The second Zone Compendium for Mutant Year Zero does not simply take players to new shores, but far out to sea. Dead Blue Sea presents a zone that is not an old city ruin, but a region on the high seas with several islands, dilapidated drilling platforms, sea fortifications, ships and the like.
After a brief introduction to the scenario, the book begins with a chapter for players. This introduces two new mutations, Cryokinesis and Human Toad, and in particular provides additional rules for playing on high seas. There are rules for swimming and drowning, a new look at weapons, as harpoon guns and rifles are more the standard, and also, of course, new projects for the Ark, which floats on water here. Some examples of boats are covered and briefly presented in terms of rules, and here too, they are usually vehicles that have been cobbled together from scrap parts. Traveling at sea is also somewhat different from exploring zones on land: there is a new skill called Navigate, which is available to Navigators (the replacement for Stalkers). One factor that plays a major role at sea is the wind, which can help sailboats reach their destination more quickly, but causes entirely different problems at storm level. Another new feature is that rot is handled differently because, unlike adventures on land, rot is mobile here and can increase and decrease in zones.
This introduction is followed by the game master's section, which begins with instructions on how to create sectors and provides corresponding random tables for wind, threat level, ruins, red, etc. It then introduces different types of ruins at sea, ranging from drifting containers to ghost ships and old oil rigs. With the new sectors come new threats, and here the book provides a number of suggestions and finds a few tie-ins to the Titan power Noatun. But the chapter is also rounded off with slave hunters, bandits and, in particular, new monsters, including extreme variants such as the Kraken.
The special zone sectors, of which several variants are described here, are more specific. There is an island with a harbor that is inhabited by slave hunters, a functioning oil field that is claimed by a Titan power, or a floating city that can significantly change the balance of power in the sector. There is also a kind of monster-filled dungeon, the ghost ship, which also has a lot of potential for players.
A few new artifacts, mainly vehicles and other things, are added, and there is a brief description of how the metaplot around Eden can also be played at sea. Dead Blue Sea is a very exciting Zone Compendium in that it changes the game significantly. Although the core concepts of Mutant Year Zero remain the same, there is a big difference between trying to survive in dilapidated, ruined cities and fighting for survival on the high seas between islands and the dangers of the ocean.
Unsurprisingly, Dead Blue Sea is reminiscent of Water World in some places, as here the mutants encounter enemies who still roam the sea with jet skis and motorboats and hunt for slaves. So if you have either exhausted the normal background of Mutant Year Zero or have an affinity for maritime themes, this is a good starting point for a campaign at sea. However, you will probably have to improvise some aspects yourself. Nevertheless, Dead Blue Sea is an exciting addition to Mutant Year Zero for those who want to experience the post-apocalypse at sea.
Mutants, prophets and other monsters - a Mephisto review
Lair of the Saurians
Lair of the Saurians is the first Zone Compendium to introduce several zone sectors for Mutant Year Zero. In contrast to the Zone Sector booklets, the book offers four of these special locations. It starts with the eponymous Lair of the Saurians, a lair where lizard-like mutants hide. This is followed by the Oracle of the Silver Eye, a mysterious prophet who resides in a high-tech capsule. Seeds of Evil is structured more as a scenario than a location, even if the events are linked to an old bathhouse. The book concludes with the Family Homestead, a seemingly idyllic suburban home with a family living as they did before the catastrophe.
The book is supplemented by a few brief notes on the subject of long journeys on large-scale maps, where the relevant sectors are much more expansive, as well as a series of random tables that can be used to generate monsters.
The four settings are well-chosen and offer variety, even if there is again the variant of the local tribe being threatened by a second power, so that the player characters have to choose sides. However, the sectors that offer their dark secrets are particularly convincing. Two of the scenarios can certainly pass as horror scenarios (subtle but no less convincing). In my opinion, the rules for the long journeys and the monster generator are just accessories, but I really liked three of the four zone sectors, and they offer an exciting addition to the player characters' zone. So if you still need exciting and dangerous places in the neighborhood of the Ark, you will find several approaches here.
The small booklet Denizens of the Sinkhole provides an additional zone sector for Mutant Year Zero. The idea of this setting is an area where the buildings have sunk into the ground, leaving only their tops sticking out. More mysteriously, however, lush greenery grows deep down in the old streets and a peaceful, harmonious tribe has formed, which the tribes living on the roofs view with suspicion.
As is usual for such zone sectors, the booklet briefly introduces the initial situation, selected characters, and background and offers some events and ideas. In addition, the book combines all of this with a dark secret, which can present the players with exciting adventures. This makes this zone sector a great little addition if you need more zones to populate your game campaign.
Another mysterious zone sector - a Mephisto review
The Doom Sphere
The Doom Sphere is a booklet that introduces another zone sector, this time revolving around a huge, spherical building where Ancients used to watch performances or competitions. But it is not without reason that this place is now called the Doom Sphere because even if secrets and treasures seem to be hidden here, this place is considered dangerous. Of course, this may be an incentive for player characters to take a closer look, and so this booklet introduces the place, its inhabitants and some of the events and conflicts that the players may become involved in.
As is common for such scenarios for Mutant Year Zero, there are starting points and story ideas provided here, but no elaborate adventure plot or defined goal for the players to achieve. How they interact with this zone sector is up to them. Even if Denizens of the Sinkhole provided a more challenging setting, in my view, this location definitely has potential for one or two gaming sessions.
The campaign The Path to Eden in the core rule book of Mutant Year Zero presented the player characters with the opportunity to board a rocket to leave the devastated post-apocalyptic Earth behind. This leads to the end of the campaign and refers to a planned expansion. Now, several years after the core rule book was published, the campaign volume Ad Astra has been released, which introduces the campaign based on this escape from Earth.
The sourcebook begins with an introduction that expands on the background and metaplot of the game, sheds some light on the activities of the Titan Powers outside of Earth, and introduces other projects of these great powers. This adds a few more background details to the world of Mutant Year Zero.
Even though Ad Astra is basically designed to tie in with the campaign from the core rule book, the book provides numerous suggestions as to where the player characters can alternatively find the opportunity to travel into space. Of course, they can also theoretically start the game directly there.
The new campaign begins on the space station Jotunheim—and leads from there through half the solar system. However, moving the setting to space changes some of the game's basics. Just like the zones on Earth, space is a dangerous place and constantly harbors deadly risks. While the characters have their home base on the Ark in the basic setting, here it is their spaceship that serves as their home. However, the characters are space travelers by chance and must quickly realize that despite the seemingly high-tech setting, everything here also decays, breaks down, and can become useless.
In Ad Astra, the player characters have a central goal, as the Jotunheim station, which is their first port of call, will not be able to survive for long without their help. Starting from this initial situation, the book leads through the campaign in several chapters. Upon arriving in Jotunheim, the characters are confronted with the major problems of the space station, which is threatened with destruction. As the player characters have arrived at the station on a rocket, they are selected as suitable candidates for a space mission to save Jotunheim. But before they get started, they first have to repair an old, broken ship, which then serves as a base and vehicle for the player characters. Of course, there is a lot to discover and experience on the space station as a new setting, and so smaller missions, locations and people are introduced in the usual way of Mutant Year Zero.
The next stopovers depend on the decisions of the player characters. For example, a possible destination may be to visit the moon to procure helium-3 or to follow their primary trail towards Mars or the asteroid belt before finally heading to Jupiter for the finale.
While the start and end points of the campaign are fixed, the stations in between are flexible and offer the strange to bizarre settings typical for Mutant Year Zero, which are sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, but always have surprises in store. However, no more should be mentioned here to avoid spoilers. For the other locations, too, you will find profiles of the most important characters, descriptions of the locations, the usual overview map, and various scenario ideas that the player characters can follow. All locations offer a mixture of high-tech and decay so that the players are confronted with strange robots, alien mutants, fierce power struggles, intrigues, and more. The setting utilizes all the character types from the various Mutant Year Zero books: thus, in addition to normal humans and mutants, mutated animals and robots can also be found here as non-player characters.
The grand finale finally takes place on Jupiter, and here the player characters will once again have to make far-reaching and momentous decisions.
Basically, the campaign is well-developed and fits into the metaplot. As is usual for Mutant Year Zero, it mainly describes the situation and possibilities of the locations without offering concrete, detailed adventures with a pre-planned course. It is up to the players to decide how they want to deal with the situations.
In addition to this background, there are some new rules that deal with weightlessness in space, introduce a new role, namely the pilot, and also modify the use of skills in space. There are also a few new talents and mutations that fit the setting, as well as further rules-related information on spaceships, events in space, and, finally, space combat. Corresponding random tables provide scenario approaches, and additional equipment is also presented.
It is important for the group composition that the role of the Gearhead is actually of central importance, if not indispensable, for Ad Astra, as repairs to the spaceship or spacesuits have to be carried out time and again. The focus here is also more on the condition of the spaceship, while the resources known from Mutant Year Zero—grub and water—are no longer relevant. The equipment and the setting are much more high-tech, but here, too, the decay ensures that the post-apocalyptic flair is maintained.
The book concludes with a short tour of other locations in the solar system that play no role in the official campaign but offer hooks for additional sessions, such as Mercury, Venus, or the moons of Saturn.
Ad Astra thus offers an exciting and comprehensive campaign that should be enough for many game sessions and introduces a new setting that offers new perspectives without leaving the core ideas of Mutant Year Zero behind. The new setting also shifts the atmosphere of the game a good deal. It makes a significant difference whether you are a survivor of the apocalypse fighting for survival in ruined zones or flying your spaceship through the decaying legacy of a high-tech civilization through the solar system.
From my point of view, Ad Astra is a campaign that is well suited if the classic setting has been exhausted by the gaming group and the player characters literally want to set off for new (and quite distant) shores. The book is well-written, offers exciting and quirky ideas, and is beautifully and coherently illustrated, making it the perfect opportunity for gaming groups who intend to delve into the ruined depths of space and face new dangers and risks.
The apocalypse is raging, but some of the powers involved have decided that they would rather enjoy life and the pleasures of a corporeal existence than contribute to the end of the world. These so-called Defiant defy the apocalypse by creating domains in individual cities that are spared the ravages of doom. Of course, the horrors of the end of the world are also trying to penetrate these domains, but the Defiant have found ways to block out these threats using apocalyptic seals. However, these seals, called Sephira, impose rules on the Defiant of the domain, forming the core of their hierarchical society that they now use to rule their cities. Meanwhile, humanity has no idea that the world outside is ending.
The Defiant are renegade Angels, rebellious Daevas, terrifying Leviathans, and escaped Infernals who, in an unusual alliance, are trying to put a stop to the apocalypse, at least locally. The angels were supposed to drive the apocalypse forward, but they have betrayed their mission because they have begun to enjoy their corporeal existence. The Daevas are the old gods who were banished to Earth and allied themselves with the angels. The titanic Leviathans existed before humanity and were supposed to bring great destruction, while the Infernals escaped hell when the walls of their prison crumbled with the onset of the end of the world. In a surprising alliance, these four groups have found a way to protect individual cities from chaos with the apocalyptic Sephira seals. However, the humans are unaware of the doom raging around them due to an effect called Carnival. However, the forces of the apocalypse are unwilling to let individual domains escape their fate, and so the so-called Horsemen are constantly trying to break through the Sephira's defenses to destroy these renegade regions.
If the background already sounds literally apocalyptic, the Defiant role-playing game differs from other dark or urban fantasy systems in many ways, be it through the background, the game mechanics, and, above all, the themes addressed in the game.
Anyone expecting Defiant to be a game in which powerful supernatural beings with epic powers battle against their truly apocalyptic opponents and thus fight against the end of the world will be surprised and probably disappointed. Those expecting lists of incredibly powerful abilities or deadly opponents will not find them here, either. And even though the apocalypse provides the background to the setting, it remains in the background. The idea of Defiant is less about fighting the apocalyptic forces and more about the player characters trying to enjoy their existence, getting caught up in intrigues and other problems, often of their own making.
Indeed, in a sense, the Defiant are the rich and beautiful, whose lives revolve around power, parties, and social interactions. The catch, however, is that the Defiant social order is complicated and divided into strict hierarchies. The so-called Royalty, the lords and ladies who rule over their courts of subordinates and courtiers, is the level at which the player characters play. This means that they are not only superior to humans, but also occupy a high position among the Defiant. However, there are other Defiant even ruling them. At the top of the hierarchy is the Hierophant, who is fused with the Sephira and is therefore the absolute ruler of the domain. Archons and Executors are subordinate to him, who take care of the day-to-day administration and ensure that the rules of the Sephira are adhered to. One level below them are the Princepses, who rule over provinces whose associated courts are run by the Royals — including the player characters.
The hierarchical society is shaped by the Sephira because, in order for the apocalyptic seals to hold and protect their domains from the forces of the apocalypse, rules set by the Sephira must be strictly adhered to — even if they can be strange, cruel, perverse or at least annoying from a human perspective. At the same time, the Defiant can never leave their cities because if they leave the protection of the Sephira behind, they will never be able to escape the apocalypse. So they have to do everything possible to keep the seals strong — and to make their existence trapped in their domains as comfortable as possible. There is no global conspiracy or organization, but each city is an individual microcosm and prison of the Defiant. However, unless the individual rules of the city's Sephira state otherwise, there is no general rule or principle that states that the Defiant must hide their true nature or abilities among mortals.
Defiant offers four basic character concepts: Angels, Daevas, Leviathans and Infernals. The Angels are renegades who have turned their backs on their intended plan. They were perfect soldiers, but the sensuality of their physical existence has corrupted them. The Daevas are ancient deities of various pantheons who have been banished to Earth, and each has an affinity with their symbolic animal. The Leviathans are titanic monsters of destruction like dragons, but with the apocalypse, they first awoke in a kind of human larval stage. The Infernals were banished to hell for their sins, but they have now escaped this terrible prison. While there are four basic types of Defiant, these are further divided into so-called houses. Each Defiant type is presented with three different houses, each with their own rules and perspectives. For example, the Daevas of House Akhto are influenced by the Aztlan gods and have a rule that the rulership changes between day and night. The infernal bloodline of House Black expects its members to have a parallel human career, as they are former Infernals of Pain. Players take on the role of Lords and Ladies among the Defiant and thus run their own court. This means that players not only work out their own character, but also the court with courtiers and domain, each of which plays an important role in the game.
The character creation itself works via cards that are distributed among the players, from which the players select cards to define their characters. There are Personal Theme Cards, House Cards, Marital Cards, Court Cards and Holding Cards. Players draw several origin-specific and generic Origin Cards, choose a House Card, and then draw Marital, Court and Holding Cards and choose from these. The origin-specific Origin Cards define the basic character type, i.e., Angel, Daeva, Leviathan or Infernal, with three variants for each type. The players then select characteristics from the card and receive questions, special rules and problems. Angels of the Ardent, for example, have a special connection to the Sephira, which shapes their questions and special rules. The questions represent special insights of the characters, which they can also use to shape scenes. For example, a Primordial Leviathan can ask what has the highest value in a scene — and the game master must answer the question. To achieve this, however, the player character must spend so-called Shards as a connection to the Sephira. The questions are less about the answers and more about bringing an aspect into play that drives the story forward and provides starting points for the players by defining certain elements the players are interested in. The other personal theme cards further differentiate the character. If a player chooses Wealth, for example, they get more special rules and questions such as “How can you buy the others?”. However, the player also has the problem that his wealth puts him in danger. The House Cards define an affiliation with a house, which binds the character to certain traditions. The Marital Cards define the character's spouse, the Court Cards the characteristics of his court and the Holding Cards important resources of his domain. Each card offers further decisions and possibilities.
There are no numerical game statistics for the characters, which is another special feature of the game mechanics. All character attributes are rather descriptive aspects. Any test, called a Challenge, starts with 3d6. Bonuses and penalties are calculated based on the character's characteristics, the opponent's weaknesses or advantages, additional help and weaknesses of the character. If a player achieves more bonuses than penalties, each bonus increases a die by one level from d6 to d8 to d10. Every 5 rolled is a success; every 1 means problems. Higher dice are, therefore, much more promising. Players can also use shards to get another d8. While 1 or 2 successes on the test are a success with a catch, 3 or even 4 successes are considerable achievements. The lower success levels have a price, the player is confronted with a decision or has a condition for the success. In addition to the Challenges, there are also Endeavors, which represent the characters' larger projects. For Endeavors, points are collected step by step with tests until the goal is reached (or missed) at some point. This means that the characters' larger projects are an integral part of the game. The rules describe in detail, using examples, when each system should be used. If a character wants to get rid of a bouncer, for example, he can simply throw him away — normal people have no chance here, so no test is necessary. If a character intends to make his domain known by staging one of his courtiers in a gladiator fight, this is a Challenge. The rules for Endeavor are used, e.g., to open a new, secret nightclub.
However, other game concepts are more important than the dice mechanisms. Each character has a partner. As marriages are a political matter, a love relationship is the exception rather than the rule. Aspects such as a competing relationship, an inappropriate partnership, or someone without the experience to run a court lay the foundation for stories. The court itself is also chosen via the cards — perhaps it is a court with competing groups, perhaps the court is actually run by a deputy — each choice can bring advantages and disadvantages. What is certain, however, is that the choice will make the game interesting. The Marital and Court Cards therefore inevitably bring non-player characters and story hooks into play.
In addition to these basic rules, the book is dedicated to the campaign structure, which is described schematically. Like a series, a campaign consists of seasons, while an episode requires 1-2 game sessions and should have two storylines. The game master is also introduced to concepts such as mirrors (characters that reflect the characteristics of the player characters) and the inevitable secrets. All these rule concepts are presented in a Basic and an Advanced variant. The Expert rules have been announced for an expansion. Depending on the variant chosen, the different concepts are more or less elaborated, which can also be reflected in the preparation time of the game sessions.
To start the game, the book provides the Bridgewood Boulevard province as a setting, including characters, courts, intrigues, secrets, and starting points. Two elaborate scenarios provide an introduction and show typical stories for Defiant.
The illustrations, created from modified stock photos and with a consistent style, emphasize what Defiant is all about. This is about playing superhuman characters who are the rich, beautiful and powerful of the city on the one hand, and tangled up in secrets, projects, and intrigue on the other. The fact that the illustration shows a lot of skin and lingerie underlines the focus of the game.
With the courts of the player characters and their spouses alone, the setting provides dozens of starting points for stories that can simply develop through the player characters. Defiant could be described as an urban fantasy soap opera because sex, jealousy, revenge, and envy are at the heart of the game. In the examples, texts and images, the combat scenarios so typical of role-playing games hardly play a role, while the game is about seduction, parties (and the odd orgy) and seeing and being seen.
A practical feature for game master is that the electronic version of the rulebook comes with a whole arsenal of documents. In addition to the extensive rulebook, which is available twice in an additional form optimized for eBook readers, there are mini rulebooks and overview pages to keep an eye on the most important concepts or to give to the players. The disadvantage is that you may have to print out the cards for character generation.
Defiant is a fascinating game, precisely because it takes a different approach to other role-playing games in many areas. Of course, concepts such as themes from the World of Darkness or aspects and mechanisms from Powered by the Apocalypse or Fate are also reflected here, but it is the consistent approach of focusing the game on interpersonal interactions and creating an urban fantasy soap opera with sex and intrigue that makes Defiant special. The court and partnerships give players more than just a single character to focus on, and with the ideas on the cards, they can be in for some interesting times. Defiant is not a game for every gaming group. If you want to level up your character, need defined skills and powers, and are hoping for battles with the apocalyptic Horsemen, you are in the wrong place. However, if you aim to rule over a court in a world of decadent Angels, Daevas, Leviathans and Infernals, let off steam in intrigues and personal projects, and focus on social interactions, you will find a fitting system here. And unsurprisingly, the game introduces standard safe-play mechanisms such as Lines and Veils and the X-Card and sees these as necessary game elements.
Even though Defiant will need the right group of players to work, the authors have created a system and a game world here that breaks new and exciting ground. With the dice mechanism and the inevitable entanglements of your own court, Defiant has, in my opinion, enormous narrative potential (given the right players). The illustrations match the setting and convey a coherent style. The book presents its concepts in detail and takes a lot of time to teach the game master the necessary tricks. Only the structure of the book is not always ideal, in my opinion, as the background, rules, and gameplay sometimes mix too much — but the additional handouts help you understand the unusual concepts.
So if you're looking for an urban fantasy soap about fallen angels, ancient deities, monstrous creatures, and escaped beings from hell whose existence revolves around parties and intrigue and who rule over a small court, you will find the right game here. In short, it's more about social interaction than combat or quests. And for those who are still unsure, Defiant Awakening is a free starter pack to take a closer look at the system and setting. Even though only Angels and Daeva are introduced here, this book provides a good first insight.
From monsters to characters and back again - a Mephisto review
Sabbat: The Black Hand
If there is one sourcebook for Vampire V5 that is at best controversial in current discussions, it is Sabbat: The Black Hand. As with other books and concepts in the fifth edition, this sect is significantly changed regarding systems and background. In some respects, the game returns to its beginnings. If you look at how the Sabbat as one of the major sects in Vampire: The Masquerade has developed over the editions since the beginning, you can see that the sect has been slightly reinterpreted with each edition.
In the first edition, the Sabbat or the Black Hand was only touched on as a horror story to scare player characters, where you learn little more than that Sabbat vampires are evil and dangerous. The second edition of Vampire went a significant step further in this respect, with the Player's Guide to the Sabbat not only introducing this sect, but also making it playable. By the third edition, at the latest, Sabbat vampires were integrated into the setting on an equal footing with Camarilla vampires. The background of the Sabbat was expanded further and further, becoming more and more complex with concepts such as the Black Hand sub-sect, which then became entangled with entirely different power groups and metaplot intrigues. As in the first edition, for Vampire V5, the term Black Hand became again just an alternative name for the Sabbat and no longer a sub-sect in its own right.
But back to the current edition: A lot has happened in the Vampire V5 timeline lately. Thanks to the Beckoning, the elder vampires are moving to other places, apparently to take part in the Gehenna War. This development has also affected the Sabbat. In addition, the Lasombra clan has surprisingly left the sect and joined the Camarilla, at least as far as the influential members are concerned. As a result of these changes, the Sabbat has lost many of its domains, and indeed, most of the sect's vampires are drawn to the sites of the Gehenna War. While the Sabbat once had organized cities under its control, these domains now serve at best as temporary bases to find resources, especially new vampires and food. Cities that are permanently controlled by the Sabbat are practically non-existent, as the sect's vampires are constantly on the move.
The mentality and organization of the Sabbat are also redefined in this book. While the earlier version of the Sabbat still had complex hierarchical structures from the Regent down to individual packs, in the new edition, the pack (the counterpart to the coterie), is the only relevant form of organization. The Sabbat therefore operates in groups of a few vampires who work together, led by the so-called Priest. Here, too, there is a simplification in that the dual role of leadership within the pack has been reduced to one person. As the Pack Priest is now also the leader, all packs focus on a common path of revelation (see below).
Although formal titles such as Bishop and Archbishop still exist, and even the Regent is still mentioned as a title, these positions are vaguely outlined and, in some cases, not filled at all. Another innovation is the importance the book places on the paths of enlightenment. Since the actions of Sabbat vampires cannot be reconciled with humanity, the paths, as inhuman moral codes, are supposed to keep the beast in check for Sabbat vampires. While the paths have always been an important aspect of the rules for Sabbat vampires, their significance will be further adjusted for Vampire V5.
The existing paths are reduced to significantly fewer options, and a path that is popular among the thin-blooded is newly introduced. A significant change is, however, that within packs, all members generally follow a common path that influences their actions. While the Cathari are hedonistic seducers, the followers of the Path of Caine appear as diableristic lone wolves. In fact, the paths, and therefore the vampires that follow them, are described in a much more inhuman way, so you get the feeling that these vampires can barely interact with humans. This is toned down a little in the later chapters. For each path, it is indicated how it behaves in encounters with player characters, i.e., how the corresponding packs of the path behave during preparatory scouting, during a full siege, or when dominating a domain. There are also several profiles for characters.
What is also special is that Sabbat vampires define themselves almost exclusively by their path, and clans play no role in the Sabbat, as belonging to a clan represents a connection to the hated Antediluvians. In fact, the Sabbat's main mission is to destroy the treacherous Antediluvians to gain the favor of Caine, whom they see as the perfect vampire. Sabbat: The Black Hand devotes a lot of space to the question of how Sabbat vampires think and how they differ from regular vampires in that they are much more inhuman. My impression is that the book not only tries to bring these aspects closer to the reader by repeating them over and over again, but also likes to use the same formulations and images, such as the comparison to sharks.
Sabbat: The Black Hand is clearly designed as a game master resource. This means that the new version of the book in no way envisages players taking on the role of Sabbat vampires, but clearly makes them non-player characters. Accordingly, while the paths are described in terms of their ideas and alignments, they are not backed up with rule mechanics to replace the regular system of humanity.
The only rule material is some additions to the discipline powers, which, depending on their disposition, might also be suitable for Camarilla or Anarch vampires, but on the other hand, often use dark powers that would endanger the humanity of the player characters accordingly. The new discipline powers only take up eight pages of the book. This is followed by the so-called Ritae, which were already present in previous editions of the book. These rites describe the various practices of the Sabbat, from the Vaulderie, i.e., the communal blood blond of a pack, to the creation rites and the like. These sections also contain a brief hint on how to incorporate these rites into your chronicle, but do not include any rule mechanisms. The player characters should either only witness these rites or have to deal with their effects. This means that the rites provide interesting descriptions but have an entirely different significance than they had in the days when player characters could play Sabbat vampires. The various titles of the sect are also touched on, and some illustrious personalities are mentioned in very short sections, whereby at least some signature characters of the earlier editions are mentioned here.
It is not until late in the book that it finally turns to the Gehenna War, and it is only at this point in the book that the history of the Sabbat's origins and some of its background are explained. The book also takes a look at several regions, such as Mexico City, Brazil, Russia, the Maghreb states, and Alamut in the form of in-game texts. However, these descriptions are presented in such a way that, at best, they convey a mood but, in no case, any concrete information. Anyone hoping for answers about the Gehenna War will learn nothing essential.
There is a storyteller chapter at the end, where various elements are described for incorporating the Sabbat into a chronicle, be it as a siege or as an infiltration of the sect. In addition, some narrative techniques are explained, as well as some approaches to combining the Sabbat with the Second Inquisition, for example. These different techniques and elements provide a few more ideas for incorporating the Sabbat into the game. Again, I felt the book was a little inconsistent, as in many places, Sabbat vampires are described as not being able to really interact with vampires or humans at all. However, the scenario in which Sabbat vampires infiltrate the city and try to convert other vampires to their cause is, in my view, a much more fitting approach for Vampire than the combat-oriented sieges.
That the Sabbat sourcebook will divide opinion is probably an understatement. On the one hand, the book chooses an interesting way to simplify the sect and consistently develop it further. The new Sabbat bears much less resemblance to the Camarilla. The more nomadic packs that only occasionally take over cities and devote all their attention to the Gehenna War fit the Sabbat's alignment, even if this transformation comes relatively suddenly and is not really described or explained in detail. Nevertheless, the whole background of these vampires facing off against the Antediluvians, whom they see as a dangerous threat, is quite coherent.
On the other hand, players will be put off by the fact that, after many years in which Sabbat vampires were a game option, this possibility has been censored out because Sabbat vampires are suddenly too strange or dark for players. Of course, Sabbat campaigns have always run the risk of degenerating into violent splatter orgies. However, the third edition sourcebooks in particular have shown perspectives on playing the Sabbat as an exciting, intriguing, and dangerous sect. And indeed, the concept of the Sabbat vampires facing off against the overpowering ancestors and Antediluvians is also a coherent option for player vampires. On the other hand, it can, of course, be argued that the Sabbat vampires here (as in the first edition) should appear as mysterious opponents who are not available to players in order to create a counterpoint.
Of course, this means that the usual information on clans, disciplines, etc. falls by the wayside, as this is not a playable option. So anyone hoping for the so-called anti-clans and their disciplines will be disappointed. In fact, clans no longer play a role in the Sabbat, which is a very intriguing approach and a plausible interpretation of this sect. While I think that those who really want to play Sabbat vampires should be able to find their own way from the existing material or, if need be, resort to alternative supplements in the Storyteller's Vault, this limitation is still what did not convince me about the book. While there is a strong attempt to emphasize the perspective and strangeness of the Sabbat vampires, the book often remains extremely vague otherwise. Neither the development that led to the disappearance of the Lasombra and the complete reorganization of this sect is described, nor do we really learn anything concrete about the Gehenna War. Of course, it can be argued that this keeps secrets for which each Storyteller can find their own truth, but this leaves the material vague at best and could have been summarized even shorter than the 130 pages. I could have done without dozens of example profiles for Sabbat vampires, for example.
In short, I think Sabbat: The Black Hand offers some very exciting approaches. The new Sabbat stands out because it is clearly different from the Camarilla and the Anarch sects, and thus provides a consistent alternative. However, I find it lacking in usable material for the chronicle, and the fact that the Sabbat is primarily dedicated to the hotspots of the Gehenna War and otherwise only gives minor and short-term importance to Anarch and Camarilla cities makes it much more irrelevant as a threat. Sabbat: The Black Hand thus offers a few interesting ideas, but often remains too vague and is therefore not an essential sourcebook. Players hoping for a playable sect or expecting further metaplot elements similar to Cult of the Blood Gods to appear will definitely not enjoy this new form of sect. In the end, the book remains dispensable in my view and only relevant for a few gaming groups.
The resistance movements in World War 2 are the subject of the sourcebook Vive la Résistance!, which opens up new character options, opponents, allies, and game scenarios for Achtung! Cthulhu. The book begins with a brief introduction to the world of Achtung! Cthulhu, which is redundant to the basic rule book. It then introduces the thematic background of the resistance movements. In doing so, the book presents resistance fighters as potentially heroic characters who are heavily outmatched by their opponents, but also points out that this background includes sensitive issues of real war topics. Therefore, the usual security mechanisms at the gaming table, such as lines and veils, are also briefly introduced here.
The first chapter provides a concise outline of the resistance movements during the World War 2. While the focus here is on France, Poland, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, but also Germany and Italy are referenced. In its condensed form, this chapter provides a quick overview of the respective resistance movements and their development, but mainly touches on names, a few dates, and some basic information.
The following chapter on character creation is more detailed: With Assassin, Resistance Leader, Saboteur, and more, there are five new archetypes that can be combined with additional backgrounds and characteristics. In addition, there are further talents, so that the character options (including regular character creation) are generally expanded. Accordingly, the following chapter introduces new enemies and allies — both in the form of selected individual characters and archetype templates.
Demons, which may only be manifestations of the mythos or possibly something else entirely, are given a special place here. These entities are also taken up in the magic chapter, which introduces the new magic school of Demonology with various spells. These can be used to summon demons or unleash demonic powers.
There is also a chapter on equipment, which contains both everyday items and unusual, experimental equipment. To provide the game master with material, there are tables that can be used to roll dice and add details to missions. There are also five specific locations that can serve as a backdrop for missions, consisting of a hook, maps, and options for secondary objectives or complications. From a gala in a museum to an attack on a train station, these missions cover a broad spectrum.
Vive la Résistance! primarily expands the character backgrounds with additional options and a slightly different style of play. In addition, Demonology adds an unusual branch of magic. Enemies, allies, and missions also provide the game master with a toolbox. Vive la Résistance! can also be a good addition to the game if you do not want to shift the focus to resistance movements but use the additional material for regular agents. In fact, the Resistance setting feels more removed from the Mythos and focuses more on the war theme, as the main focus here seems to be against the invaders and only secondarily against the Mythos.
Opinions will also disagree on Demonology. On the one hand, this type of magic opens up more possibilities for the player characters, but on the other hand, classic demons do not fit in well with the cosmic horror of the Mythos. My impression here is that the intention was to give the resistance fighters a magical weapon without having to use the same corrupt Mythos powers as their opponents. I find this approach a bit black and white, also because the demons are portrayed purely as magical tools and not as corrupting evil.
The characters are also portrayed in a somewhat clichéd way and, for example, like to make use of the image of the attractive young French woman (either heavily armed or as a femme fatale in an evening dress).
Anyone who likes the new pulp approach of Achtung! Cthulhu will probably find these elements coherent, and also overlook the fact that the real oppression of the civilian population by fascist regimes during World War 2 is the subject of the game, which is certainly not for everyone's taste.
Operation Talisman leaves the theater of war in Europe behind and leads agents of Majestic into the war into the Pacific in 1942. In the Philippines, the Americans are retreating from the Japanese invasion. However, rumors of unnatural attacks and supernatural shockwaves make it necessary to infiltrate enemy territory with a small team during the ongoing retreat in order to gather information and — if possible — recover artifacts. The agents for this mission are available as ready-made player characters who are well integrated into the setting and have to get behind enemy lines and gather information on their own. In addition to the dangers posed by the jungle and enemy patrols, it soon becomes clear that sinister forces are indeed at work…
Operation Talisman shifts the setting of Achtung! Cthulhu to the Pacific and places Majestic agents in the foreground, so that the ready-made characters can be helpful here. The characters face a tough expedition that confronts them with the dangers and horrors of war until they uncover the cthulhoid conspiracy. The challenge for the players is to decide when it is better to just gather information and when they should intervene, as the enemy forces outnumber them.
Operation Talisman offers an action-packed adventure that also addresses critical issues such as war crimes against the civilian population, bringing real war atrocities to the gaming table. Players also have to decide when to observe and when to intervene, which can change the adventure considerably. Apart from that, Operation Talisman revolves around a classic, tough operation against the forces of the Mythos in World War 2.
For Achtung! Cthulhu, another free little sourcebook, has been published, which, as the title suggests, turns out to be a cookbook. Eat for Victory! contains four recipes, which are basically normal cooking recipes, but some ingredients have been adapted to the Cthulhu setting. Harissa squid, for example, is described here as Harissa Cthulhu, although it is stated that Cthulhu tentacles can also be replaced by normal squid. There is also a Moroccan almond cake, a cocktail and, as a fourth recipe, locusts prepared in mirin.
Even if the idea of a cookbook is interesting (other role-playing games have already gone down a similar path), the recipes here present somewhat difficult choices, as the grasshoppers are unlikely to be a suitable recipe for most readers, and many will not even dare to try squid.
In itself, the idea of the cookbook is nice, but simply using existing recipes from the Internet and only adapting the name and the description of an ingredient to the Cthulhu setting offers little added value for the game, so this book is only suitable for collectors who really want to have read everything about Achtung! Cthulhu - on the other hand, it's for free...
After being frowned upon as a horror scenario for a long time, the zombie apocalypse has become again a popular theme in the horror genre for many years. One TV series that has both benefited from and fueled this trend is The Walking Dead, which revolves around the survivors of a zombie apocalypse in the USA. After computer games set against the backdrop of The Walking Dead, a role-playing game for this setting has now been released.
As with the zombie genre in general, although the walking dead appear to be the primary threat, it is the interactions with the other survivors that can be much more dangerous, as the fall of civilization does not always bring out the best in people.
With The Walking Dead Universe role-playing game, Fria Ligan has bought another license for a film or series universe and published a corresponding starter set in addition to the core rule book for getting started. The starter set consists of two booklets, a rule book and a scenario booklet, as well as ready-made characters and cards. In terms of rules, The Walking Dead uses the Year Zero game system, in which players roll six-sided dice, and every six rolled is a success. Attributes and skills define the dice pool and suitable tools can increase this dice pool even further. Players also have the option of pushing a roll, which allows them to repeat the roll to increase their chances. This involves re-rolling all dice that were previously unsuccessful. However, the character takes a stress point for this, which also directly adds a stress die to the roll. Stress points can also be accumulated in other ways (e.g. lack of food, attacks by walkers, terrible experiences), and each stress point adds one stress die to the pool. On the one hand, stress dice increase the chance of success, but on the other hand, they carry a risk, as every one rolled on a stress die causes complications and problems.
There are also other special dice that are used by the game master in particular, such as rolls with d66 or d666 for random tables, or the so-called double high or double low dice, where two d6s are rolled and then the higher or lower value is taken.
The Walking Dead role-playing game uses four attributes and twelve skills, with three skills being assigned to each attribute. The skills are adapted to the scenario and include things like combat, but also scouting and survival in the wilderness as well as social interactions. As you would expect for a role-playing game about the zombie apocalypse, combat is an important aspect of the rules. The rules differentiate between three combat situations. The so-called duels are fights between two opponents in which comparative tests are rolled between the two opponents. The winner of the comparative roll causes damage to the opponent. In game terms, this is not to be considered an exchange of individual blows, but as a longer combat sequence per roll. As humans only have three health points in The Walking Dead, they are already eliminated after three normal hits or even fewer heavy hits. In addition to the duels, there are the so-called brawls, which depict the classic combat scenario with several participants. What changes here is that the fight takes place in phases and a character must decide in which phase to act. The phases include searching for cover, ranged combat, close combat, movement, first aid, and other actions. The phasing means that characters with firearms, for example, act before melee fighters. As the characters only have three health points, there is a relatively high risk that they will be broken at the end of a fight, i.e., have no more health points. This means that, on the one hand, they are knocked out for a certain period of time, and, on the other, they have to roll d66 on a table for critical injuries. In addition to injuries such as shortness of breath, which means that they have a penalty for a few hours, the spectrum at the other end includes a heart attack with immediate fatal consequences.
As already mentioned, there are rules for stress, and of course, there is also the possibility of reducing stress. The idea here is that this is done through social interactions, in particular through the so-called Anchor, who is one of the other characters. By spending a little quiet time, the characters can reduce stress. The rule book also includes some rules for other threats, equipment, and, of course the third combat scenario: the fight against the undead. This is not a classic battle at all, as individual walkers play no role here. Instead, the walkers are grouped together in swarms and represented in game terms by the size of the swarm and the threat level. The threat level indicates the extent to which the undead have already noticed the player characters and are hunting them. Accordingly, rules are introduced on how players can avoid walkers or reduce the threat level, and how individual walker attacks that can be triggered by a high threat level are to be handled in terms of rules. Of course, the player characters also have the option of fighting a swarm. However, there is always the risk that the noise will attract more walkers. There is another d66 table for the walker attacks, which also includes harmless but nevertheless drastically described attacks, as well as attacks that mean a fatal and terrible end for the characters.
One concept in The Walking Dead is that the game can be played in two modes: the so-called Survival Mode and the Campaign Mode. Survival mode is designed for the player characters to play a single adventure — with pre-made characters if necessary. The level of threat is correspondingly high, as the characters are not part of a campaign, so it is quite possible that they will not survive the scenario in order to keep the horror level high.
With The Wolf's Den, the second booklet also contains a short survival scenario in which the player characters are part of a group of survivors, two of whom have deserted. The group sets out to find the missing and recover the stolen resources. The scenario takes place in three locations. First, the player characters have to find some clues and then search two locations. The locations are each provided with a map and short descriptions of the houses, and they offer some starting points to keep the player characters busy. At the second location, the player characters also have to face a threat that fits in well with the Walking Dead setting. Nevertheless, there are no elaborate scenes here, just starting points with which players and gamemasters have to tackle the story, which is described in a compact 20-page booklet.
The Wolf's Den is perfectly suitable for a first foray into the world of The Walking Dead and for trying out the rule mechanisms. In other systems by Fria Ligan, however, the introductory settings were much more exciting, and the really original scenes are missing here.
The set also includes three maps for the scenarios from the adventure, as well as corresponding overview maps of the Atlanta area for the campaign game. Two sets of ready-made characters round off the starter set. On the one hand, there are the ready-made characters for the survival scenario, which are integrated into the plot accordingly and are characterized by interaction between the characters (including the fact that each character brings their own personal secret with them). On the other hand, four characters from the series are included to be used as non-player characters, for example.
The role-playing game The Walking Dead has an exciting setting due to the series and the general zombie apocalypse, and the series can probably be used as a comprehensive treasure trove of ideas. The approach of focusing on the threat posed by the survivors and the interpersonal conflicts and tensions in addition to the fight against the undead is convincing. The rule mechanisms are coherent, and the approach to stress and the extremely deadly combat system also fit the setting perfectly. The introductory scenario is suitable for taking your first steps in the world of The Walking Dead, but it lacks some exciting or surprising elements that the starter sets of Alien or Blade Runner offered. Nevertheless, The Walking Dead Universe RPG Starter Set is a coherent introduction to the game world. Fans of the series or players who are still looking for a zombie apocalypse role-playing game will find a well-made horror role-playing game here.
The Lost Mountains Saga is another adventure book for the Vaesen role-playing game. The campaign comprises five individual adventures with several connecting elements. At the heart of it all is an ancient secret, traces of which are found in the form of unusual crystals in northern Scandinavia. However, the mine where these crystals were mined has been closed for a long time since an accident. Nevertheless, there are several parties that are following the trail of the crystals and have their own goals for these artifacts.
The book begins with a brief introduction that provides background information for the game master and presents the various people and power groups involved. The adventure Duty and Despair then gets straight down to business. In the first adventure, the player characters are asked by another member of society to help him investigate incidents in a mining town. When the player characters arrive there, they witness how the conflict between the miners and the town's reverend intensifies in the town. As usual for the Vaesen role-playing game, this is just one of the conflicts in the adventure. At its core, of course, it is once again about a vaesen that must be found to stop it and prevent a major catastrophe.
After this intro, the players have the opportunity in the second adventure, The Beginning of the Fall, to start some investigations on location in Uppsala. In the process, they discover that an influential industrialist and his young wife want to reopen an old mine in the north of the country that promises technical wonders. This allows the characters to immerse themselves in the larger story and find out more about their partner from the first adventure.
In the third adventure, Where the Sun Dies, the player characters are sent out to search for an island where contact with the local community has been lost during the winter, and an icy and deadly threat awaits them.
The fourth adventure, The Prince and the Witch, is again set near Uppsala. Here, the player characters have to help free some people from the clutches of the so-called Prince, who lives deep in the forest.
At the end, the eponymous adventure The Lost Mountain Saga leads to the heart of the story and the grand finale, where the various storylines are brought together, and the final confrontation takes place.
Without revealing more about the content of the adventures in detail, it can be said that the stories are woven together in such a way that, although they are part of a larger campaign, the connecting threads are often not clearly visible to the player characters at first. The players will probably only recognize the connections at the end, which in my view, is more of an advantage than a disadvantage. In fact, this campaign could also be combined with other adventures, thus building up the themes very subtly.
The individual adventures are designed quite differently. They range from the introductory adventure, which classically follows the basic Vaesen pattern, to the city adventure in Uppsala with its many investigative approaches and social interactions, to the survival adventure and the grand finale, the course of which also depends on the players' decisions.
In my opinion, The Lost Mountains Saga is an excellent campaign for Vaesen with five varied adventures in which the players will probably not recognize the common story elements at first, increasing the tension. Even though the core of the campaign revolves around larger secrets, it is only at the end that it becomes clear what is at stake. The well-written and coherently illustrated book thus offers Vaesen gaming groups adventure material for several evenings and can therefore be recommended.
It is hardly surprising that the topic of time anomalies is used in a supplement for Tales from the Loop. However, Out of Time is “out of time” in two aspects. On the one hand, time anomalies are addressed here and used as a hook for a small campaign; on the other hand, this volume is set between at the change of the decade from Tales from the Loop with children in the 1980s and Things from the Flood with teenagers in the 1990s.
The central element of the book is the Out of Time mini-campaign, which consists of three adventures: The Animal Ark, Summer Camp, and The Storm in the Hourglass. This three-part adventure campaign begins with the children investigating the disappearance of some animals and thus discovering strange events. In the second adventure, they spend time at a summer camp, which soon leads to even more confusion and danger rather than relaxation.
Finally, at the end of the campaign, a catastrophe must be prevented, which also links to the remaining adventures and clarifies the previous events.
Out of Time offers a varied, but also challenging campaign for the player characters, which increases the challenges from adventure to adventure. Even the game master needs a certain amount of imagination and mental flexibility to fully understand the complex sequence of events in the adventures, which use the usual tropes and concepts of the genre to create a tricky puzzle.
In addition, the three adventures form a transition between Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood: while the first episode still appears to be an exciting mystery episode, the finale has much darker tendencies and threatens more than just the existence of the player characters. Although all stories can be played as Tales from the Loop adventures, a transition between the systems is offered as an alternative.
While the small campaign constitutes the majority of the book, Secret Places is a so-called Mystery Landscape for Tales from the Loop. Ten locations are described as mini-scenarios that can serve as a starting point for adventures and can be played as part of the Mystery Landscape according to the players’ interests and priorities. Each of these ten scenarios entices the player characters with mysterious events and thus leads to a short story. However, it is up to the player characters to decide which of these secrets they would like to explore and how they go about it.
The chapter The Mystery Machine, on the other hand, provides tables for randomly rolling certain framework conditions and ideas for your own mysteries and thus getting a corresponding starting aid. These tables can either be used as a source of inspiration or to fill in gaps, such as determining the personalities of corresponding non-player characters or similar.
The book concludes with the chapter Mixed CD of Mysteries, in which eight additional scenario ideas are presented. These adventure outlines are somewhat more detailed than the Mystery Landscape, but do not reach the length of the three campaign adventures. As these adventures are set in the 90s, they are better suited to the follow-up role-playing game Things from the Flood, not only for this reason but also thematically. Some mysteries here are somewhat darker and more dangerous, and they address themes that are better suited to teenagers in Things from the Flood. I really liked the idea that each adventure is named after a song from the 90s to do justice to the title of the mixed CD, which also contributes to the basic atmosphere.
From my point of view, Out of Time is an excellent adventure book that offers a lot of exciting game material for both Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood with its three-part campaign, the Mystery Landscape and the adventure mix CD. Placing the supplement on the border between both systems fits the thematic focus and can be used to draw the transition between the optimistic 1980s and the darker 1990s. Out of Time is a highly recommended addition to both Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood games.
Cadvini is an unusual world that does not rotate on its own axis. As a result, one side is transformed into a permanent inferno by the sun, while the other lies in an icy cold night. Only a narrow strip between these two extremes is suitable for living creatures to exist, which is why there are several towns and settlements here. Another notable feature of the world is the Clockwinders, an ancient organization whose job it is to maintain the so-called movement cores. The problem is that if the movement cores are damaged, they emit an energy that can be used by witches and magicians and also attracts strange beings from other worlds. Therefore, some groups are greatly interested in ensuring that the movement cores are not maintained. On the other hand, this can have disastrous consequences for the world as a whole. While the Clockwinders were an important organization for a long time in the past, they are now just a ragtag bunch who are barely up to their tasks and no longer really understand the background of their mission. Nevertheless, the Clockwinders have to face an critical and adventurous mission.
This World of Adventure for Fate starts with an unusual fantasy scenario and describes the world in short sections, as is usual for these books. The focus is on the central elements, such as the movement cores and the creatures that have entered the world as a result of their failure. As usual, this setting takes a unique approach to character creation and, in this case, uses the so-called modes, which comprise groups of skills. There are also a few additional stunts. Ideally, the setting should be played with the Fate deck, which allows players to have certain cards on their hands, allowing them to control their success better than with regular dice rolls. The idea of the adventure track, which logs success within the adventures and the resulting consequences, is also an idea that exists specifically for this game.
The bulk of the book, however, is a campaign that takes players from movement core to movement core and confronts them with challenges to repair them. They also encounter all sorts of interesting characters, such as witches, fairies, and other creatures, who have no interest in the player characters completing their work.
The Clockwinders introduces an exciting world and also provides the appropriate material for a mini-campaign. However, the story and background remain vague in some places, which is not always an advantage for the free interpretation of the game master but also gives the feeling that some details are missing. If you are looking for a somewhat strange but not wholly predefined fantasy scenario, The Clockwinders is a World of Adventure that offers a fitting background and fascinating rule mechanisms for using Fate cards.
At the center of a gigantic empire lies a city-state that has grown over generations. For 17 generations, its emperor has waged war and expanded his sphere of influence. While it is the emperor's role to extend his empire's power, the council governs the city's fate. A unique role is played by the so-called House of Bards, which in some ways represents a somewhat unusual version of the press. The members of the House of Bards are reporters, troubadours, or editors who report on the events of the city and thus also have indirect political influence — and often, of course, their own goals.
What reads like a classic fantasy world in the first few sections of the book later takes a bizarre turn, as is usual with Fate Worlds of Adventure. House of Bards assumes that the players are members of the illustrious association and allows them to embody characters from a wide variety of backgrounds, each pursuing their own personal and/or political goals. This approach makes House of Bards a fantasy setting that is less about fighting monsters and more about using political influence, contacts, and power to achieve your goal. Accordingly, it is also about influencing the elections in the various districts. The book takes time to detail the city's administration and the different power players' interests. Of course, in a fantasy setting like this, there is also magic, and as a counterbalance to the magicians, there is a church inquisition that ensures magic does not get out of control. But apart from that, there are also other groups with their own goals, so House of Bards focuses on the political game of intrigue.
House of Bards is like many of the World of Adventure for Fate: the basic idea is given some unique twists and turns, and although some aspects of the game world are described well and in detail, other concepts are left open to provide some freedom for the gaming group. In addition, House of Bards has a very clear focus, as the political power plays and intrigues of the characters take center stage — and this can certainly put the player characters at odds with each other. Anyone who wants to try out a fantasy world that combines political intrigue with magic will find House of Bards an exciting starting point. However, for those who inevitably expect dungeons and monsters, House of Bards is definitely the wrong game.