Friday, April 28, 2017

Ten Things that Made Me Fall in Love with the Forgotten Realms

My current D&D group isn't the type of group that dwells a great deal on the lore of a given campaign setting. Despite this, as I've been running Storm King's Thunder, I have been reminded of the things I have loved about the Forgotten Realms, and how long I've had those feelings.

Over the years, that love has shifted a bit. When I was a younger gamer, with far less grey in my beard (or even before I had one), "love" meant that I had to have everything that came out for the setting. It meant that even if I wasn't thrilled with a product, I owned it, and tended to make excuses for the things that failed to excite me.

While the roleplaying hobby feels like its in a sweet spot right now, and while it is a great time for D&D, I don't feel like it is a great time for the Realms. Before you read the wrong thing into that comment, however, let me elaborate. It's not a great time, but it is a good time--a far less tumultuous time than the setting has had in the past.

If people want to engage all the bells and whistles of history and canon, they can do so, and if they just want proper names for cities and NPCs without worrying too much about what else goes with those names, it's there for them too. A decade ago, I would have decried that as a waste, but now I can appreciate it.

In some weird ways, the Realms is like an ex that I haven't gotten back together with after we split up, but we're really good friends now, and understand each other. Totally not weird at all. And in the spirit of that totally not strange relationship analogy, I wanted to look at ten Forgotten Realms products that made me fall in love with the setting in the first place, and why it took a lot for me to pack up my bags and leave for a while.

#1--The Old Grey Boxed Set

I saw an ad for this on the back of one of my Spider-Man comics back in the ancient days of yore. I never thought I would need a campaign setting. I had been playing for months, just making stuff up on my own. Why would I want to play in someone else's world?

For some reason, despite all of those thoughts running through my head, I still picked this book up. I loved the descriptions of all of the places and organizations, and I loved this weird old wizard putting notes at the end of the sections, mentioning that X may or may not be true, or that Y might actually be the case. It felt like I was in on the ground floor of something, not just playing in a setting, but experiencing some kind of interactive fiction about a place on a level I hadn't encountered before.

On top of that, the maps were huge, and there were these neat clear plastic hex tools to use on them. They could look kind of like what maps would look like in the setting, but you could use a "meta" tool to make the map more useful at the game. That was mind-blowing!

#2--Waterdeep and the North

I had my answer as to why I wanted to play in someone else's setting, but what else could they possibly offer me that I could want? I mean, they spelled out almost a whole continent in that boxed set that I bought. There can't be anything else worth getting, right?

Urban adventures can be tricky, but after reading this, I almost always wanted to start my campaigns in Waterdeep. I never realized you could have so many locations in a city that were as interesting as adventuring sites on a map. On top of that, there were crimelords and cults in the sewers, and hints that the boxed set didn't spell out everything going on in the upper left hand side of those maps.

Plus, this was the first time I encountered that magical word--dracolich!

#3--The Savage Frontier

Remember all those places in the North that Waterdeep and the North hinted at, that weren't mentioned in the Old Grey Boxed set? More details on those! On top of that, the Savage Frontier had information on barbarian tribes, giants, and weird dungeons that led to alternate dimensions, and hinted that really weird cross planar monsters were a thing in this setting.

The other thing that struck me was that this book followed the same pattern as the Old Grey Boxed set, with entries that contained the "common knowledge" of various places, and then had in-world commentary by a local sage on what the real story may or may not be. However, what I loved here was that the author didn't  just try to use Elminster to do what Ed Greenwood had done initially. This was a whole new quirky sage with his own foibles. It made the setting feel even more alive that there were multiple sages chronicling all of these strange goings on.

It also doesn't hurt that for some reason, cold, snowy, mountainous regions call to me when it comes to fantasy settings. I'm okay with pastoral hills or pristine woodlands, but slap those next to towering mountains with snow blowing a good portion of the year, and it all feels more epic to me.

#4--Forgotten Realms Adventures

I played Basic and Expert D&D, and AD&D 1st edition. I really enjoyed them. But, especially with AD&D, I felt like there were a lot of "inside jokes" that I missed out on over the years. I could run it, and appreciate it, but I felt like I was always missing something here or there. When 2nd edition came out, I loved it because I was there from the start. I was going to "get" all of those inside jokes this time around.

I wasn't thrilled with the Avatar Trilogy of books. I "knew" the point was to change the underlying rules of the universe to explain rules changes, but even back then I wasn't convinced that there needed to be an explanation for game rules to change. Additionally, most of the Forgotten Realms novels I had enjoyed at this point had been books about mid-level adventurers doing "average" adventurer things in the setting. The Avatar books started the trend of protagonists getting involved in major events that would likely have higher stakes than anything your PCs would ever do. But that trend doesn't really get going until later at.

Despite not being a huge fan of the Avatar books, I loved this "translation" of the Forgotten Realms to 2nd edition, not just because we got things like specialty priests, but because this thing was a great toolbox. There were images of the priests of various gods in their vestments. The cities detailed had very "adventurer friendly" information, like what temples existed in what town, what sages existed in a given city and what he studied, and where PCs could get wizardly advice. There were proper names of inns that adventurers would stay in, and example treasures that included things like trade bars tied to trading companies, cities, and churches. It took a bunch of D&D concepts and put a firm Forgotten Realms imprint on them, and made it possible to randomly wander into a city and the DM would know concrete adventurer level information about the destinations.

#5--Volo's Guide to Waterdeep

Even more stuff about Waterdeep! I already loved the city, but what I enjoyed about this product was that it was a whole book of rumors, legends, inns, and taverns. The stories are rarely presented as "this is absolutely the history of this thing," and there are great footnotes where Elminster completely refutes what Volo says. These are details about daily life in the city that made the it more alive. Even if you wouldn't remember them, these weren't details like "this law governs all people in this ward" and was much more like "this is why people in this area might give this kind of gift," which doesn't cause anything to break if you happen to forget the detail in the middle of an adventure.

#6--Dwarves Deep

This may seem to be an odd one to put on the list, because its kind of focused on one aspect of the Realms that isn't usually the main focus of the setting. Looking at who wrote it is a big clue of why this is part of my love affair with the setting.

Ed Greenwood did a great job of both making dwarves what you would expect they would be, and also giving them their own quirks native to the setting. It's at this point I let out a deep sigh and mourn the loss of most of those specific quirks. Ed laid out a naming convention that didn't involve taking an overly hyperbolic descriptive word as their last name. He details dwarven reproductive problems in the Realms and their dwindling numbers, and introduces an interesting cultural sticking point. Dwarves are cross fertile with humans, introducing the cultural tension of dwarf-human intermarriage. Dwarves have their own myths about other races, and they have all kinds of weird metals that other races don't know about.

I miss the days when dwarves were tragic, had depth and moral quandries, and didn't all exist to be the slightly more combat effective versions of Jar Jar Binks in various novels.

#7--Faiths and Avatars

The thing that many D&D "god" books tend to do is to stat up gods and mythic monsters. Player facing elements for characters tend to be spells and magic items along the themes of the god in question. Faiths and Avatars did some of that, but it also started to relate myths about the gods that went beyond "what is their alignment and their portfolio." There were details about the names of different ranks in the church, some discussion of what people do in the church when they aren't adventurers, and there were those awesome color plates showing priests in their vestments. It all went towards making the priesthoods native to the Realms more interesting, not just the gods themselves.

#8--Volo's Guide to the Dalelands

I never disliked the Dalelands, but they never jumped out at me as a location for adventures until Volo's Guide to the Dalelands. Even the little villages out in the middle of nowhere had named inns and weird legends. It also has one of my personal favorite Dalelands locations, the dwarven village of Glen, which had access to the Deep Road, which led to other dwarven realms, and a secret dragon egg trade going on. At least Glen was one of my favorites, until a later author wrote a short story that ignored this sourcebook and made Glen into a boring farming village notable only because there was an awesome elf sword hanging around, because only elves can have cool things, you stupid comic relief dwarves! Ahem. Sorry.

Before this book came out, I had multiple campaigns set in and around the Sword Coast North, from Waterdeep, to Silverymoon, to Baldur's Gate. After this book came out, Shadowdale, Mistledale, and Featherdale became places that I started campaigns.

#9--Volo's Guide to Cormyr

Its a theme, but the Volo's Guides did a lot to exemplify what I loved about the Realms. Cormyr had some interesting uprisings and weird history with Tilverton and Arabel, but this book "muddied up" the setting a bit. Not by making it seem bad or evil, but by showing that people lived there. It wasn't just the place where knights came from. All of those rebellions and conspiracies leave their mark, and inform the kind of adventures you have roaming around the Forest Country.

#10--The North

The North was a big boxed set that updated and expanded information that first showed up in the Savage Frontier book. In addition to having more recent information on those lands, it also had a lot of detail on the village of Daggerford, which gave me another place in the North to stage a campaign.

The book doesn't have the same entertaining voice that the Savage Frontier has, and it advances the timeline in the setting, something I would grow to dislike in future products. However, the way it advanced was something I liked. You see, at this point in time, R.A. Salvatore had moved on from writing Forgotten Realms novels, and this product gave context for what reclaiming Mithril Hall had meant to its neighbors, and in a way, put a "cap" on the events of the Drizzt novels.

Mithril Hall gave hope to northern Shield Dwarves, but didn't fully reverse the fate of the dwarven race. The implication is that Bruenor could grow to become a wise king, possibly ruling the whole of the Silver Marches once Alustrial stepped down, and  Drizzt could be a scout working for the Silver Marches as a background NPC. They all lived happily ever after.

At least until WOTC convinced R.A. Salvatore to come back to writing in the Realms, and he refused to acknowledge anything that happened to his characters while he was gone. I'm not saying I blame him, per se, but it was emblematic of how the needs of the novel line outweighed the needs of the game setting.

What Does All of This Mean?

Looking over all of these products that highlight of my Realmsian love affair, I can see some patterns evolve about what the Realms meant to me.
  • Sages are important, but not infallible
  • Rumors and myths made for an interesting implied history
  • Adventurers are the rock stars of Faerun society
  • Political intrigue plays in the background of a lot of adventuring
  • Proper names for mundane things can be a powerful thing
  • There should be random magical wonder that isn't about powerful practical effects
  • Weird alternate dimensions are a background threat to the setting
  • The best narrators are unreliable narrators
  • Home bases are important
  • Ancient societies exist to provide context, not to be the current driver of the plot
  • Religion is more important than just the gods that engender them
It's also informative as to what didn't make this list. The following things in products started to turn me off of over the years.
  • Major country-continent-world shaking events happen that NPCs deal with
  • Concrete details of the ancient past are detailed in products as facts rather than through the lens of unreliable narrators
  • Ancient empires show up in the modern day
  • Cultures appear that aren't just "flavored" by real world cultures, but are cut and pasted from history books
  • NPCs from novels get entire books dedicated to their stats--the more level of detail you give something, the more it becomes the focal point (i.e. the level of the character isn't the problem, the level of detail is)
  • A major cosmological event has to happen in order to explain . . . game . . . rules . . . the things that are suppose to happen in the background to facilitate having adventures, not become the adventure
  • Gods show up and become point of view characters

I've read the opinions of a lot of long term fans of the setting that aren't thrilled with the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. They mention that there isn't enough detail or concrete material. For me, it was a breath of fresh air. Most of the book was unreliable narrators talking about the current state of the Realms. It gives you an idea of what the world looks like, but doesn't detail much beyond what well traveled adventurers would know. I've also heard some die-hard fans complain about the big events hitting the Sword Coast over and over again. I'd argue I'd much rather have events threatening the Realms in adventures, where the PCs can be the heroes, than in novels and sourcebooks, where the PCs live in the shadow of the people that got things done.

I'm not a fan of all of the returned to life NPCs. Some things probably needed to be walked back to regain the old feeling of the Realms. NPCs mysteriously avoiding death, however, feels a bit artificial to me. I also know that the current trend isn't to go too deeply into the details. Maybe those guys aren't really who they say they are. Maybe the fact that they are where they have been reported to be is just a rumor.

I do wish I could get some solid information--but mainly in the form of the inns, sages, myths, and rumors that are common in various areas. At least we know someone calling himself Volo has started producing material again.

I can't say that I'm infatuated with my ex again after all of this time. We are different than we were back when we were both younger. But damned if I don't enjoy spending time with her again, even if we just go out for coffee or lunch once in a while. Because I needed to end this post on a weird, awkward note again.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Kobold Guide to Gamemastering

I love books, columns, and podcasts that talk about the act of running a playing a roleplaying game. I’ll admit it. I’m so deep into the hobby that not only do I love new games and settings and adventures, but I want to experience people discussing the hobby and the activities that make up the hobby on a “meta” level.

Since I was already redeeming a Kickstarter reward, I picked up the product I’m reviewing today the same way I used to snag a Snickers bar when I needed to pick up toothpaste and deodorant from the grocery store. I pick up way fewer Snickers bars these days, so I guess I can afford to impulse buy GM discussion books, right? I’m not going to do the math. I don’t want to be sad.

The book I’m talking about is the Kobold Guide to Gamemastering, a new product from Kobold Press.

How Does It Look?
Kobold Guide to Gamemastering is a 154-page book, including a final page ad for other Kobold Guide books. The cover is a full color painting, and the interior is black and white, with only a few pieces of artwork, repeated at the beginning of each section, of a kobold getting ready to run a game.

In this case, I picked up the PDF and the physical book. The physical book is a digest sized book, similar in size to the later Engine Publishing books or the Explorer’s Edition Savage Worlds rules.
The formatting is clear, with bold section headings and well-spaced paragraphs. Overall it’s a clean format that is easy to read and navigate.

Understanding Players
The first section is a collection of essays on understanding players, with five essays on topics that all relate to the main topic. This section includes essays from Dan Clark, Amanda Hamon-Kunz, RpgGamerDad, Shanna Germain, and Frank Mentzer.

Topics range from making players shine at the table, understanding the types of players you might have, running games for kids, engaging shy players, and insuring an inclusive environment for a wide variety of gamers.

All the essays in this section were enjoyable, but (and this will be a recurring theme) there is some overlap in a few of the essays.

Planning the Game
The next section of the book deals with getting ready to run a campaign and making decisions about what to include in the game. This section includes essays from Dan Dillon, Michael E. Shae, Monica Valentinelli, James Jacobs, Brandon Hodge, Keith Baker, and Lillian Cohen-More.

Topics range from advice for new people running the game, tips for old hands at running the game, planning a campaign in stages, the inclusion of love interests, running a game on the fly, one-shot adventures, and winning player investment.

While all the essays are engaging and enjoyable to read, special mention should be given to Brandon Hodge’s essay and Monica Valentinelli’s essay, as they not only give good advice and are an enjoyable read, but are broken down into specific, actionable items.

The Game In Play
The next section of the book contains essays that deal with playing in sessions and dealing with what might come up on any given night. Authors include Bill Webb, Stefan Pokorny, Clinton J. Boomer, Steve Kenson, Ed Greenwood, Wolfgang Baur, and Steve Winter.

The topics covered include making rulings at the table, theatrical gaming, distractions at the table, improvising alternate ways to resolve adventures, dealing with small or large groups, playing without a grid, and pacing.

While enjoyable, this section is going to vary widely in usefulness because several of the essays in this section are strong opinion pieces. All well written, with good points, but often essays in this section will state things that certainly aren’t clearly agreed upon universally in RPG gaming circles.

In Between Sessions
The essays in this section pertain to recalibrating a campaign to change a direction, either to spur momentum or to react to a major event in the campaign. The authors for this section are Zeb Cook and Kevin Kulp, and they deal with TPKs and telling stories from alternate character perspectives.
I’m not sure that it’s ultimately clear that these essays aren’t part of the previous section, as we move from gathering players to planning a campaign, to playing the game and reacting to players at the table in actual sessions, but that’s a bit of a nit pic on my part.

Lost Guidance
It’s something that happens in any collection of essays, but several essays touch on similar topics. That doesn’t mean that the individual essays are of lower quality, or that the advice is bad, but it makes the product slightly less useful than a focused product that has multiple authors working together throughout. There is also a lot of advice that is very good, but it’s presented very conversationally. That means it’s not laid out in a manner that makes it clearly actionable, or that it’s not framed as a specific procedure that can be easily worked towards.

Finding the Path
I can’t point to a single essay that isn’t at least enjoyable to read, and just about every one has good advice for GMs, even if similar advice can be found elsewhere. Having best practices repeated in an enjoyable manner isn’t a bad thing at all. I tore through the book quickly, because it was fun to read.

Are We There Yet?
I feel bad, because I’m probably harder on this book just because the gaming industry, now, has so many strong advice programs, columns, and books, that it’s hard to stand out as something more than enjoyable and worthwhile.

Because the book may have been a little better with more coordinated focus on topics, and more procedural focus on implementing new habits, it’s not among the absolute best gaming advice books I’ve read, and there are a few essays that are a bit adversarial about the author’s preferred style of game, which might limit the enjoyment of gamers that aren’t in agreement. However, all are well written, conversational, and fun, and you certainly won’t be wasting your time or money to pick up and read this book. 

A solid book, and recommended, but not in the top tier of GM advice books ever published.

*** (out of five)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Expanded Worlds (Cypher System)

So, if I review something that just arrived from a Kickstarter that I backed, that counts as lowering my RPG backlog, even if its brand new, right? I mean, that's like part of the virtual backlog that exists in superposition to my theoretical quantum gaming library, right?

What could I be babbling about this time? I'm glad that theoretically someone asked, because I'm going to give you the answer! I finished up my cover to cover read through of Expanded Worlds, a sourcebook for the Cypher System RPG, made some notes, and now it’s time to beat those notes into a review of sorts.

How Does It Look?

A lot of my modern gaming library is composed of PDFs these days, and even when I eventually get a physical copy of a book, I often jump on reviews when I only have the PDF. In this case, I received the PDF just a few days before the physical book arrived at my door, so I could review both the physical copy and the PDF at the same time.

The book is 160 pages, and if you are familiar with any Cypher System game (Numenera, The Strange, Gods of the Fall, Cypher System Core), you will recognize the formatting. It's very clean and easily readable, and has the same sidebar references and definitions that other books in the line have. For those that haven't seen a Cypher System book before, it's very professionally laid out and attractive, but doesn't have some of the stylistic flourish (parchment pages, background images, unique style format based on setting, etc.) that some RPG lines have.

The artwork is attractive, and much of it is brand new, highlighting the new genres, characters types, and creatures introduced in the book. Overall, it is a very readable and very attractive book that maintains the standards other books have set in the line.

Part 1: Characters

Part one is split into two chapters, one for character Descriptors, and another for character Focus. If you aren't familiar with Cypher Systems games, these are two parts of the "sentence" that makes up your character's base mechanics, i.e. you are a [Descriptor][Type] who [Focus]. If you want a loose analogy, Type is somewhat analogous to character classes in other games, and Descriptor and Focus are elements that modify that "class" with background information and additional choices. Descriptors include a section for how your character became involved in their first adventure, while Focus includes a section for how you are connected to other PCs in the group.

Many of both the Descriptors and Foci could be used in a wide variety of games, but if you peak ahead to the genres covered in this book, you can see why many of them were included. There are a lot of interesting rules interactions that I don't recall from other Cypher System books (although I could have easily have forgotten).

I like how some of the Descriptors play with GM Intrusions (like Chaotic or Heroic) to achieve a consistent theme. For example, Chaotic characters might get to reroll some results, but it will cost them a GM intrusion, and Heroic characters tend to have very big effects on intrusions, but those big effects tend to point them in the right direction of even more epic events yet to come. Another interesting element in the Foci section includes an ability that allows a PC to spend points from a pool AND XP to find an artifact. It's a powerful ability, so the XP cost is warranted, but I can't recall seeing that in other Foci up to this point.

Many of the Foci also include "Level X" allies or servants, and it’s almost a deceptively simple rule to introduce. Level doesn't matter when the PC rolls for their ally NPC, so it only comes up to determine how much punishment they can take, most of the time, and almost seems like a waste to assign them a level at all.

Both chapters are similar in structure, although the Character Focus chapter includes a chart showing the recommended genre to which the individual Foci might be grouped.

I don't have too much negative to say about these chapters, other than that some of the "higher concept" Foci seem stranger in less metaphysical games. I'm not talking about Foci that represent hunting the supernatural in a game with nothing supernatural--that's just a matter of not using that Foci in a genre that it doesn't work in. I'm thinking more along the lines of Finds the Flaw in All Things or Likes to Break Things, because while they seem straightforward, it’s easier to see breaking people's will and items as the same concept in a Mythological game more than in a real-world game. Not a major sticking point, just conceptually a bit of a stretch.

Part 2: Fantastical Genres

This section contains chapters on Post Apocalyptic, Mythological, Fairy Tale, and Childhood Adventure genre games. Each chapter has some discussion of the genre and what is common to the genre, as well as some tools to help tell stories in that genre.

The Post Apocalyptic genre introduces the Morlock and Roach Descriptors. The Mythological genre introduces Hellborn and Giant Descriptors, the Fairy Tale section introduces the Changeling Descriptor, and the Childhood Adventure section includes rules for applying modifiers to characters to represent different ages, if players don't all want to use the Young Descriptor in the first section.

Even if you are well acquainted with these genres, each section does a good job of calling out influences (some recent), defining the biggest tropes, and giving advice as to how often to introduce some story elements, what to have happen very rarely for effect, and what to completely avoid.

Straight out of the gate you could probably randomly generate Childhood Adventure or Post Apocalyptic adventures before you even did much in the way of defining a setting, if you assumed that your Childhood Adventure world has the supernatural as an element, and your Post Apocalyptic setting will look a bit like Fallout.

The weakest of all the genres presented, to my taste, is probably the Mythological genre, just because there is a little less advice on structure, what to include, and what not to include, and more about using power shifts and "going big." Even then, it offers some interesting tools, such as the new Descriptors.

Part 3: Gritty Genres

For my money, this is probably the weakest part of the book. It’s still a fun read, and there is some worthwhile information included, but the "genres" it tries to define are way too broad to do much with the amount of space the alloted for them.

The individual chapters are Historical, Crime and Espionage, and Hard Science Fiction. None of these have specific Descriptors in them, although Crime and Espionage and Hard Science Fiction have random tables of events that might occur in stories.

The Historical chapter has some interesting sections on time periods that make for good campaigns, many of which have been highlighted as much in the past. Despite having some good suggestions, they don't give a lot of detail. There are also suggested name lists that are very short, and I feel that space might have been better utilized providing some references to more detailed treatments on the historical period being referenced.

Crime and Espionage does a slightly better job of defining some tropes and giving some structure and practical campaign ideas, but the ideas feel very scattered, since the chapter wanders from telling police procedural stories, Bond movies, Bourne movies, and maybe playing criminals.

The best chapter in this section for me was the Hard Science Fiction chapter. While it’s a very broad topic, they do a much better job of identifying tropes and story structure, and giving some rules suggestions to reinforce the feel of hard sci-fi stories. In fact, the more narrative elements, like distances not being precisely measured, helps, because instead of having people argue about exact distances ballistics would be affected by gravity, for example, you are focusing on the fact that it would, in fact, be reduced. Additionally, I love the modified version of the Horror rules from the core rulebook applying to long space journeys to represent the time, distance, and lack of support a crew has on trips.

This section was enjoyable to read, and has a lot of good ideas, but overall, it just feels like practical application at the table is lacking, compared to the previous section.

Part 4: Gamemaster Section

This section is split up into Creatures and NPCs. I always find these sections interesting in Cypher System books, because at their base, you can essentially define an NPC or creature very quickly just by assigning a level, which means in some ways the books have to "work for it" to justify a full entry on a creature, providing roleplaying hooks, tactics, tailored intrusions, and new ways to use the rules.

Some of the rules interactions that set these creatures apart this time around include attacks that move characters down their vitality tracts regardless of the number of points in their pools, attacks that target multiple targets, and the special damage rules for creatures like the hydra and how it plays out in the game.

There is a good thematic range for the creatures, covering the genres detailed in the book well. Some of my favorites are the Crucible (out of control bio computer), Erlking (exiled fey creature trapped in a plant body), Cryptic Moth (creepy sapient super moth), and the Shoe Thief (I'm not going to explain, just read it).

NPCs are less exciting, but practical and useful for the genres mentioned. They don't have as many twists on the rules as the creatures, but there is some solid advice as to where and when to use them in the game and how they tie into the genres covered.

The Upside Down

The biggest downside is that the genre chapter attempts to bite off huge chunks of content with defining Historical and Crime and Espionage as genres, and getting a bit lost in providing guidance to running those gigantic "meta-genres."

Police procedurals alone could have taken up a chapter the size allocated to the Crime and Espionage sections, and the chapter barely touches on the difference between a Bond style spy adventure and a Bourne style adventure. For a game that has often mentioned that discovery and exploration should be at least as important as combat, they fail to give much in the way of guidelines for espionage stories where gathering information and staying under the radar are way more important than ever getting into a gun fight.

Eggo Waffles

The new Descriptors and Foci are widely useful for a variety of games using the system, especially the core Cypher System and The Strange. Several of the genre chapters have enough tools to just randomly generate some sessions if you aren't too worried about deep stories. The book even touches on genres that have only been lightly treated in The Strange, meaning that you virtually have a few new recursions to work with from this book by slapping a name on the world using the rules presented here.

Surviving the Demogorgon

Despite being a bit too ambitious with some of the genres presented in the "gritty" chapter, Expanded Worlds is a solid toolbox of material for the Cypher System RPG. Not only is it going to be something beneficial to just about any Cypher System game, it's going to be a solid resource for The Strange as well, and to a lesser extent for both Numenera and Gods of the Fall. It’s an entertaining read, provides definite value for people playing or running the game, and it puts new twists on the rules in several places. Recommended for anyone even generally interested in Cypher System games.

**** (out of five)