Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: Looking Back Before We Move Forward

2011 was an odd year for me, in that it wasn't wildly successful, nor was it wildly disheartening...and I neither feel wildly optimistic or wildly pessimistic about the new year.

This time last year, my wife still worked in a women's shelter and I was pulling overnight shifts at a local hotel, while freelancing for financial services websites, reviewing games like crazy and working on comic book projects.

A few of those things have changed a bit.

- I gave up two jobs for one, leaving the hotel to go to work in a warehouse back in late May. This move ultimately allowed my wife to quit her job and become a stay at home Mom. This has been pretty successful thus far, as we are currently no longer reliant upon anyone else for child car, a burden we are happy to be free of. While I can't say my job is very fulfilling, and I have doubts about the future opportunities that are available to me there, I don't have too many complaints and it's paying the bills.

- Unfortunately, my reviews on the site slowed down quite a bit, as working in a warehouse in 100+ degree heat proved very taxing for me over the summer, and other projects have reduced my focus on this blog. I'm still working to keep the blog going, however, even if I have to get choosier with my subjects.

- This year saw me transition to freelance roles within the RPG industry, as I took over editing duties for War of the Dead by Daring Entertainment, beginning with Chapter 3. I also got brought on as a Freelance Savage Worlds Plot Point Guru by Savage Mojo, providing input on a couple of books that will hopefully see light of day in 2012. I haven't heard yet if any further work awaits me on the Savage Mojo front, but I am expecting Chapter 4 of War of the Dead and Hellspawn (also by Daring Entertainment) any time now.

- I wrestled my last match as a pro wrestler this year (though I didn't know it at the time). It was fun, but my time and energy is better focused elsewhere.

- One of my artistic partners, Johnnie Johnson, and I launched the Hellrazer webcomic this September. You can also follow it on Facebook, where I regularly post the links to the pages (every Tuesday and Friday), as well as previews and commentary on the pages. I have a Marvel SAGA draft of a couple of the characters that will make it on the blog eventually, and I hope to also have ICONS, BASH and - possibly - Savage Worlds versions as well.

- As I often do, I overwhelmed myself with promises of things I intended to do, and ran out of time and energy to do them. Hopefully, the Horror of Trevala will still happen, in some form or another...and I still have a very ambitious supers project (system pending) that I would LOVE to tackle this year.

- On the Hellrazer front, I am teaching myself to letter comics, which is...interesting. And time consuming, but hopefully worthwhile in the end.

- I didn't do any gaming to speak of that didn't involve a PS3. Hopefully that'll change this year.

- I spent many Thursday nights in the Beautiful Brains chatroom with Clint and Jodi Black, even guest hosting one week. I was also interviewed by Eloy Lasanta for his podcast.

- Captain America became my favorite comic book movie, and one of my favorite movies ever, this year. Saw it twice in the theatres, the only movie that I have ever bothered watching twice in the theatre. The second time was taking my son to see it. I've seen it a couple of times since then, and am still quite in love with it.

- Went to a couple of conventions this year, one in Tulsa and the other in Oklahoma City, where I met a lot of my fellow Oklahoma Comic creators and made some new friends. That's always a good thing.

- I discovered the joys of digital comics (Comixology is FANTASTIC)...and if Kryptic Games & More wasn't such a fantastic comic book store, and I owned a tablet, I would almost certainly be all-digital at this point.

- I was also blessed by some wonderful and thoughtful gestures that inadvertently(?) sparked a lot of self-assessment for me as a human being.

Going forward, I have some goals (NOT resolutions):

- Continue writing. I need to be more productive and prolific than I have been. That includes comics as well as this blog. I have some short stories that I would love to get out there, too.

- Build my credit up so that we can look into acquiring a more suitable home.

- Try to be a better human being in general. Be a little more generous and a little less self-absorbed.

- I think I've done a pretty decent job this year as a husband and a father, but I can do better. At least, I should always be trying to do better.

- Continue to take advantages of opportunities when they arise, and hopefully continue to impress others with my work ethic and performance.

- Try to get some gaming in this year. What would it hurt?

- Hopefully hang out with my buddies a little more than I was able to this year.

- Finish Max Monkey, Monster Masher so I can be done with Small Press Idol for good.

- Anyway, enough prattling. Here's to much health, wealth and success for all of you...come back tomorrow for Tommy's Top Six and the Birthday Blog Giveaway!

(My wife also provided her thoughts on the year, and a lot of those thoughts are certainly applicable to me as well. You can check those out at her blog.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

It's Almost Time...

Last January, I had the idea to do both Tommy's Top Six and the Birthday Blog Giveaway.

What that entailed was this: I selected the six products I reviewed over the course of the first year of the blog that stood out to me the most and gave them an extra special spotlight. Then, thanks to the kindness of the publishers selected for the Top Six, I was able to give out ten prizes related to the Top Six as party of the Birthday Blog Giveaway, commemorating both the Top Six and the one year anniversary of the blog.

On January 1st, the blog turns 2 years old, and I will once again unveil the Top Six (culled from December 18th last year - the previous cut-off date - through December 17th of this year. So, come January 1st, I will revisit the six titles that stood out to me the most, and give you my opinion as to why they deserve special consideration. In addition, all six selected publishers have once again stepped up, and the Birthday Blog Giveaway will commence, with eight prizes at stake. I'm very excited...not only that the publishers are kindly donating prizes to the blog, but because my blog is actually making it to its second birthday!

So...come on back January 1st to see what joins BASH Ultimate Edition, High Valor, Interface Zero, Leverage, War of the Dead and Wu Xing as Top Six selections and learn how you can win some fantastic prizes!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Apocalypse Prevention Inc and Streets of Bedlam Kickstarters

Just a quick note tonight about two Kickstarter programs that I think you all should be aware of, and that I plan on contributing to, if I can budget them in (and I am really hoping I can).

Apocalypse Prevention Inc., by Third Eye Games, is releasing their South America region book, which will cover South America (of course), and include new demons (including playable ones), equipment and tattoo magic. You can check out their Kickstarter page here. Also, there had better be a creepy tentacle creature, or I will feel ripped off. To read more about Apocalypse Prevention Inc., check out my reviews here. API Worldwide: South America, is still about $80 shy of their goal at this writing, with little more than two weeks remaining.

The other Kickstarter is a Savage Worlds setting by Jason L. Blair of Little Fears, called Streets of Bedlam. This one HAS already been funded, but looks pretty great, so I hope to get in on the action. Some of the inspirations cited for the game include the movies The Warriors, Payback and Four Brothers, and Jason has some unique ideas about how to model the world in the Savage Worlds rules, including using the race creation rules to provide Archetypes like Samaritans and Pushers. A full Plot Point campaign will be included, and the Interrogation rules should be a thing of beauty (something I asked about in the Beautiful Brains chat the other night, as you can inadvertently force a "false positive" while pushing your mark in interrogation). You can read more about Streets of Bedlam here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Playstation 3 - One Year Later

Last year, I finally jumped into this generation of consoles by purchasing a PS3 for me and my son. I have played a LOT of video games this year. Many of them were purchased second hand, a few were purchased off of the Playstation Network, and a few were bought at full retail, with one of them even being preordered.

To put it mildly, I like my PS3. And not just for games. I'm also enjoying the Hell out of using it as a Blu-Ray player and for streaming Netflix. Overall, I am very, very pleased with my purchase, but I thought I'd make a blog post giving my thoughts on every one of the games I spent any real amount of time playing this year, in no particular order:

Marvel Super Hero Squad Infinity Gauntlet - Purchased for my son, I haven't played this nearly as much as I intended to, but I was pumped that they included Nova. Based off the cartoon of the same name, it's a kid-friendly take on the Marvel Universe, with gameplay serving as a beat-em up in which you control two heroes in each level.

WHAT WORKS: Cute writing, not on par with the TV show, but not bad. NOVA makes it into the game, which is just fantastic for me, and then they added Captain America, Bucky and Red Skull DLC, making it even better.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Controls and animation are kind of clunky. Probably too "kiddy" if you're not into the whole Super Hero Squad thing.

PROTOTYPE - An open world game in which you play an escaped amnesiac named Alex Mercer who has all kinds of freaky powers, but is also linked to a zombie-ish outbreak in the city. No matter how bad the bad guys are, Mercer never rises above the level of anti-hero, as he regularly consumes people. Still haven't finished this game. Probably should have played it before I played - and beat - inFAMOUS.

WHAT WORKS: The powers system works pretty well in game play, and it's fun for crazy, over the top action. There's a lot to be said for some of the cooler stealth powers as well, like consuming and shapeshifting into a military commander and calling down an airstrike on the bad guys before they realize they are bombing their own people.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The game seems to sacrifice a lot of character development and personality for swearing and blood. The basic premise is real similar to inFAMOUS, which I found to be superior in just about every way.

inFAMOUS - Similar to Prototype (in the broadest terms), inFAMOUS is an open world game in which you are given superpowers (electricity based), and you can determine whether you will save the world or destroy it. The powers will even develop somewhat uniquely depending on your path, good or evil. Beat this one on the Good playthrough, but I have only begun the evil playthrough. After you beat the game, you can continue playing in order to unlock additional power-ups and find Dead Drops which lay out the game's backstory.

WHAT WORKS: I loved the personalities in the game, especially Cole McGrath (your character) and his partner Zeke. The open world was quite fun, with optional sidequests depending on your path (Good or Evil). The urban exploration really helped the world come alive, using a mix of parkour and static electricity to scale buildings and the like.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some of the powers were wonky to use. A few of the sidequests got tedious, like some of the spying missions, in which you would have to track a person without being seen. I also got COMPLETELY mistaken on one sidequest due to the onscreen directions and wound up killing cops. Sucked, seeing as I was doing a Good playthrough.

Heavy Rain - Greatest Hits - Heavy Rain is as much interactive movie as it is a video game. It's a mystery plot in which you play four characters, all intertwined in a series of kidnappings and murders. The game eschews traditional control schemes, instead providing context sensitive controls for each scene. The four characters, a desperate father, an insomniac photojournalist, an odd FBI Agent from Five Minutes In The Future and a driven, hard-boiled PI, are all well developed and interesting. The game also has an interesting caveat: There is no guarantee that any of your characters will make it out alive. In fact, only two of them made it out of my game alive. I can't say the game was fun, was an exhausting experience...but one I'm glad I went on.

WHAT WORKS: No other game has provided me with more tension than this one. Knowing that one wrong move could impact the story made every action count, and the story hit me with multiple gutpunches that stay with me to this day. The innovative control scheme became a subject of some criticism, but I thought it made the game truly come alive in the high stress situations.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The voice actors were all French, trying to sound American. Only one of them managed to really pull it off (The PI), but the stilted tone of the FBI Agent actually worked, helping sell how odd and off-putting he is. It's definitely not for all audiences, and CERTAINLY not for children. Like I said, I can't say it was FUN...but it was a gripping, emotionally exhausting experience.

God of War: Collection - I had tried to play God of War back on the PS2 and didn't care for it. My PS3 came bundled with the God of War Collection (parts 1 and 2) and God of War III, so I gave it another shot, and I'm glad I did. God of War is an alternate take on Greek Mythology, bordering at points on making Hercules the Legendary Journeys seem mythologically accurate (if that's a real thing). In the first game, Kratos is waging war on Ares, ultimately killing him and becoming the new God of War. The second game is Kratos being betrayed by Zeus and being saved by the Titans to reverse his fate. Originally released on the Playstation 2, the Collection has been given an HD update. The gameplay itself has been ripped off and raped by multiple action games since.

WHAT WORKS: This series does Insane Over The Top Action Gameplay better than any of its imitators. As long as you're not a Greek Myth purist, the callouts to Greek Myth are pretty awesome, as they managed to squeeze a TON of references in across the series. And everything...EVERYTHING...feels absolutely epic.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Your mileage may vary, but some criticize Kratos for being one dimensional. Personally, I thought it gave him a certain charm. Also, greek myth purists will have their heads explode with this game. Finally, as nice as the gameplay looks, the cutscenes look like CRAP in comparison.

God of War III - The epic conclusion to the series, as Kratos joins forces with the Titans to go after Zeus and the remaining Gods. This was the first (and only, thus far) God of War game made specifically for the PS3 and it shows. The opening cutscene went right into gameplay and it was so seamless that it took me by complete surprise. The series had built to an epic conclusion and they completely fulfilled the promise in a disturbing, but awesome, collision between Kratos and Zeus.

WHAT WORKS: Absolutely gorgeous game. A well delivered pay-off to a well-built story. The God of War series may not be incredibly DEEP, but it is certainly appropriately epic.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not a ton of complaints. Really, my biggest complaint is going to be if they make a fourth game needlessly.

Assassin's Creed - A well-loved series taking place in two time periods: The modern times, in which Desmond Miles is being experimented on in a VR type project, and the distant past, where his ancestor Altair serves as an Assassin. Frankly, not a fan. One of the first games I bought for the PS3 and I was disappointed.

WHAT WORKS: The parkour was cool, but other games have done it better since. The eagle eye/diving from high points was also cool...but that's all I got.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: For one, it felt like every time I was getting going as Altair, I was snapped back into playing Desmond, or watching long cut scene after long cut scene, instead of - you know - PLAYING THE GAME. Ultimately, Assassin's Creed and I did not click, and though I only paid $10 for it, I feel I paid too much.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition - Based off of the Wolverine movie, the Wolverine video game slipped under a lot of noses because a) people tended to hate the film and b) people tend to hate movie video games. Sad, because this is actually quite good. Lots of unlockable, historical Wolverine costumes are available, if you hate the movie look, and it doesn't follow the movie exactly, providing some nice fights with Sabretooth, the Blob and even Sentinels. Still haven't quite finished this one yet, with about an Act to go, I believe.

WHAT WORKS: This Wolverine pulls no punches. The movie may not have been R-Rated, but the game is rated M for Mature, and rightfully so, as Wolverine hacks, slashes, decapitates and disembowels his way through legions of baddies. Wolverine has never felt more like Wolverine in a video game.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: It's still the movie plot (with added backstory), which isn't the BEST...though it is better executed than in the film. Pretty sure the Sentinel boss fight has a glitch to it that can make it unwinnable, but reloading your game save seems to fix it.

Red Dead Redemption - I used to think Red Dead Revolver was as close to a great western game as I was ever going to see. I was shocked, and pleased, to discover that this topped that game in every way. The story of John Marston is an homage to westerns from across the spectrum, as he is enlisted by the government to bring his former gang to justice. Along the way, Marston encounters one of the best supporting casts I've ever seen in a video game as he is yanked around all over the map by people using him for their own purposes. I saw the ending coming, but it didn't make it any less powerful.

WHAT WORKS: The best Western experience in a video game. Period. Bar none. An amazing, bittersweet story of a man trying to be rid of his past, providing a narrative worthy of many of the best western films. The gameplay has everything from shootouts to duels to playing horseshoes to poker. I've also had quite a bit of fun with the online multiplayer, playing with a couple of buddies of mine.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I never got the hang of duels in this game like I did Red Dead Revolver.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare - Taking one of the most powerful stories I've played in a video game, and turning it into a campy, zombie infested b-movie experience should have been horrible...instead, it became new levels of awesome. While I prefer the original narrative to this one - if I had to pick one, I mean - this was a stroke of genius. Taking minor characters from the original story and giving them bizarre, over the top twists, Undead Nightmare is both hilarious and creepy...and surprisingly touching at times.

WHAT WORKS: Well, I've always liked the idea of undead cowboys, and as amazing and emotional as Red Dead Redemption's story was, it's nice to see that they didn't take themselves too seriously.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Accidentally shooting someone in town and having the whole town turn on you violently. Eesh.

Darksiders - An action game borrowing more than a little from God of War, Darksiders has an interesting concept: War, Horseman of the Apocalypse, is summoned forth and brings about the End Times. Then he finds out after the fact that he was tricked into acting before he was supposed to, and is tasked to shake apart Heaven and Earth until he finds the truth, battling Angels and Demons along the way. The gameplay doesn't really live up to the concept.

WHAT WORKS: Cool concepts, cool designs. That's kinda it.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The graphics themselves already feel dated, and the gameplay kinda does as well. It LOOKS cool...until you actually start playing.

Lost: Via Domus - Despite all the warnings, I still bought LOST: Via Domus because I'm a hardcore LOST guy. You play a new character, who was on Oceanic 815, and interact with a number of the LOST characters, complete with Flashbacks. Try as I might, I could not get into it, and am still only about three episodes into it (though I think that means I'm halfway there). I wanted to like it so much...

WHAT WORKS: It's not HORRIBLE...I just kept getting better games that kept me from going back to it.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The game assumes you have working knowledge of the show. If you don't, you probably need not apply. I HAD working knowledge of the show and I still couldn't get into the game. Also, some of the voice acting is disturbingly off the mark.

Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition - I was a pretty huge fan of Bioware going into this, due to Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. What I found was my favorite video game RPG. You have six different origins, three different character classes and two different sexes to choose from, each factor influencing the gameplay. My sole playthrough thus far was as a Dalish Elf Male Warrior. The game ditched the Morality System that had become more and more common in RPGs, replacing it instead with an Approval system, in which you tried to balance the respect and approval of your party members. The Ultimate Edition includes all of the DLC, and I've played about half of it, still needing to complete Awakenings, Golems of Amgarrak and Witch Hunt.

WHAT WORKS: My favorite set of party members in an RPG, ever. I vastly prefer the balancing approval over an alignment system. The game even managed to have a *plot relevant* sex scene!

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I DID lose a couple of my cool DLC items when I transferred my character to Awakenings...=(

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions - A surprisingly good Spider-Man game, taking place in four realities with four Spider-Men: Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Man 2099. A mystical fragment stolen by Mysterio is shattered and disperses through time, leading to the Spider-Men each having to deal with a trio of their foes that have gained control of the artifacts, altering each of them in various ways. Each one plays somewhat differently, with Spider-Man Noir standing out the most (his missions are almost entirely stealth based). Each world also has a noticeable visual style, helping them stand out further. Still not quite to the end game on this one.

WHAT WORKS: Interesting selection of foes. Very witty writing, with the Deadpool level standing out in particular. Good gameplay that feels evocative of Spider-Man far more often than not. The Spider-Man Noir levels particularly stand out.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Deadpool level has this horrible, horrible sequence involving a tidal wave that sorely tempted me to put the game down and never look back. A few frustrating oddities like this pop up here and there, but this is by far the worst.

NCAA Football 09 - Got this one dirt cheap after I got swept back up into the college football thing this year due to OSU's banner year. Without playing a football game in ages, I was able to get into the groove after a few games, and am now kicking much butt.

WHAT WORKS: Being able to alter the difficulty and the AI sliders in the middle of games, adjusting difficulty up and down as needed or preferred on a whim. Dynasty mode is pretty fantastic as you can control anywhere from 1 to 12 teams! I control three of them (OU, OSU and TU), because I am a fan of Oklahoma football more than I am any one school.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: It's hard to find the sweet spot at times between too difficult and too easy. I know it's there...just still playing with the AI sliders to figure it out. The team management stuff can get to be overwhelming, but thankfully the computer can do a decent job of simulating that for you.

Batman Arkham Asylum: Game of the Year Greatest Hits - This used to be the best superhero game ever made. Arkham Asylum brought Batman alive in a way that no other game had before. The plot is simple: Joker breaks free and takes over the Asylum. This allows other villains their chances to act as well, with some (like Scarecrow) playing a larger role than others (like Zsaz). Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their animated roles as Batman and Joker, and do so splendidly.

WHAT WORKS: EVERYTHING. The voice acting, the way the game helps you become Batman, from combat to stealth to investigation. The dozens and dozens of easter eggs, including multiple, subtle hints at Arkham City. The realization at one point in the game when you discover that Batman can leave at any time, he just refuses to. OH...and BATMAN TRICKS YOU. The sideplot with Riddler is also amazing, as he slips into desperation and insanity while Batman is solving his riddles.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The 3D (which is optional) gives me headaches. The challenge maps are kind of repetitive.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 - The best wrestling game I have played since I owned an N64. Smackdown vs Raw 2011 finally got the groundwork laid, piece by piece over the years, incorporating new weapon physics, new Royal Rumble mechanics, new Ladder match mechanics, improved tag team AI and the crown jewel: Universe mode, which allows you to play the entire roster, throughout the WWE year, which I frankly think is awesome. The game also includes a deep roster, from undercard guys to the main event, with a few Legends sprinkled in. I ordered this game on Christmas Eve last year, and was still playing it almost a year later.

WHAT WORKS: Universe very much. Also, you can download created wrestlers that obsessive people have slaved over, instead of having to make them yourself.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: You can't upload Storylines if you have edited the guys in any way. Road to WrestleMania kinda sucks. No tournaments or Beat the Clock Challenge.

WWE '12 - The follow-up to Smackdown vs Raw 2011 added a number of nice, new features...but also stumbled in a lot of ways. THQ launched their own online servers, which are very unstable, even for guys like me who only want to download wrestlers. The game is also pretty glitchy, though a patch is supposedly being worked on for that. On the plus side, Universe mode is a lot more customizable, even adding in storylines to flow from show to show.

WHAT WORKS: A lot of the stuff from 2011 is still there, and the extra customization options for Universe are very nice. Still a solid engine that is fun to play. You can now pick your wrestler AFTER Universe cut scenes before matches, letting pre-match actions help you decide who you want to control.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: If you're like me and don't like using Legends in your Universe, the roster feels a lot more shallow this year, and the DLC releases are pretty lackluster. Just about every storyline in Universe mode turns SOMEBODY...which gets entirely too chaotic after a while.

Captain America: Super Soldier - Completely overlooked due to people being gunshy about movie tie-ins, the Captain America game was a very pleasant surprise this summer. Borrowing pretty heavily from Arkham Asylum, the game provides an authentic Captain America experience that largely fits into the movie continuity after he gets the iconic shield, but before the climax. The story was written by Christos Gage, one of the most underrated writers in comics. Easily the most underrated superhero game available this generation.

WHAT WORKS: Chris Evans reprises his role as Captain America, Christos Gage delivers a good, solid story and ripping off Arkham Asylum is not the worst thing you can do for a Captain America game. And it's usually available dirt cheap because everyone overlooked it.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The biggest disappointment is that it takes forever to unlock the classic Captain America costume, and you can't replay the game with it, limiting its use to the final parts of the game and the Challenge maps.

Incredible Hulk - I wanted to like this, given what I fan I was of the Incredible Hulk movie...and the list of unlockables sounded cool...however, this game was just the prototype for Protoype, which didn't really impress me.

WHAT WORKS: Apparently, there are no Bruce Banner missions, thankfully.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The graphics look like last generation graphics and the gameplay just feels anemic compared to the last-gen Incredible Hulk Ultimate Destruction game.

inFAMOUS 2 - The follow-up to inFAMOUS had a lot to live up to, and it did two things right immediately: 1) It transplanted the setting to a New Orleans stand-in called New Marais, which provided a whole new feeling to the game (and rightfully so). 2) Unlike most games, Cole did NOT get his powers all stripped away, starting all over from scratch. Like the previous game, this one has a Good path and an Evil path, and I have completed the Good path. The inFAMOUS mythos gets explained a little more and you can even develop new powers based off of different elements, namely ice and fire.

WHAT WORKS: Sucker Punch took everything that made inFAMOUS work and stepped it up. In fact, with the photography side missions and the Tether power, to say nothing of the snappy writing, I REALLY want to see them make a Spider-Man game. The Good and Evil playthroughs also seem to be even more divergent in this game than the last one. Lastly, they provided tools for User Generated Missions to help add to replayability.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Again, not much. I call this one a must-buy for PS3 owners, as it's easily the best non-licensed superhero game that has been released thus far.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge - I picked this one up on a whim due to Gamestop not having inFAMOUS 2 when I went looking for it. It's a fun game (and one more I haven't beaten), I just would have waited for the price drop in retrospect. Basically, it's a Hack 'n' Slash game in which you switch back and forth between two characters, the human Caddoc and the elven E'lara. Each character is at least as developed as your average action game character, and I would have been downright giddy buying this game at the $15 Amazon is selling it for now. It does seem that a lot of folks thought they were getting an RPG, and judged the game harshly based on that assumption. Not as underrated as Captain America, but I would still call it underrated.

WHAT WORKS: I love the interaction between the two characters and the hack'n'slash is an enjoyable diversion. Switching between the two characters makes the gameplay stand out versus other action games.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: A lot of the weapons seem to repeat in loot drops during the game, and the Create-A-Quest feature (or whatever it's called), has kinda fallen short due to the lack of interest in the game.

Borderlands Game of the Year - The first person shooter I had bought in years, I was attracted by Borderlands' FPS/RPG hybrid qualities. Picking a character and leveling him up is quite fun. I chose the Hunter, and once I worked my Falcon up a bit, I was wreaking all kinds of havoc. Game of the Year includes all of the DLC, and I've completed the main story as well as The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned...but I've gotten frustrated on Mad Moxxi's Underdone Riot since I only play solo.

WHAT WORKS: The FPS/RPG mash-up works surprisingly well, keeping me engaged through the main plot. The absurd humor freshens up a lot of stuff that could easily be old hat otherwise.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The plot is entirely paper thin. You can EASILY forget about NPCs and the overall plot, because most of the time it just doesn't matter. Still, the carnage is cool enough that most of the time, you won't notice.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Limited Edition - The first Castlevania game I have bought...ever? I think I rented all the rest. Apparently, this isn't considered a "true" Castlevania game (it is a reboot, apparently), but man it's both a pretty game and it's fun. In fact, it helped inspire the "Horror of Trevala" setting I still hope to release for Savage Worlds someday. It's had some nice twists and turns, and great voice work (Patrick Stewart is the Narrator!), with fun gameplay and boss fights that feel epic (and somewhat inspired by God of War, in a good way). I actually did buy the Limited Edition, with art book and CD (and the music for this game is fantastic, so there's that).

WHAT WORKS: The music. Patrick Stewart. The swell upgrades for your character (with preview animations calling back to the original Castlevania). The game oozes atmosphere, whether you're racing through a sweltering jungle, battling a titan in the snow or fending off vampires in a dark castle.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Gabriel Belmont lacks personality, driven purely by his obsessive need to save his wife. The one-note protagonist works a bit better in God of War than it does here...although Gabriel is MUCH less of an anti-hero than Kratos is.

Batman: Arkham City - Remember how I said inFAMOUS 2 approved on inFAMOUS in just about every way? Arkham City takes Arkham Asylum to the extreme. An amazing Batman story (and don't be fooled by the trailers: This thing is all about Batman and Joker), with an even more epic side mission with Riddler, as well as the addition of playable Catwoman missions. After I beat the story mode, I had two side missions that had never even started! I beat Arkham City quickly...because I could not put it down.

WHAT WORKS: The Challenge Maps feel much funner this year, in part because you can also play as Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing (the latter two through DLC). After beating the story, I still had two side missions that hadn't STARTED and I STILL haven't stopped Riddler! Even the frikkin' Penguin got a bad-ass makeover for the Arkham version of the Batman mythos! The plot was full of twists and turns and a shocking ending.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The lack of voicework for Nightwing and Robin is disappointing, and there is an INCREDIBLY annoying section under a factory in which Batman has to use ice floats and grapple lines to get around. It gets old. Fast. year with the PS3. Yes, I've played a lot of games. That's not even getting into the PSN games, most of which disappointed me. Only Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Marvel Pinball and DC Universe Online got much play (and DCU Online got old FAST). Still...good investment, and I still have games that are out that I want to get!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tommy's Take on Necessary Evil Explorer's Edition

Necessary Evil is one of those products that I never felt received enough love. I feel that way, see, because it's one of the major factors that totally hooked me when it came to Savage Worlds, as it was our first attempt at an extended campaign.




WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: There are two versions of Necessary Evil, the original release and the Explorer's Edition. The Explorer's Edition is slightly more colorful and a bit more expanded, bringing the rules and stats in line with Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition and adding an additional resolution to the Plot Point Campaign.

The PDF is $14.99, and 192 pages, and was the first attempt at Savage Worlds supers (which has set the template for most future attempts, including the Savage Worlds Supers Companion). The premise is that aliens known as the V'Sori showed up and completely sucker punched the entire world, wiping out most of the world leaders and superheroes. The PCs are second strong supervillains, forcibly recruited by Dr. Destruction (think Dr. Doom if it somehow eluded you) into his organization OMEGA, for the purposes of throwing off the shackles of alien enslavement. In fact, the campaign opens with the PCs on a prison transport, being freed by Destruction, and being set out on a mission. From there, the campaign largely consists of missions being given to the PCs by Dr. Destruction, taking out V'Sori encampments, freeing other super powered prisoners, stealing alien tech and so on. In addition to the V'Sori (who are blue-skinned psychics), the PCs have to deal with K'Tharen soliders (giant shark men), Drones (humans who have been turned into mindless cyborgs), superpowered traitors and even the odd hero who remembers the villains as threats to the world, and not as the world's best hope for salvation.

The campaign includes a few other shout-outs, including stand-ins for Captain America, Bucky and Superman (who arrives in a horrifying "Oh, Crap" moment at the original campaign a Drone enslaved by the V'Sori). My group was about three quarters of the way through the campaign when Real Life derailed it (and I have been mad at the world since), and we alternated steadily between the missions that the book provides and the missions that I cooked up (many of which spawned from "out of the box" actions by the PCs. For instance, a V'sori traitor manning a surveillance outpost helps the PCs in one mission, after it was over, one of my PCs returned to him and killed him, having a mad on for all things V'Sori. When he didn't check in, the V'Sori came looking for him, then used the equipment to identify the PC, since the traitor wasn't alive to keep his identity hidden. This led to a brutal ambush a few sessions later and the death of an NPC team member. Good times).

Many of the missions are painted in very broad strokes, requiring the GM and the PCs to hang the extra meat on the bones (I find most Savage Tales work this way, and honestly, I call that  a plus), while the Plot Point campaign steadily builds to a Secret Wars-like standoff between the PCs and the V'Sori, with Dr. Destruction taken out of the mix early on, leaving success or failure in the hands of the PCs (as it should be). Explorer's Edition added a new "Epilogue" that could be used, anywhere from minutes to years after the fact, when the PCs have an opportunity to travel to the heart of the V'Sori empire and end it once and for all.

In order to facilitate the campaign style, Necessary Evil replaces the Savage Worlds Powers system with the Super Powers system, a list of powers and modifiers that do not use Power Points. The system can cover a broad spectrum of characters, including low powered vigilantes (Power Points can be used for Equipment and Edges, not just Eye Beams and Flight). Between PCs and NPCS, we have modeled weather wielding mutants, man-bulls, demons, Wolverine-like scrappers, Hulk clones, Voodoo Priests and poisoning seductresses and then some. For my part, I largely prefer the Super Powers system to the Power Point system, EXCEPT for superheroes. There are also a number of Setting Rules to help out, including Knockback rules and reduced lethality...which just meant my players fought harder to kill their foes.

In addition to the Powers (Flight, Decay, Ranged Attack, Telepathy, etc), the setting of the campaign - Star City (made when a Beyonder-like entity fell to Earth) - is laid out, district by district, with many of the Savage Tales tied to parts of the districts. A helping of sample archetypes are also included (The Sorcerer became a regular NPC in our group), for use or inspiration.

WHAT WORKS: As noted, I largely prefer the Super Powers system to the Power Point System. The campaign is one of my favorite pre-written campaigns, even if it is very "directed" (by Dr. Destruction, of course), because basically everything has to be done by the PCs. The campaign has a couple of nice twists, one being the origin of the V'Sori and the other being Dr. Destruction's true plan. I am truly disappointed we never reached that point, because my players were WAY off base.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: My only real gripe is that while I prefer the powers system in this book, it just never felt as flexible to me or my players as the Powers system in other supers games. If you have the Super Powers Companion, I did provide a solution to this on my blog. Some of the powers, namely Decay, come across WAY too weak to actually be worth buying, in our experience.

CONCLUSION: One of my favorite Savage Worlds releases, due in no small part because of the sheer amount of fun we had with the campaign. The PCs experienced rousing success, crushing defeat and even heartache, a range of experiences that I have been told are impossible with both Savage Worlds and supers RPGs...and yet, here we are. If you already own the Super Powers Companion, and you don't want to make your own campaign, I am very fond of the provided campaign. If villains vs aliens doesn't sound very good, then you might just consider getting the Super Powers Companion instead.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tommy's Take on Fall

I occasionally review comics here, sometimes prompted by outside sources and sometimes prompted by my own desire to do so. This review is spawned by the latter impulse.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: FALL is a graphic novel by Fabian Rangel Jr and Juan Romera, published by 215 Ink. Cover price is $7.99, and the digital version is $3.99 on the webstore/app.

The bulk of the story is set in 1995, after Josh Reyna and his family have just moved due to his Dad's new job. Josh is miserable, being bullied and would probably be ready to snap, except he's got a secret: A space alien named Russ is hiding in his room. From there we get a buddy bonding tale that takes a dark turn when Josh's bullying gets out of hand, and ends in something less than a happy ending, for a couple of reasons. It claims to be a tale of "disillusionment, loss and the realities of growing up", which is certainly an accurate claim.

In addition to the story itself (told in two chapters), Fall contains a five page script for the original version of the story, as well as the completed short tale. One of my only real complaints about Fall is the length - I felt like it could have been longer, easy - and so I'm not a big fan of the five page version, but it is a nice bonus, seeing how the story evolved from five pages to two chapters. The book also includes a few pin-ups, mostly of Russ.

WHAT WORKS: The author has a strong handle on dialogue, and the story is a good, if somewhat depressing, tale. The art is not super realistic, but you don't get any of the characters confused, and that's always a plus, ESPECIALLY in non-superhero books, where you can't just tell people apart by the costumes.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: As noted above, my biggest complaint is the length. In an age where stories are padded out to the point that nothing happens, I felt like Fall hit its third act twist and climax too soon. While it is an improvement over the five pager (in which Josh's parents come across completely neglectful due to the small amount of space), another issue of developing the romantic subplot, as well as Josh and Russ' friendship, probably would have made the third act feel a bit less abrupt to me. Or maybe it was so good I just didn't want to see it end.

CONCLUSION: A very good story that's more than a little depressing for any kid who said he wasn't going to be like his parents when he grows up, Fall is well worth your time. I've read one other work by the author, Revenge Rooster, which was a fun, ultra-violent romp, but this one has a bit more depth and resonates with me more, while the contrasting works show me that the author is certainly not a one trick pony. Thus far, my favorite offering from 215Ink (although, if I ever get to read more than one issue of Vic Boone, that may change), and one of the best indy titles I've read in recent memory.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tommy's Take on LFNE Book 2: Among the Missing

Yesterday, I reviewed Little Fears Nightmare Edition. Today, it's one full-sized supplement: Among the Missing. I'll work on getting to the Campfire Tales as time permits (and I still need to get two of them).

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: You can pick up Among the Missing for $20 in paperback or $10 in PDF, and it is a supplement revolving entirely around missing children, which are divided into five groups: The Abducted, The Stolen, The Runaways, The Abandoned and The Forgotten.

The Abducted are kids who are kidnapped by other people. Chapter one covers them, and this is one of those areas that can make folks nervous, veering into that "real world horror" that does make some folks uncomfortable (and I think that's a fair reaction to have). This chapter deals with not only the hows (covering the gamut from physical force being applied, to having a parent abduct a child without them really knowing - at first - that they are missing), to the  whys (one parent trying to "protect" a child from another, to creepy cult-like brainwashing). It is worth noting that while the author notes that even more evil motivations exist, he  has chosen not to highlight them for the purposes of this book. The common (in universe) resolutions are then provided, as these sudden abductions can sometimes allow Closetland to reach its horrible grip around the child.

The Stolen are children who are captured by Monsters. This follows a similar format, detailing how Monsters get children (like luring them into traps) and why (some love to eat kids, you know, while others just don't know how to make friends). A few options for resolution are also provided, from release to escape.

Next are those who choose to disappear, The Runaways. Again, same format: How (disappearing into the night, or into a crowd), Why (Escaping abuse, or perhaps jealousy) and the resolution (most of which aren't great).

The Abandoned have been left behind by their family, perhaps with a friend, or on a random doorstep. The reasons can be varied here as well. In fact, one can become Abandoned because a parent had your best interests at heart. Even if a child does find a new family, those scars are still present for Monsters to take advantage of.

The Forgotten are those who have ceased to exist in all but the memories of a few children (and that won't last for long). This one is the most fantastic of the options, but one of the most interesting, as it can happen for a variety of reasons (Monsters tormenting kids, parents grieving to the point that they push the surviving kid out of the world, forces making abusive parents forget they HAVE kids and so on).

Chapter 6 covers playing a Missing kid, and most of character creation is the same, except you  must select one of the five types and your approaches to Stuff and Qualities change, as you have access to less Stuff (generally). New questions are also added to the Questionnaire, depending on your Missing type. This chapter also covers the use of Missing GMCs as both allies and enemies, and provides something of a mid-level between the quick and dirty GMCs and the full fledged characters.

Chapter 7 gets into Missing interacting in the world (both real and Closetland), hitting on places like community shelters, churches, well as crossover points between the two worlds (including how to find - and breach - them). There are a couple of interesting places that exist DIRECTLY between worlds, one of which being the Halfway House. This chapter also talks about the Laws of the In Between, and how it sometimes chooses not to enforce them. This chapter details hiding places in Closetland, like the Ash Pile, which can be used to make you invisible...just don't overdue it. Lastly, you get places to avoid, like Nowhere.

The next chapter covers people you can meet. My personal favorite is the vagrant known as Walter Highways, who can still see the Monsters. There are also a few folk that you can meet in the In Between, and even folks in Closetland that'll help you (and a big freaking Cat that won't). Some more monsters are also provided that focus specifically on missing kids. The Ghost Car particularly stands out to me here.

The Long Way Home is an adventure that is sparked by the sudden arrival of a boy who went missing about a decade ago...who hasn't aged a day. The PCs get to deal with his identity (and lack of acceptance from his family, who clearly have issues with him not having aged), and get to come face to face with a horrible monster. The adventure hinges on a big moral choice for the PCs, and is intentionally left open ended depending upon HOW they want to deal with the dilemma facing this child.

Lastly, the book has expanded GMC sheets, a new character sheet and new questionnaires, along with the promise of THE SEVEN KINGS, coming soon.

WHAT WORKS: The art in the books is eerily effective, with one piece (page 91 of the PDF) genuinely creeping me out as I was scrolling through the PDF. Seriously...not cool. The book has lots of information designed to inspire, and the writing conveys the research in such a manner as to not be tedious or boring. I do also love adventures that put actual choice in PC hands, and this one does a nice job of that, especially at the end.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Well, if you want a lot of crunch, it's not here. There are some slight tweaks to the character generation that you can use, but this isn't a "splat book". Similarly, the subject matter may begin to push Little Fears a bit more into "Squick" territory than a lot of you may like, addressing the idea of humans being as detrimental to kids as Monsters.

CONCLUSION: 128 pages flew by, thanks to the concise writing and conversational tone. The author has a knack for speaking to you when writing without it ever feeling tacky or annoying (which can be a hard feat to master). Little Fears will work perfectly fine without this book, but it does do a nice job of adding more pieces to the puzzle...pieces that are wholly optional and rarely completely spelled out for you, instead providing a long road for your group to walk down on and leaving it up to you all to determine what's at the end.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tommy's Take on Little Fears Nightmare Edition

Back in 2001, Jason L. Blair released Little Fears, which attracted a lot of attention, and not all of it positive. See, it was called the "Game of Childhood Terror", and included a broad spectrum of terror, but critics seemed to latch onto the extreme ends of the spectrum (namely, pedophiles), and resulting internet discussions seemed to overwhelm the game itself. A couple of years ago, however, Mr. Blair released Little Fears Nightmare Edition, aiming at improving the product across the board.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The print version is about $25, while you can get the PDF at RPGNow for $12. It weighs in at 194 pages, and has been pretty well supported, with a full supplement and multiple smaller ones called "Campfire Tales". Characters are children facing the horrors of Closetland, trying to hold onto both their lives and their innocence.

Little Fears Nightmare Edition uses d6s and tokens (poker chips, glass beads, marbles, whatever), so there's not a huge barrier for entry. Interestingly, characters have three Abilities: Move, Fight, Think, Speak and Care, and the player generally determines which he is rolling (based off of what he is trying to accomplish). The system is a die pool using an Ability plus a Quality to determine the number of dice rolled, and are either unopposed, opposed or sustained (called Quizzes, Tests and Exams). From the dice pool, you pick your top three dice to determine your total, and dice rolls are open ended, so as long as you keep rolling sixes, you can keep adding onto your total.

Characters also have Good Traits and Bad Traits, which can either allow players to reroll their lowest die, or cost them their highest die.

Success and Failure (Passing and Failing Grades) are measured for every three points over or under your target number.

Characters also have Belief, which is a risk-reward system (and where the tokens come in at). You can wager Belief by believing in yourself, someone else or even your Stuff (like your asthma inhaler being acidic to the evil clown). If you succeed, you keep your token. If you get  a Passing Grade, you get an additional token! If you fail? Well...your Belief is rocked, and you lose the token. If you get a Failing Grade, you lose an ADDITIONAL token. So wager carefully.  You also use Belief to perform rituals (like the Lord's Prayer), give monsters a weakness, and even destroy monsters.

Characters also have Wits and Spirit, which can be damaged like their Health, and have negative effects of their own (like making a kid careless, or too frantic to concentrate).

The rules cover a LOT of ground, and all the rules are front loaded in the first chapter.

Character creation is point buy, with points equal to your kid's age...however, the younger the kid, the more often they can use Belief magic.

Qualities are player defined, phrashed in sentences like "I have lots of friends" or "I read a lot" or "I hit like a brick". Negative Qualities can be things like "I'm clumsy", "My family's poor" or "People don't trust me".

Then, you take a number of points equal to your Belief and buy Stuff with it (using the points to give the Stuff bonuses and so on, like Sneakers that make you Move faster). Nothing ground breaking here, but still very suitable to the genre.

This chapter also includes some nice guidelines for making a GOOD character...i.e., not making a passive character who won't get involved, etc.

The GM chapter approaches the game from the "episode/season" format, hinging pretty heavily on the three act structure, and providing a description (as well as examples) of a number of types of scenes. A "Quick Stats" system is provided, for minor GM Characters, with two examples (a teacher and a security guard). Perhaps the most interesting bit is the section on how to use the character creation questionnaire against the characters. Should I run this game, this might be the first time I actually make the players fill out the questionnaire.

We also get into character advancement here, both via Playaround Points and Aging...and, sadly, when a character turns 13, that's it...they're growing up. They lose the ability to Believe in themselves, start seeing monsters less clearly, and so on. The end is drawing near.

Finally, the GM chapter provides tips on tweaking the rules up to Dark Faery Tales (with Faery Magic and stronger Belief) on down to True Horror (heavily diminished Belief, or even removing it altogether).

Chapter four is basic information on the average life of the average American student in modern times, including different types of schooling, such as Private schools and homeschooling. This chapter also covers school breaks, as well as interactions with family members and even parents interacting with monsters. Here's a hint: They don't. They outgrew that nonsense a long time ago. We also get a list of the "Good People", my personal favorite being The Army of St. Nicholas. These are the people who didn't forget that monsters existed, you see. We also get guideliines of Hand-Me-Downs, which are Stuff that have gained some unique abilities over time, like Charm Bracelets, which grant a wish to a kid that Believe in them, or Bad Bunny which, when thrown at a monster, will latch onto its face and bite away, blinding them.

Chapter Five gets into Closetland, where the monsters come from. It begins by talking about how Monsters get over here, from seepage into our world (abandoned amusement parks, creepy woods) to bad dreams. THEN we look at how kids can travel TO Closetland.

Closetland itself is a freakish, evil reflection of our world and then some, with hundreds and hundreds of doors leading to who knows where. Fans of the original Little Fears will recognize parts of that Closetland carried over here, like Patchwork and Baba Yaga, as well as Queen Titania. The landmarks of Closetland are more archetypes than unique structures, like The Dollhouse and The School. And then there's The Black Bird Room...dear God. This chapter has a lot of plot seeds and unanswered questions which a GM can take off with for their own games.

A dozen sample monsters, ranging from "common" zombies all the way up to Baba Yaga are provided, as well as an extensive list of material (and examples) for building your own monsters from scratch.

Chapter six provides a sample story, complete with additional monsters and pregenerated characters, followed by a list of adventure seeds (alien neighbors, evil ice cream men and Silly Putty from Hell).

The author provides an afterword, and the book wraps up with summary sheets for the mechanics.

WHAT WORKS: The mechanics of this edition are MUCH tighter than the original in just about every way. Belief is a nice mechanic, with it's risk-reward system. A robust monster-creation guide is fantastic, especially when you don't have a full bestiary out there, and most of the flavor text is creepy without being overly drawn out. Oh, and the advice on using the Questionnaire against your PCs.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Well, I could always use random charts. I also thought the Closetland baddies in the original had a ton of personality, and most of them were ditched for this version.

CONClUSION: One of the most justified second editions I have ever seen. Tighter focus than the original, tighter writing, tighter mechanics, you name it. Lots and lots of examples, plus a steady supply of support? I'm not sure how you beat that. If you like the idea of kids versus monsters, this is one of the best options out there, hands down. If you liked the original, and I did, I don't know why you wouldn't jump at this one. If you scoffed at the original because of its "True Horror" assured, The Defiler is nowhere to be found, so you can feel free to give Nightmare Edition a go.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tommy's Take on Smallville Watchtower Report

Last year, Margaret Weis Productions released Smallville, which turned their Cortex system on its ear. This year, they released the first supplement for it, the High School Yearbook, which turned out to be a fantastic resource for high school games in general, and Smallville High School games in particular. Now, we get the Watchtower Report which, as far as I know, is the last scheduled book in the line-up.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Watchtower Report PDF is $14.99 and 150 pages, focusing mostly on the "Metropolis Years" of the Smallville TV series. You can also get the entire set in a bundle for $34.97 at RPGNow. It is full color and photo heavy, as one expects from a licensed MWP book.

The book opens with a foreword from Justin Hartley, who played Oliver Queen on the show, in a nice, classy touch (although the Gold Standard of Celebrity forewords - Bruce Campbell's from Deadlands - is still untouched).

The first chapter of the book, Expanding Antagonist, covers villains (not surprisingly). A number of villain archetypes are presented, with tips on how to create them in the system, as well as story uses and examples of the character type. For instance, Killer Machines (like Metallo), with Assets like GEARHEAD and INVULNERABILTY and Resources like CONSTRUCTED MINION. Another thing this chapter does that other TV Shows into Games like Buffy the Vampire Slayer skips over, is using Villains as Leads. This, obviously, is a delicate balance as it puts players in a situation where someone wins, someone loses, and usually someone ultimately has to go away (although redemption is often an option in these situations). This chapter also includes Minor Features, which are less important villain types that don't get fleshed out quite as completely, using Defining Values (rather than the full values list) and Depth.

Next, we get the first of six prisons/facilities from the show, stats for them, as well as a list of relevant character sheets. First up is the Belle Reve Sanitarium, which includes stats for characters like the Sandman-esque Tim Wescott, the shapeshifting Tina Greer and the nameless Twins.

The Expanding Pathways chapter begins with a discussion on adding new players to the mix, either by letting them take over an existing Feature (important NPC) and turning them into a Lead, writing out a Feature and replacing them with a Lead who fills a similar role, or adding a new Lead altogether. They also provide tips on making your own Pathways chart, including using Checkmate as an example. Finally, they add an index of Distinctions from the first two books.

Next up is Black Creek, Montana, a facility owned by Lex Luthor. Stats here include "memory thief" Sebastian Kane.

The Expanding Play chapter is a lot of GM advice, really, such as scene framing techniques and when - and how far - to push the Leads. This chapter also gets into "Sideliner" episodes. That is, playing characters who AREN'T the Leads or even *directly* connected to them...but their Episode has an impact on the overall arc of the game. A similar idea, called Parallel episodes, is also introduced. Doubt any group I've ever had would go along with these, but they are an interesting idea.

Level 33.1, another operation of Lex Luthor's, is presented next, along with characters like Chloe's mom and Mikhail Mxyzptlk, Smallville's version of Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Expanding Drives is particularly useful for folks looking to take the system and make their own setting, as it covers using different Values than the ones presented, including an option for Iconic Values, in which each character shares five of the six values, but the sixth value is unique for each character. Along those lines is Owned Values, in which each Lead stakes their claim to one of the values, and are the only ones who can have the Value at d12, and also get a free re-roll with it. Relationships aren't excluded, either, as variations such as relationships with groups, as well as Titles (Editor-in-Chief is specifically named) are also discussed.

LuthorCorp Projects are up next, beginning with Project 1138 (vampires...inlcuding one named Buffy Sanders), Project Ares (super soldiers), Project Gemini (closing), Project Intercept (invasive interrogation), Project Mercury (medicinal), Project Prometheus (a suit that granted people superpowers), Project Scion (which turned out to be Brainiac) and Project Starhawk (meant to watch aliens).

Expanding Assets includes a slew of new Distinctions, Martial Arts styles and Heritages (including Wraiths) that you can use or adapt for your own new Distinctions. Additionally, new Abilities and Gear are also included. While there's not quite hard and fast guidelines for making your own Abilities, there are some pretty good benchmarks to go off of.

The Veritas Society, complete with its members, are given next.

Expanding Resources covers Extras and Locations, including a sidebar on Locations that are inside other Locations. This chapter also covers elevating Extras to Features and vice versa.

Zoners and Aliens include folks who aren't from around here, like Bizarro, Zod's wife Faora, and Zod himself.

The Story So Far finished what the Smallville corebook started with its coverage of seasons 1-9 by providing an episode by episode breakdown of Season Ten. This also includes Season 10 updates for all of the Features that were presented in the Smallville Corebook. A slew of new Features are also present, such as Booster Gold, Desaad, Deadshot, General Slade Wilson, Granny Goodness and The Blue Beetle.

WHAT WORKS: A lot of great advice on how to get the most out of the Smallville version of the Cortex Plus System, and a whole slew of NPC stats. The production values, as usual, are fantastic, and the book does a lot to really open up the system for people who like the base, but not the setting. The rules and guidelines for allowing players to play both villains and heroes is something that is often overlooked, but can be rewarding in the right group.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Minor complaint, but I could have used more pictures of some of the lesser known characters. I'm not a huge fan of the show, so some of these folks are lost on me.

CONCLUSION: As far as I know, this is the conclusion of the Smallville game line, which has proved to be a very effective three back adaptation of the source material, while also opening the game up to more than just the TV show. Of the two supplements, I prefer the Smallville High School Yearbook, just because it has some very useful advice that is applicable to more than just the Smallville game, while this one has some system-agnostic advice, most of it is about the setting or the rules. Great purchase for anyone running - or planning to run - Smallville. Now if the new Leverage supplements would ever come out...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tommy's Take on Wicked Quills, Old West Violence and Infinity Dungeon


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Wicked Quills is a new microsupplement for Wu Xing, tying in nicely with Land of Seed and Blossom which released last month, introducing a new clan called, well, The Wicked Quills. They are a clan of ninja that are constantly besieged and don't get along well with others...oh, and they have crazy wushu involving their hair. In fact, this supplement introduces the Way of the Piercing Jacket, which allows them to use their hair to great effect as a weapon...and I don't just mean the hair on their heads. The effects include hair jackets, stiffening their hair into quills - and firing them, and hair strangleholds.

WHAT WORKS: Well, a new Wushu and a new clan are always nice. The hair powers are very interesting, if a bit niche. There's only one piece of art here, and it's gorgeous.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Well, they're hair ninjas. That's a pretty big oddity, but that's also a good reason why they weren't in Land of Seed and Blossom, and are instead floating around for hardcore completists to buy or ignore. I did catch a typo or two in the text, but nothing major.

CONCLUSION: Thoroughly unessential for someone who likes Wu Xing but doesn't get to run it very often, but a very cool, quirky and unique option for the hardcore Wu Xing group, or even for a GM who just wants to toss his PCs a curveball.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: A system-free chart for western RPGs by 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, this essentially amounts to 100 "if you're stumped"/random encounter charts, just roll 1d100 and go. It's 6 pages (really 4, once you get past the cover and credits) and has no names or stats attached to the encounter seeds, so you could use it for Aces and Eights, Deadlands, whatever.

WHAT WORKS: IT'S A RANDOM ENCOUNTER TABLE. If you read my reviews, you know I LOVE this crap. Roll the dice before the game and BOOM (a few encounters work better with a little set-up). For instance, #22 has a pack of coyotes wandering into camp while the PCs are sleeping. #43 has the sheriff shot after a violent criminal has been brought down. #64 involves a tornado whipping through town. Like I said...I love this stuff. And, it's system free, so it's a simple matter to use it with whatever system you like.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: A few of the seeds make too many assumptions, or place the PCs in peril without them being able to do anything about it. Now, if you have a group that doesn't mind being shoved a bit, that's not a huge deal, especially in a system like Savage Worlds that has bennies or adventure cards that can be doled out to ease the pain. Some of these involve PCs being scarred by whips or PCs being challenged to duels for the love of a woman.

CONCLUSION: Even if you hate the idea of random rolls dictating where the events of the game go, there's still 100 ideas to run with here in case you get stuck. Many of them are fairly common western tropes, but sometimes you don't THINK of that until you have a list in front of you...and there you go. Thumbs up.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This 68 page PDF include the Infinity Dungeon game, as well as the Legendary Guys RPG. The Infinity Dungeon game is really as much of a geeky party game as it is an RPG. You select one of the premade character archetypes, then venture through an insane dungeon, and both the archetype and the dungeon is randomly determined. Basically, you have the party's archetypes' powers, equipment, drawbacks and random items that you use to formulate a plan to solve each "room". The players all vote on whether the plan is good or bad, and that determines the target number you need to roll on a d20. If you fail, then you are horribly killed in the attempt and the next player has to figure it out.

Character types include Dwarves, Matadors, Railroad Conductors, Opera Singers, Superheroes and Imposter Dark Wizards. The dungeon consists of rooms such as the Spider Chasm, the Glass Bridge, the Quiet Room, the Explosive Hedgehog and the Meat Grinder.

The Legendary Guys is really just a very basic fighting game, with player defined attibutes (like Over the Edge or FATE), and dice depending on the points spent. The last man standing gets the win (each attack, attributes are rolled against each other, with the higher rolling pC inflicting damage to the lower rolling PC).

WHAT WORKS: It seems like it would be some good, "beer and pretzels" style fun in a goofy, over the top way. A Vampire, a Tycoon, a Reporter, a Ninja and You stomping through a dungeon? And if a character is horribly killed, you just roll up a new one for the next room? Definitely not to be taken seriously, but a group could get some laughs out of this. However...

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The difficulty number is based on the number of party members who approve of a plan. However, there is no penalty for going along with, or going against, a plan...other than making it harder for the active character to pass the room. Basically, there is no reason for the group to ever not back every plan...a pretty huge oversight.

CONCLUSION: Infinity Dungeon seems to have so much promise, but it's either a) lacking a crucial element (reason for players to not back plans) or b) it has a huge error in the writing because I read it a couple of times and if it was there, it was far from clear. One little addition to tweak this and I would give it a strong recommendation for those who want a change of pace in their gaming some weekend, and the Legendary Guys minigame is a nice, goofy, narrative fighting game, although it also has a flaw: The rules state each attribute can only be used once, but there is no provision for a PC running out of attributes. I assume they would flee, but it isn't made clear. Lastly, Infinity Dungeon is also available on the iTunes app store, though I have not tried out the App version yet.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tommy's Take on Grim & Gritty, Bloodsucker: The Play and Chav: The Play (Kinda)

Hi, remember me?

Been awfully busy with the webcomic, which just started it's second arc a few weeks ago, as well as convention appearances. Working on getting back into the swing of the reviewer thing. So with that in mind, I have a short review I wanted to touch on, and a "kinda" review about two other products by the same author.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: A while back, I reviewed Tough Justice - and rather loved it. Grim and Gritty is a combat supplement for Tough Justice by Tough Justice writer Ian Warner. You can download it for $1.99 from RPGNow, or buy it in print from for $9.29. Essentially, it is 40 pages of combat rules for Tough Justice (which didn't delve heavily into combat). Combat isn't wildly different from most games, although there are unique bits like a pre-fight roll determining either how soon it will be before the defender can attempt to escape, or how quickly reinforcements come, and the end result of combat (death or capture) is entirely up to the victor. The supplement takes the Tough Justice legal setting very seriously, with attackers can gain Felony Dice, but Defenders do not, due to their right to defend themselves.

WHAT WORKS: The rules for dueling seem like they would be the most thematically appropriate for the Tough Justice setting, and this includes pistol or sword duels, fist fights or hag fights (with appropriate rules for differentiating them from regular combats). The book also does an admirable job of trying to cover all relevant combat bases, including a weapons chapter, gang-up rules and mass combat.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The proofreading could have been better, especially in regards to punctuation. The book encourages exceptions in combats whenever characters made from different Historical Farce games are used together, which can prove annoying at times.

CONCLUSION: I really enjoy Ian Warner's off-beat work in particular, and Postmortem's work in general. As the author says, even in this book, Tough Justice is completely playable by itself, these are just additional rules, in case the combat doesn't work for you. Is there anything indispensible in here? No, although I do really like the addition of the dueling rules. Otherwise, if you have played Tough Justice a time or two, you have a pretty good idea as to whether or not the combat is robust enough for you.

The other two products I wanted to mention are part of Ian Warner's new Kittiwake Classics line, and are based on the Shadow World RPGs Bloodsucker: The Angst and Chav: The Knifing. They are Bloodsucker the Play and Chav the Play. Yes, they are scripts. Try as I might, I could not get into the right mindset to actually review scripts (just something I have trouble working out in my head), but I am terribly impressed with how complete they are (with stage directions, character bios and so on), and I certainly applaud Mr. Warner for taking a novel approach with these game tie-ins. In fact, a more ambitious person than myself would attempt to organize a production of one of these shows at a convention if you could get the cast together. Chav and Bloodsucker are each available at Lulu for $9.29 apiece.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tommy's Take on the Savage Worlds Horror Companion

Earlier on in the lifespan of Savage Worlds, Pinnacle began releasing the Toolkit PDFs. As the popularity of Savage Worlds has grown, they began releasing Companions, which incorporated material from the Toolkits, along with new material. The first was the Fantasy Companion, the second the Super Powers Companion (culled from Necessary Evil rather than a toolkit) and now, the Horror Companion. It should be noted that I absolutely love the two Horror PDFs (Toolkit and Bestiary).

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Horror Companion PDF will run you about $15, so be aware of that.A couple of years ago, I would have complained about that, but I use digital stuff more and more, so as I become comfortable with the utility, I become comfortable with the prices. The PDF is 145 pages, cover and all.

Let's dig in.

Right off, we get new Hindrances and Edges. Doubting Thomas is bumped up to a Major Hindrance, and if you are using Sanity points (a setting rule included in this book), they lose Sanity at a faster rate. Bullet Magnet is pretty self explanatory, and would be HORRIBLE to have in a Deadlands posse with a Grim Servant o' Death. Victim just makes you a magnet for all kinds of nasty.

Some great Edges are included, such as Relentless (allowing you to act if you get even a Success on a roll to become Unshaken), Monster Hunter (assuming your hero has a focus on a certain kind) and One of the Chosen, just a good all-purpose Edge for tacking onto your champion/Slayer/etc. Other than that, anything new?

Holy crap.

Rules for playing as monsters. Yeah. Angels, Demons, Dhampyrs, Patchwork Men, Phantoms, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies. And yeah, while most of these are pretty "set" in powers and abilities, they're a great jumping off point for doing your own thing.

Given how put-out I was by vampires and werewolves no longer being an option when Deadlands become Reloaded, color me excited.

The equipment chapter very clearly has a horror bent to it, with different substances that weapons can be made of (like cold iron and its effects on demons) as well as bits like silver nitrate bullets and UV flashlights.

The setting rules get a little campy, with "sprays of blood" (use a cone template to show the splatter when someone dies) and "marks" that add up to damage penalties when someone does Bad Things (making them more likely to die, ala horror movies). We also get the Sanity rules, which is a secondary stat that can be lowered...personally, I prefer the Realms of Cthulhu version, which treats Sanity as "mental wounds", although I like the Psychosis table in the Horror Companion more.

We also get rules for casting Rituals (complete with modifiers for things like sacrifices), as well as simple systems for Signs & Portents (a fortune teller can be a good thing) and Warding and Binding (always relevant for these sorts of things).

New powers include Binding powers, Consecrate Ground, Grave Speak (conversing with the dead) and Summoning spells.

There are also a number of creepy Arcane Items, like a hockey mask that provides regenerative powers and turns its wearer into an emotionless killing machine, dust that makes the dead speak, knives made from werewolf teeth and voodoo dolls.

A good portion of the book is taken up by the bestiary, with Wild Card creatures like the Black Coachman as well as lesser creatures such as the Blood Mist. Some "generic" stat blocks are also included, like Slayers. Many barely re-skinned D&D classics are also included, if you're like me and thinking "MAN this makes me wanna play Savage Ravenloft". I didn't check closely, but MOST of the Horror Bestiary looked to be present, and updated to fall in line with SW Deluxe Edition.

The GM section takes an approach not unlike that of Realms of Cthulhu or Agents of Oblivion, essentially categorizing elements of the campaign (like where occult knowledge is Open or Closed...does everyone know about vampires and werewolves, or just the PCs, etc). The rest is a lot of stuff that's been said at one time or another in these sorts of things.

WHAT WORKS: The updated Bestiary, the swell new powers and PC Monsters. Yes, it may not be your cup of tea, but I love-love-love-LOVE seeing that in here. The fortune telling rules also look great (and simple), as well as the ritual rules.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The GM section is nothing special, and nothing we haven't read before. The cover is another cheesecake scantily clad cover like the other companions, which is kinda disappointing.

CONCLUSION: Probably my favorite companion thus far, as I felt like the Fantasy Companion kinda lost something from the Toolkits and I like Necessary Evil and its plot point campaign more than I like the Super Powers setting rules and slew of NPCs. This one, on the other hand, felt packed full of goodness and whatever it may have lost from the Toolkit PDFs, it more than made up for with better organization and the monster races. Best companion by far, in my book.