Sunday 30 August 2015

Wargame Review - Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City

Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen CityBy Joseph A. McCullough

Published by Osprey Games

'Amidst the frozen ruins of an ancient city, wizards battle in the hopes of discovering the treasures of a fallen empire. In this fantasy skirmish wargame, each player takes on the role of a wizard from one of ten schools of magic, and builds his band of followers. The wizard's apprentice will usually accompany his master, and more than a dozen other henchman types are available for hire, from lowly thugs to heavily armoured knights and stealthy thieves. Wizards can expand their magical knowledge by unlocking ancient secrets and may learn up to 80 different spells. While individual games of Frostgrave are quick and can easily be played in an hour or two, it is by connecting them into an ongoing campaign that players will find the most enjoyment. The scenarios given in the book are merely the beginning of the limitless adventures that can be found amidst the ruins of the Frozen City.'

When I step into a new fantasy world I want details; details about the world, it's history, it's deities, it's landscape, people and traditions. In short, I want to know the world. No matter what the game, be it tabletop wargame, roleplaying game or boardgame, I want to know the world so that I can completely immerse myself in the game and the place that I'm playing in. Frostgrave doesn't give you much background, but is somehow still able to give me a compelling and fun game in a world of magic and mystery.

The Frostgrave rules, weighing in at 136 pages and including everything you need to run small 10-a-side skirmishes, is a full-colour hardback book of good quality that isn't small enough to feel thin on material and not large enough to make you balk at what you've got to learn. In fact, one of the first attractive qualities is the design and the size, as it's neat and concise and the book isn't large enough to beat someone to death with. The artwork is excellent and very atmospheric, and the photographs of the miniatures in action are detailed and well designed. At an RRP of £14.99 it's great value.

The game itself uses a 20-sided die and is designed with 28mm miniatures in mind, although you can adjust the scales for different sized miniatures. Of course, using 28mm minis ensures that you don't have to break the bank in figures as you can use miniatures from other well-known fantasy wargames you may have, but even if you need to purchase some there are official Frostgrave miniatures available from North Star Military Figures (

The game itself is based around a party of adventurers, a Warband, heading into the Frozen City to find magic items, treasure and fame. Your primary character, the Wizard, is the figure you're most focused on as these guys deal out the most damage in a variety of ways - you can choose from ten different schools of magic; Chronomancer, Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Sigilist, Soothsayer, Summoner, Thaumatuge and Witch, and each has eight spells to choose from. Although you can choose spells from other disciplines some schools of magic can be opposed to others which makes casting more difficult or almost impossible.

Your Wizard is supported by nine others including an apprentice who is able to do what the Wizard can do (but not as well) and eight non-magic soldiers ranging from hounds, thugs and archers, to Man-at-Arms, Knights and Templars; there are 15 fighter types to choose from. Each Wizard starts with 500 gold crowns to spend on the extra help and can gain more gold and items as the game progresses. Kills and achievements gain you experience points, and assuming your Wizard survives the game they can progress on to the next game and earn more spells, items, improve their scores and rise in levels up to a maximum of level 20.

Each game has targets to reach and these take the form of treasure chests that characters get to, fight for and then run off with. The chests have random items and gold which you can then use to upgrade your character and team, as well as buy new items and supporting characters, although you can only ever field ten at a time. These sequence of scenarios form a campaign - there are ten scenarios in this book alone and on average each scenario is about a page long but can last anything up to an hour, taking into account the simple bookkeeping required, so campaigns are very easy to design. In between scenarios your Warband can retire to their Base, where they can use resources gathered in previous scenarios and restock and recuperate.

The die mechanic is very quick, easy and intuitive throughout the game. Want to cast a spell? Roll 1D20 and score higher than the spell's target number. Want to hit someone? Both of you roll 1D20, add your Fight or Shoot skill and whoever rolls the highest wins, and the roll also determines damage. This is all controlled by a Stat-Line, a series of numbers that define a single character. Movement (M) determines how far a character can move. Fight (F) and Shoot (S) are an indication of a character's prowess in man-to-man and ranged combat. Armour (A) is what they are wearing and how much damage they can absorb. Will (W) determines how they can resist certain spells and Health (H) is how much damage they can take before incapacitation or death.

Along with a handy bestiary for wandering creatures in the city and some reference pages to make the games easier, you get quite a lot in the book.

Is it any good, though? Did I enjoy the game?

After our first two games, which were easy to play through as the rules were easy to learn and the rulebook easy to refer to as I bookmarked what I thought we'd need on an ongoing basis, I got pretty well attached to my Wizard Brania, a Witch, and his apprentice Mushroom (don't ask). I also named my Warband members, and the hound we had, a vicious warhound with one eye and a muzzle made of iron - we called him Mr Sprinkles - was a favourite. It was a bit of fun at first, so when a character fell in combat we could cry out their names and go 'Nooooooo!' in slow motion.

However, I got to level four with Brania and I was getting attached. He'd got some pretty good kit and the items were stacking up, and the base I had created (an abandoned inn) had a bit of character.

We'd played some of the scenarios in the book but we wanted to try something different, so my opposition suggested that he'd like to raid my base. So, I created a map and the agreement was that if he won then he could choose one of the Resources I had in the base, as well as one magic item. If I won, it was a simple defensive action and I got to keep everything.

The battle raged and about halfway through Mushroom was killed, and I was kind of bummed about it. The fight raged on and I was in a pickle, and it got so bad that I found myself cornered by both the enemy Wizard and his apprentice - double trouble. I got so badly hurt that I found myself surrendering and asking for terms. Terms? This was a wargame, dammit! There are no terms!

And yet my friend went with the flow and we agreed on terms - he got my best soldier and two magic items as well as gold and the resource, and my character lived. It was then that I realised that we'd roleplayed the encounter, and that the characters were more than simple playing pieces you move around the board. I'd become as attached to the Wizard as I sometimes do with my tabletop RPG characters, and I wanted to see him go on.

And there's the single best thing with this game; sure, it's a wargame and wargames are usually about domination and victory at all costs, but this skirmish game feels a lot more personal and will appeal to roleplayers such as myself. Hardcore wargamers don't need to fear this aspect because it's a great game and you don't need to include a roleplaying aspect, but it was refreshing for me to be able to play a wargame and incorporate elements of my favourite hobby into it. In fact, the system could work quite well as a miniatures RPG; I have now added a skill roll, which is simply roll 1D20 and beat a target number; easy 5, average 10, difficult 15, impossible 20. That's it - instant roleplaying game. I can get all the background details I need from the short story collection, also by Osprey. Frostgrave – Tales of the Frozen City is a fiction anthology that collects "eleven stories of wizards and adventurers as they venture into the ruins of the Frozen City".

Although the rulebook has enough details about the world for a decent skirmish game (and bear in mind you don't have to use the game setting; this works well for any setting) it doesn't have enough background to get a full roleplaying experience out of, but that's not what the game was designed for. This is an excellent game that's fast, furious and a hell of a lot of fun. It enables you to bring whatever you want to the table. Just want to have a big fight? Check. Sling some spells? Check. Swing some swords? Check. Create and have fun with characters? Check. Do a bit of roleplaying? Check.

This is a great game that I'm sure I'm going to be playing on a regular basis, and makes for a great introduction for new wargamers wanting to get into the hobby with it's simple, intuitive rules and clear and concise rulebook.

Highly recommended.

Sunday 23 August 2015

FFG - Star Wars: Armada Organised Events

I popped into my local gaming store Titan Games recently to have a look at their Star Wars: Armada organised play, as arranged and supported by Fantasy Flight Games.

Star Wars: Armada is an excellent Miniatures game that I had the pleasure of playing at this year's UK Games Expo, and after a few more games with the starter set it's something I can see us spending a bit of time on.

It's not as fast and furious as the X-Wing Miniatures game, as it requires a lot more forward planning as you try to judge the direction and actions of these lumbering hulks well in advance, and while there is some fighter combat in the shape of the squadrons that the ships can deploy it's primarily the great capital ships slugging it out with each other.

The organised play sessions are a great way for new players to experience the game and for experienced players to test their wits against others, and it's not just Armada that gets the attention but also Imperial Assault and X-Wing, as well as other games in the Fantasy Flight Games catalogue.

Organised play is an excellent idea and really helps bring gamers together and also showcases the games to non-gamers.Check with your local gaming store to see if they're up for the challenge.

Thursday 20 August 2015

FYI - MMORPGs FTW... TL;DR I like online gaming, too

I don't really cover MMORPGs on this blog but they are an important part of the gaming hobby. Tabletop games will always be my first choice when it comes to RPGs, but the MMO is an excellent way to pass the time.

I've played quite a few MMOs; World of Warcraft, Rift, Warhammer Online, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, EVE, Conan, DC Universe, Champions, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2 and at the moment I'm having a blast on the Dungeons & Dragons MMO Neverwinter. Some of these games I spent months on - Warcraft, Warhammer and Neverwinter in particular - and others a few weeks or even just a few days. I like to think I have broad experience with MMOs and that I've experienced a representative cross section on what MMOs have to offer.

I'll never be able to replace the sheer options of a tabletop RPG with the narrow focus of a MMORPG. The limits of the game limit the enjoyment and I always drift away from one MMO to another after a time (thank the stars for free-to-play!) and in the end I realised the only reason I returned regularly to my subscription games was for that very fact - I was paying to play them and I wanted to get my money's worth. The free-to-play options have changed that somewhat, but you always feel that you're missing out on the full game.

With paid subscriptions I always felt I got my money's worth until I reached the high levels, then it felt like a grind. Warhammer Online, as much fun as the PvP was, was guilty of that and was too slow to expand on the game and offer new content. That, sadly, has now gone forever. World of Warcraft has always been the top dog in this department and offers a full experience that can last you months. My only other subscription game I played was Rift, and that didn't fail on gameplay but on lack of wonder.

Rift was a great game, but I never felt I was exploring or discovering new things. I travelled to nondescript places to fight nondescript foes, and as good as the gameplay was I never had a moment when I was awed by a location, or excited to find a new town or city. Warcraft excelled at that; I'll never forget my first visit to Ironforge and seeing those gates for the first time. It was exciting and exhilarating, and I felt that I really was exploring a whole new world. Warhammer was pretty good at that, too, and Lord of the Rings was exciting because I'm a huge Tolkien fan and the locations were great to interact with and, from a creative point of view, it was interesting to see how the designers had approached the material.

That's what subscriptions games should give us - yes, the gameplay is important, but the visual awesomeness of the location as well as the atmosphere and the sense of exploration is important. If you can't replicate the sheer number of options a tabletop RPG can offer, then offer us something else; wonder. Show us the rich detail of your world and the locations it has to offer.

There are very few games that offer that full experience via free-to-play. Only Neverwinter, in my opinion, feels like I'm playing a full game with some pretty awesome locations as well as regular new content and yet I've never paid anything for it. As a F2P player there is a lot more hard work to do as I'm sure that paying would make the game much easier, but that work really feels worth it when you reach maximum level. Still, the design is great and the atmosphere is really well realised. I'd go as far to say that Neverwinter is probably the best free-to-play game out there at the moment, and other free-to-play companies should follow their example.

But, as much as I enjoy MMORPGs they are certainly no replacement for the tabletop game, not for me for sure. You are limited by the parameters of the computer, even if you're getting into character on a roleplay server, and the majority of the game comes down to is hit this and that until it stops moving and then hand the mission in for booty. That might be me oversimplifying the game, but sometimes that's how it feels.

So, I might be making more of an effort to cover MMORPGs on this blog, especially from a tabletop gamer's point of view. I think the only way an MMO influenced my tabletop is when I used the Art of Warhammer Online, from the collector's boxset, as visual cues for my recent Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign. Still, you never know what else might crop up. Perhaps I'll find an MMO setting that I'll want to run a tabletop RPG campaign in.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

RPG Review - Star Wars: Age of Rebellion – Desperate Allies

By Fantasy Flight Games

‘Use your words to fight for freedom with Desperate Allies, a sourcebook for Diplomats in the Star Wars®: Age of Rebellion™ Roleplaying Game. War is one of the major themes of Age of Rebellion, but without Diplomats to spread hope and convert new systems to the cause, war is just meaningless bloodshed. With this career supplement, you can join in tense negotiations, make last-minute deals, and keep the flame of freedom alight in a galaxy overwhelmed by fear of the Empire.

In this book, you’ll find three new playable species – Caamasi, Neimoidian, and Gossam – as well as three new specializations for Diplomats: Advocate, Analyst, and Propagandist. You’ll also find plenty of items and vehicles to ensure your Diplomats are completely outfitted for whatever dangers they may face in the service of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. Finally, Desperate Allies introduces rules for creating Rebel bases, allowing you to enrich your campaign with any kind of base.’

We’ve spent so long running around the galaxy blasting Imperials, running blockades and defeating the bad guys that we’ve hardly had a chance for any kind of breather. Once, just once, we’d like to put down the weapons and try something a little less violent and confrontational. If only there was only a way to play the game with conversation and negotiation! If only!

Oh. Desperate Allies. Cool.

Now the very nature of Star Wars is pretty much fully described in the name. Star. Wars. Wars in the stars. Great big battles and explosions, as is the driving force behind the franchise. But, there’s always a little room for diversity, and the Desperate Allies book gives you that option. In addition to the Ambassador, Agitator, and Quartermaster from the Age of Rebellion core rulebook, this book gives us the Advocate, Analyst, and Propagandist. These new additions add a lot to the game and allow for new paths to be taken, which adds a lot more depth to the roleplaying experience. Now players have the chance to try and use diplomatic methods and more non-violent skills like computer use and great new talents such as 'Positive Spin', and their skills enable negotiation and NPC-influencing talents. That’s quite a step away from the high-adventure nature of the game.

But it’s not all about sitting around tables and agreeing on the price of space cheese. There's still some room for action adventure types with a selection of weapons and non-lethal grenades. Armour and vehicles, including starships, get a section, but by far the most interesting part of the book are the ideas and seeds for diplomatic missions. There are some great things in here that you could get some lengthy campaigns out of, and diplomatic missions suddenly become quite attractive prospects.

And I think, when all is said and done, that diplomatic missions in a Star wars campaign is going to come down to a group decision. With my group, Star Wars is all about running gunfights and space battles, and the idea of doing more non-action adventures didn't come easy and took a little convincing. Not only that but there were a few moments of PC conflict, when the diplomat of the group wanted to try the negotiation route and the gunbunnies were all about the laser blasts. It made for some great roleplaying scenes but I was concerned that a part of my group was getting a little bored and just wanted to skip the chit-chat and get on with it. That was specific to my group, that's for sure, but it is something I can see cropping up.

The games turned out to be a success but I can't see them being a regular occurrence, but that's fine; the book is there if we need it.

All that aside, this is a great addition to the Star Wars RPG line and adds a whole new dimension to the game. Groups will get a lot of use out of it and the new types of missions give you an entire new angle on the game, and anything that adds to the overall scope of any game is a good thing.


Monday 17 August 2015

RPG Review - Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Game Master’s Kit

By Fantasy Flight Games

As with all Fantasy Flight Games’ products there is no doubting the quality of the product here; the card stock is hardy and will last a long time, the artwork and layout are all top quality and the content is useful and well designed. Still, it is one of those products that fall into the ‘do I really need it?’ category.

‘Keep your Star Wars roleplaying campaign focused on the action with the Star Wars®: Age of Rebellion™ Game Master’s Kit. The GM Kit includes a GM screen which will keep all the information you’ll need as Game Master at your fingertips during your Age of Rebellion sessions. You’ll also find new rules for running military squads and squadrons. The GM Kit also includes a complete adventure, Dead in the Water, so you and your players can stand strong against the Empire, even after you’ve finished the adventure featured in the Core Rulebook.’

I like my GM kits to be solid and worthwhile, so that I’m safe in the knowledge that I’m getting my money’s worth and the product itself will get a lot of use. If I’m spending money on something I want to make sure it’s an investment worth my while.

First and foremost, the GM Kit gives me something I find invaluable in my games; a sturdy GM’s screen for me to keep my notes and designs hidden behind. I usually use the screen for secret die rolls in other games but I feel the nature of the FFG Star Wars game, and the way the dice help decide the flow and ebb of a story, doesn’t really call for hidden rolls. It’s still handy for keeping your adventure hidden, and as long as the player’s aren’t actively looking over the screen – which, as any GM knows, is punishable by PC death no matter what the game – it’s high enough to hide stuff and there’s room enough to keep plenty of details hidden comfortably. In regards to that function the kit does it’s job well, and the tables are useful in a game (it’s very similar to what we got with the Edge of the Empire screen). With each chart including a page reference so that you can refer to the core rulebook if you have to, it’s really handy.

The adventure, ‘Dead in the Water’, is a decent romp that you should get a couple of  sessions out of; the Rebellion needs droids, and they turn to some ne’er do wells to supply them… and things go wrong. Which isn’t shocking at all. It’s a good solid adventure with action and investigation, and it’s designed to fit in with other adventures already released. That’s a great idea and gives a proper sense of progress to the games, creating an overall campaign. Also in this kit there are also extra rules for military squads and squadrons, which is handy and makes certain elements of the game a bit more dynamic.

It’d be easy to say that if you already have the Edge of the Empire GM Kit then you don’t really need this one, but in terms of the adventure alone I think it’s worth picking it up, and the screen itself is angled more towards the nature of the Age of Rebellion game than Edge of the Empire.

For collector’s it’s a great addition, for completists it is, of course, a must, and for gamers it’s a helpful, if not essential, tool, especially for the adventure. Personally, I’m happy with the whole thing.


Friday 14 August 2015

RPG Book Review - Designers & Dragons: The ’70s

Designers & Dragons CoverBy Shannon Appelcline
Published by Evil Hat Productions

I've only ever delved into the history of the tabletop roleplaying history a few times, and this was mainly snippets of information gleaned from books and interviews over the years. I’ve always been fascinated by the early days and the way the industry grew and continues to this day, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about the early days of the hobby. However, I’ve never really had the chance to really find out how it began and what happened to the individuals, games and companies involved.

Thank goodness, then, for Designers & Dragons: A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry.

This first volume of the series covers the 1970s, early days of the RPG scene and it's a glorious if depressing read - glorious in that it's amazing to see how these first firms kicked the whole thing off, their attitude and approach to the fledgling hobby and the almost off-handed way they handled new product. Depressing in that I wish I had been around to appreciate that initial burst of energy and passion.

After the hefty entry on the giant of the hobby, TSR, the book then covers Flying Buffalo, Games Workshop, GDW, Judges Guild, Metagaming Concepts, Fantasy Games Unlimited, Chaosium, Gamescience, Heritage Models, Grimoire Games, DayStar West Media and Midkemia Press. This is followed up by some neat little ‘Did you know?’ comments about the nature of roleplaying in the 1970s – which I found fascinating, as the attitude to gaming really has changed over the decades – and then a bibliography and acknowledgements.

There’s a real charm to this first book as it takes you back to the beginning and it’s not always a nice read; disagreements, rivalries and lawsuits rear their ugly heads as well as the stories of people reaching milestones, enjoying successes and pushing the hobby forward. It was great to read about the beginnings of the hobby but it was just as good to read about the approach that most companies had towards this new pastime. It almost comes across as clueless, sometimes, but the hobby was young and directionless and, coming out of the structured worlds of boardgames and wargames, many of the people involved had no true guidelines on how to approach this new and peculiar hobby.

It’s a solid read and while there may be moments when I felt that the book was simply listing facts and figures – which can’t be helped considering that it is trying to be complete and sometimes the detailed information just isn’t available – I honestly felt I learned something about my hobby and it’s origins. The book doesn’t take sides or root for any single person, game or company (although it does refer to some possible evidence or widely-regarded opinion on certain matters) and it gives the facts as cleanly, and as entertainingly, as possible.

As I mentioned earlier, there may have been times when I felt that the book was just calling out statistics or just reeling off product lines for a certain company’s production period, but even though I may have passed over these periods with a lot less interest than other points in the book, at no point did I feel completely bored or dissatisfied. These were fillers, information blurbs that took me through the workings of the company to make the history complete. All the time there’s cross-referencing and notes on what to read next, sidebars on details about certain things that readers might find interesting and notes that add flavour and background.

Well written, well laid out and, apart from the few rare moments where I felt I was reading material just to get to the juicier parts of the history (everyone loves a bit of gossip, don’t they?), I seriously enjoyed this book. I can't wait to get into the next book, the 1980s, which was my era, the decade when I entered the hobby.

Highly recommended.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Game Review - Dice Masters: Dungeons & Dragons Battle for Faerûn

By Wizkids

Battle For Faerûn brings Dungeons & Dragons to the Dice Masters Collectible Dice Building game. This boxed set contains everything that two players need to start playing, including 44 custom dice, 38 cards, two dice bags and the Dice Masters rulebook.

Two players have the chance to collect and assemble their adventurers to battle with one another. Players roll the dice to see what resources they have, purchase extra dice and then send their characters in. There are cards available for each type of die so players choose which one to use; this allows players to build specialized dice sets to increase their chances of success.

First things first, this is a hefty little box and with the dice, cards and bags you certainly get a bit of bang for your buck (RRP £14.99). The quality is good but not perfect – as a storage medium the box is flimsy and the contents tightly packed, meaning the game will have to be transferred to another way of storing it after a short period. The dice bags, though useful, are thin and a little flimsy. The cards are of very thin stock so you’ll have to take care of them, but the game isn’t a contact sport so anyone with any modicum of care should be able to look after the contents. Just don’t expect the box to last very long, especially if the plastic container that comes with it is lost or damaged.

But that’s a minor gripe with the product as a whole. The game itself is fun and dynamic, and we got a few great games out of it, with the promise of more to come.

That sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t. There is a learning curve to this game that might take a few attempts to get absolutely right. There were a few instances in our first couple of games where we’d look at each other and say ‘Er… is that right?’ and a few minutes of intense rulebook scrutiny would follow. It’s not a fault with the game as every game has to be learned, and this is no different. It’s definitely not for the very young generation and even as an adult I had a little difficulty, but after a few quick practice runs the game flowed quite well. I imagine it’s a game you’ll have to see in action to fully get the gist of, as watching two experienced players would no doubt really help with getting to grips with the mechanics. There’s a handy intro here: You can even download the rules from the WizKids website as a taster, so get over there and have a look.

Once we got into the flow of the game it was good fun and we’re looking into buying the expansion packs of extra dice and cards to increase our collection and get hold of the rare cards that’ll help us in battle (there’s a handy checklist in the box detailing cards and their rarity). Of course, the biggest draw to this game for me was the fact that it was Dungeons & Dragons and we were battling in the lands of the Forgotten Realms, but the game itself is covers other licenses – DC comics, Marvel comics and Yu-Gi-Oh! all get the treatment.

With a RRP of £14.99 and at gaming and hobby stores everywhere, this is a great game that you’ll get a lot of fun out of, and the longevity is in the collecting of new cards and dice. This is now on our gaming night to-play list and we’ll no doubt be cracking the box open on a regular basis.


Wednesday 12 August 2015

Art Book Review - Women of Wonder: Celebrating Women Creators of Fantastic Art

Edited by Cathy Fenner
Publisher: Underwood Books Inc

Review by Richard Williams

The premise for this book is lovely and simple; female fantasy artists. There are fifty-eight artists included and their work covers everything from cartoons to abstract to just good old fashioned fantasy illustrations and all of them are of a very high standard. The book itself is well produced and is edited by Cathy Fenner, a name well known in art anthologies for her work with the Spectrum series of books (the next instalment of which I'm eagerly awaiting), so you can be assured of a high quality coffee table book that is good to dip into repeatedly.

Because this is a celebration of the artists themselves, not just their work, each entry includes a a few paragraphs from these talented ladies explaining why they paint, what they hope to achieve or anything else they wish to say about their art and what it means to them. For this reason I really like this book and it sets it apart from others on my shelves that are happy to just showcase the work. I like to know more about the artists and it gives me the thrill of the connoisseur to be able to spot a piece and say 'oh, that's so-and-so'. Fine art snobs get to do it but guess what, concept artists and fantasy/sci-fi artists are just as distinctive and I like being able to pick them out based on nothing more than a favourite brush tool or a typical mood to their their work.

Without trying to be unfair to all of the artists I would like to pick out a few favourites whose work I've enjoyed for a while (years, for some of them). Names that are always good to look out for such as Melanie Delon, whose book Elixir is well worth a look, and Laurel D Austin whose fantasy illustrations for big names such as Blizzard Studios is incredibly vibrant.

I can't say that you will look at these works and come away thinking that there is a quality to them that makes them clearly 'female'. I think each artists brings their own thoughts and experiences and preferences to the canvas (be that real or digital) and that there isn't anything between the sexes that means you should go to a male or female artist if you wanted a particular piece creating. And I'm sure that's not what this book is saying either, it's just a nice theme for showing off some great work.

There are a couple of caveats, however. Firstly, as ever, this is an anthology so the odds of you liking every piece contained here-in would be, I should imagine, pretty slim. The styles vary quite considerably in some cases and there are pictures here I'm not fond of, although I can easily appreciate the quality. The second issue I have with this book is that each artist only gets a two page spread, one for their written contribution another for a piece of art. I would have liked to see at least two pages of art for each artist as one piece per entry seems like a wasted opportunity to really show off their stuff. I know that would have made the book twice as large but considering it's quite a slim tomb as it stands I don't see that as a problem.

Definitely one to consider if you're a fan of fantasy art anthologies, just don't expect to open this up and be blown away by feminine qualities and the womanliness of it all. This is just really nice art from really great artists who happen to be women and I think it's great that their work is being celebrated.

Monday 10 August 2015

RPG Session Report - Iron Kingdoms Roleplay

Once again we join GMorts Chaotica as he regales us with another Iron Kingdoms RPG session. This is the first of two parts, so make sure you check out the second installment.

This is a great series to read - make sure you seek out part one of the session reports on the website - as it not only gives you a good look at the Iron Kingdoms game from Privateer Press, which is still on my to-do list, it gives you a great snapshot of a roleplaying session in general.

Image result for iron kingdoms rpg

Sunday 9 August 2015

RPG Review - Princes of the Apocalypse

Princes of the ApocalypsePublished by Wizards of the Coast

‘Abolish an ancient evil threatening devastation in this adventure for the world’s greatest roleplaying game!

Called by the Elder Elemental Eye to serve, four corrupt prophets have risen from the depths of anonymity to claim mighty weapons with direct links to the power of the elemental princes. Each of these prophets has assembled a cadre of cultists and creatures to serve them in the construction of four elemental temples of lethal design. It is up to adventurers from heroic factions such as the Emerald Enclave and the Order of the Gauntlet to discover where the true power of each prophet lay, and dismantle it before it comes boiling up to obliterate the Realms.’

That adventurer synopsis from the WotC website is all I’m going to say about the details of the plot – it’s difficult to review an adventure for two reasons; the first is because of spoilers for the entire gaming group, and the second is that many groups approach adventures in many different ways so the playstyle may reflect enjoyment. That second reason is purely opinion and can’t be measured, but remains an issue when going over a product such as this. All I can do is tell you what me and my group got out of it.

There was one phrase that echoed around my gaming group by the end of this campaign - ‘There’s so many dungeons!’ Indeed; if the Tyranny of Dragons campaign reflected the Dragons of the D&D hobby, then this campaign certainly reflects the Dungeons half of it.

But let’s not get ahead of myself. This D&D campaign for characters of level 1-15 is another instalment in the very small and slow to release product line of 5th Edition. When I look at the products that are coming and the ones that have already been released I do wonder if there is a lack of support for the flagship tabletop RPG, but after playing through Princes of the Apocalypse I can sort of understand why. This campaign will last an average group the better part of three months, depending on play style and whether they play through the side missions (which, incidentally, my group didn’t, but we can always go back to them as one-shots).

Not only that, but you get plenty of extras in here, too – monsters, spells, items and an addition to the races to play, the Genasi. They’ve created a game setting for players to adventure in, in this case Forgotten Realms, and it’s appealing to both seasoned gamers who might have the original Realms campaign guides and new players who want to explore a new world. If the adventure books continue like this, and they set the adventures across different regions of the Realms, you’ll soon have a collection of books that detail a full campaign world with things to do and places to visit, and you’ll not have to have a single campaign book or a gazetteer. If this is the intention of the designers I have no idea, but it could certainly work and you wouldn’t have to fork out money for a selection of supplements and adventures to flesh out the world.

As suggested by the game, my group dived in at level 3 and sat eagerly awaiting my first words. Sadly, there were a few groans when I read out the word ‘cultist’ that appear through out the book. There was a moment of disappointment and I understand why – they’d just spent the Tyranny of Dragons fighting off cultists and here we were again, fighting cultists. Cultists cultists cultists. Where’s an orc warband when you need one? How about a nest of goblins? Nope. Cultists. Again.

As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as expected. The opening was different – the players really took to the initial location Red Larch and it’ll be a place we’ll revisit, no doubt – and the adventure got off to a much more leisurely start. So, if you’ve played Tyranny of Dragons then don’t let the cultists put you off.

As the adventure progressed the threat became apparent and the players got stuck into the investigating as well as the adventure... and then the dungeons began! Spires, monasteries, elemental temples, caverns, caves and everything in between. There’s a multitude of locations and the largest of them, primarily the elemental temples, will take an average group a couple of sessions to get through, if they’re thorough. Even the smallest ones might take a session, and at the very least are great for an encounter or two.

There are some wonderful locations to flesh out, too, such as the Dessarin Valley and the surrounding area. The maps for these are colourful and well presented and ooze atmosphere, creating a place I’d like to visit over and over to get into every nook and cranny. There’s plenty of scope for DMs to create their own material and fill in those blanks.

Talking about atmosphere, the full-colour interior and the artwork is of a great standard. The hardback book is wonderfully presented and the high fantasy illustrations are dynamic and serve as a great visual cue.

All said, this is a great adventure for D&D 5th Edition. My group enjoyed it, even after the glum ‘here we go again’ faces at the mention of cultists, and the adventure was satisfying and fun to play through. The ‘defeat the ancient evil’ story might not be the most original, and the main antagonists were somewhat clichéd and unoriginal in my view, but it’s a solid adventure with plenty of scope. The Chapter 6 side quests are a nice touch and the notes at the back on how to adapt the game to suit other established D&D game worlds – Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Eberron, along with some notes on using it in your own world – are a welcome addition, although an experienced DM will find it easy enough to adapt to any world.


Friday 7 August 2015

Book Review - Resident Evil Revelations: Official Complete Works

Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

Resident Evil is a series that seems about as inclined to lie down and stay dead as it's shambling antagonists. The first game came out on the original Playstation in 1996 and now, in 2015, is going as strong as ever despite Hollywood's best efforts to decapitate it, burn it and put this survival horror/action adventure down for good. And in the 19 years since the first game took the world by storm there have been considerable changes to the horrors plaguing S.T.A.R.S. From the run of the mill brain dead zombies and large insects to parasitic infections and grotesque monstrosities there has been a steady escalation in the enemies faced by gamers. And not just in terms of monsters but the human threats too, from Umbrella thugs to Wesker's superhuman developments.

To be honest, though, I'm kind of done with the games. I loved the originals and still sometimes get the Gamecube set up to have a Resident Evil marathon playing through the Resident Evils zero, one, two and four. Three sucked. But recent games have left me disinterested and not inclined to part with my money. However that reticence to give these modern iterations the time of day does not extend to the design of the games. I'm still a fan of the concept art and so, when I heard about Revelations Complete Works, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on. And sure enough, this book delivers.

Where this book is strongest is with character design. The special forces, secret agents, main characters and all the various (and sometimes bats**t crazy) supporting cast are all done in that distinctive not-quite-manga Japanese style that I like. There are some decent character bios for the main characters and the rest have some insightful comments from the artists explaining costume choices and why certain poses are so important. I'm not an artist so I'm not going to judge that last one, I'll just accept that it's important. There are quite a few pages showing the design process and how characters were brought to their final form. There is a mix here between traditional 2D artwork and rendered CG images (the kind I'm not fond of) and it also includes alternative costumes that are unlocked by players.

Next up in terms of the pieces I enjoy most here are the environments. I think the way the environments are designed here owes a lot to the way the games were originally created using pre-rendered backgrounds. This is what created that game style where the camera angles had to change all the time in a way that was both excellent for ramping up suspense (like when you could hear something slurping along 'off-screen', for example) as well as frequently annoying (like when you couldn't see the damned thing making a slurping noise somewhere in the room with you unless you rotated your character just right and took three tentative steps forward to try and trigger the camera change). The environment artwork in Revelations, just as with earlier titles, breaks down into rooms. Resident Evil has always been about moving from one room to another, find the object/clue you need and then move to the next room/corridor/crazy lab. As such the designers create rooms that are intended for the game creators to easily see what they have to code. Whilst I appreciate this may sound obvious it differs from many other games' concept art in that many of them, with the massive improvements in terms of graphics and processing power, try to convey the 'feel' of a location and use lighting to test the 'mood' of scene. The language of game design now borrows heavily from film design and the artwork has changed accordingly. Except here. While there are pieces that show artistic flair there are a lot of pieces that are very straightforward room designs and while that might sound like a criticism it isn't. I can appreciate a well designed space and will often use such artwork when planning a roleplaying game or a bit of writing.

Obviously I can hardly review this book without commenting on the creature designs. Characters are great, environments are crucial but without monsters the only people playing Resident Evil would be a bunch of home improvement fanatics saying 'crickey, just think what you could do with this mansion if you just knocked that wall through and got rid of all the weird locks and electrical system that requires a series of chess pieces to activate'. And while that is a game I'm possibly sad enough to play (I definitely would) I can't deny that it's better with the monsters. As you can well imagine there are quite a few creature designs for a Resident Evil game and sure enough there are loads. I can't say I'm much of a fan of the direction the monstrosities have taken in these games, from basic zombies and large spiders to twisted and deformed lumps of flesh and inexplicable mutations, but on the other hand I can't complain about quality of the design work. There are still a few of the old favourites such as mangy zombie dogs and insectoid terrors but due to the setting and storyline there is a greater preponderance of water based creatures, many of which look like a seriously messed-up version of Davey Jones' fish-headed crew from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.

So what to say in summation? This book is precisely what you would probably expect from a concept art book from one of the Resident Evil games. You've got monsters galore, creepy settings and a slew of characters ranging from the square-jawed heroes such as Chris Redfield to the sinister and faceless henchmen of the Umbrella Corporation. The book is nicely put together and can withstand a lot of flicking back and forth (you'd be surprised how many start to come apart after just a few flick-throughs) and the only problem I have with the layout is that too many of the backgrounds for the pages are solid black. This becomes particularly a problem in the environments section as the page is so dark, and the designs so dark for the mood, that it's not the easiest thing to look over and pick out details.

But aside from that it's a good book and one that should please fans of the series, concept art and horror in general.

Sunday 2 August 2015

The 2015 ENnie Award Winners

ENnie Awards
From the ENnie website:

Best Adventure
Silver: A Red & Pleasant Land (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Gold: Horror on the Orient Express (Chaosium)

Best Aid/Accessory
Silver: Black Green Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition RPG Dice Set (Q-Workshop)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Screen (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Cover Art
Silver: Achtung! Cthulhu: Terrors of the Secret War (Modiphius Entertainment Ltd)
Gold: Rise of Tiamat (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Interior Art
Silver: The Strange (Monte Cook Games, LLC)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Blog
Silver: Gnome Stew
Gold: ConTessa Tabletop Gaming by Women for Everyone

Best Cartography
Silver: The Guide to Glorantha (Moon Design Publications)
Gold: Ninth World Guidebook (Monte Cook Games, LLC)

Best Electronic Book
Silver: Ken Writes About Stuff Volume 2 (Pelgrane Press)
Gold: Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Family Game
Silver: Atomic Robo The Roleplaying Game (Evil Hat Productions)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Free Product
Silver: 13th Age The Archmages Orrery (Pelgrane Press)
Gold: Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Game
Silver: The Strange (Monte Cook Games, LLC)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Miniatures Product
Silver: Pathfinder Pawns Inner Sea Pawn Box (Paizo Inc.)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Icons of the Realms Elemental Evil Boosters (WizKids)

Best Monster/Adversary
Silver: Achtung! Cthulhu: Terrors of the Secret War (Modiphius Entertainment Ltd)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Podcast
Silver: Miskatonic University Podcast
Gold: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff

Best Production Values
Silver: Horror on the Orient Express (Chaosium)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (Wizards of the Coast)

Best RPG Related Product
Silver: Temple of Elemental Evil (WizKids)
Gold: Designers & Dragons: A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry (Evil Hat Productions)

Best Rules
Silver: MUTANT Year Zero The Roleplaying Game (Modiphius Entertainment Ltd)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Setting
Silver: The Strange (Monte Cook Games, LLC)
Gold: A Red & Pleasant Land (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

Best Software
Silver: HeroLab (Lone Wolf Development)
Gold: Roll20 (Roll 20)

Best Supplement
Silver: Pathfinder RPG: Pathfinder Unchained (Paizo Inc.)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (Wizards of the Coast)

Best Website
Silver: Tabletop Audio
Gold: The Escapist

Best Writing
Silver: D&D Player’s Handbook by Jeremy Crawford, James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell (Wizards of the Coast)
Gold: A Red & Pleasant Land by Zak S (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

Fan’s Choice for Best Publisher
Silver: Paizo Inc
Gold: Wizards of the Coast.

Product Of The Year
Silver: A Red & Pleasant Land (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
Gold: Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook (Wizards of the Coast)

2016 ENnies Judges
Jakub Nowosad
Kayra KeriKupcu
Kiel Cheiner
Kurt Wiegel
Stacy Muth