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Forbidden Lands: The Bloodmarch
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/27/2023 13:23:59
Marching into new adventures - a Mephisto review

The Bloodmarch

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Forbidden Lands: The Bloodmarch
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Tales from the Loop: They Grow Up So Fast
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/26/2023 13:02:21
Growing up at the loop - a Mephisto review

They Grow Up So Fast

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tales from the Loop: They Grow Up So Fast
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Tales from the Loop RPG Starter Set
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/25/2023 13:48:16
Get the Loop running - a Mephisto review

Tales from the Loop Starter Set

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tales from the Loop RPG Starter Set
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PIRATE BORG Core Book
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/23/2023 05:41:50

Surrender your ships, resistance is futile.

Pirate Borg

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
PIRATE BORG Core Book
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Forbidden Lands: Crypt of the Mellified Mage
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/25/2023 10:30:55

Crypt of the Mellified Mage

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Forbidden Lands: Crypt of the Mellified Mage
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Cthulhu Hack: The Haunter of the Dark
Publisher: Just Crunch Games
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/21/2023 14:09:37
The haunter returns - a Mehisto review

The Haunter of the Dark

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Hack: The Haunter of the Dark
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Forbidden Lands: The Book of Beasts
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/20/2023 09:47:30
Monsters and more - a Mephisto review

Book of Beasts

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Forbidden Lands: The Book of Beasts
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Dragonbane Quickstart
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/20/2023 08:47:37
A short trip into the Misty Vale - a Mephisto review

Dragonbane Quickstart

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dragonbane Quickstart
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Dragonbane Core Set
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/20/2023 08:14:31
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 AnimismElementalism, 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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dragonbane Core Set
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Cthulhu Hack: From Unformed Realms
Publisher: Just Crunch Games
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2023 08:37:03
Fast formed monsters - a Mephisto review

From Unformed Realms

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.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cthulhu Hack: From Unformed Realms
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MÖRK BORG: IKHON English
Publisher: Free League Publishing
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/09/2023 13:41:35
Use at your own risk - a Mephisto review

Mörk Borg Ikhon

The small-format supplement Ikhon for Mörk Borg presents magical incantations from the game world that can be assigned to four ancient, bizarre deities and offer powers at ten levels. When a player character wishes to use the Ikhon, he chooses one of the four sections or rolls a d4 and then determines the effect with a d8 (though willing human sacrifices or the sacrifice of a body part confer a bonus on the roll). While the low values have bizarre, but above all horrible and deadly consequences, they later deliver mixed effect or even real advantages, which are no less bizarre.

For example, in the worst case, a divine sheep herd tramples everything to a bloody pulp. If things go better, all the containers fill up with water or poison. For a full success, gigantic spider legs descend from the sky and deliver almost certainly destroy an opponent.

Ikhon reminds me of tarot cards, although they are played differently. Each effect features a typically darkly bizarre illustration, while the game effects are summarized briefly but drastically.

If you want to supplement your Mörk Borg game with an unpredictable and dangerous summoning system for your game (and presumably plunge your player's characters into brutal chaos), you will find the Ikhons a sufficiently weird variant. Mörk Borg players will almost certainly get their money's worth here.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
MÖRK BORG: IKHON English
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Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Forest of Fear (PDF)
Publisher: Modiphius
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/09/2023 13:29:09
Against doomsday cults, ancient secrets and super-tanks - a Mephisto review

Forest of Fear

With Forest of Fear, a more extensive campaign for Achtung! Cthulhu has been released. The story arc spans eleven chapters and takes place in the late years of World War II, more specifically against the backdrop of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. The campaign is aimed at both experienced players and battle-hardened characters and recommends that agents have completed at least ten other missions. Not only does the campaign's length provide a challenge, but also the fact that several hostile parties operate here and get involved in a dangerous conflict. Moreover, the themes of this scenario and the strong correlation with one of the historic battles of World War II are responsible for the fact that this is a challenging scenario in any respect.

The agents are sent out to contact the Resistance in the Ardennes. At first, the campaign starts quite simply, with meeting a member of the Resistance and moving into a temporary headquarters. Thereafter, however, the plot quickly gains momentum and shows the agents that sinister forces are at work. The players are supposed to investigate the Black Sun's activities in the area, which initially starts with an archaeological outpost. Soon it turns out that ancient secrets rest beneath the Ardennes – or rather, rested until the Black Sun unearthed them to abuse them for their purposes. 

But before the player characters can focus on this task, a second storyline takes them in because, in addition, a dangerous and ancient cult is also active in the area. These cultists are preparing their own rituals to unleash a terrible threat to the region. Thus, the player characters get caught in a battle against two opponents, as both the Black Sun's and the cult's activities keep growing, making for increasingly dangerous missions. Sometimes it is about out-of-control summoning rituals. Then there are far-reaching caves to explore, created by ancient mythical creatures, to learn about the sinister plans of the Black Sun finally. The stakes are nothing less than stopping a secret weapon that could turn the tide of war against the Allies again. 

However, the cult goes even one step further, preparing to conjure a doomsday scenario. Fortunately, the agents are not entirely on their own, though, because in addition to the members of the Resistance, they also find the influences of a Celtic deity and her otherworldly followers working against the cult as the Wild Hunt. If the agents can establish good terms with these potential allies and pass their tests, they will receive much-needed support for the upcoming challenges.

The missions are varied and diverse – and often not designed to be solved by a simple frontal attack and fighting everything that moves. Often, it is mainly about gathering information and surviving to understand the enemies' activities and plans. Thus, sometimes caution is more useful than daredevil action. But, of course, there is room for hard fights and dynamic action. Towards the end, players will have to face extremely dangerous enemies in the two final missions. 

Forest of Fear is an extensive and challenging campaign. Player characters will deal with dangerous enemies and face a wide range of brutal cthulhoid horrors. They definitely have chances to fail in the missions as the stakes are high and the Black Sun's plan could set the Allies back greatly. However, not only the Black Sun and the Nachtwölfe play a role, but the players must also deal with a Celtic deity, a medieval cult, and the lost civilization of a mythos race and its secrets. In addition, they can meet some signature characters of the game and complete the storyline that started with Assault on the Führer Train.

From my point of view, the campaign has a good dramaturgy and offers varied missions that increase coherently and are not always simply decided by force. In fact, there are a few intermediate adventures that have entirely different goals. I found only the introduction of a Celtic deity into this scenario a bit atypical and not well suited to the mythos – even if it increases the player characters' chances of survival. Of course, the secret plan of the Black Sun and Nachtwölfe is both bizarre and coherent for Achtung! Cthulhu in equal measure, so Forest of Fear manages to combine cthuloid horror with the horror of World War II. Personally, I do not always find the latter combination a suitable scenario for a role-playing game, but those who get involved with the setting of Achtung! Cthulhu will probably have no problems with the fact that real war events are used as background for the fiction here. So if you are looking for a long, brutal campaign set against the backdrop of World War II, Forest of Fear will provide you with a campaign of adventures that will challenge the agents for many evenings of play.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Forest of Fear (PDF)
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Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Priority Mission 3 - Season of the Snake 2 - Assault on Zuara 2 PDF
Publisher: Modiphius
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/09/2023 12:59:03
Secret weapons of the Nachtwölfe - a Mephisto review

Assault on Zuara 2

When a mysterious Luftwaffe plane lands on an airfield in North Africa and keeps disappearing and reappearing, these events may indicate activities by the Black Sun or the Nachtwölfe. Therefore, this is a mission for Section M agents to spy on the plane and either steal or sabotage it.

The third Priority Mission is summarized in four pages of text and a map. The text primarily describes the airfield and the troops stationed there. This time, fewer alternative adventure seeds or scenarios are suggested. Instead, the player characters' options to fulfill this mission are described in more detail.

Assault on Zuara 2 presents less of a mythos setting and offers more of a commando operation on an enemy airfield that requires stealth and planning, as it can hardly be solved by a frontal assault.

Even though Assault on Zuara 2 offers good material for a short mission in its compact format, I personally find this setting too focused on the military operation aspect and lacking secrets from the Cthulhu Mythos.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Priority Mission 3 - Season of the Snake 2 - Assault on Zuara 2 PDF
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Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 - Priority Mission 2: Season of the Snake 1 - Our Lady of the Eternal Sapphire PDF
Publisher: Modiphius
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/09/2023 12:55:56
Secrets of an old monastery - a Mephisto review

Our Lady of the Eternal Sapphire

The second Priority Mission for Achtung! Cthulhu revolves around an old monastery near Cairo, from which a brooch made of Blauer Kristall originates. The player characters are sent out to investigate the site and get to the bottom of the rumors about a relic in the form of a skull made from Blauer Kristall.

The second Priority Mission basically offers two pages of text and a map as source material. The setting is briefly described, and for the antagonists references are made to the rulebook. Again, there are several adventure seeds and alternate backgrounds, which the game master can choose to include additional or alternate enemies or give the mission an entirely different atmosphere.

Even though Our Lady of the Eternal Sapphire does not provide much concrete material, it presents an exciting setting and alternative backgrounds that game masters can easily use to entertain their players for one or even two game nights. I liked this Priority Mission because it offers some exciting ideas that can be used to develop larger story arcs.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 - Priority Mission 2: Season of the Snake 1 - Our Lady of the Eternal Sapphire PDF
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Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 - Priority Mission 1: Resurrection Men PDF
Publisher: Modiphius
by Björn L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/09/2023 12:53:19
Down into the ghoul tunnels - a Mephisto review

Resurrection Men

Ghouls living in old tunnels from World War I – that is essentially the summary of the Priority Mission Resurrection Men for Achtung! Cthulhu. In just eight pages (or really three pages of text and a map), it provides an adventure hook and setting as a mini-adventure that can be played in one session. Adversaries are depicted only with references to the rulebook, and the main part of this booklet consists of the map of the tunnel system and brief descriptions of the rooms and tunnels. Alternative starting points for the scenario are included for those the standard variant of this mission does not work for.

Resurrection Men has an interesting idea, but in fact, the scenario provides little that you could not come up with on your own. Only game masters who want to save time necessary for drawing a map or need a quick basic idea will get any useful material here. As free game material, Priority Mission provides a hook for one game session, but anyone hoping for a real mission will be disappointed.

(Björn Lippold)



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 - Priority Mission 1: Resurrection Men PDF
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