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Interstellar Patrol Adventure Cards
Publisher: Nothing Ventured Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/06/2022 08:52:47

This is an optional but useful companion product to Interstellar Patrol. It expands on the situations and worlds found there. Note that you're still getting seeds, not fully fleshed-out adventures or worlds. This is good for a low-prep or pickup game.

The plot cards offer a good variety of situations. Each card gives you two brief situations that fit a certain theme, such as Strange Phenomenon or Enemy Action. As an earlier reviewer said, the description font could have been bigger. The adventure fractal icons on the plot cards are unnecessary, so they just take up real estate that could have left room for a bigger font. Each situation description is just a sentence or two, so it's up to you and your group to run with it.

The adventure fractal cards are for those who are following the adventure fractal model described by Ryan Danks. Here's his archived description: https://web.archive.org/web/20160309215516/http://ryanmdanks.com/?p=496

Each adventure fractal card assigns the values +0, +1, +2, and +3 to the adventure's or scene's four skills: combat, diplomacy, exploration, and science. In aggregate, the cards cover every possible combination of skills and values.

The world cards offer good variety. Each card gives the world a skill level, a world aspect (e.g., Well-Established Colony), a story aspect (e.g., Hidden Technologies), a world type, and a name. The world and story aspects and the names are unique to each card. The world type is one of those described briefly in Interstellar Patrol. Apply the world's skill level to the world's denizens and challenges. Invoke the aspects when appropriate, and use them as narrative guidance for the kinds of denizens, locations, things, and events you're likely to encounter.

You can play Interstellar Patrol without the cards, but the cards are a good addition.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Interstellar Patrol Adventure Cards
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Brazen Backgrounds: Character Backgrounds for Bronze Age Settings
Publisher: Gundobad Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/11/2022 14:21:02

Nicely done. As another reviewer said, it does exactly what it says on the tin. The character backgrounds offer variety and interest if you have a Bronze Age setting and you want some historical accuracy.

I'm glad to see the author is a Bronze Age expert. The introduction gives you a few pages of overview for a Bronze Age setting, plus a list of recommended books where you can find out more.

Even though it aims for historical realism, there's nothing stopping you from putting a fantasy spin on things.

There are four groups (broad categories) of character backgrounds consisting of six roles each, for a total of 24 roles. A nice touch is that you get four ways to roll up results:

  • Diverse d6 by group: roll d4 to chooose the group then d6 to choose the role within the group. All roles have equal probability.
  • Weighted d10 by group: d4 for the group, then d10 approximately matching the historical frequency of a role within the group.
  • Diverse d100, no groups: d100 almost evenly distributed across all 24 roles.
  • Weighted d100, no groups: d100 distributed across all 24 roles according to approximate historical frequency.

Each background gets a paragraph telling you how that role works in a Bronze Age setting. I had never heard of the "Speaker at the Gate" concept before. The brief description is enough to work with, but I'd probably want to dig into one of the books listed in the introduction to find out more. The other roles were conceptually familiar, but it was good to see the descriptions telling you what they were like in the Bronze Age that might not be what they're like in other eras.

Most of the backgrounds include a tweak or two for your character, such as additional equipment or a bonus to a characteristic.

Each background drills down further. Most of them have a d4 list in response to "Tell us about this background." The exception is the Artisan/Skilled Laborer, which rolls against a d12 list (twice) for craft specializations. This additional info gives you a subtype for your role. Your charioteer might have been a charioteer/archer, for example, or if you're a foot soldier, you might have been a skirmisher in particular. It's almost like having 96 roles instead of 24.

Another nice touch is that each background also gives you a d4 list of responses to "Tell us why you left." In fact, you could use a lot these for other settings as well. How come you're off adventuring when you had a day job? These lists answer that question with plausible, creative stories described in a sentence or two or three. Maybe your manual laborer ran off to join a bandit gang. Maybe your caravan member fled after being accused of spying. You're left to flesh out any details (How's that gang working out? Are you really a spy?). You could start adding your own variations to these stories, such as using the bandit gang story for some other role, or choosing a different crime in the accusation story.

The extra benefit of these "why you left" stories is that they offer continuing adventure material, such as recurring NPCs, places where you're especially safe or especially at risk, or on-going personal quests.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Brazen Backgrounds: Character Backgrounds for Bronze Age Settings
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Creator Reply:
Thanks so much for offering a detailed review! I'm glad you're enjoying BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS.
Be Awesome At Dungeon Design (Augmented Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/09/2022 14:48:06

As other reviewers have noted, there's a lot of really solid advice on creating an engaging dungeon environment.

Chapter Five (The Dungeon's Ecology) offers a list of reasons to include some unoccupied rooms. I'll add one more: modularity. If you realize during play that you've overlooked something or that you really ought to add something (a crucial clue, a monster's lair, bathrooms for the denizens, etc.), you could easily repurpose a nearby unoccupied room. Several chapters could benefit from factoring in ways to make the dungeon modular and adaptable during play. Wandering monsters, for example. Use them to introduce crucial clues that the PCs have missed, or to give the PCs an easy, rewarding encounter if they're demoralized or a tough encounter if things have been too easy.

Precisely one chapter gives me heartburn: Chapter Nine, Creating the Illusion of Detail. You could just rename it "How to Waste Everyone's Time When You Haven't Prepared." In the first two sentences, it states a valid problem: when the PCs reach a part of the dungeon you haven't prepared. After that, the advice is problematic. The NPCs can deceive the PCs, but the GM should never deceive the players. Deliberately stalling them and wasting their time only because you haven't prepared is not the way I'd treat my players. Besides, the advice in Chapter Nine can easily backfire. If you put up extra encounters and barriers, you could make the PCs more interested in seeing what's beyond. If you give them an unbeatable monster, they might think you wouldn't do that to them, and then you have a TPK on your hands. How hard do you keep stalling them before they realize they've wasted their time? How much will they enjoy finding out that you gave them an unbeatable problem? You could kill the mood or erode trust. Chapter Nine isn't the illusion of detail. It's the deception that the PCs think they have a chance of going in a direction you don't want them to take.

There are two ways to keep the PCs out of areas you haven't prepared: Be straight with the players, or don't put temptation in their path.

Being straight with the players: "Let's take the action elsewhere. I'm not done with this part." Good players can accept that and move on. They'll appreciate that you didn't waste their time. Problem solved within seconds and you've reinforced trust. It's no worse than saying, "Let's break for pizza."

Refraining from temptation: Instead of putting up barriers and encounters that you hope will divert the PCs, put nothing there. Instead of a door they can't open protected by monsters they can't beat, make it a blank wall. Instead of a collapsed tunnel they might try to get through, there's no tunnel. They'll walk on by. Again, problem solved within seconds.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Be Awesome At Dungeon Design (Augmented Edition)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to post your thoughts on Be Awesome. I am sorry chapter nine gave you heartburn! I can certainly see your point of view regards the illusion of detail. If/when I revise this book I will add in a section presenting your suggested solution to the problem of the characters eandering off in the "wrong" direction! Thanks again
Creature Decks Fate PDFs [BUNDLE]
Publisher: Inkwell Ideas
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/16/2021 02:57:25

With 54 creatures in each of five decks, you have 270 creature types at your fingertips. The previews show you exactly what you get with each creature: good artwork and the Fate specs for the creature: concept, trouble, other aspects, Fate Core skills, stunts, extras, physical and mental stress tracks, and size.

Most creature types get a single card: one stone giant card, one red dragon card, one ettercap card, and so on. Some get two or three cards for subtypes, such as goblin, goblin leader, and goblin shaman or lamia and lamia matriarch.

If you're using Fate Accelerated, Evil Hat has a Fate Accelerated/Core Conversion Guide that gives you a conversion method. That guide also notes, however, that "it’s not really going to wreck anything for you to just leave them as is, roll what you gotta roll, and stay focused on the players." (It's referring to Core/Accelerated conversion in general, not the creature decks in particular.)

Each card gives the creature a scale rating, which isn't a Fate term. The title card says that scale is "an indication of the creature's power." Whether and how you use the scale rating is left up to you; the cards provide no game mechanics for it. One might quibble with some of their choices, such as giving an ordinary toad (Small and Harmless Amphibian) the same scale rating as a zombie.

Monster stat blocks in other RPG systems tend to focus heavily on combat stats, leaving non-combat elements to the descriptive text. These cards include combat and non-combat elements, fortunately, and sometimes hints on when they'd seek or avoid combat. The drider is a Corrupted and Shamed Elf/Spider Hybrid. The goblin leader has If You Can't Beat 'Em, Hide. A griffon is a Mythic King of Beasts of the Sky and Earth. A manticore has Buy Me Off - Please.

There's no narrative description of the creatures beyond what you see on the cards. You'd take inspiration from the card elements and from your own understanding or vision of the creature. Some of the listed aspects are obvious and straightforward. An eye of the deep Sees in All Directions. A hippogriff is a Half-Horse Half-Hawk Flying Steed. Some aspects are more open to interpretation. A harpy has A Taste for the Exotic as its trouble and What Is That Scent? for one of its additional aspects. A stone giant has What Has Been Hewn in Stone. This is good news if that inspires your group, or bad news if you want a more detailed explanation of what it all means.

Magic-using creatures have magic-related aspects, stunts, or extras. There's no particular system of magic other than using these things to create magical effects. A kobold shaman, for example, has Trap Magic and Minor Illusions as stunts, with brief descriptions of each.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Creature Decks Fate PDFs [BUNDLE]
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The Accelerated Book of Approaches
Publisher: Dice Monkey
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/13/2021 18:55:05

As other reviewers have noted, this is more like an extended blog post or forum comment than a "book" (as it calls itself). At least it's only 59 cents currently.

The sorta good: Overall, there's nothing terribly compelling, but there are a few things that are sorta good for Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE).

  • Each of the usual FAE approaches gets a couple of sentences about downsides. That's a good way to view approaches. You gain something by taking one approach or another, but you also risk something. That can help you narrate failure or success at a cost. The shortcoming here is that that idea could have used a deeper treatment beyond just listing a couple of examples.
  • It refers to your highest approach as your default stance, which guides the GM on what to describe to players. The most careful character picks up extra details, the most forceful character is better at sizing up threats, and so on. This too could have used a deeper treatment, given that this work calls itself a book of approaches. Adjusting the level of description might enhance the game if handled well. It can be problematic if it means you're withholding information the players need. Fate assumes that player characters are competent, so there's a case for giving them what they need just for that reason, instead of witholding information because their careful (or whichever) is only +2 instead of +3.

The not so good:

  • For each FAE approach, it gives a couple of additional examples. You could easily do better with an online search or with a brainstorming session in your gaming group.
  • Each FAE approach ends with "Familiar Characters of this Archetype." That misses the point of what approaches are about. Approaches aren't archetypes. Archetypes aren't approaches. A key feature of FAE is that you can use almost any approach for almost any task. If you can describe it, you can do it. No matter which approach is your highest, and no matter how you envision your character, you could be careful this time, quick the next, and forceful after that, even for the same sort of task. You can assign values to your approaches as you see fit, without being limited by your archetype or vice-versa.
  • The "Attribute Approaches" section repeats three sets of character attributes from other RPG systems: d20, d6 (six attributes "which should cover most situations"), and Traveller. It gives the descriptions you can easily find elsewhere. And that's it. There's no discussion of how they change the flavor of the game or how you might adapt these alternate systems to FAE.
  • The "Skill Approaches" section offers three sets of alternate approaches: a James Bond-like setting, a wizarding school, and a space knights setting. There are a few problems with these sets. First, they list six skills as approaches. If you want Fate with skills, play Fate Core (or Fate Condensed, published more recently) instead of Fate Accelerated. Second, each set of skills is tailored to one type of character. Is everyone in a superspy setting a superspy? Is everyone in the school of wizardry a wizard? Does everyone in the space knight setting have space knight skills? There's no discussion of the non-superspies, non-wizards, and non-space knights in these settings. Third, there's no discussion on how to handle these alternate sets of approaches or how they would change the flavor of a FAE game.
  • The product description says "the FATE Core Rulebook provides an excellent set of approaches." The one with approaches is Fate Accelerated, not Fate Core.


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Accelerated Book of Approaches
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Adventure Outline Maker - SciFi Edition
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/26/2021 09:56:23

In essence, it's a fill-in-the-blanks adventure summary, which is much like the log line of a movie or novel. To me, calling it an "outline maker" suggests a hierarchical set of lists (outline format), but that's not what this is. You get one or a few sentences that summarize an adventure situation.

It gives you seven templates: one that uses all the d100 tables, and others that use only certain tables. You might find individual tables useful outside of the adventure generator as well: Personality and Profession tables, Action and Target tables for a mission, Locations, Complications, Help/Opposition, and Rewards.

Here's one example of the full template, in which bracketed text comes from d100 tables: A [Joyful] [Prospector] wants you to [Repel] a [Government Building] that is located in [Deep Underground]. Along the way, the party runs into [Riddles] and are aided or hindered by [opposition - Pilot]. Their reward for success is [Map].

Creative interpretation is often required. What does it mean to repel a building? Maybe you have to ward off or resist the agency housed in this building, or you have to keep the guards away from the prospector. Or you reroll an element or choose from the table yourself. Or maybe you toss out one element and make up your own answer.

Fleshing out the adventure is up to you, whether you plan in advance or improvise during play. This adventure generator just gives you the situation. What does the prospector want? Why this building? Why you? What does the pilot have to do with this? The adventure generator leaves those questions to you.

It's system-neutral, which means of course that system-specific game mechanics are all up to you.

You'll find Adventure Outline Maker helpful if an adventure summary is the inspiration you need.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Outline Maker - SciFi Edition
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Adventure Generator 1 (Director's Cut)
Publisher: Lightspress Media
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/10/2021 17:34:10

Adventure Generator Vol. 1 includes four d20 tables, but it goes beyond the madlibs-style of adventure creation or the hook approach.

The tables are: adventure type, environment, adversary, and theme.

The adventure type table (and the accompanying text) is the heart and the main value of the generator. You get ten adventure types. Volume 2 provides ten more. If you like what the adventure types offer (which I'll describe below), you'll probably like the Adventure Generator (either or both volumes). If it doesn't sound like your style at all, this isn't the product for you.

The product description says the Adventure Generator is for a fantasy setting, but the adventure types themselves aren't specific to fantasy. You could use these same adventure types in a variety of genres with little or no tweaking.

Each adventure type gets about 2000-3000 words of text. First, it gives you an adventure summary. The "Block by Block" adventure has this summary, for instance: "The player characters head into a dangerous situation to rescue someone from the adversary and return them to safety." It goes on to offers tips for basing an adventure on that summary: Adapting for the System, Adapting for the Campaign, Adapting for the Environment, and Adapting for the Adversary (one or a few paragraphs each).

Next, each adventure type lays out a five-encounter model, which is reminiscent of (but not identical to) the Five Room Dungeon model by Johnn Four. Whereas a Five Room Dungeon leans toward adventures that are relatively quick and lean, Adventure Generator gives a deeper treatment. It describes the storytelling function of each encounter as it relates to the particular adventure type. For example, Encounter 1 gives tips on establishing the situation, demonstrating the stakes, and creating character connections. In other words, you're getting "here's how encounter N fits into the adventure" instead of "here's who you encounter" or "here's what the PCs must do."

You get tips on where and how you might expand the number of encounters or tweak the model, such as: "If you wish to expand the adventure beyond 5 encounters, this can be broken into a separate challenge."

Some people automatically declare "railroading" the moment they see anything resembling a structure, but the Adventure Generator isn't railroading. The encounter descriptions don't dictate to the players how they should achieve the aventure goal. The descriptions don't limit player choices. They also don't limit the GM's options. Knowing that Encounter 4 is a good time for "adversary retaliation" helps you (as the GM) adapt to the situation. Maybe you have some ideas in advance. Maybe you improvise on the spot, based on what's happened so far and any previous ideas you had. "Adversary retaliation" is inspiration and guidance, not a script that must be followed.

The environment types and adversary types are all things you've seen before, if you're familiar with the usual fantasy RPG settings. You get a brief paragraph on each environment that probably won't tell you anything new. For the adversaries, you get one of the usual fantasy adversary types (humanoids, undead, etc.), with a brief paragraph on what they are and a list of example creatures of that type. You might find them helpful, but most likely, you already have your own ways to choose adventure settings and adversaries, and they're already adapted for your setting. If you have those resources, you might not be interested these two tables. If you don't have such resources, environment and adversary tables here give you broad types, not specifics, so you'd still need to come up with the details you need.

If you have your own environment and adversary resources, you're also not confined to the fantasy genre. You can use the adventure types and the themes in other genres, using your own methods for devising the environment and adversaries.

The theme table, marked optional, gives you "something akin to literary theme" for focusing the adventure conflicts in a particular direction. You get ten themes, such as "Crime Doesn't Pay" or "Humanity vs. Society." Each one gives you a couple of paragraphs discussing the sorts of conflicts you'd see with that theme. The theme is basically a lens as you develop the adventure. If you decide that your theme is "crime doesn't pay," then you develop the adventure with a focus on wrongdoers trying to get away with wrongdoing or eventually getting what they deserve.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Generator 1 (Director's Cut)
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Empire Builder - Fortifications
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/10/2021 09:47:16

This is a solid tool for helping you create pre-industrial fortifications in a fantasy setting. You could use these tables for non-fantasy settings if you're willing to skip over the fantasy elements when they arise. There's a Visual Style table that names various historical and fantasy styles (without describing them), but several of the tables use medieval European castle terminology in particular.

The document helps you spec out the fortification, but it's not a map generator and there are no maps or diagrams included. You wind up with a list of elements and descriptions, but if you want to map it out, roughly or on a map grid, that's all on you.

If you're creating a fortification from scratch, you could use most or all of the tables to generate the fortification randomly, using your judgment along the way to decide what's worth rolling up and how it all fits together. You'd use most tables once each, and some tables more than once. Rolling it all up from scratch and forming your mental image of the place could take a little while, so you wouldn't do that in the middle of a session. If you have an existing fortification or decisions you've already made, you can roll on only the tables you want. They're modular that way. You could use some of them for ad hoc rolls during play to answer specific questions, such as the current status of the place.

There are a couple of tables that refer generally to the area around the fortification (purpose and general location), but there's nothing about generating the fortification's support systems, such as surrounding villages, fields, and other resources. If you want to model the fortification's economy, you'll need other tools. There's also no distinction between the features that would appear in a fortification that's embedded in a city, for example, versus a lone wilderness outpost.

The document is system-neutral, so there are no prices, statistics, or modifiers. Converting this to your RPG's stats is on you. Similarly, there are no exact size or population numbers. You get abstract size and population units that give you an idea of relative size or population, but turning them into specifics is left to you (if you want the specifics).

Many of the tables include descriptions of the entries. If you don't know what machicolation is, for example, there's a brief paragraph that explains it.

The document provides a method for determining how many military and civilian "population units" (PU) are present. The PU is a relative term, not an exact population count. If you have 3 military PU and 2 civilian PU, it's up to you to decide what those might mean in terms of numbers or subgroup roles.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Empire Builder - Fortifications
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Empire Builder - Era Names
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/10/2021 00:02:12

This is a world-buildng tool that generates names for historical periods in your timeline. It's only a name generator, not a mini-game for generating histories. There are no details: no dates, no durations, no causes, no impacts, no heroes or villains, etc. It simply gives you an era name and then it's up to you to figure out what it means.

It's system-neutral and largely genre-neutral too. You could have the "Regime of Sorrow" or the "Epoch of Nightmares" or the "Week of the Exalted" in your history whether you're doing fantasy, science fiction, or some other genre.

If your setting already has a history laid out with era names and other details, you probably wouldn't have a use for this.

You get a d100 table that chooses the era type (such as Regime, Epoch, or Week as shown above) and two d100 tables for filling in subjects (such as Sorrow, Nightmares, or Exalted).



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Empire Builder - Era Names
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Mythic Magazine Volume 2
Publisher: Word Mill
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/05/2021 14:56:47

"Randomized Location Crafting" is an excellent update and improvement on The Location Crafter. It's cleaner and easier to use than the original. The Area Elements Table is a nice improvement.

The Random Element Descriptors Table is good on its own for describing a Location, Encounter, or Object. It has an additional use that the text doesn't mention: It can stand in for the Descriptor 2 table from Mythic Variations 2. The Descriptor 2 table strives to be a generic, one-size-fits-all list of adjectives you could apply to characters, places, and things. Some of its entries are harder to apply to one category or another. If you know you're describing a character, a place, or a thing, you can use the Encounter, Location, or Object column from the Random Element Descriptors instead of the generic Descriptor 2 table.

The Area Elements Table creates the opportunity for external plug-ins: random generators you've found or created outside of the Mythic family of products.

  • If you get the "Random" result from the Encounter column, the article has you roll up a couple of Random Element Descriptors to figure out what it might be. Instead (or maybe in addition), you could use an external encounter generator you like.
  • If the Area Elements Table gives you the "Known" result, the article has you roll on the Known Elements Region Sheet. You could add the name of your encounter generator as a known element. Maybe you added "Tusken Raiders" to the Encounter column because you want them to be present, but you might also add "desert encounter generator" as a known encounter. You won't roll up the encounter until you see that result during play. That reduces your prep time and gives you adaptability during play. It lets you factor in other considerations on the spot, such as day vs night encounters or common vs rare encounters, without having to fill up the region sheet and without having to hard-code specific encounters ahead of time. Similarly, you might have external generators in mind for locations and objects.

"Making the Most of Altered Scenes" is also helpful. I do find occasions when I want more inspiration for altering a scene. By the way, it took me a while to realize what the heading "Random Event Graft" was supposed to mean. I was immediately thinking of "graft" in the sense of political corruption. Eventually, it sunk in: "Oh, right, like grafting plant parts." :-)

As usual, Tana Pigeon's writing is clear and organized. The fully worked examples are very good.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Magazine Volume 2
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Mythic Variations 2
Publisher: Word Mill
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/25/2021 16:54:44

An excellent addition and update. It's clearly written and it hangs together nicely.

The Fate Check (for yes/no questions) is cleaner and easier than the earlier Fate Chart. You don't have a table of 297 numbers to look up (198 of which were in a microscopic font size).

The Detail Check (for open-ended questions) is also good. I like the mix of possible outcomes that inspire a direction to take: some that focus on particular characters, some that focus on particular threads, and some that stir emotional reactions. The table of examples ("Victor Milgrew Detail Check Question Examples") is helpful.

The meaning tables for descriptions and actions don't do much for me. Neither did the previous Action/Subject tables. They're too generic and they don't always match up well with each other. Results like "Helplessly Healthy" and "Imitate Portals" are more likely to slow me down than to help me. My preference would be to see something like a "Meaning Table Crafter." Instead of handing you two prefab d100 tables that are supposed to accommodate every genre and every tone, it would guide you in creating your own d20, d10, or even d6 pairs of tables, for themes that suit you. You might use the Adventure Crafter themes (Action, Tension, Mystery, Social, and Personal), or just Combat and Conversation themes. You might also prefer tables that suit your game's tone, such as light entertainment, noir, or whatever. I'd get a lot more out of something like that than I do from universal tables. Granted, the meaning tables are completely optional, so I can skip them and no harm done.

The Event Check is nicely done.

I like the Behavior Check. In a sense, it's the Chekhov's Gun principle, applied to character descriptions. (One version of Chekhov's Gun: "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.") In other words, the Behavior Check is a way to make character descriptions directly relevant. If you say a character is cheerful or gloomy or whatever, the Behavior Check gives you a way to use it.

The Behavior Check also exemplifies the "Focus on the Critical Few" principle. Some game systems would have you roll up bunches of traits for characters -- traits that you might mention once and then forget about. In the Behavior Check, no more than three traits are going to matter, so indirectly it encourages you to use restraint when cranking out traits.

As much as I like the other chapters, I don't see the point of the Statistic Check. It's six pages on rolling up character stats (or other stats) into a generic form, and then you have to convert the generic results to the game system of your choice. In most RPG systems, stat generation is already pretty straightforward ("Assign these values to these stats" or "Roll these dice and assign them to these stats"). Even if I played a super-crunchy system with character creation that involves hours of dice rolling and lookups in tables and flowcharts, I'm not seeing how the Statistic Check would help. It seems to me that the Statistic Check complicates the process without enhancing it. In addition, I've stopped feeling the need to randomize every creature's stats. If you're facing an ogre, here are the ogre's stats. Period. Every time. Is the game really enhanced if Ogre 1's strength is a smidgen higher than Ogre 2's? Not for me. The more interesting situation for me would be that Ogre 1 is power-hungry and Ogre 2 is lazy, or that Ogre 1 is the chieftain and Ogre 2 is a hunter, or that Ogre 1 is known as The Mighty while Ogre 2 is known as The Sly; those traits will manifest when you do a Behavior Check. I don't need to randomize their stats to make them interesting.

Finally, kudos to the writer (and any editors) for the good, clear writing. So often, RPG writing makes me think, "For crying out loud, use a spelling checker, learn what apostrophes are for, and study grammar!" Not here. Nicely done.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Variations 2
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High Fantasy Magic: A Simple Magic System for Fate Core, Condensed, & Accelerated
Publisher: Tallstrunt Press LLC
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/22/2021 18:35:09

Of the various Fate magic systems I've seen, this is my favorite. It's a good combination of ease of learning, ease of use, and flexibility. I like the discussion on setting difficulty levels. I like the concept of using a sequence of resolution mechanics (no roll needed, single roll, aspect needed to roll, challenge, contest, conflict, session, scenario, story arc) to decide how much effort is required for a given magical act. It's a good use of the Fate pacing toolbox. Nice touches include describing animated creatures and enchanted items in simple but usable ways.

High Fantasy Magic lists thirteen magical disciplines. They're a pretty good mix. You could easily add your own: a one-paragraph overview, maybe some typical stunts, and maybe some notes on the animated creatures and enchanted items the discipline would create.

I use it with Fate Accelerated. The three permission aspects in HFM tell you which approach goes with each. It's easy to see why those approaches were chosen (e.g. Clever if you learned magic through years of study), but I've stopped using that one-approach-fits-all-magic viewpoint. I'd rather encourage players to use a variety of approaches. When you're the wizard of the group (for example), using one approach for all your magic tends to turn you into a one-approach player. I'd rather see an air magician use Forceful to blow down a structure, Quick to fly like the wind, Sneaky to blow forest debris across the group's footprints, and so on. The permission aspect says how you acquired your magic, and that still matters, at least for roleplaying purposes. A wizard whose studies focused on air magic and a priest of the sky goddess are still two different things.

If I stuck with one approach per permission aspect, I'd expand it to six permission aspects to give each approach a shot at some magic.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
High Fantasy Magic: A Simple Magic System for Fate Core, Condensed, & Accelerated
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Heads or Tales
Publisher: WizBot Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/28/2020 10:55:37

Heads or Tales is great storytelling fun. According to your preference, make it all up on the spot or plan some material ahead of time (situations, characters, locations, items, etc.). Be ready to "run with it and have fun" during play. If your group can't approach this as improvised group storytelling, or if you can't bear to do without rules crunch, this isn't the RPG for you. We played this over video chat (because of the pandemic and geography). It worked out just fine because our group can use the honor system for flipping coins and eating tokens (yeah, eating your do-over tokens is a thing). If you have a player who isn't adept at making stuff up on the spot, let them plan ahead a little, or let other players suggest stuff during play when needed. If a player hates making stuff up on the fly, they might not enjoy this unless they're content to leave the improv to the other players.

The coin flip resolution mechanism is dead simple. You know an RPG is dead simple when the core rule "book" is all of two pages long, and when the genre-specific supplements are one page each. Everything has a 50/50 chance, so instead of scaling the odds, we scaled the task until 50/50 felt about right. Is kicking in the door too easy for 50/50? Make success automatic instead, or declare you're not only kicking in the door, you're also dealing with whatever is behind it (if that feels like a good 50/50 task). Is taking down that dragon too hard for a single 50/50 coin toss? Come up with a couple or three successive challenges (which are 50/50 each).

Recall basic probability: Estimate that roughly half of the coin tosses will fail, and therefore have consequences (injuries, mistakes, unwanted attention, unexpected delays, comical pratfalls, or whatever you make up on the spot). If you guess that your three players will face four or so coin tosses each, for example, realize that you could easily have about six mishaps along the way. Don't make the consequences too harsh or the characters aren't likely to survive past the first couple of challenges. The do-over tokens help offset the "house always wins" outcome.

My advice is to minimize the number of coin tosses. Don't toss a coin unless both outcomes are plausible, fun, exciting, interesting, or relevant in some way. If one outcome is far more interesting than the other, skip the coin toss and go with the fun outcome. Save the coin tosses for the best moments.

The genre-specific supplements are good. They use a series of coin flips to establish a situation. In a Wild West setting, your situation could be: "The problem is outlaws. The sheriff is dead. You're on a ranch." In a science fiction setting: "Your destination is a space station. Your ship is in red alert. You're searching for a piece of lost technology."

Each supplement suggests some character archetypes. In the fantasy setting, "I'm a wizard" could be the full extent or your character creation process. Or maybe you'll punch it up with a descriptive adjective or two, or you'll declare yourself a member of some order of wizards. In the "run with it" spirit, we didn't worry about specific powers, limitations, or equipment. If you're a wizard, you can do wizard stuff and you have wizard stuff. That's enough to just run with it.



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Heads or Tales
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[EBK] Empire Builder Kit - History Generator
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/23/2020 22:21:23

Empire Builder Kit - History Generator is a rich, system-neutral resource for creating a realm's history or for creating random realm events as your campaign progresses. You make two or more dice rolls per event to find the overall event type and then to drill down into the particulars.

In general, the events are newsworthy items, the main highlights of any given year. These would be front-page items if your setting had newspapers. They're often not on a grand, epic scale, but they're nationwide events more than personal events.

What you don't get is a system for managing factions, economies, politics, or diplomacy, or for creating an integrated chain of events. If you want something akin to Microscope, Dawn of Worlds, or the old CountryCraft system from Dragon Magazine, this isn't it. That's no problem if you're happy with isolated events and if you're willing to handle continuity yourself. For example, suppose the History Generator tells you construction started a few months ago on a new border wall. It's up to you to remember that, decide the impact, and do something with it. If the realm opened a new spice route and you want to know how the new riches affect the realm, that's all on you. All you'll get from the History Generator (in that example) is the knowledge that a new spice route opened up. There's no calculation of how much it's worth, or what sort of spices they are, or what the market conditions are like.

In addition to creating a realm's history, you could use the tool as an adventure seed generator. The PCs try to stop the event from happening, or they try to make sure it does happen despite opposition. Or the event just happened and the PCs deal with the aftermath. Or the PCs get hired by someone who wants to exploit the evolving situation. And so on. An event could also be the colorful backdrop for an otherwise unrelated adventure, or it could stir player interest if you're in a sandbox campaign.

You could use the History Generator for the backstory of a PC, NPC, or special item. You might generate an event and tell a player, "You were there when it happened. Tell us about your special role in that event, and how the effects are still with you today."

Several table results, but not all of them, assume a fantasy setting. You could apply this tool to other genres, with a few tweaks. You could "choose the next entry" or reroll, as needed. You could redo a few tables to skip over the non-applicable elements. You could reinterpret items for your setting, such as having magic become technology instead.

You might want to doctor some tables anyway, especially the main table (Type of Event), to suit the flavor of your campaign or your realm. For example, suppose the realm engages in annual military campaigns. The chance of starting a full-scale war randomly is only 1 in 400 (0.25%). That's 1 in 20 to get the Combat & Military category, then 1 in 20 to get the "War - Start" result from Combat & Military. With 1d4 events per year, you could easily go a century without seeing that "War - Start" result. (Yep, did the probability calculation.)

You might also want to doctor some tables if certain types of events are over the line in your group. Certain outcomes reference sexual assault and child death, for instance.

Obviously, an alternative to doctoring any tables is to just choose the result you want instead of being ruled by dice. Nothing wrong with that. The tables still give you a rich set of menus to pick from.

The text could use a round of editing. There are spelling mistakes (paryilcyar, assainsnations, alchaholic, alcaholohic), convoluted wording, chopped-off sentences, and so on. But it's not enough to make anything unusable.



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[EBK] Empire Builder Kit - History Generator
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Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/19/2020 13:36:12

This is good stuff, addressing something that has been problematic for a long time. It bugged me way back when I read Lord of the Rings -- that the only good orc is a dead orc, and any cross-breeding was considered a vile and unnatural abomination. It was the language of out-and-out racism, but somehow it became okay when orcish inferiority was a fact of the setting. And then D&D inherited that view. From a storytelling perspective, sometimes you want clear Good Guys and Bad Guys, but the assumption that was still problematic was "they're all like that, they're born that way, they have no choice."

Separating ancestry and culture makes sense. It isn't hard to grasp.

I get the idea behind erring on the side of culture over ancestry, but even so, there's still room for a nature/nurture debate to decide which elements belong on which side of that divide. For example, you could split the dwarf's +2 Con modifier so that it's part ancestry (+1) and part culture (+1). This is especially true if you apply the same principles to NPC cultures; giants really are bigger and stronger than pixies. I much prefer having NPCs and PCs playing by the same rules and systems.

One could go a little farther and tie elements to backgrounds instead of monolothic cultures. For example, an elf entertainer and a dwarf entertainer might have things in common (e.g. +1 Cha) that a dwarf entertainer and a dwarf warrior don't. The cultural differences are in the menu of backgrounds a given culture offers. A rough, violent culture wouldn't offer the same mix of backgrounds that a kind, peaceful culture would offer. A sophisticated, urbanized, educated, wealthy culture wouldn't have the same mix as a scattered nomadic culture that's struggling to survive. High elves and wood elves might not have the exact same menu of backgrounds. This could add some complexity, but a) you might already have different background options for different cultures, and b) you don't have to map it all out in advance; you can build as you go.

My one concern about the ancestry & culture approach is that the minmaxers will take even LONGER to create their characters. The player who said "I'm a dwarf raised by dwarves" and the one who said "I'm a human raised by elves" are done, while we wait around for the minmaxer to read over every option, weigh every possible combination, and go on at length about turning themselves into the ideal super-character.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
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