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”A roleplaying game about kids and the relationship-devouring horrors from beyond time and space who love them.”

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Overall: This is a very cute system clearly streamlined towards a certain type of game, and I do look forward to trying it out at some point, though that may be a while.
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While the history of the World of Darkness is always a conflicted and mutable thing, I appreciate books that attempt to nail it down in a coherent (and at least self-consistent) fashion. This is one such book, detailing the history of the werewolves and other changing breeds from the prehistoric times through the modern era; and providing plot hooks for major events and points in time.

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Overall: There are some really fun ideas here. Is this the “true” history of the WoD? No, of course not, there is no such thing. But it (or pieces of it) might be for one campaign, and does anything else really matter?
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Earth, 2471 AD. The only thing that matters is The Game. As a Player - a trained Professional or a conscripted Amateur - you Port into The Splinter with an audience of millions watching your every move. In a VR mega-dungeon of infinite size, you will struggle in conflicts dire, for your very life, and for the entertainment of the masses.

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Overall: I strongly suspect I’m going to use this setting, or a bunch of major elements from it. But the system is a hot mess that I can’t imagine my players tolerating. (I suspect this needs a “second edition” by an experienced game design team who can streamline the rules.)
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Nightmares have always had a purpose: To teach humanity valuable lessons through fear. But now the voices of too many people drown out the lessons the Primordial Dream teaches. As one of the few who could hear them, you were Devoured, and reemerged as a nightmare yourself.

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Overall: I missed the Kickstarter for the big fancy hardbound version of this, but I think I’m okay with that. It’s a new twist on the WoD formula, but ultimately it’s totally within that formula. You were normal until the hidden shadow world drew you in; and now you’re technically a monster and have both fabulous superpowers and a curse that risks your sanity.
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D&D 4th edition split the fanbase, and as much as I enjoyed it as something different, I’ll admit it lost a lot of the traditional D&D feel in favor of being a very mechanical, miniatures-based game. Having just completed a six-month 4th edition campaign, I decided it was time to actually get a feel for 5th edition.

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Overall: It feels much more like classic D&D, going back to a lot of the 2nd/3rd edition roots but keeping the best innovations of 4th edition. I think it very likely that I’ll run this eventually, and I’m sure I’ll have more comments then.
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I got the Kickstarter Numenera box set a few days ago. Okay, seriously, this thing is so cool. I haven’t even run the game at all and nevertheless this is so cool.

Behind a cut because there are many pictures. )

This thing, you guys. I want this thing for all of my favorite games.
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I feel like I should have something particularly noteworthy to say having just completely the longest campaign I’ve run since high school (about two years, and about 60 total two-hour sessions according to my notes, which run a comparatively-short 50 pages). What started as a series of one-shots intended to be easy post-ARR mutated into a massive campaign.

The original pitch was that the characters were a Scooby Gang, who had solved a few mysteries by determining the monster was Old Man Carruthers in a rubber mask, who then discovered that the supernatural really did exist and were slowly driven insane (but also granted fabulous powers) by that knowledge. I saw it as a decent way to throw in random things from various New World of Darkness books that I’d never used, especially ones that I didn’t have enough ideas to run a full campaign out of. (So bits of Changeling and Werewolf, some things from World of Darkness: Immortals, a character built from World of Darkness: Inferno, a bunch of plots from The God-Machine Campaign and others from Intrusions: Encounters with the Abyss, etc.)

By the end, it became clear that history was being constantly rewritten by the characters’ forgotten college friend John Charles, who had been a wizard who ascended and became God. Once this revelation became clear, they stormed the gates of heaven and knocked him off his celestial throne. Because it turned out the NWoD book that I really wanted to play with was Imperial Mysteries, one of the last Mage books and the one that dealt with archmages changing history and actually visiting the Supernal. The book assumes there are something like 50 archmages (enough to do real political intrigue) and that before a true ascension there can be multiple small trips to the Supernal and back to the Fallen World. I thought, well, what if there had just been the one, given the nature of the Supernal? And what if he was a very good wizard but kind of incompetent dick of a God?

(Blame that last one on forum discussions about Left Behind, though the theme really came together when Jethrien mentioned “the difference between conquering and ruling” as a major point in Game of Thrones.)

Now to take a week or two off while I put together character creation notes for the next campaign, a D&D 4E story which promises to be shorter and will likely involve more treasure the characters can run away from.
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Jethrien and I guest-starred on the Rag-NERD-Rok podcast:

AP – Lasers and Feelings – The Trouble with Nega-Energy Vortices

(It's a shame they didn't get all of character creation recorded--it was flippin' hilarious.)
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A storytelling game of techgnostic espionage.

The God-Machine sends forth its angels to work secret machinations on mankind. Those angels work with mechanical perfection, dispassionately destroying or creating, killing or loving, all as the God-Machine instructs. But sometimes the angels grow beyond their programming, or perhaps a glitch occurs. When an angel falls, it becomes a demon, a more terrible thing by far.

What falls may rise again, or may fall further still. )

Overall: For the second time, Onyx Path has managed to create a game with a new and interesting feel to add to the NWoD canon. I’m not super-crazy about the new ruleset (though that may change once I’ve used it), but the concept works and the game has themes that manage to differentiate it from what you could do in Vampire, Mage or Werewolf.
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The Ninth World thrives on technomagic known as “numenera”, the remnants of the prior eras that is sufficiently advanced to act like both science and sorcery. Cook got creative and built something that plays vaguely like medieval high fantasy but allows for all the spec-fi hypertech and anachronisms you’d like. (Both the feel of the world and the “step” mechanic for the core system remind me of Earthdawn; though the setting is much more like a sane version of Gamma World.) The systems are designed to be narrative-focused, freeform and dramatic—very little attention is paid to actual distances, durations or details in favor of “Is it big enough to matter? Then it changes the difficulty by one step.”

Details. Plus a little M&M rambling. )

Overall: This is a game in the finest White Wolf tradition, where the players’ willingness to “build a narrative” with the GM is supported by the fast-and-loose framework of rules and complications. (Gamists and simulationists, along with rule lawyers and certain types of powergamers, should beware.) I think the bigger issue here is this game would probably work best with three or four players, so that everyone has a chance to pursue their own motivations, get multiple character-specific GM Intrusions per session, and show off their clever tricks. My gaming group usually has six to nine players (and a hard two-hour limit per game session), which limits how much focus individual characters can get. I may still try this at some point, because flexible systems tend to be appreciated, but unless it’s a huge hit, I doubt we’d be making a mainstay out of it.
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Mage: The Awakening – Night Horrors – The Unbidden

Apparently White Wolf put out a Night Horrors book for every line, but where Intruders is actually effective at creating horror and presenting Mage as a horror game, this was more paying lip service to the concept in a more generic book of game ideas and story hooks.

Examples are things like the “Lucid”, a bloodline of Sleepwalkers who can sense magic and tend to go crazy and become serial killers of mages. A neat hook, but not really horror as it’s presented. Similarly, there’s an example of an Abyssal “imprint” of a mage that can possess someone close to them, knows their secrets and is resistant to magic. Again, a neat hook, but the presentation makes this less about being scared or upset and more about being punished for hubris. Could these be horror games in the right hands? Sure. But none of them are inherently horrific (or more so than the core game typically is).

World of Darkness: Second Sight

This is basically World of Darkness: Sorcerer updated for NWoD, with full rules for psychic powers and low (hedge) magic; the difference mostly being that psychic powers arise spontaneously and can be used quickly, whereas low magic requires study and a ritual and extended roll for use. (This third major Numina of the OWoD, True Faith, is nowhere to be seen. Unsurprisingly, really, as it was overpowered but very hard to adjudicate.) The third chapter is dedicated to horrors from beyond (and it never says “from the Abyss”, but it’s basically the same sorts of Things from Intruders), though it takes a high-level sort of approach to them and what they could be and how they might influence a story-sized subset of humanity. As keeping with the theme of the book, a selection of rites and powers are available to those who deal with such Things.

There’s an emphasis on a lack of societies and conspiracies, and how comparatively rare these characters are. (Also, emphasis on the fact that these powers represent “lesser templates” and cannot ever overlap with other lesser templates like Ghouls or Proximi; or greater templates like Vampires, Mages or Werewolves. No munchkins!) All of the powers are specifically penalized by the presence of people who don’t believe in them—televising or debunking a power is the best way to see it spectacularly fail. If you’re going to break the masquerade, it won’t be with this power set.

The appendix is a sample story, and they try very hard to pepper the book with sample character and story hooks. Not amazing stuff, but a decent reference.
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Before recorded history, the middle east was the seat of an empire called Irem, ruled by the mighty sorcerer-priests of Duat. Though they themselves forwent immortality, they had their servants undergo the Rite of Rebirth so they could enact their will through the coming ages. These servants awake once an age, brimming with occult power but shackled to the whims of the Judges of Duat. They are the Arisen.

Insanely powerful, but not necessarily broken. )

Overall: I think these guys would make great NPCs or a single character in a crossover campaign, and there are a lot of mysteries you can hold over the players’ heads to mess with them. Totally my cup of tea.
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World of Darkness: The God Machine Chronicle

Part of the premise of the New World of Darkness was that it wouldn’t have a metaplot: They deliberately left out the “shared world” necessity (and the resulting conflicts) of the original WoD, along with the hordes of NPCs running various shows. A lot of the sourcebooks were good about giving options for what could be out there, but the world-spanning (and line-spanning) conspiracies were gone. This book is a shared-world setting book, putting out the premise that the World of Darkness (or, at least, one specific World of Darkness) is run by the machinations of a literal Deus Ex Machina; a reality-spanning machine that might well be God.

This is fundamentally a book of How To run this chronicle. )

Mage: The Awakening – Intruders: Encounters With the Abyss

In a lot of ways, this is a horror book, more in-line with core NWoD, but for the Mage setting. The influence of the Abyss reminds me a lot of the Wyrm in OWoD, but without the greater conspiracy aspects, of course.

Impressively horrifying )

World of Darkness: Inferno

Similar to World of Darkness: Immortals, this is a crossover book, not a core system book, and intended to be a NWoD update to a core line that hadn’t been updated: Demon: The Fallen. They give details of how to mesh this book with the stories, cosmology and systems of Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage. (Plus a few notes for Changelings and Prometheans.) All the bits you’d expect are here: Summoning demons, stats for them, details for making pacts (required sacrifices and received benefits), details of demonic possession (and playing possessed characters), and stats and story hooks for a few sample demons and possessed characters.

Mage: The Awakening – Astral Realms

The rules for magic in the Astral (which are significantly different than the OWoD rules for such journeys, which made Spirit or Mind critical and a bit overpowering) are best summed up as, “If it looks like a duck, magic works on it like a duck.” Given that every Mage character can meditate into a dreamworld, making every form of magic useful (even if Mind is slightly moreso) is great for game balance and making sure that all the players have fun.

The cosmology of Mage, as best I can figure. )

Mage: The Awakening – Imperial Mysteries

A guide to playing archmages, who have grown beyond the street-level rules of the base system into the fourth “tier” of stories, the Cosmic tier. It heavily borrows terminology from Mage: The Ascension. Actual cosmology details? Rules for high-powered magic and systems for the movement of the gods? Yes, please. This is actual cosmology-level world building, which is what I had freakin’ wanted from the beginning. Now do another book that explains the same core setting in a completely different way, and let them fight.

Some great chronicle ideas for those of us who love cosmic worldbuilding. )
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DriveThruRPG is a great site, and there’s a lot of stuff that goes up on there for free, either as an incentive to buy more or because the publishers couldn’t sell it. I periodically download a bunch of free stuff when I’m checking up on the publishers who produce things worth my money (White Wolf/Onyx Path, mostly).

Khyber’s Harvest – D&D 4E adventure module for 2nd level characters

Fairly run-of-the-mill setup of the discovery of an evil cult hiding in a cavern and the dungeon-delve into said cavern…and deeper. It has a couple of interesting traps and some evocative descriptions, though, and a bunch of adventure hooks that could run off of it. And it comes with a pre-generated set of characters so you could play it right out of the box. In theory this is Ebberon-based; in function, it doesn’t really matter. Change a few names here and there, possible change some orcs into a different race, and this could work in most campaigns. If I had five players and a few hours for a classic dungeon dive, this is a perfectly fine choice.

Keep on the Shadowfell – D&D 4E adventure module for 1st level characters, plus Quickstart

This apparently holds the distinction of being the first published 4E adventure. It also features a run-of-the-mill setup and an evil cult. The battles are more of an “introductory” nature, easing the players and GM into the battle system of 4E. This is also a much larger module, involving several towns, the travel to the keep (and dealing with a lot of kobolds along the way), and then the multiple floors and many encounters of the keep itself. (4E modules remind me of the classic first edition modules, in a lot of ways. The setpiece encounters in each dungeon room is much of it.) But most of the encounters are just standard fights, with comparatively little in the way of NPC interaction, skill challenges, traps or hazards. About two dozen pages of this are devoted to quickstart rules for GMs and players, and a set of pre-generated (including details of two level-ups) characters. The last 50 pages are all full-color battlemaps of most of the locations. Overall, I think this is too repetitive for me to run as it is, but could be a decent source of low-level encounters to drop into other scenarios. (And if you’re picking up 4E for the first time, it’s not a bad place to start.)

Mazaki No Fantaji Quickstart

This claims to be an rpg system to simulate jrpgs; I’m not really seeing how, unless they’re specifically trying to simulate cutscenes. A read through the quickstarter makes it seem overly-complicated and unintuitive, but unconstrained at the same time. There are too many terms and too much jargon for what seems to be, “Make a lot of little moves to build up to a flashy attack; finagle as many of your traits as possible into every roll; the GM decides on your difficulty for everything.” I mean, if you’re excited about having a lot of arguments about how a thievery skill applies to healing wounds, (“I’m stealing the hit points back from the damage gods!”) then be my guest. But the point of an rpg system is to put guidelines in place so that every game isn’t just a game of Calvinball (preferably without everyone having to constantly stop and ask, “How do I do X again?”). This seems more like an extended game of “Kill Murray, Save Murray” with the players vs. the GM as the teams. Oh, and a health system that I’m certain I don’t understand at all.

A Nightmare at Hill Manor – New World of Darkness Story Module

Haunted house adventure for mortals in the World of Darkness, which I don’t want to go into too much detail on, because I think I may want to run it with the characters I’m in the process of driving crazy. But it’s a decently set up series of events that hand-holds the GM a bit, assuming you’re new to running WoD games. And it’s much more flexible and sets up more “Schrödinger’s guns” than most dungeon-based modules, allowing the GM to control the sequence of events better and never hanging the story on the success or failure of a single die roll. (It actually dedicates 25 pages to how to use the NWoD system and some general character creation rules, most of which are just reprinted from the core book. And it’s not a bad introduction of the horror setting they designed the core game to be.)

World of Darkness: The God Machine Rules Update

The Onyx Path split-off within White Wolf also marks what is effectively a “second edition” of the New World of Darkness. Their two big “new” projects (as much of their work has been the extension of existing game lines and the revival of OWoD as the 20th Anniversary lines) were the new game Mummy: The Curse, and the new setting/chronicle The God Machine. The latter lays out all of the changes to the core rules and systems in this new version (rather than releasing a new core WoD book), and those rules revisions are available as a free pdf.

I'm just going to put this behind a cut, since it's getting long. )

Totally unrelated gaming idea: If, at some point I have the opportunity to play in a 4E D&D game, I’d love to play a Shardmind Rogue, focused on stealth, bluffing and sneak attacks; who was a lithe humanoid made of glowing pink crystal who utterly rejected the notion of gender. They would be in a romantic relationship with a Warforged character (probably a fighter or other Defender-type) who also identified as genderless. They’d both probably spend a lot of time being exasperated by people assigning them as “female” and “male”, respectively, given their body types and party roles, which means I’d probably want to build as much gender-role-stereotype-fuckery into both characters as possible. (From a mechanics perspective, I’m digging the idea of playing a Bluff or Diplomacy-master who has universal-translator telepathy; and a sneak attacker/stealth character who can turn into a swarm of tiny flying crystals.)
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Some people like Mage: The Ascension. Some people like Mage: The Awakening. Some people want to switch back and forth or build crazy hybrid systems. This book is for them.

The contents and the printing of the book itself. )

Overall: If nothing else, I’m just glad they’re putting out new Classic World of Darkness material. I can’t wait to see what they do with an updated Technocracy and Virtual Adepts when technology has advance over two decades. When the Mage 20th Anniversary Kickstarter goes up, you can bet I’ll be in on that.)
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