Category Archives: Roleplaying

Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals

Name: Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- The Age of Mortals
Type: Accessory
Publisher: Sovereign Press
System: Dungeons and Dragons any edition
Setting: Dragonlance
Pages: N/A
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Tasslehoff's Map Pouch- Age of Mortals, Cover

There are some things in a collection that are considered prized possessions, items that mean more to you than they would to others because of their rarity, because of their link to a cherished memory or because of who gave them to you. Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals is one such item for me and it’s for all 3 reasons and more.

Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals was released as part of the D&D 3rd ed range of Dragonlance products that Sovereign Press produced. At that time Sovereign Press, owned by Margaret Weis, had licensed Dragonance from Wizards of the Coast and was producing a line of books that covered various periods from the classic ‘War of the Lance’ line all the way into the ‘Age of Mortals’ and ‘War of Souls’. Tas’s Map Pouch was released as part of a series of map based accessories and was the first product in that line.

All the maps were drawn by Sean Macdonald and the cover art for the set was created by Larry Elmore and Ken Whitman. The cover is particularly nice, being a really good up close illustration of the irrepressible Kender behind a table of maps, that may or may not be his but are definitely about to make their way into his possession.

In the set you get 12 maps. Eleven of these are A4 sixed small maps and then there is a single poster sized map. The maps included are-

  • Ansalon in the Age of Mortals- this is the poster sized map.
  • Solace
  • The Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth
  • Citadel of Light
  • City of Teyr
  • City of Solanthus
  • City of Sanction
  • Nalis Aren- The Lake of Death
  • Storm’s Keep
  • Darkling Hall
  • Ansalon in the Age of Mortals as drawn by Tas
  • The Desolation

Tas's Map Pouch- Age of Mortals, Poster Map

I’ll start with the poster map as it’s one of my most treasured possessions. As expected the map covers Ansalon in the Age of Mortals, which means such things as The Desolation and the Great Swamp are depicted since huge swaths of the continent were reshaped by the Great Dragons during this era. Also, because of the era, there are some notable changes to the map from the more well-known earlier periods and the most prominent is the absence of the maelstrom in the Blood Sea of Istar.

While it’s not my favourite era it is a truly stunning map, accurately showing the scale of the continent (which is much smaller than you’d think at around 1300 miles wide and 870 miles long) and defining the individual regions. While I know where places are, seeing them in context helps bring the setting to life in a whole different way and being able to actually point to places during games really helps my players understand where they are and what is close by. I like the fact that the map also references other continents like Taladas and Ithun’carthia and shows their locations in relation to Ansalon as we as showing where notable places like the Isle of Gargeth would be.

The map has hundreds of locations named on it, from major cities like Palanthas and Solace, to holy sites relevant to individual gods (who are no longer relevant in the Age of Mortals) and other places of interest such as the feared Dargaard Keep. I’m sure that some places have been missed, perhaps because they aren’t relevant to the setting in this era or because they were only ever mentioned in passing in a single novel or sourcebook but, to my mind, everything important seems to be on there, everything I’ve looked for anyway, and so it seems to pretty complete.

It’s not really relevant to the review but when it was in production you could buy directly from Sovereign Press and, if you did, you could request it be signed by Margaret Weis. It’s this signature that makes the map so valuable to me, and it reads ‘May Dragons fly Ever in your Dreams, Margaret Weis’.

Of the other maps nearly all are of recognisable locations to fans of the fluff but there is one exception and that’s Darkling Hall-

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Darkling Hall

Darkling Hall doesn’t exist in the fluff for the setting as far as I’m aware and was inserted as a location that GM’s could use to make their own stories around. I like this idea as one of the biggest criticisms of Dragonlance as a setting is that PC’s can never really live up to the legends of the character sin the main fluff and so adding an interesting and exciting new location helps drive a different approach.

Darkling Hall looks to be a temple to all of the dark gods, located somewhere near a place known as the City of Shadows (which I confess to also not knowing so I presume it’s also an invention for this map). It is 8 sided with an alcove for each of the gods surrounding a area, perhaps a reflecting pool, which shows the constellations of the evil gods high as they would be seen in the night sky. This central chamber is known as the Chamber of Trials and each god appears to have a trial associated with them, such as the Trial of Immortality for Chemosh or the Trial of Vengeance for Sargonnas.

The only explanation given relates to the Hall of Warning which looks to be the entrance and this takes the form of a written warning that advises that those of evil intent can pass a single challenge to ‘dwell among their kind’ while good hearted individuals must face all 8 challenges. There is a lot of possibilities that the DM can expand upon in using this room with each element providing more and more story opportunities.

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Solace map

No collection of maps for Krynn would be complete without a map of Solace, the city famous for being the start of the Companion’s quest during the War of the Lance. Solace is about as iconic a place in the Dragonlance setting as it’s possible to have and it’s nice to see a full colour map of it. As it’s set during the Age of Mortals the map legend includes things like the Last Heroes Tomb, commemorating those who dies during the War against Chaos as well as the Academy of Sorcery founded by Palin.

The Inn of the Last Home is, of course features, as is the Trough, the rougher tavern at the opposite end of town that is generally frequented by mercenaries and other lowlifes. As expected the drawing is filled with trees, as befitting Solace, although a great many dwellings now cover the ground as well since the settlement has expanded over the years since the War of the Lance.

Tas's Map Pouch Age of Mortals- tower of Wayreth

Another nice inclusion is the Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth. While the sourcebook Towers of High Sorcery contains significantly more information about the tower, it doesn’t include a map and for a place that may well be visited by just about any Wizard character in the game, having a map is a nice thing, even if you never actually need it to run the Test of High Sorcery.

This map is split, covering an aerial map of the compound and then a floor by floor breakdown of the two towers that make up the Tower itself. The only downside really is that having a map takes little bit of the mystery out of the location, a place that should inspire wonder and dread in equal measures, but you can’t have it both ways.

Of the other maps 3 cover cities, Teyr, Solanthus and Sanction and these are of great use when running the game as I find being able to properly help player orientate in a city helps it feel more real and so bring the setting alive in their minds. Of the 3 only Sanction is what I’d call a tier one city, having been the site of numerous important events, especially in the Age of Mortals and beyond. On a personal note though, I like having Solanthus as my own games invariably end up in middle Solamnia at some point and Solanthus makes a good stopping off place. Personally I would have preferred Palanthas but that may well have appeared in the later War of the Lance or Legends map collections.

Two of the maps cover citadels/fortresses, these being Goldmoon’s Citidel of Light and Storms Keep, headquarters of the Knights of Takhisis and Ariakan’s personal abode. Neither is a must have but as both are of great importance during the period, being the symbolic seats of power for the opposing sides of light and dark, they are a solid inclusion.

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Nalis Aren Map

One map is of a wilderness location, being Nalis Aren, the Lake of Death that was once the great Elven city of Qualinesti. These isn’t much to this one, just a short legend defining where notable features of the city, such as the Tower of the Sun, were and the body of the great green dragon Beryl. To be honest this didn’t need to be in the set, it’s an important feature of the period but the map doesn’t really show anything and fluff in the Age of Mortals book more than suffices to cover this.

The last two maps are area maps. One is Tas’s own map of Ansalon in the Age of Mortals (if the signature is to be believed) and serves to be a solid in game hand out of the world. The other is a similar map of the Desolation, the north eastern area of Ansalon that has been taken over by the great red dragon, Malys and turned into a veritable hellhole. Most notable here is the location of the kender city of Kendermore, destroyed by Malys due to her hatred of that race. This map is apparently the property of the kender Kronn Thistleknot, presumably the descendant of the kender hero Kronin Thistleknot.

On the whole this is a nice collection. At the time of release it wasn’t prohibitively expensive and so it made for a nice addition to the collection. It had neither crunch nor fluff and no source material is included to support anything, something that isn’t really a problem but it would have been nice to perhaps have details of where supporting fluff could be found in within the Dragonlance range.

I’m happy with it, but I know I have rose tinted glasses for the setting and especially because of the signed poster-map. There are certainly weak maps in the set, like Nalis Aren, but those that are good are really good and nice to have. I wouldn’t pay a lot for the set and that makes it hard to find now in the UK if Amazon and Ebay are anything to go by, but if you do see a good quality copy out there for something resembling retail price it’s certainly a worthy addition to your collection.

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets- A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: Fasa Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Pages: 112
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

 

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Front Cover

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Will is a sourcebook for Shadowrun 2nd edition published in 1996 by FASA Corporation and written by Steve Kenson. The book covers the fallout of the 2057 UCAS Presidential Campaign which was won by the Great Western Dragon Dunkelzahn and was then apparently assassinated on the night of his inauguration in front of the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC.

While what actually happened is covered in the Dragonheart Trilogy of novels by Jak Koke this book takes a more immediate look at what happened and who might be responsible as well as dealing with what this means in game, setting up plotlines that would run for a great many years.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Back cover

So, like all Shadowrun sourcebooks from 1st-3rd edition Dunkelzahn’s Secrets has a full colour front and back cover and the rest in in black and white. The cover is a close-up of Big D’s head, breathing noxious fumes and the back is just a copy of the same image with the generic blurb superimposed over it. Inside it follows the standard style of this period of book, with a Shadowland into promoting recent and upcoming books including Threats, Calfree and Target UCAS before taking a slightly different approach and giving an extended introduction that explains the timeline of events leading up to Dunkelzahn’s Assassination and how to use the book.

The book itself is split into 7 broad sections-

  • · The Dragon’s Last Dance
  • · The Last Testament and Will of Dunkelzahn
  • · Fallout
  • · The Players
  • · The Sleeping Dragon
  • · Who Watched the Watchers
  • · In The Cards

 

Much like later books like Renraku Arcology Shutdown, much of Dunkelzahn’s Secrets if in game fluff and written as stories and experiences from people in the setting and how they have been effected and involved in the events surrounding Dunkelzahn’s death and his will.

The Dragon’s Last Dance is written as an in game news account of the assassination, starting prior to is and concluding with the known ‘facts’. The style is designed to describe a video reel, with lots of fast cuts between shots and reactions from those who witnessed what amounts to a contained nuclear explosion in the heart of the UCAS capitol. It’s a fun chapter, one that gives a different view of the events that nicely contracts the normally cynical view of runners.

The Last Testament and Will are actually two separate sections that broadly make one in game document. The Last Testament itself is a single page written by Dunkelzahn to discuss his death, the likely media frenzy and to cover his feelings about the state of the world in 2057. Then there are a couple of pages of Shadowland discussion between The Lady of the Court and Wordsmyth about their feelings on the Last Testament and it’s made very clear that they know him very well. Long time Shadowrun readers will know these two and their involvement in the wider metaplot of the time.

The Will consists of 200 items willed to various people around the world, some meta-plot characters such as the Great Dragons Lung and Hestaby or Richard Villiers of Fuchi (at this point). Others are just random and serve as plot hooks, either for the GMs or the wider metaplot such as finding what lies behind door 429 at the Berlin Saeder-Krupp offices or the 50,000 nuyen/year promised to Lawrence Edward Grafton as long as he stays chaste. The whole thing is a fascinating read, I feels like you are learning secret nuggets of information and it makes you massively curious as to what all the cryptic references mean.

From the Will it’s hard to pick a favourite but I think mine is “To Art Dankwalther, I leave the sum of 34,586,224,739.58 UCAS dollars. According to my calculations and accounting for conversion from the original currency, inflation, and 1 percent interest per annum, this settles my debt to your ancestor for the gold piece he kindly lent me for the last meal we shared.” It’s that or the one that offers a wish to any person presenting a ticket stub to a concert in Nashville that served as Maria Mecurial’s one and only foray into country music. The Will is available free on the Catalyst Website here and I recommend you check it out if you haven’t.

Fallout covers a number of topics that were directly affected by the death of the dragon. Initially there is the discussion of the possible culprits, with names like Vice President Kyle Haffner and Lofwyr being thrown around along with political opponents and terrorist organisations but no tangible proof is offered. Then the chapter covers the various beneficiaries of the Will, the Corporations or Corporate affiliated individuals (such as Fuchi’s Miles Lanier acquiring a seat on Renraku’s board) and how the corporate world will be shook up and how this will likely impact the runner community.

The Draco Foundation and Nadja Davier both get mentions in the Fallout section since the Will creates a new international power in the foundation and elevates Nadja (Dunkelzahn’s personal assistant) to a true international power player as the head of the Draco Foundation and the person directly responsible for administering the Will and it’s estimated 100 trillion nuyen’s worth of assets.

After Fallout is The Players, which covers all the major players in the setting, following the benefits handed out by the will. It’s not just the AAA’s that get a mention here, private individuals, investment companies and smaller corps all get a mention as Captain Chaos tries to provide an update as to who and what has gained and lost power. Given how close to the event the supposition is, a whole lot of it ends up flat out wrong but there are good number of interesting nuggets of information that a GM can use to build plots, especially if they are running in 2057.

I like the fact that The Players covers lessor known/less well covered holdings, things like Brackhaven Investments, Humanis Policlub, Proteus and even the UCAS government are covered. If there is one thing lacking in the Shadowrun fluff it’s information around governments and the established AA corps like Proteus.

The Sleeping Dragon takes a look at a couple of the larger items willed by Dunkelzahn and provides theories as to why they have been gifted to particular people and individuals. Specifically it looks at the items willed to Wuxing and Lung, the Great Eastern Dragon who was given Coins of Luck and what this could mean for the world going forward.

Who Watches the Watchers covers stories from Runners who previously worked for Dunkelzahns, knowingly and unknowingly and looks at how running the shadows will change in the wake of his demise. It gives insight into a side of Big D that wasn’t covered before, the part that shows that there was a lot more too him than the benevolent wyrm who hosted a TV show and wanted to be president and it provides evidence that Dunkelzahn may have been manipulating mortal affairs in ways people just hadn’t considered.

Finally In the Cards is a short 10 page story by Talon, the mage associated with Assets Inc, Dunkelzahn’s own private runner crew, albeit Talon joined after the dragon died. It’s a nice little story that covers one of the items in the will, an antique Tarot deck that was gifted to Dr Miles Swinburne, the father of modern magic and it serves to show how much impact just one of the items on the will can have on.

So by now it’s probably pretty obvious that I really like this book. For me Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets is a heady hit of nostalgia since it came out right when I first got into Shadowrun and was exploring the metaplot. On top of that I’m one of the few people who really likes the metaplot that involves the Immortal elves and the links to Earthdawn and this book has so many nods in that direction that it really makes me happy.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, art

The writing is of fairly high quality as Shadowrun books go, since it’s FASA and the FASA era books tended to be better edited and formatted than the Wizkids or Catalyst stuff. The art is average for Shadowrun, which it pretty weak in general aside from a few specific covers (especially Elmore’s epic 1st ed cover). I’d like to be able to point to a standout piece of art but there isn’t anything with the image above being probably the best in the book.

The effect of this one event on the fluff cannot be understated enough, with the ripples being felt in numerous novels (including the Dragonheart Trilogy, Worlds Without End and Tails you Lose), campaigns including the Renraku Arcology Shutdown and Survival of the Fittest and beyond .

If you are a Shadowrun collector then this book is an absolute must have, it’s a nexus point for the fluff, with novels, adventures and sourcebooks all culminating here and then starting fresh with the fallout from the apparent assassination of a creature that was universally loved, a friend to runners and corporations, an associate of both Tir’s and the Immortal Elves in general, the leader of the Great Dragons and the UCAS President, Dunkelzahn.

Prime Runners, A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Prime Runners
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: Fasa Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Pages: 104
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Prime Runners, Front Cover

Prime Runners is a sourcebook for the Shadowrun 2nd Edition roleplaying game. It was published in 1994 by FASA Corporation and was written by Mark Gascoigne and Carl Sargent. Prime Runners is an NPC sourcebook containing 41 different NPCs for GMs to pick up and drop into their game as needed. Each NPC gets 2 pages, or there abouts, that provides in game statistics and skills, an illustration, character background and plot hooks. As the title of the book suggests, the NPC’s in this book are considered to be at the top of their game and therefore may prove to be an interesting challenge or a powerful ally depending on how players interact with them.

Prime Runners, Back Cover

The book follows the style of all early Shadowrun sourcebooks, which is black and white throughout aside from a handful of full colour images, in this case of some of the NPC in the book. There is a vivid full colour image on the front of the book, in this case of a runner riding on the roof of a car as explosions abound around him, and a little blurb on the back telling you what the book is about.

Prime Runners, Contents

The book splits into 5 sections-

  • Introduction, a brief section just describing what the book is and what it contains
  • Welcome to the Freak Show, which lists 34 of the NPCs that are most likely to be friendly to the PC’s
  • Prime Terrors, which is a further 4 NPCs that are generally going to be antagonists in a story, including a serial killer and 2 terrorists
  • Wolfram’s Gang, which is a generic gang that makes up the rank and file that runners will face day after day. There are 3 example characters provided here.
  • Threat ratings, which provides some rules and guidance around creating encounters and how to balance them against your PC’s abilities.

I won’t detail every character, there are far too many and so i’ll just go through a couple that I like the look of as an example of what you find inside.

Martin de Vries, Vampire Hunter. I picked Martin since he’s a character that I know from the novel The Terminus Experiment (which I talk about on this post) and because he has duel illustrations, both in the colours section and in his bio.

Martin de Vries, Bio photo

Martin de Vries, Colour

The book gives a nice rounded history for Martin, it describes how he was an accomplished mage and scholar, studying in the Netherlands before moving to Oxford and then Yale. He became a grade 3 initiate with the Ordo Maximus and became increasingly obsessed with a secret conspiracy of Vampires who intended to bring a powerful Astral entity to the world, one that would make Toxic and Insect spirits look like irritable toddlers. Somewhere along the way Martin managed to contract vampirism himself, likely deliberately in order to better understand his prey and he picked up a strange artefact that allows him to increase his essence far in excess of normal levels and therefore limit when he feeds.

Now Martin spends his nights hunting and draining vampires, trying to trace the elusive conspiracy he knows exists and occasionally crossing paths with groups of runners who had better hope they don’t cross him or look particularly toothy.

For hooks the book describes that Martin de Vries would be a very strong source of information for runners who need help taking down vampires and it also advises that he sometimes hires runners to help him on particularly difficult hunts. The conspiracy that Martin hunts could make the basis for an entire campaign if the GM chooses to run with it, tying the PCs fate and that of Martin de Vries inexorably. As a final note the bio makes reference to Martin having lost his weapon focus in the fight that turned him into a vampire and so he would dearly love to be reunited with it, or similar, and he would go to great lengths or pay large sums if someone could help him with that.

Rhonabwy, bio image

I chose Rhonabwy as the 2nd example because, being British, I love the idea that the great Welsh dragon is a real thing. I also thought that the Great Dragon was one of the more interesting and established NPCs in the book. Unlike the other NPCs Rhonabwy gets 4 full pages, as befitting a Great Dragon, and the great majority of this goes into explaining the history of the beast since he woke up on 22/02/2012.

Rhonabwy woke up near Carmarthen in Wales and subsequently destroyed the surrounding area in what he described as a fit of ‘post hibernation trauma’. He’s since spent a considerable amount of money in paying compensation to the families who lost property and loved ones. This generosity seems to be ingrained into Rhonabwy’s personality as he is known to pay well over the asking price for any property or land he intends to appropriate.

From the perspective of his affairs, the most likely reason the runners might get involved in his affairs, Rhonabwy is deeply invested in a significant number of mis size corporations as well as apparently owning 4-7% of AAAs Ares and Shiawase.  He also appears to be quite the political player, seemingly supporting metahuman rights around the world as well as, in rather a contradiction, supporting secessionist and terrorist organisations in a variety of places, including both Tir’s.

The book does a solid job of playing up the secretive and apparently baffling motivations of a Great Dragon, providing a number of explanations as to Rhonabwy’s motivations but ultimately leaving the decisions up the the GM. This is particularly the case with regards to the rumours abounding about the relationship between Rhonabwy and a Sea Dragon in Cardigan Bay. Personally I like the suggestion that these are the two dragons of Arthurian myth, I think that fits well with the setting and the later confirmation of the existence of Excalibur in big D’s will.

For hooks the book doesn’t really provide much that is concrete and instead suggests that runners would rarely know of Rhonabwy’s involvement, either as a Johnson or a target, since the Dragon is far too clever for that. It advises that the runners may be hired by a nature spirit working for the Dragon, and if they were to find out that Rhonabwy was involved it would be over the course of a several runs, maybe an entire campaign. To my mind it would make sense for one of the targets of Rhonabwy’s ire, maybe one of the Tir’s, hire the runners to implant some information in Rhonabwy’s network that allows them to predict where he may next attack them. As with any run involving a Great Dragon, only the most accomplished of runners should even be considered as an opponent.

As a final point I very much like the Shadowland remarks on Rhonabwy, particularly the reply to the comment made by a poster named ‘Merchant Banker’. The reply simply reads “is that your real name, or is it just rhyming slang?” If that doesn’t mean a whole lot to you then I’d perhaps suggesting googling it, but to an Englishman, even one from outside London, I find that pretty damn amusing.

Looking at the book as a whole it has a few good points, the write up of Rhonabwy being of them, and a good number of negative ones. Art in particular is lacking in the book and while the colour images are nice, albeit with an art style that isn’t really in keeping with the style of the game as it looks more comic book, some of the black and white bio art is atrocious, in particular Rhonabwy’s.

Prime Runners is touted as containing the very best runners for the players to interact with and meet and to my mind this should include some of the more iconic characters from the setting, people like Dodger, Ghost Who Walks Inside, Dirk Montgomery and Argent. Unfortunately the book doesn’t include many known character at all, at least not to me, there is Martin de Vries, although his novel was published some time after this book, and there is Michael Sutherland a decker from the books set in the UK like Black Madonna. It’s a shame as it feels a bit like a missed opportunity to me.

On the whole Prime Runners is a pretty weak book. It has some use, especially to GMs who struggle for NPCs on the fly, but in general it’s feels much more like a cash in than a genuine attempt to try and expand the setting. It’s a rare miss for early Shadowrun, since most of the books have great content (just not necessarily great art) and tend to all help build the settings rich history. I’m happy to have it in my collection but i’m also happy that I didn’t pay too much for it, around £8 if memory serves. It’s not a common book but unless you are after a complete collection it’s not a book i’d suggest spending a lot of time and money seeking out.

Horror On the Orient Express Deluxe Campaign Review, Part 1

Horror on the Orient Express, front of box

Regular readers are probably aware that I backed the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter and that I tend to rant about how badly it has been conducted. Fortunately this isn’t another one of those posts and today I’m actually going to sound pretty positive about Chaosium for a change.

As part of the CoC 7th Ed Kickstarter I purchased the Horror on the Orient Express campaign as an add on. Horror on the Orient Express (HotOE) was ran as a separate Kickstarter by Chaosium prior to the 7th Ed Kickstarter and I missed out on that one so this seemed a good time to pick up the boxed set at a significant discount. As many of you know, I have a bit of an obsession with trying to own and run the ‘great’ campaigns, more or less regardless of system and for Cthulhu HotOE represents the last omission from my collection.

HotOE was first released as a boxed campaign by Chaosium back in 1991. Original sets can still be found on EBay fairly frequently and tend to command fairly high prices if they are complete. I’ve long considered picking one of the original copies up but it never quite made it to the top of my list and so when it was offered at half price ($60) as part of the 7th Ed Kickstarter I jumped at the chance to grab it. The version that was Kickstarted is far more than just the original game Chaosium really went all out in their production of a deluxe campaign set.

This edition is designed for use with the, as yet unreleased, 7th edition rules for the game but includes stats for 6th edition so you can run it with existing material. Also included are basic conversion rules for 7th edition if you want to try and run it using that system.

Horror on the Orient Express, books

Horror on the Orient Express, props

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what do you actually get for your £75 at retail? In the box there is-

6 Campaign books

  • A Tour Guide to the Orient Express and it’s stops
  • 6 A3 maps detailing the various carriages of the Orient Express
  • An A3 Handout of the Scroll of the Head (plus instructions on how to cut it up and age it to make a more convincing prop)
  • A Map of Europe detailing the various Orient Express Routes over the years
  • A cardboard Simulacrum that breaks down into 6 parts for the players to find and assemble during the campaign
  • A cardboard Dagger (what is the dagger for)
  • A Matchbox (with toothpicks in, matches are incendiary devices and can’t be posted)
  • An Orient Express stamped envelope containing 4 Period Accurate US Passports, 4 luggage stickers, a bumper sticker, and 2 period postcards.

It’s a mighty set. The box is X inches deep and it weighs in at 4.5kg, which means it is the heaviest boxed set for any game I own and rivals the WFRP 3rd ed box in size but the difference is that HotOE is jam packed with books, as opposed to innumerable tokens. So packed is the HotOE box that the lid doesn’t actually close properly and it literally bulges.

Before I go into some detail about the individual components I thought I’d take a moment to look at the production values of the set. The box is large and sturdy, despite not being overly thick. The artwork is bright and eye catching, with the box art from the original set being reproduced and used again. The books are all softcover and black and white with good quality paper used throughout. For the props, all of the card ones are made from a thick card and are clean cut and well printed. The matchbox is sturdy enough to have survived shipping without being damaged and the envelope seems to have similarly protected the props it contains.

So let’s take a look at the books. As this only arrived last week I’ve not come close to having properly read it and so I won’t be reviewing the adventure so much as looking at what each book covers and the production values used on them. That means that there will be very few spoilers in the article although if you do intend on playing through this campaign then I’d suggest you stop reading now, just to be safe.

Horror on the Orient Express, Campaign Book

Book I is the Campaign. Book 1 is 74 pages long and provides a general synopsis of the entire campaign. Given the size of the set as a whole it’s not great surprise that the campaign overview needs a book all to itself. This book follows the main plot of the campaign, given the Keeper a good idea of how the game should flow and a timeline for the events. The last is especially important because the adventure runs on a fairly specific timeline which corresponds with the time it takes to take the Orient Express from Paris to Constantinople in 1923.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 2, Through the Alps

Book II is Through The Alps. This book is 264 pages long and covers the first part of the journey. It begins in London and covers two periods, being 1923, the year the adventure is set, and 1893 for an optional prequel scenario. After London it moves to Paris for the PC’s to actually board the Orient Express and then shifts to the Dreamlands for another optional adventure while the train is on route to Lausanne, the next stop. The final section of book 2 sees the players travel through the Alps to Milan.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 3, Italy & Beyond

Book III is Italy & Beyond. This book is 272 pages long and covers the middle of the journey. This books takes the players from Venice to Trieste and onto Vinkovci. It has a couple of optional sections, one in a Dreamlands type sequence and two others, both in Constantinople in different eras, 330AD and 1204AD. The background sections provide an awful lot of perspective for what is going on in the present and, while optional, seem to be worthwhile building into your game.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 4, Constantinople & Consequences

Book IV is Constantinople & Consequences. This book is 192 pages and brings the campaign as a whole to 728 pages, which makes it a full 290 pages longer than the entire of Beyond the Mountains of Madness, which is a colossal beast in it’s own right. This is the final book of the campaign proper and takes the PCs from Sofia to Constantinople before they cross back across Europe in the exciting conclusion before the campaign comes full circle to end in London. There is also one final optional encounter which takes place in Istanbul, 2013.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 5, Strangers on the Train

Book V is Strangers on a Train. This book is X pages long and contains X NPCs for use during the campaign. While the main campaign books contain all of the important NPCs as they are encountered Strangers on a Train provides the DM with a series of NPCs to fill the gaps when the PC’s decide to question people in the restaurant car, or members of the trains staff. It’s designed to fill the gap when the players talk to someone that isn’t intrinsic to the adventure proper but who may still be able to provide them with a clue that gets them back on the right track (no pun intended). Each NPC has the generic stats and also a page on which you can make notes, in case the PCs speak to that person again.

This book makes another excellent addition to the set and allows the Keeper to introduce people on the fly without having to worry about remember specific details about the person later. It also deals with the minor issue of players knowing that an NPC isn’t important because the Keeper doesn’t reference them from the book. Using NPC’s from Strangers on a Train means that every single NPC will be viewed as important and the players won’t be able to make assumptions about an NPCs importance and take any information they supply for granted.

Horror on the Orient Express, Book 6, For the Investigators

Book VI is For The Investigators. This book is 196 pages long and contains all of the handouts that the players may find during the course of the campaign, reprinted from each of the separate campaign books. They are all printed neatly on white paper and are not double sided allowing you to cut them out if your wanted. Fortunately, as this is the digital age you don’t need to deface your book, wither by actually cutting out the handouts or by bending it trying to photocopy them, instead you can go to the Chaosium website and download a PDF of the handouts for free, which you can then cut up. The handouts can be found here. I have to admit, I think that this is a brilliant step by Chaosium and one I applaud. This will make my life much easier and make me significantly less nervous about trying to age and weather the various bits of paper.

So thats it for part 1 of the review, in Part 2 i’ll be taking a closer look at the handouts, props and maps included in the set.

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen Review

Name: D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Screen
Type: Accessory
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
System: D20 (5th ed D&D)
Setting: N/A
Size: 27.4cm x 21.5cm (folded) 109.5cm x 21.5cm (unfolded)
Price: £10.00
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

5th Ed DM Screen

This is going to be a pretty quick review to be honest, there isn’t a lot to say about a DM Screen and I wouldn’t generally review just a screen, but I’m actually pretty impressed with this one. What I might do though is maybe take a look at the wide variety of screens I own for different games at some point.

So why is this one so cool? Well it’s down to what is actually included on the DM side of the screen. Before I get to that I’ll take a look at the pack as a whole. The outer packaging that is normally just a paper wrap with a general description on the back is actually pretty cool, obviously it is still thin card wrap but the inside is a mini-poster that advertises the D&D Adventurers League, which is pretty cool-

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen, Poster

 

The screen itself is made of nice thick card and covered with a glossy coating and it seems pretty hard-wearing, which is good because screens see alot of use. It’s a four pane screen and it’s landscape in format, as is common for modern screens, which I actually like this as it reduces the DM/Player separation. The player side depicts and epic battle across all four panes between a party and a red dragon and it’s minions.

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen, Frontal

However, it’s whats on the DM side that impressed me, especially this-

D&D 5th Ed DM Screen, Name Generator

As silly as it is, the inclusion of an NPC name generator on the screen is something that will help me immeasurably as I literally can’t count the number of times i’ve made up a stupid name on the spot when the PC’s have decided to talk to someone I hadn’t considered. I used to have a whole list of names ready, just in case, but this is a much more elegant solution.

The rest of the inside of the screen is filled with the normal kind of things you’d expect to see, details of the various conditions, cover and concealment and some random event tables. Unlike some previous DM screens this one isn’t cluttered or hard to read and is filled with things, like the NPC name generator and the random events table, designed to keep the game flowing when it might stagnate.

The inside of the screen is also covered with little bit of art, some just to illustrate things like the various status modifiers and others, like the Tarrasque attacking a village are just there to make the screen a little more interesting for the DM to look at. At the end of the day this is still just a DM screen but it’s one of the best DM screens I’ve bought in a long time.

#RPGaDay 2015 Day 4, Game I was most surprised by

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As always, there are a couple of considerations. The first is probably Spirit of the Century, which was my first exposure to the FATE system. When I first heard about it I was intrigued by the idea and the setting but when I read it I was blown away by the system. FATE remains, to this day, one of the most interesting and amazing system for playing absolutely any game. The other, and the one I’ll go with is Numenera.

Numenera Cover

So why Numenera?

I’ve reviewed numerous Numenera products on the site and it’s probably the most fun I’ve had running a game for quite a long time and so my feelings on it are pretty clear. Ultimately I expected it to be a fun game and I expected a great setting before I got it and it delivered but it wasn’t until I played it that I realised just how good the system is.

Reading Numenera the system, known as the Cypher system, it seems like a fairly simple and generic system designed to keep the flow of the game moving but it’s when you run it you realise that it’s so much more. The system is simple and easy enough to get to grips with that you can teach it in an a few minutes but it’s the flexibility that keeps it flowing quickly and easily. The Cypher system really shines when players come up with a really out of the box idea for resolving a puzzle or defeating an enemy in that almost anything is possible, with the right justification and enough imagination.

Crazy things happen in Numenera and it makes sense. When a player calls out a silly idea, you can intervene and make it happen which in turn rewards the players with XP and makes them feel involved in the narrative, inspiring them to become involved and making the whole experience a fantastic circle of imagination. It’s a game that empowers players and GM’s to be imaginative and creative and that’s hardwired into the way the system works.

Numenera was a surprise because I expected a fun game with a short life expectancy that I could run short term games in. What I got was a game that I could run a long term and full campaign with fully developed characters in a detailed world. Most games break at high levels because of powerful abilities, Numenera gives you them from the start and still manages to pose a challenge to the PC’s, so few games can manage that.

I could go on, probably endlessly, but I won’t. The game that surprised me the most was Numenera, I expected it to good but what I got was something that was really great.

#RPGaDay 2015 Day 3- Favourite RPG of the last 12 Months

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So, my favourite New RPG of the last 12 months? Hmmmm, I don’t think I’ve picked up many that would constitute as new in the last 12 months, in fact I think it may just be Malifaux- Into the Breech and D&D 5th ed.

Both are great games, Malifaux is lavishly illustrated and really expands the twisted world of the setting. What I like about Malifaux is that it’s part horror, part Deadlands like steampunk and part dreamscape all rolled into one twisted but fascinating world. Add to that a system that is bespoke for the game and draws inspiration from the skirmish game and you end up with something quite special.

D&D 5th Edition Cover

In the end though, it’s always going to be D&D 5th ed for me. I love D&D, it’s my favourite RPG of all and the one I’ve spent the most time running and playing in my 20 some years in the hobby. With that said, I hated 4th edition with a passion, aside from a couple of modules like The Madness at Gardmore Abbey. D&D’s 4th edition changed the game into something I didn’t recognise as Dungeons and Dragons and, most importantly, changed the whole nature of the settings that used to be the core of D&D.

Fortunately 5th edition appears to have rectified this. The system is something closer to 3.5 which, despite its issues at high levels, is the definitive edition of the game as far as I’m concerned (let’s not make Pathfinder comparisons here) and at the same time it draws from the best parts of 1st, 2nd and 4th edition to make something really quite fun and simple and that feels like Dungeons and Dragons.

On top of that, and it was one of the things that excited me the most, 5th makes references to the settings that I love and grew up with. Dragonlance is mentioned under the Elf racial description and the Planescapes Great Wheel returns with the City of Doors, Sigil at it’s heart. Just reading these little references in the Players Handbook caused me a little twinge of nostalgia as I recalled epic moments when playing those settings and brought a smile to my face.

To me that’s why we play, it’s great to read a new game, to discover a new world and to realise how awesome it is. In the end, though, we roleplay to bring a smile to our faces and those of our family and friends and to make great memories and D&D always has and always will manage that a little bit better than any other game for me.

#RPGaDAY 2105, Day 2, Kickstarted game you are most pleased you backed

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This one is, rather unfortunately, very easy. I’ve only backed two RPGs on Kickstarter, Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and Paranoia. If you’ve read my Highs and Lows of Kickstarting Games post you’ll know my feelings on the Call of Cthulhu project (and if you haven’t read it shame on you!). Well, over 2 years post funding and I still don’t have a copy of Cthulhu, never mind the stretch goals of add ons and I’m not likely to in the immediate future.

That leaves Paranoia, which is also running behind but to nowhere near as drastic a degree. So Paranoia is the RPG I’m most glad I backed. The levels were good and I’ll be getting and exclusive version of the boxed set when it eventually. Paranoia is a game I’ve only played a couple of times before but it was always stupid amounts of idiotic fun when I did and that was reason enough to back it.

As it stands at the moment, it looks like it’ll be excellent when released, with a bespoke system designed to help highlight the style of game and that makes me pretty excited.

#RPGaDay 2015 Day 1, Forthcoming game you’re most looking forward to

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So a friend of mine, StormFey tweeted her intention to blog her #GameaDay 2015 over on her blog Ballgowns and Battleskirts and, after doing the D&D 30 day challenge earlier this year I thought it’d be fun to do the same thing so, here we go for day 1.

What forthcoming game am I most looking forward to?

I guess I should say Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, after all I paid for it over 2 years ago, or Paranoia as both are hopefully coming to me this year but honestly, its probably the recently announced John Carter rpg.

I’m a big fan of the early 20th century sci-fi, fantasy and horror fiction. I love the style of it and the way it embodies the spirit of adventure and exploration, of delving into the unknown and facing what is beyond. To me those themes are what Roleplaying is all about, it’s why I’ve done it week in week out for over 20 years and it’s hat keeps me coming back again and again.

One of the first great heroes of books of that era was John Carter, the American Civil War Cavalry Captain from Virginia who was transported to Mars, known as Barsoom. On Mars he became a great hero, known for great feats of strength due to the way his human physiology interacted with the strange gravity on Mars. The author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, better known for another of his creations Tarzan, wrote numerous novels about John Carter’s exploits and these stories are known to have influenced the creation of early D&D.

So why am I so excited by a John Carter RPG? Honestly, I don’t know, I didn’t even know much about the character prior to hearing the hype for the movie a few years back. I guess it’s because the world of Barsoom hits many of the sweet spots I like in a setting, it’s ancient but advanced and utterly alien in so many ways and undeniably human in so many others. It’s the unknown, horror, adventure and excitement all in one. Some of my favourite games are things like Spirit of the Century, Deadlands and Numenera and a John Carter game looks like it would encapsulate all of the things I love about those settings.

According to Modiphius John Carter should be available by Christmas this year and so far they look like they are doing everything right by approaching the community and asking the fans what themes they would expect to be in the game. This is definitely the one to watch for me.

#RPGaDay 2015 Day 5, Most Recent RPG purchase

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This is a nice and easy one. It was a bulk batch of Shadowrun stuff from a nice gentleman on Facebook. I picked up-

  • Matrix
  • Cybertechnology
  • Survival of the Fittest

I’m slowly trying to build my complete Shadowrun collection, 1st-5th edition and it’s getting remarkably difficult to find books that I don’t have, for a price I’m willing to consider. Finding 3 I didn’t have, for a fair price and delivered, was an awesome coup for me and a great addition to the collection.

I’ve actually been reducing the amount of RPG’s I buy of late, I’m running out of space pretty quickly and I’m trying not to buy games that I don’t think I’ll play in the near future, unless they are for a collection or one ‘the list’ of truly desirable additions to the collection.