Reviews from R'lyeh

Which Witch VI

It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.
The first book in the series, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and presents the Witch as dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lilith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. The second book in the series is The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games, which was written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes, and which focused on not so much as ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, but upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria. Again, Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, the next and third entry in the line presents a different take upon the Witch, whilst the fourth, The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition, presents another different and very modern—if slightly silly—take upon the Witch. The fifth entry, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition, is written for use with Old School Essentials: Classic FantasyNecrotic Gnome’s interpretation and redesign of the 1981 revision of Basic Dungeons & Dragons by Tom Moldvay and its accompanying Expert Set by Dave Cook and Steve Marsh. It focuses on believers in ‘The Old Ways’, of ancient gods and practices with a strong belief in the supernatural and a strong connection to the natural world and the cycle of its passing seasons.

The Warlock is part of the series of books published by The Other Side exploring the place and role of the witch in the Old School Renaissance, but is in many ways different to those explorations. What it is not, is the presentation of the ‘male’ counterpoint to the witch, since that is not what a warlock is. Nor is it the exploration of an archetypal figure from history and its adaptation to gaming. Instead, it presents a wholly different Class, very much more of fantasy figure, somewhere between the Cleric, the Magic-User, and the Witch. In some cases hated figure—hated because they are believed to have dealings with the infernal, hated because they are believed to be evil, and hated because they steal spells. There is truth in all of that, but there is much more to this figure, as detailed in The Warlock, a companion to The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition and also written for use with Old School Essentials: Classic Fantasy.

As a Class, the Warlock is a spell-caster who like the Witch has a patron. Now whilst the Witch worships her patron and her relationship with her patron is more divine in nature, the Warlock has more of an equal relationship with his Patron or is the student to the Patron’s teacher. A witch will typically worship a goddess and whilst a warlock may have a deity as a patron, he may also have a lost god, a demon, a devil, a dragon, a lord of the fae, or even with the cosmos, death, or chaos itself. The magic and spells of the Witch are primarily divine in nature, but for the Warlock, they are arcane in nature. The fundamental difference between the spell-casting Classes is that Clerics pray for their power and spells, Magic-Users study for their powers and spells, and the Warlock takes it.

In mechanical terms, the Warlock starts with the ability to unleash an Arcane Blast at will and a familiar. Unlike the Witch, this familiar is not a spirit in animal guise, but an actual spirit, so immaterial and unable to attack or be attacked. The Warlock player is free to describe what form the familiar takes, though ideally it should be something associated with his Patron. So if a Warlock’s Patron is the cosmos, it could be miniature star; death itself or a god of death, a floating skull; the devil, a miniature imp; and so on. Fundamental to the Warlock is the Pact he enters with his Patron. The Warlock presents four types of Pacts. These are Chaos, Cosmic, Death, and Dragon. There is some flexibility in how a Pact can be interpreted, so a Cosmic Pact could be with the stars, something beyond the stars, celestial beings, or something chthonic.

Not only will the Warlock learn his spells from his Patron, he will gain Invocations, spell-like powers that enable to do great magical deeds, but without the need for the study that that the Magic-User would require or the need for the Cleric to pray. Arcane Blast is an Invocation, but The Warlock lists some fifty or so further Invocations. They include a mix of those which can be selected by any Warlock and then those tied to a particular Patron. So, Armour of Shadows, which lets a Warlock cast Mage Armour at-will, and Eldritch Sight, which allows him to cast Detect Magic just as freely, are both general Invocations. Whereas Claws of the Ghoul is a Third Level Invocation which gives a Warlock clawed unarmed attacks and a chance to paralyse an opponent and requires a Death Pact, whilst Form of the Dragon requires a Dragon Pact and allows a Warlock to change into a dragon-like creature once per day.

Liang Yun
Second Level Warlock
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Pact: Draconic (Green Dragons: Dziban)

STR 12 (Open Doors 2-in-6)
INT 14 (+1 Language, Literate)
WIS 10 
DEX 17 (+2 AC, Missile, +1 Initiative)
CON 13 (+1 Hit Points)
CHR 15 (+1 NPC reaction, Max. 5 Retainers, Loyalty 8)

Armour Class: 13 (Leather)
Hit Points: 7
Weapons: Dagger, Staff
THAC0 20

Languages: Draconic, Mandarin

Invocations
Arcane Blast, Claws of the Dragon

Spells: (Cantrips) – Aura Reading, Guiding Star, Message, Object Reading; (First Level) – Read MagicSpirit Servant, Taint

Familiar: Mingyu

In terms of spells, The Warlock lists almost eighty. A very few, like Augury, will be familiar, but most feel new and different. For example, Wailing Lament causes the target to wail and sob uncontrollably for an hour, Moon Touched is a plea to the Moon to silver and make magical a weapon which will now glow faintly of moonlight, and Poisonous Stare with which a Warlock can poison a target, forcing them to lose both Hit Points and Constitution! Now none of the spells are keyed to a particular Pact, which would perhaps have made designing or creating a particular type or themed Warlock easier by both Game Master or player. This then is perhaps a missed opportunity, so a player or Game Master creating a Warlock will need to pick and choose with care what spells suit their Warlock.

In addition to the Warlock’s own spells, the Class has two other types of spells. First, the Class can learn Magic-User spells—something which annoys Magic-Users and gives the Warlock the reputation for stealing spells. Second, The Warlock also adds Cantrips, or Zero-Level spells. Some thirteen of the spells in the supplement are Cantrips. For example, Aura Reading enables a Warlock to read the auras of those around them, determining their Alignment, health, magical nature (or not), and whether or not they have been cursed; Guiding Star enables a Warlock to guide himself in complete darkness or if blind; and Quick Sleeping makes a willing victim fall asleep. Lastly, the spells are listed by the other spellcasting Classes for Old School Essentials—Clerics, Druids, Illusionists, and Magic-Users—so that the contents of The Warlock can be used with the wider rules.

Unlike other titles devoted to the Witch by The Other Side, The Warlock does not include any new monsters, or monsters at all. It does however, add twenty or magical items. A few are keyed to particular Pacts, such as the Astrolabe of Fate, which grants a Warlock with a Cosmic Pact or an astrologer a +1 bonus to a single roll three times a day, but most are simply valued by Warlocks. A Dragontooth Charm provides a +1 saving throw versus the dragon breath of one type of dragon; a Hat of Spell Storing is valued by Illusionists, Magic-Users, and Warlocks for its capacity to store multiple levels of spells; and the Witch Whistle summons an army of rats, giant rats, or even wererats, depending on the songs known. Some are quite fun, such as the Rod of the Fire Mountain Warlock, which increases the die type of fire type spells and is surely a nod to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the Fighting Fantasy solo adventure book, whilst every Warlock will want to obtain the Staff of the Warlock, the equivalent of the Magic-User’s Staff of Wizardry.

Lastly, where the Witch Class has the Coven, a gathering of witches, typically to worship their patron goddess, the Warlock Class has the Lodge. These are secret orders where Warlocks can meet and study, typically belong to one type of Pact, or allied Pacts. The Warlock details four such lodges, of which only the one is not essentially ‘evil’. This is problematic, for although the Warlock as a Class can create his own Lodge, the lack of wider examples means a lack of choice, a lack of roleplaying opportunities, and a lack of something for the Player Character Warlock to aspire to.

Physically, The Warlock comes as a digest-sized book as opposed to the standard size for the other titles in the series. This is intentional, since it keeps it keeps it the same size as the rest of the Old School Essentials line. The book is generally well written and the artwork is decent, but some elements could have been better organised. In particular the Invocations are listed alphabetically and not by Pact type or Level, so it makes choosing them that little bit more of an effort. Further, an appendix lists both spells and cantrips alphabetically and by Level and gives page numbers, but for the Invocation there is just a simple alphabetical listing.

The Class presented in The Warlock may be slightly too powerful in comparison to other Classes for Old School Essentials because the Warlock has a lot of powers that he can freely use, whereas all of the other spellcasting Classes have to work at their magic and so their players have to work at playing their magic. Further, although there are a lot of ideas and options in The Warlock, they could have been better organised and better developed to give a player a wider choice in how he builds and plays his Warlock character. Work around these issues though and The Warlock present a Class which looks to be fantastic and fun to play.

Brittle as Glass

Pillars of Glass is an adventure for Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, the most recent roleplaying game to explore the world of Tékumel, the linguistic and cultural setting developed by Professor M.A.R. Barker. Published by UniGames, it is designed to be played between four and six players with moderate;y experienced characters, but can easily be adjusted should there be more. It is set just south of the Kúrt Hills—a region detailed by the publisher’s The Kúrt Hills Atlas—and a few Tsán east of the city of Katalál. What it details is an ancient site which possibly dates as far back as the Bednálljan period, part of the Underworld known to lie below the surface of Tékumel. Consisting of a circle of natural crystalline spires around an opening into the Underworld, there are rumours that site might be connected to the Pariah God known as the One Other.

Like High and Dry, Pillars of Glass presents several introductions, each one depending upon the role and duties of the Player Characters. So if the Player Characters are in the region conducting a trade negotiation on behalf of their clan, they are asked to investigate some wild animal attacks by the other negotiator; if they are on temple business, they are asked to investigate the Pillars of Glass site because the records the temple has are incomplete; if on legion or military business, they have stationed nearby to police the area and are ordered to investigate the animal attacks; if they are adventurers, they have heard of the animal attacks and know it would be heroic to investigate and put a stop to them; and if they are ‘Heroes of the Age’, then they are drawn to the site by a vision. As in High and Dry, these are a very welcome feature.

What lies beneath the Pillars of Glass is a maze-like complex of ten rooms and nine encounters. There is a significant flame and heat theme running throughout the complex of odd rooms, which often seem to be designed to do no more than subject the occupants to particular temperatures and forms of heat. Player Characters who have studied a particular ancient language or civilisation, or who are worshippers of either Vimúhla or Chiténg, will have advantages when exploring the complex, but as they work their way around the maze, they may come to feel that they are being tested. There is a little treasure to be found, including a rather nifty artefact for anyone who visits the Underworld regularly—though by its nature, the temple of Vimúhla or Chiténg would very likely want it, or would pay out a reward for obtaining it.

The encounters are all with seemingly random creatures. However, none of them are identified as being responsible for the animal attacks which form the hook to get most groups involved in investigating the site. Consequently, the Game Master will need to do this, simply reading the descriptions of the creatures that appear in the scenario in Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, and selecting the most appropriate.

Physically, Pillars of Glass is a black and white with colour cover, ten-page, 6.93 MB PDF. The cover is eye-catching for its simplicity, the PDF is decently illustrated and written.

As a dungeon—or portion of the Underworld—Pillars of Glass does feel a bit random, and although there is a theme to it, it my feel that way to the players. Consisting of  just ten locations and a few encounters means that it should provide two sessions worth of play, though there is scope for further exploration—though for far more experienced Player Characters and with something that the Game Master would have had to have designed herself. Although it is disappointing that the Game Master will need to develop the hook of the animal attacks herself for use with other groups, perhaps the best way of presenting the adventure is as an archaeological or temple-based expedition, sent to the Pillars of Glass in order to explore what lies beyond the opening into the ground, and then return with an interesting report.

Pillars of Glass is an adequate adventure. It needs a bit of effort upon the part of the Game Master and her players to work effectively—primarily in terms of motivation and supporting that motivation, but it casts a spotlight on the ‘dungeoneering’ or Underworld aspect of Tékumel before hinting that there is more below. The ‘dungeoneering’ aspect means that Pillars of Glass is also easier to read and understand, and play than the ‘mind your manners’ aspect of High and Dry, but the story itself is not as strong or as well developed.

Action Adventure with Competence


When Trinity was originally published in 1997, it was a Science Fiction roleplaying game of Psion surviving in the twenty-first century following world war. Published by White Wolf Publishing, it would go on to spawn two prequels—Aberrant, a superhero game set in the early twenty-first century, and Adventure!, a Pulp action game set during the Jazz Age of the nineteen twenties. Together they formed the ‘Trinity Continuum’ and together they are being redesigned and republished in second editions by Onyx Path Publishing. However, the redesign is not as a series of standalone books. Instead, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook—funded following a successful Kickstarter campaign—would provide the core mechanics, with Trinity Continuum: Aeon, Trinity Continuum: Aberrant, and Trinity Continuum: Adventure! providing specific setting and expanded background content for each of the three eras.
Now the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is not just the core rulebook for the Trinity Continuum, but it is a standalone set of roleplaying rules designed to emulate a particular range of genres. These encompass high-action, cinematic thrillers, Spy-Fi and heist movies, high tech techno-thrillers right up to near future Science Fiction and low-powered supers stories. So, Ocean’s Eleven, The Bourne Identity, Agents of Shield, Black Mirror, Eureka, Cryptonomicon, Leverage, and then Star Trek, The X-Files, The Martian, Stargate, and more. The more fantastic elements these settings have though, the more a Storyguide would need to create them for her campaign as they are obviously not covered in the book. At its core though, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is a contemporary—or near contemporary—roleplaying game of cinematic action in which the Player Characters are competent and capable, are working for the better good, and in doing so are bringing a sense of hope to the world. What this means is that despite there not being a great deal of specific background in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook, a gaming group can still use it to play Hollywood- or television-style action adventure, intrigue, and investigative procedurals.
A Player Character in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is defined by his Concept and Aspirations, Paths, Skills and Skill Tricks and Specialities, Attributes, and a Template. The Concept is what the character—Best Wheelman in any Business, Reformed High Society Jewel Thief, Grandmother Hacker, and so on—whilst Aspirations, both two Short Term and one Long Term, are a character’s goals. A Short-Term Aspiration can be completed in a session, a Long-Term Aspiration takes multiple sessions. The Paths represent a character’s past and the decisions he has made and come in three forms—Origin, Role, and Society. The Origin Path is the character’s background and beginning; the Role Path is his occupation or expertise; and Society Path represents his link, positive or negative, to a particular Society. Several sample Societies are detailed in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook and together they form the primary background in the book. An Origin Path might be Military Brat or Suburbia; a Role Path might be Charismatic Leader or Medical Practitioner; and a Society Path might be to 9, the almost United Nations-sanctioned intelligence gathering and law enforcement private agency, or The Global Cartography Initiative.
Mechanically, each Path provides several building blocks towards creating a character. These are access to four skills and points to distribute between them; community, contact, and access connections to the Path; and Edges, which represent areas of specialised training. In the long term, a Path also provides route along which a player can develop his character, and will be rewarded in doing so with slightly reduced Experience Point costs. There are sixteen skills, with most of a character’s skills coming from his Paths. Any skill with a rating of three or more gains a Speciality, such as Pistols for the Aim skill, and then can have a Trick for each point of Skill of three or more, so ‘Mighty Lifter’ or ‘It’s All in the Reflexes’ for Athletics, ‘Connecting the Dots’ or ‘Elite Hacker’ for Enigmas, and ‘Backseat Driver’ or ‘I Can Figure It Out’ for Pilot. Most of a character’s Skills come from his Paths, though he does get extras. Lastly, a character has nine Attributes, divided between Physical, Mental, and Social arenas as well as three Approaches of Force, Finesse, and Resilience. Most actions require a combination of an Attribute and a Skill, but this can be any combination, so there is a lot of flexibility here. Attributes are rated between one and six, Paths and Skills are rated between one and five. It should be noted that the Storyguide and her players are encouraged to create their own Paths, Stunts, Societies, and more.
Lastly, each character has a Template. This marks the Player Character as being more than just a mere human, having been exposed to ‘Aeon Fluxx’, the energy which seems to occur when universes are too close. Each of Trinity Continuum: Aeon, Trinity Continuum: Aberrant, and Trinity Continuum: Adventure! will provide various super-powered Templates, but in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook, the Player Characters are generally Gifted, each Gift either being based on Luck or Aptitude, the latter tied to a skill.
To create a Player Character, a player defines his character’s Concept and Aspirations, then selects—or creates the three Paths and assigns the various points into each Path and its associated Skills and Edges, assigns more Skill points and picks Skill Tricks, assigns Attributes, and apply a Template. The process is by no means difficult, but does involve making a fair number of choices and it is not straightforward in that Attributes are selected last and in that a player will need to flip back and forth through the book to put a character together. This takes a bit of time as a player works through the process.
Our sample character is a reformed jewel thief who stole to support her father, an impoverished minor member of the Russian nobility. She was caught in the act of a theft on the French Riviera by Pharaoh’s Lightkeepers who were after the same artefact. Unlike the other occasion where she managed to escape her thefts, the Pharaoh’s Lightkeepers gave chase and managed to capture her. Instead of handing her into the authorities, they offered her missions and a better purpose.
Name: Claudia Romanov
Concept: High Society Former Jewel ThiefOrigin Path: Life of PrivilegeRole Path: The Sneak
Society Path: Pharaoh’s Lightkeepers
Moment of Inspiration: Exposure to Flux
ASPIRATIONSShort-Term Aspiration: To find out more about SteveShort-Term Aspiration: To learn what Hans Krueger knows
Long-Term Aspiration: To atone for her former life of crime
SKILLSAthletics 1, Close Combat 1, Culture 2, Enigmas 3, Integrity 2, Larceny 3, Persuasion 2, Pilot 1
ATTRIBUTES
Intellect 2 Might 1 Presence 3
Cunning 3 Dexterity 6 Manipulation 4
Resolve 2 Stamina 2 Composure 3

FACETS
Destructive: 0Intuitive: 2
Reflective: 1
Inspiration 3
EdgesArtefact 1, Big Hearted 1, Danger Sense 1, Direction Sense 1, Free Running 1, Photographic Memory 3, Skilled Liar 2
Specialities/Skill TricksGems & Jewellery (Larceny Speciality)Intricate Locks (Enigmas Speciality)That Was Already Mine (Larceny Trick)Instant Solution (Enigmas Trick)
Gifts
Contortionist, Nimble-Fingered, I’m on the List, X Marks the Spot
Path ContactsBoarding School Alumni –Naomi Rothschild 1Fence – Hector Mueller 1Police – Inspector James O’Keefe, Scotland Yard 1
Where Player Characters in Trinity Continuum: Aeon, Trinity Continuum: Aberrant, and Trinity Continuum: Adventure! will have psionics, superpowers, and so on, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook focuses on skilled characters, often exceptionally skilled characters known as ‘Talents’. Each has a selection of Gifts, typically tied to a particular skill such as ‘Cold Read’ of a person using Culture or Empathy or ‘Daredevil’ for Pilot. Other Gifts are simply luck-based, such as ‘A Friend in Every Port’ or ‘Knee Deep in Brass’. Such Gifts are fuelled by Inspiration, which can also be used to create Enhancements to an action or skill attempt based on one a character’s Facets—Destructive, Intuitive, or Reflective, each representing differing ways of approaching a situation or problem, to undertake Dramatic Editing of a scene, or to improve a character’s current defence. Although a character only has a few points of Inspiration, it is easy to get back and so enable a character to shine again in a later scene.
Where the Trinity family originally used the Storyteller mechanics, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is written for use with the Storypath system. The Storypath system can be best described as a distillation of the Storyteller system—the mechanics of which date all of the way back to Vampire: The Masquerade—and certainly anyone familiar with the Storyteller system will find that it has a lot in common with the Storypath system, except that the Storypath system is simpler and streamlined, designed for slightly cinematic, effect driven play. The core mechanic uses dice pools of ten-sided dice, typically formed from the combination of a skill and an attribute, for example Pilot and Dexterity to fly a helicopter, Survival and Stamina to cross a wilderness, and Persuasion and Manipulation to unobtrusively get someone to do what a character wants. These skill and attribute combinations are designed to be flexible, the aim being any situation is to score one or more Successes, a Success being a result of eight or more. Rolls of ten—or ‘10-again’—allow dice to be rolled again to gain further success.
To succeed, a player needs to roll at least one Success, and may need to roll more depending upon the Difficulty of the task. Should a character succeed, he can increase the number of Successes with an Enhancement, such as having a fast car in a race or the right outfit for the occasion. Any Successes generated beyond the Difficulty become Threshold Successes and represent how well the character has succeeded. These can be spent by the player to buy off Complications, for example, not attracting the attention of the Police in a car chase, or to purchase Stunts. These can cost nothing, for example, the Inflict Damage Stunt, whereas the Disarm Stunt costs two and the Critical Hit Stunt costs four. Stunts can be used to inflict a Complication upon an opponent, to create an Enhancement for the current or another Player Character, or create a means to Defend the Player Character, which then has to be overcome by the opposition. Stunts in theTrinity Continuum Core Rulebook will also come from a Player Character’s Edges and Gifts.
Under the Storypath system, and thus in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook, failure is never abject. Rather, if a player does not roll any Successes, then he receives a Consolation. This can be a ‘Twist of Fate’, which reveals an alternative approach or new information; a ‘Chance Meeting’ introduces a new helpful NPC; or an ‘’Unlooked-for Advantage’, an Enhancement which can be used in a future challenge. However, a character will typically gain Momentum, a single point for a simple failure, and two points for a Botch, the latter a failed roll in which a one is also rolled. Momentum is a resource shared by all of the players and they begin each game with a pool of points equal to their number. It is spent to activate Skill Tricks, to add extra dice to a roll, and to attempt rerolls for complex tasks.
The cinematic nature of combat in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is how reloading a gun is handled. If it is part of an action, such as shooting, then it becomes a Complication which a Player Character will need to spend a Success to buy off. A Reload action will typically be required when a player botches an attack with a gun or the character has performed the ‘Emptying the Magazine’ stunt for an automatic weapon. Rather than making the Reload action part of the mechanics, the rules make it part of the action.
One aspect of the action and the combat in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is that it not designed to be simple. Instead, it is designed to be complex, not mechanically, but narratively. The rules can handle the simple exchange of blows, feints, blocks, and deflections and does so with alacrity, but the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is inspired by the type of action and fights we see onscreen. What this means is that it allows for fights or pieces of action in difficult situations—fights or situations that the Storyguide is encouraged to create. For example, instead of a chase through city streets, the chase is through the streets of a city amidst a civil protest; instead of a fight to gain control of a vehicle, the fight is to gain control of a vehicle whilst it hurtles down the side of a mountain with faulty brakes. There is some complexity here in that a player has to calculate multiple actions, so in the case of driving down the mountain whilst fighting off the mook, his player will work out what he would roll for the driving attempt (Pilot plus Might) to keep the vehicle under control and what he would roll to fend off the attacks of the mook (Close Combat plus Dexterity). However, instead of making multiple rolls, the player will only make one roll, the one with the lowest number of dice. For example, Claudia Romanov has broken into the mansion of Hans Kreuger to steal the Gambaccini Quartet, a set of jewellery which she thinks has clues to the location of an ancient temple that she knows Kreuger has been searching for some nefarious purposes of his own. Unfortunately, an alarm has been triggered and as she attempts to work out the intricacies  of a complex lock system, a couple of guards are looking for whatever triggered the alarm. They have their torches out and are searching nearby. So Claudia wants to work out how to open the lock whilst avoiding the torch beams. Picking the lock would normally be a Larceny and Dexterity check, as would the stealth check to avoid the torch beams. The Storyguide though, states that the lock on Hans Kreuger’s vault is not straightforward and is more puzzle like, so suggests using Enigmas. This will be an Enigmas and Intellect roll. For Claudia, the Enigmas and Intellect will be with five dice, compared to the nine dice of the Larceny and Dexterity check, so her player will roll the former. The Storyguide sets the Difficulty at three. Claudia’s player rolls 3, 7, 9, 9, and 10. The target number for the dice is eight, which means that Claudia has succeeded. The roll of 10—or ‘10-again’—means that this die can be rolled again. A roll of a 9 adds another success for a total of four. Another two are added as an Enhancement for Claudia already have seen the plans for the locking mechanisms earlier in the adventure for a grand total of six. Three successes are used to overcome the difficulty. Claudia’s player decides that two of these extra successes will be spent to add a Complication, in this case leaving little or no trace for the security guards to follow as she makes her way out. The leftover success is used to make Claudia undertake the task quickly. Beyond the action mechanics, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook gives rules for handling Procedurals—or investigative play, Intrigue for interacting with people, and making friends and bonds, handling super-science, and vehicles right up to multi-crew starships. Each of these sections is not necessarily innovative, but straightforward  and easy to use. So the Procedural rules focus not on the Player Characters getting the core clues—that is automatic, but on their interpretation and on obtaining clues extra or alternative to any core clue.  The Intrigue tracks an NPC’s attitude towards a Player Character, with the actions of the Player Character determining how this will change and whether the NPC will help him. The Super-Science rules neatly cover repairing, reverse engineering, and reforging of items and artefacts, complete with a list of flaws and stunts. Again, simple should cover most situations.
For the Storyguide there is solid advice on her responsibilities—including sharing some of them with her players, creating a campaign, how to run and improvise a game, and more. There is also a lengthy discussion of the genres that the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook covers along with examples of each. In terms of background, there is not really very much to be found in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook. Primarily, this because the default setting for the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is the here and now, or the near here and now, with stories ripped from the headlines. To support the fantastical or ‘Talented’ elements of the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook’s here and now, it details five allegiances, such as the Aeon Society and The Neptune Society, as well as lesser allegiances, which the Player Characters belong to and each of which provides a Path during character generation, as well as frameworks upon which to hang a campaign.
Physically, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is neat, larger than digest-sized hardback. It is well-written, the full colour artwork throughout is excellent, and the whole affair is attractive. Perhaps in places it feels a little too concise, for example, the sample combat feels as if it could have been better explained mechanically. It could also have been slightly better organised such as not having the Society Paths and the Gifts right at the back of the book, which makes the character creation process a bit of a chore. Neither of these issues are insurmountable, the Storyguide simply needing to work through the book to rough out potential niggles in the rules or book before bringing a game to the table, pretty much the same as she would for any other roleplaying game.
What the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook presents is not so much a roleplaying game with a setting, but a roleplaying game with a genre—the setting will be provided by the Storyguide and enhanced by the players. As a set of rules, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is the firm foundation upon which the three settings will rest, as a roleplaying game in its own right, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook provides everything a gaming group will need for high-action roleplaying. It does both in a concise, easy-to-read fashion, leaving plenty of room for the Storyguide and her players to bring their ideas and their action to the table.

A Sweet Treat

Sweetness is short, but harrowing investigation for use with Arc Dream Publishing’s Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game set on American soil. It can be played using the roleplaying game’s full rules or those from Delta Green: Need to Know—although there are similarities between Sweetness and Delta Green: Need to Know, which may mean the Handler may not want to run the two too closely together. The Agents are activated by Delta Green after the secret interagency conspiracy is alerted to the presence of a strange symbol on the door of the Bernier family of Tampa, Florida. Recently terrorised by a fire and weird graffiti, the local Police suspect that the Berniers, a multi-racial family, are victims of a hate attack, but one of Delta Green’s experts suspects that symbol on the door—carved with a horn or a claw and smeared with blood and effluvia—is the symbol of Kore, queen of the underworld, goddess of an ancient mystery cult. The agents are to get to Tampa, and once briefed, determine the origins of the mark and prevent any occurrence of it again from the same source or sources.

Sweetness can be roughly divided into three parts. First, is the briefing, which takes place in the middle of an estate agency seminar in a Holiday Inn. The utterly banal atmosphere of the briefing nicely contrasts with the horror to come, which will only come in the second part once the Agents investigative the Berniers and their home, which for the most part is quite mundane. The family is well-off, and consists of a married couple and two children, the youngest of whom is profoundly deaf, and each of whom will have a different reaction to the recent events. The family seems perfectly normal, and for the part really are—whatever the players and their Agents might suspect—but they are not without their secrets, and with a little questioning, these will be revealed. The husband divorced his first wife and mother of his children because she had psychological problems and was abusing both son and daughter, but there has been no contact in years, and then there might be something else stalking the rooms of the house. All of this will quickly become apparent with some questioning upon the part of the agents.

The second part will come to close once the agents have confirmed that there definitely is something strange going on in the house and the investigation switches to the first wife. This requires the investigation to switch to across country, from Tampa to Chicago, and once the agents locate her, it quickly becomes apparent that she is sick—both physically and mentally—and acting strangely. She is barely making ends meet and living in utter squalor without a care for her well-being. Although ultimately, she is the antagonist in Sweetness, there are good reasons for this, although the agents will need to dig into her background and history in order to uncover this.

Fundamentally, Sweetness is a good scenario, contrasting the ordinary with the outré, but it has a few problems which stem primarily from its length—or lack thereof. The Handler will need to do a little preparation before running the scenario, such as getting photos for the NPCs and writing up a quick handout detailing the family. There is no image of the monster given in the book, and whilst it would have been nice if one had been included,  the Handler will probably be able to get away with describing it from the details given. The bigger problems with Sweetness are twofold. First, there is no real advice on how to handle a dénouement between the agents and the wife, but second, and worse, it describes an action upon the part of the scenario’s ‘monster’, but abandons the Handler when it comes to dealing with the consequences of that action. Especially given that the action will escalate the investigation from a simple matter of a hate crime into a kidnapping, and so bring a whole heap of trouble down upon the agents. Which will be made worse by the fact that there is no way of getting the kidnapping victim back—or least no method is detailed in the book, so the Handler may want determine a method herself.

Physically, Sweetness is neat, clean, and tidy. Although it needs a slight edit, it is easy to read and the three pieces of artwork—one of them actually a handout—are excellent. The map is clear and easy to read, but could have done with a scale and some furniture as it would have also made for a good handout.

Sweetness is an easy scenario to add to a Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game campaign. Its short length means that it could be played in a single session and its conciseness means that it could be run with just a handful of agents—or even one for a one-on-one game. However, it needs a bit more preparation upon the part of the Handler in terms of handouts and in terms of what happens with regard to the potential kidnapping and how the agents confront the scenario’s antagonist. This should not be challenge to an experienced Handler, but to a less experienced one, it may be. Lastly, at just twelve pages, Sweetness may not appear to be good value for money—at least in comparison to other titles for Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game. However, it should provide the Handler and her players with at least one, if not two sessions’ worth of play, so the value for money is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Sweetness is a creepy, sometimes nasty tale of horror and mystery—though the agents will have to dig to bring out the true nastiness hidden in the scenario’s backstory. Nicely contrasting the mundane with the mystery, with a bit of work upon the part of the Handler, Sweetness should be a little ‘treat’ for her Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game campaign.

Which Witch V

It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.
The first book in the series, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and presents the Witch as dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lilith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. The next book in the series is The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games, which was written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes, and which focused on not so much as ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, but upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria. Again, Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, the next and third entry in the line presents a different take upon the Witch, whilst the fourth, The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition, presents another different and very modern—if slightly silly—take upon the Witch. The fifth entry again draws upon another tradition.

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition is written for use with Old School Essentials: Classic Fantasy, Necrotic Gnome’s interpretation and redesign of the 1981 revision of Basic Dungeons & Dragons by Tom Moldvay and its accompanying Expert Set by Dave Cook and Steve Marsh. Like the other titles in the series, it starts by presenting the same version of the Witch Class as in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era GamesThe Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era GamesCult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, and The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition. What this means is that from one book to the next, this Class is going to serve as a template for the rest of the other supplements devoted to the Witch from The Other Side. So the Witch is a spellcaster capable of casting Witch spells and Witch rituals—a mixture of arcane and divine spells, has Occult Powers including herbal healing, many are reluctant to cast ‘black’ or evil magic, many are of Lawful Alignment, and have answered the Call of their Goddess (or other patron).
The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition focuses on believers in ‘The Old Ways’, of ancient gods and practices. Primary community-based with a strong belief in the supernatural and a strong connection to the natural world and the cycle of its passing seasons, they see themselves as the guardians of the growth and husbandry of food, and much of their lives revolve around the sowing, care, and harvesting of seeds and plants. Their treatment is not of one tradition, but many, all of them drawn from real world traditions. Real-world inspirations for this tradition include Asatru, the pagan beliefs of the Norse and northern Germanic peoples; the Druidic-like beliefs of the Celts of Ireland and Scotland; the Hellenic tradition of the lands settled by the Greeks. Notably, unlike other traditions, this is not a literate tradition, but instead memorise their spells and rituals.

As with other Traditions, the Witch Class of the Pagan Tradition has a familiar, such as a cat, frog, hedgehog, or stoat, and knows how to use herbs to create healing balms. However, it differs in a number of ways. For example, this Witch Class gains ‘Herbal Healing’—this the brewing of balms, options, and philters above and beyond the use of healing balms; is ‘Of the Land’ and can hide herself and one or more companions in rural areas, typically either to hide from hunters or when actually hunting; and with ‘Alter Visage’ can use the spell, Alter Self, to change her appearance to anyone of that she has seen before—even if only once. 

Perhaps the biggest difference is the addition of ‘Cowans’, or essentially boon companions with a strong bond with the Witch, that is, more than a trusted retainer. A Cowan is a Pagan Witch’s protector and can be Fighters, Barbarians, Rangers, Thieves, and Assassins, but cannot be other spellcasting Classes like the Bard, Cleric, Druid, Illusionist, Magic-User, or Paladin. They can also be simple NPCs without a Class, but more importantly, they can be other Player Characters, allowing for instant relationships and roleplaying links. Of course, this limits the Player Character Cowan’s options in terms of Class.

Becoming a Cowan costs actual Experience Points—fifty for an ordinary NPC, a hundred for the Thief type, and two hundred for all Fighter types. Where exactly the ordinary NPC gains these Experience Points is another matter and it is not quite clear if the characters becoming the Cowan is expending the Experience Points, the Witch is expending the Experience Points, or both. In return, both Cowan and Witch gain a number of small benefits. A Cowan can learn Zero-Level Rituals and participate in Ritual spells of higher Level too, gains better healing from his Witch’s healing—spells and balms, and has a bonus to saves versus spells cast by other Witches. Both Witch and Cowan also share Saving Throws, so that both can use the best between the two. In return, the Cowan is the Pagan Witch’s protector, which again sets up a roleplaying relationship and possible story hooks.


Beyond this, some of what a Pagan Witch does will depend upon the type of coven she belongs to. The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition offers two options. The first is Bándrui, who worship the Great Mother Goddess and whose covens consist of Pagan Witches, Green Witches, and Druids, a Pagan Witch of this tradition gaining the Druid’s Animal Shape abilities. The other is Followers of Aradia, who believe her to be the first witch, and are granted the Light spell as a daily ability. Both tend to be Lawful or Neutral in Alignment, but like other Pagan traditions, may practice live, including human sacrifice where necessary, typically as fertility rites. Just the two covens given here is disappointing and perhaps The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition could have included one or two more options to provide a player with greater choice.

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition also discusses life as a Pagan Witch. This is not her life as an adventuring Witch, but the classic village wise woman, midwife, and healer of old. It covers the typical tasks she undertakes, such as childbirth and antenatal care, the cleansing—or smudging—of homes to free them of evil spirits, divination, healing, and so on, as well as the monies the Witch can charge and the Experience Points she can gain. Here then is how a non-adventuring NPC Witch gains her Experience Points to expend on those Cowans! It also gives more for an NPC Witch to do and thus more for the Game Master to build her portrayal of an NPC Witch around. Included as well, are notes on the seasons and places of power, all of which will have an effect on a Witch’s powers throughout the year.

Thisbe Haunted
Second Level Pagan Witch
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Coven: Followers of Aradia

STR 09 (Open Doors 5-in-6)
INT 13 (+1 Language, Literate)
WIS 17 (+2 to Save versus Magic)
DEX 11 
CON 16 (+2 Hit Points)
CHR 16 (+1 NPC reaction, Max. 7 Retainers, Loyalty 10)

Armour Class: 7 (Leather)
Hit Points: 11
Weapons: Dagger, Staff
THAC0 20

Languages: Elvish

Occult Powers
Healing balms (1d4+1/three times per day), Light (daily)

Spells: (First Level) – Mending, Toad


Familiar: Weasel (+1 to Dexterity checks)

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition includes some one hundred spells, almost thirty monsters, some forty magical items, and a quartet of NPCs. As in previous books in the series, there are relatively few spells  which can be used to inflict direct damage like the Magic-User’s Burning Hands. There are spells which can inflict harm, for example, Toad—which curses the victim of the spell to turn into a filthy toad, or Loosen Bowels or Blindness/Deafness. Many of the spells reflect the often helpful, useful type of magic used by the Pagan Witch. So spells such as the familiar Mending, Locate Object, and Light are joined by spells such as Salving Rest—which grants the subject a good night’s rest as he continues to take a god night’s rest, and Create Corn Dolly—in fact the Witch creates a poppet she can send out to spy on others. Various others, like Toad, take the form of curses and the like. As in the previous books in the series, the various spells are joined by various rituals spells. There is something quite endearing in the Cake and Tea Ritual which is used by fellow Witches to begin and then cement friendships, which is then continued with Bonds of Hospitality which discourages participants from attacking each other. Other rituals are more obviously powerful, but the supplement adds further rituals which are Zero Level. These can be participated in by anyone, most notably a Witch’s Cowans. These are Bless Fertility, Ensure a Successful Hunt, Merry Greetings, and Summon a Witch, and all four would work well with other Witch traditions.

In terms of monsters and magic, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition shares a lot in common with the previous The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition. Although the monsters are new, from Amphiptere, Bánánach, and Brownie to Wind Wraith, Woodnose,and Bog Zombie, as in The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition they feel as if they should be mostly encountered singularly rather than in droves or packs. That said, the monsters have more the feel of the countryside, whether rural or beyond into the wilds. The inclusion of the Killer Rabbit may be a bit silly though... Which of course fits the Pagan Witch tradition rather than the Pumpkin Spice Tradition. The magic items include brooms and cauldrons as well as magical instruments, rings, staves, and swords, some of which are familiar, such as the Broom of Flying and Cauldron of Plenty, but others like the Witch’s Gown, which provides various degrees of protection as well as being able to change its appearance once per day. Rounding the supplement are four unique NPC Witches, drawn from both myth and history, the latter including a suspected poisoner.

Physically, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition continues the series’ improvement in the style and layout over the books before it. The artwork is much better and much better handled, and includes some pieces by Larry Elmore. The spells are also back to being listed by Level, so much easier to find.


The similarities between the two supplements—The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition and The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition—are not surprising since the traditions of the latter do draw upon the former. What The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition presents though is a rougher, wilder take upon the witch, one that feels more of a cliché because it draws upon more traditional depictions of the witch. This means that it has its darker aspects, not necessarily evil, but certainly darker. This is leavened by the role of the Pagan Witch as healer, midwife, and wise woman. If there is a disappointing feature of the book, it is that just two covens are not really enough options to choose from for the players, especially as it points to so many worldwide examples. Perhaps not as fully rounded as it could have been, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition still presents plenty to to bring to a campaign.

Jonstown Jottings #24: White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—


What is it?
White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga presents a campaign starter for the much-maligned Malani clan for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.


It is an eighty-eight-page, full colour, 21.69 MB PDF.


White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is roughly presented and needs an edit.


Where is it set?

White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is set amongst the lands of the Malani clan in Sartar in Dragon Pass.The illustrations are of variable quality.


Who do you play?

The Player Characters are members of the Namoldin Clan living along the Arfritha Vale. Six pre-generated Player Characters are provided, including a Humakti warrior, an Issaries trader, a Vinga warrior, an Orlanthi farmer, a Yinkini hunter, and an Odayla hunter.


What do you need?

White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga requires both RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary. Much of White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga was created using Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes, but is not absolutely necessary to run the campaign.


What do you get?

White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is not broken, but a ‘fixer-upper’, the first part of a campaign set in Sartar which needs some work and a bit of some love and attention upon the part of the Game Master to be made into something which she can run for her group. This is not to say that it does not come with everything necessary to get the campaign started—it has both background and setting, it has both a guide to creating characters for the campaign and a set of pre-generated Player Characters, its own Prosopaedia—a quick glossary of the gods pertinent to the setting, plus new cults, Rune and Spirit magic, a scenario, and various secrets. So there is a lot to White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga, but that is lot is perhaps lots of bit and pieces that are in themselves interesting and likeable, but together feel scrappy and not immediately relevant to each other.


White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga begins by presenting a history of the Malani Tribe and its relationship to the neighbouring tribes, before its focus grows tighter and tighter. First, on the Namoldin Clan along with its history and clan relationships, then on its tula circa 1620st and on the settlements along the Arfritha Vale and the Boranini River which runs down it, notably Famous Bell and Red Deer. There are some fantastic locations here and about, such as Dark Water Pool, home to an ancient freshwater turtle with a penchant for winning beards in riddling contests. Second, on the steads and notable features around Red Deer, in particular, Heldar’s Stead. This is the setting for White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga, and is home to the clan's richest farmer and cattle herder. Heldar himself is described as arrogant—arrogant enough to commission Long Tooth, an enchanted bronze-cast lumber saw, which actually kills plants on touch and tears through timber with ease. All the members of his homestead and the nearby village are described with many given full stats also.


Full rules are given for creating Namoldin Player Characters for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, including Passions, cultural weapons and skills, and suggested cults. Both Orlanth and Ernalda are given as default, but many of these are also tied to a character’s Occupation. However, these are not necessarily to the gods, but rather to particular aspects of them. Thus, not Ernalda for a Healer, but Bevara, a healing goddess of Ernalda, and for a fisherman, not Orlanth All Father, but Poverri, an Orlanthi fisher deity. Most of these aspects are given some explanation in the following Cults section, but not all, which is slightly problematic. Not necessarily for veteran Gloranthophiles, who may appreciate the degree of detail, but anyone new to Glorantha and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, may be mystified by the level of detail and in places, the lack of accompanying explanation. However, the Cults section does include write-ups of some other cults for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, including the local Boranini River cult, Gustbran the Redsmith cult, Minlister the Brewer, Igruz Hardfrost, and Queen Bee, and these are accompanied by their associated spirit and rune magic, such as Igruz Hardfrost’s Ice Blade and Harden Liquor.


In addition, White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga provides rules for The Smithy—the  workshop home of Gustbran the Red-smith. Using these rules enables a Red-smith—whether an NPC or a Player Character—to cast weapons, to work out the costs of doing so, and possible outcomes. Craftwise this nicely adds to the world of Glorantha and not only shows just how much work goes into making the Player Characters’ weapons, but when combined with the earlier Weapon Naming Ritual Rune spell gives options for them to make or have made named weapons with interesting effects. As good as this, it does not really have any impact on the campaign, and it feels slightly out of place here.


In terms of adventuring content, White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga presents the short scenario, ‘White Stone Ruins’. It begins with the report of undead horrors being seen in the vicinity of ancient ruins in the forest that almost surrounds Heldar’s Stead, which will lead to exploration of those ruins and perhaps exposure of a secret cult operating in the area. This is primarily a combat and exploration scenario, and perhaps ‘The Missing Scythe’, a hunt for a scythe the brother to Long Tooth that has disappeared, is more interesting. There are also several other encounters and threads which a Game Master can work into the start of the White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga. Rounding out White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is a full set of stats for various ‘Friends and Foes’ not given earlier in the supplement, as well as the pre-generated Player Characters.


White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is rough around the edges and will need more effort upon the part of the Game Master to prepare and run than perhaps a more polished product would. It includes a lot of background material—which although interesting and good—which will be hard to bring into play, especially if the Game Master is new to Glorantha. The pre-generated Player Characters could have benefited from suggested ties and relationships to the community and inhabitants of Heldar’s Stead to better bring them into the campaign and perhaps the Game Master might want to create these prior to running the ‘White Stone Ruins’. Lastly, there are elements in White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga that a Game Master can extract and include in her own campaign—the rules for red-smithing, the new cults and spirit and rune magic, and more, could be used elsewhere.


Is it worth your time?

Yes. White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is a decent, if scrappily presented campaign set-up in another part of Sartar which needs a bit of effort to work effectively, but which comes with background material and extras aplenty.

No. White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is more background than campaign and its rough presentation and organisation make it challenging to prepare and run.

Maybe. White Stone Ruin: Part 1 of Red Deer Saga is more background than campaign and its rough presentation and organisation make it challenging to prepare and run. The background and extra rules are excellent and potentially worth adding to a campaign.

Sinister Shanghai

Shanghai—the ‘Pearl of the East’ has been a distant star in the Call of Cthulhu firmament. Yet since 1984 with its introduction as a chapter in the superlative Masks of Nyarlathotep, it has been an all-too far away, exotic destination, rarely visited beyond the confines of that campaign. Arguably, it was too strange, too difficult to research effectively, and in more recent years fraught with the dangerous possibility of portraying the inhabitants of the great city—whether natives or incomes—as stereotypes. That said, in more recent years, writers—both professional and amateur—have taken Lovecraftian investigative horror to Shanghai in scenarios such as Robin D. Laws’ ‘Shanghai Bullets’ from the anthology Stunning Eldritch Tales for Trail of Cthulhu, examinations of the original campaign in the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion, and finally, in that campaign’s update, Masks of Nyarlathotep, for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. Yet as these campaigns, scenarios, and supplements have in turn shed a light upon the forces of the Mythos and their activities in the city, there has yet to be a definitive supplement of Lovecraftian investigative horror which focuses entirely upon Shanghai. That is, until The Sassoon Files.

The Sassoon Files: A Sourcebook for the Call of Cthulhu and GUMSHOE Role Playing Games was published by Sons of the Singularity following a successful Kickstarter campaign. With the initial print run being infamously destroyed by the Chinese authorities, it presents an overview and history of the city, a campaign framework and four scenarios which take place between 1925 and 1929. The four scenarios can be run as one-shots or together they work as a rough campaign, and are in addition supported by factional campaign set-ups and drivers each of which would put a very different spin upon the four scenarios.

Written by members of the China RPG community, The Sassoon Files opens with an overview and history of Shanghai, focussing in particular upon the ‘Century of Humiliation’ suffered by China at the hands of the Western powers which saw the rise of the city from a small town located in a swamp near the mouth of the Yangzi River into a metropolis, rent geographically and politically. Geographically between Concessions and Settlements controlled by the Western powers, and politically between the Communists, the nationalists of the Kuomintang—by 1925 led by Chiang Kai-Shek, and the meddling Japanese. All whilst the Triad gangs, such as the Green gang, led by the infamous Du Yue Sheng, ‘Big Eared Du’, feuded for control of the city’s gambling, prostitution, and opium rackets. This includes a timeline which runs from 2050 BCE to 1949 CE, a list of notable locations and buildings in the French Concession, the Chinese City, and the International Settlement—a merging of earlier British and American Concessions, and a list of the dramatis personae to found in the pages of The Sassoon Files. The latter includes historical figures and figures fictional to be found in the supplement’s quartet of scenarios, but it is one of these historical figures who is key to those scenarios.

Sir Victor Sassoon, 3rd Baronet of Bombay, is an enormously wealthy businessman, a historical figure who owned large swathes of Shanghai and built the famous Bund. Not only is he aware of the Mythos, but he is both corresponding with Doctor Henry Armitage of Miskatonic University and looking to thwart its influence and its agents’ activities in the city. Thus he engages the Player Characters—or Investigators—into looking into situations and cases of note, which he and often his equally rich friends believe to be odd or inexplicable. Essentially, Sir Victor will act as the Investigators’ patron who will call upon their services again and again.

The four scenarios follow the same format. This is as a spine of scenes and clues as is standard of Trail of Cthulhu, laid out at least in the first scenario, as a diagram. Throughout each scenario—and the book as a whole—mechanical elements for Trail of Cthulhu are in black as is the rest of the book, whilst those for Call of Cthulhu are in red. This makes them a lot easier to spot. Where particular locations are referenced, excerpts of the main map are used, and since the Investigators will be visiting several of these again, these map excerpts appear more than once. Throughout the Investigators will encounter actual historical figures and the supplement does include notes for the Keeper on how to roleplay them. 

The first of the scenarios in The Sassoon Files is ‘Strong Gates, Hidden Demons’. A strange body and a supposed cholera outbreak lead the Investigators on a MacGuffin chase between the International Settlement and the French Concession, to the site of a bloody massacre and back again. This is a fairly straightforward scenario, but begins to pull the Investigators into the city and its atmosphere. However, the second scenario, ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’ is a whole lot more complex, starting with a flashback, and then comes back to the present for an even bigger, even more complex Macguffin hunt—or hunts—as Victor Sassoon wants to recover a recent purchase at an auction house and find out why it was stolen from him. Although the scenario requires a little effort in terms of set-up, there is a bravura quality to it, involving as it does the last Empress of China and a lot of tea. This potential for some weird, creepy moments too and a ‘what the hell?’ moment once the Investigators and their players realise quite what is going on.

Inspired by a traditional Chinese folk song of the same name, ‘There is This One Girl’ also ups the action scene upon action scene as the Investigators are sent haring after a gangster who seems to be winning at the racing track and the card table with unerring accuracy, this time because friends of Sir Victor want to reduce their loses and cannot account for the gangster’s success. The scenario presents an alternate interpretation of a Call of Cthulhu entity classic to Shanghai, who may well not be inimical towards the Investigators, as well as the opportunity for them to potentially find allies in their efforts against the Mythos. ‘There is This One Girl’ is also really the first part to ‘Curse of the Peacock’s Eye’, the fourth and final scenario in  The Sassoon Files. This has a weird flashback and has a quite linear sequence which is repeated. Although ultimately, the Investigators have funny choices to make, which may lead to the end of the world or not…

In terms of tone, the four scenarios in The Sassoon Files are presented in Purist mode. However, some scenarios do push at the dividing line between Purist and Pulp modes, and it would be very easy for the Keeper to take the campaign into a Pulp style of play. Certainly, as a city, Shanghai lends itself to that and there is advice in places on how certain Pulp Cthulhu abilities would work in particular scenes. Doubtless, pushed into the Pulp mode of Trail of Cthulhu or run using Pulp Cthulhu, and The Sassoon Files could be run as a rip-roaring campaign in the ‘Pearl of the East’. Either way, the Keeper is advised to check the chase rules for whichever roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror she is running and probably prepare some obstacles suited to the streets of Shanghai.

Using The Sassoon Files is not without its challenge. Obviously its remote location means that its four scenarios are not easy to add to an ongoing campaign and the timeframe for those scenarios is fairly specific. The most obvious and the easiest way to use the supplement is a standalone campaign. However there are other possibilities. One is to run the scenarios as sequels to a campaign which has ended in Shanghai after playing Masks of Nyarlathotep. That campaign runs throughout 1925 and The Sassoon Files begins at the end of 1925, so there is crossover potential. If the Investigators decide to leave Shanghai after completing Masks of Nyarlathotep, then The Sassoon Files could be run as an alternate timeline, the final scenario in the quartet, ‘Curse of the Peacock’s Eye’, supporting that possibility.

Being spread out over the space of four years, the quartet of scenarios in The Sassoon Files make up a loose campaign, so there is scope for the Keeper to add other scenarios she had adapted or written herself in between the given four. The Sassoon Files is both helpful and unhelpful towards that end. Helpful because it includes ten scenario hooks which the Keeper will need to develop herself, unhelpful because it is not the definitive sourcebook for roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror on Shanghai and its environs, and so does not explore the presence of the Mythos in the city and beyond, leaving the Keeper to develop that her self.

Each of the four scenarios in The Sassoon Files is accompanied by five pre-generated Investigators. These are okay for the most part. More interesting is the discussion of the factions involved in the four scenarios. These include the Locals—consisting of Sir Victor and his fellow expatriates and allies, the Communists under Zhou Enlai—later first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, and the Green Gang—Shanghai’s largest Triad gang, Japan’s Genyosha or Dark Ocean Society, and others. The discussion is accompanied by the options, hooks, and drivers for each of the four scenarios in The Sassoon Files for the players to roleplay members of the Communist party or the Green Gang, as opposed to allies of the Locals. The supplement also adds ‘Lore Sheets’ which provide both backgrounds and act as a resource or dice pool, equal to a couple of points, which a player can use to gain an advantage related to the Lore Sheet, each one of which is kept secret by its player. Although the end mechanical reward for fulfilling the objectives on the Lore Sheets feels bland, at the very least they provide more personal backgrounds for the Investigators and background information for their players.

However the publishers do miss a trick or two. For a supplement of this type, weirdly, there is no bibliography. Also, there are no maps of individual locations, which would have made the scenarios easier to run, and whilst as the scenarios proceed it becomes clear that they form a campaign, it is not clear at the outset, which again means they need more effort to prepare. Another issue is that whilst The Sassoon Files does provide a detailed overview of Shanghai, it is lacking when it comes to the kind of details and flavour which would help the Keeper portray the city on an ordinary, day-to-day basis. It is almost if the supplement needs a table of random encounters and events which would have helped the Keeper bring the vibrant and raucous hurly-burly of the city to life.

Perhaps the biggest trick missed by The Sassoon Files is when it comes to Investigators. First, there is a dearth of advice when it comes to the players creating their own, which may leave less experienced players of Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu floundering for ideas and concepts. Second—and more disappointingly—the authors do not make enough of the Factions as playable options. Now yes, they are discussed and they do have their own section in the supplement, but not a single one of the pre-generated Investigators which comes after each of the four scenarios is from a different faction. All sixteen are essentially from the Locals faction, that is, the expatriate Europeans who serve as the Investigators’ patrons and their local allies, and as diverse a mix of ethnicities and genders as the represent, what this means is that there none from the suggested Triad gangs or Communist factions. For all that is made of the authors being part of the China roleplaying community and their being familiar with both the setting and the history, this really is a missed roleplaying opportunity upon their part.


Physically, The Sassoon Files is a generally well-presented book. It makes a great deal of use of period photographs and maps to present Shanghai, and is illustrated by some superb pieces of artwork. However, it is in places inconsistent in its layout and very much needs an edit.

There can be no doubt that Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying deserves—whether Call of Cthulhu, Pulp Cthulhu, or Trail of Cthulhu—a supplement dedicated to Shanghai. Unfortunately, The Sassoon Files is not the definitive guide to the Shanghai of the 1920s for any of those aforementioned roleplaying games. Yes, it presents a good, even comprehensive, overview of the city, but whilst this is enough to run the four scenarios in The Sassoon Files, it is not really quite enough from which the Keeper can develop her own scenarios or content without input from other sources. However, this is not to say that the background information will not serve as the spur or inspiration for the Keeper’s creativity.

Although far from perfect, and not really a definitive guide to the city, The Sassoon Files: A Sourcebook for the Call of Cthulhu and GUMSHOE Role Playing Games does something that no other supplement for roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror does, and that is present a campaign in Shanghai. It successfully combines both the history and noted inhabitants of the city with the Mythos for a quartet of entertaining and engaging scenarios.


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Currently, Sons of the Singularity has a Kickstarter campaign underway for Journal d’Indochine. This is a supplement of ‘Horror and Intrigue in French Colonial-Era Vietnam in a campaign for the Call of Cthulhu TRPG’.

Cloudy Coriolis?

Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 is an anthology of three scenarios and more for use with the Middle East-influenced Science Fiction roleplaying game, Coriolis: The Third Horizon. Published by Free League Publishing and distributed by Modiphius Entertainment, it takes the Player Characters to three different worlds and three different mysteries, ideally at the behest of their patron. They are in turn a missing persons case—of a sort, a lost contact mission, and a murder mystery. Each of the three can be roughly be played through in a session or two, and be slotted into an ongoing campaign with relative ease after the scenario in the core rulebook for Coriolis: The Third Horizon and then before or worked into the campaign, Coriolis: Emissary Lost. As is standard for the Coriolis line, the Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 is presented in full glossy colour, with some fantastic artwork. However, these are not quite as straightforward adventures as they could be, in part because of their background, and in part, because of the extra preparation required upon the part of the Game Master.

The anthology opens with ‘The Tailor from Mira’, which takes place in the Icon City on Mira and has the Player Characters employed to find the Tailor – a ‘Bionic’ or surgeon – for a well-paying, noble employer. Since this is designed as an action thriller, it quickly transpires that the Player Characters are not the only ones interested, as several factions vie to locate him, and together the chase will take them to the pilgrim or prayer train that traverses the planet. This is a fun location which the Player Characters will have to finagle their way onto—but unfortunately there is no map of it for the Game Master to use or refer to. This is a problem which hinders all three of the scenarios in the Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 and all too often the Game Master will need to develop maps or location descriptions herself.

The second scenario, ‘Eye of the Beast’ is set on the strange forest moon of Arzachel where a strange new element, levitanium, which seems to make the planetary inhabitants and wildlife larger, and in some cases, capable of flight. Unfortunately contact with a harvesting team has been lost and the Player Characters are employed to find it before the latest shipment of levitanium is lost. They will encounter strange beasts, watchful Humanite natives, and ultimately a dilemma that needs to be resolved if lives are to be saved. This is a classic faith versus science, ecology versus commercialism situation, but being written for Coriolis: The Third Horizon this will in part be influenced by the Player Characters’ relationship with the Icons. The scenario is quite simple, and it comes with some very well explained solutions, but it advises that the Game Master will need to help the Player Characters by summarising what is going on and what they know. However, whilst this summarising is necessary, it does feel as if the Game Master at this point is holding the Player Characters’ hands as she guides them to the several solutions offered and so points to the fact that the three scenarios in the Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 do feel as they are underwritten and lack clarity.

‘Algebra of the Icons’, the third scenario is a murder-mystery in the city of Mehrabi over the petroleum fields of the planet of Lubau. Doctor Humina Ghabi, a data djinn—a computer expert (or hacker)—working for Industrial Algebra developing advanced ship intelligences, has been found dead and the Player Characters are brought in to investigate. This will be at the behest of their patron rather than because they are necessarily qualified to carry out such a task, but certainly a data djinn amongst the Player Characters will be useful in conducting the adventure. This is a classic cyberpunk murder mystery, so much so that it verges upon cliché and may well disappoint the players once they realise quite what is going on.

Rounding the Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 is a scenario location. ‘The Mahanji Oasis’ is also located on the planet of Lubau, beside a series of Crystal Lakes. It is a classic frontier town replete with intrigue and tension between the natives and the incomers who have come to man the mobile platforms and drill for oil, along with strange ruins, a diving centre for the lakes, and various mysteries. It comes with a map of the surroundings, several NPCs, and a handful of events around which to build adventures. Like other adventure locations described for Coriolis: The Third Horizon, the Game Master will need to develop these herself, but the information given is a good start. It should be noted though, that both ‘Algebra of the Icons’ and ‘The Mahanji Oasis’ do wear their Middle Eastern influences on their sleeves, both being located on petroleum fields and it being suggested to the Game Master that the city in ‘Algebra of the Icons’ being described like Dubai.

Physically, the Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 is well-presented, being an attractive, full colour book. However, the lack of maps in places may hinder both the Game Master’s preparation time and the players’ involvement in the scenarios, especially in ‘The Tailor from Mira’ which actually states that, “It can be challenging to draw up comprehensive map of the kilometre long train, but the GM is encouraged to give its layout some thought…” This is of the prayer train and given that this is the setting for the scenario’s climax, it seems absurd to leave such a daunting task to the Game Master. 

The lack of maps, the plots which verge upon cliché, and their often underwritten nature means that each of the three scenarios in the Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 needs a fair bit of preparation upon the part of the Game Master and each may well need a bit more of an explanation or briefing for the players and their characters as who exactly is involved and what they want. Ultimately, the Coriolis Scenario Compendium 1 is just not the easy-to-run collection of scenarios for Coriolis: The Third Horizon it should have been.

Which Witch IV

It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.
The first book in the series, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is written is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and presents the Witch as dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lilith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. The next book in the series is The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games, which was written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes, and which focused on not so much as ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, but upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria. Again, Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, the next entry in the line presents a different take upon the Witch, but instead this series of reviews leaps over that entry to review which presents a very different, even slightly silly take upon the Witch. This is The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition.

The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is written for use with Labyrinth Lord and like other titles in the series starts by presenting the same version of the Witch Class as in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games and The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games. What this means is that from one book to the next, this Class is going to serve as a template for the rest of the other supplements devoted to the Witch from The Other Side. So the Witch is spellcaster capable of casting Witch spells and Witch rituals—a mixture of arcane and divine spells, has Occult Powers including herbal healing, many are reluctant to cast ‘black’ or evil magic, many are of Lawful Alignment, and have answered the Call of their Goddess (or other patron).

The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition focuses on the one Tradition of the Witch Class, that is, a Witch of the ‘Pumpkin Spice Tradition’. Which straight off sparks images of the ‘fall’—or autumn, Halloween, and coffee houses serving a limited time flavour of coffee, and so a certain commercialism in its treatment of Witches and the Witch drawn from an American idea of what the Witch is. This is essentially all present in The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition and the danger is that this supplement could have so easily tipped over into a crass mix of the commercial and the kitsch. Thankfully, it presents a modern, urban version of the Witch, one which would really work in an Urban Fantasy or horror roleplaying game or campaign setting. That means though, that tThe Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is not really suitable for a traditional fantasy roleplaying campaign.
The first difference between the Pumpkin Spice Witch tradition and other traditions is that Pumpkin Spice Witches are limited in their choice of Familiars—bat, cat, ferret, rat, raven, owl, and so on. The only addition to this is a special Familiar, the Meowl, a combination of cat and owl, which also appears in the supplement’s bestiary. In terms of powers, the Pumpkin Spice Witch gains a Familiar, and knows ‘Things Man Was Not Meant to Know are Fire for Women’ and ‘Resting Witch Face’. The former grants a bonus to Intelligence and Wisdom checks related to magic and monsters for Witch who is making the check after a male Magic-User has failed to do so, whilst the latter in effect lets a Witch enforce a negative Morale on anyone attempting to talk to or approach her. This includes in combat! There is a certain modern, tongue-in-cheek sensibility to these powers, and whilst they do empower the Pumpkin Spice Witch, depending upon your point of view, may or may not stray into stereotyping.
Witches of the Pumpkin Spice Witch tradition are restricted in the choice of spells they can use, in general, not being allowed to use spells which inflict direct harm. They tend to favour a goddess as a patron and join small covens, often Sisterhood Covens, which sometimes may include Witches of other tradition, and also tend to be of Good or Neutral Alignments. Many also set up apothecaries, which are fronts for ‘Home, Hearth, & Heart’, a circle of black-market magic item shops!
Miranda TookSecond Level Pumpkin Spice WitchAlignment: Chaotic GoodCoven: The Sisterhood
STR 07 (-1 to hit, damage, and force doors)DEX 14 (-1 AC, +1 Missile Attack, +1 Initiative)CON 12 (-0 HP)INT 15 (+1 Languages, Literate)WIS 14  (+1 to Save versus Magic)CHR 14 (-1 Reaction Adj., 6 Retainers, Morale 9)
Armour Class: 7 (Padded)Hit Points: 7Weapons: Dagger, Bow, StaffTHAC0 20
Languages: French
Occult PowersHealing balms (1d4+1/three times per day)
Spells: (First Level) – Bad Luck, Bewitch, Control Face, Forget Me Knot
Familiar: Meowl (+1 Wisdom checks, Nightvision)
The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition includes some one hundred or so spells, a short bestiary of less than twenty monsters, some new magic items, and a trio of unique witches. Now although there are spells included which do inflict direct damage, like Prismatic Lightning, but most harmful spells for the tradition inflict harm in other ways. Thus, Agony inflicts pain, not harm; Babble confuses all verbal communication; and Eerie Forest makes an area of a forest unnerving, perhaps frightening those who walk through it. In general, the spells lend themselves to supporting effects, such as Calm Weather, Change Appearance, Create Wine, Find Child, Grandmother’s Shawl, and more, but at the same time, they give scope for a player to be inventive in how these spells can be used—not just mechanically, but also in terms of roleplaying. The other effect of the spells is to pull the Witch character away from traditional dungeoneering style play, and this is carried over into the monsters given in the bestiary. Most of those entries, such as the Autumnal Rider, Beheaded, Jack O’Lantern, Scarecrow Guardian, and more, all lend themselves to situations away from the dungeon and a ‘Monster of the Week’ style of play.
The range of the magical items given in The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is inventive and fun. There are brooms, cauldrons, masks, and teas—for example, a Broom of Threshold Protection, Cauldron of Plenty, a Green Man Mask, and a Fortune Telling Tea. The miscellaneous items include the Bad Hair Day Hat, which always makes a witch’s hair appear to be perfect, a Luck Charm Bracelet providing a +1 to any roll several times a die, and Witch Bells, which ring loudly when an evil spirit enters a witch’s home. Lastly, the unique witches make up a coven, and range in Level from third to seventeenth, and may or may not be the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone.
Physically, The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is slimmer than the other books in the line and shows an improvement in the style and layout over the books before it. The artwork is much better handled, and many of the new magical items are illustrated. One minor issue is that the spells are listed in alphabetical order rather than Level by Level. It makes spell selection just a little more awkward and slower.
The problem with The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is twofold. First, there is the title. ‘Pumpkin Spice’ suggests silliness and superficiality, but the witch presented in its pages lends itself to urban and modern settings a la television series such as Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and the like. Played in that context, and the Pumpkin Spice Witch would work really well. The other issue is the potential problem of stereotyping. The Pumpkin Spice Witch could be interpreted as such, though this is not necessarily the author’s intention. Put these issues aside and it is clear that there is a lot of invention and fun that has gone into the writing of The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition, which should come out in play using the spells and magical items.

Miskatonic Monday #42: Ice Cream Man

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

—oOo—
Name: Ice Cream Man

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Michael LaBossiere
Setting: Modern day

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 1.018 MB nine-page, full-colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: How dangerous can a  Mr. Whippy be?
Plot Hook: When a father says the Ice Cream Man is the monster who took his son, and he wants you to kill him, is he mad, or is he right? Plot Development: A murderer, a victim, and chasing the sounds of the Ice Cream Man all summer...Plot Support: One handout, one picture, and a unique monster.

Pros
# Easily adapted to the ice cream carts of the 1890s and 1920s
# Strong, non-traditional set-up
# Investigator research pre-prepared
# When does hunting become stalking?
# Player driven# Potential kids versus the Mythos situation# Just how dangerous is a 99 and a Flake?
Cons# Why does the father know of the investigators?
# Needs a list of victims
# When does hunting become stalking?
# Needs a floorplan

Conclusion
# Easy to adapt to the 1890s and 1920s
# Strong, non-traditional set-up# Needs some support by the Keeper

An Amazing Game

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is a roleplaying game based upon the 1986 film Labyrinth. In that film, the frustrated sixteen-year old Sarah wishes away her baby brother, Toby, whom she has to babysit, but upon discovering that he has been kidnapped by Goblins, realises her error. However, Jareth, the Goblin King, offers here a deal—her dreams in exchange for the return of her brother. When she refuses, he gives an ultimatum: Enter and solve his labyrinth and find Toby before thirteen hours are up and he is turned into a goblin forever. In the course of the story, Sarah will find her way through the labyrinth, passing through the Hedge Maze, the Goblin City, and more, to confront the Goblin King in his castle and so gain her brother back, all with the help of friends and allies. In Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, several brave adventurers—each of whom has also lost something to the Goblin King—shall venture into the Labyrinth, solve its puzzles, overcome its challenges, make allies, and help each other in order to get back that which was lost.

Published by River Horse Games—the publisher of the surprisingly good Tails of Equestria – The Storytelling GameLabyrinth: The Adventure Game is a self-contained roleplaying game, designed to be played by four or five players plus the Goblin King. In fact, it is so self-contained that open up the book and you will find a pair of dice sitting in a pocket punched through the corner of the pages. This is of course, in addition to the full rules and some ninety or so locations and encounters the adventurers can explore and have in the course of their making their way to the Goblin King’s Castle. Its format and style of play echo the solo adventure books of Fighting Fantasy—and others, but the number of encounters and scenes means that even if a group of players get through the Labyrinth and defeat the Goblin King, they could play through again and not necessarily repeat either encounters or scenes. The roleplaying game’s simple mechanics, quick set-up time, and linear way in which the encounters organised—though not necessarily played—means that the Goblin King, as the Game Master is known in Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, could bring to the game to the table with relatively little preparation.

Each Player Character in Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is defined by three things—his Kin or Race, a Trait—something that he is good at, and a Flaw—something that he is bad at. The six given Traits are paired abilities like ‘Singing and Dancing’ and ‘Lifting and Pushing’, but a player is always free to create his own as long as they fit the setting. The Flaws include ‘Overconfident’ and ‘Coward’, and again, a player is free to create his own. The listed Kin include not just the protagonists as in the film, but others that were at best minor members of the cast or adversaries. So, they include Human, like Sarah; Dwarf, like Hoggle; Horned Beast, like Ludo; and Knight of Yore, like Sir Didymus. The others are Firey, Goblin, and Worm. Each Kin has its own particular Trait. So, a Dwarf has a Job like Gardner or Plumber and associated tools; a Firey can separate his limbs and head and create small fires from his fingertips with Detachable Limbs and Fire Fingers; a Goblin gas Goblin Features and can get into a lot places unnoticed that others cannot; a Horned Beast has the Very Big Flaw, but can mentally control a type of object like plants or water; a Human has two Traits, not one; a Knight of Yore is Honourable and can find and tame a Steed; and a Worm has the Very Small Flaw and the Wall Climbing Trait. All of these model the character types seen on screen in the film, but there is nothing to stop a player and the Goblin King working out something else about their character if he wants to play something different.

To create a character, a player simply selects a Kin, a Trait, and a Flaw. He also decides on a name and a reason why he is in the Labyrinth, that is, what exactly does the Goblin King have of his? Given the limited number of options, a player could actually create his character in sixty-seconds, and four or five players create theirs and be ready to play in five minutes! Where there is a problem is with what drives the Player Characters forward, further into the Labyrinth. The discussion of this is a little light, and whilst experienced roleplayers will have no problems coming up with ideas, for anyone new to the hobby via Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, well some suggestions and inspiration might have been useful for them.

Our sample character is Bobby, a teenager with well-deserved reputation as a sneak and a thief. At home he is bratty and difficult as his parents are going through a divorce, and most recently his mother’s jewellery has disappeared. He fears for the consequences should he be blamed and desperately wants to get them back.

Bobby
Traits: Listening and Spotting, Sneaking and Hiding
Flaw: Selfish
Goal: To recover his mother’s jewellery

Mechanically, Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is very simple. Whenever a Player Character wants to undertake an action which has consequences, his player rolls a single six-sided die. If the result is equal to, or exceeds, a difficulty—ranging from two or ‘Piece of Cake’ to six or ‘It’s not fair!’—the Player Character succeeds. Should a Player Character have an advantage, such as from a Trait, the player rolls two dice and takes the better result. Conversely, if a Player Character is at a disadvantage, his player rolls two dice and takes the worse result. Having a suitable piece of equipment or another Player Character help a Player Character out using one of his Traits, lowers the Difficulty, or in some cases ensures that the acting Player Character succeeds.

Instead of combat mechanics, Labyrinth: The Adventure Game opts for action scenes, since this is not a game where the Player Characters or NPCs can be killed, or violence is necessarily the answer. In purely mechanical terms, characters do not have weapons, armour, or even the equivalent of Hit Points. This is not to say that neither weapons or armour could come into play, but their effects would really be narrative rather than mechanical, and the same goes for injuries suffered. However, there are no rules or little in the way of guidance for handling this and again, for anyone coming to Labyrinth: The Adventure Game as their first roleplaying game, this may be a problem. 

What it means though, is that the players and their characters will need to be more inventive in how they overcome the challenges they face. Ideally though, both the Goblin King and her players should be taking a cue for this from the film itself, so action scenes and what might be combats in other roleplaying games should here be slightly cartoonish in style and the way that they play out. 

Another aspect of the mechanics is that they are player facing, that is, the Goblin King never roles against the Player Characters—only the players roll, either to act, to persuade, or avoid a threat. The Goblin King can roll though on any one of the random tables that litter the scenes and encounters to determine something about the scene or an NPC, and she also rolls to determine how far the Player Characters will progress into the Labyrinth as they move from scene to scene. Throughout their progress through the Labyrinth, the Player Characters will find equipment and potions and things to help them, and these can be used to get past obstacles, to barter with the inhabitants of the Labyrinth, and so on. Ideally, although each Player Character can carry a limited number of items, each player should be looking to pick up as many as they can and be inventive in their use.

All of the rules, character creation, and advice for the Goblin King take up just the first thirty-five pages of the two-hundred-and-ninety-two pages of Labyrinth: The Adventure Game. The other almost ninety percent consists of descriptions of the Labyrinth itself. These are divided across five chapters—the Stonewalls, the Hedge Maze, the Land of Yore, the Goblin City, and finally the Castle of the Goblin King. Each one is strictly a two-page spread, which makes them very to use at the table—no need to flip back and forth anywhere. Each comes with a description to read to the players, a map and a key explaining its features and challenges, a table of random elements, and possible consequences. So ‘The Wrecking Crew’ in the Stone Walls has the Player Characters run into a Goblin gang demolishing a corridor for renovation and the bad news is that they have no idea what they are doing! Tables enable the Goblin King to randomise both explosives and the Goblins, and the consequences are either that they get past and continue onward, or the explosives are detonated, and the Player Characters are blinded, knocked down, coughing, and covered in green powder in the next scene. Some of Scenes, such as the Oubliette, The Land of Stench, and Ted’s Quest will be familiar from the film, but many are not from the film and so will surprise anyone who knows the film well.

These Scenes are ordered one after the other from The Gatekeepers to the Goblin Castle. Now the Player Characters will start at The Gatekeepers and end at the Goblin Castle, but they will not play them one after the other. Instead, at the end of most scenes, the Goblin King will roll a die and move the number rolled that number of Scenes forward. Their movement forward is measured as Progress and they need to complete Scenes to increase their Progress, but if a Scene proves too challenging or they want to revisit an earlier Scene, the Player Characters can move backwards. This does not mean that they reduce their Progress, but it does mean that Player Characters can go back to an earlier Scene and attempt to find another route forward if they get stuck, and it also builds the labyrinthine feel of the game. 

What this also means is that on an average playthrough of Labyrinth: The Adventure Game, a group of Player Characters will play between twenty-five and thirty Scenes before getting to the Goblin Castle. This is played differently to the previous Scenes, with the Player Characters chasing the Goblin King round his castle, moving more freely from room to room, and it more has the feel of a board game, Tortoise and the Hare-like, as they chase down the Goblin King and he runs away from them.

The other tracking factor that runs throughout Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is the time limit. Just like the film, the Player Characters have thirteen hours in which to penetrate the Labyrinth and get to the Goblin King’s Castle and defeat him. In general, as long as the Player Characters are moving forward and overcoming obstacles and challenges from one Scene to the next, they will not lose time. However, failing to overcome challenges in some Scenes, wasting time in certain Scenes, and occasionally, but not always, going back to an earlier scene, will cost the Player Characters time—an hour each time. Specifically, there is no countdown—though it would be fantastic to have a thirteen hour countdown at the table when playing Labyrinth: The Adventure Game—but when the thirteen hours are up and the Player Characters have failed to get to the Goblin Castle or have got there and failed to defeat him, then they do actually lose.

To win though, all the Player Characters have to do is defeat the Goblin King. That though is not physical confrontation, but rather like the film, a demonstration that he has not influence or power over the Player Characters. Fans of the film can of course cite the mantra from the end of the Labyrinth—and that is included in Labyrinth: The Adventure Game. Success means that the Player Characters can grab back stolen goods, kidnap victims, or the solution to whatever was driving them to enter the Labyrinth. Afterwards, Human characters can go home, other characters can get on with their lives, but in a nicer world free of the Goblin King.

Unfortunately, this final confrontation is really underdeveloped. The problem is that the Goblin King is not really described and whilst there is a Goblin King character sheet for the Goblin King to use, and it is suggested that the Goblin King create a Goblin King NPC of her own, there is no advice or help to that end either. Now obviously in the film, the Goblin King is mean to be ephemeral, almost a cypher, but Labyrinth: The Adventure Game leaves the Goblin King to make him as best she can, perhaps basing upon the version played by David Bowie in the film. Given that it is possible to play through Labyrinth: The Adventure Game more than once, this seems such a missed opportunity upon the part of the designers.

Physically, Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is stunning little digest-sized hardback. The artwork by Brian Froud—whose illustrations formed the basis of the film—is excellent as you would expect, but the other illustrations are also good. The writing is decent, and the maps are fantastic, and it is clear that a lot of thought put into layout and the organisation which make the book so easy to use. Further, Labyrinth: The Adventure Game comes with not one, but three cloth bookmarks, and not just because. The red bookmark is used to mark the Player Characters’ progress, the others where they might actually be in the Labyrinth, and so on, which is easier than perhaps making a physical note of it.

Of course, anyone who is fan of the film coming to Labyrinth: The Adventure Game needs to know that this is not something like the board game—also published by River Horse Games—that can be brought to the table, played in a single session, and put away again. As easy as it is to set up and start playing, Labyrinth: The Adventure Game will take multiple sessions to play through, unless you want to play through it in one long session.

Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is not the roleplaying game for the film, Labyrinth. In other words, it is not a sourcebook for the setting portrayed on the screen and it does not allow a Game Master or Goblin King to create that world which her players can visit again and again. Almost like a programmed module or solo adventure—or even a co-operative board game like PandemicLabyrinth: The Adventure Game presents a series of challenges and obstacles which the players and their characters can play through multiple times to see if they can defeat the Goblin King. In fact, they may need to if they do not first succeed, and further, the linear order of the Scenes combined with the Progress mechanic means that on a second, or even a third playthrough, the players might not repeat any Scenes except those at the beginning or the end. Though again, playing through it more than once is not a topic that Labyrinth: The Adventure Game addresses.

Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is adorable and charming and it captures the feel of the Labyrinth world with its mixture of bolshiness and bravado and beauty through Scene after Scene, but it is incredibly underdeveloped in places—motivations for the Player Characters, creation and portrayal of the Goblin King, revisiting the Labyrinth, and so on, are just explored enough or at all. None of this will challenge an experienced Game Master, but anyone coming to Labyrinth: The Adventure Game new to roleplaying games and they will find it challenging because Labyrinth: The Adventure Game provides no help—and it should do.

Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is a fantastic format and a fantastic adaptation of the Labyrinth film. It enables a playing group to revisit the story of the film multiple times—whether they succeed or feel in defeating the Goblin King—and do so with very light, easy to grasp storytelling mechanics that emphasise problem-solving and co-operation, all packaged in a beautiful book.

The Zone Quartet V

Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator is the fifth supplement for Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, the post-apocalypse set RPG based on Mutant - År Noll, the Swedish RPG from Free League Publishing distributed by Modiphius Entertainment. As with the previous supplements in this series—Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Compendium 1 – Lair of the Saurians, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Compendium 2 – Dead Blue Sea, Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 3: Die, Meat-Eater, Die!, and Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 4: The Eternal War—this is a slim supplement that presents various scenario set-ups and situations, or ‘Special Zone Sectors’ which can be quickly and easily dropped into a Game Master’s campaign and the sectors of her Zone map.

Where Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 4: The Eternal War was a supplement to a supplement, providing further robot encounters for Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator returns to the Zone found in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days—either the Big Smoke, the Big Apple, or a Zone of the Game Master’s own devising. It includes numerous encounters with the anthropomorphic animals of Mutant: Genlab Alpha and the sentient robots of Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, as well as some Humans of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium. However, technically, Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator is set before the events of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and really, would work just as after its events too, perhaps in conjunction with Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death.

The first of the four ‘Special Zone Sectors’ in Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator is the eponymous ‘Hotel Imperator’. This describes a weirdly still functioning hotel, complete with advanced features, but put to another purpose. It is the headquarters of a Psionically capable cabal called the Brain Ring with long term plans of domination for the Zone. If the Player Characters get inside, they will find an almost cornucopia of artefacts and things to be scavenged, but also a certain creepiness to both its atmosphere and its inhabitants. The situation and relationship between the inhabitants is on a knife edge, really awaiting the arrival of the Player Characters, but ‘Hotel Imperator’ is not best used simply plumped down as just another place for them to visit. Its write-up includes a number of events—some of them linked to previous entries in the ‘Zone Compendium’ series, suggesting how it can be worked into a campaign, but as a location it best works as the final part of plotline which the Game Master has worked into her campaign.

Of more immediate use is ‘The Long Road’, an encounter with relatively recently formed caravan operated by a band of anthropomorphic animals. Lead by an aggressive Orangutan, this is a relatively flexible encounter which does not have the big plot of ‘Hotel Imperator’, but rather can be used in a number of different ways, including trading partner, blockade, furthering another plot, and so on, but being nomadic, it can be moved around a lot.

Where Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 4: The Eternal War took the robots to a theme park, the Wild West-themed ‘Fort Robot’, Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator takes us to ‘The Zone Fair’. This is an amusement park, replete with various attractions such as Fortune Teller, Shooting Range, Casino, and more. The Player Characters can come here to trade, enjoy the entertainments, and even participate in the upcoming poker contest—rules are provided for ‘Zone Poker’, as well as get involved in other plots. As a static location, there is plenty for the Player Characters to do, and the likelihood is that they will return again and again. However, there is at least one element to do with an NPC which is left undeveloped and the Game Master wondering what to do with him if the Player Characters want to dig into his background.

The last of the four ‘Special Zone Sectors’ in Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator is ‘The Great Zone Walker’. This is another mobile encounter, but where the caravan of ‘The Long Road’ consists of just a few vehicles, ‘The Great Zone Walker’ is a behemoth, a monstrously colossal device which trundles across the Zone, home to a small tribe. In fact, in comparison to the encounters the Player Characters will have had in the Zone, it is on the scale of Mortal Engines, and being so big, it is not a subtle thing to bring into a campaign, and indeed could smash it apart. As an object though, its huge physicality means it is a fantastic object to clamber over and swing across.

Rounding out Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator is something different to the other titles in the series—new rules. These though are relatively minor additions and tie back to the ‘Hotel Imperator’ ‘Special Zone Sector’ found at the start of the book. They include a number of new psionic mutations and two related artefacts. These are the Psionic Enhancer and Psionic Blocker, and whilst their inclusion makes sense, the inclusion of the new mutations not quite so much. Unfortunately, they only seem to have appeared in the Mutant: Mechatron – Custom Card Deck and so needed to put into print, and since Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator includes the one psionic encounter, it makes sense to have them included here.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator is as well presented as the other titles in the series. The artwork is excellent and the maps, both illustrated and cartographic, are nicely done. In fact, the artwork also serves as great illustrations to show the players when they encounter the various locations and NPCs. The book is also well written, with solid descriptions and a handful of events and scenario ideas for the Game Master to flesh out.

Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator presents a good collection of Special Zone Sectors. The second, third, and fourth—‘The Long Road’, ‘The Zone Fair’, and ‘The Great Zone Walker’—are generally easy to bring into a campaign and the Game Master’s Zone, but ‘Hotel Imperator’ will need some to work into a campaign and lay the groundwork for its payoff climax. In general, these are really useful to add to a standard campaign as detailed in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, but one which mixes elements from both Mutant: Genlab Alpha and the sentient robots of Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying. Overall, Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator is a great addition to a late campaign of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days.

Which Witch II

It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.

The first book in the series, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is written is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and presents the Witch as dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lilith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. The next book in the series is The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games and its approach to the witch—whilst starting from the same base—is broader and gives more options, is less focused on ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, as well as being written for a different roleplaying game. Specifically, it focuses upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria, and it is written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes.

The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games starts by presenting the same version of the Witch Class as in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games, but what this means is that from one book to the next, this Class is going to serve as a template for the rest of the other supplements devoted to the Witch from The Other Side. So the Witch is spellcaster capable of casting Witch spells and Witch rituals—a mixture of arcane and divine spells, has Occult Powers including herbal healing, many are reluctant to cast ‘black’ or evil magic, many are of Lawful Alignment, and have answered the Call of their Goddess (or other patron). 

So far, so good, but where The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games begins to get interesting is in the number of options it gives beyond this. First in the Combination Classes, so Witch/Cleric, Witch/Fighter, Witch/Magic-User, and Witch/Thief. These are not treated as dual Classes, but Classes of their own with an explanation of how they work in play and in a campaign as well as their own Experience Tables. So the Witch/Fighter often, often known as a Witch Guardian, protects other Witches against persecution and so can use any weapon a Fighter can, whilst the Witch/Thief has no title, though Jugglers often find themselves labelled as Witches and Thieves, but they are typically streetwise and useful when it comes to dealing with the dangers of exploring underground. Next, the supplement looks at the tradition of the Witch amongst non-humans, from Amazons, Bugbears, and Deep Ones to the ape-like Sagath, Troglodytes, and Trolls. Each entry gives some idea as to who or what they worship, so Trolls follow either the Faerie or Winter Witch Tradition, Deep Ones worship the demonic Dagon and his consort, and Medusa worship the daughters of primordial sea god and goddess, Phorcys and Ceto. This section does not just focus on NPC or monstrous Races, but covers how the Witch Tradition is found amongst the Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, and Halflings in lengthier descriptions. With the latter, the supplement provides solid context for Player Character Witches from those Races, especially together with the Combination Classes, whilst with the former, the Dungeon Master has some background upon which to create some interesting non-human Witch NPCs.

Both The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games and Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games offer the one Tradition. In The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games this is the Classical Tradition, a Witch who has a familiar, the ‘Gift of Prophecy’’, can refresh many of her spells with ‘Drawing Down the Moon’, and even summon the power of her patron with the ‘Charge of the Goddess’. The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is also different because it does not offer one Coven, but many. These are drawn from Classical Tradition and various ancient cultures. These include the Brotherhood of Set from Egypt, an evil cult which practices human sacrifice and which only allows male Witches to join; the Cult of Ereshkigal, which has some crossover with the Cult of Mara from Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games and whose members serve the Queen of the Night; and the Coven of Hecate, which consist of covens of three and claim to be the first witches. In general the combination of the Classic Tradition with these Covens is designed to cover Classic, Neo-Classical, and Pagan traditions, and whilst the Covens provide no mechanical benefit, they do add further flavour and detail.

Mosco Took
Second Level Witch Guardian
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Coven: Temple of Astártē

STR 10 (+0)
DEX 15 (+1 Missile Attack)
CON 03 (-1 HP)
INT 15 (+5 Languages, Literate)
WIS 14 
CHR 15 (5 Retainers)

Armour Class: 7 (Padded)
Hit Points: 5
Weapons: Dagger, Bow, Staff
THAC0 20

Halfling Abilities: +1 to hit to all ranged weapons; Resilient: +2 bonus on all saves.
Languages: Halfling, Common, Elvish, Dwarvish, Gnomish, Dragonic, Faerie

Occult Powers
Healing balms (1d4+1/three times per day)

Spells: (First Level) – Foretell, Obedient Beast, Protection of the Dead (Ritual)

Familiar: Owl (+2 Wisdom checks)

The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games offers some hundred spells, twenty monsters, thirty magic items, or so. The spells are more of a supportive nature—though there are a few offensive spells also—and feel markedly different from the standard spells of Dungeons & Dragons. So, Athena’s Blessing fills allies with battle insight with a +1 to hit bonus and +2 bonus to Wisdom checks; Obedient Beast makes animals lie down and take no action or makes trained animals obey verbal commands; and House Spirits calls upon the ‘Lares Familiares’ to protect a home or structure. There are familiar spells too, such as Augury and Spider Climb, but these do not feel out of place and the supplement includes plenty of new spells that help add flavour and feel to the Witch Class. As do the Rituals, each of which takes multiple Witches—or a coven—to cast, many of them again being of a supportive nature, for example, Drawing Down the Sun brings down healing upon allies and fear upon enemies, all allies receiving 2d6 points of healing, a +2 bonus to all Saves, -2 Armour Class, weapons are all +1 to hit and considered to be magical, and Undead are struck with fear and react as if Turned.

The monsters also feel less adversarial, more beasts and beings to interact with rather than simply fight. Many are drawn from classical myth and legend—just as those of Dungeons & Dragons are, but more so. Thus, they include Dryads, Fauns, Hags, Lares Familiares, Sphinxes, and more. The Classical is carried into the selection of magic items, such as the Ankh of Life, a holy symbol which adds a bonus to turning undead and healing; the Book of the Dead contains spells for the protection of and speaking with the dead; the Minoan Labrys is a brass axe which is both a +1 weapon and a holy symbol; and Hydra’s Teeth can be sown onto the ground to have skeletons appear and fight for you. Rounding out The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is a trio of stats and write-ups of Classical Witches—Circe, Medea, and Medusa. These provide major NPCs for a campaign involving the Witch Class, especially one drawing upon the ancient world.

Physically, The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is generally tidily presented. It needs an edit in places, but the artwork is better handled, and the content is better organised, meaning that neither Dungeon Master nor player will need to dig quite so hard to get the most out of the book. Overall, the book is a definite improvement over Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games.

Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games was good, but The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is simply better. It would work really well with a campaign set in or inspired by the Ancient World, but then it would work with most other fantasy settings too. It provides more options for the type of witch a player wants to roleplay or a Dungeon Master wants to create with the combination of the Class and its Tradition with the Combination Classes and the Covens. Even more, it fulfils the author’s agenda of creating a Witch Class which is not inherently evil, and which is neither a cliché nor a stereotype. In doing so, The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games presents the Witch as a Class which is more inclusive, more diverse, more interesting, and thus more appealing to a wider group of players and Dungeons Masters.

Restraints & Responsibilities

High and Dry is an introductory adventure for Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, the most recent roleplaying game to explore the world of Tékumel, the linguistic and cultural setting developed by Professor M.A.R. Barker. Published by UniGames, it is designed to be played between four and six players with beginning characters, but can easily be adjusted should there be more. It takes place in the small town of Mishábar, east of Katalál which has been beset by a rash of disappearances. All three of them have been of good clan women belonging to the Flat Rock clan of Mishábar, but worse, the disappearances have disrupted the Flat Rock clan’s farming business. Worse than that, this has come to the attention of the local clan’s patron and since business has been disrupted, there must be something wrong. From this background, High and Dry comes not with one introduction, but five! There is one each for if the Player Characters are all from the same Clan, from the same temple, from the same legion, they belong to a bunch of typical adventurers, or the Game Master is running a ‘Heroes of the Age’ campaign. So, if the Player Characters are from the Clan or temple, they are sent to find out why the most recent grain shipment is late; if they belong to a Legion, then they have been sent to assess the condition of a ruined fort near Mishábar, for possible future strategic use; if they are adventurers, then they will have heard childhood tales about the ruins of an accursed castle east of Katalál, and after hearing of the disappearances, decide to visit; and lastly, in an ‘Heroes of the Age’ campaign, they are drawn by a vision.

What the Player Characters find in Mishábar is a fraught situation. The local Clan Chief and mayor Shrakán hiTekkú’une has reacted poorly to the situation that both he and the town find themselves in. Not only is his third wife, Dijáya, one of the missing women, but he knows that the town and the clan are in trouble because of the missed grain shipment. This has made him paranoid and exacerbated his pettiness—he does not trust the newly arrived Player Characters, but he wants their help in locating the missing women and solving the situation before it escalates out of his control. The other clan elders are worried about the mayor’s current mental state and what it means for the future of the clan as well as the disappearances.

Dealing with the bullish mayor will be a challenge for beginning Player Characters, and even if they have greater status than he does—a distinct possibility—they may need to be subtle about how they deal with him rather running over him roughshod with their social differences. Ultimately, whether the Player Characters are pushed to act by the mayor or working with the other elders, they will find themselves tracking down the missing women. The actual mystery behind the missing women will actually be very quickly solved, being tied to the ruins of the accursed castle east of Katalál. As this should be the Player Characters’ first adventure this should be played up to be slightly creepy, but should otherwise be a straightforward bit of action to counter the awkward social situation in Mishábar.

High and Dry can really be divided into two parts—the social and the action, but its primary focus is upon the social interaction with the mayor and the elders. The issue with this is that the scenario does not include notes to help explain to the Player Characters their roles and responsibilities and thus their standing with the mayor when dealing with him. All of course will vary according to the positions held by the Player Characters—clan, temple, military, or mere adventurers, but some advice would have been useful. There is advice on the Tsolyáni custom of Shámtla or ‘blood money’, and this is useful as it does feature in the scenario.

Physically, High and Dry is a fifteen-page, full colour, 16.04 MB PDF. The artwork is excellent, the maps are decent, and everything is easy to read. Unfortunately, High and Dry does need another edit.

As an introductory adventure, High and Dry works best with the Player Characters as members of a Clan, Temple, or Legion. The lack of advice on handling the social interaction and the relationship between the Player Characters may hinder players new to Tékumel and the Empire of the Petal Throne, but experienced ‘Petalheads’ will not have a problem. Similarly, a Game Master with knowledge of Tékumel will not have a problem running High and Dry, and if necessary, can supply the advice on handling the social interaction and the relationship between the Player Characters at the heart of the scenario. Overall, High and Dry is a good introductory scenario for playing on Tékumel with Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, but will benefit from being run by a knowledgeable Game Master.

Short Stabs of Cthulhu

Fear’s Sharp Little Needles: Twenty-Six Hunting Forays into Horror is an anthology of scenarios published by Stygian Fox for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. Published following a successful Kickstarterter campaign, it follows on from the highly-regarded Things We Leave Behind in being set in the modern day, in dealing with mature themes, and in containing contributions from a number of tried-and-tested scenario authors from the last decade or so. What sets it apart though, is that Fear’s Sharp Little Needles contains some twenty-six scenarios, all but one of them, short, sharp stabs of horror—typically each five or six pages in length and thus the length of a magazine scenario or so. All twenty-six can work as one-shots, all but the last can work as convention scenarios, and all but the last require minimum preparation—the latter feature making Fear’s Sharp Little Needles a useful anthology for the Keeper to pull off the shelf at the last minute and have something ready for her gaming group with relatively little effort. In many cases, the scenarios would also work with just the one player and Investigator and the one Keeper. However, with a little more effort, many of the scenarios in the campaign would also work in an ongoing campaign, and in fact, some of them would work with Arc Dream Publishing’s Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and some of them are actually linked together.

The design and the shortness of the scenarios in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles means that none of them are lengthy, sophisticated, or convoluted pieces of investigation. They are direct, straightforward pieces of horror—in other words, ‘sharp, little needles’, each with a quick set-up, a relatively easy mystery to investigate and explain, and a solution. Each follows the same format. This starts with a one-page, full colour illustration as a frontispiece, and an introduction followed by a guide to ‘Involving the Investigators’  and ending with ‘Rewards and Repercussions’. In between which is the scenario itself. The frontispiece includes the scenario’s title, author, and four tags for the scenario’s four elements. So, for Brian Courtemanche’s ‘Do Not Call Up That Which You Cannot Put Down’, these are ‘Sea Monster’, ‘Summoning’, ‘Cover-Up’, and ‘Martin’s Beach’. The ‘Rewards and Repercussions’ covers the possible Sanity rewards and losses for a successful or unsuccessful conclusion of the scenario respectively as well as any consequences. This section is also where the monster and NPC stats are listed. Lastly, some scenarios contain an extra box marked ‘Track Marks’, not only keeping in theme with the anthology’s title, but also making connections between some of the scenarios in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. Not every scenario has a ‘Track Marks’ section, and even those that do can still be run as standalone scenarios rather than being linked in some way.

The anthology opens with the first of two scenarios by Jeffrey Moeller. ‘Separation Anxiety’ concerns a missing biomedical researcher whose investigation into her own condition lead to her being covertly investigated herself and then her disappearance. In tracking her down, the investigators will end up in the hometown of a creepy family in what is nicely traditional style Call of Cthulhu scenario to start the collection with.

Simon Brake’s ‘Undertow’ is more underplayed in its horror in comparison to the other scenarios in the anthology. A new horror novel from Justin Hayes after a gap of a few years has hit the bestseller lists, but its dark tale of a Los Angeles-based actress whose downward spiral into despair appears to be influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos. The question is, just how much does the novelist know about the Mythos? What exactly is going on feels slightly oblique, but the relative lack of lethality means that it would nicely work as a single-Investigator scenario.

Oscar Rios contributes three scenarios to Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. The first is ‘Sins Of My Youth’, in which a seemingly inexplicable attack by a homeless person swathed in manky clothing quickly escalates into something much more personal. Inspired by The Terminator franchise, this is a nasty confrontational set-up which best works when played out as a series of interludes. Oscar Rios’ second scenario, ‘Poetry Night’ takes place at a poetry event at The Lakeside, a coffee shop which sits on Juniper Lake in the Pine County Artist Enclave. What should be a relaxing evening takes a nasty turn as a bad ode draws the attendees to the shores of another lake. Veteran devotees of Call of Cthulhu will recognise familiar elements in the scenario, but the brevity of the format means that the author pleasingly filters these elements down to an espresso rather than perhaps a latte. Oscar Rios’ third scenario, is the penultimate scenario in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. ‘The Winoka Point Research Center’ is really a location-based scenario, being primarily set on an island that is the subject of several urban legends. It is said that it was once home to a government research facility, but this is utterly disavowed and seemingly wiped from history—and as the Investigators get closer to the island, actually increasingly difficult to get ashore. Of course, there is certainly more than a grain of truth to the urban legends and there are some nasty surprises to be found in the Winoka Point Research Center. The issue here really, is player or Investigator motivation, so using this scenario in an ongoing campaign is likely to be challenging.

In ‘Walter’s Final Wish’, the Investigators are either visitors, employees, or residents at the Whispering Willow Retirement Home when everything goes to hell. Initially, Matt Wiseman and Jennifer Thrasher’s scenario has a traditional horror set-up—a zombie outbreak—which gives a fun, familiar feel until it delivers a nasty twist to the ‘Investigators’. Jason Williams’ ‘Whose Fuel Is Men And Stones’ is specifically written to be played by one Investigator and one Keeper and takes that Investigator on holiday to London as the result of an inheritance. The holiday takes an increasingly odd, even weird turn, and then has a nasty twist. This though is balanced against an opportunity for some solid roleplaying interaction between player and Keeper, and so will require fairly careful roleplaying upon the part of the Keeper to work effectively.

Matthew Sanderson contributes two scenarios to Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. The first, ‘Pulvis Et Umbra Sumus’ brings together several Investigators from across the USA to rural Maine. Each is from a large city, each is relatively poor and in debt, but all learn that they are the beneficiaries of a will. Of course, being the beneficiary of a will is never a good thing in Call of Cthulhu and such is the case in this scenario, which places innocents in a terrible situation and forces them to deal with it. In the second scenario, ‘Dissociation’, has the Investigators all aboard a night flight up the USA’s Pacific coast when the aeroplane is cut up, the passengers are sucked out into the open sky, and- This has the Investigators running around like rats in a maze and whilst both scenarios essentially cast the Investigators as victims, ‘Dissociation’ is the more interesting of the two, and definitely has the more powerful opening scene.

‘The Great And Terrible Awto’ by Jo Kreil, begins with a ‘hit and run’ and the victim begging for help. It turns out that he is a scientist working on a revolutionary new automobile engine, but who would want to kill him? The truth is as always, both weird and horrifying and the Investigators will need to rush in order to prevent one hell of a car crash.

‘Spilsbury #9485’ is the first of two scenarios by Adam Gauntlett. It takes its set-up from the idea of the disposing of bodies in large pieces of luggage and then turns that luggage—in this case, a well-travelled steamer trunk which certainly got as far as Istanbul—into an artifact which keeps appearing over and over to spread chaos, horror, and death. Unfortunately, the Investigators are just at the railway station when this happens once again… The Spilsbury of the title refers to the noted pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, and also in the scenario to the Spilsburys, a group dedicated to keeping track of the steamer trunk. The Spilsburys would certainly work as an Investigator group with some development. The scenario also affords the Keeper—or Handler—the opportunity to bring PISCES from the Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game into play, has some entertaining nods to Call of Cthulhu scenarios past, and in general, this has nicely done echoes of Nigel Kneale’s work (or even the television series, Sapphire & Steel). Adam Gauntlett’s second scenario is co-written with Brian M. Sammons, and is a much bloodier, nastier affair. ‘The Special Menu’ would also work well with the Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game as various investigators and agencies are called into to investigate an incident at a Wyse Fries fast food outlet where an employee and a customer have been found dead from having ingested rat poison.

Joe Trier’s ‘Lights Out’ begins as a simple missing persons case—a teenager, depressed after the death of her boyfriend, has disappeared. However, it quickly escalates into murder and arson, and presents the Investiagtors with a potentially difficult dilemma. This scenario moves smartly along and feels not unlike a horror film. Strange murders and missing body parts spur the investigation in Alan Goodall’s ‘Bone Deep’, which again would work with the Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game. A weird medical condition and a winding down funeral home are nicely tied together by new lore for the ghoulish antagonists. In comparison to the previous ‘Lights Out’, this has more of a televisual feel.

However, ‘Do Not Call Up That Which You Cannot Put Down’ has again a filmic tone—in particular, Jaws. Brian Courtemanche’s scenario is the first of two in the anthology to be set at sea and is set aboard a boat whose crew is taking part in the Massachusetts State Fisheries Department’s annual shark-tagging programme. The crew—or Investigators—have already had an encounter ashore with a drunk rambling about sea monsters,  and whilst they will probably have dismissed his ravings, events out at sea prove that they should have listened. Taking place aboard a small boat, it has a claustrophobic feel despite it being at sea and really delivers a horrible dilemma for the Investigators.

In Tyler Hudak’s ‘Hit And Run’, the Investigators witness the eponymous death on the road. That would seem to be that, but then the driver of the other car comes to them for help, telling them that following the incident, he is being hunted. This is a serviceable adventure which has potential as an on-the-road encounter between the larger parts of a campaign.

Andi Newton has two scenarios in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles. The first is the other sea-based scenario in the anthology, ‘Remaking The Hatteras Reef’. This is set on the North Carolina coast where strangely mutated fish have recently begun to be caught and a diver has been badly injured in a fish attack. The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission believes that an old ship, recently scuttled to rebuild the reef, has leaked some sort of contaminants. Getting  the Investigators directly involved may be difficult for a campaign, but with the right characters this has a nice sense of atmosphere and place, and sets up an interesting technical challenge.

The second scenario by Andi Newton is ‘The Tormiss Crd Model Z-17’. The Tormiss CRD Model Z-17 of the title is a successful model of pacemaker which has a perfect record. Now when one is removed from a cadaver at a mortuary, a strange discovery is made—the leads which connect to the heart are full of a clear, viscous fluid instead of the standard electrically conductive material, and then the fluid seems to wriggle… Now a video of the device has been put online and the Investigators are tasked with looking into both what happened and the strange device. Of course, the trail leads back to the manufacturer. This scenario would work well with Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game, but however it is used, it makes nice use of a common medical device.

Most of the scenarios in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles are set in the USA. Of course, many of them can be moved elsewhere, but ‘The Sores’ by Helen Gould is specifically set elsewhere. In the 1990s, a terrible illness swept the small town of Dirgel, Wales, causing weeping sores and, eventually, death. Now, it has returned. Whether as medical personnel, police detectives, or even local residents in the now quarantined town, the investigators must race to find out the cause even as they break out in sores… This is weird and creepy, though the Keeper may want to do a little research on what Welsh towns are like as part of her scenario preparation.

Chad Bowser’s ‘Up Jumped The Reaper’ is another case of a missing person. This time a promising graduate student pursuing a degree in American Folklore. Her research has taken her into the Western North Carolina Mountains and her family is growing concerned about the whereabouts of both her and her boyfriend. Essentially, this is a decent rural bogeyman horror tale. In the earlier ‘Sins Of My Youth’, only the one Investigator is the target, but in Stuart Boon’s ‘Resurrection’, all of the Investigators become the targets. The scenario begins at the rain-sodden funeral of a college friend when they are confronted by someone who looks like another college friend who disappeared years ago and is thought to be dead. The question is, where has he been, and then, why is he targeting the Investigators? This scenario is simply okay.

‘Waiting To Be Born’ by Christopher Smith Adair is a one-location scenario, primarily being set in and around the New Life Fertility Center in the Canyon Lake, Texas area, fifty miles north of San Antonio. The clinic was set up to provide holistic solutions for infertile couples, but the Investigators are asked to look into it by a couple who blame their son’s death on the clinic. Alternative options are suggested, which give stronger reasons for the Investigators to be at the clinic, as perhaps this is not the strongest reason for them to investigate or get into the clinic. That said, when they do, there is a slightly odd feel to the clinic, which turns downright weird once they penetrate its depths. One potential angle or location feels slightly underdeveloped, but overall the scenario really works once the Investigators are inside the facility.

Scott Dorward’s ‘Unland’ takes place at former amusement park which was shut down two decades ago following a terrible scandal. The Investigators will need a good reason to visit the dilapidated site, but once inside find themselves trapped in a horrid funhouse, full of hellishly collapsed rides, mirrors, and strange remnants of former attendees. Ultimately the horror in ‘Unland’ will take a very personal turn for each of the Investigators and so may not be to the taste of every player. Nevertheless, short and creepy. 

At just three pages, ‘The Focus Group’ by Simon Yee, is the shortest scenario in Fear’s Sharp Little Needles at just three pages. Prior to the start of the scenario, the  Investigators were brought together as a play test focus group for a geo-caching, puzzle-solving game called ‘The Cage of Morpheus’, but after a problem with the music, they are brought back in to test the new version. When their smartphones start displaying odd content and things start getting weird, is it the game or is it something else? This is a good scenario if the Keeper wanted to inflict pithecophobia on an Investigator, but it is a short scenario, probably too short to run as a convention scenario.

Glynn Owen Barras’ ‘Ghosts Of Ravenscar’ is another missing persons case, this time in England, at an abandoned village, just south of Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast. The investigators find themselves stalked amongst the ruins and must deal with the monsters if they are to escape. Coming towards the end of the anthology, this suffers from being too similar to earlier adventures and reliant upon a similar set-up. So again, it is okay.

Rounding out Fear’s Sharp Little Needles is ‘Phlebotomy’, Jeffery Moeller’s second contribution to the anthology. Unlike the previous twenty-five scenarios in the book, this is a full length scenario, one which will take multiple sessions to complete. It begins in nasty fashion at the QwikLab Phlebotomy Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio when on an ordinary morning, a patient suddenly begins screaming in rage and pain, before driving a syringe through the eye of a nurse and into her brain, thus killing her. He then explodes into a puddle of goop. This set-up leads into a lengthy and convoluted investigation, perhaps linked to a mysterious patient who was also at the clinic that morning. The problem with the scenario is the difference between the set-up and the investigation. The set-up really works well with one or more of the Investigators at the clinic and the investigation really works with the Investigators as law enforcement or Delta Green agents. However, having the Investigators as the law enforcement or Delta Green agents means that they are unlikely to experience the set-up, and having the Investigators at the set-up makes it harder for them to be law enforcement or Delta Green agents, and so the investigation is going to be a whole lot more challenging. Find a way to balance the issue and this is still a good investigative scenario, throwing the Investigators into a modern celebrity culture, a conspiracy of sorts, and potentially, to a link back to the first scenario in the book, ‘Separation Anxiety’. In fact, the two work well together and perhaps it would have been interesting to see the two pulled out of the anthology and perhaps developed with another scenario or two as a mini-campaign. Ultimately, this scenario is not as good as the author’s ‘Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home’ from Things We Leave Behind, but it is still a very good, well detailed scenario. The nod to the superb Nameless Cults Volume One: Lost in the Lights – A Call of Cthulhu sourcebook of cult horror in the handouts is a nice touch.

Physically, Fear’s Sharp Little Needles is very well presented, the layout being pleasingly uncluttered and easy to read. Reuben Dodd’s colour artwork is excellent, the layout is clean, the maps are clear, and the writing is good. Plus all of the handouts, all of them done in full colour, are repeated at the end of the book.

Whether they are looking for a one-shot, a convention scenario, or something short to add to a campaign, then Fear’s Sharp Little Needles has about everything a Keeper would want. Though some of them will need some development in terms of set-up for a campaign or even just preparation of pre-generated Investigators, there is not a bad scenario amongst the twenty-six entries in the anthology, and some of them are excellent pieces of horror. Each one of the short scenarios in this anthology is clearly presented, easy to understand, and easy to prepare, enabling the Keeper to deliver each one of Fear’s Sharp Little Needles: Twenty-Six Hunting Forays into Horror with the horror they deserve.

Which Witch I

It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.

Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is the first book in the series and is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord. It presents the Witch dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lillith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. Although for use for Labyrinth Lord, it presents several options for the Class, depending upon the Dungeons & Dragons ‘tradition’ that a gaming group follows. So that is Levels One to Thirty and with Race limits or not, so Daughters of Darkness can be run with Labyrinth LordLabyrinth Lord and Advanced Labyrinth Lord, or another retroclone. In addition to the Class, the supplement includes some one-hundred-and-seventy-five spells and rituals for the Witch character Class, almost forty monsters as allies or enemies, and a trio of unique witches for the Player Characters to encounter.

As a Class, the Witch has much in common with the Cleric and the Wizard. Primarily, the Witch is an arcane spellcaster who studies her spells and records them in her spell book or Book of Shadows. However, she may also gain some divine or ritual spells. She is religious in that she honours, follows and worships a patron, a single Goddess, and where for the Cleric, this worship is for good of the community, for the Witch, it is very much personal in nature. Where a Wizard prepares his spells and a Cleric prays for his spells, a Witch prepares them via ritual to her goddess or patron. Whatever her god, goddess, or patron, the Witch does not believe in the afterlife, but sees life as a cycle of life, death, and rebirth—and so cannot be raised from the dead or use the spells Raise Dead or Resurrect. Most Witches are Lawful and are reluctant to cast ‘black’ or evil magic, but can be of any Alignment. Like the Warlock, the Witch’s primary attribute is Charisma and gains more spells and an Experience Point bonus the higher her Charisma is. They see their magic as being older than that of either the Cleric or the Wizard. The Witch also has Occult Powers, the most basic of which is an understanding of healing herbs at Second Level and beyond.

Each Witch, after answering ‘the Call’ to her goddess or patron, follows a Tradition. This can be a Family Tradition, the Witch following her family into or joining a Coven; she can follow a mix of Traditions—an ‘Eclectic’ Tradition; or even be a Solitary Practitioner. The Tradition explored in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is the Mara Tradition. This Tradition serves deities dedicated to Death, Transition, Change, and even Destruction. In terms of Alignment, it can be either Lawful or Chaotic, never Neutral, but a Daughters of Darkness—or Mara—Coven is typically Chaotic and Evil in nature, their primary patron being Lilith, the Queen of the Night. They may revel in, and benefit from, death and destruction, and consort with vampires and demons.

The Mara Tradition adds a number of elements to the base Witch Class. It grants the Witch a Familiar, such as a Crow, Hyena, or Wolf, more as the Witch grows in power. At higher Levels, a Witch can invade the dreams of others and drain their Constitution, polymorph into nightmares, and places curses on others. The Mara Tradition grants access to Necromancy spells, though not the Raise Dead or Resurrect spells.

Artemise Mallor
Second Level Witch
Alignment: Chaotic Evil

STR 10 (+0)
DEX 13 (-1 AC, +1 Missile Attack/Imitative)
CON 15 (+1 HP)
INT 15 (+1 Languages, Literate)
WIS 13 (+1 Saving Throw Modifier)
CHR 17 (-1 Reaction Adjustment, six Retainers, Morale 9)

Armour Class: 7 (Padded)
Hit Points: 3
Weapons: Dagger, Sling, Whip
THAC0 20

Occult Powers
Healing balms (1d4+1/three times per day)

Spells: (First Level) – Allure, Blood Augury, Consecration Ritual, Minor Curse

Familiar: Jackal (+1 Intelligence, +1 Constitution checks)

In terms of spells, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games offers a wide selection. So, at Level One, Bewitch I is a variant of the Charm spell, Blood Augury allows the caster to ask a single question of her own blood, Minor Curse temporarily inflicts a -3 penalty on a target, and Sickly reduces both the victim’s health and constitution. At Level Two, a Witch gets familiar spells such Augury and Cause Light Wounds, but also spells particular to her Class like Ghoulish Hands which the victim’s hands clawed like those of a ghoul, complete with paralysing effect, and Raven Spy for sending a corvid to keep watch on a victim. The spells go all the way up to Eighth Level and really include some meaty spells that are more interesting to roleplay than the simple flashbang of a Wizard’s repertoire. In addition, the Witch also has access to Ritual spells, which gains at every even Level. These are cast as a group, so require more than the one Witch. So, Curse of Lycanthropy lets a coven turn the victim of the spell into a wererat or wereboar or werewolf.

Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games describes nearly forty monsters. Many are drawn from folklore and lore to do with witches—Barghests, Black Cats, Demons, Imps of the Perverse, and more. Others are less obvious in their sources, such as the Demonic Ghūl, a worse type of the Ghoul or Ghast, or the Olitiau, a monstress riding bat. The Lilim are included as another group who claim Lilith as their mother and may be seen as the sisters to the Daughters of Darkness, some of whom claim to be part-demon as a consequence. The bestiary section is rounded out with a selection of vampires. The last section of the supplement describes three unique witches—‘Bloody’ Mary Worth, who haunts mirrors scaring away girls who come looking for their fates; Darlessa is a Queen of Vampires and  former witch; and lastly Lilith herself.

Physically, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is generally tidily presented. It needs an edit in places and some of the illustrations—which do vary in quality and style—are poorly handled. In general, the supplement feels slightly rough around the edges.

There is a great to like in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games. There are some good monsters and lots and lots of spells which should be fun to game when roleplaying a Witch. Yet there is an issue at the heart of the supplement and that is that as much as the Witch Class clicks together easily with the Mara Tradition, there are dissonant differences between the Class and the Tradition. What it boils down to is that the Witch Class as written is not inherently evil, and in fact, the Class states that Witches avoid casting ‘black’ evil magic, yet to get the fullest out of Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games, a Player Character Witch will have to be evil—or at least Chaotic. Some players may have an issue with this, as will some playing groups, and that is understandable. However, for a player wanting to roleplay that type of character, there is a fair amount of detail in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games for him to dig into and bring into his portrayal of his character, whereas a player not wanting to play a Witch from the Mara Tradition, or not wanting to play a Witch of the Mara Tradition who is neither evil or Chaotic, will have a harder time. Similarly, the Labyrinth Lord can easily take the information in this supplement and make an interesting NPC and more.

Overall, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is a good supplement for a player wanting to play a darker, perhaps even evil character in a Dungeons & Dragons-style campaign which allows such characters or for the Game Master wanting to create Witch NPCs for her campaign.

Jonstown Jottings #23: Petty Spirits

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—
What is it?
Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits presents four minor spirits for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is an eight-page, full colour, 911.74 KB PDF.

Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits is well presented and decently written.

Where is it set?
The four petty spirits may be found almost anywhere in Dragon Pass, although some may not be found in the Praxian Wastes.

Who do you play?
Shamans, farmers, and redsmiths will be interested in some of these spirits.

What do you need?
Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits requires both RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary

What do you get?
Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits presents four different, minor spirits which can annoy, interact with, or even be used by the Player Characters. The four are Bronzebiters, Lily’s Eyes,Premonitions, and Seed-Eaters. Each is broken down to cover its ecology and both superstitions and rites related to it, as well as stats.

Bronzebiters are red mouths with black teeth which devour the bones of Air and Storm gods—or bronze. When they attack bronze, it appears pitted and discoloured, or diseased. They are a nuisance, but also a warning to oil, polish, and maintain a weapon. They cannot enter a space sacred to Gustbran, the god of redsmiths, and Praxian shamans will bind them and send them against enemy tribes.

Lily’s Eye spirits are flowers with tiny eyes which grow in the Spirit World before they manifest and grow in the Middle Realm—especially in wild, fertile areas. Oddly, Aldryami consider them to be spies, as do Orlanthi. Lily’s Eye spirits can be plucked, their magical properties being highly valued by shamans and alchemists.

Premonitions are manifestations of the Movement Rune which carry a glimpse of the future from the far Outer Regions of the Spirit World, where boundaries grow vague, and Eternity draws near.

Seed-Eaters are small rural Darkness spirits with long snouts used to rummage through the furrow of plowed fields, plucking up and eating seeds. They like spiritual foods linked to Chaos—strife, disease, and hate. Despite this, they are associated with Mallia, the Goddess of Disease.

On one level, these are four inconsequential spirits which the heroes should not be bothering themselves with, but on another there is scope with each one to add flavour or detail to an adventure or scenario. The presence of Seed-Eaters might suggest the influence of Mallia and thus work as a clue, but the passing of the seasons could be indicated by the annual ceremony to win their favour. Similarly, Red Mouths might be a simple annoyance, but perhaps be the indication of an attack by the shaman from a rival tribe. 

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits gives the Game Master four interesting spirits that can be used to add small, flavoursome details, and serve as clues, challenges, and so on.
No. Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits consists of details too small to really bother about—especially if the Player Characters lack a shaman.
Maybe. Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits are mostly colour, mostly the small details, and some of the four are easier to use than others. 

Friday Fantasy: The Feast on Titanhead

Somewhere on the far reaches of Europe’s north, high amidst its snow-covered mountains lies the Dorag Passage. Recently, a scientific expedition consisting of botanical cataloguers, geographers, geologists, and even a noted alchemist, led by Hastik Melmark, headed into the region. It has been weeks, even months since the expedition has been heard of, and perhaps there are rumours of nightmares and hysteria plaguing the sparsely settled regions near the Dorag Passage. Does the expedition need rescuing or simply checking upon? Is there any truth to the rumours? Perhaps the Player Characters are employed to conduct that check or need to find Hastik Melmark—or another member of the expedition—for reasons of their own. This is the set-up for The Feast on Titanhead, a weird-fantasy, Lovecraftian-tinged scenario of body horror which echoes Death Frost Doom by way of The Thing From Another World. It is also a heavy-metal, grind-core interpretation of the Manifestus Omnivorous.

Published by Games Omnivorous, The Feast on Titanhead is a system agnostic scenario of fantasy horror which would work with any number of Old School Renaissance retroclones. The most obvious one is Lamentations of the Flame Weird Fantasy Roleplay, another is the publisher’s own 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, but with some adjustment it would work with Cthulhu by Gaslight or a darker toned version of Leagues of Gothic Horror for use with Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration  and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age!. Take it away from its European setting and The Feast on Titanhead would work well with Mörk Borg as they share a similar tone and sensibility. Notably though it adheres to the Manifestus Omnivorous, the ten points of which are:
  1. All books are adventures.
  2. The adventures must be system agnostic.
  3. The adventures must take place on Earth.
  4. The adventures can only have one location.
  5. The adventures can only have one monster.
  6. The adventures must include saprophagy or osteophagy.
  7. The adventures must include a voracious eater.
  8. The adventures must have less than 6,666 words.
  9. The adventures can only be in two colours.
  10. The adventures cannot have good taste. (This is the lost rule.)

So yes, The Feast on Titanhead adheres to all ten rules. It is an adventure, it is system agnostic, it takes place on Earth, it has one location, it has the one monster (the others are extensions of it), it includes Osteophagy—the practice of animals, usually herbivores, consuming bones, it involves a voracious eater, the word count is not high—the scenario only runs to twenty-eight pages, and it is presented in two colours—in this case, black and grey. Lastly, The Feast on Titanhead does lack good taste. Be warned, this scenario is one of gut churning—in some cases, literally—horror, bodily fluids, and madness. To that end, the scenario includes a sense of ‘Contagious Pyschosis’, a fairly brutal countdown and timing mechanism which drives the Player Characters into insanity and the maw of the monster at the heart of the scenario. This is quite a blunt mechanic and if the roleplaying mechanics that the Game Master is running The Feast on Titanhead with has sanity or madness mechanics of its own, she may want to substitute those instead of using the ones given.

The play of The Feast on Titanhead is actually quite straightforward. The Player Characters will ascend to and Dorag Passage, and after a nasty encounter with weirdly behaving beasts of burden, they descend into a series of passages and rooms uncovered by Hastik Melmark’s expedition. Here in a strange, horridly fetid and organically bloody complex they are likely encounter the former members of the expedition, their possessions, signs of madness, odd energy, and vomit-inducing monsters. The encounters get odder the deeper they penetrate into the complex until they get to the centre of the complex and the scenario, where they can confront the inhuman force behind what is going on. That is, if they get there. Although The Feast on Titanhead presents two options in terms of motivation for the Player Characters to get to the adventuring location, but once inside, there is a dearth of clues or hooks for them to find which would drive them onwards and pull deeper into the complex—though there is the possibility that a Player Character could be snapped up and taken there already, hopefully motivating to rescue them. Balanced against this is the scenario’s weirdness and its ‘Contagious Pyschosis’ which may actually drive the Player Characters to flee before they learn anything.

Much of the problem in The Feast on Titanhead is that it only names three NPCs. Two are members of the expedition, one being Hastik Melmark, whilst the third is a treasure hunter. The latter is left up to the Game Master to develop and decide what he is going to do and how he reacts with the Player Characters—the advice being rather slight. Of the expedition, there is relatively little sign, no real clues as to what they discovered, and so the Player Characters never quite have anyone to actually care about or emphasise with. Ultimately, the Player Characters will only actually learn or gain hints as to what is going on if they penetrate into the complex’s furthest reaches and defeat the monster at its core—and that is a difficult prospect.

Physically, The Feast on Titanhead is a black and grey book a sperate card cover. The map is on the inside of the card cover and the internal illustrations reflect the heavy-metal, grind-core interpretation of the Manifestus Omnivorous manifesto. It needs a slight edit in places, but is overall quite a sturdy product, being done on heavy paper and card stock.

The Feast on Titanhead is short and brutal, it being possible to play through the scenario—and win or lose (even if they survive)—in a single session. It needs fleshing out somewhat in terms of Player Character motivation and drive to delve deeper, and if played as part of a campaign, any failure upon their part—again, if they survive—may have a profound effect upon the future of that campaign. In need of some development upon the part of the Game Master, The Feast on Titanhead probably works best as a heavy-metal, grind-core, bloody body horror grindhouse style one-shot.

Miskatonic Monday #41: A Wealth of Knowledge

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

—oOo—

Name: A Wealth of Knowledge

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Leith Brownlee
Setting: 1930s Miskatonic University 

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 1.22 MB eighteen-page, full-colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Somethings have a greater thirst for knowledge than you do. 
Plot Hook: When your need to find a book to pass an exam is greater then worrying about missing students and academia, are your priorities straight?Plot Development: An impending examination, a better stocked new library, missing friends, an all too friendly librarian, and a deadly book depository.Plot Support: A tight plot and a new Old One.

Pros
# Easy to adapt to other periods
# Easy to set in Lovecraft Country
# Easy to add to a Miskatonic University campaign
# Straightforward plot 
# Forewarns the danger of reading too much

Cons# Linear plot
# Needs a better edit
# No maps
# No illustrations
# No NPC write-ups
# Underdeveloped plot

Conclusion
# Easy to adapt to other settings
# Possible addition to a Miskatonic University campaign# Underdeveloped and linear

Your Loop Starter

As its title suggests, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is an introductory boxed set for Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was. Published by the Swedish publisher, Free League Publishing, this is the roleplaying game based on the paintings of Simon Stålenhag, in which young teenagers explore the Sweden of an alternate childhood. It is rural small-town Sweden, but one in which its streets, woods and fields, and skies and seas are populated by robots, gravitic tractors and freighters, strange sensor devices, and even creatures from the long past. To the inhabitants of this landscape, this is all perfectly normal—at least to the adults. To the children of this landscape, this technology is a thing of fascination, of wonderment, and of the strangeness that often only they can see. In Tales from the Loop, it is often this technology that is the cause of the adventures that the children—the player characters—will have away from their mundane lives at home and at school.

Specifically, Tales from the Loop is set on Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren, which lies to the west of Stockholm. This is the site of the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics—or ‘The Loop’—the world’s largest particle accelerator, constructed and run by the government agency, Riksenergi. In addition, the Iwasaka corporation of Japan has perfected self-balancing machines, leading to the deployment of robots in the military, security, industrial, and civilian sectors and these robots are employed throughout the Loop and its surrounds. Meanwhile, the skies are filled with ‘magnetrine vessels’, freighters and slow liners whose engines repel against the Earth’s magnetic field, an effect only possible in northern latitudes. There are notes detailing the particulars of life in Sweden in the 1980s, but the culture is radically different—especially in terms of its (almost Socialist) government—to that of the USA and so Tales from the Loop includes an American counterpart to The Loop, this time located under Boulder City in the Mojave Desert in Nevada, near the Hoover Dam. Here the particle accelerator is operated by the Department of Advanced Research into Technology and there is an extensive exchange programme in terms of personnel and knowledge between the staff of both ‘loops’. Similarly, the description of Boulder City and its Loop include plenty of notes on life in the 1980s and as much as the two cultures are different, there are plenty of similarities between the two.

Since its publication in 2017, Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the ’80s That Never Was has won many awards and Tales from the Loop itself has been developed into a television series to view on Amazon Prime . The Tales from the Loop Starter Set is released in time to coincide with the release of the television series and is designed introduce roleplayers to the world of the roleplaying game—whether they have watched the television series and want to try Tales from the Loop or are experienced roleplayers wanting to try something different. It comes with everything necessary for the Game Master to present—and both Game Master and players alike—to roleplay a mystery within the Loop over the course of an evening or two.

The Tales from the Loop Starter Set comes in a surprisingly sturdy box. Open up and the first thing you see is a set of Tales from the Loop dice—some ten in all, with the number six on each of them replaced with the symbol for Riksenergi, the Swedish government agency which built and ran the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics or ‘The Loop’. Underneath that is a double-sided map of the region around the Loop. Roughly A3 in size, this depicted the region of Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren on the main side, whilst on the other is marked the area around Boulder City, Nevada. The map is full colour and printed on thick paper. Below that there are five sheets, one for each of the five pre-generated player characters. Marked ‘Kid 1’ through ‘Kid 5’, they are again double-sided and include a Popular Kid, a Weirdo, a Jock, a Computer Geek, and a Bookworm. All five are part of the same gang and have connected relationships, and they have background and illustration on the front and the stats on the back. Like Tales from the Loop, they give suggestions which pertain to both the Swedish and the American Loops. Here this consists of names, so the player character Frederik is given the name Chad when playing in the American setting.

Lastly, there are two books in the Tales from the Loop Starter Set. These are the ‘Rules’ and ‘The Recycled Boy’ booklets. The former presents the game’s rules and explains how Tales from the Loop is played, and is marked, ‘Read This First’. The latter contains the scenario and is marked ‘For The Gamemaster Only’. The ‘Rules’ covers everything in four chapters—‘Welcome to the Loop’, ‘The Age of the Loop’, ‘The Kids’, and ‘Trouble’. The first of these, ‘Welcome to the Loop’, introduces the setting of Tales from the Loop and explains what roleplaying is. It does decent job and is backed up in the examples of play throughout the book. It also gives and explains the ‘Principles of the Loop’, essentially the six fundamental elements of the setting which set it apart from other roleplaying games. These are that ‘Your home town is full of strange and fantastic things’, ‘Everyday life is dull and unforgiving’, ‘Adults are out of reach and out of touch’, ‘The Land of the dangerous, but kids will not die’, ‘The game is played scene by scene’, and ‘The world is described collaboratively’. These nicely sum up the world of the Loop, that Kids will explore a world just outside their homes which is full of scientific marvels and mysteries, one that the Adults are unlikely to really appreciate, being wrapped up in their problems and dramas—problems and dramas which are likely to have an impact on the Kids on an ongoing basis. Although dangerous—the Kids can be robbed, beaten up, mocked, and so on, they cannot be killed (though they can be forced to leave the game due to trauma). The collaborative element of play means that not only can the Game Master set scenes, she can ask her players to do so too, and she can also ask the players to describe and add elements to the setting too. What this means is that Tales from the Loop is a game in which the story is played out together, some of the setting elements are worked out together as well.

 ‘The Age of the Loop’ describes the setting for the Swedish and the American Loops. As such, anyone familiar with the contents of Tales from the Loop will recognise the much shorter descriptions given here. Here though it sets the scene for the scenario to come rather than the full game, so is done in broader strokes. For anyone new to roleplaying or new to Tales from the Loop, perhaps what is interesting here are the cultural and political differences between Sweden and the U.S.A. Of the two, the Swedish Loop is the more interesting because it is different, the outlook and attitudes of its inhabitants presenting more of a roleplaying challenge because of the differences. Essentially, despite the presence of the Loop making many things different, the American Loop still feels too familiar from film and television, so too easy to fall into clichés.

The shortest chapter is ‘The Kids’. This describes what the various elements on the character sheets are—age, attributes, skills, Luck points, items, Drives, Problems, Pride, Relationships, and Conditions—and how they affect game play. Each Kid has four attributes—Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind—and each of these has three associated skills. Both are rated between one and five. Luck points are used to reroll dice and younger Kids have more Luck points than older Kids as they are simply luckier. Items can dice if appropriate to the situation, a Drive pushes a Kid to act and to investigate mysteries, a Problem is a personal thing related to a Kid’s home life and will get him into Trouble, Pride is what a Kid values and can get a Kid into Trouble as well as help him, and Relationships are between the other Kids in the gang as well as another NPC. So Dave or Isak might have the Drive of ‘I am fascinated by self-balancing machines, I’ve always wanted a robot of my own’, the Problem of ‘My parents are getting a divorce, but my dad hasn’t moved out yet’, and the Pride of ‘I know how that works’. Dave’s item might be an electronics toolkit. All of the various elements of a Kid are clearly explained and easy to understand.

Lastly, almost a third of the ‘Rules’ is devoted to the last chapter—‘Troubles’. This explains how the dice work and the dice pool mechanics in both Tales from the Loop and Tales from the Loop Starter Set. Known as the ‘Year Zero’ mechanics, dice pools are formed from a combination of a Kid’s attribute and appropriate skill, or just the latter if no skill applies. The player rolls the Tales from the Loop dice and if a six—or a Riksenergi symbol—comes up, the Kid succeeds. Failures can complicate situations or impose a Condition upon a Kid, like Upset or Exhausted, but a player can push a roll and get a reroll, though this is not without its consequences. Typically, only one Riksenergi symbol is needed for a Kid to succeed, but more challenging Trouble may require more. Sometimes extra successes can be used to add further narrative elements to play, such as to find out more information about a machine and its maker, not only beat a bully, but upset him, and so forth. Lastly, the ‘Troubles’ explains how the game’s skills work and give some bonus effects for those extra Successes.

‘The Recycled Boy’ is half the length of ‘Rules’ and contains the scenario of the same name. It presents a four or five scene mystery which can be played out in a session or two. Written to be run in either the Swedish or the American Loop, it concerns a fellow student at the pre-generated characters’ school who has begun acting oddly. Its plot feels suitably eighties, being too dissimilar to films of the period, though perhaps the title of the scenario might be a bit knowing. Either way, it is a good first scenario for Tales from the Loop, presenting a problem which can be best solved through roleplaying rather than other means and it would be easy for a Game Master to add it to her campaign.

Physically, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is well presented. Notably both books are presented on glossy paper rather than the matt paper of the Tales of the Loop core rulebook. The package as a whole does need a slight edit in places, but throughout, is illustrated with Simon Stålenhag’s fantastic artwork. Everything is of a high quality and presents an attractive product, especially if you have not looked at a roleplaying book before.

However, there is a problem with the Tales from the Loop Starter Set and it is very simple. There is just the one scenario. What this means is that there is not the easy, next step to take after playing ‘The Recycled Boy’. Now of course, there is the Tales of the Loop core rulebook and Our Friends the Machines & Other Mysteries, but another scenario would support the continued interest of the Game Master and her players more immediately rather than forcing them to cast around for their next scenario. As good as the scenario is in Tales from the Loop Starter Set, it is difficult not to compare it with other recent starter or beginner boxed sets and be somewhat disappointed because they offer more value for money. Similarly, if a gaming group already plays Tales from the Loop, then the Tales from the Loop Starter Set only provides the one scenario—though one which is only available in the Tales from the Loop Starter Set—and so does not offer as much value for money as it could. That said, it comes with another set of dice for the game and good maps of each Loops, as well as the scenario.

Yet the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is a solid, well-presented package. As an introduction to the alternate, fantastic world of Simon Stålenhag’s artwork and the roleplaying game based on it, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is enjoyably accessible and attractive, presenting a good first step into an eighties that never were.

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