Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Star Wars – Dawn of Rebellion review

March 3, 2018 Comments off

The recently released Dawn of Rebellion is the first Era Sourcebook for the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG line. Unlike previous books, this is the first to bridge all three lines of Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny. This comes out just as the Rebels TV show is coming to an end. For fans of both the Rebels animated series and the Rogue One movie, this book is full of stats for both characters and vehicles seen in each.

This book is a bit thicker than most specialization books, but about on par with Lords of Nal Hutta and Suns of Fortune weighing in at 144 pages. There are four chapters broken down into Worlds in Revolt, Organizations, Player Options and Game Master Support.

Worlds in Revolt features several systems that play an important role in the era including Alderaan, Atollon, Dathomir, The Death Star, Jedha, Lothal, and smaller sections on other places just called Other Worlds. Each system has the familiar fact sheet and picture of the planet featured in other releases, followed by a longer description of points of interest as well as key NPCs and a modular encounter that would work nicely as a mini-session in each system.

Often RPG books can be broken down in a crunch:fluff ratio, meaning how much of the book is stats and numbers compared to flavor text that helps bring the world alive, without providing those numbers that mechanically affect the game. This book leans towards the fluff-heavy, but details a satisfying amount of gear, creatures, NPCs and vehicles to keep the crunch crowd happy. The organizations section in particular features a lot of information on the Empire, Rebellion and Independent Organizations like The Broken Horn Syndicate (Vizago’s smugglers from Rebels), The Free Ryloth Movement, and the Protectors of Concord Dawn. Each has a few key NPCs detailed and some background information. Each main character of the Rebels TV show is statted out, as well as Shore Troopers, Death Troopers, Agent Callus, the Inquisitors, Vader and Thrawn. From the Independent Organizations you get stats for Fenn Rau, Azmorigan, Hondo Ohnaka, Ketsu Onyo and Lando Calrissian (previously statted out in Jewel of Yavin). This section gives you plenty of key characters to interact with if you want to start a party that runs in parallel to the events of Rebels or Rogue One. This seems to fly in the face of the wisdom expressed in previous books about shying away from key figures, since it is a pretty big galaxy after all. I think it is pretty cool to provide the stats for folks, since people try and make them up in the FFG forums anyway, and can add some gravity to your session. Hopefully, Vader won’t cut through your party like he did those rebels at the end of Rogue One.

The Player Options section introduces six new universal specializations that can be purchased for 10x the amount of specializations the PC currently has in XP. The book suggests this can add depth to a PCs past if chosen at the beginning of character creation, or could be a big reveal of a hidden past if chosen later. Either seems like a really compelling option to me, and I hope they come out with more of these in subsequent Era books. Those included in this are: Padawan Survivor (Kanan), Force Adherent (Chirrut), Imperial Academy Cadet (Han, Wedge, Sabine), Pirate (Hondo), Retired Clone Trooper (Rex), and Ship Captain (Hera). These trees include 4 bonus career skills (with the exception of Padawan which grants Force Rating 1 unless your PC already has it) and feature associated talents that can provide depth to your PC.

There are also four new species options from Rogue One: The loud-mouthed amphibian-like Dabatan, the Wookie/Wampa-like Gigorans, heavy-browed simian Iakaru (door gunner in the U-wing), and insecto-mammalian Tognaths (Saw’s lieutenant on Jedha).

The weapons section includes stats for Chirrut’s lightbow, Baze’s repeating cannon, and the Shore Trooper’s E-22 (linked 1 heavy rifle), and Death Trooper variant E-11D and DLT-19D Heavy blaster rifles.

The vehicles detailed include the AT-ACT, Occupier Assault Tank (Jedha), Delta-Class Shuttle (Krennic), TIE Striker and U-Wing. The U-Wing stats I found and used from FFG forums for my Rogue Two adventure were very close to the published stats. Also included are Arquittens-class Imperial cruiser and the hammer-head class corvettes use in Rebels and Rogue One, as well as the Ghost and both Phantom shuttles. There are also stats for the Death Star, which are so huge as to be nearly useless, but it does have a stat block.

The GM Support section includes a really nice idea about crafting a campaign like a season of a TV show, and even provides a roadmap for primary and secondary plots focusing on different characters as well as an overall story arc. We are attempting to do much this same thing with our own gaming group while sharing GMing duties. We’ve each contributed NPCs and planted story seeds that other GMs can choose to advance or go in a different direction. We’re only about 3 sessions in, but so far it has been really rewarding to not only share the GMing duties and responsibilities, but build our own corner of the galaxy together.

This section of the book provides the framework for either one GM to craft an entire season, or perhaps allow for a group to round-robin GM. This system has always provided a wealth of GMing resources and tips but this section of this book in particular goes above and beyond. It also discusses developing antagonists – villains that surpass a typical “big bad” at the end of an adventure and provide a long-lasting true nemesis. It also mentions antagonists don’t have to be evil to oppose the party such as Saw Gerrera, Fenn Rau and Cham Syndulla.The final part of the GM section deals with building a Rebel Cell campaign. This provides several ideas and seeds that can help groups write their own versions of Rebels or Rogue One.

Overall, this book is a great resource for those of us that watch the new movies or TV shows and start statting things we see out in our heads. It provides a ton of background information on this particular era of Star Wars and will be a great book for both players and GMs alike. I hope this is just the beginning and FFG is able to release a Knights of the Old Republic, Clone Wars, and possibly Force Awakens era books as well.

Categories: Books, News, Reviews, RPGs, Star Wars

Legacy of Dragonholt review

January 30, 2018 Comments off

Legacy of Dragonholt by Fantasy Flight Games is a bit unique in what has become a crowded RPG and board game space. This new boxed-set is part choose-your-own-adventure, part RPG, and part board game.

This game is set in the FFG fantasy world of Terrinoth, for which the first Genesys sourcebook has been announced. It is pretty recognizable as the traditional Tolkien-inspired fantasy world filled with elves, orcs, gnomes, and humans, with a few exceptions like catfolk as a PC race. Their are fairly typical class options: bard, knight, thief, sage, wildlander, apothecary, and brawler.

This game could serve as an excellent introduction to RPGs for younger players and is certainly something an entire family could enjoy. The character creation process is mechanically light, in that you choose associated skills based on your race and class choices. Much like the Tales from the Loop age mechanic, the more skills you choose, the less stamina you have. This allows you to build a character that is skilled but fragile, or oafish but tough.

Beyond that, you’re encourage to add as much background, personality, and description for your character as you like, but those elements just inform your decisions on the choices presented to you. This game is very narrative-heavy, but role-play light. For those more familiar with running traditional RPG adventures, it is essentially endless box text. This kind of structure can be great for new or younger players, but may frustrate experienced gamers if you don’t know what to expect.

Playing this with my wife was quite entertaining, as we took turns reading and making choices. For multiplayer games you each get a token that you flip once you’ve made a choice to make sure every one gets a chance to gain both the risks and rewards of actions taken during the adventure. Some actions only affect the “active” player, while other actions may affect the entire group.

I could see this being quite entertaining as a solitaire game, as it is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure style game book with the best props and maps I’ve ever seen for the genre. I haven’t tried a six player game, but I could see how it could be a bit dull only making a choice every sixth time one is presented. That being said, we only completed the introductory adventure so far, and the map of town has numbered sections that may allow a bit more agency in future adventures.

All in all, this is a really interesting product that appeals to me as I’m a fan of gamebooks, choose-your-own-adventures, RPGs, and board games. It is a great fit for a game night in which everyone feels like a rules-light RPG, but no one wants to (or hasn’t had time to prepare to) GM. If that sounds good to you, I recommend picking this up. There are several adventures included, and depending on the character you build and the choices you make, there is a fair amount of replay value. Still on the fence? Download the PDFs of the rulebook, character creation guide, and sample characters from the product support page. May you choose wisely and have a grand adventure!

Categories: Adventure, Board, Books, Games, Reviews, RPGs

History Check: Gary Gygax High School Yearbook

December 17, 2017 Comments off

A facebook group I frequent auctions numerous gaming items, sometimes common and sometimes very rare.  Several of the members are known gaming industry talents, and others are just collectors like myself.   At the end of November, Garrett Ratini put up an item that was a rare gem from his collection. It wasn’t a game book, but books containing a surprisingly rare set of photos that made up a part of gaming history. And how the auction ended is where the real surprise happened.

The items auctioned were the 1953 and 1954 years of the Geneva Log, the Lake Geneva High School yearbook.  It was during these years that Gary Gygax, Don Kaye and Mary Powell were all in attendance.  A treasure for the gamer who wants to own a piece of history, but especially for the rarity of the photos inside.  To appreciate just how rare, you have to know a little something about the history of these three individuals.


Gary Gygax, for one, did not finish high school, though did finish his degree years later.  A few months after his father passed, he dropped out of high school in his junior year.  These volumes then contained rare pictures of him as a student.

Secondly, Don Kaye is depicted in the book as well.  Don Kaye, a close childhood friend of Gygax from age 6, co-founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with Gygax and made one of the first Dungeons & Dragons characters, the infamous Murlynd.  While the depiction of these two legends in one book might not appear to be noteworthy in itself, it is one of the few rare pictures of Don Kaye.


TSR was founded in 1973 by Gygax and Kaye.  Later, Brian Blume bought in and supplied the capital to allow the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.  However, Kaye suffered from a heart condition and needed surgery.  He never disclosed this to his partners, and died of a heart attack before the scheduled surgery could take place, dying at age 36 just as Dungeons and Dragons was beginning to gain momentum.  As a result, few public pictures of Don Kaye exist.

Mary Jo Powell was a friend of Kaye and Gygax, and was wooed by Kaye for some time.  However, Gygax was also smitten, and proposed marriage at 19 years old.  Kaye was upset enough to not attend the wedding, though they later reconciled. Ernie Gygax recently posted a picture of Mary Jo the day after the proposal, shown below:


Mary Jo once suspected Gary of having an affair while she was pregnant with her second child, but going to confront him in a friend’s basement, found him sitting with friends around a map covered table.  She may have been the first of what my wife calls “Gaming Widows” (being spouses left by the wayside for the husband that games too much).

Garrett Ratini put these items up for auction, and the true collectors of gaming history began to come out to bid.  The buyout price for the books was $1,200.00 and likely that number would have been met, I suspect, knowing the habits of this community of bidders.  But an unexpected bidder placed a bid at somewhere around the $400 mark, and that was Luke Gygax himself, founder of Gary Con and Gary Gygax’s son.

With the permission of all involved, Garrett terminated the auction and gifted the books to Luke.  Now, these books and images of his mother and father are with him, where they truly belong.

Pre-digital history like this is easily lost, and is not on the radar of many historians, with the exception of Michael Witwer and Shannon Appelcline. Hopefully books like this will make it into the archives like the one held at GenCon 50 this past year.  Fortunately, I believe we can anticipate  these books being treasured by the Gygax family, both for themselves and for posterity.

Review: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

November 13, 2017 Comments off

TLDR: You’re going to want to buy this.


There was a lot of buzz for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything before it was even in print, so I anticipated this was going to be worth a look.  It reminds me a lot of what Unearthed Arcana (the book, not the webcolumn) was like for 1st edition.  Was it optional?  Yes.  Would you be missing out on a lot of content that is considered generally mainstream to play without it?  Heck yeah.

General Details

Xanathar, a secretive beholder crime lord, keeps notes on everything (he believes).  Hence the name of the book (his goldfish is his most prized possession, and that’s what’s on the stylized cover you see above).  As with Volo’s Guide to Monsters, there are little notes that run as commentary throughout the book, usually a sort of joke or snipe about the subject matter.  As the material is largely mechanics and game lore, it’s less relevant than with Volo’s but still fun.

The book is 192 pages, full color, lots of art, slick non-glossy pages (which I like).  You’re going to get this and think it feels kind of thin, however.  While the book feels light, it has a lot of content, and they pack quite a bit in those pages.

The book has three major division: Character Options, Dungeon Master Tools, and Spells, but also has two valuable Appendices.  Here’s the breakdown of the sections.

Character Options


By far one of the most valuable sections of Xanathars is the Character Options chapter.  This opens 31 new subclasses for the primary classes listed in the Player’s Handbook.  That’s right: THIRTY ONE.  Note that’s not 31 new classes, but subclasses (like Bardic Colleges, or Barbarian Primal Paths, etc).  I like this because I think that too many primary classes waters down your base classes and leads to unexpected bloat.  Some of these may be familiar as they have rolled out through playtesting in the Unearthed Arcana column.

A few favorites include the Bardic College of Whispers, the Grave Domain Cleric, the Samurai and Cavalier Fighter archetypes, the rogue Swashbuckler, and the War Magic Wizard. Adding rules to differentiate these classes and giving them a new feel works well, without making a GM learn entirely new modes of play functionality.

Flavor – Charts – This is Your Life

In addition to subclass details, they also offer fluff fans fun and interesting (but very brief) charts for fleshing out details about their characters and their backgrounds.  More experienced players may feel these sorts of things are unnecessary, but it definitely gives some players new ways of looking at details about their characters that will flesh them out in interesting ways.

Some sections are meatier than others. The Druid Section of the the Character Option chapter lists charts, for example, of what beasts you encounter in what environments for the purposes of exposure to allow wildshape.  You could make it up, but this is just damn handy.  Other elements, like how you learned to be a druid, are more storytelling.  Each class has this sort background material.

This culminates with a subsection called “This Is Your Life” which allows your background to be determined by charts, at your option.  This goes through siblings, parents, family history, and motivations based optionally on class or background.  I’ve always been a fan of a certain online character background generator myself (NSFW for language).  I seem to recall something like this in an older volume of D&D (maybe player’s handbook 2???) but can’t remember which book.  If you know, post in the comments.  In the end, it can be fun, and they’re clear not to be pushy about using it.  Do it, or don’t if you don’t want to.

Racial Feats

One thing you won’t hear me complaining about is more feats.  I especially like the idea of Racial Feats that continue to expand the characteristics of the races in game.  These add additional ways for characters to stand out and differentiate themselves from one another given the more simplified options of 5th edition over early incarnations like 3.5 and 4th editions.


Dungeon Master’s Tools

Rules Clarifications

As a gamer who runs a lot of games, this section is precious to me, as it answers some questions that speaks more to design philosophy on dealing with rules questions. This chapter shotguns out some rules issues right off the bat with little ceremony, including:

  • Simultaneous Effects
  • Falling (over time and large distances)
  • Sleep Details – Involuntary Waking, Sleeping in Armor, Going Without Sleep
  • Adamantine Weapons
  • Tying Knots (both tying and slipping out of them)

There are two larger sections that go into greater detail as well:

  • Tool Proficiencies – This large section rethinks Tool Proficiency, going into specific items included in certain kits, and spelling out what a player can do with skills and tool proficiencies.  A valuable section that will assist GM’s and players alike in seeing how these should be played.
  • Spellcasting – Concealing and identifying spellcasting, measuring ways of determining gridded templates (with illustrations)


Challenge Ratings

One of the most important changes listed here is the Encounters Section.  This lists a new way of calculating encounter challenge ratings that seems to more accurately address the threat of solo monsters based on group size, as well as other types of encounters.  This section probably is an admission that prior CR calculations were not correct and did not accurately reflect appropriate difficulty.

Paired with this is a comprehensive list of wandering monster encounters by level and geographic environment.  For those that use such charts, it’s a masterpiece.  Very convenient.    While not previously a fan of wandering monsters, I’ve found it a useful tool when players are lollygagging or doing things in a stubborn and ineffective time-consuming way (i.e. camping after every encounter, spending an hour bonding with items in a dungeon, camping in a dangerous place, etc).  The lists are detailed, and the setting dressing it provides also fleshes out your world and the creatures in.

Other Sections

Traps Revisited — A sizable section deals with how traps should be dealt with to make them interesting, including details about constructing elaborate traps and the rules that tied therein.  This is more interesting in that it seems to suggest that the standard application of a rogue disarm role should be avoided in favor of a more descriptive approach.

Downtime Revisions –  This section elaborates on revised downtime rules, including the development of a rivalry, buying magic items, carousing complications, and so on.  Helpful if you find yourself using these rules.  We never seem to get to them in my groups, however.

Magic Items – A section here on magic items deals with suggestions on awarding magic items as a GM, and a type of common magic item that has magical effect and flavor without game-breaking power.  A new relisting of magic items by type and rarity, with notation as to whether those items require attunement, is a handy reference.



With over 90 additional spells for all spell-casting classes, this chapter alone makes this book a must-have. I haven’t combed through these to see if they have been duplicated in other volumes, but there certainly enough new ones to make it a reference for any spell-caster when picking their list.  Some of these are old classics that have been revamped for 5th edition, others are brand new.


Appendix B is a voluminous list of names from different cultures to help players with naming a character.  It’s a great list, as it goes, with real world cultural names as well as fantasy names.  This is going to make one of your players very happy.

but more importantly, Appendix A is about Shared Campaigns.  

Shared Campaigns

Skyland Games originally began as a gaming group that decided to split off from Living Forgotten Realms organized play to start our own shared campaign.  Part of this split was because of frustration with the management of LFR and the various bookkeeping requirements thereof (and scenario quality, truth be told). We started our own round-robin style of gaming allowing everyone to get some play time, as well as build a common story together.  We’re big fans of it.

What’s proposed here contemplates a Living campaign like Adventurer’s Guild, but could be used for a round-robin home game as well.  It makes use of a benchmark system for leveling based on the number of hours a scenario is designed for and its relative challenge level rather than on the XP value of monsters.

Common rewards are determined at levels, including a treasure point system for awarding magic items from a pre-determined list of magic items agreed upon by the collective DM’s of the campaign. Gold can be spent on common items and maybe a small list of alchemical items.  Major magic items require treasure points, earned through play.

This appendix, however, poses a question: Is this the future (or maybe the present) of Adventurer’s League?  I haven’t been to a game in ages, so I couldn’t tell you if they had moved to this system.  If so, does the abstraction make the game less enjoyable?  I think each player might have a different answer to this question, but if everyone can pay their dues and get the items they want in a timely enough fashion, the abstraction may be worth it.  These guidelines won’t make you purchase the book, but are worth a read for any player.


Xanathar’s Guide to Everything seems largely about utility and fleshing out things that originally were left to player and GM to determine.  Some might see that as an imposition, but I find it incredibly useful.

A complaint I’ve heard about 5th edition is that the lack of specialization makes many characters seem the same.  I’d point out that, as a player for three decades now, we started with a lot less and never really thought to complain about it.  5th edition is a great expansion on what we started with, but doesn’t lend itself to the hyper-specialization that you see in 3.5 Edition D&D or Pathfinder.  These new subclasses, feats, and spells in no way serve to make 5th Edition D&D more like 3.5 or Pathfinder, but they do give a greater degree of options to make a character stand out and build on unique themes.  The content provided in this tome is very significant, and is a should-have if not a must-have moving forward with 5th Edition.

Don’t Look Back returns!

October 27, 2017 Comments off


Twenty years ago, I read about an amazing new game that was making big waves in the Horror RPG community.  That game was Don’t Look Back: Terror is Never Far Behind (“DLB”).  Enthusiasts of the genre stated that it had clean mechanics, was versatile, and an engaging universe.  I was lucky enough to meet its designer Chuck McGrew, and went on to assist with the Second Edition, and have since spent many great hours with this fun, fast horror RPG.

After two decades lurking in the shadows, using occult Kickstarter magiks, Don’t Look Back is back with a NEW EDITION!   I’m psyched to get back into modern horror with Chuck McGrew again after all these years.


I was not originally the type of guy to seek out a Horror RPG.  DLB had great reviews at the time (this is almost the pre-internet era, so we still looked to publications like Dragon Magazine for what was new and hot at the time, not amazing game blogs like Skyland Games).  The reviews I read were startlingly positive.  While there was Horror role-playing out there at the time, many of them stuck to specific themes that didn’t always appeal to me.

For instance, Call of Cthulhu was great, but I didn’t always want to play a game in the 1920’s, or always inevitably die horribly, or go insane.  Other Horror games existed but the mechanics could be cumbersome, and usually presumed a role that the players would be involved in that was sort of predetermined by the system.


DLB appealed to me in that it didn’t necessarily tie itself to a specific setting, but was versatile enough to be used in any kind of horror game that the player and game master preferred.  You could play that group of kids that snuck out to see if they could find the missing kid from their school who was last seen entering the abandoned house at the edge of town.  You could also play an FBI agent seeking the truth that was out there.  You could play mobsters that stumbled onto something when the shipment they hijack turned out to be more exotic than anticipated, not to mention alive.  The game had great flex so you could use it how you wanted it.

That said, numerous shadowy organizations, entities and creatures were detailed in its “Keeper” section for the player to incorporate as it suited the group.  Groups such as the Order, the Clean-up Crew, and others created a world that could be played in or tools for a world of the GM’s own design.

We played for hours, usually playing a campier horror-movie style back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, which fits the game perfectly, per their first module “Giant Psychic Insects from Outer Space”.  Games where the possibility of actually fighting the creature and surviving the night wasn’t so far fetched was a little bit different than a lot of the genre at the time.  Best of all, the mechanics were smooth enough to keep the story from getting bogged down.


Chuck McGrew advises in his Kickstarter video that he plans on utilizing the D6xD6 system in the new edition, which describes as follows:

In the D6xD6 RPG, players can create literally any type of character, based on a unique dice mechanic and a single attribute—Focus. Character abilities are defined primarily by chosen occupation, which together with a list of secondary skills determine the character’s Focus number. Very focused characters are automatically better at their occupation and the few skills they know; less focused characters are better able to succeed even with skills they’ve never trained in.

I’ve heard great things about the system, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet.  Simple, clear mechanics is always a benefit in Horror RPG’s, as it lets the player focus on actual role-playing and not the technical aspects of how the game itself is played.  It’s difficult to spook a player while looking up rules, and I’m hoping that d6xd6 is able to keep that tradition up in the new version.

While the Kickstarter has already reached the first leg of its goal, stretch goals promise new adventures as well as rules for kids and teens (perfect for that natural hankering you’ll get after watching Stranger Things Season 2).


The first Stretch goal that has already been unlocked is the details on the Cleanup Crew, permitting one of my favorite versions of the game, where you play the role of expendable operatives, men-in-black, coming to clean up the evidence of the presence of dangerous “Unknowns” that pose a threat to the greater good.  Not exactly good guys, we had some fun running a game where the team tried to solve the mystery, catch the critter and make the world aware that ‘something is out there’.  Then to have a second session where the players play pre-gen Clean-up Crew operatives that take actions showing why, at the last second, the monster disappeared and what became of both it and the Crew itself.

Don’t Look Back has a lot of great elements that helped to open the genre in the 90’s and may serve to do the same today.  This game has a ton of potential and provided me and my gang hours of great gameplay over the years.  Make sure to get in on this kickstarter before it ends on November 12th!

Forbidden Caverns of Archaia Review

September 11, 2017 2 comments

The latest megadungeon from Dr. Greg Gillespie has been released in PDF: The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. Greg is known for previous indiegogo campaigns for the megadungeon Barrowmaze, which eventually resulted in a 260-page tome called Barrowmaze Complete. This latest kickstarter featured a lot of similar elements from Barrowmaze and for that matter, classic adventures like Keep on the Borderlands and Temple of Elemental Evil.

This review is not going to be entirely spoiler-free, but I’ll try and keep them to a minimum. This latest megadungeon certainly has enough material for years of play and weighs in at 293 pages. Similar to the aforementioned adventures, your PCs start in a well-detailed fair sized village, and are in a sandbox hex-map region called the Prelacy of Middenmark. Like the Duchy of Aerik from Barrowmaze or Verbobonc in Temple of Elemental Evil, there are several features and settlements to explore in the nearby area other than the megadungeon focus of the adventure itself.

While Barrowmaze was focused on a series of underground crypts linked in one massive dungeon, the Forbidden Caverns of the Archaia is mostly a series of caves and tombs in canyon walls that get increasingly difficult the deeper you go in to the canyon. “Oh, so like and the Caves of Chaos?” Yes, but way more than could fit on a two-page map. Also, malevolent forces are uniting disparate tribes of humanoids in a bid to summon a terrible evil and conquer the world. “So, pretty much Temple of Elemental Evil?” Well, yes, but this outlines the hierarchy and provides heraldry for all the groups as well as attitudes between different sects allowing crafty players to turn evil on itself. Furthermore there are keystaffs that need to be assembled from several parts to utilize hengegates to allow the party to quickly get to different areas. “Now you’re just talking about the Rod of Seven Parts.” Keystaffs are actually way cooler, and have different powers based on the different parts used to assemble them, and parts can be interchanged. There are runes, rings, headpieces and a worksheet for players to keep track of their experimentation. It is an awesome part of navigating the adventure. Finally, at the end of the canyon there is a hellmouth that leads into the base of a volcano! This leads to another huge section of delving that can provide a ton of information on the fate of the Archaians. This leads to the actual end game of the adventure, which I won’t go into the details of here, but it is appropriately epic. With a very prepared and motivated GM, this would be a fantastically satisfying ride.

You can see the fingerprints of some of the greatest adventures of all time in this work, but Greg expands and expounds on them in way that keeps them fresh, yet familiar. Recently there was a discussion on the DCC RPG Rocks! facebook group about the opening language for Dungeon Crawl Classics modules that may need an update. DCC modules have evolved beyond what many would consider “classic” and have started delving into the more weird and less traveled paths of Appendix N inspiration. The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia stays more within what many consider classic tropes of dungeons and dragons. Yet compared side by side, this work really represents an excellent evolution of the old school for those looking to remember and honor the classics, without just replaying them.

The art features several of the same artists from DCC book like Stefan Poag, Russ Nicholson and Jim Holloway, as well as several that have a similar style like Cory Hamel, Peter Pagano, Carl McIntyre and more. Some of these same artists have work in Barrowmaze which is what originally drew me to the book at the Goodman Games booth at North Texas RPG Con in 2016.

Overall, I would highly recommend this megadungeon if you are looking for a big campaign with a lot of old school feel, but something that will keep even the hardiest grognard guessing.

Disciples of Harmony review

June 7, 2017 Comments off

The fine folks at Fantasy Flight Games are at it again, this time with the Star Wars Force and Destiny sourcebook for the Consular: Disciples of Harmony. This book follows the now tried-and-true format of three sections: new species/specializations, new gear/vehicles, and a GM section about consular-focused encounters. Out of Edge of the Empire, and Age Rebellion, Force & Destiny is the line I have actually played and run the least, but every line in FFG Star Wars has such great stuff it is worth picking up. This book is no exception.

The first section has some interesting and to me, surprising choices for new species. This book adds the Arkanian, Cosian, and the Pau’an.

Arkanians are usually white-haired, white-eyed, 4-fingered near-humans that are known for superior genetic engineering and generally superior attitudes to other beings. Space Aryan would not be my first choice for a Jedi, but the book goes on to explain force-sensitive Arkanians seek a perfect understanding of the force through analytical research, allowing them to transcend they typical scientific perfection their people are known for and attain a more complete perfection though the force. They start with a 3 in Intellect and 1 in Presence. Beyond that, they have Dark Vision which removes two setback, and start with a rank in Medicine. I suppose this could work well for a conceited Healer, and could be a good choice if you are looking to role-play someone with a superiority complex. Alternatively you could go against type, and be the black sheep Arkanian who is actually nice.

Cosians are a reptilian species that have kind of a beak, a tail that ends in a hairy tuft and blink up instead of down. Some may recognize this race from Jedi Master Tera Sinube from Clone Wars. Out of the three, this choice seems to be the most natural for what I think of as the consular role. Hailing from a planet in the deep core, Cosia is a verdant planet and their villages are interconnected in massive trees on the surface. They start with a 3 in Intellect and a 1 in Brawn, as well as a free rank of Knowledge (Lore) and the racial trait Strong Backed, which gives them an Encumbrance of 10 + Brawn.

Pau’ans are the creepy race of (most notably) the Grand Inquisitor from Star Wars rebels. I had no idea what race he was, nor that all of them are that ghoulish in appearance. This makes them somewhat of an odd choice for one of the more diplomatic and “face” careers for Force and Destiny. They originally hail from the planet Utapau, but the various clans have been driven from their home world by the Empire. They start with a 1 in Brawn and a 3 in Willpower, but interestingly start with +12 wound threshold and +8 strain, which makes them a bit more balanced than at first glance. They start with a rank in Negotiation or Coercion, and have sensitive hearing which gives them a boost die on Perception and Vigilance checks as long as they have their protective earpieces. With those removed, they suffer an automatic threat as their ears are overwhelmed. This would certainly make an intimidating character or NPC, but seeing them in a diplomatic role is still a hard sell for me. Still, I’m glad to have the option for other careers/specs.

The new specializations compliment the core consular specs of Healer, Niman Disciple, and Sage quite nicely. The new specs are Arbiter, Ascetic, and Teacher. The challenge with the core consular specs is the career seems to focus on 3 characteristics: Intellect, Willpower, and Presence. While choosing one of the specs will allow you to narrow down to two main characteristics, if you are cross-specing within consular, you’ll want at least a 3 in each.

Arbiter is the classic role of Jedi as mediator or judge to resolve disputes. To the base consular skills of Cool, Discipline, Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership, and Negotiation, Arbiter adds Knowledge (Xenology), Lightsaber, another Negotiation, and Perception. The skill tree is a nice balance of defensive combat talents like parry and reflect, as well as “face” talents like nobody’s fool and a new one called savvy negotiator. My favorite new power on the bottom row of the tree is Aggressive Negotiations. Once per session you can perform a hard lightsaber check to reduce the difficulty of all Negotiation checks for the encounter by 2. Not downgrades… difficulty. That is one impressive lightsaber show!

Ascetics are essentially monks that eschew possessions and have studied the force in hermit-like isolation. To the core skills they add Athletics, Discipline, Resilience and Vigilance. Clearly this build relies more on Brawn than the others. Surprisingly, the only talent with an inherent conflict cost is in this tree: Mind Bleed. This allows a character to reflect physical damage on an attacker by suffering an equal amount of strain. It also requires the PC to have 2 or less encumbrance. The character suffers a number of strain equal to the wounds suffered from the attack. The attacker then suffers wounds equal to the strain suffered. Pretty dark stuff. The tree is also loaded with grit, so between being a brawny and gritty tree, its kind of dark being an Ascetic too.

The Teacher adds another rank of Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership and Perception. This would be an interesting choice to take as a first spec, as an inexperienced PC will have much to learn. Mechanically it is pretty nice since Well Rounded is a 5xp buy on the tree which allows you to choose two additional skills of your choice to make career skills. It also allows you to lend your expertise through talents like Skilled Teacher which allows you to suffer strain equal to ranks in Skilled Teacher and provide an equal number of successes to the ally’s next check. This has some very cool role-play opportunities. Teacher is probably my favorite out of the new three. Lots of interesting talents deep in the tree as well.

The weapons/gear/vehicles sections of Force and Destiny books are rarely the highlight, but this has a few really cool additions, including a lot of non-lethal options which can be fun for bounty hunters or those trying to not gain the conflict associated with murdering people. The concussive rifle is like a noise blunderbuss, and there are a few nice new grenades in the Spore Stun grenade, and the Spray Foam grenade. But the really cool addition is the melee Z6 Riot Control Baton, famously from the scene in Force Awakens with Finn and the lightning-baton wielding First Order trooper. This will be fun to arm potential foes of the PCs as it has the Cortosis quality, Disorient 2 and of course, Stun Damage. Armor includes a diving suit for aquatic diplomatic missions, as well as in interesting Reflect Body Glove that provides very low-profile armor, but degrades with each hit. It may be repaired with an average Mechanics check. The book adds some interesting lightsaber crystals in the Cracked Crystal which according to the text is from the debris of the first Death Star’s destruction in Yavin and a Corrupted Crystal, which is essentially a dark side crystal you can “reclaim” once your PC’s morality rises above 70. Seems like some cool role-playing options there. The vehicles are predominantly very low crew/passenger capacity. This would be cool for games with one or two PCs, but would seem to have limited usefulness in larger groups. The capital ship section is pretty cool, with stats for the iconic Consular-class cruiser first seen in the Phantom Menace. Its got a cool sealed conference room pod that servers as an escape pod in a pinch. This book also details stats for the Jedi training cruiser Crucible – which would be an awesome adventure in itself!

The GM section discusses incorporating three types of mentor NPCs to the campaign, each with different styles and examples from the movies and shows. There are some helpful tables that suggest styles and complications to bring your NPCs to life. They also include example stat blocks of each type: Trainer, Consultant, and Challenger. Most interesting to me was some details on alternative force traditons: Baran Do Sages, Dagoyan Masters, Gand Findsmen, and Sith Lords. Provided are benefits and drawbacks to studying with each group, as well as an XP cost to eventually overcome the drawback. The benefits include reduced XP costs to learn certain powers that correspond with the different groups. I hope they have similar stats for the Nightsisters adventure that is coming out soon! One really nice section discusses knowledge checks. It provides two possible approaches to encourage knowledge checks and make them more dynamic, and is illustrated by my favorite illustration in the book: a human consulting a datapad while his Nautolan friend holds off a Stalking Acklay. The final section talks about making diplomatic encounters exciting and provides a table of possible success/failure/advantage/threat/triumph/despair results. I’m still not convinced any amount of political maneuvering will be more fun than a firefight, but at least it gives you more tools to help spice them up a bit.

Overall, this book surprised me with how much great stuff they packed into 96-pages. I would highly recommend this book for those looking to diversify their encounters and include some really intriguing options beyond force-sensitive PCs. Despite the entire shelf I now have dedicated to this system, quality has not gone down. Time to clear another shelf!

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