Archive for the 'reviews' Category

04
Nov
09

exclusive! review: heroes or villains? miniature pack

Review: Heroes or Villains? pack by 6d6Fireball Miniatures.
Disclaimer:
These miniatures were provided by 6d6Fireball for review purposes.  Fame & Fortune is an affiliate of 6d6Fireball.com (check the Affiliates box under the RPG Bloggers Network button for details).
Metric:
  Have to go with fireballs.  One bad, five awesome.

Metal miniatures are a binary proposition – either a must-have or you pick them up on the fly while waiting for your FLGS to re-order Pathfinder.  Recent editions of D&D encourage using miniatures in tactical play and even the hoariest grognard has a small collection gleaned over years of play.  Those looking for a motley band of all-male adventuring types may get their itch scratched here. So, going from left to right…

First Corvell, an aspiring wizard with a goatee beard and funny hat in wide sleeved doublet and breeches.  He raises a hand in some kind of invocation while clutching a scroll.  Detail is good with a spell-book shaped satchel and a glyph on his upraised hand.  Looks like he’s stepped out of Legends of the Seeker.

Next, Drax the Chain (human fighter in chain with a spiked chain) is attacking his enemy.  As many pre-gen human fighters in WotC 3.xE supplements either uses a bastard sword or spiked chain, DMs get replayability and the level of detail is good, from the closed helm to the sagging backpack and belt pouches.

Then Kiris, Mightiest of Gnomes is clad in a brigandine jack, open-faced helm and wielding an axe in two hands.  Tall for a gnome, it shows a willowy build that differentiates him from bulky dwarves but still shows a warrior capable of hacking kobolds and goblins down.  That axe still means business though and this figure would work well in any fantasy setting.

Finally, Celebhith, a bearded ranger-type in chain with detachable sprue for his arms and longsword – he’s described as a half-elf but is as tall as either of the humans here.  The slung sword and bow over his back indicate he’s ready for both distance and close-up fighting. Some assembly is needed – this figure can be customised with a little care and epoxy.. 

Summary: 4 fireballs.
The figures are comparable quality to Ral Partha and beg to be painted.  There was some minor and easily removed (by fingernail) flash on the legs of Drax and Celebhith.  The figures are good value and as a pack of four, would make a good bundle of henchmen or NPCs. You can buy them individually if you like but the pack is good value and offers variety.

Bonus Discount Code – ¬£3.00 off one order per person at 6d6Fireball Miniatures.  Type in satyre091.

31
Oct
09

dracula the un-dead

Nottingham, October 31st 2009.

It is with heavy heart and light hand that I lay down this novel and attempt to compose my thoughts on this latest story of the great Un-dead, Dracula.  Knowing the precious hours spent reading cannot return fills me with a sense of longing for innocence.  Yet what has been read cannot be unread.  What permits me to set this book aside lightly, rather than hurling it with great force as Dorothy Parker suggests is that it has not been penned by Dan Brown.  That I fear would be a burden beyond endurance but it perhaps is an expectation of fidelity and pedigree that make this horror seem less than it is.

Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre has with the help of Ian Holt, elucidated events twenty-five years after in what is described as the ‘official’ sequel to the novel and the return of vampires to London.  Yet there is no respect for those characters, the literary style that Bram Stoker used or geography  (Carfax Abbey being in Purfleet, near London not Whitby).  It reads like a modern re-imagining with vampires with entirely black eyes who have forgotten their mesmering stares, whose mouths fill with fangs and who become reptilian brutes in the mode of the movie Van Helsing.

The essential nobility of the survivors is destroyed by ensnaring them in vices and despair.  Almost nothing of the original people survives, fast friendships eroded and frayed, familial and marital bonds now bitter burdens resentfully born by all involved.  Mina Harker is transformed from the resolute muse of her band to vacillating, guilt-ridden ingenue.  Jonathan Harker is a controlling sot trying to numb Mina’s love for Dracula with visits to prostitutes, Arthur Holmwood is bitter and loveless with a death wish and Van Helsing palsied and helpless while posturing before Dracula’s portrait.  Surely they deserve better.

And it appears talent skips a generation.  Quincey Harker has grown into a wilful trust fund baby obsessed with acting rather than inheriting a lawyer’s practice and resentful of family secrets.  Bram Stoker himself plays a part in this book and historical figures take a bow as do with knowing nods to actors who have played Dracula in cameo.  The pall cast by Jack the Ripper offers red herring relief from the bloody massacre of those who killed Dracula.  Or did they?  For it appears a vampire is stalking the night and killing again.

Inevitable comparisons, particularly to Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula and Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula series will be made and I fear this book does not come out favourably.  Another sequel seems certain and a movie treatment almost inevitable.  My heart is filled with foreboding as a result, the book indeed elaborates on the backstory of characters yet falls victim to tropes pervading modern horror including a token lesbian scene and casual violence.  It attempts to explain the inexplicable, renders consistent the mystery that hangs around the undead and in doing so fails to honour the mythos of the original.

Those who fancy a vampire story are welcome to try Dracula The Un-Dead – it achieves it’s goals with some finesse. If you’re expecting a story faithful to the original then be tolerant of the creative liberties taken herein. For a book that prides itself on provenance and pedigree, it is ironic the story takes a divergent approach from the original.  The story is good and well-constructed using modern sensibilities and if it were not touting itself as an official sequel would stand on it’s merits.  Yet the book makes a big play of it’s provenance and it’s lack of faithfulness to the original is jarring.

Score: Three stakes (out of five).  Some nice interplay between characters but while the homework is done in some areas, it surprisingly lacks in others and the heroes of the first tale are almost beyond recognition.

25
Oct
09

something wicked this way comes

Review: Kobold Quarterly 11 by Open Design.  There’s a lot of content and I have to fit in reminiscences.  As it’s Kobold Quarterly, I’m using kobolds as my metric – one bad, five awesome.  Now the disclaimer as interests need to be declared.

Disclaimer: This review is of a free PDF copy provided by Wolfgang Baur of Open Design for review purposes.  Articles considered on merit and judgement, not actual play.  Games masters may vary depending on ability, confidence and your willingness to participate.  Be excellent and party on.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get moving.  Back in the day, I used to buy Dragon avidly.  I admire what Open Design have done as Kobold Quarterly (KQ) recaptures that feel without quite being the house organ Dragon used to be.  Including the kick-ass Hallowe’en issues, which this assuredly is. 

Art: 3 kobolds (a little more interior colour will go a long way.)
Consistently strong and supportive of theme.  Love the art for Ecology of the Vampire, Howling Werebeasts, Monstrous Paragons and Spell-Less ranger.  My only caveat is writing over cover art lessens it’s impact.  I’m impressed by the roll call of Mearls, Bulmahn, Perkins (I never knew More was an RPG designer) but the text makes the cover cluttered. Interior art is good if less colourful and the use of woodcut plates for some articles lends charm. Cartoons by Stan! provide levity.

Articles: 4 kobolds (consistently good concepts, minor rough edges)
A Broken Mind by Scott Gable is a neat take on 4E sanity mechanics and lends a Call of Cthulhu feel to that system.  It gives punch to encountering aberrants and undead and provides roleplaying hooks while mitigating the blas√© attitude many players display to horrific monsters and situations. It will shock 4E purists expecting empowered heroism so warn your players first, eh?

Uvandir: The Pride of Craftsmen by John Wick and Jess Heinig hammers dwarves into proud, genderless, relentless inhumans with buckets of attitude while keeping core dwarven qualities intact and offers crunch love to back it up.  I like this a lot and would use as a PC option for a stable player group.  For more dynamic or less confident groups they’d make great NPCs.  Scott Gable provides a faithful 4E conversion. 

Howling Werebeasts by John E. Ling Jr. presents the lycanthrope as player character and considers what consequences occur.  It presents balanced 3.xE level progressions in rat, wolf and bear and inspired me to outline a Les Miserables style campaign involving pursuit of a fugitive lycanthrope. It makes having an infected monster in the party much more palatable. Enjoyed this very much indeed.

The Ecology of the Vampire by Tim & Eileen Connors offers nice flavourful content then spoils it with faux White Wolf trim.  Exquisite fluff about vampiric transformation, feeding and motives with good crunch to stop the vampires going on siring orgies, player and NPC tactics and hints at variant powers. Yet it also drones on and on about heaven and hell, ending with vampires of legend sired by Lucian Twice-Fallen.  Without irony. 

Running Across The Screen is a round table of GM tips from a veritable rollcall of cool game designers who provide advice.  With dense amounts of good, practical advice this is a firehose of fresh spring water to dip into when running a game or event grinds you down.  Kudos to Robin Laws and Greg Stafford for less than corporate photos.   Killer content.

Book Reviews – Balanced and fair.  Guillermo del Toro has co-authored a modern day vampire bio-thriller? And a new Harry Dresden novel?  And a Silver John collection?  And the other books look cool too – this only happens once a quarter.  Good ideas for the primary gifting period for that gamer friend of yours…

Haunted by the Spirit of the Rules by Monte Cook is a warning to players to drop the type A dork act and for games masters to consider consistency by precedent.  It highlights roleplaying is about collaboration, entering into the spirit of the game and focussing on what makes a good time at the table rather than seeking self-validation by trying to be the Oscar Wilde of tabletop gaming.  Thought-provoking stuff.

Wishing Well by Garrett Baumgartner brings wish spells into 4E by applying a framework to the wish effect and codifies potential by tier. It also offers the Wishmaster monster template (neat) and some slightly gamebreaky items especially a ring of three wishes that recharges at every milestone!  Ditch the items and you’ve got a nice take on the Arabian Nights.

Whack Jacks and Harpy Nets by Daigle, Happ, Hitchcock and Kortes brings monster weaponry for 4E to our attention.  They remind us monsters have technology at their disposal.  While the necksnapper, gouters and giant’s arbalest and others make me smile, I would actually use the nailbiter, razornet and warcage in games.  The ideas are strong in this article and can be innovated on.  Maybe in later posts? :o)

Torture and Fear on the Tabletop by Hank Woon looks like a Pathfinder table for every occasion article yet it’s real strengths lies in core concepts.  Torture does ability and regular damage; emphasise description to get inside player minds.  The only thing missing is a reminder players can ask for a cut scene and may want to resolve breaking points mechanically (Will or Fortitude saves) rather than listen to the GM get… medieval.

Same Rules, Different Treasure by Ken Marable takes the concept of skinning stuff with a new look to provide a distinctive image and applies it to treasure.  The result is a strong article on how making an item distinctive can yield thematic information and make a game unique – a real example of campaign branding in action.  The examples show the kind of innovation that can make a good games master great.

Monstrous Paragons by Phillip Larwood offers 4E paragon paths for monsters that builds on the conceit of monsters as player characters or levelling NPCs rather than defined entities tweaked to fit using pages 42, 174 and 184 of the 4E DMG.  An 11th-level kobold anything should fill people’s hearts with fear.  Tucker would be proud.

Mysteries of the Philosopher’s Stone by Mario Podeschi provides a 4E take on the Philosopher’s Stone and provides an artifact book, a ritual to make the stone and two takes on it. Nice touches on lending wizards a scholarly rumour mill air.  Tacked on at the end is a treatment for White Wolf’s Mage: The Awakening.

The Spell-Less Ranger by Marc Radle looks at Pathfinder rangers and removes spells from them without taking out any of it’s magic; it’s a sensible and balanced approach that takes the core concept of the ranger as a wilderness warrior and gives it legs.  Certainly worthy of inclusion in any Pathfinder game.

Farragum, The Howling City by Dan Voyce describes a derro city in lavish detail while referring to other Open Design products. The article evokes eldritch secrets (gibbering steel!) and bizarre structures with monstrous ecology.  Old-school grognards will love this before converting it all to some retro-clone and there’s a very nice printable map ripe for plunder.

Road and River by Wolfgang Baur evokes the old-old school style of Minarian Legends and early Forgotten Realms by mentioning the day-to-day of mercantile travel towards Zobeck.  The map of Margau and Doresh is lush if a little tricky to read but prints out just fine.

Finally a supporting two-page sheet for the Spell-Less Ranger article.

Editorial and Letters: 3 kobolds.  (Meta stuff is meta.)
Open Design wins Ennies! I suspect because it gives tabletop gamers what they want.  Letters alternate between heady nostalgia myths of 3.x, how 4E shows it’s age and why nobody is listening due to Pathfinder’s awesomeness.  At least there’s none of that old-school renaissance going on. Now sports.

Advert/Content Ratio: 4 kobolds (13ish/85 pages (15%))
The adverts and promo boxes are not obtrusive with full-colour page ads offering things of interest. Format is professional in the vast majority of cases with artwork on a couple of ads being the only smudge but there’s minimal control over what kind of content an advertiser can put in.

Overall: 4 kobolds (“Carry on my wayward son…”)
KQ11 is excellent and the length of this review, written in one sitting shows how engaging it is. It scratches so many itches and delivers the horror theme with a subtlety that does it’s editors credit. KQ is faithful to the spirit of it’s draconic ancestor, displaying the same virtues and to a much lesser extent, the same flaws. For a magazine approaching it’s 3rd year it’s looking very good indeed and Wolfgang Baur and team can rightly be proud of their prodigal.