Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Worlds Numberless and Strange (The Strange RPG)

Monte Cook is a well recognized name in the RPG industry, and when he launched the Numenera RPG in 2013 . . . I kind of paid attention to it. It sounded interesting, but at the time, I didn't jump on board. Both the setting and the mechanics sounded intriguing, but not in the way that forced me to drop everything and check it out.

Then in 2014, another game using the same core mechanics, the Cypher System, came out. That game was The Strange, and it was the brainchild of Bruce Cordell (another well known name in RPGs). It didn't take too long for The Strange to become one of those RPGs for me. And by that, I mean one of those RPGs that I really have a lot of affection for, that I have never gotten the chance to play or run.

The Strange itself posits a sort of sub-space underneath reality, called The Strange, and inside The Strange floats multiple pocket dimensions. The kicker is, the pocket dimensions tend to get warped and modified to resemble humanity's imagination, so most of these pocket dimensions begin to take on the traits of various fictions throughout time.

Some human beings have the ability to focus really hard on these pocket dimensions in order to send their consciousness into them, and upon arriving, the new reality essentially builds them a new body that makes sense in the context of the rules of the fiction that inspired the pocket dimension. The personal travelling remembers who they are, but they also pick up some clues about what the "theme" of the dimension is and what the general rules are.

That is the kind of setup that hooks me. It's the best part of stories like Dr. Who or Sliders, with just a little bit of a twist. Anything human beings may have imagined throughout history could spawn it's own pocket dimension to be visited.

I'm not reviewing the game itself here, but I'm putting all of that preamble forward to warn you--I'm a total mark for the setting. Please take anything I say in this review with that in mind.

What I am reviewing in this post is Worlds Numberless and Strange, a book of recursions (those pocket dimensions I mentioned above) for The Strange, to supplement the material presented in the core book.

How Does It Appear In This Reality?

The PDF of this product (it is available in print as well) has 226 pages, with the last few pages containing ads for other Cypher System products. The artwork is a mix of re-purposed artwork from other Cypher System products and artwork used to illustrate new recursions and elements presented in this book. The art is very polished, high end RPG industry standard. While there is nothing wrong with re-purposed artwork in an RPG line, it makes a kind of thematic sense in The Strange, given how much the setting deals with iconic elements and archetypes.

Much like Fate products, Cypher System books have a very clean and consistent look to them across RPG lines, and they tend to look very polished and lack overtly artistic flourishes while still being attractive. Monte Cook's self-published books have often had wider side margins that contain things like definitions and page references, to cut down on page flipping and to ease overall use. Monte Cook games continues this tradition, providing definitions, factoids, and page references in the side margins of the book.

Overall, its a nice balance between readability, functionality, and artistry.

Part One

The first section of the book provides an introduction, a primer on what is and isn't part of the science fiction of The Strange, and ideas on creating recursions from popular media.

While many of the concepts addressed in this book were touched upon in The Strange core rulebook, I have to admit that giving the concept of recursions it's own book, without the added extra focus of introducing factions, general RPG advice, and the core game rules, really does a lot to make some of the concepts in the core rulebook make more sense.

Part Two

This section of the book has chapters expanding the two most well known recursions in the game, another section that introduces recursions in the same detail that many of the recursions in the main book received, and a section that gives a quick "soundbite" version of many more recursions. The recursions in Chapter 6 are often quirkier than the more fleshed out recursions in Chapter 5.

I have to admit, I have never really been able to warm up to Ardeyn, and page count dedicated to it doesn't do much to capture my attention. It may just be my personal tastes, but for a setting that is suppose to be seeded by a fantasy MMO, it doesn't work for me. The setting feels more like it is trying really hard not to be a standard fantasy setting, while still being a fantasy setting.

Many of the recursions in the setting embrace their tropes and either throw a twist to the setting or mash it up with another genre, with the real gameable material coming from the fact that the world isn't real, and outside forces may be manipulating the tropes. It may have been fun to have seen a fantasy setting that leaned hard into MMO tropes, but instead, Ardeyn is presented as a distinct fantasy setting, and I guess that creates a disconnect in my mind that makes it hard for me to warm up to the recursion.

Chapter 5, however, is pure gold for me. In here we get a ton of new recursions. Not all of them work for me, but most of them do. Nearly all of the recursions have enough plot hooks in them that players will have a reason to go there, they will have reasons to deal with plots "within" the fiction, and some elements that involve a plot from "outside" of the fiction. This takes the form of other organizations that have established agents in the recursion or awakened natives.  Of the total page count, 134 pages are found in this section.

The fiction that populates this section is drawn from sources like stories of Atlantis, Arthurian legends, Nazis winning WWII, Halloween towns, lost world dinosaurs, shrinking down to live inside another organism, superheroes, alien contact with modern society, Star Wars, Big Trouble in Little China, Miyazaki movies, Samurai movies and anime, epic fantasy novels, and zombie apocalypse stories. That's a pretty wide range of recursions to visit. Not only does that provide a lot of play space, but each recursion has a selection of artifacts thematically appropriate to that setting included at the end of the entry.

Chapter 6 is filled with quirkier settings with shorter write ups than those that appear in Chapter 5. Some feel similar to those recursions, in that they come from identifiable fiction with a twist here or there, and some are even directly connected to other recursions (such as Avalon, which touches multiple Arthurian themed recursions). Others are just really weird. Like recursions where you turn into a liquid or office supplies.

There are a lot of good ideas for places to visit in this section. There is a really interesting concept of a new faction introduced in the book and how they use a particular recursion as a sanctuary for agents that suffer from PTSD, and other similarly interesting ideas. That said, more than any other chapter, I wish we could get a bit more "meta" commentary on how these "recurions-lite" are meant to be used. Some don't seem like they should actually be visited, but are they suppose to exist as horror stories told to agents of various recursion travelling groups, or is the GM suppose to come up with some clever way of using what amounts to cosmic dead ends?

A good GM is going to come up with their own answers. In this day and age, especially with the amount of forward thinking advice that the Cypher System games tend to provide for people running the game, it almost feels like a bit of a throwback that we can't break the "in game" presentation of information to directly address GMs. It would be nice to give them a head's up on what the best way to use some of the quirkier recursions might be.

Part Three

This section of the book introduces new foci for players, and stats for creatures first mentioned in this book. Essentially, this is where the new mechanics are introduced in the book, but it does make me wonder--if the mechanics are reserved for this section of the book, why do the artifacts go with the individual recursions? It's not a major problem, and I can understand that some artifacts aren't just thematically appropriate, but very specific to the setting, but the organizational division still feels a little arbitrary to me.

Several of the Foci are very specifically keyed to some of the recursions introduced in the book. For example, in the recursion where you are humans shrunk down inside another organism, you can actually become a bacterial creature instead. In the Halloween recursion, you can become a Trick or Treater, which has special connotations in that setting. Other Foci are broader, such as letting you be a ninja, samurai, tattooed spellcaster, martial arts monk, and other themes related to the recursions introduced, but not super specific to one recursion's quirks.

While it's not mechanically more complicated than the rest of the game, being a spellcaster that tracks their spells does make for more bookkeeping that I would have preferred. The bacterial and Halloween foci are so specific that it would be a shame not to use them if you use the recursions they are tied to, because they don't seem broad enough to get use elsewhere. That, however, brings up another slight issue. Foci have at least a few moving parts, so players should have access to them fairly regularly. But players don't need the vast majority of this book. The line has a separate player facing set of rules that can be purchased by players, and I almost wish anything that  has player facing mechanics in it also had a separate option for players to get just that content.

Like the Foci, a few of the creatures are very specific to their setting (like the Glass Dragons), while others will have wider purpose (like the multiple flavors of zombies presented).

Part Four

This section includes the index, and, more notably, the inspirations page.If something in one of the recursions might have sounded familiar, but you just can't quite remember from where, it's likely explained in this section. It makes for an interesting read, as well as providing some ideas on new media to consume.

Depletion Roll

Ardeyn and Ruk rack up a lot of pages in the game products, especially if you never end up using them. A few places in the book get a bit repetitive, such as the multiple places in the Rebel Galaxy entry where you are reminded that the recursion isn't the size of a galaxy. The player facing rules aren't easily accessed for players, who don't have a lot of incentive to get the book except for a relatively small section. Some of the player facing mechanics are super narrow in scope.


The book expands on the best ideas from The Strange core book and gives them even more depth. New organizations are introduced in an organic way. There is an amazing variety of locations presented, with tons of adventure hooks.

Gaining the Spark

Reading through some of my criticisms, it might not be apparent how much I like this book. None of those "negatives" are major issues, but the book introduces so many concepts and ideas that it's hard not to ponder all of the various tools that appear in the book and how they might be used.

Despite a few minor concerns, I've got no problem recommending this product to anyone with even a passing interest in The Strange. Not only does it provide some great GM material, but it explains how elements work in the setting with even more depth than the core book, and in ways that spur the imagination.

**** (out of five)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Autopilot Verus Stick Shift--Campaign Edition

When I was younger, I didn’t have the shared experience of playing similar adventures. I didn’t go to conventions, and for me, it was kind of hard to “follow” how adventures worked. I was always afraid that there was some perfect, magic way that they were to flow, and if I couldn’t do it exactly so, I didn’t want to risk “doing it wrong.”

I’m not sure why the actual rules of the game were less intimidating to me. I know I got things wrong when I was running D&D or Star Frontiers, but I only worried about “doing it wrong” when it came to running published adventures.

Flash way forward to me being an adult, and coming back to RPGs after having been away for years. While I loved creating my own campaigns, my brain started trying to convince me that I would save time if I ran published games.

I tried it a few times. I can’t help but tinker with adventures as written now. I don’t so much worry about “doing it wrong,” and instead, I need to put my fingerprints on it. So, I’ll swap out encounters, get rid of the types of encounters I don’t like, look for alternate resolution methods for aspects of the adventure I don’t love but don’t want to get rid of. 

But I’ve noticed a weird thing happen when it comes to running published adventures. I am way more likely to get thrown for a loop if PCs do something off the beaten path in a published adventure than if they do it in a campaign that I’m designing myself.

My campaign design theory is to look towards the end of a longer arc and see what I want to have happen for a resolution, in broad terms, and to see a few highlights that I want to have happen between the start of the campaign and that resolution. I like having a “hook” for why the characters are together and doing something. I don’t get too hung up on exactly what happens between the beginning and the big resolution of the story arc.

If characters follow up on a lead that isn’t a lead, I’ll look and see if the BBEG might have something going on logically in that direction. I don’t go full Quantum Ogre. I just think about if it’s likely I overlooked something that might logically be going on there, that might serve a similar purpose to what’s going on in the other direction. If I can’t see anything like that, then I have one of those “events” go off to show that the BBEG is doing stuff to advance their goals, and the PCs kind of wandered into an illegal cyber-cockfighting tournament that had nothing to do with the plot.
I have fun, and it seems to work, although I know there are people better at both keeping a more focused campaign entertaining, and people that can fully improv a campaign that turns out awesome. I’m neither of those, and I’m just kind of okay at what I do.

What does all of this have to do with published adventures? My brain doesn’t work the same way when I’m running published adventure as it does when I’m running my own campaigns. If players go off the beaten path, I have a harder time correcting for that behavior. I think my brain starts to run on autopilot a little bit. That’s not to say I’m not engaged with the story, or putting effort into it. But I’m not engaging the part of my brain that’s constantly recalculating the living campaign world as it exists in my brain in reaction to the players.

I’m noticing this a lot with my D&D Storm King’s Thunder game versus my Shadow of the Demon Lord game. I think everyone is having fun with Storm King’s Thunder, but right now, I’m doing a lot of “running the encounter” and not modelling the world in my brain. It’s fun, but it’s not as deep as engaging with other parts of my brain, and while they “need” to do the things they are doing for the story, I’m not as invested in personalizing things too much, because I want to get them to where I think the fun parts of the adventure are.

In my Shadow of the Demon Lord game, I’ve picked what the Shadow of the Demon Lord is (the way the world will end if the PCs don’t stop it), and I’ve seeded some NPCs from various factions around, but based on how the players have latched onto on aspects of a session versus another, I’ve already started to pivot from “this is the most obvious place to get this information” to “these guys would have it as well,” and “if they never get it, I’m changing this part to reflect it, and this session will deal with the fallout.” 

Both groups are a lot of fun, and I have one person common to both. I’m having fun with both. But running the Shadow of the Demon Lord game is reminding me that I’m missing running campaigns of my own devising.

The most positive experience I can say that I have had with both Pathfinder Society and D&D Adventurer’s League is that I now have that shared experience of being able to discuss how different bands of adventurers faced the same adventure. That’s a great feeling, and I’m glad I have it. And I still like to read through published adventures, because I think it is enormously valuable to see the way the designers expect the game to be played, and even the ways they push the game out into different directions with adventure design. But I’m thinking after Storm King’s Thunder, I’m hanging up the published adventure hat for a while. Part of my brain has been itching, and I just remembered how to scratch it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Purpose of Canon and the Care and Feeding of a D&D Campaign Setting

On the Down with D&D podcast this week, there was a discussion about "canon" in D&D, and what the pros and cons of it are, both for players and for the company publishing the game.

Me from 10 years ago would probably really have a hard time with my responses.

The Positives of Canon

When an established setting refers to past products, and builds on the past, the setting gains a certain "reality" to it. Recurring themes and history create a tone and feel for a setting. The setting means something, because certain things are true from one product to another.

When done right, that means people know what they are getting when the buy a product set in that setting.

The Dark Side of Canon

At its best, canon is there to build consistency. If a character exists, they have a consistent personality across multiple products. If an event was historically important, people can refer to that event as if it were a real event that happened.

On the other hand, depending on how that event was established, the setting might gain more than the designers had intended. The fact that a certain war was pivotal to shaping the world 1000 years ago might be a boon. The fact that a source mentioned that battle happening 1050 years ago and another source mentions it 990 years ago can cause problems.

Absolutes are one of the biggest pains when it comes to setting creation.

But, What's the Point, Really?

Dwelling on exactly what year a given event happened, when the point is that it happened "about a 1000 years ago" misses the point of what that event represents. Pointing out that one source said there were only 500 soldiers present at the defense of a ridge, and yet another said there were 1000, again seems to miss the point, if the crux of the story element is that the opposing force outnumbered them 100 to 1.

The Value of the Unreliable Narrator

It seems that a lot of consumers of media miss the value of an unreliable narrator. They also seem to miss when one is present in the first place.

The original Old Grey Boxed Set for the Forgotten Realms had very basic entries for locations and organizations, followed by Elminster's Notes. Many modern gamers take this as a mark of authority, since Elminster is a Chosen of Mystra and over a thousand years old. If these are "Elminster's Notes," that must mean these are the "real" secrets of the Realms, right?

However, if you follow Ed Greenwood's thoughts on the matter, giving greater details under the guise of "Elminster's Notes" was meant to do just the opposite. Elminster was an old man whose sanity is at least a little questionable, and who isn't omniscient by any means. Elminster's Notes were meant to be flexible enough to allow DMs to change details. Elminster doesn't know everything, but if you do want to take what he says as absolute, you could go that route as well.

A few of the early Realms products followed the pattern of being Elminster's notes on a given location, and the Savage Frontier supplement went one step further and introduced a new sage with his own quirks as the filter for information on the Sword Coast North.

Serving Two Masters

A game setting doesn't have the same needs as a line of novels. The original Realms novels served the setting, essentially giving "examples" of average adventures in various regions around the Realms.

The novel lines became very successful, and the the settings started supporting the novel lines, instead of the other way around. Sourcebooks detailed hero NPCs and gave them stats. Books started presenting historical "facts" more definitively.

By the time 3rd Edition D&D came around, there was a lot less setting information in some of the setting books. More effort was put into taking organizations from the novels and matching them to prestige classes, and coming up with more spells, feats, and magic items. The majority of information on the "facts" of the setting were coming from the novels, which meant that at times there wasn't a filter saying "is this good for a game setting," because the primary concern was "will this sell a new trilogy."

Myth Drannor, Netheril, Imaskar, and Gauntlgrym existed to be ancient, fallen civilizations that provided an excuse for why there are dungeons and magic items to be had for adventurers. When these ancient civilizations suddenly return to the modern day, there are now characters that can provide absolute details about things that could have remained shrouded in mystery.

Reflexive Preference

I like the 5th edition Realms. Like many fans, I was hoping for more details when the only information we had was the information provided by the adventures being published. Unlike some fans, once the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide came out, I was very happy, and didn't really want too much more setting detail.

It was enough information to run games in the Realms in the current timeframe for DMs that didn't want to use the published adventures, and it was enough information to coordinate all of the writers using the setting in the current era.

As an old grumpy fan who was happy with the book, I thought I might be representative. I returned to some of my old haunts discussing the setting, and wow, was I wrong.

A significant number of fans who frequent sites that I did when I was in the heyday of my Realms fandom want more. Not just more general content. They want exact numbers of troops in the military of Cormyr. They want a detailed timeline of every year since the Spellplague started. They want an accounting of what every god has been doing, and the exact details of how the cosmos works.

I understand the drive to know more about a setting. I get it. But I also understand, now, that when companies give in to that kind of fan demand, it can become a trap. There is a temptation from the company side of things to err on the side of "they will buy whatever we put out," instead of "leave them wanting more."

The problem being, when you try to produce as much as people will buy, fans often don't realize how quickly fatigue actually sets in.

Dirty Little Secret

Honestly . . . I like the idea that having two worlds fuse together, then separate, might cause some "temporal anomalies." What I mean by this is that maybe historical "facts" that were once true may not actually be so, because the ripples for altering reality on such a grand scale mean that an event may have been displaced by a decade or so. Facts may get fuzzier, because all of reality shifted, not once, but twice in the last century.

And for my other dirty little secret--I would have been okay with resetting the Realms back to the timeframe of the Old Grey Boxed set back when 4th edition happened, and probably would have been fine if that had happened for 5th edition. I strongly suspect it was maintaining "canon" for a series of books about a certain ranger and his panther buddy that kept that from happening, even if it was the most logical course of action, instead of literally moving heaven and earth to change rulesets and the conceits of the setting.

The Best Use of Canon

Essentially, canon, for a commercial property, exists so that multiple people recognize something released for that property. There have been multiple versions of Superman's continuity, but we've reached the point where we assume that he's from Krypton, was raised in Kansas by the Kents, and has a super smart enemy named Lex Luthor. There have been tons of Robin Hood stories, but people expect that Robin Hood is a guy robbing from the rich to give to the poor, is good with a bow, and opposes forces attempting to usurp the throne of King Richard while the king is away from England.

The tricky part is to create a world that has just enough detail where people feel rewarded for recognizing the same things, without having so many details that ultimately add nothing to the setting, but serve to become the yardstick by which "true fandom" is measured.

I recognize the Realms in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide from the Realms I first saw in the Old Grey Boxed Set, so the level of canon WOTC is using is working for me.

What Do I Know About Reviews? Frontier Spirit (Fate Core)

When we think about Urban Fantasy, we tend to think about “what if all that magic stuff from folklore were real, and showed up in modern life.” There are variations on that theme, but the crux of it is imposing old folk stories on the reality we live in. Taking that one step further, what if we started colonizing space, and we found out on various planets there were nature spirits and local beings that reacted much the way humans once assumed they did on Earth? 

When Frontier Spirit talks about genre, it mentions being “supernatural adventure,” which is accurate, but it shares many tropes with what we view as Urban Fantasy these days, except it’s lightly settled planets out in space. Players are portraying characters that are clued in to the supernatural, and are using their unique perspective to keep the supernatural from disrupting the lives of the settlers.

How Does It Manifest?
The book is 43 pages long, and has the same formatting as most of the Fate Worlds of Adventure line, with very clean, professional looking formatting throughout. It is very easy to read and reference. The artwork is interesting in that the colors and the lines are very reminiscent of folk stories, with a lot of detail, but used in a way to convey dream-like imagery rather than realism.

The first section of the book explains the premise of the setting. In this case, we have reached the stars, and found out that there are various spirit beings that inhabit the new worlds we have found. To keep the peace between these sprits and the settlers, Mediums are sent to communities to read the signs and sometimes communicate directly with the spirits.

Welcome to Your New Home
While the introduction mentions Mediums traveling to worlds to help mediate between spirits and settlers, that implies a broader setting than this section. Specifically, the supplement will assume that you are on a specific world. The core assumption isn’t that you will travel from world to world, but that you will set up shop on the detailed world included.

Because you are on the frontier, there is a discussion of what humans have as technology and how much of that technology is available to settlers (which turns out isn’t much). There is FTL travel between worlds, but once you are on the planet, the overall tech level is a bit behind our modern world. Communication satellites are mentioned, but instantaneous communication across the world is rare.

There is a section about “camps and cliques,” but this mainly focuses on NPC descriptions for a few important NPCs in the setting. I must admit, none of them seem overly compelling to me. They have suggested aspects, but aren’t given full character write ups (see later, though). Some of the aspects don’t even get a lot of support in the backstory for each NPC. For example, Colusa Beo has an aspect of “Don’t You Dare Bring Imogen Into This,” which is her wife. I reread her entry, because with an aspect like that, I expected her wife to have died, or to disagree with her on some important matter. Apparently, she just doesn’t like others mentioning her wife?

The Otherworld
This section generally explains that the setting assumes there is a spirit world, and the more agitated a spirit gets, the more the spirit world manifests in the tangible world that people interact with. Mediums are people that have had encounters with the Otherworld and can now perform certain forms of ritual to allow them to either communicate with spirits or to send their consciousness into the spirit world.

The bit to me that was especially interesting in this section is that sprits aren’t so much spirits of a given river or mountain. They are sprits of something that natural element represents. A river spirit might be the spirit of water wearing away stone, and a mountain spirit might be the spirit of keeping anything from passing into the valley beyond. When human activity starts to cut into the execution of their portfolios, that’s when spirits get agitated.

Frontier Sprits uses standard Fate Core conventions. Slight customizations include making sure that an aspect portrays your first contact with the spirit world, and stunts that represent the ritual you use to channel or project into the spirit world. There is a bit of simplification of the skills of Fate Core, and characters can take a High Technology stunt that represents their access to one of those fancier high tech gadgets that people in the more civilized parts of the galaxy get to use.

While there isn’t a lot that gets used differently than Fate Core, there is a lot of interesting detail about exactly how Mediums enter the spirit world, what it looks like, and what form the ritual can take. 

The last section of the mechanics chapter is more GM facing, explaining how to utilize existing Fate rules to portray the spirits and their aspects, how they manifest, and giving some mechanics on resolving disasters, a common way in which sprits will manifest their displeasure.

Much like the player facing rules, none of this is entirely new material. Disasters are, for example, a form of Challenge as presented in Fate Core. The detail surrounding how to make these items into something specific to the setting makes for a good read, however.

Digging a Deeper Hole
“Digging a Deeper Hole” is the sample adventure for the product, and it introduces the Aribeth Plateau. Several NPCs, spirits, and their lesser aspects are details. The overall narrative moves towards the idea that some of the settlers are taking short cuts with nature and doing more harm than they should, and the Medium needs to find out about the hidden bad practices and figure out a middle ground between operating the mines and not upsetting the spirits or despoiling the land.

One of the NPCs from the previous section is reintroduced here, but with full character stats this time (stress, skills, etc.). This is one of the first things that felt as if it could have been done more efficiently. There isn’t much about two of the NPCs that gets used in this adventure, and neither one is particularly compelling. This NPC is the most interesting of the three, and could have just been summarized here. 

Thematically I was a little disappointed as well. Elsewhere in the book, it mentions that humans displease spirits by disturbing their portfolios, but they may not even be doing something overly destructive to the environment. It also mentions that Mediums might negotiate with spirits to set up festivals or ritual offerings that thematically go along with the spirits’ interests, and this might be an acceptable resolution for the spirit. I liked that clever aspect to figuring out what is bothering the spirit, and devising local festivals or observances that might appease the local spirits.

The sample adventure is more overt, however, with someone just doing something destructive. While the PCs could still come up with a clever resolution, it’s obvious that the spirits are pretty much in the right about humans being a problem. While I can see that as one type of adventure in this setting, I like the idea of working up to that kind of problem, with a healthy helping of the cleverer compromises between a capricious spirit and clueless, but not overtly destructive, humans.

Angry Spirits
For the premise introduced, it feels a little too constrained to assume that everything will happen on this one planet. Once that constraint is introduced, the planet doesn’t have much in the way of character. The implied gameplay of mediation isn’t utilized to its fullest in the sample adventure. Several places stress that Mediums need to pull their weight as regular colonists and that aspect of their lives is just as important as their job as Mediums, but again, the sample adventure doesn’t do much to reinforce anything other than their full-time status as Mediums.

The descriptions of the Otherworld, rituals, and spiritual manifestations are imaginative and interesting. The concept of designing ceremonies and observances to appease a spirit seems like it could be a lot of fun. 

Frontier Spirit paints a vivid picture of the spirit world and a campaign of negotiating with the supernatural on the edges of colonized space, but then puts a few too many constraints on the concept. Traveling from planet to planet performing these rituals would have added a bit more spice, as would having a planet that was a bit livelier. When the book attempts to be a toolkit, it doesn’t give enough tools to function (what does a campaign look like, how do you have adventures that don’t involve spirits, what happens if spirits are completely intractable, how busy can a Medium be with the spirit world on a frontier planet). 

When the book tries to be a sourcebook or an adventure, it doesn’t present enough compelling interactions or characters to sell the setting or the adventure. It wastes space on bland characters that it doesn’t use, and doesn’t follow through on concepts that it tries to introduce.

Overall, this book presents a great concept, and does a great job of painting the supernatural elements in bright, evocative colors. It hooks you into a very interesting concept. It just doesn’t have enough focus to tell you exactly what a game should look like, or follow up on its most interesting elements.
Good for the concept, and an entertaining read, but not in the top tier of the Worlds of Adventure line.

** (out of five)