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Queen Of Crows
by Janette D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/16/2010 02:38:26

There’s a lot of talk these days about e-publishing and (depending on who's talking) it represents either a brave new world or the end of civilisation as we know it. Personally, I think there are amazing opportunities once the business and format decisions are sorted, and everyone starts concentrating on the creative potential.

That's why I so enjoyed Queen of Crows, designed and written by author Monica Valentinelli in collaboration with illustrator Leanne Buckley and editor Shari Hill. Published by Flames Rising, it's currently available in pdf format, and provides a tantalising glimpse of what e-books might be, once they grow out of being simple digital clones of print books.

The central item in this gorgeously designed digital product is the short story “Queen of Crows”. But that’s just the beginning.If “Queen of Crows” is the main dish, the related fragments provide us with a perfect, sumptuous feast of complementary tastes. Short stories nearly always leave us with unanswered questions, but I left the table sated.

The extras include notes on the story’s creative origins; access to background reference material which inspired Valentinelli's creative process; gorgeous character artwork; an excerpt from the unfinished novel in which the main character first appeared; and links to other works by the contributors.

Valentinelli gives us a lyrical yet chilling encounter at a crucial point of America's history. Can medicine man Tse trust the assurances of a corpse-witch in his dealings with the mysterious Mahochepi? And what of the White Men and the stranger who travels with them? Tse’s choices echo with unease, and the horror builds to a grim conclusion, with revelations that add rich detail to flesh out the story.

The layout is beautiful, and each section is appropriately designed for its purpose. It’s exciting to see such a seamless collaboration between author, artist and editor. I especially likes the inclusion of one or two links to external sites for reference material. As an information geek, I would have loved more - and this is the kind of thing I anticipate with excitement about digital publishing; the opportunity to embed links within a story, giving readers the choice of following the author's paths.

I’d recommend this to anyone with an eye for great writing, haunting story, good design or engaging art; or even just an interest in the relationship between humans and the spirit world. Just don’t read it right before you turn out the light.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Queen Of Crows
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Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
by Robert G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/12/2010 11:12:19

The quality of the writing is good. Unfortunately, this is a very small product consisting of one systemless character description. As such, this is about the smallest detectable particle that can be called a gaming product, even less massive than the previously measured "short zine article" format. I object to such products cluttering up the product menu.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
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Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
by Anthony C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/29/2009 15:06:16

I suppose I should start off with a disclaimer: I do most of my reviews over at (from where my free reviewer's copy originated); however, this product also comes from them. For that reason, you're reading about it here instead. The concept behind Instant Antagonists is brilliant in its simplicity. through years of gaming, I have picked up books with the purpose to mine them rather than play them. Some games have no viable playability for me, but contain something to them that I need for another setting. Every GM does this. Maybe they mine music or television for their inspirations, but all ideas have their source material.

Instant Antagonists attempts to provide this source material without any misconceptions. This series offers no statistics beyond basic descriptions of three core attributes--Body, Mind, and Spirit--and any powers the creature may have. What readers get is a handful of origins for the creature, some story seeds, and other random bits of goodness. What you build from these essential materials is up to you, you crazy would-be gods of the imagination.

The cover artwork (and only artwork) for the Succubus comes from Jeff Preston. This piece was linked to this character a year ago when Flames Rising gave thirty-one horrors to readers over the course of October. It's a great character rendition. The flames in the background make for a nice touch.

The layout, which is provided by Preston P. DuBoise, is a standard two-column layout. Some icons were used on the first few pages for added effect; however, I'd like to see bordering in this series (why not flames?). Of course, no borders means this is wonderful for a quick pre-game print job.

Jess Hartley's creation also comes from the website's 2008 October experiment. Her piece is included at the beginning of the booklet for atmosphere. From there, Hartley offers the Descriptions, Mannerisms, Powers, Attributes, Origins, and Story Seeds. It gets a little tricky in that the Origins offers three different explanations for the creature (Game Masters pick the one that works best for their campaign). Each origin though has to link up with the Descriptions given earlier. The Story Seeds sometimes link to a specific origin story, which is fine.

Hartley's writing continues to impress me, despite this being such a small project. Only one typo caught my attention. The Story Seeds have individual names. One of these is "Damned if I Do" and another is "With Great Power." What caught my eye is that "Damned if I Do" is mentioned at the very end of "With Great Power." It's a minor mistake, but one nonetheless.

All in all, I think this is a fantastic new concept for a very old idea. More creatures (and more) will come from this series, so check the trailblazing addition out today with the Selfish Succubus. She may just be that NPC antagonist you need to sex up your game. My scores for Instant Antagonists: Selfish Succubus are:

  • Artwork: Five out of Five Dice (Perfect fit)
  • Layout: Four out of Five Dice (I'm on the fence about the sparse look)
  • Writing: Four out of Five Dice (Would have liked to see more from the author)
  • Overall: Four out of Five Dice (Can't wait to see more from this line)

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
by Timothy B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/22/2009 21:43:52

I picked up a copy of “Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus” last week. Instant Antagonists is a new product line from Flames Rising. Now full disclaimer here, I know Matt McElroy and I am a fan of his site and his work. IF you are a horror gamer you really can’t help but be a fan really. Horror news, gaming news, interviews and now products like IA. What is IA? Well it is actually a very cool idea. They spend a few pages to fully develop a character to use in any system. This is quite a good idea really. Most often you get character stats, but not much in the way of background or story. The IA aims to change that. So how do they do? Well I have the first one here. Lily Sinclaire is a succubus. Not in the metaphorical sense, but a really honest-to-the-devil succubus and for whatever reason she is out of Hell and here to have a good time. In “Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus” we are introduced to Lily, also known as Lilis, through some fiction and a description. She is beautiful, looks and sounds exotic and has a prehensile tail. Yeah a tail. She has to cut it off every night, but otherwise it is a tail. In what might be a preview of how future Instant Antagonists might be like, we are given descriptions of how she looks, about how smart she might be. WE are also given insight to what they might be like, powerwise, through their systemless system of Mind, Body and Spirit. Things like “she thinks quickly on her feet”, or “she knows a lot about ancient history”. I found this to be a very effective way to describe the character. So I have an idea of what she might be like in say Tri-Stat or Unisystem, stats wise.

Multiple origins are given for her to help place her in your favorite system better. Or even as rumors about her. Despite the fact that the book is all fluff, there is no waste.

And finally there are story hooks, ways you can pull her into your game. Either as the titular antagonist or as someone the characters are likely to interact with. Though given how detailed Lily is, she likely to be elevated to the level of “Guest Star” and not “Monster of the Week”. So all the plot hooks can be used one way or the other.

I think that the idea behind Instant Antagonists is a great one. Often times it is too easy to come up with stats and forget the character they are supposed to represent. Lily is the opposite. By presenting her as a character, sans stats, you are forced to think of her as a character, with background and motivations, first and not a collection of numbers.

Looking forward to more.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
by Robert H. (. &. P. G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/22/2009 15:30:10

Instant Antagonists is a new series of mini-supplements by Jess Hartley and Matt McElroy that drop a unique villain or perhaps even a shady ally to plague your players in your modern supernatural or horror game. Each of the supplements will be completely system independent, aiming instead to give you enough background on the antagonists to recreate them in the game system of your choice. The first installment kicks things off with a "Selfish Succubus" who lurks among us by the name of Lily Sinclaire.

The supplement opens with a piece of short fiction featuring our villainess and is told from the perspective of her latest "fling." The scene sets up the hedonistic and predatory nature of our antagonist and starts to get the creative juices flowing. From there we dive into the creature's background, and we are provided with an array of possible origins, powers and story hooks for introducing Lily into the game.

The idea of a temptress who entices men (or let's be fair, perhaps women too) toward ultimate damnation is nothing new or innovative. Lily's background and motivations read exactly like you would expect based on the mounds of modern fiction featuring succubi. She's the life of the party with a seemingly insatiable sexual appetite who prays on the week of will or character, ultimately seducing her prey to give into fleeting and carnal pleasures while manipulating them into somehow damning their eternal souls. This supplement doesn't give any new spins on that basic theme.

However, it does bring some interesting ideas to the table for how a succubus might have found herself (itself?) into your world -- even one that doesn't normally feature creatures from the heights of heaven or depths of hell. The story hooks provide an instant launching point for adventurers starring Lily as either a villainess who vexes the party or a dangerous ally in a fight against something even more sinister and threatening than her. While the six story hooks presented are brief summations of no more than a couple of paragraphs each, they give the game master some great inspiration on using a creature like Lily Sinclaire in their game, and they are the real gold to be found in this supplement.

My Thoughts

The idea behind the Instant Antagonists series is a brilliant one. Many games gloss over these kinds of background and flavor details, and instead they focus on throwing stat blocks at the game master that translate into little more than empty bags of hitpoints. Here is where a product like Instant Antagonists can step in to give the game master some real guidance on how to introduce a captivating villain that his players are sure to remember -- and loathe -- for a long time to come.

I eagerly await the next installment...

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/20/2009 11:35:54

Full disclosure: I am friends with Jess Hartley, the author of this supplement.

This is the first Instant Antagonist supplement from Flames Rising Press. It is intended to be used in any modern supernatural/horror game.

There's a brief introduction to what the IA line is about, then a one and a half page story about (one version of?) the succubus.

The next few pages are a physical and social description of the succubus and how she interacts with typical situations. There's an interesting but short summary of her "mind, body and spirit" which is meant to be used to translate her into the systems of your chosen game.

The supplement concludes with three possible origins for the succubus as well as several story hooks.

The strength of the supplement is the detailed examination of how the character interacts with people and situations. However, the main weakness of the supplement is that there isn't enough of this examination.

For example, the character's behavior at parties and in intimate situations is thoroughly worked out. This is exceptionally good fodder for a GM. I have a clear picture after reading this how this character will be if the characters encounter her in those situations - something very few character supplements bother to do. But I don't have a clear picture of how she would react if seriously threatened, unsettled or if there was an obstacle in her way, for example, or what she actually does with "her" time. I feel like I can get the player characters to bite down on the hook but have really no place to land them. Nevertheless it's both unusual and really helpful to have a "social description" of the antagonist, since the characters are likely to encounter them in a social situation at some point and normally GMs are left just twisting in the wind with a very generalized "personality" block.

Another big strength of the supplement is that the different origins discuss the different sorts of relationships and connections the player characters can be expected to feel with the antagonist. For example, if she is the "devil's daughter", she really has no control over her parentage and, as the supplement notes, the PCs may be sympathetic to her situation. On the other hand, if she gained her devilish powers through pacts with hell, the PCs may rightly condemn her. This is often not discussed in monster/antagonist materials - how is the origin and activities of the antagonist likely to contribute to the player characters' attitude towards them? The same is true for different player characters. If I'm running a game of crosses-and-stakes demon hunters, they are likely to have a different attitude towards Lily than a group of vampires who are themselves cursed to seduce and consume humans. They are also likely to react differently to her depending on the "rules" of the world as far as magic, demons and so on go. This is well fleshed out in the origin section.

The story hooks are quite good, but they end up with too many questions without much guidance in how I should answer them as a GM. It's a good thing when you're providing adventure hooks to make them very broad so that they can be fit into different sorts of campaigns and groups - but there also needs to be enough to them that I can figure out whether I want to fit them in, and how I decide that.

If I had to sum up this supplement (and I guess I do or else the review will go on longer than it does), I would say that it's got a lot of really awesome stuff in it that leaves you hungry for more. I hope the IA line is successful, it's an excellent idea - antagonists can really drive your story. Lily the succubus is a cool, iconic character who could turn up in any number of games that I've run over the last few years and certainly she is likely to turn up in one in the future, and that's the best recommendation I can give her.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
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