one-hour review tagged posts

One-Hour Library Review: The Cypher System Rulebook

CSR - Cover Bottom line, this book is an excellent resource for people who want an adaptable, innovative system that works for a variety of settings. It is not a collection of different ready-to-go settings and it isn't going to revolutionize your games of Numenera or The Strange. This is a solid book, though, and a really great starting point for GMs who want to use the Cypher system for their games.Read More

The Strange: People and Places


Hopefully you read the One-Hour Review of The Strange so you’re all caught up on the player side of things. If not, we’ll give you a chance to get it together. Caught up? Alright!

This time, we’re looking at things from the GM perspective: the latter parts of The Strange core book that deal with the stuff you need to run a game of The Strange. In my experience with Numenera, it’s hard with this system to get players to take on the role of “sole determiners of rolls” in the game (being the only ones rolling dice) so I’m hoping for some information included in that. Also, creatures in Numenera are often pretty focused in their abilities and maneuvers. This is great when those maneuvers are evocative and not so much when they are repetitive.

Lastly, the setting of The Strange is dominated by three worlds: Earth, Ardeyn, and Ruk. They seem cool and interesting, but I’ve been promised “Worlds teeming with life, with discovery, with incredible treasures, and with sudden death.” I want to make sure there’s enough in these three worlds to keep my players occupied and, more importantly, that these aren’t the only kids on the block to contend with or it’ll be more Forgotten Realms than Sliders.

And with that, we’re off!

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One-Hour Library Review: The Strange

Beneath the orbits and atoms of our natural universe lies a network of dark energy. Those who have learned to access and navigate this chaotic sea have discovered an almost endless set of “recursions” in the shoals of our Earth: Worlds with their own laws of reality, reflected from human experience or imagination, given form in the swirling Chaosphere of the Strange. Worlds teeming with life, with discovery, with incredible treasures, and with sudden death.

Worlds sometimes jealous of our own.

-From Monte Cook Games

Readers of the site might remember my review of Numenera, the first game published with the Cypher System. You might also recall that some of us here at Castles & Cooks backed the Kickstarter campaign for The Strange back in the fall of last year. All this is to say that this review will be my first hour with the book but that I know something about it already.

This game is even more of a chance for Monte Cook to show off what remains of Planescape than Numenera was. Earth in this setting is surrounded by a mysterious alien data network that can create other dimensions, and those with “the spark” are able to transfer between these dimensions (called recursions) to defend the Earth from nefarious plane-hoppers and primordial evils out to destroy it. Sound familiar?

Like Numenera, characters in The Strange are constructed with the following formula: “I am an adjective noun who verbs.” The nouns (or Character Types) in The Strange are vectors, paradoxes, and spinners rather than the glaives, nanos, and jacks of Numenera with a similar spread of specialties. Your Character Descriptor (the “adjective” part) remains with your character (so that you’re always “Clever” or “Stealthy”) but the Character Focus (the “verb” part) switches with each recursion as characters create an appropriate body for themselves that blends in with the locals and follows the recursion’s laws (some recursions have magic, some have bioengineering, etc). Your focus then changes with each jump allowing you to try new options all the time. Personally, I’m very excited to see how this plays out because it seems like such a natural fit for the Cypher System.

Alright, so that’s what I know so far. Let’s crack open this pdf and see how it ticks!

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One Hour Library Review: Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG

In our One Hour Reviews, we set a clock for sixty minutes and analyze the book. When time is up, we stop. The goal is to try and look over as much of the book as possible, without getting bogged down in any one section. Similar to how you might leaf through a book in the store, with some specific granularity, but mainly to focus on gaining a high level understanding of everything the RPG has to offer. Set the clock and let’s go!

This book has been a long time coming, and I’m excited to crack it open. First things first, this book is absolutely gorgeous. The art team outdid itself with the layout, the way they use art to frame the text, and the quality of the images. My favorite piece is a scoundrel type gritting his teeth and pointing a blaster at a Jawa who is casually holding a thermal detonator. How do you say “come at me bro!” in Jawa? Beyond that, there’s a nice heft to the book, and at over 400 pages it is definitely going to stand out in your gaming bookcase.

Time is ticking away and I’m eager to breakdown the chapters, but one other thing to note is the setting. The game is set during the original trilogy, specifically right after the destruction of the first Death Star. This is important to note because it means there really aren’t any Jedi or Sith, so don’t expect to be stating up a Jedi Consular or Sith Assassin with this game. Instead the focus is on playing players on the fringe or “edge of the empire” if you will – smugglers, bounty hunters, droids, etc. Time to dive in.

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One-Hour Library Review: Numenera

When I first started playing in D&D, I didn’t start out in a “standard” fantasy setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. I started off in the weird, nightmarish, wonderful, though-provoking realms of Planescape, traveling from the City of Doors through portals to all corners of the multiverse. Behind this remarkable setting is a man named Monte Cook who started his own company years ago and created a number of fantastic d20 products like the epic-scaled urban setting of Ptolus and the psionic adventure If Thoughts Could Kill. When Monte joined the development team for D&D Next, I was excited and eager to see what his reunion with Wizards of the Coast would yield. When he left the project suddenly and without much explanation, I was disappointed but curious what else he had planned.

That’s when I started to see teasers for Numenera. It looked strange and confusing and intriguing and bizarre. It looked like everything I loved about Planescape, and every subsequent teaser is even more interesting. Now I have the pdf in front of me and I can’t wait to delve in for my first hour with the book. Come on down the rabbit hole…

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One Hour Library Review: Shadowrun Fifth Edition

In our One Hour Reviews, we set a clock for sixty minutes and analyze the book. When time is up, we stop. The goal is to try and look over as much of the book as possible, without getting bogged down in any one section. Similar to how you might leaf through a book in the store, with some specific granularity, but mainly to focus on gaining a high level understanding of everything the RPG has to offer. Set the clock and let’s go!

Out of the big-name, long-running roleplaying games, Shadowrun has had an impressive and persistent run considering the many different banners it’s been published under. It started in 1989 (not as far back as Dungeons & Dragons but farther than Vampire: The Masquerade or Rifts) under the FASA Corporation. It was sold in 2001 to WizKids which was then bought by Topps which then licensed the rights to the RPG to Catalyst Game Labs, the current producers.

Recently, the latest edition of the game – Fifth Edition – was published and I quickly bought myself a copy to see what new mechanics they had, what strangeness of the digital and Astral realms awaited, and what craziness was in store for the Sixth World. Considering the tumult of Shadowrun‘s history, you might expect and even forgive a little choppiness in the book. To my delight, the book is anything but choppy and has some great changes. Check out what I found during my first hour with the new book.

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One-Hour Review: Dungeon Survival Handbook

I don’t know if you were aware but 2012 is the year for Rise of the Underdark. This might be a surprise to one or two of you out there, despite the not-so-subtle, full-page advertisements at the end of any Dragon and Dungeon article over the past few months, but there you have it. To be honest, it’s not really making my calendar most of the time.

I’m not a big drow fan and setting most of my campaigns in Eberron means the drow don’t care about the Underdark that much anyways (and that the Underdark is rather different when we do visit).

The only product I’ve been really keen on looking at as the Underdark rises is the Dungeon Survival Handbook, which has been changing names left and right but continuously putting out cool new content. Now that I’ve gotten a hold of Into the Unknown, let’s take a look at what the first hour has to offer.

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One-Hour Review: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

Having psyched myself up for the new Heroes of the Elemental Chaos sourcebook, I decided to swing by and see if my Friendly Local Gaming Store had it. To my immense delight they did, and they’re in the process of re-modeling to start running D&D Encounters and Friday Night Magic. Those are topics for another day. For now, I’m excited to crack this book open and see what oozes out. How’s that for a weird image?

In this sourcebook, I’m hoping to see a few things. I want the ability to include some elemental flavor and crunch in any character I make, regardless of class or race (obviously some will be easier than others), and I want to get some inspirations on running adventures dealing with the Elemental Chaos that don’t play on tired themes: namely “let’s go to the Abyss and kill stuff!” and “in this fortress of the Lord of [element type here], there are hideous creatures composed of [element type here].” Based on Heroes of Shadow and Heroes of the Feywild, I think I have a good chance of getting my wishes. Here goes!

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One-Hour Review: Book of Vile Darkness

Book of Vile Darkness

The Book of Vile Darkness through the editions has been many things. At its best, it is a strong source of inspiration for DMs who want to include some frightening elements into their campaigns. It can also be an inspiration to players who want to have their characters be a little darker or who would rather play an evil party and scour the land rather than save it. While the Dungeons & Dragons line rarely achieves the depths of depravity that gaming lines like White Wolf’s Vampire games or Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, it is every bit as dark as the epic Midnight setting. The various Books of Vile Darkness have been a must-have for anyone hoping to strike terror into the normally cavalier D&D player’s heart. At the same time, the Book of Vile Darkness has historically also been an excuse to run depraved characters without consequence or thought to roleplaying. There are excellent examples of evil campaigns out there but in my experience they easily get out of control.

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One-Hour Review: Heroes of the Feywild

Heroes of the Feywild

You may have noticed from previous posts, but Patrick and I have been especially looking forward to the release of Heroes of the Feywild this month. I’m a big fan of “faerie tales gone wrong” (or right, if you’ve ever read the original Brothers Grimm) and I’ve gotten into everything from Hellboy and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to the Grimm RPG and Changeling (The Dreaming and The Lost near-equally). If you want a really twisted faerie tale classic, though, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are wild inspiration for campaign writing.

All that said, I’m a little worried before opening this book that things will seem campy and half-formed. I’ve been impressed with most of the excerpts (check out the link above for the collection), surprised by the mechanics of the pixie, inspired by the new build for the witch, and generally pushed towards an optimistic viewpoint. There’s farce, to be sure, but there’s still enough threat intimated in the excerpts to convince me I can still drive characters insane down the long road past the Catepillar’s mushroom, within sight of Hurtfew Abbey, and winding up at the Goblin Market for an ambush. Looking at pictures of pixies and feathered dragons it may all seem like Woodstock with longswords, but I’m willing to bet there’s solid substance in here… Which is why I but it early!

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