Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 26 May 2017

Leagues of London

Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! is Triple Ace Games’ RPG of globetrotting action, adventure, and mystery set during the 1890s. In this ‘Mauve’ decade, it brings together the greatest heroes and villains of the era—Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson, Allan Quatermain, Phileas Fogg, Abraham van Helsing, and more—with the player characters and flings them to the four corners of the world to explore the unknown, make great discoveries, and uncover dark mysteries. Like All For One: Régime Diabolique, also published by Triple Ace Games, Leagues of Adventures uses the Ubiquity System first seen in Exile Studio’s Hollow Earth Expedition. The result was an RPG of pulp action in a mannered age and like all RPGs published by Triple Ace Games is ably supported with a raft of supplements and adventures.

More recently the publisher has taken the Victorian Era set RPG into the realms of gloom and fear with Leagues of Gothic Horror and will follow this up by infusing it with a sense of cosmic dread with Leagues of Cthulhu. In between time, a number of other supplements have been released. Some of these explore various aspects of Leagues of Gothic Horror, but Globetrotters’ Guide to London takes the game to heart of the empire, the city of London. This is no surprise given the Anglophile emphasis in Leagues of Adventure, and after all, the player characters—or Globetrotters—need a base to set out from. Then again, there are adventures to be had in the capital too!

In presenting the city, Globetrotters’ Guide to London provides reference material aplenty, but in easily digestible form, making it easy to bring to the gaming table. The level of detail is designed to be anything other than overwhelming and in the main, this it succeeds at. So it briskly details everything you might need to know about London in just a few pages. This includes accommodation and lodgings, climate, crime and policing, death, entertainment, and so on. It is a good primer to the capital, but does not skimp on the detail where necessary, whether this is a listing of criminal slang, cab fares, or social customs following a death. Indeed, this level of detail continues throughout the book, highlighting certain aspects about life in London that can be included as colour or pertinent to the plot as necessary.

The supplement does include rules for creating and playing steam or clockwork powered anthropomorphic automata. In game terms, an Automaton globetrottter has to have the Ally 2 advantage to be treated as a Human, but otherwise is treated as a normal character. Two Flaws, Automaton and Inconspicuous are suggested as being suitable for Automata globetrotters, but a player is mostly free to design his character how he wants. In terms of play, the primary issue is how the Automaton is healed, or rather, repaired, should it be damaged—as if that should ever happen! To this, the supplement adds four new Leagues for the Globetrotters to join—the Automaton Club, the Detective Club, the Masked Avengers, and the Temperance Society.

The meat of the supplement is divided between two lengthy chapters. The first of these, ‘A Brief Tour’, details some one-hundred-and-twenty locations in the centre of London as of 1898. These range from the Aerated Bread Company Ltd. and the Admiralty to Westminster Abbey and the Zoological Gardens, taking in along the way, particular museums, hospitals, theatres, restaurants, colleges, shops, and more. More generic institutions and features are covered as well, including the River Thames, the sewers, workhouses, and rookeries. The outré are included alongside the ordinary, such as the Bartitsu Club—here more successful than in reality, and Croydon Field—London’s airship landing site. This mix, of the outré with the ordinary, continues with the ‘Denizens’ chapter, which describes and details some thirty-eight noted personages of the period. So they include Richard D’Oyly Carte, Arthur Conan Doyle, James George Frazer, Flinders Petrie, Inspector Edmund Reid, and Oscar Wilde as well as Thomas Carnacki, Professor Arthur Cavor, Phineas Fogg, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Arthur J. Raffles, and Doctor John Watson. Notably, Arthur Conan Doyle becomes Holmes and Watson’s chronicler, as well as that of Professor George Challenger, whereas H.G. Wells becomes an inventor and scientific expert who investigated the Martian invasion of 1883. All of these have full game stats and provide a useful array of NPCs for the Globetrotters to encounter and interact with. If there is an issue with these NPCs it is that just four of them are women, barely a tenth, and although it must have been challenging to find suitable women to include, this paucity is disappointing. Nevertheless, the write-ups of both locations and denizens are both useful and well done, being also supported by lists of various dignitaries—ambassadors, government officials, military men, museum staff, newspaper editors, and so on, which add both further verisimilitude and serve as useful reference without the GM needing to look them up himself.

Besides some quick write-ups for various Henchmen and stock characters, Globetrotters’ Guide to London gives six new archetypes. These are the Automaton, the Fixated Detective, the Masked Avenger: Spring-Heeled Jock, the Nanny, the Police Surgeon, and the Theatre Manager. The Automaton makes use of the new rules included earlier in the supplement; the Masked Avenger: Spring-Heeled Jock is actually a vigilante-scotsman, so including a thoroughly groan-inducing word joke; and arguably, the Police Surgeon and the Theatre Manager are there for anyone—including the author—who wants to play or include in his campaign, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot from the ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ episode of Classic Doctor Who and their subsequent audio adventures from Big Finish.

Rounding out the Globetrotters’ Guide to London is a discussion of running adventures in the heart of the empire and how different they are to those in a standard game of Leagues of Adventure. This highlights how the Globetrotters cannot ignore the law in London and how their skills, contacts, and other resources come into play whilst in the city. For the GM it suggests how he should play up the environment and bring in the city’s many locations described earlier in the book. The book comes to a close with eighteen adventure seeds. These are a good mix of ideas ready for the GM to fully develop, though a third of them are marked as being designed for use with Leagues of Gothic Horror.

Physically, Globetrotters’ Guide to London is a slim book, illustrated in black and white. The supplement is slim enough to not really need an index and is well written and readable. The map of the centre of London is decent, though the artwork is not the best to have graced Triple Ace Games’ titles.

Globetrotters’ Guide to London is not the complete guide to London, but it is comprehensive enough to have just everything a GM might need to bring the fantastic, literary world of Leagues of Adventure to life. Indeed, a GM or Keeper could easily ignore the fantastic elements in the book that are particular to Leagues of Adventure and use Globetrotters’ Guide to London as a reference work his own ‘Mauve Age’ set campaign—including Cthulhu by Gaslight. Overall, Globetrotters’ Guide to London is a useful and accessible reference for the game, whether the campaign is staying in or leaving London for adventure.

—oOo—

Triple Ace Games will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Your TV, Your Way

Most games about television are really about a particular show or series and in the past, they have invariably been little more than a tie-in with a series, more a marketing exercise than a good game. In an age of modern game design this has changed, with television themed games not only being tie-ins, but also being designed to fit the themes and events of their shows. A great example of this is Fantasy Flight Games’ BattleStar Galactica, which emulated humanity fleeing from a war with a cyborg enemy and searching for the Earth whilst also being betrayed by cyborg infiltrators. Other games about television put you in charge, deciding upon what programmes to buy and when to broadcast them, and this is what The Networks: A tabletop strategy game for 1-5 TV executives is all about. The aim is to take “TV from Public Access to Prime Time”.

Published by Formal Ferret Games following a successful KickStarter campaign and launched at UK Games Expo 2016, The Networks is designed for between one and five players—both solo and advanced variants are included, aged thirteen and up, and takes between an hour and ninety minutes to play. It is a card drafting game in which each player is an executive in charge of programming at a television network. Each network has three important prime time slots—10pm, 9pm, and 8pm—that the executive has to fill with hit Shows that will attract Viewers and Advertising. By combining the right Stars with the right Show and selling the right Advertising space, an executive will make more money to buy and create better Shows and so attract more Viewers. Unfortunately, both Shows and Stars age, and whilst their popularity may grow in the short term, in the long run, they will lose Viewers and so will end up being cancelled. Thus an executive will need to find a replacement Show. In the meantime, the cancelled Show goes into the network’s vault and syndication where it can continue getting Viewers… The executive who attracts the most Viewers after five seasons is the winner.

At the heart of each executive’s network is a Player Board. There are five of these, for each executive and network—ICS, MooTV, U62, VCK, and PKW. Each Player Board has slots down one side for 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm, plus slots for the Green Room, Reruns, and Archives down the other. Each Player Board has a track its network’s Viewers, a reference guide to the actions an executive can do on his turn, and an explanation of the bonuses a network can accrue for developing multiple Shows of one genre.

At the heart of The Networks are the television Shows. Each is a represented by a Show card that has quite a bit of information on it. Not just the title of the Show, but also its genre (Action, Drama, Reality, Sci-Fi, Sitcom, or Sports), the prefered slot for when they should be broadcast (8pm, 9pm, and 10pm), the cost to develop it and maintain it, whether or not it needs a Star and/or an Advert attached, and how many Viewers it attracts when it goes into Reruns. Down one side there are four numbered rows, representing how many Viewers the Show will attract as it ages.

So for example, the Show ‘Doctor What’ requires $5 million to develop and is a Sci-Fi series that it best broadcast at 8pm. It requires a Star to develop and can have another Star or an Advert added to it on a later turn. Its upkeep costs are $2 million and during its first season will attract seven Viewers—or just five if not broadcast at 8pm, before going on to attract ten, seven, and one Viewer over subsequent Seasons as the Show ages. When it goes into Reruns, it will continue attracting five Viewers.

The Show cards are supported by the Star and Ad cards. Each Star card has a name as well as a Signing cost, an Upkeep cost, and the Star’s Conditions. Down each side of the card are four numbered rows which match the rows on the Show card, indicating how many Viewers the Star will attract to the Show. One set of rows is the good side, the other is the bad side. If the executive matches the Star with the right Show and fulfills the Star’s conditions, the good side is used; if not, the Star card is flipped and the bad side is used. Each Advert has a Landing bonus, the amount of money gained for picking it up and an Income it will generate when attached to a Show per Season. Like each Star, an Advert can have Conditions. Get this right and an executive can use its good side, earning the network the stated income, but get it wrong and the Advert is flipped to its bad side, reducing the network’s income.

At the start of a game, each Network has a terrible lineup in terms of Shows, Stars, and Adverts. For example, the three initial Shows broadcast by MooTV are ‘What’s In My Pockets?’, ‘Wide World of Forks’, and ‘You Too Can Play the Recorder!’. The only Advert it runs is ‘Shaggy’s Rugs and Carpeting’ and its only Star is a ‘Moonlighting Travel Agent’. This will of course change as the Seasons progress as each network develops Shows, the Show cards being divided in Season 1, Season 2/3, and Season 4/5 Shows, and adds Stars and Adverts.

The fourth card type is the Network card. These help build a network and give it an advantage or special power. They can be quite simple, for example, ‘Audition’ lets an executive draw and keep a Star for free, whilst ‘Infomercial’ awards him $5 million. Other Network cards are more complex, such as ‘Executive Producer’ lets an executive improve his position in the turn order, but must pay $1 million to each executive he passes in order, or ‘Syndication’, which grants a Viewers bonus to each Show a network has in Reruns.

Lastly, the Scoring Track sits in the middle of the table where it keeps track of the Season number, the Turn Order, and the number of Viewers for each network. It actually comes in three parts. The left-hand and middle sections are always used, but a different right-hand section is used based on the number of executives and networks. This right-hand section shows the start-up funds for each network—varying according to turn order, how much money an executive and network gains when they end their Season, and the number of Show, Star, Advert, and Network cards to add at game start. This will actually change after the first Season as the right-hand section will be flipped over to show the number of Show, Star, Advert, and Network cards to add at the start of each Season and how much money or how many Viewers an executive and network gains when they end their Season.

Set up is relatively easy. Each executive receives his Player Board and starting cards, the Scoring Track is set up according to the number of executives and networks, and the starting Show, Star, Advert, and Network cards are laid out. Some cards may need to be removed if there are only two or three executives and networks. These cards are clearly marked, as are the Interactive Network cards and the Advanced Network cards. The inclusion of these is optional, but are used in the advanced version of the game where there is more interaction between networks.

Each Season consists of several turns, the number determined by how many things each executive wants to do and how much money he has to spend on Shows and Stars. An executive can take as many actions he wants, though there is an advantage in an executive ending his networks action and Season early. The earlier he does end his Season, the more money or Viewers he will gain with the ‘Drop and Budget’ action.

On an executive’s turn, he has several actions to choose from. He can ‘Develop a Show’, purchasing from the current season and slotting it into his current programming. Some Shows require a Star and/or an Advert to be successfully developed. Alternatively, the Show can be sent straight into Reruns. He can ‘Sign a Star’ and hire Star to add to a Show that he later develops using the ‘Develop a Show’ action . The Star sits in the Green Room until attached. He can ‘Land an Ad’, giving him some money immediately and then an income once attached to a Show. The Advert sits in the Green Room until attached. He can ‘Attach a Star/Ad to a Show’, adding a Star and/or an Advert from his Green Room to a Show. This allows an executive to replace Stars and Adverts already attached to an existing Show. He can ‘Take a Network Card’, a card that will give him an additional special ability.

Lastly, an executive can ‘Drop and Budget’. This means he drops out of the current season or round and can take no more actions. An executive usually does this because he has run out of money and can do more to improve his network’s programmed schedule or because he does not want to do any more to improve his network’s programmed schedule. When he does this, an executive places his turn order disc on the highest available space on the Drop & Budget track, selecting either the money or the Viewers indicated on that space. The higher the available space on the Drop & Budget track, the greater money or Viewers to be gained. 

Once every executive has taken the ‘Drop and Budget’ action, the current season comes to an end. Each executive determines his income from Advertising and pays the maintenance costs of his Stars. (If an executive cannot pay these expenses, they are paid for in terms of Viewers.) Then the number of Viewers each network is attracting, primarily from its current lineup of programmes, but also from Reruns, is determined. Lastly each Show that an executive has in his schedule ages, indicated by dropping down a row on the Show card. This will change how many Viewers the Show will attract in the next season.

Lastly, any Shows, Stars, and Adverts not picked up during the season that has just ended are discarded and new ones drawn for the new season. The executive who network has the least number of Viewers becomes the new Starting player and the new season begins.

Once five seasons have been played through, including the aging of Shows and the determination of the number of Viewers each network has, there is a sixth and final aging of Shows and determination of the number of Viewers each network has, these being added to each executive’s final score. The executive and network with the highest score is the winner.

To do all of this each executive needs to maximise his network’s income as well as its number of Viewers. Although having the most Viewers is ultimately the key to winning the game, income is needed because each network not only needs to maintain the upkeep on both its Shows and its Stars, it need to have the money to replace those Shows when they age and eventually go into Reruns. So there is a balance to be maintained throughout the game. 

Physically, The Networks is on the whole, a very nice product. The various boards and money are all done on thick card, everything is in rich colours, and it all looks very attractive. That said, the cartoon-style artwork could be said to be a bit scrappy and whilst they have a nice finish, the cards do feel a bit thin. Overall though, what stands out about The Networks is the effort put into the graphic design which makes everything visually clear and simple. The rulebook is also very cleanly laid out and well written.

In contemporary terms, the theme of The Networks looks a little outmoded. After all, broadcast television is not quite as big as it once was, given the prevalence of streaming services and watching episodes in bulk rather than week by week. That said, the theme of The Networks is perfectly realised. In controlling your network you do feel you are programming your lineup of shows and working to get the right Stars with the right Shows and attract Adverts to get the income to pay for the Shows that attract Viewers. This is helped by the clever titles of the Shows, Stars, and Adverts which parody popular television series of the last few decades. So players will recognise Shows such as ‘Doctor What’, ‘Breaking Worse’, ‘Found’, ‘How I Left Your Father’, ‘NCISICBMOMGOMG: Scranton’; ‘Always Dies in Everything’, ‘Fierce Drag Queen’, ‘Adorable Hipster’; ‘Aztec Chocolate Bars’, ‘Blast Radius Pure Sugar Cereal’, ‘McTaco’s’; and so on. In fact, there is a lot of fun to be had in spotting these references and then going on to program them in your network’s lineup for the current Season and beyond. (That said, these Shows do date the game a bit, but this does not detract from the game play.)

The Networks does look more complex than it is and really, with a play through or two of it under your belt it plays quickly enough, though the advanced rules will increase both game length and complexity slightly. If it needs anything, it is perhaps more Shows and Stars, certainly during the first Season where the choices do limited and there is not quite enough variety. Perhaps this could be addressed with ‘Season Packs’ for the game? In terms of the complexity though, The Networks is a mid-weight game, putting it roughly on a par with games like Glory to Rome or BattleStar Galactica. It is probably not suitable for players who have little gaming experience under their belts, but the theme at least makes up for some of that.

If you were looking for a game where you wanted to be a network television executive and program its lineup the way you wanted it to be—within budget of course—then The Networks is the game for you. The Networks is a great combination of theme and design, giving you control over the television you always wanted.


—oOo—

Formal Ferret Games will be at UK Games Expo with The Networks: Executives, the first expansion for The Networks. UK Games Expo will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Hacking Convicts & Cthulhu

The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu combines two of the more interesting titles to come out for roleplaying Lovecraftian investigative horror. The first is of course The Cthulhu Hack, the elegant, stripped back player-facing roleplaying game based on The Black Hack. The second is Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia which presented a new society and new horrors against a backdrop of isolation and corruption in a convict colony. The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu brings the two together, providing an introduction to the setting of Great Britain’s first steps on the far continent and supporting them with the light mechanics of The Black Hack.

Published by Just Crunch Games, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu layers the background elements over the mechanics of The Cthulhu Hack. So it uses the same five Classes as The Cthulhu Hack—Adventurer, Bruiser, Philanthropist, Ruffian, and Scholar. Then a player selects from a Role, essentially what the Investigator does in the New South Wales penal colony, the options being Convict, New South Wales Corps officer, Free Settler, or Government Official. This determines starting equipment. Each Investigator also needs an Occupation, whatever he did before coming to Australia and if a Convict, an Offence, whatever it was that got him transported. There are more social benefits to these background details, but there are likely to be circumstances where the Keeper will award an Investigator an Advantage or Disadvantage die, depending upon the circumstances.

Our sample Convict is Henry Bacon, a big man capable of handing out a battering. Greed and a fondness of gin got him involved in crime and he became a fearsome gang member. He did kill a man, a rival gang member, but witnesses all swore that he was provoked and that it was self-defense, so Bacon did not go to the scaffold. He was sentenced to transportation for life instead.

Henry Bacon
First Level Bruiser
Role: Convict
Crime: Murder
Occupation: Bricklayer
STR 16 DEX 13 CON 11
INT 13 WIS 11 CHA 09

Hit Points: 12
Sanity Die: d8
Attack Damage: 1d8/1d6 (Unarmed/Improvising)
Lamplight/Rum: d4/d4
Gear
Uniform, bandana, six letters from home, shiv, empty flask

Mechanically, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu makes three changes. The first is to have all attributes rolled on 2D6+4 rather than three six-sided dice. This is reflect the harsher life and conditions in the colony. The other is to change the names of the Flashlights and Smokes—the first the resource used to discover clues, the second the resource used to purchase things or bribe people—to Lamplight and Rum. The reason for the change from Flashlights to Lamplight is obvious, but that of Smokes to Rum less so. The change is because Rum was a unit of currency in the early years of the colony.

The third change is to add rules for Shock. This gives an alternative effect to failing a roll of the Sanity Die, a short, sharp shock lasting a moment or a few rounds while an Investigator suffers the shakes, dives into cover, faints, screams, and so on. This allows the players to better handle their Investigators’ Sanity Dice as a resource, so that they are not depleted too early on in a scenario.

What The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu does not do is provide the means to create Aboriginal Investigators as does Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia. The author explains that this is because this would add further tension to a playing group in an already tense situation. Guidelines are given for equipment in the colony, for blackpowder weapons and indigenous weapons—the latter surprising given the lack of Aboriginal Investigators. Also listed are possible written sources of information that might be sources of written information for the Investigators and a number of Mythos entities indigenous to Australia to supplement those given in The Cthulhu Hack. This is accompanied by a short discussion of the Mythos down under. 

Rounding out The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is ‘Longships and Short Fuses’, an adventure outline set at mine where the treatment of the convicts has led to its superintendent being recalled to Sydney. After he has left, a tunnel collapses in the mine revealing a centuries old burial containing a Viking longship. Three options are given as what is going on at the mining site and these are decent enough. It is just that encountering an entombed Viking longship on the coast of Australia of all places, is more than likely to stretch the credulity of the players, let alone the fact that they will have to portray their Investigators not necessarily knowing all that much, if anything at all, about the Vikings. 

Physically, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is reasonably laid out and lightly illustrated. As written, The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu is just about serviceable as an introduction to the setting of Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia, but no more and no less. If there is an issue with the supplement, it could have better highlighted the corruption rampant in the colony during the period of this setting. Arguably Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia overemphasised it just a little too much, but The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu does not emphasis it enough. If there is a second issue with the supplement, it is the nature of the scenario, which is faintly ridiculous.

Ultimately, to get the most out of The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu, the Keeper will need the fuller information and background to the setting found in Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia. Thus The Cthulhu Hack – Convicts & Cthulhu provides a serviceable method to run the Convicts & Cthulhu setting using The Cthulhu Hack rules.

—oOo—

Just Crunch Games will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.



Friday, 19 May 2017

Dinosaurs! Robots! Tigers! Oh my...!

World of the Lost is a sandbox/hexcrawl set in West Africa—roughly Nigeria—during the seventeenth century which involves a heist, a great kingdom, dinosaurs, robots, quicksand, the undead, and more. Originally a three thousand word lost world adventure intended as a stretch goal for the LotFP Free RPG Day 2014 IndieGoGo campaign that produced The Doom Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children, it has since been expanded and published as a one-hundred-and-seventy-six-page digest-sized hardback. Published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and other Retroclones, it is designed to be played by characters of between First and Fourth Level.

The hook for is that each year, the great city of Khirima pays a tribute of silver to the demons that dwell within the Temple of Ages That Are Not and so prevents the monsters of the high plateau above the city being unleashed on the peoples and lands below. The huge amount of silver paid is enough of a lure to draw the player characters to Khirima, find their way to the Temple of Ages That Are Not, steal the tribute, and damn the consequences! All that stands in their way are the kingdom of the Khirima and its ‘exotic’ sense of justice and cultural practices; a rebellion fomenting against the king; a zombie uprising; and more… This is just the start before the player characters gets to the shielded plateau on which the Temple of Ages That Are Not stands. Here they will discover a war between three groups—Exiles, Plasmics, and Pterians. The first are the barbarian descendants of those previously trapped on the plateau; the second are intelligent, telepathic blobs and slimes; and the third, pterosaur-human hybrids capable of flight. This is in addition to the plateau being home to an array of megafauna—or dinosaurs!—and being guarded by robots!

World of the Lost is divided into four chapters—City, Plateau, Dungeon, and Bestiary. Chapter 1: City details the city of Khirima, or rather it details facts about the city. For apart from its grid pattern and its eight districts around a central royal district, the layout and order of Khirima is determined by the Referee rolling dice—not unlike the publisher’s earlier Scenic Dunnsmouth—and do this all but on the go. So if the player characters want to hear rumours, buy arms and armour, obtain healing, wander about, find work, and so on, the Referee is directed to a set of tables and again, with a roll of the dice, bring the right elements into his game. There tables for all sorts of things, including taverns, NPCs and their motivations, new clerical spells, missions, even the layout of the royal palace! Doing this as the game proceeds allows the Referee to run the game as directed by the player characters and their players, all whilst still retaining the exoticism and flavour of an African city in its full splendour. Khirima is not a city for the unwary to visit. There are taboos and social mores that should the player characters break, will find themselves facing the wrath of the local authorities.

Many of the quests and missions suggested by Chapter 1: City point out of the city and onto Chapter 2: Plateau, with the adventurers being hired to go to a particular location and undertake a task once there. Some two hundred of these locations and hexes are described in some detail, encompassing almost half of the book. Many of these are built around the one location, for example, the eight hundred foot tall red obelisk known as the Spire which towers over the jungle surrounding it, but others are linked into clusters and links built around stories, for example, encountering a scout for a merchant caravan that is in a nearby hex or refugees fleeing the rise of the undead, the latter a potentially apocalyptic event that might overwhelm the region. Beyond the two hundred locations described in detail, random tables enable the Referee to create encounters. There is plenty going in these hexes, including trading, exploring, patrolling, fighting, fleeing, and more.

The closer that the player characters get to the heart of the adventure and the tone of the adventure changes from the exoticism of the Dark Continent to the weird of high plateau. This revels in its ‘Lost World’ tropes with dinosaurs aplenty, but then throws a three-way war between humans, flying dinosaur men, and goops, many of whom are eager for the intervention of outsiders and the help they can offer. There are also crashed spaceships, robot guards, and a force field! This completely surrounds the plateau above the city, keeping it safe from weirdness being unleashed and going on a rampage. That is, of course, unless the player characters intervene…

If the inclusion of crashed spaceships and laser weaponry suggests a nod towards S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, the Science Fiction meets Fantasy scenario for use with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition, then that nod is all but confirmed by Chapter 3: Dungeon. This details the Temple of Ages That Are Not, a small, just nine-room dungeon, with each room being described in two or three pages. These rooms are gigantic, stark, and filled with strange platonic solids. These are alien spaces and objects whose function are not readily apparent and will only become so through experimentation. This is not without its dangers, in the short term for the adventurers, in the long term for the surrounding lands…

Chapter 4: Bestiary presents the numerous types of creatures that the player characters might encounter on and around the plateau. This includes the Exiles, the Plasmics, and the Pterians, as well as the megafauna and prehistoric horrors. There are some excellent illustrations in this chapter, the megafauna and the Plasmics in particular. One oddity included is the tiger, which seems out of place in Africa, but that is by the by given the other fantastic elements in World of the Lost.

Physically, World of the Lost is handsomely presented. The endpapers are used to good effect as reference points, the pen and ink artwork is good throughout, and it comes with a pretty foldout map done in full colour. Unfortunately, the map is not really marked with some of the locations included in the hex write-ups of the second chapter and that does hamper both the use of the map and the book as a whole.

Although World of the Lost is set in Africa in the seventeenth century in a version of our history—numerous NPCs from Europe, the Middle East, and even China appear—there is one issue that the supplement does not address, one which figured heavily in our history. This is the matter of slavery, in particular, transatlantic slavery. Now slavery does figure in the sandbox, but it is solely an indigenous institution and not the terrible trade to the Americas that it would become in our history, though that would have begun by the time in which World of the Lost is set.  In effect it accepts indigenous slavery and ignores the budding slave trade, whilst also failing to address the subject of either. It does not help that the relationships between the fictional Nigeria of World of the Lost and the European powers are ignored—in fact, the whole issue of how they interact is ignored—the effect being to leave the supplement in an odd kind of limbo with regard to the matter of slavery. Had World of the Lost been wholly a fantasy, rather than a fantasy set in our history, this might not have been an issue, but by simply ignoring the issue, that limbo is an unsettling one.

Other issues with World of the Lost point towards a slight lack of development of the book as whole. Thus, the write-ups of the three factions feel underwritten and the overview could have been presented in more depth and more closely tied to the hex numbers so that the locations of the plots could be better tracked. Some locations deserved more detail and being given maps, for example, the aerie where the Pterians have their lair. Also, some help could have been included as to what to do if a player character is killed and needs replacing, perhaps with some advice on creating indigenous player characters. There is some information about creating indigenous NPCs, but not player characters. One penultimate issue is the number of items that are left up to the Referee to decide how they work, mostly spells and magic items. It would have been nice to have seen these fully developed as the author’s version of them. A last issue is that World of the Lost stands in isolation and some notes as to how the player characters get there would also have been useful.

There are issues and there are issues with World of the Lost. Ultimately, none of them will hamper the Referee in his running what is a fantastically different and accessible campaign. World of the Lost offers months and months of game play—and that is even before the player characters venture into the alien region behind the forcefield. This game play and campaign itself is ably supported by the tables and details for Khirima that pleasingly underpin and enforce the culture to be found in and around the city. This is where World of the Lost really shines and brings a sense of the different to the campaign.

—oOo—

Lamentations of the Flame Princess will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.



Sunday, 14 May 2017

Your First Call of Cthulhu

From its cartoon artwork and its simple prose, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is a book for children. After all, from the various Call of Cthulhu ABC books to the delightful Where’s My Shoggoth?, there have numerous attempts to meld the Cosmic Horror of Lovecraft’s fiction with the children’s author of your choice. Some are simple as the Mythos ABC books, whilst others are clever parodies, such as TinTin meets Lovecraft and Ken Hite's Where the Deep Ones Are published by Atlas Games. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is somewhere in between.

Published by Chaosium, Inc., what H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers does is bring both the prose style and the art style of Theodor Seuss Geisel—or Dr. Seuss—to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, or rather to his signature horror story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. Thus it tells of how Francis Wayland Thurston inherits a box of notes belonging to his uncle, Professor George Gammell Angell and amongst them he finds a sculpture of a strange thing somewhere between an octopus and a dragon, as well as notes of an outbreak of mass hysteria and the sculptor’s dreams of “great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths.” Further notes relate how Inspector John Raymond Legrasse foiled a strange cult dedicated to the ‘Great Old Ones’—in particular, ‘great Cthulhu’—and how Gustaf Johansen, a Norwegian sailor, encountered this being in a strange non-Euclidean city on an uncharted island and seemingly killed after ramming it with a ship. And of course, how Francis Wayland Thurston now fears for his own life…

What author and artist R.J. Ivankovic does though, is present the story in the rhyming cadence of Dr. Seus. This sounds like a very bad thing, but this is not the case. The prose flows in a way that Lovecraft’s sometimes heavy style does not, undulating up and down in the constant rhythm of anapestic tetrameter, popularised by Clement Clarke Moore, but familiar with anyone who has read The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. What this means is that H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers can be easily read aloud.

Then there is the art. It is inspired by and perfectly apes the style of Dr. Seus and covering the page in great swathes of colour, with blues and greens taking on ominous tones as they depict great Cthulhu himself, the dreams he sends, and other outre elements. Although cartoon-like, this art never shies away from portraying the horror described in the text. Neither is explicit or overbearing, but the combination is moody and effective at showing and suggesting something beyond our understanding. Perfect then for depicting a short story that is all H.P. Lovecraft even in a new form.

This combination though, explains why H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is not a book for young readers and it may even be just ever so weird and ever so unsettling for beginning readers. It is very probably a book that parents would want to check first before reading to—or allowing to be read by—their children. This was the conclusion of a field test with a real live parent and is more indicative of the strength of the combination of words and art than a criticism.

Despite the cartoonish art and the simplified prose, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is not a silly book. It is instead a horrifying homage to two revered American authors.

—oOo—


Chaosium, Inc. will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.


Friday, 12 May 2017

Elven Enkindling

Crypts of Indormancy is a scenario for use with Dungeons & Dragons-style Retroclones—though it feels well-suited for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay—released following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Published by the Melsonian Arts Council, best known for The Undercroft fanzine and the scenario, Something Stinks in Stilton, this new scenario is a death trap style dungeon set against the background of an interesting culture and history. It comes as striking green hardback, sixty-six pages in length, black and white, but illustrated throughout.

It takes place on an island in a mountainous archipelago, populated by the Island People, divided into the Twelve Clans, each associated with a single animal. Once the archipelago was a colonial possession of the Elves, but over a thousand years ago, they were driven out by the Island People. The Elves remember the time and regret the loss of their Empire, whereas the folk memory of the Island People leaves them with a cultural dislike of the Elves. Recently, rumours have reached the wider world that the tomb of Thuuz, Lord Nanifier, Elven General of the Western Isle has been found. The Island People would willingly dump his corpse into the sea; the Elves might prefer to forget the ‘Recent War’ that was lost at his hands, and adventurers…? Well surely there is great plunder to be had in a millennia old Elven tomb.

So essentially, Crypts of Indormancy is played out against a background of anti-colonial and anti-imperial themes and a culture inspired by that of the Polynesians of the South Pacific. There are no rules provided in the scenario to create or play any of the Island Peoples, but there are certain rules included for playing both Elves and Island People. These enforce culture values and attitudes of both by giving the character an Experience Point award for adhering to them—even if it hinders the party as a whole. For example, Elves are encouraged not to share cultural information, whilst the Island People are awarded Experience Points for certain acts of vandalism in the tomb itself. Although these rules are optional, they are a nice touch and help bring the attitudes of both groups into play.

The tomb of Thuuz stands atop a glacier deep into the mountains, making it challenging to reach. Then there is the matter of getting in… Unfortunately, the way in which the tomb is presented, both in the text and in the maps, raise two odd issues. The first is that it is not exactly clear in the dungeon description how the player characters are expected to get into the tomb. There are two entrances, a door to the upper half and a pit to the lower half. It is inferred that the adventurers will go in via the pit, either because they set the trap off or because that is the easier route in comparison to the door. The pit then opens into an antechamber and from there into a courtyard and beyond. The text states that going in this direction—from the antechamber to the courtyard and so on—is an insult to the Island People and intended to become apparent if the tomb robbers enter via the pit and move in that direction. The problem is that the only entrance to the antechamber is the pit, so the intended insult of the tomb design cannot be apparent unless the adventurers come in through the pit. Further, the order of rooms is written and numbered in this order, with the single room on the upper half beyond the entrance door being described after the rooms of the upper level have been detailed.

The second is that not one of the locations on the adventure’s map is numbered, although every room has a number in the text. Instead, the Referee will need to match the room locations primarily by their description which match the details on the maps. The combination of these two issues is that the layout of the tomb of Thuuz is not a little confusing. Obviously, numbering the locations would have helped, as would a cross section of the tomb, but actually, just stating that the adventurers are expected to enter via the pit or that the pit opens above the antechamber would have helped to negate this confusion.

Once inside the tomb, the layout is quite simple and literally straightforward, consisting of six locations. They range from a mere two pages in length to as long as five or six pages, but all are described in some detail, whether is the number and type of playing pieces in a giant game, the decorations that festoon the tomb, the terrible Elven prose, and more. In fact, the wealth of detail here is really what the Referee is meant to get his teeth into given the paucity of NPCs present in the adventure. Apart from any hirelings the party might have hired, the Referee only has the single NPC to portray—though some might argue that tomb is a character all by itself. His presence is found throughout the tomb, but his presence will not be directly felt unless the player characters get overly curious or greedy and trigger certain circumstances. Only then will he make an appearance and that has ramifications for the Referee’s campaign.

The tomb of Thuuz does indeed contain the remains of Thuuz and he is indeed dead. Yet there is a way in which he can come back and if he does, he has an agenda all his very own—an agenda that is over a millennium old. An agenda which is going to divide any party with Elves and Island People amongst their number and likely to lead to further war and strife…

Beyond the six rooms of the tomb of Thuuz, the author offers some rough layouts for dungeons below the tomb. Some of the locations on these maps are named, but the Referee will need to develop them further himself. The bestiary includes several creatures, some more like traps, some strange probes from other universes, others memories from the past. For the most part, they are particular to the tomb of Thuuz and Crypts of Indormancy.

Physically, Crypts of Indormancy is well presented. Andrew Walter’s maps are nicely detailed—if unnumbered—and his artwork is in turns grim and weird. Barring the issue with getting into the tomb and the lack of rooms being numbered on the map, Crypts of Indormancy is also well written, with an attention to detail.

Crypts of Indormancy is a good tomb adventure rich with detail and flavour aplenty. Yet what it leaves unexplored—the colonial history, the ‘Recent War’, and the Island People—is intriguing and leaves the reader wanting more, a supplement devoted to the Island People and their archipelago perhaps? As to the Level of the adventure, it is designed for low Level player characters and will be a challenge for such characters. There treasure and experience to be had in plundering the Crypts of Indormancy, but woe betide any adventurers who get too greedy, too curious, for the world may be set afire.


—oOo—


The Melsonian Arts Council will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.





Monday, 8 May 2017

An Esteren Esoterica

The Black Moon Handbook is fifth book to be released in English for the French RPG, Les Ombres d’Esteren or Shadows of Esteren, published by Agate RPG. What stands out about this roleplaying game is its art—every book appears in full colour and is superbly illustrated, but there is more to it than just its art, stunning as it is. Introduced in Shadows of Esteren 0-Prologue, the roleplaying game is a low dark, fantasy setting with Lovecraftian overtones, the core rules being presented in Shadows of Esteren 1-Universe, a gazetteer of the setting and several scenarios in Shadows of Esteren 2-Travels, and a full length scenario in The Monastery of Tuath. The Black Moon Handbook focuses upon the one subject and supports it with several scenarios, a bestiary, and more. Its subject matter is ghosts and hauntings.

Originally, The Black Moon Handbook began life as Ghost Stories, a stretch goal for the Shadows of Esteren 2-Travels kickstarter which would be divided into two books. The Black Moon Handbook is one, the other is Hauntings, a collection of short stories set in Esteren. At its most basic, The Black Moon Handbook presents an examination of ghosts and hauntings in the Tri-Kazel peninsula, but it is actually a bit more than that. It is actually an examination of ghosts and hauntings in the Tri-Kazel peninsula plus commentary, supporting this with detailed write-ups of four figure associated with hauntings, several examples of hauntings and ghosts, detailed descriptions of four common ghosts, and more. Where the slim book is clever is in the way that the material is presented. On the one level, it presents information about ghosts and hauntings so that the GM can add them to his game—or not, as some of the options in the scenarios attest—but on another, it presents this information in a such way that The Black Moon Handbook is itself is an in-game artefact which the GM can give to the players and their characters. Once they have played through the book’s scenarios that is. In the book, the information is presented by Steren Slàine, an occultist and ghost hunter who it is implied is a wanted woman for her having distributed The Black Moon Handbook and its heretical content. Throughout though, both the author and her information are commented and debunked in a commentary written from a scientific standpoint by the Alienist, Enyl Mc Bedwyr. This gives the book both a pleasing balance and a pleasing sense of verisimilitude and the reader is left to make his mind up as to the existence of ghosts in Esteren. That is until the very final pages of the book when the differences of opinion are confirmed one way or another...

The book opens with ‘Haunting Phenomena in Tri-Kazel’ which looks at ghosts and ghostly phenomena on peninsula, how and where they might manifest, and how they can be exorcised, and how the Demorthèn and the Temple approach such incidents. What Steren Slàine suggests is that hauntings commonly occur in two locations. One is the haunted house, where great misfortune or suffering has occurred, the other is the cursed place, where even greater misfortune or suffering has occurred, whether in one incident or over the course of time. Haunted houses tend to be relatively small locations, but suggested cursed places include prisons and places of great battle. Ghosts might be anchored to a location or building, or to an object as ‘object of power’, but they might also be capable of possessing the bodies of the living, sometimes at the cost of the host’s very soul. Ghosts tend to exhibit strong emotions—regret, remorse, desire, yearning, and so on—and often have unfulfilled needs or desires that if addressed may allay their haunting activities. In some hauntings, addressing such unfulfilled needs may not be possible and an exorcism is required. This may involve an Occultist engaging in spiritual combat with the ghost—and rules are included for this—but flames can often be used to destroy or drive out a ghost. This though is not guaranteed method, the danger being that a ghost may still return, let alone the fact that the authorities frown on the indiscriminate use of fire to destroy property.

Included amongst these descriptions of ghostly types and hauntings are descriptions of typical signs of their manifestation. These are nightmares, the cold, drafts of air, shadows, and reflections in mirrors. Variations upon each provide the Leader—as the Game Master is known in Shadows of Esteren—with elements that he can use to build atmosphere and direct the story, whether ghosts and hauntings exist in the Tri-Kazel peninsula or not. Answering this question lies at the heart of the debate in The Black Moon Handbook between Steren Slàine and Enyl Mc Bedwyr. Although the supplement itself does eventually give an answer, the Leader is free to decide whether or not they do, being provided with the means to support his decision either way. What this also means is that the Leader can run scenarios with or without actual ghosts and hauntings, but still using these atmospheric elements. The scenarios without are pretty much akin to episodes of Scooby Doo or perhaps U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, the first scenario for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from TSR (UK). This enables the Leader to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the player characters as to the existence of ghosts and hauntings, and then, in a bait and switch, have them encounter an actual haunting or ghost!

‘Figures’ presents five individuals of note, connected to either The Black Moon Handbook or the scenarios presented in the next chapter. Thus they include both Steren Slàine and Enyl Mc Bedwyr, as well as a Varigal haunted by her past, a tortured assassin, a witch hunter, and a reckless knight seeking to restore his family fortunes. As with other books for Shadows of Esteren, these five NPCs are each accorded a full write-up and a full-page illustration.

‘Ghost Hunting’ provides the Leader with five examples of possible hauntings and ghost sightings across the Tri-Kazel peninsula. These are not scenarios in the traditional roleplaying game sense, but shorter affairs designed to be played in one or two sessions that come as detailed outlines rather than fully presented ready-to-play scenarios and so can be run with the minimum of preparation. The first scenario is ‘Rounding Up Stray Souls’ and is set at boarding school for rebellious children in the kingdom of Gwidre where salvation of sinners is sought through education and reeducation. When the adventurers are visiting the school, the headmaster asks them to look for a teenaged girl who has gone missing. In the wake of her disappearance and subsequent discovery washed ashore on the beach below the school, another pupil begins claiming that she keeps seeing the deceased girl’s ghost. Then more and more of the pupils do, so the question is, is the school really being haunted or has it fallen prey to a case of mass hysteria, what the supplement terms a ‘collective fear’. This is the first of the scenarios to offer both the mundane and the outré options and to be honest, the outré option is often not as interesting as the mundane option. In some cases the mundane option is more challenging in terms of roleplaying rather than ‘roll playing’.

‘The Key to the Past’ and ‘Bloody Trail’ are the second and third canvasses and are so closely connected that arguably, they should one scenario rather than two. In ‘The Key to the Past’ the player characters are hired to retrieve documents from a castle whose family were all tragically slain. The castle is said to be haunted and if the documents can be retrieved, ownership can be claimed and it can then be knocked down, destroying a bleak site and having a road built in its stead. What at first seems a simple task escalates into survival horror as the player characters are trapped in the mist enshrouded castle and forced to deal with the consequences of previous events in the castle. Both ‘The Key to the Past’ and ‘Bloody Trail’ make extensive use of the NPCs and monsters given elsewhere in the supplement, with the player characters having to go after the NPC responsible in the second part. ‘Bloody Trail’ is much more straightforward than ‘The Key to the Past’ and not quite as interesting.

The fourth scenario is ‘The Return of the Missing One’ deals with long aftermath of a terrible clash between mankind and the dread Feondas known as ‘The Buried Battle’. A husband long thought to have died in the battle has returned after some fifteen years, much to the delight of his widow. The question at the heart of this canvas is whether this returned man—who does not look all that much like her husband—really is her husband returned from death in another’s body or a con man working to take advantage of the wealthy widow’s grief? This is a nicely down character piece. It is followed by the fifth and final canvas, ‘Spectral Dance’, which unlike the previous four canvasses, takes place in an urban area. Thirty people, attendees at a private event, have all been found dead and it is thought that they were struck down by a local legend, the Wing of Death. Again, the line between the mundane and the outré  is easily delineated here and much like the earlier ‘Rounding Up Stray Souls’, this is an easy scenario for the Leader between the mundane and the outré options. It ends the quintet of canvases on a solidly entertaining note.

The ‘Bestiary’ contains just four entries, all of which appear in the preceding canvases. Three are new monsters. The Bodysnatcher is a ghost that enters the body of the living to possess them at the cost the original personality—either to subdue it or destroy it; the Claws of Limbo is a fog-borne entity that attacks its victims physically and mentally, which might be one of the Feondas or not; and the Anchored Ghost is a spirit which can be a place or a traditional ghost. The fourth entry is a detailed NPC, Joderine, who appears in the canvas, ‘Key to the Past’. She is the most difficult to use outside of the scenario in which she appears, but as an almost Rusalka-like thing, the Leader should be able to adapt her to a situation or scenario of his own design. Overall, this is a reasonable mix of new creatures, all four of which quite restrained what they are capable of, at least mechanically. In storytelling terms, they have a lot of potential though, especially in building upon the atmospheric elements presented in ‘Haunting Phenomena in Tri-Kazel’. Again, just like the five NPCs in ‘Figures’, these monsters are given a full page write-up and a full page, full colour illustration.

Physically, The Black Moon Handbook is a beautiful book. As with other Shadows of Esteren titles, The Black Moon Handbook is engagingly laid out and rich in full colour detail and artwork. The artwork is simply fantastic and show just how much effort goes into this RPG. The cartography is also very good and this is one of the few supplements for the RPG where the maps have been allowed to shine. Unfortunately, the writing is not as clean and tidy as it could be, the translation and localisation not quite as smooth as it could be. Another issue is the tone of the annotations from the pen of the Alienist, Enyl Mc Bedwyr, which is more disparaging and sneering without being constructive or helpful. If was that would have better countered the in-game author’s writings and perhaps better supported the mundane option.

It is entirely up to the Leader whether or not ghosts and hauntings exist in his Tri-Kazel peninsula. The joy of The Black Moon Handbook is that its content can be used either way, to run scenarios in which there no ghosts, but simply a strong belief in them or scenarios in which the beliefs are vindicated. Or for greater effect, be run to instil a sense of complacency into the player characters as the existence of ghosts using the mundane option, then shake their beliefs with a real haunting! Either way, The Black Moon Handbook is really only an optional supplement for use with Shadows of Esteren, but exactly what the Leader needs if he wants to bring ghosts and hauntings into his game—whether they are real or not...


—oOo—


Agate RPG and Shadows of Esteren will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.



Sunday, 7 May 2017

Your First Miniatures Wargame Companion

As the title suggests, Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits is a supplement for Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City, the fantasy wargame skirmish rules published by Osprey Publishing. Both Frostgrave and its first supplement, Thaw of the Lich Lord are set in ancient city of Felstead, a city of magic and wizardry which has long fallen into an ice age all of its very own. The difference with Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits is that it is not set in the city of Felstead, but below it. For amongst the various rules included in the supplement are those for taking the skirmishing, wizard-led bands into the great dungeons and caverns beneath the city where ancient wizards once experimented upon and bred monstrous beasts in great pits. The secret of these Breeding Pits and the knowledge of the Beastcrafters are just two of the treasures to be found in the catacombs. In addition, Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits includes new magic, new scenarios, new soldiers, new treasures, and more.

The ‘dungeons’ below Felstead comes in two forms. The first is that of huge caverns containing ruined city blocks, just like that on the surface, but enclosed in darkness and perhaps a little warmer and damper than above. This uses the standard set-up for the game. The second is that of the traditional dungeon a la Dungeons & Dragons, a labyrinth of connected corridors and chambers, but with dead space—dirt or rock walls—between them. This is the dungeon set-up and it has certain limitations on game play. In particular, ceilings limit the use of Leap as an action, dead space between the corridors and chambers limit the range of the Plane Walk spell, while in both set-ups, the need for artificial lighting limits how far you can see and the ceilings limit the vertical space and movement. Burrowing creatures though, have the ability to burrow through dead space.

Several new rules bring the mainstays of dungeon adventuring and exploration—random encounters, secret doors, and traps—into Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City. In addition to a slightly more controlled method of placing treasure at the start of the game being given, treasure below Felstead has another effect. It can trigger a potential random encounter, not where the treasure is, but somewhere in the dungeon, its location determined by a random player. Although the newly appeared creature—or creatures—must be placed away from any warband, it can be placed so as help or hinder a warband. Above ground, in the standard set-up, the discovery of secret passages allows a figure or warband to effectively pass through vertical terrain, whilst in the dungeon set-up, they can pass through dead space. In either case, these secret passages are unstable and collapse once they have been traversed. A trap is triggered when a player rolls a one on his Initiative check. Some of the traps are traditional—caltrops, poison darts, pit traps, and so on, but others are particular to Frostgrave, such as ‘Nullwave’, which will cancel all spells currently in effect, and ‘Pick Pocket’, when a thief appears and snatches the victim’s most prized possession, including the treasure being carried. In many cases, victims of traps can roll to avoid their effects.

All three sets of rules nicely handle mainstays of dungeon adventuring and exploration in neat, efficient means. The only caveat would be the instability of secret passages. It would have been nice to have included an optional rule for marking them as stable and so allowing them to be used more than once, perhaps with an increasing chance of collapse as they are used more and more.

The most notable form of magic included in Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits is that of Beastcrafting. A Wizard cannot become a Beastcrafter at the start of campaign, but must instead find the Book of the Beastcrafter and then brew the Elixir of the Beastcrafter. When this is imbibed, the Wizard gains the Beastcrafter trait. With it, the Wizard becomes slightly bestial and gains both a bonus to the Control Animal spell and more options as his Animal Companion, but soldiers are less inclined to join his warband. Available at Level Five and above, the Beastcrafter trait can be upgraded at Level Ten and Level Fifteen, each time the wizard becoming increasingly bestial, until he hybridises into an animal-like form. Together with the spells Animal Manipulation and Animal Mutation, which allow temporary or permanent change respectively to an animal under a Beastcrafter’s control, the Beastcrafting rules enable a player to field an animal focused warband. It helps of course that the Animal Mutation spell can be used to change an animal so that it can carry treasure; after all, who needs hands?

Besides the Animal Manipulation and Animal Mutation spells, Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits introduces a new spell type—the Reactive spell. This enables a Wizard to cast a spell in response to a spell cast at him. Deflect allows a Wizard to reflect a spell cast at him away from him and even back at the caster, whilst with Capture Incantation a Wizard can trap the vocal component of a spell cast at him and store for later use, even using to create a scroll with it using Write Scroll. Other Reaction type spells include Slowfall, which slows someone falling so that they land safely and Energy Lash, which reaches out and damages and stops anyone coming too close to a Wizard. This brings a bit more of a back and forth flow to combat in Frostgrave, but casting a Reaction spell does use up a Wizard’s next activation.

The supplement includes and new scenarios, all set underground. In ‘The Moving Maze’, the competing warbands must cope with fungus-infested ruins which actually move from one round to the next; in ‘Here Comes the Flood’, the warbands explore a giant sewer system unaware of a giant trap they have unleashed; and ‘The Breeding Pit’ sees them discover one of the Beastcrafters’ ancient laboratories and are beset by random encounter after random encounter. In ‘The Rats in the Walls’, the warbands delve into passageways rife with giant rats and collapsing ceilings, while in ‘Mating Season’ sees the warbands caught up between two of the gigantic, acidic-larvae spitting, beetle-like Devourers bent on crossing the same area as the warbands to reach other and mate, whomever and whatever stands in their way. Unlike in Thaw of the Lich Lord, these five scenarios do not represent a campaign, but rather just a selection of scenarios. It is a decent mix, but it does seem like a shame to missed out on the opportunity to build a campaign—not necessarily a full campaign, but for example, three or four connected scenarios—in which the warbands learn of the legends of Beastcrafters and the Breeding Pits, discover that the legends are true, and go on to get the Book of the Beastcrafter and the knowledge to manipulate and control beasts and animals.

Other additions include the new soldiers, the Trap Expert and the Tunnel Fighter. The first, as written, seems better at setting traps off rather than avoiding them, so might need a simple rewrite, whilst the second, is better at discovering secret passages and sneaking up on the opposition. A new random encounter table includes more living creatures, which is simply because it is warmer underground. It includes new creatures listed in the supplement, such as Basilisks, Gnolls, Hydra and their variants, Hyenas, Minotaurs, and Two-Headed Trolls. A hoard of new treasures is also detailed, such as Bear Armour—for armouring your bear companion, the Book of the Beastcrafter, Iron Collar which allows better control of wolf companions, and Spectral Blade, which reduces the effect of non-magical armour worn by opponents.

Physically, Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits is a well-presented book. The artwork is excellent, full colour paintings of both Wizards, Beastcrafters, and beasts, interspersed with photographs of miniatures in action. The book could do with an edit here and there, and a rule or two could do with a clarification, that of the Trap Expert Soldier in particular.

Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits feels like an inferior book in comparison to Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich Lord, though the fact of the matter is that Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich Lord is more focused, whereas Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits is more of a miscellany with a theme. It is a pity that this theme—of beasts and Beastcrafters—is not supported with a campaign of its own, but its addition brings a theme that can be explored in the long term through a Wizard’s development as a Beastcrafter. The other new rules are good additions to the game and help enforce the differences involved in exploring the underworld compared to the surface world, whilst the rules for Reaction spells will make confrontations between warbands just that little bit more dynamic. Overall, Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits provides solid support and options for Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City.

—oOo—


Osprey Publishing will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.