A Look at Covert Ops

Covert Ops Rulebook CoverI recently received a pre-release look at the new Covert Ops game coming from DwD Studios, the same folks who brought us BareBones Fantasy. Covert Ops is a modern genre game covering everything from special agents to suave spies to paramilitary ops. Mechanically it uses the same d00Lite system BareBones Fantasy did, just with modern trappings and roles. If you have played BareBones Fantasy, Covert Ops will come easily to you.

Covert Ops – Core Rulebook

If you have not used the d00Lite system, it is easy to pick up. It uses only d10s. Things like damage rolls and such are notated as 1D, 2D, 4D, etc, etc. In the case of 2D one would roll 2d10 and sum the results. Checks are done by rolling 2 d10s as percentile dice, a successful check being a result lower than a certain percentage. If you roll two of the same number and you were under the percentage you get a critical success. If you roll two of the same and you were over the percentage you get a critical failure.

A character, or operative, has four abilities. Strength, Dexterity, Logic, and Willpower. Each is represented by a percentile score. Over the course of the character’s advancement the score can be raised. If there is not a skill when needing to make a success or failure check then the most relevant ability can be used to make a check against.

Similar to BareBones Fantasy, Covert Ops uses a skill system to represent training an operative has. This helps define the character, yet gives one a lot of flexibility to mold them mechanically the way you want. There are ten skill areas – academic, leader, detective, martial artist, medic, pilot, scout, soldier, technician, and thief.

Covert Ops includes a hero point system referred to as bones. These bones act as a means of allowing a player to shape the game a bit by spending a bone to possibly boost a roll, narratively describe something really cool, etc.

As I noted in my look at BareBones Fantasy, I appreciate that as a GM a Golden Rule is included. “The GM is in charger!” Some of the modern rule systems in a variety of different genres are highly codified and I think it is good to state this Golden Rule up front. It both helps the GM be more comfortable making rulings in the gray areas and helps convey the point the players need to trust the GM.

The Operatives section of the book covers the creation of your character. It is well presented and makes creating an operative very clear. It walks you through the creation process step-by-step, seven in total. Tables are provided if you want to randomly roll or you can choose yourself from the tables. Ability scores can be rolled or chosen from pre-rolled scores.

Origins help determine the character’s background and typically provides some statistical bonus for your character. Skill roles are most akin to a character class in other games. These come with special abilities, areas of focus, and specialization opportunities that also grant bonuses. Each skill gets one page in the rule book – so they are not overwhelming.

There is a section on outfitting your character which includes equipment allowances, equipment tables. The book also includes several methods for handling lifestyles, common items, and expensive items.

Covert Ops uses a moral code for an alignment mechanic. Instead of lawful or evil or good or bad, there is a list of five central aspects or character traits. For each row you decide whether your character is somewhat, very, or totally those traits. For example, ‘somewhat kind’ or ‘totally selfish’

Operatives increase in talent as they earn development points (DP) over the course of play. These can be stockpiled or used right away to advance a character. A list of things that grant a development point are included – things like surviving the mission, using your abilities or skills, or for good role-playing. Earned points can be used to increase ability scores, skills, and other such things.

Rules for a Base of Operations for the operatives are also included. Once characters reach a rank of four they are eligible to receive funds from Command for a headquarters of their own. Establishing a base size, features, upgrades, and more are included in this section. An interesting facet for a modern game of espionage and tactical teams.

The next section goes into the game guidelines. Everything from actions, healing, movement, vehicles, and more. This section covers the specifics of the d00Lite system in each of these topics. One of the features I like about the d00Lite system is how multiple actions work. Essentially even at your first rank you have the option of making multiple actions. The first is made at your normal check level, then the second gets a -20% penalty to the skill check. This makes things progressively harder the more actions you take.

The GM Guidelines section helps assist the GM with several of the subjective areas of the game. Rules of thumb for modifiers to chances of success, other ways to get hurt, breaking things, etc. Subjects that will come up in a modern game that fall out of the normal vein of things.

Security is an area of importance in a modern genre game. After all, what big bad evil guy is not going to protect their hideout with some security system or trap. A stats system has been developed to help a GM write-up a security system and assign a rank to it. The higher the rank the harder it is to both detect it and to disable it. Various components of a security system are also included on a table to help with creating one from scratch.

The GM Guidelines section wraps up with information and tips on creating NPCs, master villains, enemy organizations and even code names for operations! All of the information in this section is sure to get a GM new to Covert Ops or the modern genre in general started with lots of great ideas.

The Covert Ops rulebook ends with a write-up on Sector. Sector is the mysterious international paramilitary and espionage organization that seeks to keep terrorist plots at bay. Its headquarters in various parts of the world are described as well as some of the ranking structure of the organization. This is a ready-made good guy organization that operates in the gray area of other nations military and government powers. This is definitely an asset to the GM getting started with a modern genre game by providing a backdrop for the operatives to work for and with.

That wraps up what is inside the Covert Ops rulebook. The PDF copy I received is well laid out and clearly bookmarked. It has a very clean feel to it. Khairul Hisham did the illustrations for the book and did an excellent job. There are a lot of great illustrations sprinkled throughout the book to keep your creative mind going while you get up to speed on the rules.

Covert Ops Game Master's Operations GuideCovert Ops – Game Master’s Operation Manual

DwD Studios likes to keep their games on the rules-light side and they do a good job of that. Of course sometimes there are more options you want to cover or present as an option. That is where the Game Master’s Operation Manual comes in. This is a supplement for Covert Ops that covers options. These are all optional rules to the Covert Ops game and are not required.

This book is broken up into three main sections – one for operatives, one for game guidelines, and one for game mastery. This additional book is also well laid out and has a variety of illustration sources credited.

This book provides a plethora of optional rules and suggestions to make your Covert Ops game successful. It even includes a ‘Learn the Lingo’ section to help you really get the feel of a modern paramilitary espionage game.


Covert Ops is a wonderful application of the d00Lite system to a modern paramilitary ops or espionage based game. The system is relatively easy to pickup and get people started playing. It has a tremendous amount of flexibility with its skill-as-role system to help players tailor just the character they want.

In addition to a solid character and action mechanic resolution system, the extras included with the rulebook for handling vehicles, security systems, a myriad of equipment, plus an organization to back all of your characters operations right from the start.

The system complements itself well to BareBones Fantasy in that if you learn the d00Lite system for one genre your players will easily be able to participate in the other. Start playing and BareBones Fantasy and your players can pick right up with Covert Ops or vice versa.

DwD Studios is once again prepared to release a ruleset that covers a complex genre with ease!

It’s a Trap!

Grimtooth's TrapsGrimtooth’s used to invoke fears in players. I don’t know if it does anymore. A copy of Grimtooth’s Traps needed to just be seen in a pile of books the DM might be using or over on a counter with a book mark or sticking out. The very idea the DM might be using the book and the deadly contraptions inside was usually enough to keep players overly cautious and paranoid. Perhaps in the history of gaming only Tomb of Horrors can invoke such a response from the players.

Grimtooth eventually became a series of seven books. Six were generic to fit into any system. The last one they made recycles some of the classics for the d20 system. I only have the first three books and considering how little they ever got used I doubt I would buy the others if given the chance. The books are fun reads to think of the ridiculous deadly nature of the overly complex traps. Most of them though are just there to kill the PCs without giving them a fair chance to do anything about it. I understand their use and the reason they exist. Most traps are pretty lame and barely a challenge. The games made it too easy for them to detect and avoid. Even if one sets them off they rarely do anything more than a few points of damage. But Grimtooth takes it too far. They make it so the traps are near impossible to find and disable and are so complex that it is impossible to predict what setting off the trap will do. Others need to be described in a specific way to confuse the players as if they were described normally it would reveal what the trap is. Going back through the books I am surprised to see how many traps were designed by Michael Stackpole.

The biggest improvement Grimtooth’s and other trap books can use is more pictures and possibly even including some player handouts. Many of the rooms, corridors, and other devices are just described with text and do not always make the most sense. These are complex devices and sometimes having multiple moving parts. A picture really can help one understand how all the pieces fit together and work to make mincemeat of most of the player characters.

Grimtooth’s Traps might be the most famous and most deadly, but it is not the only collection of traps and tricks. Fantasy Flight Games produced Traps and Treachery 1 and 2 in the d20 era. These hardbound books are filled with traps and deadly mechanisms but has the benefit of improved writing and layout. They are much easier books to read and I like how they are organized. There is a wider variety within the books as they have some game mechanics and character options in them. The first book really concentrates on the Rogue and giving them options as well as traps. It has information on thieves’ guilds, though Canting Crew and Den of Thieves are much better books on those guilds. Traps and Treachery also have puzzles in them that are pretty well done. I find I get more use out of the puzzles as they can be more difficult to create on one’s own.

Traps and Treachery suffers from some of the same problems as Grimtooth’s does. It doesn’t have enough pictures, though the descriptions are better. Some of the rules are not well done but at least there is something to use as a baseline. The books are more usable because of their versatility in including other things besides just traps.

Book of ChallengesThe most useful book of this type for me was put out by Wizards of the Coast in 2002. The Book of Challenges is an overlooked book that does not just present traps and puzzles but it combines them into encounters. As a DM this is the great as they are rooms or places easily inserted into a dungeon or building. It has monsters as well as traps and puzzles and many times they are combined to really take advantage of something more complex. There are also almost thirty sidebars of DMing advice that is well thought out and useful. The encounters are organized by encounter level with something for each encounter level one through twenty and with one that is encounter level 22. I’m not sure the higher end ones are really as challenging as they should be but they are still good for mid to higher level groups. Of course if one is using this with Pathfinder or 3e D&D one must take into account that sheer amount of new options that were not available when this was written. The power level of say a fifth level character has risen noticeably within the game in the past ten years.

This of course does not cover all the books on traps that have been published. Goodman Games has an interesting one called Lethal Legacies: Traps of the World Before. What is great about that book is there is background information that gives reasons for the traps presented in the books and so it also has adventure hooks and mystery. So what are your favorite books on traps and puzzles? Do you find them easy to use or a waste of paper? Does Grimtooth’s Traps still hold its power to scare players?

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

World’s Largest Dungeon

World's Largest Dungeon CoverIn 2004 AEG came out with the World’s Largest Dungeon. It is an interesting idea and with a $100 price tag really got the attention of gamers as being expensive. But  a lot of people were curious about what it was. It is not a book one could just flip through the pages as it came shrink wrapped because it came with free standing maps that needed to be attached to the book somehow.

It was met with a wide range of opinions and eventually a small selection of players started posting they made it through the behemoth dungeon. I was not originally interested in the book until I found it for about $30 at Origins. I read through it and while it had some interesting encounters it was also a huge single level dungeon with not a lot of promise. There is a backstory and different sections of the dungeon can be expanded on to make it a more cohesive story. That’s what I did and I ran it all the way through. It was fun, there was work involved to make it better, and I’m pleased to say I have no need to do that ever again. There will be some spoilers to follow so be aware of that though I don’t see as many people wanting to use this these days.

It was never my intention to run this. It wasn’t the first huge RPG book I bought with no intention of using and it most certainly was not the last. A friend saw it and expressed interest and I came up with some ground rules for running it knowing player and DM burn out for something like this would be high.

The dungeon was originally a prison. Characters that go in will find it very difficult to get out. I wanted my players to know that before we started. Teleportation and other magics do not work there and again I made sure the players knew this so there were no characters that were going to get overly screwed over by the new found rules.

Some players and DMs will not like restrictions and feel it is cheating. In my view the game breaks down so easily with high level magic that restricting them is one of the best ways to keep the game fun and manageable. The dungeon is ridiculously huge and while mapping it out and getting lost is very much part of the experience I eliminated it. I did not want to spend sessions with the PCs lost walking around trying to find something of interest. I gave them the maps. There was no in game explanation for it. I also told them the dungeon is basically sixteen different sections and we will only handle one section at a time. If they left a section that would be the end of that night’s adventure as I wanted to prep each section when they came to it. It allowed me to connect the different sections better than the module does and to include better NPCs and not make everything a combat encounter. The best rule we did though was not start at first level.

Not a lot of the backstory is explained to the PCs so as usual I came up with a way to make them more aware of what was going. As they enter there are hints of guardians and deities, so I expanded on that and made sure the backstory fit in with most of the goings on in the different sections. Section A is mostly empty and has some other beings like kobolds and goblins that have found their way into the Dungeon and cannot get out. They are warring with each other. The most awesome thing about the campaign happened when the players decided to broker a peace between the groups and unite them as allies. All of a sudden this was not just an exploration module, but a rescue mission in which the PCs stuck to and made friends and kept alive as many different people and monsters as they could that were willing to work together. The PCs had created for themselves a basecamp and support team. It allowed me to develop some more NPCs and since they were introduced so early we had NPCs that lasted the entire campaign.

The different sections of the dungeon do have different themes. One goal of the writers was to use each monster in the monster manual that was part of the Open Game License and they succeeded in that. There is one area that is a large garden so many of the plant and fey creatures are found there. One is the headquarters for the celestial guardians that stayed to operate the prison. One that is neat as they used the creatures drawn from Greek Mythology and placed them in a section together. They mostly stayed with good challenge ratings to make sure that different sections had a level recommendation for them. It worked and made the different areas easier for me as DM to polish them up and use their themes to make the adventure shine.

In the end it is a mammoth of a book that took some work and some ground rules for us to enjoy it. I don’t think we would have gotten beyond the first section if we tried to run it as they have it presented. AEG also made a book called the World’s Largest City which I found also deeply discounted and it lies in a box or on a shelf somewhere still in the shrink wrap.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

A Halloween Look at Dread

Dread Cover

[Editor Note: A kind person noted that the PDF of Dread is on sale at DriveThruRPG right now for $3!]

It is the week of Halloween and time to talk about horror gaming. It is hard to scare people in RPGs. I’ve creeped people out and made them squeamish, but the only real scares have been accidental. One time we were playing D&D in my apartment and during a tense scene one of our friends who was late to the game banged on the window suddenly giving us all a fright.

Horror games are popular in RPGs, but so much of it is understood and the rules can be burdensome that it takes away from the horror aspect. One game though has found ways to bring a level of nervousness and uncertainty to the gaming table like many classic horror movies do and that game is Dread.

In 2006 I was an ENnies judge and the Dread RPG was submitted. We nominated it for Best RPG and Mutants and Masterminds 2e won the Gold and Game of Thrones won the Silver. Dread did not stand a chance against those games in popular vote but looking at it and the games it was up against that year only M&M has had a better showing since then. Dread is by far the most innovative RPG I had seen at the time. It uses a Jenga tower as its resolution mechanic. Some people see it as a gimmick and I know more than a few people that refuse to play the game because of that. But it works at creating tension and consequences for actions unlike anything I have seen. If one knocks over the tower your character dies. It is that simple and it makes the game unlike any other. I have seen someone knock the tower over with the very first pull. I have seen people knock over the tower on what is basically a perception check or knowledge check. It really makes one think about his character’s actions knowing that a failed pull can cost that character’s life.

Everyone knows Dread as the Jenga game but the most innovative part and the aspect of the game that is easiest to use in other games is character generation. The game is designed for one-shots and character sheets are a list of leading questions. The player answers the questions to define his character. Questions can sometimes be a challenge to come up with so one cool thing about the Dread RPG book is at the bottom of each page are sample questions like “Despite being a pacifist what situation always leads you to violence?” The question defines the character in a specific way but allows for the player to pick a situation their character will probably get into in the session. Most characters are a list of about a dozen questions but I personally prefer closer to eight. It takes less time to do and it is easier to fit that information into the session.

The summer I and the other judges nominated it for an ENnie I was playing a game at Origins where the GM used the question character generation to help enhance the game he was running. He had the dull character sheets with the mechanics and everything on it but allowed for the players to define some of the details of the character. I thought it was a great idea. I don’t use it all the time, but I like to include some questions when it works for the game.

Dread works best for horror and I have played with all kinds of horror scenarios. It seems easy to me to see how any horror movie or book can become a Dread scenario. But for people looking for sample Dread adventures there is Dread Tales of Terror issues one and two. Wastelands, the first one, has two adventures in it as well as some good advice for the game. Each adventure is a simple set up, one being in a post-apocalyptic world and the other one waking up in the local grocery store with only the other players characters around in an otherwise seemingly empty world. Precious Illusions, the second one, seems to push boundaries a little more. The first adventure there called Little White Birds deals with a children’s insane asylum and the second one, Beneath the Service, is a High School reunion with some very messed up classmates.

Dread is one of those games that most gamers should try at least once. It can be challenging to run, as there is an art on when to ask players for a pull (and how many) and when not to require a pull. It is also one of the few games that does not require the book to be run, though the book is helpful to read to aid with some problems that might come up – like what does one do if the tower is knocked over on the very first pull.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Review: Edge of the Empire

Edge of the Empire CoverEdge of the Empire is the newest iteration of a Star Wars RPG. West End Games had the license in the 1990’s with their d6 system. Wizards of the Coast had in in the 2000’s with their d20 Star Wars and then Star Wars Saga versions of the game. I am a sucker for Star Wars. I own the previous games and have a copy of each supplement for those games which is a ridiculous amount of material. I have run and played in many different Star Wars campaigns in those systems and some were very successful and others were less than great. My group is now playing Edge of the Empire so this review is a reflection of reading the book and playing the game.

The big difference people talk about first with Edge of the Empire is the dice. It does not use normal dice so one needs to either buy the overpriced special dice they sell or use normal dice (d6s, d8s, and d12s) and conversation charts. There are seven different types of dice the game uses but right now I’m not going to talk about the force die as that doesn’t interact with the other six. There is the Ability die, Proficiency die, and boost die that are all positive helping the character to succeed, Then there is the Difficulty die, the Challenge die, and the setback die that are negative and hinder the characters. Each die side has one or two pictures on them with some sides blank. Players collect the different pictures they roll to determine success and failure and if they can get an advantage or disadvantage. The dice are measuring two different things so it is possible to not succeed but still create some kind of positive advantage for your team or succeed in the action but create some kind of disadvantage. Other games have done this with less dice and less complexity. Once the symbols are collected the players look up skills or combat tables to see what they can do. In hearing groups play it seems they don’t do this they just play it by ear which would be faster. However, under each skill description in the book there are ways to spend these symbols. The other issue is that for most gamers one cannot just look at the dice about to be rolled and have an idea of their chance to succeed or fail. I’m sure by now someone has sat down and figured out the odds with different dice combinations but most gamers won’t spend the time doing that. Gamers I see just roll and hope for the best not having any idea if they should be succeeding or failing.

Character creation is simple and fast. It is a class system without levels. I would have liked different names for the classes or as they call them Careers. I feel anyone for instance can be a Bounty Hunter and have different skill sets for success. While the game allows for a good amount of customization one still has to have the career of Bounty Hunter to be a Bounty Hunter. Each career has three specializations. Extra specializations can be bought with XP and one can even buy specializations from other careers though they all more expensive. Each specialization gives access to a talent tree. Talent trees are a mix of unique and not unique powers. Too many of them I feel get rid of penalties or add a small bonus. The different talents are not equal and some are much better than others. Like many systems most of the talent trees force a character to buy lesser and in some cases useless talents to get to the better ones.

Smuggler CareerThe game uses two types of hit points. Health, which is more physical damage, and strain that is more mental and comes back easier. One problem this can cause is tough characters will have a high health but a low strain so it can be much easier to just attack a characters strain. It is really easy to do as most guns have a stun setting and that targets strain. It is also easy to create a character almost impossible to damage. The game of course focuses heavily on combat but even with just the options of the first book optimizing is very easy. The focus on combat does come at a cost as there are no language rules in the game so it is impossible to know who can understand who even though the game makes a clear point that some of the species offered in the book cannot speak basic. There is also no translator in the equipment section which I thought was odd since it is referenced in other areas of the book. The equipment section in general is sparse. There are a lot of weapons and armor but little of anything else.

The Force is treated like a talent tree that any character except droids can buy. To use the force one rolls a force die but with more sides being the dark side it means that characters are likely to be forced to use the dark side if they want to do anything. I can see a force user coming up with a cool idea, rolling a force die, and then say they are doing nothing because they don’t want to lose their character to the dark side.

Okay, that all was a bit negative as the game fails in a lot of small areas. The dice system does allow for a better variety of outcomes instead of the usual hit miss. It can help players be creative with coming up with different ways to use an advantage. It is new so that helps it and it will be interesting to see if people still like it in a couple of years. The options available to characters are pretty open. Aside from the limited number of species in the book most characters from the movies can be created here. It specifically doesn’t allow PCs to be Jedi but the book does have them to fight which was an interesting choice. Droids do seem to be the most powerful species in the game and it is the only option in the book I would have left out.

In the end the book is Star Wars. It wants to do something more akin to the Han Solo and Lando Calrission books. The Bounty Hunter trilogy and collection of short stories is another good source of inspiration from Star Wars novels. Of course since the game does not want to use Jedi and not much of the Empire perhaps Firefly becomes the best material to base a campaign on. The game does give the group some kind of transport as their ship to emphasis the ship crew dynamic. Edge of the Empire when compared to the other Star Wars RPGs does allow for better customization then the d20 based games and does not look like it will break down as fast as the d6 game. It is rather conservative on character power and that might just be the best thing the game has going for it comparatively.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Review: Blackguard’s Revenge & The Iron Crypt of the Heretics

The Blackguard's RevengeThe Dungeon Crawl Classic line has of course become its own RPG and a personal favorite of the owner of the Iron Tavern.  It started though as modules for d20. While I never got the chance to run or play in most of them they are still very much a go to source for adventures for me.  They are usually short and to the point dungeon crawls.  They offer a variety of locations, clever encounters, the occasional trap and riddle, and plenty of danger.  I made it a point to get a copy of each of them, though not all of the special releases and limited titles.

The Blackguard’s Revenge and its sequel The Iron Crypt of the Heretics are the twelfth adventure in the Dungeon Crawl Classic line.  The Iron Crypt of the Heretics is number 12.5 and even though it is by a different author it makes for a good sequel adventure.  They are written by F. Wesley Schneider and Harley Stroh.  Neither is very large the first being forty pages and the sequel being twenty four.  Blackguard’s Revenge is pretty easy to find for under five dollars, but Iron Crypt of the Heretics looks to be harder to find and can go for as much as thirty dollars.  Both are out of print but can be purchased as PDFs for around seven dollars.

The Blackguard’s Revenge is a different kind of dungeon crawl.  It is a rescue mission to aid a group of Paladins in a cloister that is under attack.  There are a few moving parts the GM can have fun with.  There are plenty of different creatures to fight and in this kind of module I usually increase the numbers a little and add or enhance the main bad guy some just to make it a bit more challenging on the PCs.  I also wanted it to feel like time was of the essence so some of the bad guys would purposely try to slow down the PCs so they would be too late in rescuing the Paladins.  This kind of adventure can also raise ethic problems.  There is a good amount of treasure here to be found, but most of it belongs to the cloister, so the PCs can look like the bad guys by looting the place.  My group didn’t care, they were ready to pry gold symbols off the wall and pack up the Holy paintings.  The Paladins when rescued do need the PCs help so there is plenty of reason that the PCs will get rewarded and aided for the next adventure.

The Iron Crypt of the HereticsThe next adventure being the Iron Crypt of the Heretics.  The adventures are written to link together but they do not have to.  They can easily be run separate or with other activities in between. What I like about the Iron Crypt is it is a change of pace.  Where Blackguard’s Revenge is mostly combat and heroics of rescuing Paladins the Iron Crypt takes a slower approach and has a lot more traps, riddles, and puzzles for the PCs to deal with.   It is a challenging module but not so much so that the players get frustrated.  Basically the place has been raided and it let out an army of undead that attacked the Paladins in the first module.  Now the PCs need to break in and reseal the place.  The two modules make for a good back to back series of adventures offering a good variety of encounters and problems.

Blackguard’s Revenge and Iron Crypt are two good modules early in the very successful line of modules.  They are easy to convert to other games and Blackguard’s Revenge even has a 1e version of it that Goodman Games published.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Review: Bookhounds of London

Bookhounds of LondonIn early September on Facebook Ken Hite, author of this book, posted a comment that one of his newer books had already received as many reviews as this book, which about three years old.  I went to make sure I had it and more importantly could find it before posting that I’d help by reviewing it.  I don’t normally do it but Bookhounds of London is an amazing book.  At Gen Con that year I had more people that I trust tell me to get this book.  They were not wrong.  The only reason I have never used it is because it is a very specific book dealing with the Cthulhu Mythos books in London in the 1930’s.  If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, then sadly this book might not be for you.

Bookhounds of London is a source book for the game Trails of Cthulhu.  Trail of Cthulhu is an RPG that deals with the Cthulhu Mythos and focuses more on the mystery, though insanity and death are still a good part of it.  Bookhounds of London takes the normal type of Cthulhu campaign and changes it.  Instead of being investigators, the characters are Bookhounds.  They operate a bookstore in London, deal with private collectors and auctions, and deal with books that contain information man was not meant to know.  It is an interesting twist on what could be called the normal type of Cthulhu adventure.  The book can easily be used with any system.  The brilliance in this book is the writing and research that went into it.

The book starts with how to create characters.  Bookhounds differ in small ways from other investigators.  It starts with the new occupations that show the focus of this type of campaign.  One might be a Book Scout, Bookseller, Catalog Agent, Forger, or Occultist.  The book also has new abilities, like Auction and Textual analysis.  Lastly, and most importantly. are the rules for the Bookshop the players characters own or work for.  It serves as a place of business, a place to do research, a good way to get contacts, and a base of operations.  The book then goes into the book trade.  This is one of the foundations of any Bookhound campaign.  It talks about auctions, hunting for books, libraries, and of course the books themselves.

The best part of the book though is the setting.  It gives a great deal of information on London in the 1930’s.  It even has almost thirty pages of colored maps of the city and many of the buildings of the era.  It is very impressive.  The setting is done in such a way to make it useful for anyone wanting to use 1930’s London, and not just in a Mythos game.  I could easily see Pulp games or war games set in the setting and will find the information in here very useful.

Last is the adventure Whitechapel Black-Letter.  It is a simple adventure that can be done in as few as three scenes.  But the adventure has enough setting seeds and mysteries that it can easily be expanded and much of the work is done for the GM to something much more.  It gives hints to Jack the Ripper as one should guess from the title.  It is a great starting adventure for the Bookhounds type or to be used as a different kind of adventure in another Cthulhu campaign.

Bookhounds of London is an amazing book.  It and Shadows over Filmland, which I also love, really show the writing prowess Ken Hite and the quality of product Pelgrane Press creates.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

New Classics: The Bonegarden

The Bonegarden CoverNecromancer games hit the ground running back in the early days of third edition D&D.  Not many companies had a clear direction with their products.  Very simply they had the slogan “Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel” and they lived up to that.  Their adventures were usually longer and more in-depth than others being produced at the time.  Their adventures also were a bit more out there and had  unusual and creative backdrops.  For my fifth New Classic line of blog posts I look at the Bonegarden, a sandbox style module written for third edition D&D but easily converted into other systems.

The great thing about Bonegarden is the multiple ways it can be used.  There is not a plot or assumed path for the module.  There is no one hook that bring the PCs into the place.  The module is designed for characters of about twelfth to fourteenth level, but with different encounter areas it could be used as a difficult place for lower level characters that just need to get in and out with no need for dealing with the whole place.  The Bonegarden is a very large cemetery.  It is surrounded by a magical field that keeps the undead contained but also makes it difficult for characters to get out.  Undead in the Bonegarden are more powerful than those elsewhere and the module covers the reasons for this.  The part that makes the Bonegarden especially deadly is that every night all the undead that were destroyed in the previous twenty four hours come back to unlife, so to speak.

The one hundred and twenty eight page module is filled with undead.  There is a wide variety of them here including many new ones that were in the Tome of Horrors.  There are fifteen new creatures and templates in the book. My favorite is the undead mimic.  Mimics are always fun and having an undead version is clever, as when players are thinking undead they usually are not thinking about mimics.  There are some new feat options and spells in here, but the new magical items are more interesting.  The Pieces of Her Heart is a sad artifact with a unique history and it offers interesting abilities as one collects the different pieces of this broken heart.

Inside the Bonegarden there are many different encounter areas.  The module has wandering monster tables and is one of the few modules that I think makes really good use of them.  There are all types of generic undead one can encounter in here and the undead always come back.  Many of the different encounter areas have their own hooks.  This can make them easy to use sections without the need to use the whole module.  There are also plenty of empty areas a DM can insert in their own encounters and buildings with their own undead creations.

Not everything in the Bonegarden is dead though.  There is a group of survivors that use one of the buildings as a place of protection.  They are dying off slowly but the group is using smart tactics to stay alive.  They are not the oddest thing in there either.  There is a large spaceship of fantastic design that has crashed there.  One could easily make it an ancient spelljammer or something more like the tech of Numeria from the Pathfinder setting.

Like most of the books I look at, this one never seemed to get its due when published.  Now one can easily find a copy for less than ten dollars.  It was a fun module when I ran it for my group many years ago.  There is a lot of things going on but nothing so complex or so huge that is overshadows everything else.  It is a great undead sandbox adventure.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Review: Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management

Odyssey CoverAuthor:  Phil Vecchione, Walt Ciechanowski
Publisher:  Engine Publishing
Art Director: John Arcadian
Price: Print & PDF $24.95 / PDF $11.95 / PDF @ RPGNow ($11.95)
Pages: 212

Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management is the most recent release from Engine Publishing in print and PDF form, plus bonus EPUB, MOBI and text versions. The book is written by Phil Vecchione (also author of Never Unprepared from Engine Publishing) and Walt Ciechanowski, with art by Avery Liell-Kok, Matt Morrow, Christopher Reach, and Daniel Wood.

Odyssey is a guide to managing campaigns. With that in mind the book covers three major topic areas – starting a campaign, managing a campaign, and ending a campaign. A shorter section defining campaigns starts the book. The book aims to be an in-depth guide to helping a GM guide a campaign from the time it is just an idea, starting the campaign, running the campaign and making it past obstacles that can occur, to wrapping up your campaign.

The book weaves a fictional gaming group amongst the advice to help show how situations can work out better using the advice in the book. The technique works well for this purpose.

Let’s take a look at the book section by section.

On Campaigns

Before the book gets too far into helping you manage a campaign it defines a campaign. Four elements are noted that make up a campaign – characters, gaming sessions, a series of events, and continuity.

Working from there the book moves into why one would want to manage a campaign. Here the book briefly goes into the phases of the campaign, a closer look at the layers of the campaign, and the constant tides of risk and change and their impact on the campaign. This all helps make the case as to why a campaign can benefit from management.

This section is short, but serves well to set the stage for the rest of the book.

Starting a Campaign

The first part of a campaign is starting a campaign. This chapter begins by defining four main phases of starting a campaign. This includes coming up with the campaign concept, the framework, creation, and the first session. The first chapter in this section defines the role of GM and of the players that make up the gaming group as well as key skills for people starting a campaign.

This takes us to the Campaign Concept chapter. This chapter breaks down the elements of forming the concept for the game. The ground rules or blocks that are going to form the foundation of the campaign. Methods of coming up with these ideas as a group or GM are included, along with advantages and disadvantages of each method.

Next we move into the Campaign Framework chapter. This section goes over what I would call the “meta” of the campaign. What system are you going to use, setting, what supplements are allowed, house rules, and even social contracts at the table. The chapter goes into more depth on choosing a setting and what other factors to consider as part of the framework – like roles of the PCs, power level, etc.

Campaign creation gets a short chapter. This chapter aims to help a GM organize his material and consider several elements that go into campaign creation from the GM’s side of the screen.

And finally, this section wraps up with a section on the First Session. This chapter tackles how to handle that first session. I always think the first session of any campaign is one of the hardest. Getting the characters involved in the new world always seems tricky to me, no matter how excited I am for the new campaign. There were several good tips on here on how to get the most out of that first session.

Managing a Campaign

This section jumps right in with the first chapter titled Campaign Management. The chapter is an overview of what is to come, noting five areas of focus. Story, player characters, people, risk, and change. The chapter goes on to talk about being agile and flexible with the areas of focus and avoiding a strict railroad in running a game.

Engine Publishing LogoStory management dives into several good bits of information. Everything from story arcs to ways to hook players into the arc. There is also a section on story structure and touches on the three-act and five-act models plays as something to mimic. The chapter also touches on pacing, the importance of interesting NPCs, and other story related elements that need managed.

Player Character Management comes up next. The authors touch on different character types, growing a character during a campaign both in character and mechanically. There are also tips on how to showcase this growth during sessions.

People Management covers a multitude of real life people scenarios that can impact your game and frequently need some management. Everything from scheduling issues, to problem player types that can disrupt a campaign. The chapter closes with tips on keeping interest in the campaign – both the GM’s and the player’s.

Risk Management is a short chapter that helps a GM use a four step process for managing risks. These steps help determine what risks might be, how likely they are to occur (to help determine how much time to spend on them), and how to mitigate the risk. This was a handy chapter and helps drive home that there is always risk, but not all risk warrants time spent on detailed plans to mitigate, while others might.

The final chapter in this section is Change Management. This chapter also covers four steps to use to address change that might occur in your campaign. This change could be anything from a new player joining the group to a long term player leaving the group.

Ending a Campaign

The first chapter in this section is titled When It Is Time To End Your Campaign. Several warning signs that it is time to consider ending your campaign are listed. The authors also note that ending a campaign is not necessarily a bad thing.

Killing a Campaign comes next as one of the ways to end a campaign. Four common approaches to this method are mentioned and how to implement each of those in your own campaign. And even if a campaign must be killed, the chapter reminds you to look at why the campaign failed and learn from it.

The next chapter covers methods to Suspend a Campaign. The first topic addresses determine whether a campaign should be killed rather than suspended. If interest exists to continue at a later date, then suspending the campaign might be an option. The chapter covers how to suspend it and how to bring it back when the time has come to do so.

The final option mentioned is the Managed Ending. This is where the campaign simply has loose ends tied up because the campaign has run its course. This is a chance to explore final areas players have been desperate to do so or tie up any other loose ends that might exist. The grand finale!


Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management is another excellent offering from Engine Publishing. Campaign management is an often overlooked component of RPG books. Very few RPG publishers give the topic an in-depth look. Campaigns are what keep people playing and successful campaigns are what keep people coming back to the table. The practical advice included in Odyssey is a methodical look at managing a successful campaign and avoiding common pitfalls, a welcome resource to both new GMs and seasoned GMs alike. The fact it is system neutral helps further its usefulness to an even greater number of GMs.

In addition to the usefulness of the subject matter, the book flowed well making reading about such management techniques of a campaign enjoyable. The mixing of the fictional gaming group stories applying the techniques were useful examples further illustrating the relevance of the techniques.

Pairing Odyssey with Never Unprepared and a new or seasoned GM is well on their way to smooth running sessions and campaigns.

Review: The Twice Robbed Tomb

The Twice Robbed Tomb CoverAuthor:  Perry Fehr
Publisher:  Purple Duck Games
Cover Art: Ryan Rhodes
Price: PDF $2.00 – at RPGNow / at d20pfsrd.com
Pages: 10 (incl. cover)

The Twice Robbed Tomb is a Labyrinth Lord adventure from Purple Duck Games. Written by Perry Fehr the module comes in at 10 pages including cover and OGL licensing page. A variety of artists receive credit, including Ryan Rhodes, Darkzel, Storn Cook, and Malcom McClinton.

Pheniket the Pharaonic’s tomb was uncovered nearly 50 years ago. Through this discovery the almost completed plans of Pheniket have begun to come to fruition. With “treasure maps” and “keys” being sold in town leading unsuspecting adventurers to the tomb to find loot not carried out from the tomb, the party is likely to find themselves in search of lost treasures.

The module contains the tomb’s background and a merchant peddling maps to the tomb. A rumor table is also included for characters that do some research in town before headed out. The monster’s in the module are standard with a strong undead theme for the tomb.

The art in the module is predominantly color, save for one black and white work. The latter is naked succubus which is why this particular module has an adult label at RPGNow. A player’s map and Labyrinth Lord map are both included. Player’s maps are always a nice thought for those of us who play over virtual tabletops.

The Review

A lot of adventure is packed into the ten pages. With the main plot hook occurring in town and some short travel needed to reach the tomb a Labyrinth Lord could easily expand on that portion if desired.

The temple itself is ten encounter areas. Each is well detailed and includes boxed text as well as the monster stat blocks. Several of the rooms were quite interesting with features that stood out. I risk spoilering the module if I say too much on this aspect, but the adventure is more than just a room-by-room clearing.

Of note is that the maps used in the module are the same as the maps used by The Falcate Idol, a DCC RPG release from Purple Duck Games. This made reading the module quite interesting in seeing how one author populated the maps versus another author.

The module is listed as being appropriate for 4 characters of 3rd level or 6 or more at 2nd level. Tackling the adventure with 4 characters seems like even then it might be tough, especially given the nature of some of the monsters included. At the very least if I were running this, I would strongly encourage some hirelings.

The Twice Robbed Tomb looks like a great adventure for Labyrinth Lord. I could easily see using it for a side-trek as the party passes through a desert town or possibly something that fit more into a grand campaign scheme!