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Deep Carbon Observatory - Remastered
Publisher: False Machine Publishing
by J C S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/14/2024 09:07:11

Ran this in 5e, making modifications to stats as necessary, and my players had such a blast and it was so packed with good, interesting tidbits. Cannot recommend highly enough.

Added later:

This campaign turned into a several year saga with 2 separate arcs. In the first, we essentially ran Deep Carbon Observatory in 5e. The second was their continued adventure in the World Below (basically the Underdark) via the observatory. We're just wrapping up the second one now. Players have gone from 1st to 17th level, and it's been a blast.

I was to re-state that I cannot recommend this highly enough. This is the first module I ever ran as a campaign; the first outside adventure I felt was interesting and evocative and fun enough that I could and wanted to make it my own for long-term play. The other long-term campaigns I've run have all been homebrew. Other than that, other people's adventures have always only been for one-shots or very short campaigns.

This is all to say, I have a high standard for things I will take my players through for literal years. So far, this is the only one that has ever met that bar. It's quirky and weird and there's a lot of odd bits you might want to smooth over some, but it works, in a way very little else does.

Part of that is its openness. It blends a very sandox-y ability for PCs to go anywhere and mess with anything, with outside catastrophes and timelines that make it have an endpoint that you are working towards, so that it actually feels like an adventure and not just a setting.

It's just real good. It can be confusing at first for folks who are used to WOTC or other big companies with very specific style guides and careful layout. There are pieces where the information takes a second to put it all together (though the remastered version is much better about this). Scrap Princess' art can also seem amateurish until you start to see the skill behind it.

But keep going, and you will understand the terrible reality of the brilliance and synthesis of the themes of the adventure and the art. It's one of those things that just becomes more genius the more you look at it. Seriously, check it out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Carbon Observatory - Remastered
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On Downtime and Demesnes (5th Edition)
Publisher: Hack & Slash Publishing
by J C S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/11/2024 17:59:22

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The series, as I understand it, is mostly compiled by the author from communal Google+ posts from the height of the OSR G+ era, with some extras. That time is somewhat legendary in current OSR circles as the original golden age. The monster book (Bestial Ecosystems...) really has a lot of interesting ideas for making common monsters fresh and fun.

This one really felt like 90% of the ideas were the default one I would have thought of on my own anyway. Like sure, it makes sense that some players want to participate in gladiatorial combat during downtime. This has a table for that, but nothing in the table is particularly interesting, just rates of success from a roll.

Other people working in this space have come up with really interesting full systems for this kind of thing--look at MCDM's Strongholds and Followers, for example. And if you just want premade tables for bunches of downtime possibilities, I feel like there are other, cheaper sources. Find them on reddit.

The book does create a kind of menu for the DM to offer players. Maybe you bake in a few options to each settlement or something. You don't have to go to the trouble of thinking what kinds of things generally you want to have, or find tables on reddit (or wherever you find such things). But it feels like a low bar, especially with how interesting and new the monster book was.

Essentially I suppose, it does what it says it will do. But come in with somewhat lower expectations than you might otherwise for this author and these sources of ideas.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
On Downtime and Demesnes (5th Edition)
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Stars Without Number: Revised Edition
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
by J C S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/11/2024 12:05:58

I ran a whole campaign of this, and I love it. Everything about this system is great. A stripped-down straightforward d20/2d6 system that will be familiar enough to folks coming from other games, but still entirely its own. Has enough variety to sustain a number of different character concepts, even though it only has 4 core classes. For anyone wanting more complexity, psionics act like spellcasting in other games, giving the min-maxers a giant rabbit hole of possibilities to go down.

My only quibbles ever were wanting more, just a little more actual-game crunch. I wanted something simpler than Starfinder and the like, but crunchier than the simpler one-shot or story games like Mothership. Something that really sustains campaign-level play, similar to D&D, with characters continuing to grow in power and influence. With characters who can reasonably survive a whole campaign.

(There's genre limits to this, of course, since sci-fi heroes are always intrinsically going to be more power-level-capped than fantasy heroes who essentially become demigods at higher levels. Unless you're explicitly playing science fantasy, having some limits to player power DO make it feel more sci-fi.)

The GM tools are amazing, and it has a whole big crunchy solo game for DMs to play to track faction progress in your background setting. Tools for generating interesting planets, stations, whole galaxies. I can't praise them enough. Really, he set the standard for amazing GM tools, and I know plenty of people just use the GM section from this book for their sci-fi games, without ever trying the system itself. If you're running sci-fi, I think it's worth picking up for that alone.

This was also Crawford's first Without Number game, and both later ones (Worlds without Number [fantasy] and Cities without Number [cyberpunk]) took everything great from this game and expanded on it. Especially CWN feels like it reaches the "crunch" ideal I was hoping for the whole time in my SWN campaign--crunchier than story games like the Sprawl but not as complicated or unplayable as something like Shadowrun. So anything lacking here, which is not much, is improved later in further iterations on the system. And yet all three remain fully compatible, where you can literally play a WWN fantasy character in a SWN sci-fi game, if your setting allows for some fantasy elements.

SWN also makes up for it's low crunch by being imminently moddable. I ran a Mothership module in it and just tacked the Stress and Panic system right on top of the standard SWN system, and it worked like a charm. If there's something you want to change or update, it's easy. If you don't like the starship combat rules, you could easily change them out for ones from a system you like better. So the simplicity is also a powerful feature, not just a bug / deficiency.

Overall it's great, and a fantastic starting point for anyone wanting to get a sci-fi campaign going. I recommend it heartily.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Stars Without Number: Revised Edition
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Sig: Manual of the Primes
Publisher: Genesis of Legend Publishing
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/11/2024 11:32:30

If you ever loved the concept of Planescape, that a celestial nexus of the ideologically divided heavens exists where angels and demons can get a pint and debate theology, this game gives you that. It gives it to you honestly better than Planescape.

D&D is an adventure, treasure hunting, and monster fighting game at heart. Planescape as a D&D setting has to lean into those elements of its world, even if they don't actually fit best with the setting itself in the end.

It makes so much sense that the central conflicts would not be solved with violence in a place like Sigil, a functional non-warring city made up of at least a dozen ideologies vying for power. Because the city is peaceful enough to be a functional city, the battle shifts to the ideological landscape. If violence were the actual answer to these debates, Manichean battles of good vs. evil, then the city would be a constant battlefield.

The war of Sig (similarity clearly intentional) is waged across the beliefs and ideals of its inhabitants. It is a war of souls, not swords. And to make it actually dynamic and interesting, PCs themselves cannot advance without allowing their principles shift in reaction to their in-game encounters.

This means it isn't and can't really be a system for a simple ideological missionary campaign. "Alright, we've made characters with the obviously right belief set, and we just need to go around and convince everyone else." Those characters would stay forever the same as they started. Their attributes wouldn't grow as they leveled up by changing beliefs. Their rigidity would leave them stagnant not only in the fiction of the world but also mechanically.

Instead, you literally buy character advancement using an in-game metacurrency gained by engaging with your beliefs in play, and to cash it in you have to have an in-game conversation about how your beliefs are changing and why. About what you thought about what happened that game.

This is the game that is actually about the angel and the demon having a pint and debating theology! They are not just set dressing in the background of a different adventure about killing and looting monsters, which really strains to make sense where literal monsters live side by side and politely debate beliefs.

Now, more interesting things can happen than just straight debates. Exciting things can happen, crime scenes investigated and mysteries solved, court room dramas acted out, etc. But it's not assumed the only or most important source of drama is violence. The drama is in how the characters develop.

As such, it's a very different kind of game than D&D, and anyone coming here because of a love of Planescape should understand that. This is not a better version of Planescape the D&D setting, with a different ruleset but still essentially D&D. This is the actual game that would match life in a city like Sigil if it actually existed. This is 100% a story game, not a crunchy game or an adventure game. Make sure everyone understands this as you're getting a group together.

But if that sounds awesome to you, I cannot recommend it highly enough.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sig: Manual of the Primes
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Cloud Empress: Rulebook
Publisher: worlds by watt
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 16:24:29

I particularly like Dying-Earth-style far future science fantasy settings, and this one happens to be based off of my favorite story in that vein: Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. So I was hugely predisposed to like the setting.

And watt delivers so well on making the flavor so close to Nausicaa while still making this world entirely their own. The magic system is chef's kiss, and feels fully integrated with the world and it's economies, politics, etc. The tables that determine character's gear and immediate previous occupations are so juicy. Everything comes together to paint a unified and rich whole world.

Numenera, the main science fantasy system designed for this kind of game, often leaves me cold because there's not enough coherent world vibes / flavor. It makes it open for the GM to insert more of their own, but I think the GM can always do that. I prefer settings / games that come with a good, viable, unique flavor of their own, which I can always remix as needed. Something like Ultraviolet Grasslands is the gold standard for this, to my mind (though it's mechanic underpinnings are severely lacking). Cloud Empress doesn't quite match something like UVG, being perhaps the silver to its gold medal, but damn, it's still really good. An Olympic silver medalist is still the second best athlete in a sport in the world.

My only complaint is that the system is a direct and often unchanged hack of Mothership. Although the lethality and puzzling darkness of the setting do fit somewhat fit the rules of Mothership, other pieces of Mothership that were specifically designed for horror do not. I think if a few more independent mechanical design decisions were made the rules would match the setting much better. Dark and gritty but not explicitly and always horror, per se. Make it "inspired by Mothership" rather than "a hack of Mothership", and some of the rules systems would have just flowed better (and I think the openness of the Mothership 3rd party license would have still been app, which is almost certainly part of why it is a hack of Mothership). But that minor quibble is not enough to knock it down from 5 to 4 stars.

I wholeheartedly recommend this game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cloud Empress: Rulebook
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Cities Without Number
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 11:59:56

A great addition to the Without Number game line. It is compatible with Worlds without Number and Stars without Number but it is very much it's own game.

The switch from classes to edges is very true to the genre, since cyberpunk criminals have always needed to be poly-skilled for any game to be fun and feel right.

There's flavor / culture bits in here I never expected to love as much as I do. Crawford knows how to dig into a genre to find the mindsets that would actually emerge and be prevalent in such a world. Corporate genders?!? It's amazing.

It's a simple OSR-derived system that almost anybody can pick up. It's also got enough crunch for crunch-lovers to dig deep into for a good while, and it's open and easily moddable such that more crunch can be added as desired.

Currently running a Shadowrun campaign in this. So glad there's a system that I can use for it now, since Shadowrun's own system has always been so unworkable.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cities Without Number
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The Lazy DM's Workbook
Publisher: SlyFlourish
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 11:30:50

A treasure trove of GM materials that are small and shot enough to be manageable and rememberable but full and nuanced enough to prevent things from getting repetitive. Great book to keep by your gaming table.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lazy DM's Workbook
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Winter's Daughter (5th Edition Version)
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 11:28:15

Great adventure location. Lots of things to play with, interesting folks to meet, hijinks and shenanigans to get up to. Very OSR / sandboxy, not a linear "adventure" at all.

It's got interesting greater world hooks for anyone interested in the (currently publishing / fulfilling the Kickstarter) Dolmenwood setting, as well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Winter's Daughter (5th Edition Version)
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Lorn Song of the Bachelor
Publisher: Hydra Cooperative
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 10:54:31

No wonder that this adventure put Zedeck Siew on the indy RPG map. It's so good.

A great non-Western, native take on southeast Asian folklore and fantasy in an easy-to-understand and flavorful package. He imparts so much of the culture and the vibe through simple tables and descriptions, without ever needing to go on a lengthy diatribe.

The bachelor is such a great villain, divided against himself, striving for godhood, physically and metaphysically tied to the land. Mythic. Yet still approachable for adventurers.

Note that this is a sandbox, not an adventure path. There's no linear path for the game to follow. It's an exciting and tense powderkeg for the players to light fire to however they want. Siew gives a few suggestions for directions the PCs may wish to go at the end, but the choice is theirs.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lorn Song of the Bachelor
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Cloud Empress: Last Voyage of the Bean Barge
Publisher: worlds by watt
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 10:32:05

It runs so well. I can't emphasize how much it gives the GM to help keep and maintain the pace. The variety of the interesting mysteries of various NPCs on the ship, as well the the intrinsic and escalating danger of the environment, chef's kiss. It even has a real-life timer so you can keep the action flowing and ensure a single session playtime. Truly one of the only "one-shots" that actually delivers on that premise.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cloud Empress: Last Voyage of the Bean Barge
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Nightmare Over Ragged Hollow
Publisher: The Merry Mushmen
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 09:33:06

A great little starter OSR setting with good fun connections and hooks, and a great little central "dungeon", which actually makes sense in it's totality. Everything fits together and tells interwoven stories.

It's a powderkeg full of potential and has a fantastic doom clock if the PCs do nothing, so even players not used to the OSR / sandbox style of play will have enough of a "pull" to investigate the central mystery / mysteries and not feel too aimless.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nightmare Over Ragged Hollow
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Augmented Reality PLUS
Publisher: Geist Hack Games
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 09:26:02

An absolutely amazing collection of flavorful bits and tables that will help you SO MUCH in creating an evocative and full cyberpunk world.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Augmented Reality PLUS
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The Tomb of Black Sand
Publisher: Swordfish Islands
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 09:19:21

This is a fantastic adventure location, with a great connected thread of logic and interwoven connections. Every NPC has a rich and realistic connection with every other NPC, with so much potential for interfering PC shenanigans. It even has a great TPK recovery potential, allowing the PCs to reawaken after losing initially as new potential sacrifices, and start over.

Like all the best adventure locations, it's a powder keg in a room full of fuses. It asks a little more of the GM to keep the connections in their head, so they know PCs doing X will probably affect Y, but not too much. It's so self-contained, and there's only a few people to keep track of.

I know some people complain about it not "telling the players what they're supposed to be doing," but I think this is just a misunderstanding of playstyles. This is not a traditional 5e linear adventure (or "adventure path"). It's more in the player-driven sandbox / OSR tradition, where it is a benefit to give the players the flexibility to determine their own goals. It gives a whole page of hooks to connect players and let's them loose, and it does it so well.

The only complaint I do share with others is that the richly interwoven meta-narrative could be better laid out more fully initially, so the reader doesn't have to hunt around in the book for the various pieces that fit together.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Tomb of Black Sand
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The Valley of Flowers
Publisher: Phantom Mill Games
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/10/2024 09:00:55

Deeply evocative and rich, a very unique and flavorful take on a classic fantasy setting (decline of the Round Table after Arthur's death).



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Valley of Flowers
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Cloud Empress: Land of Cicadas
Publisher: worlds by watt
by J C [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/09/2024 10:19:17

A fantastic hexcrawl sandbox full of wonderful powderkeg situations for enterprising adventurers to ignite, exploding wild adventure all over everyone.

The various powerful beings and factions the players can run into encompass a delightful gamut of weird and idiosyncratic far future life.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cloud Empress: Land of Cicadas
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