurer?" Perhaps not everyone does this, but I suspect it's pretty common. This volume offers an adventure that bridges the gap between the funnel and the first "real" adventure -- a concept I don't recall having seen before.

If you've played enough funnels, you've likely seen the same mundane trade items used repeatedly by the characters. There's an article here that will help add some spice to your starting equipment by allowing you to barter for hundreds of other items -- but you don't know what you'll get! You might get something even more useful, or you might get stuck with something worse. You get to roll on a series of tables, old school stye.

I'm a big fan of "reskinning" monsters, classes, and other game elements. Not everybody is as comfortable with doing that, so there's a helpful little article that shows you how you can use the racial classes in DCC as humans in an all-human, sword and sorcery setting with just a few tweaks. Dwarves become the defender class. Halflings become the rogue. Elves become the warlock. These are just label changes, though. In a manner that reminds me of Pathfinder's archetypes, racial abilities are swapped out for flavorful new class abilities.

I would recommend this book for DCC judges who are looking for some low-level adventures, 0-level options, or classes for their sword and sorcery setting.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Phlogiston Books Vol. II: The Stone Heir - English
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Tales of the Low Roads: Dulcimer's Guide to Death & Dying
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/07/2018 02:03:56

I've never been a big fan of character death, unless that's what the player wanted to happen to their character. I understand the need for consequences to prevent things from devolving into a game of chicken with the DM, but I get invested into my characters, and would rather find a more interesting consequence after failing my death saving throws.

Given that bit of background, it was no surprise that I enjoy Tales of the Low Roads. It establishes that PCs are more than ordinary folk, and when most people would experience common death, heroes travel the Low Roads, returning to tell the tale. But this can have consequences worse than death.

The first two pages of this sourcebook talk about death in the Forgotten Realms and provide some context around what the book is attempting to do. I appreciate that it discusses having open communication between the DM and the players before agreeing to using these rules. And agreed-upon social contract is critical to a good campaign.

The next eight pages cover the consequences to returning to the mortal coil. These offer a combination of mechanical and narrative effects. Some of the mechanical effects are more punishing than others, but none are so bad that they'd lead to a death spiral (at least not after a sufficient time to recover from the initial return from the Low Roads).

As a 13th Age GM, I would likely use these as negative backgrounds (backgrounds that offer a penalty instead of a bonus) while they're in effect. The narrative portions of these consequences would be a lot of fun in the hands of the right players. I could even see using them as a PC background before I started playing a character. These consequences could work particularly well with 13th Age Glorantha's Heroic Returns rule (itself being an alternative to resurrection magic, since Glorantha lacks such magic).

There's a page that explains how the Low Roads rules impact existing spells, while adding some new spells that remove the mechanical consequences of characters' returns as well.

The last page offers a couple examples of how these rules would work in play.

If your game is inspired by earlier editions, and you enjoy death coming fast and furiously to the PCs, I'm not about to tell you that you're having the wrong kind of fun -- continue to enjoy the game, and perhaps this isn't the right book for you. If you carefully consider your character's backstory and lie awake at night thinking about how the recent campaign arc would influence the PC's choices when leveling up, I'd definitely check this out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tales of the Low Roads: Dulcimer's Guide to Death & Dying
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Volo's Unexpected Backgrounds
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/30/2018 00:52:55

I enjoyed these backgrounds, and found myself wishing I'd come across the Plane-Blessed background prior to creating my current PC (a warlock). When I read this background, I immediately thought it would make a nice "warlock light" background. It also let's you really double down on your character's relationship with an other-planar patron if you have a warlock.

The Survivor is so filled with thinly veiled references to the Midgard Campaign Setting that it made my heart happy (I'm a big fan of the setting). There's no Kobold Press intellectual property present, and the details are vague enough that they won't sound out of place in the Realms. But if you're tipped off to the connection you can't not see it. There's a whole table of traumatic events that would fit characters in Midgard's Wasted West, fey courts, Ghoul Imperium, etc. Flavorful stuff regardless of setting, but especially fun if you can tie it back to the sources.

The Failed Apprentice background looks like it would be a lot of fun. I've had several failed apprentice PCs at my table over the years, and this background gives that concept some mechanical weight. Roll for which school of magic you're bad at. Personality traits include the inability to pronounce words properly or "fake it 'till you make it." In the hands of the right player and a game with the appropriate tone, this would be a hoot.

The Traveling Scholar would fit well in Tomb of Annihilation as an explanation for the PC traveling to Chult. It relies on the PC having an interesting and eccentric patron. It doesn't excite me as much as the other three, but it's a solid background.

I recommend checking this out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Volo's Unexpected Backgrounds
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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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