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Ambient Environments - Mi-Go Laboratory
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2014 22:56:25
Soldiers armed with automatic weapons and grenades throw down against strange insect-like monsters from outer space. That’s what the title promises, and that’s what the audio delivers. I like this track a lot, even though it’s very similar to “Spec Ops vs. Otherworldly Being/Large Entity,” with different monster sounds. The only downside to this track, as with the other “Spec Ops” track, is that the volume level you need to make the track feel right could interfere with the actual gaming going on at the table. You’ll have to sort that out yourself if you use the track, but I can definitely say that’s the only impediment to me using it in an appropriate fight scene.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Mi-Go Laboratory
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Ambient Environments - Spec Ops Team vs Otherworldly Being
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2014 22:47:12
Play this track, and you’ll find yourself right in the middle of a firefight between a heavily-armed team (machine guns, the other kind of RPGs) and some kind of monster. I’m not sure who’s doing all that screaming — bystanders or the unluckier spec ops personnel. The monster’s roars are pretty evocative. The flavor is just right. The downside is that the track is very busy and noisy, and could overwhelm the gaming going on in the foreground if you play it too loud. But if you play it too softly, it sounds unrealistic or far away. I’m not sure how to resolve that dilemma. By the way, the catalog description identifies this track as “Spec Ops Team vs Otherworldly Being,” but the ID3 tags call it “Spec Ops vs Large Entity.” A little confusing.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Spec Ops Team vs Otherworldly Being
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Ambient Environments - Skyscraper Under Construction (night)
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2014 22:41:55
This track is not the same as “Skyscraper Under Construction (abandoned),” which I have also reviewed, but it’s not a whole lot different. The sound of wind is more subdued in this track, and there are more noises. In particular, you can hear sounds that strike me as heavy footsteps, as of construction workers. However, there are no jackhammers, piledrivers, no compressed-air hammers or screwdrivers. It doesn’t really sound like there is much construction going on here, which reduces this track’s value in comparison with “Skyscraper Under Construction (abandoned).” I don’t really see a need for both in a soundscape library. I’d probably opt for this one over the “(abandoned)” version.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Skyscraper Under Construction (night)
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Ambient Environments - Skyscraper Under Construction (abandoned)
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2014 22:28:23
This track — which should not be confused with “Skyscraper Under Construction (night)” — doesn’t do much for me, but it does deliver what it promises. Mostly you hear the sounds of wind, of metal striking metal (like rivets falling on girders), and a few quasi-musical tones that could be distressed metal swaying in the wind or even car horns from down below. If you need to stage some kind of monster/killer hunt in an unfinished skyscraper, this track will do a good job of setting the mood. Don’t take the “under construction” part of the title too seriously. There are no sounds of active construction in the track.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Skyscraper Under Construction (abandoned)
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Ambient Environments - Submarine Interior
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2014 22:08:07
This track delivered exactly what the name led me to expect: white noise (as of engines), pinging, and the occasional sounds of metal striking metal, or metal bending. The only thing missing is people. This submarine sounds like it’s deserted — which makes the track kind of spooky. Great for a “monster aboard the submarine” type of scene, or the exploration of an abandoned submarine; not so great for a wartime scene where the PCs are the submarine crew.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Submarine Interior
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Ambient Environments - Foreign Marketplace
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2014 18:30:24
Despite the vague and unfortunate "foreign" in the title, this track does a good job of capturing an eclectic bazaar. Vendors haggle with customers, babies cry, donkeys bray, birds squawk, and a general hubbub immerses listeners in the marketplace. This would be a good track to use, for example, during the opening scene of the "Murder in Baldur's Gate" adventure or any other time such a market is featured. The soundscape is flexible enough to serve in fantasy, pulp, or modern games equally well.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Foreign Marketplace
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Ambient Environments - Dwarven City (with music)
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 14:05:16
I wrote the following review of the original "Dwarven City" soundscape from Ambient Environments: "This does not sound like a very friendly place! 'Duergar City' might be more like it. Barking dogs give you the sense that you're not really welcome here. Gruff voices, soft cries, and the sounds of pickaxes working away at ore deposits might give you the sense of slave labor. The track is pretty well done and relatively non-intrusive, even with the voices. But I don't see myself using it that often, unless the PCs at my table get captured by dark dwarf slavers or something like that." This product is the same track enhanced with orchestral-type music. The music is very well done, and gives the whole thing a very cinematic flair. I would definitely be more likely to use the "with music" version. But the tone is still ominous, befitting a place where the workers are slaves or the entire community is very much down on its luck. Still, the music adds enough depth and texture for me to give this one an extra star compared to the non-music version.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Dwarven City (with music)
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Ambient Environments - Desert Winds
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 13:56:03
This track is dominated, of course, by the sound of wind. It mostly sounds like someone left a microphone out during a sandstorm—which, of course, is the point of the track. In the background, you can barely hear some instrumental music with a Middle Eastern feel. The overall effect is very nice, though I could stand for the musical accents to be louder. The track is a good addition to the Ambient Environments catalog, but there is no "wow" factor to it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Desert Winds
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Ambient Environments - Dead Swamp
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 01:19:27
There is a striking mismatch between the title of this track, "Dead Swamp," and the first sounds you hear, which are sounds of life (crickets and frogs). In fact, crickets and frogs, along with birds and some other vague sounds that might be footfalls, are mostly what you hear throughout the entire track. The sense of "swampiness" comes only from the bubbling sounds you hear during the seventh minute of this track, and from a splash in the ninth minute—a splash that might be an alligator sliding into the water. If you listen to the track thinking "swamp," you hear a swamp. If you don't have that preconceived notion, you could be on an oilfield, out in the prairie, next to a placid lake, and so on. The name doesn't fit, but you can use the soundscape to good effect for a living ecosystem near just about any body of fresh water.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Dead Swamp
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Ambient Environments - Cult Worshippers
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 01:07:11
This track starts out very creepy, almost scary, with very deeply-pitched vocals that sound like they might come from some otherworldly entity. Then the track goes quiet, lapsing into a long stretch that sometimes gets near to silence but mostly exhibits very quiet vocals and ethereal sounds. It remains eerie, especially when all the sounds but the voices stop and you continue to hear this ominous chanting. Honestly, this one is almost too spooky and fairly disturbing—which means, I think that evokes exactly the feeling it's supposed to evoke.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ambient Environments - Cult Worshippers
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Civil War Battle - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2014 00:54:56
Rifle and canon fire, the shouts of soldiers, and even the occasional sounding of a bugle combine to very effectively evoke the sense of the 19th-century US Civil War. The only thing that detracts from the scene is the occasional whistling, which comes off as a tad too jaunty for the scene. Also, the volume level seems to be noticeably lower than that of other Ambient Environments soundscapes. At any rate, this soundscape meets its goal very admirably.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Civil War Battle - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
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Car Chase - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 18:59:11
This tracks jumps right into the middle of the action—as it should, for a background loop—with a car engine running at a pretty high RPM, followed shortly by the squealing of tires. There's even some breaking glass and such to show the speeding car's effect on its environment. It's a fun track that certainly puts listeners right inside the car, though it's up to you and the story whether that's the getaway car or the car in hot pursuit. There's quite a lot of gunfire in the track, which actually limits your options a bit. Some of the gunfire is rather high-pitched, almost implying "laser bullets," so you could probably use this track in a near-future chase as well as a modern chase. You can't take this back very far into the past, though. Even the 1920s (think Call of Cthulhu) would not support cars that sound like this. I did not notice any sirens in the soundscape, so you're not locked into having the police involved in the chase. I think I'd like to hear a version without the gunfire, but otherwise, I consider this a great track for modern urban scenarios, including superhero games.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Car Chase - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
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Burning Building - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 18:48:35
Flames—which sound surprisingly similar to river rapids—surround the listener, as the sounds of falling wooden beams and shattering glass let you know that the building is in bad shape. The presence of shattering glass does limit your options somewhat in the time periods or kinds of buildings you can use with this track. For example, it might fit with a fantasy-medieval cathedral, palace, or wizardry school, but not with the town mill or farmer Grizzle's barn (to hearken back to one of the earliest scenarios I used to introduce D&D to my older son). All in all, I think a modern setting feels like a better fit. Of course, you could also play this track in the background while playing Flash Point; gaming background loops don't have to be just for RPGs.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Burning Building - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
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ICONS: The Nemesis Crisis
Publisher: Ad Infinitum Adventures
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 13:11:36
If you enjoy comics series along the lines of Marvel's "Secret Wars" or "Contest of Champions," DC's "Salvation Run," or BOOM!'s "Deathmatch," you should be able to have a blast with "The Nemesis Crisis." The storyline revisits some well-worn ground—cosmic being "kidnaps" metahumans for a sort of contest—but with enough distinctiveness in the cosmic antagonist's motivation to keep the story interesting. It's particularly notable that author and artist Dan Houser includes guidance for giving the adventure a tone appropriate to the Golden, Silver, Iron, or Modern Age in comics.

It's not quite right to call "The Nemesis Crisis" an "adventure" in the traditional sense. By design, it's really more of a framework for an adventure. Dan gives the GM a lot of information about the antagonist's and deuteragonist's motivations, which of course is absolutely critical. Beyond this, the meat of the plot information for GMs comes in the form of a timeline describing what happens if the player characters do nothing. Since the whole scenario stretches out over a week of in-game time, this is a good format. What it lacks is sufficient information for inexperienced or harried GMs to know how the deuteragonist will respond if the PCs do not remain idle, which of course they won't. As a GM with little prep time and, frankly, below-average improvisational skills, I would have appreciated an additional sentence or two for each entry in the timeline, something like "If foiled, [deuteragonist] will …" This isn't a damning weakness, but I'd call it a significant missed opportunity.

Production values vary depending on what you're looking at. Dan's artwork is, as always, evocative and entertaining. As a writer, Dan's strength is in conceptualizing stories, not in wordsmithing. The prose has a rushed quality to it. Grammatical errors, typos, and such are not infrequent. Some of this can be written off as a "conversational tone," but some can create annoyance or confusion. For example, the cosmic antagonist is called "Justicar," and while the name clearly derives from the English word "justiciar," it's not clear whether the spelling "Justicar" is an intentional variation or a mere misspelling. Also, for somebody so interested in justice, it's laughable that Justicar at one point refers to "not guilty" as a "sentence." There's also a disruptive column-wrap error in Derecha's stat block. But these things are all GM-facing, and only affect the aesthetic experience of reading the module, not the play experience at the table.

"The Nemesis Crisis" is envisioned as a "big crossover event," like DC's "Forever Evil" or Marvel's "Original Sin" (to cite two recent examples). To get this "big crossover event" feel, you'll need a very large selection of supervillains, and you may want to have your players adopt the rules of multiple superheroes, either in big teams where players run multiple characters at once, or in successive "meanwhile, elsewhere on the planetoid" scenes. Therefore, the "event" works best if you have easy access to Hero Pack 5 (the Hero Pack volume with the most substantial supervillain population) and/or the Villainomicon. By the way, "The Nemesis Crisis" is written with the original ICONS rules set in mind, but it's not hard to adjust on the fly to the Assembled Edition—in fact, I don't think you'll even notice the difference, except for the way qualities are written.

In sum, "The Nemesis Crisis" is an ambitious scenario that can easily bring the "big crossover event" feel to an ICONS gaming table. It's well worth the price, and worth the time to run, for what it pays you back in fun. It does, however, require an additional source of supervillains to be most effective.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ICONS: The Nemesis Crisis
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Biomechanical Satellite Interior - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
Publisher: Ambient Environments
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2014 11:35:25
Right off the bat, the "bio-" is implied by a wet, squishy sound and the "-mechanical" by a constant low-pitched thrum. Later on, the thrum is joined by beeps that sound like they might be coming from some kind of control panel. I think I hear footfalls as well. I picture a group of space travelers walking through muck on a spaceship they've boarded, only to realize to their horror that the muck is living tissue. The track suggests a sort of creepier version of certain scenes from the Star Trek: The Next Generation pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint." I could easily imagine using this track for certain kinds of CthulhuTech, Delta Green, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr. Who scenarios. If you're setting an RPG scene in a venue where creepy biomass and high technology meet, consider using this track to add immersion.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Biomechanical Satellite Interior  - from the RPG & TableTop Audio Experts
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