Wednesday, June 19, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? Ki Unleashed (OGL 5e)


One of the things that I really like about 5e D&D is that the subclass system has, to this point, been a really strong way for the game to keep core elements of the game (in this case, classes) fresh, while introducing new options. While the subclasses can feel very distinct, unlike the proliferation of classes towards the end of 3.5 or 4e, you are still likely to recognize that the party has fighters, rogues, wizards, clerics, etc.

To me, I have a much easier time accepting new subclasses than I do new classes (I say, after allowing the Warlord and the Warden in my most recent campaign). That said, I am much more likely to enjoy those subclasses if the abilities tell a consistent story.

Today, we’re looking at Ki Unleashed, a 5e supplement from Tribality and Brandes Stoddard.

Proper Form

This particular product is eight pages long, with a cover, table of contents, and OGL statement. That means we’ve got five pages for three monastic traditions. It’s a nice and cleanly formatted PDF that is easy to navigate and read.

Into the Fray

We’ve got five pages, so I’ve got to be careful that I don’t let myself write a review that’s longer than the actual product, so I’m going to try to sum up. The three traditions we have in this book are the following:
  • Way of Lost Souls
  • Way of the Silver Chain
  • Way of the Wild



The Way of Lost Souls is a monastic tradition that is dedicated to helping souls cross over to the other side. They do this, in part, by bonding with a lost soul, which also gives the monk various powers. You can choose a lost soul that gives you access to radiant, psychic, or necrotic damage, and you can spend ki points to cast spells associated with that choice (bless, command, or inflict, in this case). At higher levels, this soul allows you to do extra damage of the type associated with you lost soul (6th), create a damaging field around you (11th), and manifest your lost soul as a ghost (17th).

I think this tradition stays on point for the story it is trying to tell with all of its class features, and in addition, unlike some monk traditions, it feels like a monastic tradition, not just a martial artist that learns supernatural attacks. The sidebar also has some nice ideas for who your lost soul is and how you might interact with them.

The Way of the Silver Chain is a monastic tradition that learns how to use their silver cord (the spiritual thread that connects you body and soul and trails out after your spiritual form when you travel the Astral plane) as a weapon. The goals of the tradition are mentioned as being opposed to nightmares, astral horrors, and creatures vulnerable to silver.

The Way of the Silver Chain monk can use their silver cord as a whip that counts as a silvered weapon, and they gain resistances to psychic damage that they can use ki to extend to their nearby allies, are resistant to various mental attacks, and can spend ki to protect their silver cord when it is attacked. When others rest near the Silver Chain Monk, they gain a bonus to their maximum hit points (expressly not temporary hit points). At 11th level, the Silver Chain monk can grapple really big foes with their silver chain, and at 17th level, you can do extra psychic damage and can even do ongoing damage.

I’m a little torn on this one. I like all of the mechanics, but the purposes of the order are a little bit scattered. I’m not sure what history leads you to study your silver cord to use as a weapon against werewolves, but also astral horrors and nightmares. I think just emphasizing that the tradition utilizes lucid dreaming to get in touch with their astral forms in order to master their connection to the spiritual might have been a more coherent origin. Also, grappling big things is one of those things that can be really useful when it’s useful, but might be kind of situational. That said, I really like the boost to maximum hit points that doesn’t nerf the potential temporary hit points you might get from other class abilities or spells.

The Way of the Wild is a monastic tradition that learns abilities by tapping into the primal forces of nature in their style. When choosing this tradition, you pick two of the styles associated with the style. This gives you access to stance which gives you various abilities based on the stance, and costs 1 ki at the beginning of your turn to enter. At 6th level, you get a strike associated with your stance, which you can spend a ki point on to add an extra effect to your attacks. At 11th level you get an ability that changes your maximum ki points, and at 17th level, you get a new stance.

Depending on how you want to flavor “tapping into the wild,” this could be the monk that really gets along with druids and rangers, or a martial artist that has learned a lot of very traditional sounding martial arts abilities that at some point in the past were based on studying nature. I really like the stance + strike setup of the subclass, as it really reinforces the feel of a martial artist, but it seems like it could definitely burn through ki quickly, and the boost to ki points doesn’t kick in until 11th level.

Ascended

I think the Way of Lost Souls monk is a great combination of flavor, mechanics, and story that very clearly communicates what the subclass is about. The Silver Chain monk has some great, imaginative abilities that play with the cosmology and story of the game to produce effects. The Way of the Wild feels very much like a martial arts class by introducing concepts like style, stances, and strikes. The mechanics of the classes are clearly and strongly realized.

Punching Bag

I don’t think its bad design, but The Way of the Wild could cause some ki option paralysis until the amount of ki opens up later on. I think all of the mechanics of the Way of the Silver Chain hangs together, and the “implied” story works great, but the introductory explanation of the order and the sidebar on dreams doesn’t feel as strongly represented in the class itself.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

If you even remotely like monks or want to see some strong D&D subclass mechanics, you really should pick up this product. Despite my commentary on storyline drift with the Silver Chain monks, the mechanics still tell a more coherent story than many official D&D subclasses, the Way of the Wild is a great example of how to reinforce the feeling of martial arts in the class, and the Way of Lost Souls is one of the best examples of both mechanics and narrative structure realizing a unique story and compelling story for a class.
Really, unless you don’t like 5e at all, pick this up.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Money is no Object--Why I Don't Mention Price in My Reviews

I could be wrong, but I think the only review where I have actively mentioned the price of the product I was reviewing was my review for D&D Beyond on Gnome Stew. In this instance, I felt that it was relevant in that most of the decisions about purchasing D&D Beyond revolve around moving to fully digital format with internet access (at the time of the review) and/or buying the material in addition to physical copies.


For the most part, I factor cost into my reviews. This is for a number of reasons. I want to provide an analysis of what is included in the product, which is where I put most of my effort. I have already modified my original process of assigning starts to using different levels of recommendation, because I felt that was more in keeping with what I was trying to do with my reviews. It can already be difficult to determine the level or recommendation I’m willing to append to the review, and that would be even more difficult if I were attempting any kind of cost analysis.


In addition to the cognitive load that doing a cost analysis imposes, I also think that people can take the information that I give them, see the price of an item, and determine if that price is within the range of what they want to buy. Additionally, years down the road, that same review is going to serve the same purpose for someone evaluating a Bundle of Holding sale or a Deal of the Day as it does for the person that picks up the product on day one, and if a price that I determined was attractive or unattractive were factored into the review, it becomes harder to determine how much weight I gave the cost analysis.


There is a very wide range of opinions on the cost of media when it comes to RPGs. There are people that think it’s perfectly acceptable to charge almost full price for PDFs, but also think that when ordering the hardcover, the PDF should be free. There are others that think incentives like that undercut local game stores, but support programs like Bits and Mortar, where similar arrangements can be made through a participating retailer. There are some consumers that have a hard limit that they will impose on any PDF price, regardless of product size or production value.


More important that all of the above, however, is the fact that the RPG industry sells itself far too cheaply. Consumers have become accustomed to companies that operate on far smaller margins than any other industry would accept, and designers have learned that no matter how much work they put into the industry or how well their material sells, only a very few game designers can do it for a living, and even then, it’s not the most lucrative or stable living.


Including any kind of cost analysis in this instance can be potentially harmful, because people that have become comfortable with current price points may also assume that any aggregate recommendation that includes price is also a commentary on what someone’s labor and creative energies are worth, and that’s not something I’m interested in commenting about at all.


I am more than willing to say that most people that work in the RPG industry do not get anywhere near the amount of money that they should make for their efforts. I will also say that RPG products should cost more, and consumers that have never taken the time to look at the costs that go into the production of RPGs should take some time to do so, and to look at similar items produced for other industries and note those prices in comparison.


I won’t say that I will never again mention the cost of an item in a review, but it would be in the rare circumstance that the price of the item is especially relevant to any potential recommendation. For most RPG products that I am evaluation, that’s not going to be a factor that I want to include.

Friday, June 14, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? The Godling (5e OGL)


Years ago, a friend of mine decided to try an experiment. He ran a Pathfinder campaign where every character was utilizing one of a few special classes from a third-party supplement. The classes were all thematically linked, as they were all iterations of the Godling class from Rogue Genius games. The old gods had fallen, and our characters were their children, adventuring to become more powerful, set the world right, and ascend in their place.

My particular character was the son of the god of strength, and I was playing a Mighty Godling. I also decided that whenever I spoke in character, I would sound like Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and I routinely wrecked my voice during these sessions. It was almost as bad as the headaches I used to get when I wore an eyepatch after my Space Wolf got half his face blown off with a Tau railgun.

Poor real-life player choices aside, it was the memory of that campaign that prompted me to pick up The Godling, a 5e revision to the Pathfinder Godling classes.

The Good Book

The product is a 25-page PDF, with a page of advertising, and a page for the OGL statement. Everything in the book is clearly formatted, with wide margins and multiple tables, which help to illustrate a single class that has very divergent subclasses and options as it progresses.

The Base Class

The Godling is a d8 class that has multiple choice points as it develops. At level one, players will pick a Divine Lineage, but at 3rd level, they pick a Path to Legend. While it is an imperfect analogy, having multiple “path” choices makes this more like the Warlock, with the choice of patron and then pact boon, than other classes that have a clear subclass choice at 1st or 3rd level.

As far as abilities that are granted that aren’t dependent on Lineage or Path, characters gain Mythic Inspiration, which lets them roll with advantage when a roll deals with their divine lineage. Later, they can use this for other types of rolls, and eventually the character gains a second point of divine inspiration that they can only use for allies—the recharge mechanism is a little confusing, as it is mentioned that it recharges after a short or long rest, but then the 20th level ability also mentions it recharging after a short or long rest.

Characters also gain ascendancies as they gain levels. To continue the Warlock comparison, these are similar to invocations, in that some have prerequisites and only function if you have made specific choices with your character, and that you can switch them out when you gain new ones.

Once characters hit 20th level, their capstone ability is demigod. Once per day, you can cast wish without any ill effects. Take that every other capstone ability out there.
Beyond mythic inspiration, ascendancies, and demigod, all of your advancements will be based on your Divine Lineage or your Path to Legend.

Given the number of options in the class, I’m not surprised it has a similar structure to Warlock, at least initially. The mythic inspiration feature is a bit confusing, or else I’m just getting lost in the description. Either the table is just indicating where there is a change in the ability, and you only ever have two points of mythic inspiration, one you can spend on yourself or an ally, and one you have to spend on an ally, or you have four, plus one you can spend on an ally. Given the reference to points, I would think four makes more sense. If that is the case, it seems like recharging after a long rest until 20th level would make sense, except that you go all the way to 8th level before getting your second point.  I can make a judgment call, but it’s a little tangled to me.

Divine Lineage

Divine Lineage is the first choice that you are going to make, and this is intended to be influenced by the parent or divine power in the character’s background. Adept godlings are supernaturally wise, clever godlings are supernaturally canny and skilled, eldritch godlings are supernaturally gifted with magical ability, and mighty godlings are physically powerful.
 
Adept and Eldritch godlings get spellcasting ability, with adept godlings choosing from either the druid or cleric spell list and using wisdom as their casting stat, and eldritch godlings choosing from either sorcerer or warlock spell lists and using charisma for casting.

While neither lineage gets higher than 5th level spells, they have a slightly different spell progression than paladins and rangers, and get a number of cantrips known. Adept godlings get the ability to cast without material components once per long rest (6th), concentrate on spells twice as long, concentrate on two spells at once (10th), and share a spell with a range of self (14th). Eldritch godlings get to cast spells as bonus actions when they dash (6th), cast two spells at once by using higher level spell slots (10th), and add any spell from any list to your known spells (14th).

Clever and mighty godlings don’t get to cast spells. Clever godlings can challenge an opponent to add their intelligence bonus to damage (1st), learn skills at an accelerated rate utilizing downtime and gold (1st), ignore resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage (6th), redirect an attack to another target (10th), and once per short or long rest choose to succeed an ability check (14th). Mighty godlings get bonus hit points equal to their proficiency bonus, and the ability to use a versatile weapon at it’s two handed stats one handed (1st), reduce two levels of exhaustion at a time (6th), double weapon die damage in exchange for granting advantage to opponents (10th), and do levels of exhaustion to opponents instead of extra damage when using wrathful attack (14th).

The adept and eldritch godlings feel like they are getting the better end of things at this point. Getting a d8, but similar, but not identical, spellcasting to paladins and rangers is a little off, but we’ve got other class features and enhancements to magic.

Before we get to ascendancies and paths, clever and mighty godlings really feel like they are getting the short end of the divinity here. There is nothing that clever godlings can do that outshines a rogue, and the mighty godling gets a damaging version of reckless attack later than the barbarian, and while they get extra hit points per level, they are also stuck with medium armor proficiency and no native progression for multiple attacks.


Ascendancies

There are a lot of these, so in the interest of the previous section, I’m going to focus on anything that helps out the mighty and clever godlings. They can eventually get ascendancies that allow for additional attacks, as well as various abilities that introduce a save when the character attacks to add additional conditions to their damage.

The adept and eldritch get lots of ascendancies that modify their spellcasting, but probably the most notable are the ones that add a spell slot of a level they cannot cast, which can eventually get them to 9th level spells.

What this means is that by spending several ascendancies, you can get the spellcasting godlings up to “full” casters, and you can get the non-spellcasting godlings up to three attacks per round.

There are also a few fun “god flavored” abilities, like spontaneous resurrection, which lets you come back to life, but only twice. The third time, you stay dead. So, it’s a fun ability, but it’s a class ability that can become obsolete once you utilize it.

Paths to Legend

There are four steps to each of these paths, but characters can mix and match paths, so long as they take the steps in order. For example, you could have all four steps in a single path by 20th level, or the 1st step of four paths, or three steps of one path and the 1st step of another path.

The paths include the following:

  • Path of the Battle Lord
  • Path of Ebon Whispers
  • Path of the Passionate Heart
  • Path of the Ocean Master
  • Path of Sagely Lore
  • Path of the Radiant Day
  • Path of the Weapon Master


The paths have different levels of similarly themed abilities. For example, the Path of Sagely Lore lets you cast spells from a spellbook as rituals, and then makes those rituals faster. The Path of the Radiant Day lets you blind opponents or bend light to turn invisible. The Path of the Weapon master lets you name your weapon and “build” it’s magical ability from a list of powers delineated by points.

Multiclassing

The section on multiclassing is noteworthy because it treats each godling type as a different class for purposes of multiclassing. Oddly, despite natively only gaining up to 5th level spells, the multiclassing section instructs you to add godling as a full spellcasting class for determining multiclassing spell slots. I would assume this is only for adept and eldritch godlings, but that’s not spelled out.

Glad Tidings

It is a lot of fun to play around with the options in this class, and the theme of a class that embodies growing into godhood is a strong one. While it is super powerful, the wish capstone feels right, and I really like the idea of the different godling paths and ascendancies.

Pillars of Salt

It feels like you could build characters close to established fighters or spellcasters with these rules, but it also feels like in order to do that, you lose a lot of the flexibility and fun of choosing different paths and ascendancies. There is also a lot going on with this class, so it feels like it would be easy to get lost in your options and not really have an emergent “story” told with your class abilities.

Tenuous Recommendation--The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

With the level of complexity of the classes, and the sheer number of options, I think I would have preferred two separate godling classes instead of one class with four subclasses. I think some of the mechanics have to stretch too far to do something that should be simpler to achieve. Having a casting godling with more of a bard’s progression, and a non-spellcasting d10 class that could natively count on multiple attacks, with subclasses that reinforced clever or straightforward tactics, might have been a stronger option.

The product is still a lot of fun, but I think the best use of it may be to do what we did with the original Pathfinder versions of the classes, and set aside a special campaign with all godlings. Even then, the player and the GM should probably be very aware of exactly what they want out of the class, as it would be very easy for some godlings to really shine, while others take a lot of random shiny abilities that never come together well.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? Tales of the Old Margreve (5e OGL)


I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that my new favorite setting for D&D is Kobold Press’ Midgard setting. I have really been enjoying the fact that the setting is just familiar enough that you can do “most” standard D&D related things in the setting, but just different enough that it doesn’t get watered down by expanding to accept everything D&D, all the time, and sets some boundaries on what feels appropriate.

That said, I’ve really wanted to have some kind of mega-adventure or adventure path for the setting. I’ll be honest, running a published adventure doesn’t keep me from doing a ton of work fleshing out side details and adding NPCs, but it does give me guardrails that occasionally tell me when to stop and veer back onto the path.

There is a more formal mega-adventure/adventure path for Midgard coming in the future, in the form of the Empire of the Ghouls product that was recently on Kickstarter. Until we get there, there is the Tales of the Old Margreve adventure.

Based on an adventure anthology originally created for Pathfinder, Tales of the Old Margreve was translated and expanded for 5e. While it isn’t quite a single unified story, all of the adventures take place in the Old Margreve forest, with some recurring locations and characters across some of the adventures. There are adventures in the book to take characters from 1st to 10th level.

Content Warnings and Clearing the Air

A number of people in danger, as well as the number of mysterious, magical creatures in the forest, are disproportionately women. For the most part, these women are presented as having competency, and in many cases, are actually quite powerful, but the “dangerous enchanted woman” trope is in evidence a lot, especially as this seeks to recall a darker fairy tale vibe.

What is more troubling is the recurring problems with the Kariv, a culture that is portrayed in a manner very consistent with the real-world Roma culture. The Kariv are literally cursed to wander, which changes the narrative of why they travel from racism and religious persecution, and they do perform divinations, which aren’t quite as enigmatic in a world where magic functions.

Unfortunately, despite having a cultural name native to the setting, with the Kariv, the book repeatedly uses the term g*psy, a term that many Roma people see as a slur. It occurs multiple times in the Gazetteer, and in particular in the adventure Gall of the Spider-Crone. 

That adventure not only uses the term g*psy again, but also portrays the Kariv as untrustworthy, greedy, incompetent charlatans. It doesn’t just play with outdated stereotypes, but actively harmful ones.

I understand that Midgard leans heavily on Eastern European legends for its flavor. I just wish that the Kariv could be treated with more care and concern, given their obvious parallels to a real-world marginalized people.

Defining the Borders

This review is based both on the PDF and the physical copy of the adventure. The book is 204-pages long, with three pages of ads and the OGL statement taking up its own page. The pages have a greenish cast with a faded background of vines. The formatting is clear and easy to follow, and the artwork is some of the best fantasy art you are going to see in an RPG product.

The Old Margreve Gazetteer

The gazetteer gives a broad overview of the Margreve as an adventure location, and details some 5e specific rules that work in tandem with the setting. Magic is slightly less effective, as the forest “eats” it, metal rusts away from civilization, and the forest actively decides if it likes you or not.

There are Margreve specific charts for Status, a rules system that can be found in the Midgard Worldbook. In this case, status is gained or lost based on the forest’s concepts of right and wrong, and there are mechanics for random effects that can happen when status rises high with the forest, or is especially low.

In addition to the special effects that might happen with status, there are specific random encounters for the Margreve, divided into encounters on the road that moves through the forest, the outskirts, or the heart of the forest, as well as daytime and nighttime encounters. In addition to listing creatures encountered, the encounters explain what the various creatures are doing, or the extenuating circumstances that might be present in the scene when the creatures are found.

Several of the encounters reference creatures from the Tome of Beasts or the Creature Codex, and while I endorse both of those books (possibly even over some of the official Wizards of the Coast D&D monster tomes), the fact that the encounter charts utilize them may make this section slightly less useful for someone that doesn’t own them.

I am very happy to see the status mechanics get used for a more specific purpose. I like the concept from the Worldbook, but there isn’t much in that book to make it worth the effort to track. For this adventure, it has direct consequences on the game, and I hope to see an adventure specific version of status for use with the Empire of the Ghouls adventure as well.

Margreve Sites, Inhabitants, and Adventure Hooks; Magic in the Margreve

This section details recent history, geography, and several of the inns that follow along the Great Northern Road that bisects the forest. Various NPCs are detailed, and there is a faerie associated site that can act as a transition into the Wrath of the River King adventure. This isn’t just a mysterious site with some faerie in attendance, but a populated area with different events going on during various seasons and numerous detailed NPCs to interact with.

There are several inns mentioned, including the Bluebell Coaching Inn, which is almost the fantasy equivalent of the cantina on Mos Eisley in Star Wars. All kinds of magical creatures associated with the forest stop by the inn from time to time, making it a good staging place for adventurers, especially if your group has less traditional species in it’s makeup. There is both a rumors and adventures table and an NPCs table to add some randomness to the people in attendance, and like the encounters above, most of these detail a starting situation rather than just listing the statistics for a character.

The Dancing Stones are places of power in the Margreve that are tied to the ley line features of the setting. Each site has its own lore and rumored abilities, and over a dozen of them are given a paragraph or so of detail.

There are more details on magical effects in the Margreve, including a few new spells that interact with the rules of the forest. They can do things like allowing your shadow to become a spy for you, or letting you get sustenance from sunlight. There are also suggested side effects to different schools of magic based on the interests of the forest itself.

I enjoy all of this, and think it does a lot to reinforce an alien and self-aware ancient forest as a setting, but given that this modifies some class features, you may want to be up front with your players and get their buy in before telling them that their spells don’t function the way they think they do. In many cases, the forest just adds something “extra,” but there are detrimental effects like lowering the DC or proficiency bonus to hit with spells.

The Adventures

Rather than detail all of the adventures, I wanted to give an overview of the adventures and where some of the connections between them lie. There effectively two types of adventures. The first are the stand-alone adventures that might have some common people and places, and there are the shorter Derende interludes, which are more like specific encounters that get woven between the other adventures.

  • Hollow (The PCs find a village attacked by a monster in service to an evil tree)
  • The Honey Queen (The PCs negotiate with sentient giant bees for magical honey)
  • The Vengeful Heart (PCs investigate a blood mage’s dealings with local villages)
  • Challenge of the Fang (PCs get caught up in a ritualized hunt with wolves)
  • The Griffon Hatchling Heist (One of the powerful griffon’s of the forest needs the PCs to help save her eggs)
  • Gall of the Spider Crone (A forest hag needs help excising something living within her)
  • Blood and Thorns (Plant folk attempt to secure their power over the forest)
  • Grandmother’s Fire (Someone has stolen Baba Yaga’s hearth fire, and she wants it back)
  • The Vengeful Dragon (the PCs return to the first adventure site to deal with a dragon that threatens the village)


Hollow and The Vengeful Dragon bookend on the same village, with the PCs being invited back with the assumption that they are heroes that helped out in the first adventure. There are various spider crones that are sisters that appear in multiple adventures as well.
The adventures all have strong dark fairy tale elements to them. Some of my favorites include the shambling thing helping an evil tree in the forest to evolve into something more powerful, as well as the gravitas that a job for Baba Yaga naturally holds, with the stakes being lifting a curse on the whole forest.

Some of the adventures have stronger opening hooks than others. If you are planning on basing your whole campaign on the forest, a lot of adventures kind of assume adventurers “stumble across” something, and The Vengeful Heart, as an example, feels more set up for outsiders being sent into the forest, so you may need to plan stronger, more unifying hooks.

The thing about the adventures that makes me the saddest is that I really like some of what is going on in Gall of the Spider Crone. There is a point where the PCs need to get the house of the crone’s sister to where the crone is laid up, and it’s a great and evocative fantasy scene. Unfortunately, this is also the adventure that has the most issues with how the Kariv are treated. My suggestion for this adventure would be to either not make the characters at the inn with Kariv, or go out of your way to portray them as being reverent and competent, but dealing with very difficult supernatural situations, to downplay the negative stereotypes.

The three other adventures in the book are interspersed, and are a bit shorter than the full adventures. They detail some mysterious sites in the Margreve, with a building undercurrent of something sinister happening. These adventures are:

  • The Fingers of Durende (1st to 4th level)
  • The Tongue of Derende (5th to 9th level)
  • The Heart of Durende (10th level or higher)


While other places in the forest have an ancient natural magic feel to them, the Durende sites are all touched by “something else,” and imply that something unnatural and beyond space and time might be slumbering under the forest.

The first two adventure sites hint at some of the weirdness going on, but the final adventure can make an effective capstone, as the PCs have to deal with a creature infused with power as the Avatar of Durende.

Appendix: Forest Monsters

This section includes a few new monsters native to the Margreve, including the following:

  • Bulbous Violet
  • Collais
  • Vine Golem
  • Lunarchidna
  • Piney
  • Piney Rootwalker
  • Stormboar
  • Tree Skinner
  • Tsuchinoko
  • Vallowex
  • Wraith Bear


As you might expect, all of these revolve around plants, animals, or natural phenomenon. In some cases, like the stormboar, its an animal imbued with the power of a storm. I particularly like the wraith bear, which defiles plants to power itself, and can incapacitate people with its roar.

The Forest’s Bounty

The Margreve itself is a very colorful setting, and the rules in the gazetteer make it an attractive location to utilize even without the adventures. Some of the locations, like the Bluebell Coaching Inn, feel like must visit locations in any campaigns in the Crossroads of Midgard. Almost all of the adventures have a nice, creepy fairy tale feeling to them, and the almost cosmic horror aspects of the Durende interludes is a nice counterpoint.

Storm Clouds

Some of the introductory hooks are okay, and others are a little weak, but I would have liked even a few paragraphs on how to create a more cohesive framing mechanism to keep the PCs on the path to playing through all of these adventures. There are also a few rules artifacts of the Pathfinder version of the adventures that slipped through, like references to negative hit points.

The word g*psy shows up a lot, and that’s a boundary to inclusivity that makes it harder to recommend the book. In addition, the way the Kariv are portrayed in one of the adventures is especially problematic, and a GM hoping to avoid those negative tropes is going to have to do some work to excise them from the narrative.

Tenuous Recommendation--The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

I’ll be honest, the Kariv material was making this one hard to recommend, but to compare it to a similar issue in another product, I feel like the tone-deaf issues in The Isle of Dread Reincarnated were incorporated throughout the process of making it, while I think Tales from the Old Margreve is clearly the work of many hands, some of which were less sensitive than others. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the product, overall, managed to get out the door with these issues intact.

The parts of it that work do so very well. It realizes its tone very effectively. The parts that don’t work as well serve to illustrate that even some of the best regarded publishers in the industry still have some work to do when it comes to empathy, sensitivity, and inclusiveness.

Note: I searched the PDF of the Midgard Worldbook, the Zobeck Gazetteer, and the Pathfinder version of Tales of the Old Margreve. Neither the Worldbook nor the Gazetteer use the term g*psy for the Kariv, and the references to the Kariv are largely unchanged in Gall of the Spider Crone from the Pathfinder version. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? Masters and Minions (5e OGL)


Before we begin, I want to provide some context. A few months ago, I had this review ready to go, but I became concerned over some of the artwork and the representation in this product. I decided not to do the review, and I even wrote a pretty heartfelt piece that I never published anywhere. I contacted Jetpack 7 to talk to them about it.

I wasn’t wrong in that the book could fewer women showing more skin, and a better range of people in the artwork. But instead of just noting that as part of the review, it struck me hard that I wanted to FIX the issue immediately. It was pointed out to me that one of the limitations of the book is that what went into the book was partially dictated by the Kickstarter backers. In addition to this, two things helped me to put things in perspective.

  • My review of the Isle of Dread Reincarnated highlighted what actual regressive issues look like
  • The number of bad actors and abusers in the industry that have been publicly addressed recently helped to put some of these issues in perspective


That’s not to say the examples in this book aren’t noteworthy. It’s more a matter that they aren’t egregious. They could be better, but they aren’t the height of exploitative RPG artwork that we had in the 80s and 90s, and even in situations where characters have any kind of revealing appearance, the context and composition of the image is often far better than “the good old days.”

Mastering the Dimensions

Masters and Minions is a 100-page supplement. This review is based on both the PDF and the physical copy of the book. The book is filled with glossy pages of full-color art. Stunning full-color artwork. There are two pages of Kickstarter backers to start the book, and a one-page index at the end.

Many of the villains have full-page illustrations, while some have a two-page spread. There are various sidebars to call out special items and rules, and bolded headers for all the main villains in the book. One odd bit of formatting is that all the sections after the chapter on major villains have a band at the bottom of the page to denote sections, so if you aren’t looking at the bottom of the page, you may be surprised when you wander from one chapter to another.

It is also worth noting that the art for Patious, The Dryad is portrayed in an exaggerated, sexualized way that regular 5th edition art has avoided to this point. Grael’s mechanical form, while artificial, is a stylized form that suggests minimal clothing. Grissek’k wears a bare midriff outfit that highlights her abs, and while she still looks intimidating, it’s also a form of battle gear none of the male characters (except, perhaps the goblin kennel master) share. While there are far more exploitative works of RPG or fantasy artwork in the world, Patious, in particular, feels like a throwback to less sensitive artwork.

Masters

The first section of the book presents various master villains that can be plugged into campaigns at various levels, as well as the statistics for various monsters and NPCs that serve that master. The primary villains presented in this section are:

  • Patious, The Dryad (CR 1)
  • Thalin, The Forest Master (CR 2)
  • The Child (CR 2)
  • Yumog, The Cave Master (CR 6)
  • Ettiene, The Ringleader (CR 5)
  • Ishmael, the Slaver (CR 5)
  • Grael, The Tinkerer (CR 7)
  • The Created (CR 7)
  • Grissek’k, The Orc Queen (CR 9)
  • Mauugh, the Troll (CR 7)
  • Lord Sebastian (CR 14)
  • Balleg, the Ravaged Wyrm (CR 17)
  • Kynikk, the Debauched (CR 20)
  • Colossus of Charnax (CR 30)
  • Nezzeroth, the Undying (CR 20)


Most of these villains have specific monsters or NPCs that are designed to go with the theme of the villain. For example, Patious has plant servitors that grow in the corpses of her victims. Lord Sebastian has specialized vampiric undead loyal to him. The Colossus of Charnax has animated fragments of itself. Thalin has the animated aspects of his own personality to keep him company.

Each one of the masters presented in this section has a basic scenario spelling out what the villain wants, how their plans might progress, and how the players might get entangled in their plans. Some of these scenarios, especially the lower CR villains, are events that could play out in a session or two of play. The Colossus of Charnax is part of the lore of a lost city that might take several levels of play to track down. The raids from Lord Sebastian’s forces could be a long-term framing device for a campaign.

One of my favorite villains, from a thematic standpoint is Nezzeroth, who is a classic villain that doesn’t even realize they are a villain, as their actions have potentially disastrous ramifications for the way reality functions in the game world.

In addition to having customized minions, several of the villains presented in this chapter have specific mechanics that reinforce the “theme” of that villain. As an example, Ishmael has a special attack that allows him to potentially lock an opponent in chains as one of his actions. Grael can rebuild minions from available scrap. One of my favorite villain mechanics is Lord Sebastian’s Blood Pool, an ability that lets him actively spend a resource to do “super vampire moves.” Additionally, several of the villains in this chapter have unique lairs, that either have their own mechanics, or have special effects that trigger on the villains Lair Action entry.

While it is probably not surprising, this section covers more than 50 pages of the 100-page supplement, and it’s the strongest section of the book. Many of the villains can easily be used in a variety of D&D settings, and the descriptions provide enough information to throw together a night’s adventure with very little work.

If I have any real complaints about this section, it’s that I wish a few more of the higher CR villains had sections on seeding information about the villain earlier in a campaign. As they stand, it is easy to see how the higher CR villains can dominate what PCs are confronting at a particular tier of play, but I would love to have more discussion on how to start casting the villains shadow all the way at level one, for a slow burn.

Open Game Content

The next section of the book is simply called Open Game Content. It’s about five pages of NPC statistics, covering the following characters:

  • Kyrtelmuk the Intelligent (with Mindless Goblins) (CR 5)
  • Jesset Woebringer (with Cultists of the Lady) (CR 5)
  • Ardi’Tik’Chok (CR 10)
  • Isidora, the Night Hag (CR 8)


This section contains “mini masters,” for lack of a better term, contributed by Kickstarter backers. Each section has a description, tactics, and a summary, but because these are shorter entries, there isn’t art (except for Isidora and her labyrinth), and while several of the creatures have recharge abilities, there are the unique mechanics found in some of the more memorable villains from the previous section.

Minion Tactics

The next section takes up about 16 pages and covers various creatures that are likely to be minions of more powerful monsters or NPCs in a campaign. The entries generally follow the format as follows:

[Monster Name]
Creatures the monster is likely to serve
Frequency
Setting
Senses
Size
Speed
Description
Tactics

Additionally, some entries include a “non-combat resolution” entry as well.
I like the concept of this section. I really enjoy reading how monsters behave in the context of working for a more powerful character. Unfortunately, some of the tactics stop short of giving specific details, which might have been more useful, especially for DMs that haven’t used the creature in this capacity before.

As an example, one of the tactics mentioned for duergar is to “leverage their . . . advantage on saves vs poison.” This might have been a great opportunity to introduce a poison that characters with advantage are immune to, but still affects those without advantage normally—while the Duergar and potentially any party dwarves won’t be in any danger, numerically, that weak poison might slow down a few PC party members while not posing any danger to the duergar.

An interesting aspect of this chapter is that tactics are included for some non-OGL creatures, by coming up with alternative names for those creatures. For example, the q’kogoth are furry, clawed creatures that serve the drow in the underdark, and kooatalla are underdark dwelling fish people.

Monsters

The next six pages of the book are filled with new monsters. Those monsters include the following:

  • Unfettered Familiar (CR 7)
  • Living Golem (CR 5)
  • Alkonost (CR 1)
  • Hag Spawn (CR 2)
  • Devil Binder (CR 13)
  • Goblin Kennel Master (CR 3)


It’s a short monster section, but I really like how many of these monsters interact with existing monsters or fill useful niches in the game. The unfettered familiar is a nasty “feral” familiar that has outlived its master. The devil binder is a spellcaster NPC summoner, and I love thematic “caster” NPCs like this whenever they appear in 5th edition product. Not only do they have spells, but they can summon a devil and enhance it with their special actions. The goblin kennel master is a tough goblin that makes those worgs that hang out with goblins even more dangerous.

I enjoy the possibilities of the hag spawn as monsters, but it is worth noting that it plays with the trope of child endangerment, which may not sit well with all players, and you may want to make sure you drop clues that you can save these children, because if your PCs find out after they have . . . dealt with them in other ways, they may be very upset that they could have saved them.

NPCs

This section presents three more NPCs. One of them is an unlikely master assassin, another is an unreliable hireling, and the final one is a retired adventure that is a font of useful information about his adventuring days and potentially serves as a contact between PCs and various important organizations.
Jaella, the unlikely assassin with a retinue of orphans, is my favorite of this group. I wish she had been fleshed out as a full “master” in a previous chapter, because I think she would have made a great morally ambiguous antagonist.

Magic Items

A single page at the end of the book introduces the Canister of the Captive Mind, the Doppelganger’s Cowl, and the Lash of the Master. While all these items would be dangerous in the hands of a villainous character, none of them are especially evil on their own. The canister casts dominate person and allows long-range communication, the cloak is a handy disguise tool, and the whip can turn enemies against one another for a single attack.

All of them see like useful magic items, but I wish they had been tied more directly to other aspects of the book.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

The art in this book is gorgeous. The two-page spread of Lord Sebastian is 100% pure gothic vampire glory, with the vampire lord standing in the mists with his soldiers and a pack of wolves. Just about all the main villains in the book manage to straddle the line between having an interesting backstory and still being vague enough to fit into multiple game settings. I love the special attacks and sub-systems that several of the villains use. It makes them actively fun to utilize in game and sets them apart from similar “generic” NPCs or monsters that already exist in other books.

There are also several good “support” monsters and NPCs presented, that are useful even beyond serving the specific villains in this book.

Curses, Foiled Again

While it’s not bad content, the Open Game Content, NPCs, and Magic Items section feels a little unfocused given the rest of the book. The Minion Tactics section was a great idea, but it feels like it needs a few more specific examples to reach its full potential. I would have been happier without some of the NPCs and the magic items if I could have gotten a few more long-term campaign ideas and a fully formed version of Jaella as a villain. While the art is gorgeous, there are a few female characters that play on older tropes in fantasy art that may not be as forward thinking as they could have been.  There also could have been a better representation of people included in the book.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

There are some great adventure ideas in this book, and a lot of amazing artwork. The concept of a “monster manual” for villains is a good idea, especially with suggested adventure or story arcs included, but a little more detail added to long term villain arcs might have given them even wider appeal. If you are playing a long-term D&D campaign, and you like playing with custom subsystems, this should be a solid purchase for you, but if you favor fully fleshed out adventures or more straightforward D&D content, there may be less for you to sink your teeth into.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? Iron Edda Accelerated (Fate Accelerated)


We’re going to venture away from Dungeons and Dragons for a little bit for the next review, but not away from epic fantasy. Today, we’re going to look at a roleplaying game were massive creatures clash against huge automatons, but the setting is Midgard, the creatures are undead giants, and the automatons are dwarf constructed magical mechs. Today, we’re looking at Tracy Barnett’s Iron Edda Accelerated, published by Encoded Designs.

I’ll issue the same disclaimer that I did with previous Encoded Design reviews—there is Gnome Stew overlap between Encoded Designs and Gnome Stew, which is another place you can find my reviews. Tracy is a fellow gnome, but I have, unfortunately, not had the good fortune to meet them yet.

The Runes of the Endtimes

This review is based on the PDF of the product, as well as the print on demand in both hardcover and softcover. Because I’m currently running the game, I picked up two copies, with one as a table reference for my players.

The PDF is 131 pages long, with a two-page character sheet, two pages of Kickstarter backers, and a two-page index included. The headers of the various chapters have a “flying embers” appearance to them, and the pages themselves are parchment colored with a “crinkling” effect on them. The artwork is black and white on the parchment background, with splashes of color for emphasis (for example, in one scene, the firelight is orange, and in another, a puddle of blood is red).

There are many half and full-page pieces of artwork, clear headers, bullet points, and boxed sidebars, making the book easy to read. In addition to being easy to read, the artistic elements really make the overall appearance pop.

The print on demand books are the digest size of most of the Fate books. The parchment color is a bit more grey in the print version, but the overall effect of the formatting and artwork still look very nice. Because of the size of the book, the softcover is actually a little easier to page through than the hardcover.

Prologue and Introduction

The book starts with an epic poem that outlines the overall story of the setting using traditional Norse structure. I will also freely admit that the only reason I recognize the structure is because it’s what Walt Simonson used when he wrote the issue of Thor where he fought against the Midgard Serpent.

The introduction summarizes the setting, explains that all the rules are found in this book, outlines the order in which the campaign begins, and discusses what you need to play.

The game itself is a variation of the version of Fate Accelerated used for the Dresden Files Accelerated game, adapting the concept of mantles into destinies. The setting is Midgard, at the time of Ragnarök, with Loki playing dwarves and mortals against one another. The dwarves are wrecking the world with giant mechanical automatons, and Loki provides mortals with the ability to bond with the bones of dead giants to fight them.

It’s Ragnarök. Dwarves are piloting magical automatons to destroy the world. The best hope Midgard has is for warriors to deny their clans, cut a deal with the spirit of a dead giant, and ride around in its ribcage so they have a chance to fight the giant dwarf constructs on even terms. And it’s all Loki’s fault, just like it should be.

I will pause here to point out that the core concept of this game is metal AF. I have Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song in my head even as I write this review.

Building Midgard and Additional Setting Information

The first step of the game isn’t to make characters. Instead, the group works together to create the Holdfast, the location that the player characters call home. The group will draw a map and add items to that map as they answer questions, generating the facts of their home.

Each player (and optionally, the GM) rolls on a series of tables to find a question that they will answer, and that answer helps to establish the setting. The broad categories are:

  • Hanging in the Balance
  • Sword Talk, Axe Talk
  • Political Maneuvers
  • Dictates of Fate
  • Blessings of the Gods
  • Curse of the Gods


Once the general category is generated, the player rolls to see if they are answering a question about the past, present, or future, and then they roll on the appropriate sub table to get a specific question.

In our own group, we ended up with several politically edged questions, between other settlements and with the Petruvian Empire, and it definitely pointed us in a specific direction for our first session, and provided quite a few hooks.

What is interesting is the order information is presented. Holdfast creation comes first in the game, but it literally comes first outside of the introduction, even before some of the finer details of the setting, which come in the next chapter. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad way to present the chapters, because nearly ever Fate product with the full rules included does things a little differently, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the order and thought “this is the perfect order to present information in a Fate product.”

Once we do get into setting details, Midgard (in this case, a name for the Norse inspired lands, not the whole planet) has three sections with their own settlements, rivers, and recent history. In addition to Midgard, there are analogous cultures to the Roman Empire, the Celts, Native Americans and First Nations peoples, the Middle East, and hints of other lands as well, and the elves have a presence in the mortal world as well.

Everything in the setting is painted in broad strokes, in part because setting creation is meant to be unique to each table. There is some brief talk of what these other cultures have that are analogous to the Bonebonded, those warriors bonded to giant bones. The elves have animated trees, for example, and the people of the deserts of Brand summon huge elementals. The druids of the Isles of Mist animate huge burning wicker effigies. It’s all brief, but evocative.

I love the quick but colorful descriptions of the rest of the world. It gives you enough to use in a game, with enough flexibility that you don’t need to worry much about being wrong or forgetting fine details. The only thing I would bring up is that the traders from Brand are mentioned as not speaking themselves, and only communicating through their slaves. This would seem to make them more difficult to use if the PCs do decide to branch out to other cultures, and it’s a bit of a rough generality to use for the whole region.

Characters, Gameplay, and Destinies

The Characters chapter walks players through the steps of making a new character. Much of this is similar to making characters in other Fate games, but the game has its own unique set of approaches, as well as some specific aspects.

Characters have the standard High Concept and Trouble aspects, but then make Warrior Clan aspects, Sacred Item aspects, and Group Aspects. Characters from outside of Midgard replace their Warrior Clan aspect with a cultural aspect, and the Bonebonded are no longer part of their former clan, so they create an aspect for the spirit of the dead giant with which they have bonded.

There are nine different clans, with a possible secret tenth clan of secretive outcasts. Each clan has its own aspect that represents how the clan does things, so the wolf clan is centered around acting as a pack, while the dragon clan is all about the rage.

While we get the steps to creating a character, the next chapter is about how the rules work, in general. This is where we get into the Fate details of the Four Actions (Attack, Defend, Overcome, and Create an Advantage) and what happens with the Fate dice indicate failure or a tie, versus succeeding with style (getting 3 or more higher than the needed result).

This section also describes the approaches in more detail, with examples of when each one would be the appropriate approach for a given action, as well as the rules for invoking and compelling aspects. It’s a nice, concise explanation of the expanded version of the Accelerated rules first put forth in Dresden Accelerated.

In broad terms, for people that have never spent time with Fate before, the dice are rolled four at a time. They produce either a +, -, or blank, and are added to the number of the approach. Depending on the action taken, there are different outcomes for failure, success, and succeeding with style, and you can spend Fate points to reroll or add a +2 if you can explain how one of your aspects is involved in the situation.

This version, like Dresden Accelerated, has some special conditions that can be marked, either to trigger destiny abilities or just under the right circumstances. These include things like Doomed or Indebted, meaning that narratively a character that takes stress while Doomed might die if they can’t mitigate that stress, or a character will have to do something to repay the character that they are Indebted to so they can remove the condition.

Then we reach the chapter on destinies. Destinies are what you might view as character classes in other game systems. They have their own sets of core stunts (abilities only they get), and some have special conditions that only exist for that destiny. These destinies are varied, and include:

  • The Bonebonded
  • The Seer
  • The Skald
  • The Runescribed
  • The Leader
  • The Shieldbearer
  • The Farmer
  • The Crafter
  • The Merchant
  • The Bandit
  • The Priest


At first glance, some of these may seem to be more exciting than others, but just about everyone has some neat tricks that make them really good at operating within their own area of expertise. When creating characters, almost all of the destinies seemed interesting to my players as they were reading through them.

As an example, the Bonebonded may be flashy because they can summon giant bones and go on a rampage, but the farmer can hand out bonuses to anyone that has consumed goods from their farm, and gets bonuses to defend that farm from attack.

The Shieldbearer may be able to ignore titanic amounts of punishment, but the Leader can call on people from the community to make checks for them, and they can “spend” some members of the community to accomplish goals or to protect them.

Most of these destinies only have a few uses of their abilities before they have to spend time doing something specific to clear the boxes of their abilities they have used. The Bonebonded, for example, need to indulge the spirit of their giant in their worldly desire, which they have been able to enjoy since, well, they’ve been dead. The bandit needs to mend fences with the community if they push their predations too far or too close to home, and the leader may need to prove they are advancing the community if they call on their people one too many times.

There are some spectacular situations that can occur when characters trigger certain conditions by pushing their abilities too far. The Runescribed can literally explode from indulging in their rune’s power too often. The priest can burn themselves out channeling the power of their deity. The Bonebonded’s giant spirit might go on an uncontrolled rampage if they are called on one too many times. Lots of fun risk-reward mechanism built into all of these.

Conflicts, Contests, Challenges, and Matters of Scale, and Advancements and Customization

Like Dresden Accelerated, Scale is an important rule for Iron Edda Accelerated. If one character is operating at a higher scale than another, they either get a bonus for each step of scale between them when the roll, or they get additional shifts of success after a successful roll. The scales used in the game are:

  • Human
  • Heroic
  • Giant
  • Epic
  • Godlike

For whatever reason, I have an easier time remember these scale levels than the levels in Dresden Accelerated, where I was always getting a little confused at where faeries were versus wizards or vampires. These seem to map a little more logically in my head, compared to the destinies that use them.
As an example of when scale applies, the Bonebonded is going to act at a higher scale when they are riding around in their giant’s bones, and the Farmer operates at a higher scale when defending their farm. All of these scales and when they apply are listed in the various destinies.

Turn order works in a similar manner to Dresden Accelerated, with the group determining who would logically go first, and that person handing off to another person or the GM when their turn is over. This section goes overall of the Fate standards of burning conditions or checking off stress boxes when taking damage, conceding before being taken out, and running Contests and Challenges (trying to accumulate a certain number of successes before a rival, or participating in a montage of actions to accomplish a more complicated goal).

The Advancement and Customization chapter explains what kind of advancements characters can take at Minor Milestones (usually once per session), Significant Milestones (possibly once every two or three sessions), and Major Milestones (six or seven sessions or a major story arc has completed). In addition to these advancements, there is some advice on customizing and creating new destinies for the game.

Creating the Rest of the World, and Running Iron Edda Accelerated

Creating the Rest of the World gives some standards for what kind of stats should be assigned to minor, supporting, and major NPCs in the game, if they should have access to conditions or stunts, and how much work to put into different types of NPCs.

In addition to the outlines on NPC creations, several examples of threats are detailed in this section, including various dwarven war machines, Fenrir, and Loki. Dwarves have a special condition that they mark when exposed to sunlight, and Fenrir’s unique modifications for this setting are great. Fenrir has not been having a good Ragnarök, and it’s even more formidable and strange that it might have been otherwise, after a few mishaps.

Draugr and Ghosts are also outlined, but they are written up like the previously appearing destinies. Some of those destinies, if something really bad happens, will direct the character to swap out their destiny for one of these two destinies, but they are both interesting enough that I almost want to see a player take one from the beginning and see how it works into the narrative.

The Running Iron Edda Accelerated section has some nice, procedural advice that is clearly bullet-pointed and repeats some of the steps of play from other sections of the book. It has several good sections on setting opposition, making sure to establish and define costs, and getting feedback from the players to include what they are interested in within the game.

My favorite part of this section, however, is the section on Story Stress and World Advancement. Once you establish your main plotlines in the game, you create a set of stress boxes with eight boxes. For every milestone, the GM marks off a box. For every two boxes checked, the plotline gets a new aspect added to it. At the end of eight boxes, the plotline resolves in whatever way is logical.

This is assuming that the PCs haven’t spent the session actively working on that plotline, in which case, the box doesn’t check, but there may be multiple story tracks advancing at the same time, and they may not be able to juggle all of them in a single session.

This is an extension of ideas like Fronts from Dungeon World, or even the clocks in Headspace marking the advancement of corporate goals, but I like that this is spelled out in this section, and it’s a handy tool to remind the GM to keep advancing the world when the PCs aren’t focused on some aspect of it.

Valhalla Bound

I was a fan of Dresden Files Accelerated, but I think the same rules, as expressed in this book, are a little easier to follow. I love the story stress track as a tool to advance the campaign. I really enjoy the diverse range of destinies and what the contribute to a campaign as a whole. Creating the holdfast generates a lot of built-in story hooks, as well as providing immediate buy-in for the players. I was saving this one for last, but the setting is absolutely awesome and such a brilliant idea. I cannot say enough good things about the overall concept.

Dining with Hel

I know all of the non-Midgard cultures are painted pretty broadly, but I wish there was a little bit more to how Brand was portrayed. I don’t know how I would do it, but the order of some of the chapters feels a little unintuitive to me, but I can’t think of the best order for them. There are a few minor technical hiccups, like the Bonebonded Summon the Bones condition providing three boxes, but other rules implying that the condition has five boxes.

Strongly Recommended--This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.

If you have even a tiny interest in Norse mythology, even if you don’t like Fate, I think it’s worth it to pick up this book just to get the setting information and the Holdfast questions as campaign starters. There aren’t exhaustive setting details or timelines, just lots of evocative and fun ideas that make the setting feel compelling.

If you do like Fate, it’s an even easier recommendation. It’s a very clear implementation of the Dresden Accelerated rules, and tools like the story stress boxes are a great idea that can be ported to any other Fate game you are running.

I think the only people likely to be unhappy with this product will be people that know, from the outset, that this doesn’t fit their tastes.