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

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Nazis & Nasties II

By the time that Heroes of the Sea opens, the hostilities have begun, the Phoney War is over, and World War Two is in full swing. It is the summer of 1940, and in an unprecedented and daring series of manoeuvres, the Wehrmacht has driven through the Low Countries and deep into France, isolating the British Expeditionary Force, the French 1st Army, and the Belgian Army in a pocket around the port of Dunkirk. The British high command already knows that the game is up in France and the Admiralty has already announced OPERATION DYNAMO, the complete evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and whatever Allied forces can be accommodated by sea to south-east England. As news of this comes, so does word from Agent WOTAN, a British agent deep behind enemy lines – the Nazis have another plan in addition to the mere conquest of France – and if the British Secret Intelligence Service is determine what this plan is, identified as FALL NADEL, its needs to make contact with this agent before OPERATION DYNAMO is concluded.

This is the set up for Heroes of the Sea, the second part of Zero Point, the first campaign published by Modiphius Press for its Achtung! Cthulhu line. Where Three Kings took place before the outbreak of war with Germany and British intelligence knew nothing of the outré ambitions of some parts of the Nazi organisation, the experiences of its agents in occupied Czechoslovakia gave it more than an inkling of, if not Heinrich Himmler’s intentions, then at least those of his subordinates. So as the adventure begins, the heroes have been ferried to Dunkirk and from there are making their across the bridgehead, dodging German attacks and the holdout defences of the British Expeditionary Force, all the while hampered by Allied soldiery desperate to make their way to the beaches and columns of civilian refugees desperate to find a place of safety.

When the investigators do finally locate Agent WOTAN, they will find not the answers that they seek, but a mystery. Unravelling this mystery and then stopping it forms the focus of Heroes of the Sea. In doing so, the investigators uncover the plans of a distinctly ugly Nazi and her cohorts that if brought to fruition will not only stop the Allied forces from being evacuated from the beaches, but will also see the geological clock turned back many millennia and an alliance formed between the Nazis and a race ancient before the first men walked the earth.

To say anything more would be to divulge the details of both Agent WOTAN’s fate and the Nazi’s Operation FALL NADEL. What can be said about the latter is that it draws heavily on an interesting historical fact which the author then gives a batrachian twist to infuse the scenario with its Mythos menace. This is in addition to the perilous situation in which the investigators find themselves – a warzone that is slowly shrinking around them…

Throughout the scenario the investigators will be threatened by menaces both man and Mythos, both of which are given in pleasing detail. This includes the arms and armour of the Wehrmacht, so that the investigators will often find themselves facing tanks and half-tracks, as well as the terror inducing scream of being dive bombed by Stukas. The inclusion of both German and Allied armour allows for the possibility of the investigators commandeering a vehicle of their own and careering across northern France in pursuit of their goals. This may well be necessary as the scenario does involve a certain amount of toing and froing across the Dunkirk bridgehead, all of which will require the Keeper to make use of the scenario’s extensive random encounter tables.

The staged encounters do require careful handling upon the part of the Keeper, more so because what they require upon the part of the investigators is not represented by their skill set. At least not in the pre-generated investigators provided in the adventure, which are carried over from Three Kings. This is less of an issue in other versions of the scenario that use Savage Worlds or the PDQ system for their mechanics, as these rules allow for much more give when player characters lack the necessary skills for a certain situation.

In comparison with the earlier Three Kings, this scenario is not as structurally straightforward and makes more demands upon the Keeper. In particular, he will need to make extensive use of the random encounter tables and find a way to effectively handle the scenario’s almost heist-like scenes towards its end. If the final scenes of the Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep echo those of the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, then those in Heroes of the Sea echo Thunderball. Unfortunately, the scenario disappoints when it comes to advice for the Keeper on the handling of these scenes and what results from them. This is not to say that they cannot be exciting, just that they are not as well supported as they could have been in terms of advice.

Mechanically, Heroes of the Sea is well supported, with new rules including skills, spells, and occupations. Given the opportunities for battle in the scenario, it is no surprise that various armoured vehicles are described and rules are provided for running skirmish level combat. These are useful additions and will doubtless find their way into other scenarios and situations.

Physically, Heroes of the Sea is equally as well supported and well done. The layout has been done as a secret operation file complete with sections taped and photographs and maps held in place with paper clips. The handouts have the feel of in-period documents, as do the maps, which have a pleasingly vibrant feel, again suitable to the period and many a war map. The scenario is illustrated in a photographic style, feeling all aptly grim – and that is just the ordinary rather the outré war!

Where Achtung! Cthulhu - Zero Point Part 1 – Three Kings was a pulpy affair much in the mode of Where Eagles Dare, although with a Grand Guignol finale, Heroes of the Sea feels much more like a traditional Call of Cthulhu scenario though still one with a Pulp rather than Purist tone. It has a more interesting mystery behind it and it is more sophisticated affair all round. Despite the underwhelming advice for the Keeper in places and containing scenes that the investigators will probably be underskilled to deal with, Achtung! Cthulhu - Zero Point Part 2 - Heroes of the Sea is a well written, exciting, and engaging affair.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Time Terrifying Television

Primeval is that rare beast – a British Science Fiction television series that has received multiple series. Indeed, the series has even had a spin off in the form of Primeval: New World, a Canadian series made in Vancouver. What is so strange about this is that Primeval was made for ITV, the United Kingdom’s primary commercial terrestrial broadcaster, and ITV has a poor record when it comes to genre television. This is not to say that ITV has not broadcast some great genre television over the years – Sapphire & Steel, The Avengers, U.F.O., are all good examples – but in modern times, commercial interests and viewing numbers have determined the programmes that ITV has had commissioned and broadcast. So the commissioning of Primeval and its subsequent success was something of a surprise, and all the more surprising given that it was broadcast at a time when only the one Science Fiction television series mattered – the new Doctor Who!

Yet Primeval proved to be successful, becoming popular teatime viewing through all five series, primarily because its monsters or rather dinosaurs, not only looked as if they could exist, but they also looked and were scary. At least for teatime viewing, something that Doctor Who has not always achieved in its modern incarnation. The fearsome look of the dinosaurs was all down to the expertise developed by the programme’s makers on the earlier Walking with Dinosaurs series, not for ITV, but for the BBC. Despite being a success, Primeval had a problem all of its very own, because it could not quite decide what exactly it was. It began as a classic dinosaur hunting/monster of the week series, but evolved into a time travel/conspiracy series, and then a conspiracy/time travel series. Which at times gave it an odd tone.

Fortunately this sometimes odd tone is not present in Primeval – The Roleplaying Game published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment. Its author, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, has a done a fine job in setting a balance between the game’s three core elements – monster hunting, time travel, and conspiracy. The set up for Primeval – The Roleplaying Game is the same as the television series, roughly during Series 3. The player characters are scientists, researchers, experts, and soldiers, all working for the Anomaly Research Centre or ARC. This is a secret government organisation dedicated to investigating the Anomalies, preventing incursion of creatures from the past or least sending them back to the past if it can, preventing the public from becoming aware of both the Anomalies and the creatures that come through them, preventing the current timeline from being altered or erased, and investigating and preventing an apocalyptic disaster that will befall humanity and the planet in the near future. This set up provides the RPG with a surprising amount of depth given that upon first sight the series itself appears to be nothing more than a "dinosaur hunting" show.

The challenge in Primeval – The Roleplaying Game though, starts with the dinosaurs. Not only do the player characters have to prevent a marauding dinosaur from the deep past from snacking on the "all you can eat buffet that is the British public in the twenty-first century," they also have to prevent that public from becoming aware of the possibility of dinosaurs in their midst. Further, they have to do this without killing the dinosaur. The danger in killing the dinosaur is that its death will somehow alter the timeline that the player characters come from, as has happened in the television series. Worse, there are those from the player characters' timeline and from any number of different futures, who are not only aware of the Anomalies and the fact that they enable a limited form of time travel, but who actually want to alter the timeline to their benefit. The most notable example of this from the television series is that of Helen Cutter, wife of the main character, Nick Cutter. Missing for years, Helen Cutter wants to alter evolution itself!

The default setting or Campaign Framework of the ARC investigating the Anomalies is not the only option in the game. A GM could easily create his own Campaign Framework and organisation for the which the player characters work. Primeval provides rules for creating benevolent organisations like the ARC or those like Christine Johnson's secret government organisation which has more malevolent intentions in mind. Of course, the player characters could be working for such an agency. One of the sample organisations, Dinosaur Hunters, Inc., which provides secret safari trips into the past for the extremely wealthy, can be used as the player characters' employer, or as a rival to the ARC, but with far more commercial interests. The guide to creating a group also covers the players co-operating in choosing what their character roles are within the organisation so that everyone has something to do.

Primeval – The Roleplaying Game employs the same mechanics as the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game and the forthcoming Rocket Age RPG, both also from Cubicle Seven Entertainment. To create a character a player divides a total of 42 points between six attributes, his selected skills, plus Good Traits. Choosing Bad Traits gains a player more points to assign, as does taking the Experienced Trait. This is a Special Good Trait which when selected grants extra points to spend on skills, but at the cost of Story Points. The latter are equivalent of Luck or Hero Points from other RPGs, but are used to gain clues and dice, to avoid failure, ignore damage or Bad Traits, to inspire others, or to alter the plot. Creating a character is an easy process once a player has a concept. Of course, a player could just roleplay one of the characters from the television series. Full write-ups are provided for Nick Cutter, Abby Maitland, Conner Temple, and the rest of the cast, allowing them to be taken as player characters or be used as NPCs by the GM.

Nicholas Marsh
Awareness 4 Coordination 4 Ingenuity 4
Presence 3 Resolve 3 Strength 3
Animal Handling 3, Athletics 2, Convince 2, Fighting 1, Knowledge 2, Marksman 3 (Bow 5), Medicine 4 (Veterinary 6), Survival 3, Transport 2
  • Animal Friendship (Good Minor Trait) – Nick knows the best way to approach any beast.
  • Anomaly Sense (Good Minor Trait) – Looking for a way back from the past gives a sense for when an Anomaly is nearby.
  • Authority (Good Minor Trait) – Nick is a skilled paramedic and an even better veterinary surgeon.
  • Experienced (Special Good Trait) – You do not spend two years in the past without gaining some life changing experience.
  • Sharpshooter (Good Minor Trait) – Practise makes perfect, especially if you have to hunt for your food.
  • Tracker (Good Minor Trait) – When you have to hunt for you prey…
  • Animal Lover (Bad Minor Trait) – Nick often seems to like animals more than he does his fellow man.
  • Emotional Complication (Bad Minor Trait) – Nick never knew he had a wife, until he got to this timeline.
  • Impaired Senses (Bad Minor Trait) – Nick needs spectacles as he is short-sighted.
  • Time Shifted (Bad Minor Trait) – He may have found a home with the ARC, but it is not his true home.

Story Points: 9

Our sample character is Nicholas Marsh, a veterinary surgeon who when investigating the strange deaths of a number of animals at a safari park fell into an Anomaly. Lost in the prehistoric past for over a year, he was forced to learn to survive and adapt in a strange new land populated by creatures that he only knew about from books and television. Their presence was the only clue that he was in the past rather than living after some apocalyptic event that changed the world beyond all recognition. In that time he became a proficient archer, marksman, and tracker, but expected to die in the past. It was only an encounter with an ARC team investigating an Anomaly that gave him hope, and he was not only able to help the team, but he was also able to follow the team back through the Anomaly. Unfortunately, the present that Nicholas returned to was not his own, but one that was slightly different. There had been a Nicholas Marsh in this present and he too had gone missing over a year ago, but that Nicholas Marsh had also been married whereas the Nicholas Marsh who had returned from the prehistoric past had not been. Now he has to contend with a present that is just not quite right – none of the books he had written seemed to exist and he is having to work on them anew – and a wife with whom he has no history.

To do anything in Primeval – The Roleplaying Game, a character rolls two six-sided dice and to the result of this he adds an attribute and a skill appropriate to the action. The total must beat a target ranging from nine for an Easy task to thirty for a Nearly Impossible one. The result is qualitative in nature. A result equal to the target or three higher is an Okay result with the "Yes, But..." effect in which a character succeeds, but at a cost; a result of between four and eight greater than the target is a Good result with the "Yes!" effect in which the character succeeds completely; whilst any result of nine or more is a Fantastic result with a Yes, And..." effect in which the character not completely succeeds with an extra benefit! There is a corresponding set of three types of failure if a player rolls badly, but all six results encourage a qualitative outcome, one that contributes towards the story that is being played and told. A player can modify a dice roll by spending Story Points, primarily by increasing the number of dice a player rolls when attempting an action. No matter the number of dice to be rolled though, only two count towards the roll.

For example, our sample character, Nicholas Marsh has accompanied his team to investigate an Anomaly in a cinema complex and reports of a publicity stunt gone wrong. Discovering some spoor, he suggests that the stunt is actually a dinosaur that has come through the Anomaly and discovering some spoor identifies it as a predator. He decides to track it to wherever it might have its lair.  Nick's player would normally add his Awareness attribute and his Animal Handling skill to a roll of two six-sided dice to get a result, but he also has the Tracker Trait so gets a +2 bonus to the roll. To ensure that Nick finds the creature as quickly as possible, his player spends a Story Point to add two extra dice to the roll (if he were to spend more Story Points, he could only add another die for each as he only gets two dice for the first Story point spent).

Nick's player rolls 3, 3, 4, and 6. He selects the 4 and the 6 as his best dice before adding his Awareness 4 and Animal Handling 3 along with the +2 bonus from his Tracker Trait bonus for a total of 19. The GM has set the target for this as Tricky or 15 as the lighting in the cinema is poor. The result is four is higher than the target, which is a Good roll with a "Yes!" effect. So Nick is able to track the creature to wherever it has gone...

Much like Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game, which uses the same mechanics, combat in Primeval – The Roleplaying Game is slightly different to that of a traditional RPG. In the former, initiative always favours those who want to talk first, then those who want to do something, and lastly those who actually want to attack. In Primeval – The Roleplaying Game, initiative is handled according to your speed – fast creatures go first in order of Coordination, then humans and other creatures of a similar speed in order of Coordination, and lastly slow creatures in order of Coordination. Further, as in Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space – The Roleplaying Game, taking damage in the Primeval – The Roleplaying Game is deadly. This because damage suffered is levied directly from a player or creature’s attributes, which impinges on a player’s ability to act as reflected in lower attribute numbers to add to skill rolls.

The danger inherent to combat in Primeval – The Roleplaying Game only escalates when it comes to the game’s fearsome monsters. Terrors like the avian Phorusrhacid and the ferocious Utahraptor, not mentioned the mysterious “Future Predator,” are capable of killing human beings, as indeed are the numerous insects, infections, and other biological dangers that exist on the other side of the Anomalies. Although the RPG’s various monsters use the same attributes, and similar skills and traits as player characters, the monsters have their own special stat – Threat. This is a measure of how aggressive a creature is, the higher it is, the more aggressive it is. If a creature is hungry, in fear, injured, or displays aggression, its Threat rises, whilst its Threat will fall over time, if it feeds, or a successful Animal Handling skill roll is made against it. When playing a monster, the GM can spend Threat to give it bonus dice, lower the damage it suffers, or to activate its Threat Powers, such as the “Leaping Attack” of the Utahraptor.

As much as Threat is mechanic to help the GM, it is one that can be manipulated by the player characters. Do they need to calm a scared Scutosaurus in order to herd it through an Anomaly? Then good fodder and an Animal Handling skill check might be the solution. Or do they need to get an Utahraptor to chase them into an Anomaly? Then they should be aggressive towards it in order to attract its attention. Almost thirty monsters from the past are described in Primeval – The Roleplaying Game, and that in addition to the various humans from the past and certain dangers from the future. Beyond that, guidelines are provided to enable the GM to create his own threats, and the soon-to-be released Primeval Companion details another forty-five or so.

A similar mechanic handles cover-ups, one part of the ARC’s remit, but instead of Threat, this is Exposure. By sealing Anomalies, capturing creatures, and creating cover stories, an ARC team can reduce Exposure, but witnesses, victims, physical evidence, imagery, nosy investigators, journalists, and conspiracy theorists all work to raise Exposure.

Since the television series and thus Primeval – The Roleplaying Game involves time travel, it is no surprise that both this and the means of achieving time travel as well as its dangers – the Anomalies – are discussed in some detail. This includes the possibility of changing the time line and all of the hazards that entails. Again, a mechanic similar to that used for Threat and Exposure is used to assess the possibility of Temporal Damage, which if it gets too high, can lead to the current time line actually being altered.

A quarter of the book is written specifically for the GM, although a good half of the book – the latter half of the book – is really intended for his eyes only. This quarter includes an excellent chapter on gamemastering. It not only covers the basics, but provides a very useful description of the various types of player from power gamers and butt-kickers to storytellers and casual gamers, including their benefits and foibles. It takes the GM through the process of creating a single-session adventure, then a longer two or three session adventure, thus building up to campaign. Although the advice is written for Primeval – The Roleplaying Game, it would fit well with many other RPGs. More specific to the setting, the GM’s advice covers its secrets as they are known by the end of season three of the television series. This includes conspiracies, supported by details of those seen on screen and those created for the RPG, both of which are pleasingly inventive; and details of the future and its inhabitants. To be honest, this section does not go into too much detail, keeping it vague much like the television series. Rounding out the Primeval – The Roleplaying Game is a solid scenario for use with an ARC based campaign. It is written with the neophyte GM in mind, having clearly marked separate sections for both him and the GM who has more experience.

Physically, Primeval – The Roleplaying Game draws on the television series for its illustrations – so lots of photographs of dinosaurs along with various members of the cast. The book is cleanly and tidily laid out, using quite an open layout.

Primeval – The Roleplaying Game feels very complete. It not only provides everything that a player and GM needs to start a campaign within the setting and more, especially with the given examples. It serves as thoroughly researched sourcebook for the series, matching this with rules and mechanics that support most obviously the action of the television series, but also just as effectively its storytelling aspects too. Away from the television series, if you wanted a dinosaur-hunting, cross-time conspiracy RPG with an understandably British restraint, then Primeval – The Roleplaying Game is your answer to said wont. It does all that and it does it well in an engaging fashion. So not only is Primeval – The Roleplaying Game a fine adaptation of the television series, it is a fun dinosaur-hunting, cross-time conspiracy RPG that stands on its own.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

What Glory Rome?

The year is AD 64. A great fire has struck Rome and at Nero’s command the city must be rebuilt. A number of young Patricians have come forward to answer the imperial call, hoping to win influence and a fortune in helping the Emperor. As their influence grows, they will be able to command Architects and Craftsmen who will rebuild Rome for them, Labourers who will gather the materials needed to rebuild Rome’s finest buildings, the Legions to take materials for their building efforts, Merchants to sell the hoarded materials that will ensure their wealth, and Patrons who will gather more Clientele who will also serve as Architects, Craftsmen, Labourers, Legionaries, and Patrons for each Patrician. All this must be done if a Patrician is rebuild the greatest city in the known world and bring Glory to Rome!

This is premise behind Glory to Rome, a strategy card game published by Cambridge Games. Originally published in 2005, in 2012 it was redesigned with all new artwork and a new box and funded through Kickstarter. Known as the “Black Box” edition, this is the version being reviewed here. Designed to be played by between two and five players, aged twelve and up, it is a card-based city building and resource management game with a novel mechanism. Most of the cards are Order cards that can be used not in one or two different ways, but in four different ways. Each Order card can be built as a building, used as a raw material in the construction of a building, hired as a patron, or sold for its material value. Each Order card can only be used the once, so a player will need to choose carefully if he is to gain the winning benefit from it.

Each Order card is first and foremost a building that a player can construct and then gain the special ability that the building grants. Each Order card is also a material that could be used to construct buildings, though if a player uses it as the material to construct part of another building, he cannot construct the building on the card. There are multiple copies of the buildings in Glory to Rome, so if a card is used for material in another building, another copy might pass into a player’s hand enabling him to try and build it. Each and every building grants its builder a special ability that will help him win the game.

Each Order card is also marked with one, two, or three coins. Once the building on an Order card has been built, these have a dual purpose. First, they indicate the Victory Points scored at game’s end for having constructed the building. Second, they indicate the player’s Influence. By increasing his Influence, a player increases both his capacity to hire more Clients and store material in his Vault.

Lastly, each Order card is marked with one of six Client types and an associated material. These are the grey Architects, which can also serve as Concrete; the green Craftsman, which also serve as Wood; the yellow Labourers, which also work as Rubble; the red Legionaries, which also serve as Brick; the blue Merchants, which also serve as Stone; and the purple Patrons, which also serve as Marble. Each of the six Client types performs a particular role or function in the game. The Architect can lay the foundation of a building or add material to its construction from a player’s Stockpile. The Craftsman can lay the foundation of a building or add material to its construction from a player’s hand of cards. The Labourer takes material from the game’s central pool and adds it to a player’s Stockpile. The Legionary demands material from both the game’s central pool and the hands of neighbouring players. The Merchant allows a player to move material from his Stockpile to his Vault. Lastly, a Patron hires a Client from the game’s central pool and adds it to a player’s Clientele.

So for example, the Market card serves as a Craftsman if used as a Client, as Wood in the construction of a building, but if built does two things. First, its single coin increases both the player’s Victory Point total and his Influence. Second, it grants a special ability, in this case, an increase in size of the player’s Vault above the limit set by his current Influence.  Whereas the Archway serves as a Legionary if used as a Client, as Brick for constructing a building, and it increases a player’s Victory Point total and Influence both by two. The special ability that the Archway grants lets a player take material from the central pool of cards instead of his Stockpile.

Glory to Rome consists of three other card types. One is the Jack, a wild card that can be used instead of a Client on an Order card. Another is the Foundation card, which come in the game’s six material types – Brick, Concrete, Marble, Rubble, Stone, and Wood – with a Foundation card being required to be laid before construction can begin on a building. Thus a Wood Foundation card must be laid before construction can be begun on the Market. The last card type is the Merchant Bonus, there being one of these for each material. Each is awarded to the player who the most of the corresponding material in his Vault at game’s end.

In addition to beginning the game with a hand of five Order cards, a player also has a Player Camp heavy card mat. The Player Camp serves as a reference for the players, providing a brief description of what each of the Order cards does when used as Clients. Primarily though, a Player Camp mat is used to organise a player’s cards once they have been played. Order cards are tucked face up under the top of the Player Camp so that only their Influence values are visible; face down under the right hand side in the player’s Vault; face up under the bottom of the Player Camp in the player’s Stockpile; and face up with only the Client type visible under the left hand side of the Player Camp in Clientele section. This neatly organises the cards that a player has so far played. Constructed buildings or buildings under construction are kept separate from each Player Camp. There is also another card mat called the “Rome Demands” which is used with the Legionary Order card.

At its core, Glory to Rome is simple to play. On each turn one player is the Leader (there is a Leader card which is passed round the table as the leadership changes). As Leader a player chooses an Order card from his hand and announces his intention to play its Client as an action. So for example, as Leader, Dave chooses to play the Ludus Magnus card as his Order card and use its Patron action so that he can take an Order card from the pool and add its Client to his Clientele. Now each of Dave’s rivals can do one of two things. If they decide to “Follow” Dave as their Leader, then they must also play an Order card with a Patron action from their hand, play a Jack card from their hand, or Petition. The latter allows a Patrician to play to two or three (depending upon the variant of Glory to Rome being played) identical Client cards of another type to serve as a Jack. So for example, Anthony has neither a Patron card that he can play to follow Dave, nor does he have a Jack, but he does have two Legionary cards that he can play as a Jack.

If a player does not Follow the Leader, he can instead “Think.” In which case, he draws cards up to his hand limit, a single card if he has more cards than his hand limit, or he takes a Jack. If a Leader decides not to lead, but instead to “Think,” he takes a single “Think” action and then the Leadership changes to the next player. Similarly, once everyone has followed a Leader or decided to Think, then the leadership also changes hands.

Normally, only single actions are possible from one turn to the next, but multiple actions become possible when a player has Clients placed in the Clientele section of his Player Camp. Actions for a player’s Clientele can be taken when either the player or another player Leads with the particular Client type. A player can decide to “Think” rather than “Follow” the current Leader and still have his Client take an action as long as the Client matches the Order card played by the Leader. So for example, when Dave used the Patron action of the Ludus Magnus card, he managed to take the Market card from the central Pool and add its Craftsman to his Clientele. On a subsequent turn, he managed to add an Architect to his Clientele, giving him two Clients. On a later turn, Anthony is the Leader and plays a Palisade Order card to make use its Craftsman action. Dave can choose to “Follow” Anthony and play a card that would give him the Craftsman action, so giving him two Craftsman actions – one for the card he is playing and the other for the card he has in his Clientele. Or if he does not have an Order card with a Craftsman, he can “Think,” draw cards or a Jack, and still gain a Craftsman action from the Client because Anthony Lead with a Craftsman.

Once each and every player has played an Order card, that card is not out of the game. Rather it goes into the central pool of cards from which cards are drawn as material, using either the Labourer or Legionary actions (the Legionary action also steals from a player’s neighbours as well as taking from the central pool). To an extent it is possible to deny rival players the materials that they want by not playing certain types of Order cards and thus not discarding them to this pool. Plus it is easy to track what materials that a player wants from the buildings that he has under construction. For example, Dave knows that Anthony requires Concrete because he is building a Vomitorium. As long as Dave or another player does not Lead or Follow with an Architect action, the Concrete that is on all Architect Order cards is not discarded to the pool where Anthony might be able to get it later with a Labourer or Legionary action. Anthony is, instead, forced to rely upon the Architect/Concrete Order cards that he might draw when he “Thinks.”

During the initial stages of the game, constructing buildings will take several turns, as will moving material into a player’s Vault. As a player adds Clients to his Clientele, he increases the number of possible actions that he can conduct on a turn, either as Leader or a follower. Further, completing the construction of buildings not only adds towards a player’s Influence and Victory Point total, they also provide him with a special ability or benefit that will help him on subsequent turns. For example, when constructed, the Circus Maximus doubles the ability of a player’s Clientele by letting each one act twice. Thus each time that Dave uses his Architect or Craftsman clients, they take two actions rather than one. Essentially, the more buildings that a player can construct, the more he is able to do, and what he can do, he is better at.

Glory to Rome ends when the draw pile has been exhausted or there are no Foundation cards available to lay without the use of two Architect or Craftsman Order cards, at which point the player with the most Victory Points wins. Victory Points are scored by constructing buildings and by getting materials into a player’s Vault. Both of these objectives take several actions to complete. To construct a building, a player must use an Architect or a Craftsman action to lay its Foundation card and then add material to the building either from his hand (with a Craftsman action) or from his Stockpile (with an Architect action). Getting material into his Stockpile requires a Labourer action and there has to be the right material available in the central pool. To get material in his Vault, a player must use a Merchant action and the material must come from his Stockpile – so a player needs to decide whether to use a material card in his Stockpile as part of a building or to add directly to his Victory Point total in his Vault.

This is a medium weight, strategic card game with a light theme, one with plenty of replay value because of the variety of buildings and their special abilities available for construction. It offers replay value because although there are only two ways of achieving victory – constructing buildings and squirreling away material in a player’s Vault – there are multiple means to support those two ways, and those means are the special abilities granted by each building. It can be played in in an hour and it fits neatly in a surprisingly small box given the number of components in the game.

Physically, Glory to Rome is well done. The Player Camps and the Rome Demands mats are done in sturdy card. The cards are neatly designed and attractive. The previous edition had cartoon-style illustrations, but the updated “Black Box” edition opts for an elegant art style that echoes that of the classic board game, Civilisation. One issue with the cards is that they do get a lot of handling, so my advice would be to sleeve all of them.

As enjoyable as Glory to Rome is, it is far from perfect. Physically, the cards are not quite sturdy enough for the degree of handling that the game calls for – thus the suggestion above to sleeve them. A primary issue is with the rules which are underwritten and thus not easy to learn or comprehend. This has an effect on the teaching of the game because the multiple uses that the Order cards is not easily nor necessarily immediately grasped. Nor is this helped by the numerous special abilities that the buildings on the Order cards grant – reading them slows the game play down and understanding how a special ability works with the game’s mechanics is one further to learning the game. Thus learning to play Glory to Rome is a challenge in itself, but once grasped, the game just motors along. Experienced board game players will have less of a problem, especially if they have played games such as Puerto Rico, San Juan, or Race for the Galaxy

Once mastered, Glory to Rome is an enjoyable game to play. The game play is simpler than it first looks and it offers plenty of replay value as the number of buildings to construct means that no two games will be alike. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that after my first play I purchased a copy for myself. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

It Spells Murder!

Murder of Crows is a new card game from Atlas Games – the publisher of other card games such as Gloom, Cthulhu Gloom, and the recently re-released Once Upon a Time. It is a game of spelling, detection, and undermining your fellow players that can be played through in twenty minutes or so. Designed for two to five players, aged thirteen and up, it is a darkly themed humorous game that easily slips into play between other games.

The aim of the game is simple. To win, a player has to spell out the word, MURDER. This is done by playing the game’s many letter cards, each marked with the letters M, U, R, D, or E. Each of the five letter cards also has an extra effect beyond adding to a player’s MURDER. The “M” or “Misplace” card allows a player to steal a card from a rival’s MURDER and add it 0t1000o his hand; the “U” or “Uncover” forces every other player to reveal his hand of cards and allows the current player to steal any one of the revealed cards; the “R” or “Reap” allows a player to draw another card; and the “E” or “Expell” card forces every other player to discard his hand of cards and draw back up to three. As can be seen from these five cards, the game has a strong “take that” element in that the majority of the letter cards affect the other players rather than the current player. Well, this is a game about murder after all…

Given this strong “take that” element, it is no surprise that Murder of Crows provides a means of blocking these “attacks.” Each of the letter card is marked with a number of crows in the top left hand corner – one, two, or three. When a letter card is played, if a targeted player has a card marked with a number of crows equal to those on the letter card played, then it can be used to block an attacking card. A second card type, the “Wild Crow” card, can also be played to block an attacking card. Another use for a “Wild Crow” card is as a letter card in a player’s MURDER. The letter it replaces needs be chosen when it is played and it has all the effect of that letter. A player’s MURDER can contain only the one “Wild Crow” card.

Play itself is simple. Each player begins the game with a hand of five cards. The first player is decided upon who is decided to look the most suspicious… (Cue any number of arguments, if not murder itself!) On his turn he draws one card and plays one card into his MURDER on the table in front of him. The effect of a letter card takes place – or is blocked by one or more of the other players, and then the next player takes his turn. The first player to spell out MURDER is the winner.

In addition to spelling out the word Murder, a player’s MURDER also tells the story of a murder. Placed in order, the “M,” “U,” “R,” “D,” “E,” and “R” letter cards spell out the atmosphere, place, culprit, motive, means, and victim for the player’s MURDER. For example, “Shadows haunted the night” “on a shore reeking of dead fish when” “Heidi Harmony” “due to an inferiority complex” “used a frozen turkey to bludgeon” “Alexis Eldridge”. This adds an element of ghoulish storytelling to the game as well as a degree of uncertainty to the crime as the atmosphere, place, culprit, motive, means, and victim for a player’s MURDER will change over the course of the game.

Physically, Murder of Crows is nicely done. The rules sheet is easy to read through, although it will be passed around from player to player in order to check what each letter card does. It helps that the game includes a reference card, but more than one would have been useful. In fact, one per player would have been very useful.

The game’s fifty-five, full colour cards though, are very nicely done. Perhaps a little thin for extensive play – though Murder of Crows is a filler game and will not be played over and over – every card is attractively illustrated by Thomas Denmark, who along with Eduardo Baraf, designed the game. Denmark’s full colour art for Murder of Crows is Gothic Americana in style, possessing a sly humour that echoes that of Edward Gorey.

In terms of play and tactics, a player is simply trying to spell out his MURDER whilst preventing his rivals from spelling out theirs. Late in the game, as the players get closer and closer to achieving that goal, the game becomes quite cutthroat as they try and stop each other. Since almost every letter card is used to attack one or more of the other players, then one key tactic to be aware of, is knowing when to block. A player can of course use one of his letter cards – that is if the crows on the blocking card matches the card being played, but if he has a “Wild Crow” card, he can use that. Of course, that “Wild Crow” card might be a stand in for the last letter he needs to complete his MURDER.

The given age of the game – thirteen plus – seems a little over cautious. Younger players should not have too much difficulty playing Murder of Crows, although the “take that” element might be a little too cutthroat for them. Nevertheless, Murder of Crows is a light filler game, one with slight tactics, a light storytelling aspect, and a wryly dark theme. Murder of Crows offers fast, fatal fun.

Your Star Wars RPG Starter

In 1997, West End Games published the Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game. It was the best introduction to the Star Wars d6 RPG that the classic RPG could have been given, and indeed, it remains not only the best introduction to role playing in nearly forty years of the hobby, but also the standard by which all products designed to introduce players to the hobby are measured. Now late in 2012, Fantasy Flight Games published Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game, the introduction to its forthcoming RPG, which is the first of three. It is designed for use by between three and five players, one of whom has to be the GM.

It should be noted that this was not our first exposure to the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game in 2012. The publisher released a "beta" version of the core rules as part of a public play test effort. A full review of that is available to read here. What the Beginner Game does have, which the "beta" did not, is dice. Like the publisher's version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, this new game uses dice marked with icons appropriate to the setting of the game rather than just standard numbers.

Of course, the box that Beginner Game comes in includes a whole lot more than just the dice. Open up the box and slide out the contents and they are revealed to be a "Read This First" pamphlet, the Adventure Book, a Map Sheet, four Character Folios, a sheet of counters, and the Rulebook. All presented in that specific order with everything being done in full colour on glossy paper and is pleasingly illustrated.

The four-page "Read This First" pamphlet starts with a quick explanation of what a roleplaying game is before presenting a two-page example of play. It uses the four sample characters provided with the Beginner Game as they play through the first scene in the provided scenario. On the back is the introductory text for the scenario, done in the Star Wars classic opening text crawl. Sat underneath the "Read This First" pamphlet is a sheet advertising the forthcoming release of the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game and a link to the Fantasy Flight Games’ website for a scenario, “The Long Arm of the Hutt,” to be downloaded and played after the scenario in the Beginner Game. Extra support for the game also includes two more Character Folios that can be downloaded and used to add more players to the game. They consist of a Human Explorer and a Human technician.

The meat of the Beginner Game starts with the Adventure Book, which is labelled, “Read This Second.” It properly introduces the Beginner Game and its contents, but is solely intended to be read and used by the GM. It is written to help him run between two and four players through the scenario, “Escape from Mos Shuuta.” Over the course of seven short encounters it guides the GM through how to run each of them, how to roll the dice and interpret their results, gives options that the player characters might take, and includes break point when the players gets to spend some of their hard earned Experience Points before the action continues. At each stage it introduces new aspects of the rules all laid out clearly so that the GM can find them as the adventure proceeds. Rounding out the Adventure Book are some tips and advice on being a good GM as well as some ideas for future adventures, both in Mos Shuuta and elsewhere.

As written, “Escape from Mos Shuuta” is designed to be run as it is read. To that end, the scenario structure is kept linear and simple. The GM is even advised to tell his players that they might have missed some clues if they have their characters step ahead of an encounter. As read, it does a good job of presenting the GM with the information that he needs at the right time. Even so, it would probably be worth the prospective GM reading through the Adventure Book in order to be better prepared. An experienced GM will probably have no difficulty in running “Escape from Mos Shuuta” as written.

In keeping with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, “Escape from Mos Shuuta” is set on the Outer Rim at the furthest extent of the Galactic Empire’s reach, a region that is home to scum and villainy as well as explorers and colonists, all with concerns beyond the rule of law or the rule of tyranny. Specifically, it takes place in Mos Shuuta, a spaceport in the midst of the Dune Sea on Tatooine. The four player characters, each of whom is employed by, if not indebted to, the local crime boss, Teemo the Hutt, have decided to make a run for it. For this they a need a spaceship and it so happens that one has just docked…

The A3-sized Map Sheet is double-sided. On the one side is the deck plans of the Krayt Fang, a YT-1300 Light Freighter and the docking bay where the player characters find it in the scenario. On the other side is a map of Mos Shuuta, the setting for the scenario; plus plans of a cantina and the spaceport control, both locations in Mos Shuuta.

Each of the four Character Folios runs to eight pages in length. Besides presenting a character and its accompanying character sheet, each Character Folio explains the elements of a character sheet, advancing the character, and the available Talents. Together with the skills available, there is plenty for a player to spend his character’s Experience Points on. The four characters included in the Beginner Game are a Wookie Hired Gun, a droid Colonist, human Smuggler, and a Twi’lek Bounty Hunter, each with their own background story on the last page of their respective Character Folios. In each case, this background is specifically tied into the opening events of “Escape from Mos Shuuta.” Plus, there is a counter for each of the characters included in the counter sheet along with counters for the various NPCs and vehicles encountered over the course of the adventure, “Escape from Mos Shuuta.”

Rounding out the Beginner Box is the Rulebook, which is marked “Read This Book Last.” Expanding upon the rules presented in the Adventure Book, the Rulebook covers all of the action presented in “Escape from Mos Shuuta” and more. Besides all of the extra detail and explanation, it adds support with more gear and equipment, starships and vehicles, and adversaries.

So how do the rules work in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game? Essentially it uses a dice pool mechanic with a player required to assemble a pool drawn from the RPG’s six dice types. The eight-sided Ability dice, the twelve-sided Proficiency dice, and the six-sided Boost dice are positive dice, whilst the eight-sided Difficulty dice, the twelve-sided Challenge dice, and the six-sided Setback dice are negative dice. The Ability dice represent a character’s base skill or aptitude, the Proficiency dice his innate ability and training, whilst Boost dice are benefits granted from the situation. The Difficulty dice represent the task’s inherent complexity, the Challenge dice more extreme adversity; and Setback dice obstacles that come from the situation. The positive dice are marked with Success, Advantage, and Triumph symbols, all of which a player wants to roll, as opposed to the Failure, Threat, and Despair symbols on the negative dice, which he does not.

When rolled, the opposing symbols on the dice cancel each other out, but a player only needs to roll a single Success to succeed at a task. At its heart though, the dice mechanic in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire is orientated towards a narrative outcome rather than a simple binary yes/no outcome. Thus the symbols rolled will actually tell the story of the outcome. For example, a character might roll a simple number of Successes; no Successes, but an Advantage or two; or a number of Failures and several Triumphs; and so on. How these outcomes are interpreted perhaps represents the most challenging aspect of the game, especially for those players new to roleplaying.

The Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game comes with fourteen dice. These consist of three Ability dice, two Proficiency dice, two Boost dice, three Difficulty dice, a single Challenge die, and two Setback dice. The last and fourteenth die is the twelve-sided Force die. This is solely used to generate Destiny Points in the Beginner Game, which both the players and the GM can spend to upgrade the dice types in their pools. An Ability die to a Proficiency die for a player character, a Difficulty die to a Challenge die for the GM’s NPCs. Destiny Points do a lot more in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, but common to both the full roleplaying game and the Beginner Game, Destiny Points have a dark side and a light side. The player characters use the light side, whilst the GM uses the dark side, and cleverly, when a Destiny Point is used by one side, it flips so that it can be used by the other side. Thus, when a player uses a light side Destiny Point, it switches to a dark side that only the GM can use. Several Destiny Points are included as counters in the Beginner Game.

There is no doubt that the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game comes nicely appointed. It is also written and overall, a pleasing package. For the experienced roleplayer or GM, it is easy to open up a copy of the Beginner Game and get playing after a relatively short period of preparation. It will be even easier if the GM has read the Rulebook that comes with the Beginner Game, or indeed read either the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game beta
or the forthcoming full version of the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game.
It is not though, as well an appointed introduction to roleplaying Star Wars as was West End Games’ Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game. That was as much a utility package as it was an introduction and to that end included more adventures, more support, and more hand outs. Times change though, and so production values, for the production values in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game are much higher, with better art and a stronger themed layout.

Yet whilst it appears to include everything that a GM and his players needs to play, there are two issues with the Beginner Game. The first is minor; the second is more of an issue. The first is that it feels concise, as if it could have included something more. The emptiness of the box that the Beginner Game comes in only contributes to that feeling, and perhaps the inclusion of a second scenario would gone some way to negating this feeling. The second is an issue for the player coming to the Beginner Game for the first time. He is just not quite as well served as the GM. Other introductory boxed sets for other RPGs, including the one for the d6 Star Wars, have provided a player with a means of learning the rules and the mechanics, usually some kind of solo adventure. Now each Character Folio does include an explanation of the dice symbols and it does indicate which types of dice have to be rolled with each skill check, but it does not explain how a dice pool is rolled and how its results are interpreted. This is perhaps the biggest omission in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game.

Despite this omission, the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Beginner Game is everything that a prospective Star Wars roleplayer would want. It includes the rules, an adventure, characters, maps to play on, and perhaps most importantly of all, the dice! Not just a solid introduction to the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, but a good introduction to the roleplaying hobby too.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Curse of Chaosium IV

After a lacklustre 2011, Chaosium, Inc. surprised everyone by publishing not one, but two titles in 2012 for its flagship RPG, Call of Cthulhu. The first was the much lauded Cthulhu by Gaslight, marking the welcome return of the Mythos to the Victorian Era of the 1890s. The second was the surprise. Terror from the Skies: A Race to Save Humanity from a Dark Future presented an all new campaign for Call of Cthulhu, the first from Chaosium since Tatters of the King, published in 2006.  Like that highly regarded campaign, Terror from the Skies takes place during the RPG’s classic period of the 1920s and is primarily set in England, although events will take the investigators much further afield.

Like its forebears, Terror from the Skies is a world-spanning campaign, albeit one that is on a much smaller scale. It begins small, with a single scenario set in the South East of England where the investigators are to attend a wedding. If the villagers are to believed, the wedding and subsequent marriage will not be a happy one; but is this mere superstition or do the lack of weddings held at the local church lend credence to their claims? This is an engaging little affair with an array of detailed NPCs that is designed primarily to introduce the investigators to the NPC who will get them involved in the main part of the campaign. 

From Kent, the campaign moves onto the North-East where most of it is set. Lured by a letter from the NPC and by reports of vampire attacks in the Yorkshire town of Whitby, the player characters are asked to aid a friend who has been investigating certain mysteries of an outré nature. This being Whitby, the first thoughts upon the players’ minds should be Bram Stoker’s most famous creation, but thankfully the author avoids such clichés, the threat being more in keeping with the game. That said, there are some notable parallels between Dracula and the campaign’s true villains, which will slowly become apparent as the investigation takes the player characters first across the North Yorkshire Moors and then further north to the cities of Durham and Newcastle. Eventually enough will be hinted at to suggest to the investigators that various persons are co-operating with an intelligence to engineer a very dark threat.

For its antagonists Terror from the Skies chooses a foe ill-used outside of Delta Green – the insect-like, interstellar refugees known as the Shan. For the most part they are well used, their plot being woven around a very tight schedule in the summer of 1929. A major aspect of their role as protagonists is that once they become aware of the investigators’ interest in their plan, the Shan will come after them, not only looking into their activities, but at times, also moving directly against them. This is one of the campaign’s strengths, along with both the aforementioned tight schedule which will force the investigators to keep moving and the concept behind the campaign itself.

Although initially the campaign has a Purist feel, as it progresses, Terror From The Skies takes on an increasingly Pulpy feel. This is particularly evident where combat is involved, a subject that the author does not address directly, despite the fact that it being set mostly in England will influence the role and effect of combat in the campaign. In other words, the laws regarding combat and firearms in the United Kingdom are different, as is the selection of available weaponry, but none of this is addressed. All it would have required is a side box addressing the issue. It is also evident in certain sequences that possess not the structure of an investigative scenario, but a big puzzle box, one that is almost Dungeons & Dragons-like. Some of these sequences also suffer from a bloat of dice rolling at odds with the simplicity of the Call of Cthulhu mechanics.

If much of this sounds good in concept, then it is. There is the makings of a pulp action campaign in Terror from the Skies. The villains and their plans are interesting, and they are for the most part, reasonably well handled. Unfortunately, the execution does not so much leave much to be desired, as it does leave everything to be desired. The first hint at this comes when the campaign’s introduction wanders randomly into its prequel scenario. The second comes in the opaque nature of the link between this prequel and the bulk of the campaign. The third comes in elements and parts of the campaign being mentioned in one chapter without any accompanying explanation, the Keeper being at a loss until he finds said explanation, an NPC’s name, and so on, in the next chapter. All too quickly, reading Terror from the Skies becomes an exercise in frustration as not enough is explained in the text when it should be and this just gives it a discordant feel.

Cartographically, Terror from the Skies also presents the Keeper with nothing but consternation. Not by the quality of the maps included in the book, but by the absence of maps. In the course of the campaign, the investigators visit at least eight towns and villages, not in passing, but in the course of active investigation. There is not a single map of any one of these places in the book. The text does describe the routes that the investigators will take from one place to the next within these locations, which is essentially providing a narrative for Keeper and players alike, but a narrative without a reference. Without that reference it is almost as if the author is directing Keeper and players alike rather than allowing either the agency to run or play campaign as they see fit and move around within the campaign. Worse still, the investigators are required to visit numerous locations and undertake various actions at each. For example, the act of burglary is a frequently discussed option that the investigators can undertake, but again, not a single map has been provided of these locations where it is suggested as an option. 

Worse, the culmination of the campaign takes place on an airship, but no plans are provided of the airship in question. In the case of this airship, the events aboard which the author devotes the best part of two chapters to, there is not even a description of its deck plans. Or its crew – let alone their game stats.

It has to be asked, but why is this campaign missing so many of its important maps?

As mentioned, the campaign does not provide game stats for the crew of the airship. Sadly this is only an omission amongst many, for once past the introductory scenario, not one of the campaign’s many minor NPCs – NPCs that the investigators are expected to interact with, even fight – is given their set of game stats. There is a set of minimal stats for some cultists, plus advice to reuse them, but this not only leaves more effort on the part of the Keeper to undertake, it also depersonalises the NPCs. Many of the NPCs who are given stats and write-ups are overdone, sometimes ludicrously so when it comes to the Cthulhu Mythos.

The campaign does come with plenty of hand outs. With many of them, an effort has been made to make them look authentic and there is some artistry on show here. Unfortunately the newspaper articles will never look like newspaper articles because they are printed over a newspaper background rather than as newspaper articles, and the hand outs that attempt to look handwritten still look as they have been done onscreen because of the cursive typefaces employed. In addition, some of the hand outs are too dark to read clearly and many of the later hand outs amount to little more than printouts. As to the suggestion that some of them might have been written in an alien script, this falls flat unless there is some new mystery to Times New Roman.

Besides the missing maps and NPC stats, Terror from the Skies is also all too often missing the small details that matter – the details that add verisimilitude and the details that support elements within the campaign. For example, the investigators at one location might find a newspaper belonging to an NPC that he brought with him from his home country, but this newspaper is not named. It would be a simple matter to give the name of a newspaper and so add to the reality of the game. Similarly, the investigators are visiting another country and are presented with gifts – what are these gifts? In either instance the players will ask what their characters have found or been given. Not having this information ready for the Keeper the campaign dismisses the investigators’ actions.

In terms of layout, Terror from the Skies looks to be clean and tidy. Yet that is only upon a cursory glance, as it quickly apparent that physically there is no finesse to the book or its layout. This is only exacerbated by the editing, which completely fails to address any of the issues with the campaign – where the various elements of a chapter should go, where the explanations should go, the Call of Cthulhu format, inserting lists of the campaign’s clues and the parts of the plot that they link to, the small details that that enhance the campaign, and so on. All of which is in addition to spelling and format errors that litter the book.

The truth is that Terror from the Skies was never going to be a great campaign. It could have been, however, a solid campaign, one that was ready to play with relatively little preparation. It is even possible to imagine this as a starter campaign, though of course, it is set rather late in Call of Cthulhu’s Classic period of the 1920s for that. The accompanying truth is that Terror from the Skies was never going to be that solid a campaign. Not with these editors. Not with this layout artist. Not with Chaosium.

The terrible truth to Terror from the Skies is twofold. Terror from the Skies feels like an unfinished book and Terror from the Skies feels like a publisher’s first book. In this, Terror from the Skies is also a frustrating book. Frustrating because it leaves so much for the Keeper to do in preparing the campaign for play. Frustrating because in the hands of competent editors and developers, so many of its issues could have been addressed, if not to make it perfect, but to make it much, much better.