Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Are You Reading Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque?

Before we shuffle 2013 off into the history books, I thought I would draw your attention to a blog you may not be reading: Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque by Jack Shear.

While not for the faint of heart, Jack's blog is a wonderfully sinister resource for fans of horror gaming, especially Savage Worlds folks as of late.

Among the highlights of Jack's site are his Savage Worlds cheat sheet, which summarizes the basics of Savage Worlds, combined with the Combat Survival Guide (a document many - including myself - make sure their players have access to, given Savage Worlds' combat intricacies).

His Slithdale Hollow mini setting is a very cool and creepy (and completely free) Savage Setting featuring the players playing young kids, ala Lemony Snicket and Coraline. Grub stew, anyone?

His Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque books are a great resource for any fans of earlier D&D editions who want some horror gaming without the baggage of Ravenloft (though some of the inspiration is certainly going to be there) and his Gothic Earth guide will give you similar options but set on (you guessed it) Gothic Earth instead of a Fantasy setting.

Planet MotherF*cker is an over the top post apocalyptic setting that is system neutral, but includes advice on how you should go about reskinning certain bestiary entries to match the horrible things crawling the wastelands (my favorite being Skeletorians...you DO have stats for an undead spellcaster in your favorite RPG, right?).

Aaaaaand these are all completely free in PDF, or you can spring for print copies via Lulu.

And then the blog itself is heaped with wonderful entries, many of them monsters with Savage Worlds statblocks that are suitable for being dropped in on many games, like Solomon Kane, Rippers or even Deadlands...and, for fans of Ravenloft, his Ravenloft remixes make for some great reading, especially the advice given for some of the lesser developed domains (like adding some mind-blasting Lovecraftian life to the underdeveloped Bluetspur. Special mention also goes to his Gothic Fantasy Magic for Savage Worlds. I'm kinda jealous at his output of depraved creativity, but I'm glad I can mine it for my own purposes, since Mr. Shear is sharing it with the world.

While Mr. Shear's blog is certainly not for all audiences, it has a lot of useful and fun information and tools for folks that don't mind a little R-Rated and B(Z?)-Movie in their RPGs.

UPDATE: I intend to release Tommy's Top Six tomorrow as is tradition, though the blog's birthday giveaway will be significantly smaller than in years past, providing fewer chances to win, unfortunately. I am aiming to get a tighter schedule in the new year, with a regular schedule for reviews, and probably a bigger emphasis on board and card games as well.

Thanks to everyone who has continued reading to this point...hopefully 2014 can make up for a lackluster 2013.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tommy's Take on Accursed

Earlier in the year, I posted a few articles about Accursed by Melior Via, a Savage Setting in which the heroes are monsters trying(?) to resist the dark lure of the Witch Marks that made them something other than human. Well, the full rulebook is out in PDF, so let's take a look at it.
A Revenant, a Dhampir and a Golem facing off with The Crone.

DISCLAIMER: This review does include an affiliate link to RPGNow. Purchasing the book via said affiliate link may provide me with store credit at RPGNow, which is typically used to purchase more gaming material for review at this blog. A review copy was not provided by the publisher, my copy was acquired by supporting the Kickstarter, though I was provided a preview copy of the playtest draft, which I previously previewed.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First and foremost, you will need the Savage Worlds rulebook in order to play Accursed. The Savage Worlds Horror Companion isn't 100% needed, but is very useful. Secondly, the print version is not yet available, but it is on its way, per the Kickstarter updates posted recently. Lastly, the PDF is available right now for $20 (and you can get poker decks specific to Accursed as well).

The premise, in a nutshell, is a fantasy setting in which the Accursed - people who were transformed into agents of the Witches and fought in the Bane War - are now free of the direct influence of the Witches, but unable to return to their old lives due to the monstrous taint on their souls. Sound good?

Shane Hensley writes a great foreword that sets the stage for the harrowing setting of the Accursed, and why they fight. This is followed up by some short fiction introducing the setting.

The first chapter discusses the setting, including a two page map of the land, called Morden. The map seems kinda small and empty, but one can always use that as an excuse to say that the map only highlights the biggest features, leaving numerous other towns and locations out there to be developed by you and your group. During the Bane War, Morden was invaded by the forces of the Grand Coven, which broke the backs of the land's leaders before the men of Morden forged an alliance with the Seelie Fey and set up a betrayal that destroyed one of the Witches. Ultimately, the leaders of the Coven scattered, leaving the Accursed behind to find their own way. For some, the Accursed are reminders of the war. Other Accursed can't return home because their families no longer accept them as kin...and some Accursed just can't yet accept the monsters that they have become. Some turned to religion, and The Order of the Penitent was formed: A religious sect that believes that the Accursed are damned, but that they may be able to be redeemed if they do enough good in the world.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to the land at large, detailing the various realms, their current states and their roles in the Bane War. Cairn Kainen was once built around clans, but is now crushed under the bootheel of Morrigan and her undead armies. Hebron went from an idyllic farmland to a battle hardened, suspicious, insular community after fending off The Crone's Golems. Hyphrates, land of the Pharoahs, now rests in the undead grip of a formerly living, and formerly benevolent, ruler. Manreia faced no direct conflict in the Bane War, and so it sustained few scars, but now deals with the refugees of the other realms...completely unaware of the vipers clutched to its breasts. The proud people of Steppengrad have suffered grievous losses in the war...and are preparing to sacrifice even more if they can finally break Baba Yaga's grip. Valkenholm has become the center of The Blood Witch's web of intrigue.

There are now eight types of Witchbreed one can play as (six were present in the original playtest document): Dhampirs, the blood-sucking half-vampires. Golems, who have had their souls placed inside of unliving bodies. Mongrels, now grotesquely merged with animals. Mummies, the long dead, brought back to existence. Ophidians, poisonous snake-men. Revenants, the recently dead, still walking the earth. Shades, the spectral dead. And, finally, the Vargr, who shift between man and beast. Character creation is similar to normal, except you select a Witchbreed to play as, with their own modifiers, and skills have been slightly altered (with some skills condensed into Subterfuge and Athletics). Just as each Witchbreed has its own strengths and weaknesses, they also have access to their own unique Edges, with Mummies seemingly getting the shortest end of the stick regarding Edge selection.

A number of setting rules are used for Accursed, such as Damaged Characters, which allows characters to take an additional Hindrance and, thus, more points with which to buy an Edge, useful for those extra Edges they have available to them. Accursed uses the Blood & Guts rules from Savage Worlds Deluxe, but also combines them with a new rule that allows players to spend a benny in order to turn Wounds into Fatigue levels instead (since they "heal" faster, of course). New Hindrances are also provided, some having appeared in other books, complete with a new master list for Accursed (featuring Hindrances like Jingoistic or Glass Jaw). In addition to the Racial Edges, other new Edges are available to all characters, like Arcane Background (Witchcraft), which allows PCs to tap into the same power that the Witches use, Chosen Fate, which allows the player to decide if they are embracing or rejecting their Witchmark, Grand Coven Veteran (for those that fought many battles in the war), and Witch Hunter, for those that intend to take the battle to the Witches themselves. A new master Edges table is provided as well.

Chapter 3 covers the powers and uses of Arcane Background (Alchemy) and Arcane Power (Witchcraft), with Alchemy powers that let you transform weapons or heal Fatigue, and Witchcraft powers that let you steal Wounds from a target and use them to heal others, or even cancel out another character's abilities (including Edges!).

Accursed doesn't use money, per se, instead adopting the Resource die from Shaintar. Essentially, you roll the Resource die against an item's cost and availability, modified by whatever skills might affect it (like using Streetwise to acquire black market goods). Firearms are sprinkled in among the expected melee weapons, typically of the muzzle-loading variety. It has a very Ravenloft effect, in which some regions are vastly more developed than others, though this has to do with the effects of the War, rather than magical interference by Godlike entities.

Witchmarks get their own chapter, because they are that big of a deal. They are the measure of a Witch's power over the Accursed, and they represent the struggle between the monster and the man. The higher the Witchbreed's rank, the greater the effects of the Witchmark. A Novice can sense others of his Witchline, while Seasoned Accursed can speak to others within a mile. Veterans can automatically sense others of his Witchline and the effects of their abilities, and so on. Plus, each Witchbreed have effects that change depending on their acceptance or rejection of the Witchmark: Dhampirs can grow to become nearly full-blown vampires (complete with not being able to enter homes uninvited), a Golem may throw off his unnatural trappings and become flesh and blood again, Mongrels may grow too fond of their animal implants, Mummies may shake off their Death Shrouds and use the Djinn's remaining power to make a wish, Ophidians may become truly reptilian, Revenants not only recapture life but also gain the ability to cheat death, Shades lose their grip on the physical world and Vargr's can remove their animal aspect and turn it into a loyal companion! Of course, each Witchmark can be spun the other way, accepting or defying as their path chooses.

Each of the Witches get detailed in the sixth chapter, along with their primary Banes. This includes art for each Witch and an overview of their background and magic. Baba Yaga and her Hunger Trolls, The Blood Witch and her Leech Men, The Chimera and her Maggot Hounds, The Crone and her Manikins, The Dark Queen and her Noumenons, The (presumed dead) Djinn and her Scarabs, The Gorgon and her Hydras and The Morrigan and her Cauldron Born.

The last chapter focuses on running Accursed, noting that there are more Witchlines than contained in this book, and more Banes spawning from each Witch. A bunch of plot seeds are provided, as well as a sidebar on playing completely human characters in an Accursed game, even alongside Accursed. A seven part campaign is also included, which has three possible endings, depending on the PCs' actions...one of which maintains the status quo, two of which will leave a noticeable mark on Morden.

WHAT WORKS: The art is gorgeous. The "Heroes as Monsters" bit hasn't been overdone in Savage Worlds, and Accursed sets the standard pretty high in that regard. The level of detail in each Witchbreed is very cool and very evocative, and the Witchmark rules, providing reasons to both embrace and reject power, are great as well.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some of the Accursed seemed to get the shorter end of the stick than the others, with Mummies having fewer cool bits to play around with. This is essentially a three book purchase, rather than the two book purchase that most Savage Settings are. Savage Tales to go along with the Plot Point Campaign would have been welcome. The editing in my PDF was still pretty rough, but it was updated after I downloaded it and I just caught that as I was finishing this review.

CONCLUSION: I was provided a preview copy of the Playtest rules and almost immediately made a pledge on the Kickstarter. I like Accursed enough that I put my money where my mouth is, I'll be getting a print copy and I may even spring for both poker decks. People who believe that Savage Worlds should always be as minimalist as possible aren't going to like the extra bits of crunch added to Accursed, but I personally think it's one of the coolest settings I've seen, and it will hit my table after the print version arrives, if not before. Melior Via made the game I've always wanted to play.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tommy's Take on Revolver 2

So....yesterday, I reviewed Revolver. Today, I review its completely standalone sister (not really sequel) game, Revolver 2.

DISCLAIMER: This review does contain an affiliate link to Amazon.com. Purchasing the game through that link may provide me with referral credit to Amazon. No review copy was provided by the publisher. I acquired this game on my own.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Revolver 2 has the same mechanical base as Revolver, and includes a number of references to the characters in Revolver, but is designed to be completely standalone, from both a a story and a gameplay perspective. Revolver 2 comes in an impressive green tin, setting it apart from Revolver's red tin. The game retails for $30, though Amazon has it deeply discounted as of the time of this review.

The story is the first major change in Revolver 2: Instead of a gang on the run from a Colonel's posse, one player plays a Padre who is hiring gunslingers to defend a Mexican town sitting near a silver mine as a corrupt Mexican warlord is trying to take it over. Yeah, it's got a little bit of Magnificent Seven to it...and if you're a fan of westerns, that's probably a good thing. The winning conditions are similar to Revolver: General Mapache wins if he guns down all of the town's defenders, for instance, and the Padre's men can win if the Padre survives the battle in the silver mine, or if the Mexican army arrives to put an end to the General (mechanically functioning the same as removing the Mexican border tokens in Revolver).

Thematically, the "surviving four rounds in the Silver Mine" doesn't work as well as Jack Colty's "survive four rounds on the 3:15" from Revolver, but it is what it is.

With that base in place, however, we get a number of changes: First, the two players play a poker minigame, three hands worth, and the side that wins 2 out of 3 gets to set a more favorable battlefield layout for the game. In addition, some of the poker hands have over benefits, independent of winning or losing, such as extra Firepower tokens on battlefield spaces, adding or subtracting tokens from the Mexican Army card, or adding cards to your starting hand when the game begins.

The next big change comes at the beginning of the Padre's turn. See, the Padre starts off with seven guardians (counting himself), and can recruit another guardian or two on each turn (an icon on the battlefield tells you how many guardians you can recruit). Well, the Padre has the choice on some battlefields to forgo recruitment and instead skip turns there, moving the clock up faster at the expense of recruiting more people. This can be beneficial at times, because the General has a very powerful secret weapon at the silver mine, but it requires stockpiling cards in order to use properly, and if you can catch him flat footed at the mine, it can make the Padre's endgame easier. Of course, if you miscalculate, it can lead to you just being outgunned in the endgame.

One of the battlefields is called The Los Quantos Bridge, and it brings up another tactic for the Padre: If he has enough cards with TNT icons on them, he can blow the bridge, wiping out anyone or anything that the General has placed on the bridge to stop him. He can use a similar tactic in the Silver Mine, to counter the General's use of the Gatling Gun.

That's where another layer of complexity and strategy comes in: Every card has an effect in its own right, but many of the General's cards include ammo icons, to be used with the Gatling Gun in the endgame, while many of the Padre's cards have TNT icons, to be used at the Bridge or Silver Mine...so a card may be worth more to you in your hand, using it at the right battlefield, rather than just dumping it off in play.

The Padre has two decks of cards to draw from, the first being his regular card deck and the second being his Guardians. The Guardians have a survival rating, like Colty's men in the first game do, indicating just how important they are to the plot and what order they'll die in. Padre Estaban is the hero of this story, and will either see it through, or be the last one gunned down. Some Guardians let you draw a card when they come into play, some force you to discard when they die, some hasten the arrival of the Mexican Army and some stymy it. Zachary McReady, kin to the Colonel from the first game, makes an appearance here as a recruitable gunslinger. There's also a mysterious man named Jim Colt who carries a crow on his shoulder, and who may or may not resemble a certain gang leader from Revolver. There's also Kid Lightning, who has a Survival Rating of 0, but also has TWO Grit Tokens, meaning he can take a licking before he goes down.

As for the Padre's card deck itself, he has cards like Telegrams which remove tokens from the Mexican Army card, speeding their arrival along. Of course, he has different weapons he can drop on the battlefield for his men, as well as cards like "Get Ready For War!" that cause him to sacrifice two of his men in order to take out everyone the General has at a given battlefield. There's also a Kiowa Guide who will help the Mexican Army make better time to the town, bags of rattlesnakes that can take out one of the General's men and even a Stove Plate Jacket (ala Eastwood) that saves one of the Guardians from death.

The General is not without resources, using Swift Horses to move his men from battlefield to battlefield, Sodden Terrain to slow down the approach of the Mexican Army, Alligator Attacks to kill Guardians, powerful gunfighters like Gian Volonte (who is so powerful that the Padre gets to draw a card in order to balance out how scary he is) and Pancho Flores (who also forces the opponent to discard a card when he comes into play). The Las Cuchillos are also frightening, giving the General the option of discarding a card when they come into play and destroying one of the Padre's assets.

Like with Revolver, Revolver 2 will be bloody, with casualties mounting on both sides, and not even killing the General will be enough to stop his men.

WHAT WORKS: The Magnificent Seven with a dash of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in a card game? Yes, please. The extra bits of strategy are a nice touch without over complicating anything. The connections to the first set are also nice, as easter eggs for players of both sets, without forcing continuity lockout.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The creeping complexity may bode ill for those that love the simplicity of the first game. The backstory isn't quite as thrilling in this one, being painted as more of a straight, black and white, Good vs Evil tale...though, your mileage may certainly vary on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. The win condition of waiting out the general in the Silver Mine doesn't work as well, thematically.

CONCLUSION: The backstories and the characters "pop" better in Revolver, but Magnificent Seven is my favorite western of all time, so essentially putting that in card game format is just AWESOME to me. The two Revolver games are just both so very cool to me, impulse purchases that I'm glad I indulged in. Absolutely worth it if you love westerns and you're cool with a 2 player only game. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tommy's Take on Revolver

I do primarily review RPGs around here, but I also occasionally venture into other areas, like board and card games. Well, A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a couple of western-themed card games called Revolver and Revolver 2, which I've since played a few times with my kid.

DISCLAIMER: This review does include an affiliate link to Amazon.com. Purchasing this title from Amazon may result in me receiving a referral credit. A review copy was not provided to me by the publisher, however. I acquired this game on my own.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Revolver is a card based by White Goblin Games & Stronghold Games, featuring a fairly standard western theme: Jack "The Crow" Colty and his gang robbed a bank and are on the run from Col. Ned McReady's posse, trying desperately to make it to the 3:15 Express from Rattlesnake Station, or cross the Mexican border, before Colty and his right hand man Cortez are gunned down.

Retailing for $30, Revolver comes in a sweet, sweet metal tin, with two included card decks (one for each side of the conflict) and a number of extra cards which serve as the battlefields for the conflict (beginning at the bank and running to the train). A bag of wooden pieces are included to count down the Mexican border, as well as a piece to serve as the time tracker in each battlefield.

The Colty gang begins with all of their people on the playing field, rushing together from the bank to the train station. The McReady player will unleash assets at each field, from deputies and bounty hunters to named characters like Deputy Weathers and McReady himself. Characters can get Grit tokens, which can allow them to survive the first attempt at killing them, and Firepower tokens, which boosts their effectiveness in combat.

If the Colty gang loses a fight on the McReady player's turn, one of The Crow's men dies, selected by the Colty player based on his men's Survival Rating (some guys are doomed to die before the others). Some folks just die, others cause different effects. For instance, killing Bruno "Hen House" Caple cuts off Colty's access to Peacemaker .45s. If Manolito dies, The Crow finds out Manolito was a traitor and this cuts off two of the tokens blocking access to the Mexican border. If you kill Kittens McKenzie before the gang reaches the 3:15, it gives the posse more time to hunt the gang through Rattlesnake Creek as Kittens presumably knows that area better than the rest.

Stronger cards, on both sides, are played by discarding other cards...and some cards get cheaper to play as the game goes on. For instance, Col. McReady is expensive to deploy at the bank, but he won't miss the gunfight at the train for anything. The McReady player can play as many cards to a battlefield as he likes, but the Colty gang can only play three cards per battlefield...and McReady can drop cards like Narrow Bridge and Cactus Field which cuts those available slots down further.

Colty's deck also includes cards that move up the clock, putting the gang on the road in order to keep from getting trapped, cards like "Fire At Will" that lets his men gun down some of McReady's men, Sandstorm (which imposes a two card limit on McReady's side of the field) and Saddlebags (which let you snap up a card from a battlefield to take to another, as cards normally stay behind as the gang runs).

McReady's deck also has time management cards which force the Colty gang to stay on the battlefield an extra turn, "Get The Rope, Boys" (which lets you lynch a Colty gang member), Rattlesnake Bite (which will kill a gang member if they don't discard a card), a card indicating the gang has been betrayed (which kills two people unless the Colty player discards two cards), a Buffalo Stampede which inflicts a ton of damage and more.

Each battlefield has a defensive modifier for the Colty gang, ranging from +0 to +3, as they use the terrain for natural defense. The Colty player also has one more, last ditch tactic they can use at the train, derailing it in order to inflict death and chaos. This will kill every one of Colty's remaining men, but the player can discard cards in order to keep his men alive.

As swell as all this sounds, it's the little things that really sell the game: The book includes character bios for every character in the game, unveiling layers to the backstory that twist it on its ear. Is Crow a criminal? Well, yeah...but he's also been wronged, as his father had his farm stolen out from under him. One of his gang members is Poppy McReady...daughter of the Colonel...and all kinds of hints and outright statements in the backstory that the Colonel is one shady bastard. None of it DIRECTLY affects gameplay, especially in this first set, but the attention to story is very admirable.

There is a fair bit of strategy to the game, as the McReady side has to recognize which battles to fight and which to let go of, while the Colty player can focus on either surviving the full gauntlet and escaping on the train or focusing on running out the Mexican border (a token comes off of the Mexican border card for each turn McReady has in which he fails to kill a Colty member).

No matter what, the game WILL be very bloody, with a lot of casualties. This isn't a Roy Rogers western.

WHAT WORKS: The production values are excellent. The gameplay is fun and simple, and feels very "western". The gameplay is surprisingly deep in the core set, while still playing quickly. Despite the recommended age of 12+, my 10 year old both enjoys and understands the game perfectly fine.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The fact that a lot of the cards on both sides are either re-skinned, or merely opposite numbers of a card on the other side. Some complaints have been made about the art, as some of the women are fairly scantily clad and some parents may not be suitable with 12 year olds (the recommended age) playing it.

CONCLUSION: A very awesome two player card game that I've already played a fair bit and plan on playing more of. The expansions are largely designed to swap in and out with the existing card decks, rather than adding to them, so the game should avoid a lot of bloat that games with expansions tend to have. As mentioned above, the game is awesome and thematic out of the box, but adding in the backstory makes it doubly cool. Very highly recommended if you are a fan of westerns and card games, especially if you're not so much into the Deadlands or Shadows of Brimstone style of supernatural western.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tommy's Take on Dude, Run!

Ever watch those ghost hunting shows on TV? Now, I'm not a huge fan, but the idea of a Ghost Hunter RPG is certainly interesting, and that's precisely what Creepy Doll Studios have created here.

DISCLAIMER: A PDF was provided by the publisher for review purposes. This review contains affiliate links to RPGNow. Purchases made via those links may provide me with store credit at RPGNow.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF of Dude, Run! runs about 60 pages and retails for $5. It is a self-contained, standalone game about playing a group of paranormal investigators, investigating Hotspots and trying to prove the existence of the supernatural. One person plays the "Skeptic", but they are essentially the GM. They set up the creepy encounters and the PCs attempt to use their expertise to prove that the creepy encounters are all real, supernatural occurrences while trying not to lose their cool and run screaming from the Hotspot. Each Investigator has four Techniques, ranked 1 through 4 (with a 1, 2, 3 and array assigned to them). The four Techniques are Sensitive, Tech, Analysis and Research, and they describe the methods that the Investigators can use in order to prove something is supernatural. Investigators also have Belief and Ego, which can fluctuate over the course of gameplay as they try to put themselves ahead of the team and prove that they are the only one qualified to be the Lead Investigator.

The Skeptic sets the amount of evidence that must be found (via die roll) and the Investigators have about 2 hours, generally, to accumulate as much information as possible. Essentially, the Skeptic gives them their hook ("I think my house was built on an Indian Burial Ground!"), builds the Hotspot (the lower the rating, the more frequent the supernatural activity) and then starts dropping events to investigate ("A short in the wiring causes all the power in the living room to go out when the TV is on"). The Investigators use a Technique to explain why something is paranormal, adding their Belief and - if they choose - points of Ego. If anyone rolls triples (because Trouble Comes in Threes), they overdid it and maybe bought into their own story, running off in fear. The remaining Investigators add up all of their dice that came up even as successes, and if they got higher than the Hotspot rating, they can score points or Ego or Evidence. Whoever came up highest gets bonus Evidence points. If they end the episode with more Evidence than the threshold set by the Skeptic, they've "proven" the existence of the supernatural! Simple, right?

The book is filled with a number of hauntings and paranormal experiences, like demons, greys, big foot, and even Men in Black.

A sample Haunting is included to get you started, complete with descriptions and ratings for the house, and a random events table.

Character sheets are also provided, as well as a blank Case Log for tracking the team's investigations.

WHAT WORKS: A fun, light RPG-ish game that could well appeal to non gamers who are open to a little roleplaying. Price point isn't bad and the game knows it's not a deep RPG, avoiding complicated subsystems and instead settling for a quick competitive/cooperative experience. I am utterly in love with that cover.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The game is built with the assumption of an ongoing campaign in mind, but I can't imagine ever really using it more than once or twice a year.

CONCLUSION: Dude, Run! seems like it would be a good deal of fun in the right setting. I could see busting it out annually around Halloween as a much lighter alternative to other horror games like Slasher Film, especially if you have a curious non-gamer or two willing to sit in.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tommy's Take on Leverage Companions 4, 5 and 6

The Leverage RPG by Margaret Weis Productions is one I certainly enjoyed, having reviewed all three of the books in the line. They have also released a series of short Companion PDFs, and I've reviewed the first three in the past. Here's my reviews of 4, 5 and 6, covering Hacking, Tropes and Government Espionage.

DISCLAIMER: All products were provided as comp copies via the DriveThruRPG/RPGNow Featured Reviewer program. Purchases made via Affiliate Links on this site may provide the site administrator with store credit to be used at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

 Leverage Companion 4: Hollywood Hacking

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: You can either get the PDF for $2.99, or you can get the compilation of ALL the Companions in a print or PDF compilation at RPGNow. The Hollywood Hacking Companion mostly covers the artistic license that TV and movies tends to take with Hacking (like people blowing up stoplights by hacking into them, or the antiquated idea that you have to keep someone talking on a phone in order to trace them). It does a pretty good job of straddling the line between "Don't do what they do on TV because it's silly" and "we're just giving you information so someone a bit more knowledgeable than you can't just call your bluff". A handful of Hacking related Talents are included, but they aren't limited entirely to Hackers. One Talent, for instance, is Mastermind-based and allows you to exploit people who are working off of Hollywood Hacking assumptions. Another one is nice, arrogant trick a Hacker can pull out at the last second. Why didn't they do it earlier? Duh, they were dumbing it down for the rest of the crew.

WHAT WORKS: The extra Talents are always fun. The writing is nice and breezy without turning into a technical lecture.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Companions are all fairly "niche", with this one being especially so.

CONCLUSION: With the Companions now collected into Companion Volume 2, it's worth reading the material as part of the larger compilation if nothing else. As a standalone PDF? Not the first purchase I would recommend...but the Talents alone make a nice addition to a larger product.

Leverage Companion 5: Tropes vs Leverage

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: As above, you can get it as a single PDF or part of the Companion Volume 2. The purpose of this Companion is help out a bit with defining a character by making use of different archetypes. About 15 archetypes are provided, with descriptions and advice on combining each archetype with each of the five Roles, as well as a Talent that fits each Archetype. Maybe your Hitter is a Mama Bear (or Papa Wolf), maybe your Hacker is a Romantic, maybe your Thief is an Artist, maybe your Grifter is a Rebel and maybe your Mastermind is an Architect who has built each of their plans off of the backs of their last ones.

WHAT WORKS: A real simple way to get a starting point for your Leverage characters, using common archetypes as the core concept (combined with the Roles, obviously). Some of them are truly inspired, as are their related Talents (like an Architect getting a bigger Asset die when using a Callback, since they are building to these moments).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some of the combinations don't fit so well, and at times the writing seemed to struggle to define the Archetype/Role relationships without repeating the same ground. Several of the pages carry the footers from the Hollywood Hacking Companion, which presumably got brought over in formatting but never changed.

CONCLUSION: A very useful Companion for those struggling with character creation, or for those who are maybe looking for inspiration for a unique spin for their next character. I also appreciate the fact that there's an attempt at backing these decisions up mechanically, with the inclusion of Talents. A good, well written companion piece to the Leverage rulebooks and supplements.

Leverage Companion 6: KRYPTOS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Available in the same formats as above, Companion 6 takes your Leverage game from the Populist Revenge business and into the realm of Espionage (and Counter-Espionage). This includes advice on changing up the roles (Hitter to Wetworks, Thief to Acquisitions, Mastermind to Handler, etc). This is even a recommended mode of play for Single Player games (James Bond or Jason Bourne, anyone?) While these Companions commonly offer new Talents, this one also offers new rules, such as resisting Interrogations, handling "Gadgets", and even an "Enhanced Flashback" mechanic that allows the Agents to throw the trust of each other into question.There's even a few campaign set-ups, including an amusing one set in a retirement home for secret agents. An Instant Mission Generator replaces the Job Generator from the Leverage core rules, so you can generate spy-appropriate missions on the fly.

WHAT WORKS: Well, I love random generators, so that's a win right there. There's lots of good information in a small package to tweak Leverage from its default mode of play and into spy games.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: A few spy-related Talents would have been great. Mentioning the Trust mechanic before the section that actually introduced it was a little counterintuitive, but not a huge problem given the size of the product.

CONCLUSION: If you're going to write a niche product like this, present the information as usefully and as compelling as you can. This book totally hit the mark in that regard, giving you the necessary tools to turn Leverage into a spy game with a small package. I always like extra options for Talents, so the book lacking those is disappointing. That said, it's a well-written, micro supplement that was released with a very clear goal that it accomplishes admirably. A great pick-up if you want to diversify your Leverage campaign options.