Fighting ancient evils in the ancient Roman Empire - a Mephisto review
Even though the 1920s is the typical time period for stories set against the backdrop of the Cthulhu mythos, the Great Old Ones and other horrors of the mythos are far older than humanity. Therefore, it is not surprising that Cthulhu role-playing games repeatedly open up into other eras, such as the present time, World War 2, or the Middle Ages. Cohors Cthulhu presents the battle with the Cthulhu mythos against the backdrop of the Roman Empire.
The Cohors Cthulhu RPG Quickstart Guide gives a first look at the new setting and the underlying rules.
In Cohors Cthulhu, player characters once again face the horrors of the Mythos – be they sinister cults, monstrous creatures, or corrupted survivors of Atlantis. The Roman Empire has conquered large parts of the known world, but other powers operate in the background. Nyarlahotep corrupts the cults of other gods with his many masks; Sarthorthus tempts the survivors of Atlantis; and powerful beings slumber beneath the sea. The Deep Ones exact tribute from coastal cities, and the Mi-Go experiment on humans and plunder earthly resources.
Even though these horrors are everywhere, they operate secretly in the background. The player characters in Cohors Cthulhu are humans who come into conflict with forces of the Mythos and confront them – regardless of what corner of the Roman Empire or beyond its borders they come from. Not all of them fight on their own, as the Temperari, for instance, are supported by a Hyperborean warrior named Maeren in their fight against the Mythos, while the Fingers of Dawn recruit descendants of Atlantis for their struggle. On the opposite side are various cults, of which the Cult of Mormo is particularly influential and corrupts the north of Germania, while the legacies of Atlantis promise longevity and powerful artifacts.
Rules-wise, Cohors Cthulhu unsurprisingly relies on the 2d20 system, using a rules base developed further by Achtung! Cthulhu. Of course, the game statistics as well as the skills have been adapted, and some rules have been modified. As before, you have to roll several d20s compared to a threshold that is the sum of the corresponding attribute and skill, while the difficulty determines the number of successes needed.
Again, there are the rules for Momentum, which is gained from particularly successful tests and can be used to improve other tests. In addition, players can give Threat to the game master to make current tests easier, but the game master can use it to increase the difficulty later. Using Fortune, players have another option to make life easier for themselves and to repeat rolls, avoid defeat, etc.
Also adopted is the concept of Truths, which, analogous to the aspects of Fate, are short descriptions that can modify samples.
The combat system is based on stress, which is initially caused by attacks but simply dissipates between fights. Only when characters are hit particularly hard or often do they suffer injuries that can incapacitate them and affect them more in the long term. The combat system, which is more melee-based fitting to the setting, features two new concepts with Guard and Reach. Reach is the weapon's range, while Guard represents a character's readiness for defense. For example, if a character is thrown to the ground, they lose the Guard state and become easier to hit. Furthermore, weapons with a longer range have advantages.
Magic rules are also presented in short form, as in Achtung! Cthulhu, distinguishing between battlefield magic and ritual magic. Casting spells causes mental damage to the user, and spells must be prepared in advance.
While the rules section briefly outlines the background of the game and then presents the main rules (though without character creation), the bulk of the Quickstart is made up of the Rude Awakening adventure.
This story gets off to a fast start: The pre-made player characters are traveling with a caravan that is under attack. The action starts in the middle of the action, and once the attack is repelled, the player characters are supposed to get help in the next village. There they then stumble into a sinister plot because, in the village, they find traces of a cult that must be stopped before its influence becomes too great.
Without revealing more about the plot, the adventure mixes the classic “player characters must stop a dangerous ritual” approach with interesting enemies, making it an excellent introduction to Cthulhu threats in the Roman Empire.
The first impression Cohors Cthulhu gives is a solid, adapted rule base, with which Achtung! Cthulhu worked well, mixed with a background that offers many exciting possibilities. The adventure is good for a first impression, and the Quickstart is clearly and compactly put together, with illustrations worth seeing. The background is only touched upon, but it shows much potential.
The only thing that bothered me were some historical errors in the adventure. Even though potatoes in the cellar or weapons that are not contemporary are only details that can easily be corrected by the game master, I hope that the rule books will be more consistent in this regard. Nevertheless, Cohors Cthulhu offers a (free) Quickstart that Cthulhu fans should not miss getting a first look into this variant of the fight against the Great Old Ones and their followers.
As a supplement to the role-playing game Vaesen, Seasons of Mystery is a collection of four adventures, each of which, as the name suggests, is assigned to a season.
The first adventure is A Dance with Death, which takes the player characters to the seemingly peaceful area around Lake Siljan in the spring. Near the lake, animals are kept for grazing in the spring, and a group of young women take care of herding the animals there. But the supposedly idyllic atmosphere is broken when a young farm girl is found by the lake with amnesia, and shortly after, two cows drown in the water. The task is to solve the mystery and prevent an escalation.
The adventure Fireheart focuses on an area called Smolandia, which suffers from heat waves and fires, causing many residents to immigrate to America. One of these people, who wants to leave the area, does not want to leave his brother, who runs a successful steel mill and may be under the influence of a preacher. Of course, there is much more to do than just mediate between the two quarreling brothers because, this time, the player characters will encounter a truly epic creature.
The Devil on the Moor is about a group of engineers who try to open up an abandoned moorland through canals. However, during their work, they encounter strange events and constant setbacks. The chief engineer fears that dark forces are at work. The players must investigate this matter and mediate between the engineers and the villagers, who are critical of the project, to solve the strange incidents' mystery.
Finally, the adventure A Winter's Trail takes the player characters towards St. Petersburg, where they want to participate in a meeting with like-minded people. However, a dangerous snowstorm forces them to seek shelter on their journey. There, they are confronted with a threat that they must identify while fighting for their survival and that of the other guests of the inn in the middle of the wilderness.
Seasons of Mystery offers four well-crafted and, above all, varied adventures, each capturing the mood of its season. The settings and challenges are unique, and each adventure should offer enough for a few sessions before the characters have solved the mystery and hopefully averted the conflict. As usual with Vaesen, it is not just about identifying the supernatural threat, but also trying to solve the problem at its core. And since a physical confrontation is not the method of choice, it is a matter of understanding the background and trying to resolve the conflicts in other ways - if possible, which is not always the case here.
I liked the approach that each adventure takes place in a limited, self-contained setting that offers the player characters many opportunities for interaction, be it with the young farmhands, the aggressive brothers, the engineers, or the inn guests, who offer entirely different points of view. For each scenario, there are also hints on how they can be adapted for the Mythic Britain & Ireland setting.
For players of Vaesen, Seasons of Mystery is definitely recommended, as the adventures provide exciting challenges and offer varied environments for the player characters to investigate.
With A Wicked Secret, the first adventure volume for the role-playing game Vaesen has been published. This volume contains four fully fleshed-out adventures, each of which revolves around a particular type of Vaesen on the one hand and, on the other hand, also addresses the other themes of the game - above all, the social changes of industrialization.
The first one is about a fishing base that has become a successful herring factory and, at the same time, has attracted the suspicion of a clergyman.
The following story focuses on a small town in the northern woods where the interests of a sawmill collide with ancient secrets.
Deadly secrets also lurk in a modern seaside resort when the wrong people play with the wrong forces.
And finally, university research is shown to be dangerous when it comes into contact with trolls.
Each of the four stories has a central entity in focus, but the settings, the conflicts, and the themes are pretty varied. Furthermore, the adventures offer more than just monster hunts that must end with a final battle; rather, the horror theme is approached in various ways. Without revealing more about the adventures, in my opinion, A Wicked Secret is a recommendable addition to the role-playing game Vaesen, with which game masters can easily spend their first game sessions.
Different countries, different vaesen - a Mephisto reviewEdit
Mythic Britain & Ireland
With Mythic Britain & Ireland, a sourcebook for Vaesen has been published, which is about moving the game's setting from Scandinavia to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Of course, this region is very suitable for Vaesen since, on the one hand, the heart of the industrialization of Europe beats here, and on the other hand, the region is probably more familiar to players than Scandinavia due to its presentation in movies, books, etc. Players should be better acquainted with this region than with Scandinavia at that time.
First, the book introduces the four countries and covers aspects such as industrialization and social development. In addition, there are details on how the somewhat complicated monetary system works or how to incorporate social classes into the game regarding rules. Of course, the book looks at the various cities, which are briefly described but usually come with a local legend that can inspire the game. A large part of the description is, of course, devoted to London, which is introduced more comprehensively and again offers various points of connection and reference for the game. Some fictional and real celebrities, as well as a larger list of mysterious places, round out the ideas presented here. In addition, a more extended section is dedicated to the aspect of fairies from Celtic mythology, which introduces legends like the Wild Hunt, the Shidhe, and other fairy creatures in more detail once again.
The second chapter revolves around the organization to which the player characters belong, which for this region is the Apollonian Society, founded by John Dee, which pursues supernatural entities similar to the Order of Artemis. In fact, the Apollonian Society is also in contact with the Order of Artemis, so theoretically, it is also possible to have a game in which the characters are active as guest agents in another region. Besides the description of the society and its historical development, its base, Rose House, is also introduced, which has some secrets to offer. Three new archetypes - the Athlete, the Entertainer, and the Socialite - round out the chapter and provide more character options that fit perfectly into the setting.
The third chapter offers very specific game material, in this case, more vaesen for player characters to face. Here, you will find an arsenal of mythical creatures from Celtic and British legends, such as the Banshee, the Knocker, the Pixie, the Selkie, and many others. The book also provides notes on how vaesen, already published in the basic rule book, can be adapted accordingly for the setting.
So that gaming groups can get started right away, there are three adventures for the setting, but these could generally be moved to Scandinavia with a few minor changes. In the first adventure, Old Meg, a girl, has been found dead. Her fiancé is suspected of being involved. Thus, conflicts arise between the two families and between the population and the police, who are not pulling in the same direction in the investigation.
The Llantywyll Incident, the second adventure, moves the action to Wales, where an accident has occurred in a slate mine after a priest has held mass there. The mine is closed for the moment, threatening the economic existence of the village. Here, ancient superstition and Christian religion collide.
In The Hampstead Group, the player characters are hired by a young woman looking for her brother, who has disappeared from a hedonistic artist colony. Here, the player characters must find out where the young man has gone.
All three adventures have in common that, as is usual for Vaesen, they focus heavily on investigative work and drive the players to find a solution that is not simply to find and fight vaesen. Combative confrontation is usually not a valid solution. All three adventures capture the local atmosphere well and offer exciting stories that fit the setting perfectly but could theoretically be set in Scandinavia.
Thus, Mythic Britain & Ireland offers an excellent sourcebook for Vaesen. Gaming groups that have so far found it difficult to use the somewhat unfamiliar Scandinavian setting will get a background here that will make it much easier to get started. The small rule additions are not essential but enhance the game. With the chapter about other vaesen, the game gets even more challenging. There are three adventures for actual play, which are very varied and offer exciting challenges. In addition, they can be integrated into an existing campaign if the player characters act as local guests or because the game master can simply move them to Scandinavia with a few adjustments.
This makes the book an excellent addition that enriches the game in many ways. For those who have previously put Vaesen on the back burner because of its background, here is an opportunity to play in probably more familiar regions. For Vaesen fans, the book is a definitive recommendation anyway.
Blade Runner is one of the outstanding science fiction films of the 1980s. Still, unlike other films of the genre at the time, which focused on action, Blade Runner presents itself as visually powerful and rather thoughtful and philosophical. The story revolves around the Blade Runner Deckard, who hunts down the manufactured replicants that returned illegally to Earth. It also deals with the question of what constitutes humanity and how it relates to artificial life forms. After almost forty years, the sequel Blade Runner 2049 continues the plot, builds on the themes, and continues certain concepts, like the Blade Runner at the center of the story himself being a replicant.
In the case of the Blade Runner role-playing game, Fria Ligan uses two of its typical concepts: on the one hand, the role-playing version of another science fiction classic (after the Alien role-playing game), and on the other hand, the release of a Starter Set with abbreviated rules, an adventure, and various other game materials to get you started. In the case of Blade Runner, the box includes a short rule book that summarizes essential rules on 84 pages to allow playing the adventure Electric Dreams. Additionally, the box (or its digital counterpart) contains blank sheets for case notes, time logs, character sheets, and several ready-made characters for the adventure. Furthermore, there are handouts consisting of newspaper pages, magazine covers, printouts from the police database, photos of surveillance, etc. For visualization, there are mug shots of the characters in the adventure. Furthermore, there are initiative cards used to determine the order in combat, cards for various maneuvers and obstacles in chases, a large map of Los Angeles in the future, and plans of the locations in the adventure rounding out the material. Thus, in addition to rules and adventure, the box contains a lot of material, although for the digital version, you have to print it out yourself, which is not ideal due to the design, which uses black pages.
The setting of the Blade Runner role-playing game builts on the second movie, Blade Runner 2049. Humanity has left for the stars, and in their colonization efforts, they used the so-called replicants: artificially created, human-like beings that are more powerful than their creators but also have a shorter life span. Some of these replicants illegally returned to Earth to demand an extended life from their creators. In continuity with the second film, the problems with the replicants led to their production being banned, and the Tyrell Corporation, which initially invented them, went bankrupt. Years later, the Wallace Corporation picked up the concept and began reintroducing it with a new replicant series. Both films revolve around Blade Runners, a special police unit that hunts down renegade replicants. The replicants are indistinguishable from humans to the naked eye and usually have to be “retired” by force of arms.
In the Blade Runner role-playing game, players take on the role of Blade Runners, hunting down replicants, so they are part of an elite police force. The rules use several concepts familiar from other Fria Ligan role-playing games. Again, there are four primary attributes as well as corresponding skills. Each of these is rated at levels from A to D, with D corresponding to a d6, while the maximum of A gives a d12.
In addition to skills, essential characteristics of the characters are the Health and Resolve stats as well as Promotion Points and Humanity Points. Promotion Points indicate the character's standing in the police hierarchy and are used to learn new skill specializations or utilize connections in the police force. Humanity Points measure how in tune a character is with their human nature. These points can be used to increase skills. Promotion Points and Humanity Points are sometimes at odds with each other because actions can increase Promotion Points if you follow the rules. In contrast, Humanity Points can increase if you act humanely.
Importantly, as in Blade Runner 2049, characters can be replicants themselves, which causes some rules to work differently for them, similar to the androids in Alien. The game offers 15 skills, covering relatively broad areas, from driving skills to firearms and stealth to observation.
Tests always involve rolling on one attribute and one skill, and the goal is to roll at least a 6 on one die. If you get two or more successes (which is unlikely with the standard two dice), you achieve a critical success that gives you another bonus.
You can also push to roll again and hope for a better result. However, this can have additional negative consequences in the event of failure. The rules also account for advantages and disadvantages. A good part of the book then deals with applying these rules to the two essential concepts in which they are used: fights and chases.
The game considers damage in two ways: Damage and Stress. When you push a test or suffer an attack, you lose Health accordingly. If this causes your Health to drop to 0, you are out of action. More brutal hits also cause critical damage, which is rolled on random tables and can lead to either unpleasant side effects or, in the worst case, instant death. Stress, on the other hand, concerns the mental state. Stress is accumulated when a roll is pushed unsuccessfully, when the character gets into a stressful situation, or when they work on their investigation without taking breaks. The chase rules are also detailed and handled dynamically, with random obstacles and other complications.
An essential concept in Blade Runner is that the day is divided into four shifts. Each of these shifts corresponds to a scene, so to speak, so that the timeline of an investigation can be clearly divided. In this regard, the game envisions characters devoting three shifts of the day to the investigation and resting or pursuing their personal lives during the fourth shift; otherwise, they accumulate stress.
The rest of the book presents a brief introduction to police work and the resources of the LAPD. Here, individual characters such as informants are introduced, as are descriptions of police equipment, from service weapons to spinners (flying cars). Here, it is most obvious that, throughout the book, the layout takes up a lot of space for illustrations. For example, the few weapons are described and illustrated in detail, but the selection is also focused on the essentials.
Thus, the gaming group gets a compact form of the rules, which, as usual with starter sets, excludes character creation. The appropriate pre-generated characters suffice to solve the first case, Electric Dreams.
The concept for Blade Runner is that the game will be flanked by a comprehensive campaign, with individual cases building on each other and revealing a larger story arc. Electric Dreams is just the first case in this campaign where players must follow the trail of a missing Blade Runner. Along the way, they come into contact with both the android underground, which smuggles replicants from Earth, and hate groups that campaign against the replicants. The powerful Wallace Corporation also plays a role.
The case is first introduced with the detailed background and characters and their motivations, and then the different locations that can be visited. Players are offered different approaches to solving this case and various places to visit before they dive into the bigger mystery. The scenes are described in detail, and there are also corresponding handout cards for all the locations to show them.
A noteworthy mechanism in the game is that there are pictures as handouts for some locations, on which the players have to find certain elements that will help them in their investigation. This concept is reminiscent of the image analysis scene from the first Blade Runner movie. The case itself is exciting and detailed but demanding and presents players with some interesting challenges, especially since time does not stand still.
As with previous Fria Ligan releases, the Blade Runner Starter Set offers an intricately designed first introduction to the game world. Thanks to pre-made characters and a complete adventure, you can also get started right away because the compact rules are quick to learn. However, the option to create your own characters is not offered here; for that, you need the core rule book. Similar to the Alien role-playing game, the books are impressively illustrated and give a lot of space to the illustrations. The adventure tries to put its scenes into words, reminiscent of the visually stunning movies.
Fria Ligan offers a solidly crafted role-playing game here that is impressive in its presentation. Still, there is a catch in my opinion: The focus on a single profession, or more specifically, a single task, hunting replicants as Blade Runners, lends itself well to a single story, as it did with the films, to highlight particular themes. However, in a campaign game, it could potentially become repetitive and boring. In addition, the game master faces the great challenge of conjuring up the impressive settings of the films for the players' imaginations. The Blade Runner movies live predominantly on their images and mood, which is a challenge to capture. Playing Blade Runner as a simple action role-playing game would not do justice to the original.
Finally, it depends on the gaming group here. Role-playing game collectors, fans of the films, and those who want to try Electric Dreams as a one-shot will definitely get a great introduction to the game with the Starter Set here. Gamemasters who wish to play the role-playing game as a campaign will either have to try to live up to the claim of the original in further adventures themselves, or rely on the epic campaign delivering what it promises and coming onto the market at a reasonable speed.
With The Bloodmarch, Fria Ligan now delivers the third region for Forbidden Lands and, thus, another campaign for the fantasy role-playing game. After the Ravenlands and the Bitter Reach, this time, the adventure leads west into the Bloodmarch. The campaign assumes that the events in the Ravenlands have resulted in the reopening of the pass to the Bloodmarch so that settlers and adventurers flock to this new region to seek their fortune.
The Bloodmarch is an entirely different region than the Ravenlands. Demons have also ravaged here, but the demonic threat here is now more bizarre and dangerous, with flesh-like forests growing across the landscape. The ruling power in the region is the Horse Clans, but the five individual clans disagree with each other, although some candidates would like to change that and seek to unite the clans. But the Horse Clans, too, are actually relatively newcomers who have displaced the original inhabitants of the lands, the Vasnians, and driven them back into a small area of the land.
In addition, there are the Horned Dwarves, who are allied with the Horse Clans, and another elven power, the Red Elves, who are associated with the demonic forests, not to mention the elusive moon elves. The fact that these factions are not all friendly to each other is unsurprising. Therefore, The Bloodmarch offers several power groups and conflicts at once.
For example, two of the churches from Alderland are active in the region with opposing goals. In addition, there are the oneiromancers, a mage sect led by an exceptional leader. The Horse Clans are trying to unite under one of the tribes, and the Vasnians would like to drive all invaders out of their land. And, of course, the remaining demonic forces here also have sinister goals. Add to that an even more sinister newcomer, and you get a hint of the resulting conflicts and alliances. This situation is the starting point for the campaign, which also involves the search for several magical artifacts for which the various power groups have their own uses.
What's important, without giving too much away, is that more secrets about the entire setting will be revealed in the course of the background story. Thus, the arrival of the humans in the Ravenlands is explained and appears in a different light, and another sinister threat comes into play. First, the sourcebook provides a basic overview of the region, which is characterized by volcanoes, ash fields, cliffs, and the demonic Crimson Forests. Then the book highlights the different kin and their roles and introduces the region and some selected locations.
In terms of gameplay, the book also offers several new magic schools. First, there is the Magma Song, which is a variant of the Stone Song that can be used to manipulate fire and stones. There is also the school of Mentalism, which can be used to influence people's minds. Oneiromancy, a kind of dream magic, plays a unique role. For the followers of the Rust Church there is also Magnetism, another small magic school. Essential for the setting are also some potions, especially of the blue tar consecrated to the gods, and other things.
Of course, the book describes traveling in the Bloodmarch, and offers tables to roll for random encounters and terrain that suit the setting accordingly.
The magical items of divine origin central to the setting are described in depth and covered in terms of rules. It is also essential to determine where the corresponding objects are located at the beginning of the campaign, for which there are sometimes several possibilities. After that, the core characters of the campaign are presented, of which there are quite a few. From the Horse Clan warrior who wants to unite the tribes to the leaders of the different churches who follow their secret missions to powers that can endanger the entire region, The Bloodmarch offers a complex and dynamic background.
As expected for such a setting, there is also a bestiary with new monsters briefly described. The strange creatures encompass, e.g., the mechanical mecha built by the dwarves, dangerous plant creatures, and winged horses. Of course, the book features random encounters that can serve as a prelude to small adventures before the descriptions of places kick off in about the last third of the book.
The Bloodmarch follows the same path as the previous books in that it introduces places, their inhabitants, and story hooks, but there are no concrete adventures with a specific course of action. The campaign is based on the actions and initiative of the player characters. These scenarios can resolve quite differently depending on how the players proceed and how they antagonize or ally with the various other powers. Each adventure site offers hooks for the campaign before finally coming to an epic finale at some point. The book concludes with rumors for the player characters. Interestingly, these are not limited to the region but look at other areas and describe the overall world more precisely. On the other hand, the rumors already hint that other regions will probably soon be covered in future setting books. And again, it is possible that at the end of the campaign, another region of the game world will become accessible, which can be expected to be covered in a sourcebook in the future.
The Bloodmarch is a well-crafted sourcebook for Forbidden Lands, which is especially useful if you are more interested in a region among barren rocks, volcanic landscapes and horsemen clans instead of the previous settings of Ravenlands or Bitter Reach, or if you have successfully worked through the other regions and now want to follow the overall campaign to the next epic goal. The book is well written and atmospherically illustrated, so this sourcebook can definitely be recommended to Forbidden Lands game groups. The Bloodmarch presents an exciting campaign, fascinating non-player characters, a look at the wider background, and a few new magic schools and monsters.
They Grow Up So Fast is a short campaign of four connected adventures for the role-playing game Tales from the Loop. The Norfolk Loop in Great Britain serves as the backdrop for the story, but the action can also be set in the other two settings, Sweden and America, with minor modifications.
The book begins with a concise introduction that introduces the Loop in Norfolk and the surrounding area, giving an overview and setting the atmosphere for the period in England in the 1980s. After this brief introduction and an overview of the campaign, things can get started.
The campaign, divided into four seasons, begins with the Easter Egg Hunt adventure in the spring, where the kids witness a strange incident. Through the events and against some odds, they should come into possession of a strange egg, which apparently comes from an alien life form.
The story continues in the summer with The Best of What Might Be, where the egg's contents are revealed, and the player characters have to face a new challenge.
The story escalates as the year progresses and finally comes to a conclusion in The Year's Last Loveliest Smile and You Can't Get Too Much in the fall and winter.
Without giving too much away about the story, They Grow Up So Fast is about the player characters having to take care of an alien creature that first has to be hidden and taken care of, but then brings more and more challenges.
Of course, as usual in Tales from the Loop, the adults are no help here (and more of a problem). In fact, besides the challenges of the main story with a group of quarrelsome children and a dubious scientist, there are other antagonists that make the game exciting.
What is also interesting here is the fact that the Norfolk Loop, which is run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is being taken over step by step by Regional Geomagnetic Information Science, a division of the Ministry of Defense. This new management is quite willing to face challenges in a tougher way, which continues to change the atmosphere around the Loop and creates additional challenges.
Basically, The Grow Up So Fast offers an exciting four-part story that starts slowly in the first episodes, increases significantly in stakes, and occasionally offers interesting new challenges for the players.
At some points, the approaches to solving the problem are described relatively simply for my taste, especially when it comes to how the kids cheat their way past government officials or fast-talk them with just a short roll of the dice. But the idea that the characters here can solve the challenges with simple tests and a few tricks at the end is probably just part of the genre conventions. If you are still looking for a small campaign with more adventures around the Loop, you can find an atmospheric mini-campaign in They Grow Up So Fast.
As usual for Free League, there is also a Starter Set for the 1980s children's role-playing game Tales from the Loop. This consists of two booklets, pre-made characters, and a map.
It starts with the rule book, which summarizes the rules and background for Tales from the Loop in just over 30 pages. The game is set in an alternate version of the 1980s, where scientific breakthroughs have provided robots and other technological achievements such as hovering ships. Players take on the roles of children between the ages of 10 and 15 living near the Loop, a particle accelerator that is the center of technical breakthroughs but also strange phenomena.
The game mechanics are based on rolling attributes and skills together in the form of d6s, with each six being a success. Usually, a single success is enough, but rolls can be pushed or repeated with Luck. Since players play children as characters, player characters cannot die here, but they can be affected or incapacitated by various conditions.
The rule book briefly summarizes the rules and introduces the game background, how the alternate 1980s came to be, and what they look like. This background is always presented with lists of movies, music and similar aspects from that time. The rule book is also dedicated to playing the game and how to bring the background into the game accordingly. It also offers ideas on how players can help shape the background.
With this very compact rule book, the adventure The Recycled Boy can be played right away using the pre-generated player characters. In a handful of scenes, the characters experience a small story that fits well into the background of Tales from the Loop and also very much involves the personal connections between the characters. Because this is also an aspect of Tales from the Loop: in addition to the secrets that need to be uncovered, the characters' normal lives also play a role.
In just under 20 pages, you get an adventure that can ideally be played in one game session. The five pre-generated player characters, who have interesting relationships with each other, as well as a map of the Loop in Sweden as well as in the USA, complete the set.
The Tales from the Loop Starter Set is well suited for quickly introducing the rules and setting of Tales from the Loop, and that for a small price. Of course, as with most of these starter sets, there are no character creation rules, so once you start enjoying the game, you will need the core rules as well.
Pirate Borg has now been released as a spin-off of the fantasy role-playing game Mörk Borg, which shifts the setting from classic OSR fantasy to a pirate background. The setting for Pirate Borg is called The Dark Caribbean, a gritty interpretation of a pirate-controlled Caribbean. As expected, this is not so much a historical simulation of real piracy. Instead, you quickly notice that the world comprises set pieces like Monkey Island, Sid Meier's Pirates, Pirates of the Caribbean series, and other fictional elements.
The Dark Caribbean is a dangerous place since, besides the colonial powers of England, France, and Spain together with the Inquisition, undead, monsters from the deep sea and bizarre cults also make the Caribbean a frightening place. An undead epidemic threatens the islands of this gloomy version of the Caribbean, so zombies, skeletons, drowned sailors, and the like are omnipresent.
The player characters take on the role of a pirate crew, and the individual crew members are quickly and easily created by a few dice rolls as they are for Mörk Borg. Here again, the usual five attributes are rolled out on a scale of 3 to 18 and then confer an appropriate modifier. In the game, only the modifier counts. Players can play a classless character or choose one of the six primary classes and, for more variety, two additional classes.
Among the primary classes are the Brute, a tough fighter, and the Rapscallion, whose abilities are defined by game cards during character creation and who fulfills a rogue's role. On the other hand, the Buccaneer is particularly good with flintlock weapons, while the Swashbuckler stands out for his sword-fighting style. But there are also “magical” classes, such as the Zealot, who performs magic with his prayers, and the Sorcerer, who appears as a voodoo-practicing mage. Two additional classes can be used to modify the existing classes. As a Haunted Soul, the character has a supernatural background, e.g., as a ghost or vampire. With the Tall Tale class addition, merfolk, mutants, and intelligent animals come into play.
Character creation is quick. The stats are determined by dice rolls, and then the traits from the character class are added. In addition, further dice rolls provide clothing and, very importantly, a hat. There is additional starting equipment, and then you can start adventuring. Of course, the book offers tables for weapons and equipment but also provides character disadvantages, physical characteristics, background aspects, and the like – as usual for the OSR approach – in detailed tables.
Furthermore, characters can be equipped with ancient relics, and arcane rituals and sea shanties provide them with opportunities for further advantages. Here, the arcane rituals are an interpretation of magic, while the sea shanties play a role during sea battles. In fact, a good portion of the rules take up the topic of sea battles. Here, maneuver rules for ships and boats are presented, as well as rules for wind, random tables for encounters, and especially game statistics for a whole arsenal of vessels, from small cobbled-together rafts to heavy ships of the line. In addition, there are some ghost ships and other horrors of the sea.
The monsters that Pirate Bork has to offer are also varied and bizarre. You will find everything from bilge rats and three-headed monkeys to giant kraken, zombies, sea turtles, and even strange plants. More detail is given to the monster groups of skeletons, zombies, and ghosts, which can often be enemy pirate crews. However, human opponents, such as the colonial powers and evil necromancers, can also appear.
If you want to start playing immediately, you can use dice and appropriate tables for just about everything. Encounters with ships at sea and their cargo, scenarios for abandoned ships, treasure maps, unknown islands, and even small missions are summarized through random tables. If more is needed, The Curse of Skeleton Point is less an adventure than a small sandbox scenario of an island with several things to explore, offering ideas for several game nights. From the disappeared governor's daughter to hidden temples in the jungle, witches, and an old fortress inhabited by the undead, the island has a lot to offer.
Pirate Borg also stays true to the principles of Mörk Borg. The rules are simple, quick to learn, and reminiscent of typical OSR rules. The setting comes across as gritty and dirty, and when in doubt, the approach to the game is to simply roll some dice on the countless random tables. Like the other Borg games, Pirate Borg has an extreme layout where large-scale drawings, extreme colors, and wild typography meet (and clash). My impression here, though, is that the style captures the setting much better. The presentation is still very extreme, but it spreads more atmosphere and fits better with the style of the game.
As with the other Borg games, Pirate Borg will divide opinions. If you are looking for a detailed, mechanistically complex, and demanding role-playing game that has a lot of background to offer, this is not your game. However, if you want to play a pirate role-playing game in which you can set sail in a few minutes and experience extremely wild adventures, in my opinion, you will find the best variant of the previous Borg games here. Indeed, the setting with giant kraken, mermaids, undead and depraved pirates is coherent with the rules system. It is also very helpful that, besides the PDF of the rule book itself, a reduced form is provided as a handout for players, in which the important rules for the players can be found.
The Crypt of the Mellified Mage book is not just about the location of the same name but presents four self-contained adventure locations that can be incorporated into an ongoing campaign for Forbidden Lands.
The Crypt of the Mellified Mage is a typical dungeon that, as the tomb of a notorious healer, is either a place specifically sought by player characters or some location they find by accident. With 35 rooms filled with traps, puzzles, and secrets, it's all about the former healer, bees, and honey - and the mage's background and secrets. The characters can find some treasures while exploring, deal with bees and undead, but also unleash things that should rather be left alone.
With The Firing Pit of Llao-Yutuy, the book offers another dungeon, this time a pottery workshop run by a master of his art, revealing its sinister secrets in the process. Various paths lead to this dungeon, but escape can be more difficult. Unsurprisingly, characters will encounter golems here (in very unusual varieties), stumble upon the secrets of pottery-making, and perhaps capture some interesting artifacts.
The Temple of the Six-Limbed Lord, which presents itself as a village, completely turns the game world upside down. The intelligent monkeys that have invaded the player characters' world with their temple not only cause chaos, but also have ambitious plans of conquest that the player characters can oppose. The different priests leading the monkeys offer not only unusual characters but also interesting potential opponents.
Finally, The Dream-Cloud of E'lok Thir introduces another bizarre dungeon, as this dream world is the remnant of a powerful mage's mind. In this dream world, the characters can interact with fragments of his shattered self. Unlike the other dungeons, there is no fixed map or clear room descriptions here, but a very dynamic setting that can also be shaped by the players.
All four locations bring very unusual settings to the game, but their atmosphere and content seem at odds with the main campaign. The Crypt of the Mellified Mage and The Firing Pit of Llao-Yutuy are typical dungeons that invite looting by the characters and offer little other interaction or backstory integrated into the greater setting. The Temple of the Six-Limbed Lord already offers a larger and more flexible story arc. Still, the invasion of the monkey priests is a bizarre setting that also presents itself somewhat ironically and will probably not fit thematically in many campaigns. The Dream-Cloud of E'Lok Thir, on the other hand, presents a fascinating idea and thus a dreamlike (or nightmarish) setting, which, however, demands some adjustments and imagination from the game master. All locations have in common that they have no strong relation to the game world of Forbidden Lands and, therefore, in my opinion, do not fit well into the campaign. In addition, they focus strongly on the typical dungeon exploration theme.
If you are looking for very unusual locations for your Forbidden Lands campaign, The Crypt of the Mellified Mage offers four well-developed and exciting locations. From my perspective, however, some locations are a bit too unusual and do not really fit into the setting and background of the Forbidden Lands. For me, these locations were too unusual and could not excite me as much as The Spire of Quetzel.
The story The Haunter of the Dark by H.P. Lovecraft not only provides the title, but also the starting point for an adventure, which was revised for the 2nd edition of Cthulhu Hack. The book consists of three parts.
The first part of the book deals with how to use stories like The Haunter of the Dark to develop adventures for Cthulhu Hack. In addition to the approach of taking the story, analyzing it, and adding footnotes, it shows how to use it as a role-playing setting. The introduction also describes, in general, how such stories are usually structured and how this structure can be used as a template for building adventures. In doing so, the “onion model” is also described here, which summarizes the layers of dangers and revelations and thus visualizes the layers of such a story.
The concrete analysis and treatment of the story The Haunter of the Dark makes up the third part of the book. This chapter reprints the complete original story and marks it with footnotes and references to possible tests, backgrounds, story ideas, and so on. Thus, one reads the story of Robert Blake, who is attracted to an abandoned church and stumbles upon the legacy of the Starry Wisdom sect. On the other hand, it presents notes and ideas on how to use this template for the game. Thus, one learns about the tests and challenges that would have affected the protagonist if he had been a character of the role-playing game.
The main body of the book in the middle is such an adventure, Horrible Abysses, which acts as a continuation of the original story. The player characters get on the trail of the missing Robert Blake and have to realize that the horror he faced still lingers. This story focuses on the investigative work about Blake's disappearance and St. John's Church, so the adventure offers many approaches and scenes to solve the mystery before an inevitable confrontation. An interesting approach here is that there are several explanations and backgrounds for the mythos antagonist, the Haunter, which the game master can choose from.
In addition to the specific adventure, The Haunter of the Dark offers a practical approach to using existing stories from the mythos as a basis for role-playing. It presents this concept in detail, using the titular story as an example. With this combination, the book offers an compelling sourcebook for Cthulhu Hack, which has been somewhat revised and supplemented for the 2nd edition but, in essence, corresponds to the earlier edition.
The printed Book of Beasts already shows by its premium design with imitation leather cover that it is another basic rule book. It complements the classic trinity of fantasy role-playing game rule books with the monster manual for Forbidden Lands.
Accordingly, the book starts with 28 new monsters, each introduced on four pages. After a page-filling illustration and a background article from the in-game perspective, the description and game statistics, including the table for the different attacks of the monster, are provided. In addition, however, each monster entry offers encounter suggestions for incorporating these creatures into a campaign. These random encounters are presented compactly as a small scene and can thus be easily incorporated into a campaign. The entry is supplemented by background knowledge that player characters with the appropriate skills may possess and hints about what resources can be obtained from the monster. For example, the eggs of amphibians are very nutritious, while the mandibles of giant spiders are suitable for building weapons. Sometimes the new talent alchemist is necessary for this use, and sometimes other characters also benefit from these resources.
The selection of monsters includes classics like basilisks, giant spiders, or vampyres, but also offers unusual creatures like the tupilaq or the rat king. Typically, these beasts are still adjusted slightly to the background of Forbidden Lands, so that basilisks, for example, have an unusual weak spot.
However, this bestiary only occupies a little over half of the book. The following chapter provides the game master with another 36 random encounters, which can enrich a campaign as individual scenes or serve as hooks for smaller adventures.
In addition, the game master gets some further tools. There are new traps, tables for books (incl. talent or skill increase, title, and short comment), random tables for the condition of the area and camps depending on the terrain, as well as random tables for the weather. For strongholds – the headquarters of the player characters – the personalities of servants can now be determined by random tables (and serve as another hook for stories). In addition, there is a new talent for alchemists, which allows for brewing potions and poisons. It is also used for resource extraction from monsters.
In addition, artifacts can be determined randomly, some of which have helpful effects, many of which are strange, and some of which are a hindrance (an artifact that telepathically gives its bearer a bad reputation is the kind of unusual equipment to avoid).
The book concludes with the now-inevitable solo rules, which are designed to allow solitary exploration of the Forbidden Lands through a mixture of random tables and player improvisation. Thanks to companions, however, the player character does not have to go entirely alone. The so-called oracle, for which playing cards are used, helps the solo player determine answers to typical questions such as “is the encounter friendly or hostile”, “what will I find in the area” or “where does this character come from” through the card suits and numbers.
The Book of Beasts thus provides an excellent supplement for Forbidden Lands, whose core topic is indeed the monsters, but which offers the game master and the potential solo player much more. The ideas of monsters and encounters provide material for many game sessions and help the gamemaster to improvise the player-driven campaign. Although I am still generally unconvinced by the concept of solo play, this volume provides a solid basis for that approach as well. For Forbidden Lands gamemasters, the Book of Beasts thus offers an all-around recommendable toolbox and source of ideas.
A short trip into the Misty Vale - a Mephisto review
To test the Swedish fantasy role-playing game Dragonbane, there is a free quickstart rulebook that presents the basic rules in a condensed form. It also includes one of the adventure locations, the Riddermound, from the Core Set as a playable adventure.
Of course, the quickstart comes without character creation and development rules, but offers five pre-made characters instead. Also providing a playable setting, the quickstart is clearly limited to the essential rules, which were compressed into about 20 pages.
The quickstart thus offers everything necessary to play the demo scenario, but no more. For example, only the spells available to the corresponding pre-made character are described.
The Dragonbane Quickstart is therefore an ideal starter booklet to try out the game and get a first impression of the roleplaying game without having to buy the excellent Core Set (see review at https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product_reviews_info.php?&reviews_id=912416&products_id=418106 )– not only because the quickstart is available for free. Furthermore, the condensed rules summary may also be suitable for players, provided they can resist the temptation to peek into the adventure that is part of the Misty Vale campaign.
Classic fantasy in modern times - a Mephisto review
Dragonbane Core Set
The translation of the original title, Dragons and Demons, recalls a classic fantasy RPG. And that is consistent because in the 1980s, Drakar och Demoner apparently was the role-playing game that offered an alternative to D&D in the early days of role-playing in Sweden. The game was based on early Chaosium titles, with the first edition from 1982 being a translation of the Magic World role-playing game. However, the Swedish version quickly took on a life of its own, apparently providing an introduction to the hobby for many Swedish role-playing gamers. Now, 40 years later, Fria Ligan has revived the role-playing game in a new edition, available as a traditional box set (or its digital counterpart). This box contains a rulebook, an adventure book, maps, cards, cardboard figures, character sheets, handout maps, and solo rules. The fact that the rulebook and adventure volume offer only about 120 pages each also seems reminiscent of earlier games.
The rulebook first describes the basic concepts of role-playing games and their core elements before moving on to character creation. Here, players must first choose a kin that gives them innate abilities. Subsequently, they decide on a profession. Then it is a matter of age, attributes, derived stats, skills, and heroic abilities. Optionally, weaknesses can be selected, and gear completes the character. Of course, instead of making the decisions yourself, you can also let the dice decide the character's fate.
The game offers six different kin, of which humans, halflings, dwarves, and elves are well-known examples. Two unusual variants are also available with mallards, duck-like humanoids, and wolf-kin, anthropomorphic wolves. All kin are briefly introduced, and each one has a special ability. For example, halflings are hard to catch, and elves have an inner peace that makes it easier for them to heal hit points and willpower points. When it comes to professions, you will find the usual suspects like fighters or mages and more unusual representatives like artisans, scholars, or merchants. Each profession comes with preferred skills and heroic abilities, as well as different equipment. Once the essential decisions are made that determine the character's basic framework, age is determined by choice or dice, which affects the number of skills and modifies attributes if necessary.
The attributes are the usual six variants known from fantasy role-playing games, and they mainly modify the skills. The idea is that skills have a base value depending on the attributes. Trained skills double this value, and these trained skills are partly defined by profession and partly chosen by the player. The game offers a broad arsenal of skills like bushcraft, performance, or sneaking. The heroic skills are special traits that can differentiate a character, such as the ability to wield two weapons at once or having a magical talent. As optional rules, weaknesses can be used to distinguish the character further. When these weaknesses appear in the game, they provide opportunities for extra advancement.
The advancement system does not use levels but so-called advancement marks. You get these when you roll particular results for skills or at the end of a game session. At the end of the session, you get the marks for questions such as whether you participated in the session or encountered a dangerous enemy. The advancement marks allow one attempt to increase a skill by exceeding the current value with the roll of a d20. Alternatively, teachers can be used to improve skills. Once a skill reaches the value of 18, you also gain a new heroic ability.
As usual in role-playing games based on d20, the extreme values 1 and 20 play a unique role. A 1 is called a dragon, a particularly good roll, and a 20 is called a demon, which brings particular disadvantages. As is typical for newer systems, rolls can have advantages and disadvantages by rolling multiple dice and using the worst or best result. At the same time, there is a rule to push rolls by making another attempt. If this attempt is unsuccessful, the character receives a disadvantage in the form of a condition that limits them.
Of course, an extended chapter is devoted to combat, using the usual mechanisms. There are critical hits and the possibility to roll a mishap. While regular damage reduces hit points, harder hits result in injuries that bring further restrictions. Dragonbane's combat rules include special results at 1 (dragon) and 20 (demon). A dragon may deal a critical hit resulting in additional damage or triggering an extra attack, while a demon causes a mishap. Melee attacks can be parried or dodged but require an appropriate action, while armor simply reduces damage. However, when the hit points drop to 0, the characters must test if they die and at least take severe wounds. There are also mechanisms for dealing with fear when player characters have to face particularly fearsome monsters.
The basic rules of Dragonbane offer three schools of magic. In order to cast spells, a player character must choose the appropriate profession and acquire the appropriate heroic skills. The three schools are Animism, Elementalism, and Mentalism, which cover different application areas and can be mastered by any magical character. The idea in Dragonbane is that spells must be memorized, so mages always have a limited selection of their spells available. There are also magic tricks that are considered simpler spells. Magic is negatively affected by metal, and of course, there are magic failures that can make the game more interesting. The school of animism is reminiscent of druids and clerics and includes spellcasting to animals, nature and healing. Elementalism includes typical elemental spells using fire, earth, water, etc. and also allows conjuring elemental creatures. Mentalism includes abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, etc.
The following chapter provides a catalog of weapons and equipment, as well as additional rules. For example, when parrying, there is a risk of damaging or destroying weapons.
Of course, a bestiary is present too, which introduces several monsters. Among them are typical creatures such as dragons, giants, and the like. A peculiarity of the rules is that real monsters always hit without rolling dice. Only the type of attack is rolled. This approach is similar to the mechanisms of Forbidden Lands. Of course, there are also smaller creatures, such as goblins and skeletons, for which standard combat rules apply rather than the monster rules.
A chapter for gamemasters provides additional tips, random tables, and rules concepts to cover aspects such as camps, food gathering, and other adventuring activities. There are also practical tips and instructions for designing adventures and campaigns.
The second book in the box is the adventure book. It features a sandbox region called Misty Vale, a closed valley that long ago was home to an advanced civilization that worshiped dragons but was then overrun by orcs. Now that the orcs are also in retreat, the valley is the destination of many adventurers and settlers seeking their fortune here. For the game master, the book provides a more detailed story that explains the background, which plays an essential role in the following campaign. For the players, the start of the campaign is more pragmatic: on their way to the valley, they have a fateful encounter that draws them into the adventures piece by piece. A central element in this sandbox is the settlement of Outskirts, which serves as a starting point for player characters to equip themselves, interact with non-player characters, and dive deeper and deeper into the campaign. In addition to Outskirts, there are 11 adventure locations in the valley whose stories require no particular order. It is up to the players to decide which locations to visit and when. These often serve as stand-alone adventure modules, which do not necessarily contain a fixed task and do not always follow the typical “enter the dungeon, defeat the monsters, grab the treasures” scenario but can have more interesting approaches. The adventure ideas are numerous and varied. Likewise, It is noteworthy that the campaign itself provides some context to the “dragons vs. demons” setting. Overall, the campaign includes adventure material for many evenings of play, allowing players to explore the valley and seek their fortune as they engage in an epic campaign.
If players are missing, another booklet also provides an approach for a solo game, where the rules are modified and countless random tables are supplied to flesh out the adventures. The solo game, however, is not just left entirely to chance. Instead, it also provides a background plot for a small solo campaign in which the player character must dive into the so-called breach to recover a dangerous artifact. There are several adventures here that are described in short, but their elaboration is then up to the tables and the player himself.
In addition to these books, the box contains additional extensive material. There are blank character sheets and five pre-made characters with background information. Also included are handout maps for locations and an overview map of Misty Vale. A double-sided battle map allows you to play with miniatures that are included as cardboard standees for the various monsters. Furthermore, there are various small card sets, including treasure cards, initiative cards, and adventure cards, that contain rumors and clues about the various locations in the campaign. A unique feature is the Improvised Weapons card deck, which can be used for encounters in taverns, caves, and forests. It provides impromptu weapons such as a wine bottle in the tavern or a wasp's nest in the forest to bring additional dynamics to the battles.
When I first read about Dragonbane – especially about the game's background – the project gave me the impression that it was a special interest role-playing game, mainly for the Swedish market and nostalgic role-players there. It seemed like it should appeal to players who want to connect their early memories of the role-playing hobby with this game. However, I am truly surprised and delighted after reading through the system. Dragonbane offers a wonderful blend of a basic approach, similar to the role-playing games of the 80s, combined with a well-designed, functional, but not overly complex set of rules. It offers an exciting and comprehensive sandbox campaign and a well-done presentation with additional material, coherent illustrations, and more. The game makes it easy to get started in terms of rules and campaign without lacking ideas or options.
Although Dragonbane does not provide much background information on the game world outside the campaign and does not come with an epic world description, this fits perfectly with the 80s approach and is more of an advantage than a disadvantage in my view. Dragonbane in this form is suitable for giving new players an accessible introduction to the hobby and appealing to role-playing veterans. At the same time, the game allows you to immerse yourself in a new and straightforward game world that is not overly complex or defined down to the last detail. The books have a good design and great illustrations that fit perfectly the game's direction. Of course, some design choices, like the duck-like mallard, take some getting used to, and one certainly hopes for more schools of magic, more monsters, and the like. But as a starting box, Dragonbane offers enough material for many play sessions and is, therefore, an absolute recommendation, especially (but not only) for players who started the hobby in the 80s.
From Unformed Realms is a small, system-independent add-on to generate monsters of the eldritch horror genre or bizarre creatures for the Cthulhu Mythos. This extension is based on several random tables, which can be used to roll for different properties of the monsters. The resulting elements are primarily about the descriptive properties and characteristics of the monsters. Even if these characteristics can have game-relevant effects because they can be, e.g., natural weapons or similar features, no game statistics or rule mechanisms are presented here. The tables revolve around extremities (including natural weapons), sensory organs, skeleton, bodily fluids, appearance, and other features. Within these sections, there are always several subgroups, each with six traits, some of which can be further differentiated by additional rolls. For example, with body fluids such as saliva or sweat, there is the possibility that these are corrosive, poisonous, freezing cold, etc. All these characteristics have in common that they are bizarre, dangerous, or both.
The idea of From Unformed Realms is to define the appearance and bizarre features of such horrific creatures. This approach works fast on the one hand and generates hardly predictable monsters on the other. However, this expansion leaves the task of creating game statistics for the resulting creature to the game master.
As an appendix, a few additional random tables are presented to tie these creatures into a story and define certain backgrounds.
The rating of From Unformed Realms strongly depends on the individual attitude towards random tables. Those who like random tables and also want to generate eldritch monsters for their game round will get a comprehensive set of random tables to quickly and easily define bizarre monsters. Also, those who need general inspiration for describing their cthuloid horrors will find the tables a useful tool simply by using characteristics as a source of inspiration. However, those who value "canonical" Cthulhu monsters or for whom game statistics are more important than description will not enjoy this expansion.