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The Valley of Frozen Tears
Publisher: Ancient Awakenings Publications
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/22/2013 06:11:05

As well-described by earlier reviewers, this world-segment can be slotted-in readily to many fantasy campaigns, with its nicely-detailed history, town maps, hidden history, and fascinating new creatures, the latter especially a reminder of the dangers of the wild outdoors. This is a setting that another Ancient Awakenings product, "Dryden: Hero or Horror" could be quite easily added to, as a similarly untamed, largely instinctive, race of beings. Sadly though, the promised supplementary materials on the variant elf race of the Valley, the Eldalar or Ice Elves, seem never to have been published, and the Ancient Awakenings website has now apparently vanished (mid 2013).

Perhaps a little more might have been made of the Valley. Some variant architecture could have been used to help better deal with the temperature extremes suggested (typically below -20° F/-30° C on a winter's day, the winter season lasting six months), and the presumed, if unspecified, level of snowfall resulting from an average 40% precipitation-days year-round. Its location in the far south of a continent provides the climatic situation, yet no mention is made of the extremely variable day-length such a location should create, around or polewards of 60° latitude - assuming, as seems the case, the real-world Earth as its basis. The vegetation and options for arable and pasture farming during the four-month summer seem inconsistent with a sub-arctic region as well, along with - rather contrary to the book's title - the never-freezing 100 miles/150 kilometres-across inland sea, the Lake of Tears. Although this freshwater Lake has a small salt content, this would not be enough to stop it at least partly freezing in a typical Valley winter, given that coastal-bay seawater can start to freeze over below about 10° F/-12° C. Of course, such "problems" can always be overcome in a fantasy land by invoking a magical effect, or even a subterranean heat-source, but this has not been done here, which seems something of an oversight.

Overall though, these quibbles do not detract too substantially from this otherwise excellently-presented work, and its astonishingly low price.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Valley of Frozen Tears
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ImagiNation
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/22/2013 06:07:11

"Imagi Nation" contains a clutch of good, interesting ideas for a novel RPG set in the modern-day British Isles, whose main island has been beset by a cloud of dream-nightmare effects. The "Description System" game mechanics are innovative, as detailed by earlier reviewers here, although as the adjectives and adverbs used in it must be converted to number bonuses to a D6 roll for game-use, the difference to the commoner numerical-skills-based RPGs is less than it might seem initially. The book has plenty of mysterious atmosphere about it, including flavour paragraphs presented as "postcards from the front" and illustrations, all of which is useful for players and GMs alike.

However, GMs have a lot of work ahead to turn the ideas here into a proper RPG campaign. Some examples. Remarkably little information is given on the origins and nature of the dreams-become-real effect, and how it may be countered by the PCs. There are no maps of where things were, and still might be, across the British Isles, a particularly surprising omission in an otherwise well-illustrated book. PCs must possess creative talents and suffer from an active mental illness to combat the effect on the mainland, yet these key talents are allowed from a quite restrictive list of arts-related options only. For instance, architects and sculptors are there, but not equally creative mathematicians or builders, a distinction in need of some justification in game terms.

Overall, the concepts presented are fascinating, and could be readily adapted to different times, settings and game-systems, perhaps most workably for a greatly-reduced physical area affected. Had this book been presented as such a background setting for other RPGs, I'd have rated it more positively. As it is, it's too much of a players' guide, with too little help for GMs, to be classed as a full RPG. With regret, because I do like the ideas here, I've marked it down accordingly.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
ImagiNation
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FREE Inked Adventures Square Dungeon Tiles 4x4 Rooms Bonus Pack
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/15/2013 12:10:49

Very much a free sample pack for the main Inked Adventures' Square Dungeon Tiles set, the three chambers here show clearly the general format and appearance of the range's design, without duplicating any tiles from it, exactly what's needed to judge whether this is what you require, as well as worth downloading in its own right to enhance the full set. The method of concealing unnecessary exits with wall counters is similarly demonstrated, while the inclusion of the main set's information booklet is an equally helpful addition.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
FREE Inked Adventures Square Dungeon Tiles 4x4 Rooms Bonus Pack
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Inked Adventures Encounter Lairs 4: Barrow Tomb
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/15/2013 12:09:01

Another fine product in the Inked Adventures' "Encounter Lairs" range, if one that feels a little cramped for space. The stone-walled, partly looted, Barrow Tomb is, as ever, beautifully drawn, with the expected degree of hand-designed detailing from this company, and the figures, by Dave Wears (better known in places such as the Cardboard Warriors Forum as "Kiladecus"), are excellently-drafted too. Eleven minis are warrior skeletons, three others more spectral (one of which, the Undead King of the scenario-suggestion paragraph, is rather lich-like), with three skeletons having optional spear and axe heads to fit to their polearms for more variety. All except the King are plate-armoured, which may reduce their usefulness for some campaign settings, and indicates the need for a strongly-armed party to overcome them.

Despite all the figure bases with the pack having internal stone-floor flagging only, the scenario-suggestion implies the need to defeat the skeleton force in the field first, leaving the Barrow as the focus for the adventure's climax, perhaps tackling no more than the three "spectrals", or the King and a couple of surviving skeletons inside or just outside it, say. For the Barrow's size, this would be likely a useful basis to work from in designing a game with it, although different figures would open up alternatives, while still using the Barrow setting.

Even with a reduced population, the squashed-in nature of the Barrow PDF page remains, as one end and the extracted soil from the broken entrance extend outside the borders of the surface tile surrounding the whole, while the other end barely squeezes inside that border, losing some of the detail on the small bat-winged statue there in the process. I found the grassy background for the Barrow tile printed out too dark as well, not helped by the heavy black tile border, and felt a slightly larger grassed area without that border would have made the whole seem less forced to fit. While a barrow should seem claustrophobic, the world beyond shouldn't, so a little further tweaking here would have been beneficial.

Overall though, the Barrow interior and figures are delightful, and a particularly thoughtful touch with the package was providing one page with an outline plan of the Barrow at reduced scale, leaving space below for a personal scenario design to be added.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures Encounter Lairs 4: Barrow Tomb
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Inked Adventures Encounter Lairs 2 Templar Chapel
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/15/2013 12:07:01

In style, perhaps the closest match between that of the Inked Adventures' dungeon floorplans and any paper miniatures, is the similarly quirkily hand-drawn "Imperfect People" range by Dryw the Harper (the others of which are available free via the Cardboard Warriors Forum). Here eleven "Templars" and their "Bishop" are provided, all at least slightly different to one another, each with a separate octagonal base styled to match the Inked Adventures' flagstone floors. They're a delightful group, and distinctively non-denominational, very much in-keeping with their Chapel (despite its cruciform plan).

The one-page Chapel itself is an excellent Inked Adventures creation, with enough floor and wall decoration to add interest without seeming too fussy. A font and a lectern - intriguingly both wall-facing, suggestive of somewhat secretive, or at least unusually private, practices - are set in the left and right alcoves, while much of the apsidal end furthest from the entrance, is filled by a large, hooded & robed stone idol, bearing a golden mallet, and NO altar, all good hooks for the imagination to work upon. The broad, angled opening opposite the apse and idol has no doors fitted, nor are there any windows, which makes this Chapel very flexible, whether set-up alone outdoors or underground, as a crypt to another building, or as part of a dungeon complex.

A brief paragraph sketches one possible background to the Order and their Chapel, which, dependent on what definition of "chaos" is preferred, could make this a sanctuary to escape to, or a threat to be eradicated. Either way, wonderful!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures Encounter Lairs 2 Templar Chapel
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Inked Adventures Encounter Lairs 1 The Demon Chamber
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/15/2013 12:05:27

This is the next logical step on from producing dungeon floorplans with furniture as counters or models, or already added as parts of the drawing; providing scale paper miniatures to go with them, ready to print out. The floorplan here is a superbly-drafted Chamber on two levels in Inked Adventures' signature hand-crafted style, a room which has clearly seen action already. One set of stone steps down is broken, while the blast and splatter lines, many radiating from the centre of the double-ringed summoning circle, suggest at least a couple of previous "oops" moments! Banners on the walls, scattered books, scrolls, papers, chests and even a dropped staff on the upper level, with an equipment table, bookcase and low wooden screen-fence along the lip of the top floor, all suggest somewhere often in-use for highly nefarious purposes.

The figures, from Moss Games, are an ideal accompaniment: a human summoner and his two pasty-faced, nervous, assistants, with a selection of three different types of summonable, monocular demonic creatures, from hordes of small spider-like beasts, through lone bat-winged eyeballs with spider legs, to one large, tentacled eyeball, all with separate octagonal bases designed using Inked Adventures' typical stone-flagged flooring. A flavour paragraph further suggests these figures' possible game usage.

Unusually for inked Adventures, the three doorways (two on the upper level for a hasty exit stage left or right) are already in-place as part of the Chamber. While that might not suit everyone's taste, it means the whole room is complete on one printout page, and stand-up doors could always be placed over the printed ones. Overall, this is a pretty well perfect single-room adventure package.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures Encounter Lairs 1 The Demon Chamber
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Inked Adventures: 3D Furniture For Dungeons
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/15/2013 12:03:37

An interesting collection of basic dungeon furniture paper models, the natural evolution from the 2D counters available in other "Inked Adventures" dungeon products, while retaining that essential style. Even the "boxy" look of the finished pieces is in-keeping with that quirkily simple-seeming appearance. Unusually for such 3D items, underside drawings are included for the beds, chairs, benches, chests and bookcases, so these can be set up at ANY angle, a very thoughtful touch. A little variation might have helped in places (with the two identical sets of bookshelves, and especially the six beds), while a few score lines could have been better indicated, but this is a good little set. Be nice to see more items like this from Inked Adventures too - sarcophagi, altars, workbenches, cupboards, imposing chairs, etc., etc!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures: 3D Furniture For Dungeons
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Tactical Paper 001
Publisher: Dakkar Unlimited
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 08:09:01

Good to see Dakkar continuing their policy of producing "A"-frame paper minis linked to specific scenario products from their near-future, adult-themed, "Hot Chicks: The RPG". Others of their figure sets have helped fill a real gap for those gaming this period, so I welcomed this one's appearance.

Unfortunately, technical issues dominate. Previous Dakkar standee products have provided figure artwork panels around 25mm tall in "actual size" printouts. Here, the same panels are almost 30mm. This is not a huge difference, and will work within the range of typical human norms, but it is immediately apparent which figures are which stood side-by-side.

Unlike earlier "Hot Chicks" figure sets, there is now a double cut-line between every individual mini and its neighbour on the printout page. This doubles the amount of cutting time and effort for no gain whatsoever; indeed if anything, it increases the chances of a slip with the modelling knife.

Worst of all, Dakkar seem here to have fallen into one of the common traps of CGI artwork minis generally - what looks good on a brightly-backlit screen in enlarged-size detail often won't render-down into a usefully-printable figurine. In this case, the colours are uniformly far too dark and muddy by the time they're ready to make-up as models. This is really surprising, given earlier products in the Hot Chicks minis range have had much clearer, bolder colour schemes, and so have worked far better as tabletop gaming pieces. With this set, it's hard to know who's who, unless you use the number under the base, which defeats the point of having a figure instead of a counter. There are some clearer minis on page 1, but those on page 2 look like an army of shadows. Overall, disappointing.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Tactical Paper 001
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Things to Do #1: Raid the Peril Pits of Doctor Vore
Publisher: Dakkar Unlimited
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 08:05:22

Dakkar Unlimited have only gone partway to providing a fully-detailed scenario for their mature-adults "Hot Chicks: The RPG" here. What you get is a lot of their good-CGI-quality artwork, including full page height back and front illustrations for every NPC, repeated as a set scaled-down for use as 25mm "A"-frame standee figures ready to print out on one page. There are also two objects and one creature from the eponymous Doctor's lair, effectively floor-set pit traps-cum-disposal mechanisms. These too reappear as flat, 25mm-scale 2D counters on the "minis" page.

The story basics are sketched-out in short chunks throughout the book, mostly as NPC notes, although a little of the background information is given very briefly separately. This is irritating as a presentation, and is difficult to use in play, when you may need to find a key comment quickly, an especial problem as you can't copy & paste from this PDF to compile your own GM's notes version, or one without all the artwork. Conversely, you can't show players the NPC artwork as a game-aid without hiding or cutting-off the text paragraph at the foot of each page.

Something that's actually missing is a plan of the Doctor's factory lair. Given Dakkar's fondness for using huge amounts of CGI figure and scene-setting artwork in their "Hot Chicks" products, this seems an odd omission here. With the standees and counters, and the importance of combat and where everyone is from the core rules when stories reach a crunch-point, it's also curious there are no quality 25mm-scale tabletop battle maps of even the more likely centrally-important lair rooms for the paper minis to scrap across. While these lacks and the sketchy story notes do allow much flexibility, they also mean more work for the GM in advance, which can be unhelpful.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Things to Do #1: Raid the Peril Pits of Doctor Vore
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Inked Adventures: Small Dungeon Door
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 08:03:31

Four identical, stand-up wooden doors, each small, square-topped and with a barred grille at head level, set in a square stone wall surround, ideal for use as cell doors, or as especially awkward access-routes (one at a time, the defenders can see you coming, and can shoot through the bars!). There are no obvious hinges, handle, lock or latch, perhaps an oversight, but that does leave the operating mechanism flexible, while the page is in Inked Adventures standard "Modular Dungeon" format, so has the somewhat wasteful "parchment look" throwaway page border, a minor irritation. No other doors quite like these come with the other Modular Dungeon packages, so a fine variant overall.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures: Small Dungeon Door
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Inked Adventures Free Doors
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 08:02:07

Two pages of stand-up door models, square-topped and without a wall surround, the wooden ones with particularly heavy metal reinforcements on one side and a large, circular ring-handle on both, the stone ones blank, cream-coloured slabs, with a couple of partial lines of worn inscription. They are laid-out on the page as pairs, with minor variations between the two, so work equally well as double-width entrances or, if cut in two, as "normal-sized" doorways. An excellent set to complement the numerous other "Inked Adventures" door-styles.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures Free Doors
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Inked Adventures: Large Dungeon Entrance
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 08:00:34

While billed as an impressive way to enter an Inked Adventures' Modular Dungeon, so drawn in a matching style, this nicely decorated, imposing, stand-up arch would work just as well as a free-standing portal in mid-chamber, perhaps with a home-made insert if active, maybe showing the view to whatever it provides access to. It might even be employed as a very elaborate frame for a gigantic scrying mirror, say. Some pillars or other "furniture", drawn as if carved in a matching stonework style would have added a little more to increase this product's potential uses, and the ink-wasting "parchment edge" page border could have been removed with no loss, but this is a pleasing expansion item for the Modular Dungeon range.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures: Large Dungeon Entrance
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Inked Adventures: Savage Cellar Floor Plan Tile
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/08/2013 07:58:51

A deep cellar room tiled over three printout pages, whose wood-plank floor has been largely, and none-too-gently, removed, revealing an even deeper, stone-floored cellar beneath, the whole full of all kinds of weird & wonderful items, from bookshelves and scattered papers on the upper level, with its chipped, plastered walls, to curious statues and a red mosaic floor-inlay magic circle on the lower. This is a glorious example of Inked Adventures' products at their very best, with a huge range of visual potential story hooks. The entire floor has an inch-square grid across it, which looks only as if it is part of the flooring - that's something really special - and this even extends to the rickety wooden staircase leading down from the printed-in doorway, despite the fact the stairs are drafted with perspective showing how they descend, so the whole still looks entirely natural. A one-page colour drawing of the complete room rounds-off the package, showing how the whole should look when finished, which can be copied & pasted for use in a separate personal description of the Cellar for game-use. Inspirational!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures: Savage Cellar Floor Plan Tile
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A Night in Seyvoth Manor (DnD 4E)
Publisher: Darklight Interactive
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/01/2013 05:14:47

Although designed as a kill-or-cure, single-session, Fourth Edition D&D scenario, this finely-crafted product could be easily adapted for other systems, or elements extracted for use elsewhere, as there are some excellent ideas within this (rather more than "just a") haunted house. Maps, created with Profantasy's "Campaign Cartographer 3" software, show all the areas of interest, and include scale grids, so it's possible to copy, paste and rescale these for use as printable tabletop floor plans direct from the PDF file. This is useful, as a few have writing too small and unclear on a "normal size" printout page from the PDF alone. (A separate RAR file of maps is provided too, but that of course needs different software to open and use.) An overall map of the Manor and its nearby surroundings, and maybe some elevation drawings of the house in the PDF file would have been helpful to give a better idea of how the individual areas fitted together, albeit given the generally "episodic" nature of this tournament-style package as intended, that perhaps matters less.

Unless the party is lucky, including with dice-rolls, completing the whole as laid-out here inside four real-time hours of gaming will be quite a challenge, so the DM might need to be ready to tweak things a little "on the fly" in places, for which thorough preparation would be essential. Overall though, this is a splendid adventure, and Darklight Interactive are to be highly commended for it, especially the astonishing reality that it's free!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Night in Seyvoth Manor (DnD 4E)
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Inked Adventures: FREE Crypt Room
Publisher: Inked Adventures
by Alastair M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/01/2013 05:12:28

Inked Adventures' "Modular Dungeon" system is a good way to create tabletop dungeon floorplan layouts, but for me it really begins to come alive once some props and counters are added. This deceptively simple rectangular Crypt Room has its props built-in, and comes with a separate stand-up stone slab tomb door, giving a number of options for an adventuring party to explore, without making the whole feel at all cluttered. A real gem of a piece. My only question is - when can we expect the matching Inked Adventures' "Crypts, Tombs and Catacombs" pack, noted as "forthcoming" now for over a year?



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Inked Adventures: FREE Crypt Room
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