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Book 0: Introduction to Traveller
Publisher: Mongoose
by John S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/14/2017 13:48:37

By my reckoning, this falls cleanly into the "basic version" category of intros rather than the "light version": I personally think 34 pages is a little more than some players are interested in reading to test a new ruleset, as some of mine have strong feelings about 'homework'.

The introduction page seems like a solid and compact overview suitable even for new players. The chargen section does a reasonable job of presenting everything you need; it's hard to make the lifepath rules sleek and simple, but it's well-explained at least.

I do think the choice to restrict careers was sensible (it saves a lot of placecount), but I'd question the choice of Army and Navy only. It's great if you want to run a fairly pulpy combat-based game, but that seems to massively limit your options. Most of my sci-fi background, even the planet-hopping stuff, is in civilian-focused stories; moreover, the primary focus NOT being on combat is one of the more interesting things about Traveller to me. I think this would be much improved by swapping out one of these (probably Army) for a sample civilian career. That way, a GM can easily have players generate characters naturally suited to and motivated for a game that's either got a combat focus, or a more exploratory and social focus. As it stands I think you could get the wrong idea here and assume it's essentially about fighting - especially as the lack of setting information means it's easy to write up a group of space pirates to fight, but hard to plan the mapping of an undiscovered planet.

The rules also omit the Draft rules entirely, but have not been adjusted - there are multiple references to the Draft, including a "see opposite" when "opposite" is a textbox about commissions - and this is likely to be quite confusing to a player or GM not already familiar with the rules.

Similarly, a lot of the pagecount comes down to quite detailed descriptions of what each of the skills does. I think a genuinely light ruleset could be created with abbreviated versions, but on the other hand, for the GM it's nice to have these.

There are some presentation glitches in my copy: bold text is misplaced so it sometimes runs over the normal text, causing some legibility issues.

I think this free version gives you plenty to run trial games of Traveller and establish whether you might be interested in turning it into a campaign where the fuller rules and expanded sections on equipment, trade, spacecraft and background would be needed. However, it does have the substantial downside of including no setting information whatsoever, no information on species, and definitely no plots. A GM with a good idea what they want to do with a crunchy sci-fi game should be fine, a GM who likes the idea but wants more support may have trouble.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Book 0: Introduction to Traveller
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Overly Specific Condition Cards
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by John S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/14/2017 04:01:41

An odd one. Obviously this is a joke product and it's mildly amusing, so well done there. Worth a look, more for the pointers on creating your own conditions than for the humour.

What I find odd about this is mostly how inconsistent the cards are. There's some that are focused on metagame stuff, in a way which leaves me fairly cold, because my groups are quite happy to discuss that openly. A few of them seem pleasingly niche, but still potentially useful in a completely standard game and quite tropetastic, which is more what I was expecting ("Cornered by things that are smaller than you", for example). Others look have a tongue-in-cheek feel but would again work fine in a not-very-serious campaign, and then there's a couple of wild cards.

I don't have any problem with any of that, but I do feel the cards would have been more satisfying if they'd stuck with a consistent tone and theme for the conditions, because a stack of cards with the same kind of humour would have a cumulative effect, whereas this scattershot approach doesn't. Or you could even split it into two sets, one focused on horror/monster/WOD tropery and one on the jokier elements.

Also, and I appreciate this is a very minor gripe, but could they not have filled in the last four cards instead of leaving them blank? Surely White Wolf can come up with eighteen mildly amusing things?

It's a nice idea, I think it could have been executed better with a bit more focus, but it's a freebie April 1st throwaway so hey.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Overly Specific Condition Cards
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Black Crusade: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by John S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/30/2016 18:12:48

The game seems enjoyable from my limited play so far, with evocative character archetypes and options, and an array of advances, mutations and other developments which I can gleefully anticipate. The artwork is lively, high-quality and feels very appropriate to me. I found it fairly easy to create a character who felt different and interesting without being a bizarre departure from the premise, although I must admit I have a lot of exposure to 40K and have played this gameline before, which surely helps.

The core mechanics of the game are relatively straightforward and provide a reasonable balance between failure and success - it's a relatively gritty game, so a certain degree of failure is to be expected. This is particularly true of knowledge and technological skills (in the setting ignorance is a prized virtue and the world full of lies and secrets) and of social skills (virtually everyone is morally dubious, self-interested and deeply suspicious of basically everything).

Where combat comes into play, characters have a reasonable degree of survivability, but sensible preparation and tactical play are important to ensuring you can wreak havoc without dying. Here the skill system provides a good range of potential bonuses so those relatively low skills result in high rates of success. However, I must say it also gets really quite intricate and crunchy, and so is very much not for everyone. We spend a lot of time checking details.

The combat system is not simple, but there is satisfying weight to the game, with plenty of options in combat, aimed shots, a huge range of potential equipment, and of course, injury systems and a dramatic set of critical damage rules. I discovered my sniper could laser people so hard that their grenades exploded, on one occasion destroying the armoured vehicle they were standing on.

There's plenty of scope for variety and for power-development in the game, due to the disparity in equipment, which means a high-powered character can walk casually through low-powered gunfire without a scratch. This is highly appropriate for the setting, and also lets you demonstrate how far you've come (and makes very powerful adversaries both terrifying and an interesting challenge).

There are a large number of small changes from other 40K games, from the way certain weapons work to (more confusingly) the skill breakdowns, uses, and in extreme cases even which skills use which stats. Another shift is that now almost all skills can be used without specific training, whereas previous games in the line had a fairly even division between Basic and Non-Basic skills.

Where I have to ding this book is the editing, at least where the PDF is concerned. It is not the worst-edited RPG I've read (hello, Demon the Fallen), but I find it very hard to use. Some sections don't seem to be arranged in a very logical way - for example, the rules and reference table for obtaining equipment are 150 pages and 4 chapters away from the rules for that equipment - including all the keywords and details you need to cross-reference!

The bookmarking is fairly plentiful but sometimes seems erratic, as well as being a random mixture of all-caps and sentence case, which is just untidy. I was not able to find rules for Cover, for example (neither by bookmarking nor in the index), which seems a pretty basic topic.

The search function seems extremely poor, and although I can't check, my impression is that the book has not been adequately set for text searching. As a basic example: searching for "maglev" will highlight "Ferric Lure Implants" (or rather, "ure Impl") on p65, although in this case it is at least quite near to the world "maglev". This makes it frustrating to use, given that this is quite a complex game with a lot of specific powers, abilities and jargon, and the aforesaid slightly suboptimal ordering. There are also some cross-references and links that are simply incorrect: the Noxious Discharge weapon modifier references "see page 243 for rules on Smoke" but there are no such rules there. I think they may mean the brief reference on page p245, but it's shorter than expected so I'm not sure.

There are also so very many tables to reference regularly in play that I really feel like there should be a single extra appendix at the end which simply includes all the tables. It's a PDF, after all - no space issues really, and it would be extremely helpful for keeping things moving smoothly at the table. Or it could be an extra download. I expect to make one myself when I have time.

Unfortunately the usability issues for this PDF (and to a lesser extent the game as a whole) are severe enough that I can't rate it as highly as the content and presentation deserves. When a game is this long and complicated, ease of use and high-quality indexing/referencing are crucial. I like crunchy games, but I want to know I'm playing them right. If they release an updated PDF that fixes these issues, I will adjust my rating.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Black Crusade: Core Rulebook
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Critter Cache 3: Animals & Beasts
Publisher: Goodman Games
by John S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/06/2010 10:25:44

I was disappointed by the Monster Manuals' lack of basic animals (the indices of animals and vermin at the end of the 3rd edition MM was great). Some of the best adventure story moments come from animals, from predators in the night to circus escapes or the savage pets of arch-villains, so I was pleased to find this product aiming to partly fill the gap.

Content: The product covers a decent range of animals, mostly theoretically tropical species, but there are a couple of tundra species (woolly rhino and mammoth) and most could be readily adapted to other climates. I was especially pleased to see frogs, eagles and weasels in there, which are a bit more unusual as monsters, but much easier to slot into a game without extensive planning than some of the more dramatic beasts. Not that I don't intend to use those as well! Several monsters are useable as mounts, so I was pleased to see a table of mount costs and carrying capacities as well. On a slight downside, some of the more obvious creatures (big cats, apes and elephants) either are or will be in the Monster Manuals, though having extra versions available won't do any harm.

Presentation: Goodman Games stick with the familiar Monster Manual format, which is clearly presented, with the usual encounter groups and tactics sections. There were a few minor editing mistakes, irritating to people like me, but I haven't spotted anything that would affect gameplay (although it does make me wonder if a number might be off here or there). The artwork follows the cover style of clear black-and-white illustrations; if you lust after the MM full-colour spreads you'll be disappointed, but I considered it a plus, as I imagine that would at least triple the price. As I'm looking for gaming material, not an art book, the illustrations are a bonus and the low price tag suits me fine. Some pictures are more striking than others (I get the impression Mohn enjoyed drawing the brontotherium) but nothing to make you claw your eyeballs out.

All in all, I see it as a very decent product at a reasonable price.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Critter Cache 3: Animals & Beasts
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Azagar's Book of Rituals
Publisher: Goodman Games
by John S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/08/2010 08:45:28

This is a hefty and cheap addition to the D&D supply of rituals. There's a large array of rituals, some obviously more likely to be useful than others. They seem ideal for a DM to introduce as researchable rituals, perhaps as solutions to a specific problem, or as rare treasures appropriate to the adventure. As well as using the rituals as given, the large array here could be templates for similar rituals created to fit your campaign. Although I haven't yet used any of them in my campaign, I'm already prepared to say it's worth the price.

However, there are a couple of drawbacks to this product, which won't bother everyone.

The first is that the book is presented by hobgoblin general Azagar, which means fairly salty language and anecdotes at the head of each chapter. If you're sensitive about these things, or are running a game for children, you might need to censor it a bit. The rituals themselves are not affected by this, and as businesslike as any other rulebook. I didn't mark the product down for this, as it doesn't bother me and it's a very subjective point.

Secondly, I'm sorry to say there are a significant number of typos, spelling and grammatical errors, and other minor editing slips. I find these jarring, though not everyone will care. In a couple of cases, the exact effects of a ritual are unclear because of ambiguous language, which is a bigger problem. Given the size of the product, it's not too bad, but I still knocked off a point for this because it's affected the quality.

If there's a follow-up product, I would love to see a range of cheap everyday rituals. Rituals that would be useful and affordable for ordinary farmers, artisans, tradespeople etc. would be a very interesting addition from a world-building and roleplaying point of view. However, I've certainly no complaint about not finding them in here.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Azagar's Book of Rituals
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