Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The State of the Campaigns

I have five campaigns I'm running right now, each bi-weekly. I'd like to consider the beginning of March as the start of the gaming season, since everyone gets sick in Jan & Feb. So here's where everything is at as of the last session:

THE LAST FLEET (BSG Inspired Fantasy Homebrew with Microscope world building)
The Fleet finally made it through the Stormwall into a new realm. However, they quickly discover a place caught up in a massive war between two Elven Empires. On one side, the Dominion of Timbers possesses the secrets of slaying gods and reforging them into weapons. On the other side, the Confederation of Rings fights a losing battle to protect their remaining deities, turning to secret and self-destructive magicks in their defense. The party makes their way to the independent mining colony of Neversun, where they learn much and save the life of the Grand Vizier, twin to the Gnomish Necromancer they fought.

The Vizier presents them with several options and suggestions about where they might go to find refuge and resources to the fleet. All are dangerous. Before leaving Neversun, the party takes over an underworld gambling den and establishes their own people there as intelligence sources. They travel to Carcul where the great spawning of the Sky-Sharks is about to occur. There they work to impress the Flotsdam Runners, a group of expert guides and sky-sailors. In the midst of the massive hunt, Marreg the Orc leaps from his vessel and punches a Killer Sky Whale in the eye- killing it as all rolls sync up in a moment of glory. Bridgehowl, leader of the Runners is duly impressed. They agree to lead the party into the Curse- the abandoned orcish lands, cursed by the dying Orc gods when they fell to the Dominion of Timbers.

WAYWARD (Changeling: The Lost homebrew)
The group returns from the Deep Hedge, having completed their quest. They've brought with them several changelings rescued from various durances, including two who seem to contain the other parts of the sewn together darkling known as Stitcherman. The group now have the blessing of the power of Judgment to establish a new Court- one which they hope will bring balance to Wayward by squaring things with the other three Courts: Rust, Gardens and the Wolf. First they manage to bring over to their side a number of fringe members of the exiled Winter Court. They obtain oaths from them and clear the new members of past misdeeds. Finally they present themselves to Edward Brambleteeth to announce their new Court- he's angry, but they point out that they set out at his orders. The situation becomes more complicated when they unmask a Keeper among the numbers of Gardens, Lonesome Dog. The Keeper escapes and Edward tells them to leave while he considers their petition.

The group then presents themselves to Sybold Futures, Prince of the Court of Rust and Edward's brother. They want Sybold to recognize them and the Court of Wolf as official Courts. Sybold tells them they have his blessing if they can essentially clean up all of the outstanding messes in the city before the end of March. The group agrees- knowing that it will be heavy work and will put them at odds with Edward. They consult with an imprisoned elemental of karma who gives them important information. That allows them to kill the Winter Court's deadliest agent, the Wizened Soldier Unbecoming Tim. They deliver his head to a shocked Sybold. That done they follow up on various leads- considering how to best handle destroying the enemy Draconic Fairest. Edward meets with them again and reveals much about the secrets of the old dynasty, but the group shocks him with many other facts he was unaware of. Finally while out driving, Nate spots one of the Winter Court leaders, Regardless, meeting with the disguised Keeper Lonesome Dog. Though they're enemies of the Winter Court- he cannot bear the thought of the Keeper using them for its own ends.

ARTIFACTS (High Fantasy Homebrew with Microscope world building)
The group continues on their quest to undo the spell which causes the sun to burn the land like a furnace. Each day for the hours surrounding noon it blazes and bakes the land. The Oracle continues to present them with a set of choices of direction- unable to specifically guide them since the shattering of prophecy. In the compound of the Seven Masterless Killer families, the uncover a secret- that the destruction of those families had not been a betrayal, but rather an internal purge organized from their secret alliance with the Empire and the possessed Empress. Armed with this knowledge, the group fought their way free, managing to kill a few of the new leadership. Next they arrived in the great city of Neylan, the de facto capital of one of the rebellious provinces. They untangled a complex riddle- revealing that one of their own number was not who he believed himself to be. Rather, he had been possess and manipulated by a powerful artifact to give it a body. Still unsure of what that episode had added to their quest, the group moved on.

They arrived at a field of corpses, site of a battle. Following the trails back, they discovered a tower under siege by a madman mercenary and his monstrous allies- servants of the Mad Empress. Within the besieged castle, they found the Empress' brother who had come here- like the group- seeking the Bells of Pellic to break the Sunblaze Curse. But the Bells had already vanished from this place. The group fought a desperate holding action against the army, at the same time battling agents of the Night Elves who infiltrated in search of the Bells. Only but summoning and organizing the spirits of the dead from the early battle did they managed to defeat their foe, but few remained alive from the castle. Taking the Prince with them, they moved on.

And found themselves in a strange and frozen place- a garden with dancers and fountains held in time. But they came to life at the behest of a wooden golem who called the party member Batu, the barbarian, his master. Treated to food, wine and dancers, the group tried to assess their situation privately. Batu had no real memory of this place- but in the interrogation the rest of the group realized that the “Batu” that they knew was not the barbarian, but instead the magic item he held possessing him. That item, a ring cut from a unicorn horn pointed to the key. As various agents appeared and spoke to Batu, who they called Lord Scarreign, it became clear that there were powerful amoral manipulators behind the scenes- the ancient unicorns. Batu's ring realized that though it believed itself to be one of these unicorns, in fact it was a device created to sow chaos among them. The group made a break for it as the real Lord Scarreign returned- rescuing two prisoners. One of those, the scholar Error Dricel had a solution for finding the Bells- not seeking the Bells themselves which could not be scryed, but rather searching for the tell-tale fragments of the spells which had once held the Bells in place. Only two might would know how to do that- and with that the two gates opened...

LIBRI VIDICOS (Steampunk Hogwarts Fantasy Homebrew)
In the midst of the school being invaded, the group manages to bring back the dead headmaster, Direlond, killed at the end of the previous year in a battle with these same enemies. The group finally managed to put the pieces together of his puzzle in time to revive him. He lends his aid, getting many of the students and staff to safety. However the enemy has clearly been enacting some kind of powerful ritual using the schools teleportation system. When they go outside, the group sees another school- the fifth one- presumed destroyed in the battle with the Ardorans centuries ago. The group decides to travel there- clearly the invading forces want something from that lost school, enough to stage a raid on Libri Vidicos to get to it. They travel over- but almost immediately face another threat with the appearance of a Chronal Drake, a beast which breathes age and decay. They watch helplessly as Libri Vidicos teleports away- escaping from the drake's assault. They are now trapped here...despite this they continue to press on, exploring and eventually coming upon the enemy- including several of the traitor instructors and students. A massive melee breaks out and the group lets loose a variety of powers which cause the walls and floors to crumble. The party makes a desperate bid to escape- activating the defenses of a secure room. When they release the door lock, they find themselves in a new place: Sigil the City of Doors.

There they meet with several members of the planar mercenary group, the Sons of the Tower. Some of them come from the party's world and have been seeking a way back. The group aids him in hunting down another key which may lead back home in a mad journey across the city that takes them from shops, to a barfight, to a collapsing arena and finally into the awful sewers of Sigil. They get the key and activate it- returning at last to Libri Vidicos. The headmaster congratulates them on their victory. The mood though, is bittersweet, as a ceremony soon follows to honor those who fell in the battles. The school year moves on- with the party having the chance to set up a last, massive party for all of the student body, especially the graduating fifth years and the guest students from the other two schools. It goes off as a massive success.

WALLS OF PAVIS (High fantasy Homebrew with Gloranthan elements)
The group returns from their travels to rescue the last people of Kraletorea untouched by the influence of the God Chainers. They have managed to defeat two of the inner circle of their enemies, recruit a number of soldiers and craftsmen, and save the new avatar of the Dragon of Change. But the cost has been high- with the death of Raythe's god Phairdon in the battle. They have a few days to rest in Pavis before they must aid the Flintnail Cult with a ceremony in the Rubble designed to bring blessings to their work and the city. The group make deals to take several of the traditional adversaries of the Flintnail's out of the picture and arrive to give aid. This puts them at odds with the more radical Pavis Cult members who see the party as Lunar toadies. The group triumphs despite this, making a deal to gain the aid of the Trolls in exchange for granting them rights to a newly revealed temple in the heart of the Rubble. The Grey Company, leaders of the radical Pavis Cultists, respond by killing one of the party's agents. Raythe, still angry over the loss of his god, takes the fight to the grey Company's door. He calls on his last favor from Labrygon and they appear in the middle of the Company's secret refuge. The party slaughters everyone there, leaving only one survivor to tell the tale. They gather two of the Masks of Pavis and use them to gain allies within the city, including the moderate Pavis Cult leadership.

Next they turn their attention to the food supply and venture forth to follow the trunk of the great Giant Tree, in hopes of locating some resources. After some travel they manage to uncover enormous mushrooms as well as massive seed grains. However, they have to fight off several giant predators including mice, owls and snakes. After securing enough to offer Pavis a significant safety net, they encounter yet another of the Seven Pharaohs- those who will have to travel to The End of Time to fight against it. When the group returns to Pavis they work on getting various helpers and agents into place; they suspect that the God Chainers will bring the battle to the Valley of Prax and they want to be ready. To bring the community together, the group decides to spend much of their resources providing a festival for the city. With a Pavis Ceremony a week away, complete with a bardic context, they decide to offer a contest, event or display each day leading up to that. Each party member chooses a day and comes up with an activity and ties it into their own god, as a means of giving honor to their lesser known deities. They put on a scavenger hunt, a footrace, an obstacle course and a special market day with prizes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rocketeer & Flashpoint: Self-Promotion Alert

As a self-promoting shout out- Diamond Comic Distributors had their Diamond Gem Awards announced and Rocketeer Adventures Vol. 1 took 2011 Anthology of the Year. I mention this, of course, because I have a story in there, so that's pretty cool. You can get the hardcover now, and it is a pretty amazing volume with a ton of great artists and writers. The boo'ks worth picking up if you enjoy pulp action and like to see how a different writers wrestle with the limitations of the eight-page tale. I've been thinking about how to handle The Rocketeer as a game, and I think pretty clearly Spirit of the Century or Adventure! is the way to go.

I'll also point out that in March the trade paper of Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Superman comes out. That has the three issue mini-series I scripted and co-plotted for the Flashpoint event. I've had a chance to look at the book as a while and I really like it. It got some nice reviews, especially for a first book from me. The trade paper includes the World of Flashpoint books and the Booster Gold final issues tying in to the event. It comes out March 20th.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Five Shires: RPG Items I Like

Sourcebook covering a halfling-dominated nation in TSR's classic Mystara setting.

While not a race book in the way that GAZ5:The Elves of Alfheim or GAZ6:The Dwarves of Rockhome were, this entry into TSR's Gazetteer series covers a nation with a 97% halfling population. (For more on the gazetteer series and Mystara, see here). I find hobbits interesting because they're really the point at which you have to admit that you're stealing from Tolkien. Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes all have at least some historical and mythic antecedents. Many depictions of Elves had them closer to the fae and the faerie than the depiction in modern rpgs, but in spirit they come from Norse mythology. Of course Orcs also come pretty straight from LotR but in their case you have thin cover with the idea of “dark folk” like goblins, hobgoblins, trolls and ogres- all of which have ancestors from the great old tales. But Hobbits don't- they're short, inoffensive, and non-magical people. Which is why we also have the less specific term “halfling”. And why we have Kender in Dragonlance and Shea & Flick in The Sword of Shannara or even the Nelwyns from Willow. And when you title your sourcebook for 'halflings' in your setting The Five Shires, you're also inviting comparisons.

One of the other worries I had going into rereading this was it would have more “goofiness” than I was comfortable with. The jokes had been a little over the top in GAZ4:The Kingdom of Ierendi; the related Mystaran series Creature Crucible also fell into that trap. And, having looked forward, I knew that GAZ10: The Orcs of Thar painfully went in the direction of fantasy comedy. Thankfully, GAZ8: The Five Shires doesn't lean that direction entirely. The other worry comes from considering the original Tolkien source. What is there to do in the Shire? I mean in LotR we had Nazghul showing up (and asking for directions) and then the Scumbag Saruman bit at the end of RotK. But other than that, we have a fairly peaceful place where the conflicts seem to be more about family, kin and feuds- with a lot of fist-waving, name-calling, and bride-theft. And much as I might want to play a Faulkner-esque fantasy rpg with a halfling-filled Yoknapatawpha County, I can't imagine that would be a big seller. At the same time, I don't want halflings that go too far off the reservation (i.e. the feral cannibal hobbits of Dark Sun). 

The Five Shires continues with the new Gazetteer standard of splitting the interior material into two separate booklets, one for DMs and the other for players. This approach continues for the rest of the series (with two exceptions, Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia, GAZ14: Atruaghin Clans). The folio cover interior has a several excellent city maps. The poster map goes back to single sided- with a classic hex map of the region, four colored and keyed city maps, and an interesting set of location cross-sections. Clyde Caldwell returns for a great cover, but Stephen Fabian is absent as the artist. Instead we have Artie Ruiz, and man I do not like his art. He has a weird sketchy style and when he shows people they have 1980's hair or seem traced. It isn't my favorite approach. That aside the text design for the books remains solid: three columns, tight text and everything decently organized. Ed Greenwood, creator of the Forg
otten Realms, penned this volume. That's a point I'll return to. 

In 72-page DM's book begins with some general words of advice followed by the history of the halflings of The Five Shires. Interestingly, the peoples of the Shires call themselves “The Hin.” It's an odd term and just doesn't sound right to me. It adds another layer to the whole hobbit/halfling/hin terminology problem. I'll end up using all three in this review. The material right away addresses my concerns about the hobbits being treated comically- actually going perhaps a little far in the other direction stressing the grittiness and internecine warfare. Also unusual is the lack of connection to the Blackmoor history, since that's been a factor in every other gazetteer. Instead we get the tale of a hard-scrabble people who landed in this place, fought against the Orcs and others, battled among themselves, the fall of the great old realm, corrupt old Dwarven domination, dark folk invasions, rebellions, clanstrife, more wars with the Orcs, more rebellions, and finally a time of heroes. Seven detailed pages of this. It feels a little like overkill in places. Don't get me wrong, I love history and depth, but at the same time when I read through game material, my eyes are always on the prize: how could I bring this to the table? The history here may be rich, but I think it could have been trimmed without too much loss, especially compared to previous gazetteers which did more with a great span of time in fewer pages.

The real world analogue The Five Shires uses isn't exactly clear- at least to me it doesn't jump out. There's a definite Northwestern European vibe throughout, and I suspect we have elements from Irish history? Usually the naming conventions used in the gazetteers is a giveaway so I know it isn't Welsh or Scottish. If it is English, then the author's done a good job of keeping that from feeling like a literal adaptation.

With the extensive history out of the way, the book moves to cover the other key aspects of the Shires: climate, geography, holidays, relations with neighbors and regions. There's some pretty specific discussion of the Hin military, with stats and the strong suggestion that defense of the realm is a key factor in daily life. The theme throughout seems to be of a prosperous and fertile region, with several significant outside adversaries and a long history of internal fighting and politics among the nobles and families.

The booklet takes an odd detour at this point, with a discussion of the mysteries of Blackflame, a concept from the D&D Companion rules. Each hin clan has a Crucible of Blackflame, their most sacred relic. This serves as the heart of many sacred mysteries, and the book spends five pages going over those. Beyond the role that it serves in the clan and the methods the keepers use in managing it, the book offers uses for Blackflame. It can, for example, be used for magical crafting. The process is detailed in game terms and several sample magic items are given. It is an interesting little detail with some possibilities for stories in the Shires.

Pages 21-33 detail the various NPCs present in the Shires from nobles to ambassadors to bandits. This is one of the more useful sections of the book, with stats and lots of story ideas offered by the character descriptions. They're loosely organized by type with the majority lumped under “other notables.” The author could have made these more accessible to the GM with some better sub-headings. As it is you have to search through too much. You also have to deal with the art at its worst and most 1980's in this part. That's particular bad in the section which follows, on Halfling Pirates. Those pirates have a major role in the life of the Shires, with local Sheriffs denying their existence.

By far the largest section of book goes through the various sections and areas of the Shires in detail (with b&w section maps provided). This layout/design choice doesn't appear in the earlier gazetteers and definitely has a more “Forgotten Realms” module design feel to it. In some of those FR books that felt like someone throwing everything at the wall and seeing what stuck (FR5 The Savage Frontier as an example). Here it works decently because the scale is significantly tighter. From pages 36-54 we get descriptions of cities, oddball people, neat sites, landmarks and so on. DMs will probably neat to make a secondary set of notes and indexes to remember where the interesting parts are. The remainder of the DM book, covers campaigning in the Shires. The previous volume, The Northern Reaches, focused on fewer but more detailed and fleshed out adventures. The Five Shires, on the other hand, offers fourteen adventure seeds over nine pages, discussions of monsters new and old in five pages, and a grab bag of other details in the last four. 

The Players' Guide to the Five Shires comes in at 24 pages. It focuses on creating a halfling character from The Five Shires, with a focus on the explaining the culture over adding new mechanics. Or so the book suggests, but the material here does offer a number of new mechanics- including morale and saving throw bonuses for halflings standing on their native soil. Halflings level 5 or above gain a new power called “denial.” (Though this power doesn't seem all that special among gamers I know...). In any case, once per day a halfling standing in the Shires may say No! To one single spell or magical attack. The hobbit then takes a little damage an rolls on the Denial Table, with appropriate modifiers based on a number of factors. As a mechanic it adds an interesting option, but it feels more than a little dropped in.

The main focus of the cultural section here is on the clan as the most important unit in halfling life. The book suggests a number of ideas on how players might gain reputation, rank & influence and what offices of the clan they might interact with. Clans and place within those clans substitute for other considerations of wealth, class and nobility among the hobbits. One of my favorite bits in the section offers an explanation of halfling adventurers. The hin go through a period called the yallara or “wild time” in which they're expected to hell around, go out and find themselves. A number of other topics are touched on: smuggling, law, the Sheriffs, language, runes, tobacco, home, and names. There's a section on music and storytelling among the hin. The book offers some suggestions for handling tall-tale competitions among with the players. It also offers the lyrics to several hin songs. Yes. It does.

Finally The Five Shires ends with discussion of high level halflings and their options in the D&D system. More notably it offers an completely new hin-only sub-class, The Master. This is a kind of pseudo-Druid based on lore the hin gained from a lost race of elves. The halfling must be at least 8th level to become a master, at which point they can (after much training and isolation) switch over to the new advancement table, which goes from 1 to 35. It is a spell-using class, with some advancements to the denial ability common to the hin. The book discusses several new abilities for the Master and presents fourteen new or modified spells unique to the class. There's a weird break here- with the Master presented in the Players Guide, but with the repeated admonition that members of this class wouldn't adventure with a group. If this is an NPC-only class, why put it here?

I'm a little more split on The Five Shires book than I've been on others in the series. I think it works great as a Mystara sourcebook, offering an interesting place to travel through and some cool background for halfling PCs. It works to offer a really serious treatment of this race. Really serious. In fact, it feels almost a little too high-strung, making sure readers know that you shouldn't joke about the hin. It's subtle, but that slight tonal difference makes me suspect that the material here might not have begun life as a Mystaran book. It really feels more like something from Forgotten Realms. I may be wrong on that score. Still if you're running a Mystara campaign, this book offers many ideas.

For GMs looking for material to borrow for other campaigns and games, they may find less to like. That's the approach I usually take with these books and in going through each to review, I've been inspired with new story, character or place ideas. Here, not so much. It didn't convince me as much as the other entries in the series. It didn't feel like a solid and unique take on hobbits I wanted to port elsewhere.

The Five Shires map here is taken from the excellent Mystaran map resource at

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Changeling: The Lost- A Guide for New Gamers

I hope this post will serve as an inventory and guide for gamers thinking about picking up Changeling: The Lost. Where I've previously reviewed something I've included a link to that review. I've also included links to a couple of other reviews and the RPG Geek page for each item.

In Changeling the PCs take on the role of people who have been kidnapped from our world. Through trickery, bad choices or random happenstance, they have been pulled over by The Keepers into an otherworldly realm. The process strips away much of the victim's soul, caught on the thorns of the Hedge they're drawn through. The Keepers represent dark and awful versions of the fairy stories and the fantastic. During their "durance" these kidnap victims become transformed by their service. Then, somehow, they manage to escape from their service only to return to the real world, a changed person. Time has passed, in many cases they've been replaced by a simulacra or Fetch. Now the characters must hide their changed appearance beneath a mask of illusion. The barely remember what they suffered in the Hedge, and when they do, then run the risk of a breakdown. They must run the thin edge between trying to adapt to human society and embracing their changed nature-- all the time living in fear that their Keeper may hunt them down and steal them back. Players select from one of six seemings to define their character, and a kith or sub-type within that seeming.

The list is organized as follows: core books; accessories; supplemental books in order of publication; PDFs; and related materials

For more game overview lists, please see RPG System Metageeklist

Used as the basis for the various World of Darkness sub-rpgs (Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, etc) this book also works as a stand-alone rpg for modern games, especially those with a horror or fantastic bent. If you plan to play Changeling using the existing system, you will need to purchase this book. Gamers who played one of the older White Wolf games using Storyteller should have no problem making the transition to this version. There are several crucial system changes, but the basic approach of a dice pool based on Attribute + Skill remains the same.

For newcomers, World of Darkness should be relatively easy to pick up. The core mechanic of the dice pool works across most elements of the game. Players will only need a set of d10s to play. The system is semi-point based- meaning that players have points to spend in various categories, but those aren't interchangeable (a set for skills, a set for characteristics, etc). Experience points earned during play can be used across character aspects. While the system stresses role-playing, it does have a significant mechanical component, with rules governing reactions and compulsions, areas which some gamers may be less interested in having defined. WoD offers a relatively easy to grasp system, but the complexity comes in some of the specifics. Powers, special abilities, talents, and so on presented here and especially in the latter specific rpg books often have lengthy, complex, or highly detailed rules. These often deviate from the base rules and from one another. This means that play will often require players and/or the GM to be familiar with the situations, resolutions, and exceptions presented there or look them up in play.

Reviews: A new look at an old standard; Discovery of the New World (of Darkness)

The core book for the Changeling: the Lost rpg. This hardcover provides more than enough for a GM to build a campaign: character creation, player powers, adversaries, setting, background, sample freehold and gamemastering advice. GM's who want to convert CtL over to another system will only need this book to work from. GM's who wish to use the included rules systems will additionally need the World of Darkness book mentioned above. The Changeling corebook offers a ton of material- really everything to run a long-term and substantive campaign. Well written and well designed, it provides a unique modern urban fantasy setting, with horror trappings dependent on the GM's taste. The horror here can be particularly personal, with each character having gone through an extended traumatic experience which reshaped them. More than most WoD rpgs, it offers a personal experience with a chance to grow. GM's working with other modern games (weird, horror, fantasy) may find the concept of changelings presented here useful as a resource for NPCs (allies or adversaries)

Essential purchase for GM & Player 

Changeling: The Lost Review

Done with heavy stock and featuring the classic hedge image on the front, how useful you find this will depend whether you find screens an aid or a barrier.


The antagonist book for the Changeling the Lost line. It offers enemies in four broad categories: mortal enemies, keepers, fetches, and hobgoblins. In total it presents a couple dozen enemies, each given an extensive write up, plus stats and powers. The balance leans towards narrative and description over mechanics. This expands the relatively decent bestiary of the core book. Autumn Nightmares is less a "monster manual" than a sourcebook for session and campaign ideas. GMs who want some more seeds for the kinds of opponents they can throw at their players will find decent stuff here.

Recommended for GMs 
This serves primarily as a player-focused book providing additional seemings and kiths. It spends some time examining the roles, natures and possible origins of those from the core book. Some of this offers mechanics, but it primarily focuses on story questions. After this it presents a number of new kiths for each of the seemings. These come with a little bit of background and a new power for each. Some other general PCs options are provided as well. Strangely the last third or so of the book provides what ought to be GM-oriented material, a discussion of what the Courts and Freeholds look like across the globe.

Recommended for Players & GMs- expands choices for character creation and background 
Another player-focused sourcebook, this time offering many new options for mechanics and player abilities. Some concepts, such as how changelings interact with other supernaturals of the setting, might have been better reserved to a GM book. But the resources and expanded choices offered to players make this the first book gamers ought to buy beyond the core book. More useful for players are new rules and options for dream magic and for pledges. The latter rules revise significantly those presented in the core book, making them both easier and more balanced. Further discussion of the concepts of the mask, Wyrd, and Clarity offer both specific mechanics and new ideas for play. New contracts appear, as well as new merits and flaws. Finally there's an expanded discussion of the Hedge, with new suggestions for how players can interact with it and new options for abilities and equipment based on it.

Highly recommended for players and GMs  
A GM-oriented sourcebook covering courtly politics in general, and each of the seasonal courts in particular. Some material covers the general structure of freeholds, giving GMs significant guidance on how to construct one for their campaigns. The material on the seasonal courts provides material which the GM will have to parse and decide on. Some of it feels fairly prescriptive, while other parts offer more seeds and ideas the GM can use. New contracts for each of the courts offers the most specific mechanics for the GM. The last third of the book offers an expansion to the "entitlements" mechanics from the core book. These are optional 'secret societies' which players who follow a particular path can join to gain access to new allies, resources, and powers. They can also serve as interesting adversaries and NPCs for the GM. They're smartly put here in a GM book so that they can choose what to present.

Recommended for GMs only 

A sourcebook for high-level play in Changeling and for campaign endgames which take the PCs back into the Hedge to fight their Keepers. GMs will get the most out of this book, and players probably ought to avoid it for fear of giving away secrets. It does offer several new mechanics and rules sections: high level Wyrd, new merits and flaws, and player created Contract sets. Most of the book, however, deals with storytelling. It offers many answers and ideas about how to present the various realms of Arcadia and how to make a campaign epic. The book ends with a lengthy campaign outline for how to create a series of capstone adventures and finish out a chronicle. This book will be most useful for GMs deeper into a campaign, and those who have already bought the other books in the series.

Recommended for GMs only  
A second antagonist book for Changeling: The Lost, offering 26 foes with several based on classic stories and legends. Each foe gets an significant narrative write-up plus stats. Also intended as a sourcebook for faerie foes to be used in other World of Darkness games. And, quite frankly, not very good. For completists.

Highly Optional, for GMs only


The Changeling line had originally been intended to end with Equinox Road. Reception to the line encouraged White Wolf to produce three more books, plus a significant pdf-only supplement. That choice does mean that this and its companion book, Swords at Dawn, mix together player and GM-oriented material. Thematically, this book considers how to bring more darkness and foreboding to a Changeling campaign. The actual material is a hodge-podge: dreams, dream realms and dream foes; fate & curses; Hedge geography; and darkening a chronicle. It does offer some interesting new mechanics in the form of expanded dream rules, curse mechanics and new contracts. It also offers a new court and some additional entitlements. The material is interesting, but not essential.

Optional for players and GMs 

The final hardcover Changeling sourcebook. Like Dancers in the Dusk this book is a loose collection of new ideas and materials for campaigns, aimed at both players and GMs. The stated theme of this book is hope and renewal. Despite that, the book opens with a lengthy section on duels and warfare, especially between changelings. This is mostly background material, but a couple of pages of new mechanics are offered. The second section talks about shared narrative power at the game table, based on the idea of stories and story-telling. This is an odd set of mechanics rather than an invitation to approach the game from a more indie perspective. There's a section on new and legendary items, followed by advice on how to had more hope to a chronicle. Scattered throughout gamers will find a new court, new contracts and other new mechanics.

Optional for Players and GMs 

A really excellent 48 page pdf exploring the idea of Goblin Markets as a place and an adventure starter. Intended as a GM resource for chronicle building, there's little in the way of new mechanics. It does offer a guide to how markets work, example markets, new NPCs, plot hooks, and a discussion of the kinds of things players might find in the market. As well it offers some ideas for how to handle players "buying" new and potent things at markets.

Recommended for GMs 
A starter complete Changeling adventure, using the simplified SAS mechanics. This is streamlined version of the core World of Darkness rules. This pdf offers a good sample adventure for a GM to start with in order to get a taste of the setting and mechanics. Several other pdfs, including a couple of adventures have also been published, based on the SAS mechanics (but adaptable to the core rules).

Optional for GMs 
GM's may find good material and ideas in some of the generic World of Darkness sourcebooks, especially for those looking to expand the material or find new approaches.

Antagonists a generic foe book
Armory Reloaded a weapons and combat styles book for GMs who like detailed options and crunch in their games
Asylum the discussion of asylums as locations is probably more useful than the madness rules which Changeling already deals with through Clarity
Glimpses of the Unknown collection of story seeds for all of the different WoD rpg lines
Mirrors grab-bag of new options as well as alternate takes on the WoD background
Mysterious Places collection of creepy places
Reliquary collection of creepy things
Urban Legends collection of creepy adventures

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Northern Reaches: RPG Items I Like

Classic TSR region supplement covering three Viking-like nations in the north of Mystara.

So Vikings. There's a strange thing happening in my my project to review all of the items in the TSR gazetteer series (for more on that see here). I find myself encountering and thinking about my gaming bias. For example, I'm not fond of jokey versions of real world things which pop up throughout the Ierendi book. And I talked about my feelings about elves when I reviewed Alfheim, and we'll see that again when I hit the hobbit book, GAZ8: The Five Shires. Today's entry with its adaptation of the ancient and rich culture of the Norse (in the broadest sense) confronts a basic problem I have. Vikings make me go meh. I've picked up a number of Viking supplements and games over the years: Rolemaster's Vikings, Vikings: Nordic Roleplaying for RuneQuest, Rune, Ultima Thule: Mythic Scandinavia. And I appreciate the deep history of those peoples- with fascinating tales and a much more complex relationship to their neighbors than simple tales of pillage would suggest. D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths remains one of my favorite books- mythic ideas that informed my vision of fantasy for years. And I love Thor from Marvel, especially when it ventures into the epic. But Vikings in my games...not so much. My favorite vikings would be these.

That being said I enjoyed reading through GAZ7: The Northern Reaches. As you might guess, it is Viking book for Mystara- something it explicitly addresses in the introduction, a first I think for the series (breaking the fourth wall?). It is a fantastic treatment of those elements in a mish-mash which ignores the various differences often lumped together under the 'viking' term. As usual you have two divergent approaches to the gazetteer series. The first would be for those TSR aficionados or those playing in Mystara campaign- what does the book offer for their play. The second would be more my approach: is the book an amusing read and more importantly what can I steal from it to use in my games? I know the series sometimes gets a bad rap for certain tics (like third person narrator text before sections). But the useful stuff in these books makes working through those tics valuable.

Ken Rolston returns to the series (he also did the excellent GAZ2: The Emirates of Ylaruam). You may know his name from his work on Morrowind, Paranoia and a host of other gaming legends. This time he's joined by Elizabeth Danforth, one of my favorite illustrators, as co-writer. We get another excellent Clyde Caldwell cover and Stephen Fabian interior illustrations. I have to admit that this is one of the few gazetteers I've only seen in pdf format- so I can't comment on the quality of the map- which has the hex version on one side and a great hall on the other. The supplement includes four pages of cardboard stand-ups to help simulate that hall. Probably the most notable shift in this gazetteer is the splitting of the interior booklet into two separate booklets: a 64-page DM book and a 32-page player book. Other items in the series have had pull-out sections, but this one finally formalizes the split. That's a great move- and some of the earlier booklets could have benefited from this approach.

After offering some general comments on real world vikings (including a bibliography), the booklet heads into the history of the region. It provides details on the three kingdoms of the Northern Reaches- sharing common cultural traits but with differing rulership and history. Vestland is the northernmost of these, situated on the mainland and having a strong feudal monarchy. They have a more dangerous and frontier lifestyle- facing monsters like trolls at regular intervals. Just to their south lies the the Soderfjord Jarldoms (so just above Ylaruam). The Jarldom has a war leader, but is nominally ruled by a council and by the agreement of the various jarls throughout the territory. The third nation, Ostalnd actually lies on a set of rich and fertile islands off the coast. The Ostlanders once ruled Vestland, but lost control of it. Ostalnders seem to the most classic vikings, with a life of raiding and piracy. They trace their rulership to King Cnute (a pretty literal lift from rw history). I wish I knew more about far Northern European history and culture, as I'd probably be better able to pick out which details have been drawn from which cultures (Norse, Lapp, Icelandic, Finn, etc). After the general history, the book spends 4-5 pages on each nation in turn describing politics, current events, cultural roles, and key themes. These sections are really well done- and compress the information tightly,. GM's skimming through these few pages should be able to come up with at least a half-dozen interesting hooks immediately for each.

The Northern Reaches also spends time considering the significant non-human groups within the region. While the other gazetteers covered covered those before, that's been in passing, representing foreign interests, or as factions within the power structure (ala Glantri). Dwarves get particular attention, with a section of emigres from Rockhome and on a new group of dwarves, the Modrigswerg. These exiles answer to darker powers. They're wild, passionate and unpredictable dwarves, much more akin to those shown in Der Ring des Nibelungen. The GM's encouraged to create an air of threat and mystery around them. Around four pages cover this new group, with suggestions for unique magic and traits. Finally, two monstrous humanoid races get a more civilized write up, the trolls and the gnolls. The cultural details and npcs suggested here make them more than just battle fodder.

Next the book details the people and relationships of the Court of Cnute in Ostland. Rather than detail all of the important NPCs across the region, it focuses here as a detailed and concrete example. Those of the Northern Reaches worship figures from the Norse Pantheon, with Odin in particular regard. In fact tension between court and priests shows up as one of the main levers for conflict. It took me a bit to reconcile the actual use of the Norse names, but apparently in Mystara, a number of the Immortals go by those names. I'm unsure exactly how that works- it had been my impression that the Immortals were ascended figures in the world- somewhat different from conventional multiversal gods. The discussion of the Court covers the key figures, detailed discussion of the physical settlement itself, and an outline for how a campaign could be run there.

The second half of the DM book, pages 37-59, covers specific adventures in the North. The first nine+ pages provide extensive discussion of the Falun Caverns, an underground complex for exploration. It includes a ton of detail, from artifacts to the cultural history of the kobolds. Several other scenarios follow, each with a great deal of detail. The book avoids story “seeds,” instead giving a DM fewer scenarioes, but with those fairly developed and ready to play. The section next offers four pages on running a Northern Reaches campaign. This includes discussion of the new options presented in the Players Book, population distributions, new magic, travel and even otherworld realms (like Asgard). Finally the last page of the booklet offers a conversion guide to AD&D- a slightly condensed version of the one presented in GAZ6: The Dwarves of Rockhome. The rules notably suggest ways in which this material could cross-over into the other TSR realms such as Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. That cross-over could be figurative, using this region material for a like place there or literal with adventurers passing through gates like the World Ash to reach other lands.

The smaller 32-page players book follows the design used previously in the series- taking a lighter shade of the primary accent color as a screen behind the text, in this case a shade of rust. It's a decent visual cue- but the split between it and the stark white of the watermark on the page causes some problems in a couple of places. The first eight pages of the booklet cover “What Everyone Knows” about the different nations and the culture of the Northern Reaches. This is presented as first person narration from several different characters. Most of the time that doesn't get in the way- the perspective isn't intrusive. But in many cases, I'm not sure what this approach gains. Most importantly, it does offer the non-mechanical basics players need to run characters from there. It does assume that you have players willing to read through that amount of dense material- which isn't always the case.

The mechanics of character creation comes next, pages 9-22. The classics mechanics are covering- rolling methods, Northlander names, and statsus for example. But The Northern Reaches also adds several new concepts and different takes on older concepts. Skills reappear here- but with a much less fuzzy approach. Specific skills common to the region appear under each characteristic; other can be chosen but the book offers a fairly definitive lists. Classes gain different background skills and the rules for skill use have again been consolidated and tightened here. PCs can gain or lose reputations based on the interventions of Skalds, a nice nod to the setting. The book offers ootes on obtaining dominions for higher level characters are given. An entirely new concept is the idea of players rolling for background incidents- rolls on the Afflictions & Accidents, Important Past Experiences, Character Building and Combat Experiences table help flesh the PC out- mostly in the form of stat bonuses or penalties. But the lengthiest treatment is given over to the idea of PC Traits. I've you've played Pendragon or early Ars Magica, you'll recognize this approach. Twelve trait pairs are given, with the player assigning scores to each of these- that score representing where the character lies on the continuum. These traits include Loyal/Unreliable, Peaceful/Violent, Cautious/Reckless, among others. Rolls are made against traits to see if a player undertakes or avoids a particular action. There's also a system for generating these traits for NPCs (with national, class & alignment modifiers). The trait concept is interesting, and for some DMs might be worth taking out into Mystara more broadly. But your reaction will largely depend on how you & your group feel about mechanics for personal decisions- rolling for what could be important choices- without any other benefit. Other systems (Exalted for example) offer less intrusive takes on this. For my two cents, I like the idea of having something that helps a player recall their character's distinct approach, but I don't care for that having a mechanical impact.

The rest of the Players Book covers Northmen Clerics, with lots of details on the different Immortal Cults of the region. It offers some nice notes about the role and rituals of clerics in the setting, and how those differ. Each cult has some specific benefits and abilities, including unique spells. The various clerical magic discussion then moves over to the idea of Rune Magic, which is another clerical resource. This offers a number of new spells, plus a set of 24 example runes with their various powers and effects described. The system's interesting, but a fairly radical shift from standard D&D magic.

So I'm not interested in Skyrim, primarily because of the Norse-esque setting. It doesn't grab me. But I had a really good time rereading this supplement. It gave me a number of ideas, and certainly made me think I could do something in that genre. There's a lot to like here- though the Players Book has a lot of mechanics which are less interesting to me. In the DM Book, the adventure section feels a little bloated. I would have liked to see more background and NPCs, especially for the other two major nations. Still I enjoyed and got a lot more out of this than some of the other Viking supplements I've read, like Ivinia and GURPS Vikings. And I suspect I'll be tracking down some more history of the region, to help me put everything in context. Bottom line: a great gazetteer for people who love Mystara and a good gazetteer for GM's looking for Norse-esque fantasy material.

I want to point out the image of the Northern Reaches map here is taken from the excellent Mystaran map resource at

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Exercise in Wondering

I'm going to take the long way around to my point. I'm always wondering about the question of imaginative space in stories and at the gaming table. Can I- when I'm running a game- really create a world the players can think about, imagine themselves in, and create stories for? I mean obviously when I'm at the table they can have to do that on call- with various levels of restraint and success. But is that the same thing as choosing an action from a limited palette (ala choosing a move in a board game, selecting a menu option in a video game) or do they visualize the story? When people talk about games which are “railroady” that's what I picture. Those games which don't allow that sense of having one's own room in the story- either in table execution or imagination.

I've said before that some settings don't appeal to me because they close off the imaginative space. For example, White Wolf's original WoD metaplot and presentation didn't seem to me to open up possibilities. Instead may supplements closed them down. I think that's the danger in advancing a game line- especially where the material covers background details or history. Sure I like more stuff, more ideas- but I want those to be interesting and not invalidate my own conceptions. Or if they do, they do so in a way that opens up more room for me to come up with stories.

I've been reviewing the TSR gazetteer series for a couple of purposes. On the one hand, there's a nostalgia factor that ties into the new OSR games, with some people going as far as crafting amazing Mystaran supplements. On the other these are supplements I had around and in hand in the early days of building my campaign world. I've used bits and pieces from them more or less literally over the years- but in several cases after one read. So what I actually used at the table were the details and concepts that stuck fast in my head. What's been amazing in the rereading is how different the books are than I recall them. Many concepts I was pretty sure I'd drawn from a particular supplement- but on rereading, it isn't there. I've constructed another story in my head about the book- and rereading hasn't negatively affected that. Instead it has pointed out some stuff I missed in the first reading that fits well with the later stuff I came up with.

As with many GMs, when I think about my game I just spin and freewrite about my campaigns: I sketch out ideas, make lists of words, come up with seeds for scenes, chart out some connections between materials, outline outstanding plots, come up with concrete details, and make some notes about which NPCs would be cool to pull on stage. Often, that's all that I will go into a session with. If I plot, I'll usually make a list of scenes which I can picture happening if the players go the way I expect and if nothing changes. Ideally, the players will deviate from that, forcing me to come up with new connections and ideas.

That level of improvisation means that much of my game world exists as a wave-function, the Schroedinger's Cat of setting. I imagine that's true for most GM's game worlds. Until the players actually look at something, it doesn't exist, the wave function hasn't collapsed into something they can interact with. That isn't to say that it can be 'anything' when it collapses due to observation. Odds and reasonableness impact it. And the collapse has to fit with previous observations of related material. That's part of the toughest job for the GM- revealing a seamless world, where the examined pieces fit together easily. But often I don't have things figured out until the players ask me. There's just too much to know. But I trust myself and my instincts to come up with an answer, a response that fits, makes sense, and is fair. But I know that some players don't like playing where they sense the GM doesn't have a net. I've been lucky in that my players haven't been that way- there's generally shared trust.

So, from threads and bits I like to fill things in and put together stories- and the players & I lob that back and forth to create unexpected things.

Which brings me to the incident that brought this to mind. The other day on G+ I saw Ken Hite mention a horror movie called Yellowbrickroad. The imdb synopsis:
“1940: the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire walked up a winding mountain trail, leaving everything behind. 2008: the first official expedition into the wilderness attempts to solve the mystery of the lost citizens of Friar.”

Interesting, I thought to myself. A couple of people commented that they hadn't liked it so much, but I thought why not? Eventually the disc arrived from Netflix. Now I should mention here that I like horror movies- but I have a couple of problems with them. First, I have a pretty low suspension of disbelief, which means that it is pretty easy to get me sucked into a film, provided you keep at least a modicum of acting and production value. Second, if a horror film offers imaginative space- for me to come up with stuff in my head, then I'm right there creeping myself out. So I'll admit that The Ring and The Grudge (American and Original) freaked me out and cost me sleep. There's the moment in The Grudge when the haunting moves beyond the house- and my brain went "holy sh* it can't do that...". The original version of Pulse (Kairo) is another another one, plus many others. And films with that “found footage” approach really get under my skin- so Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity kept me up many more nights than probably anyone else in our group.

So I started watching Yellowbrickroad...

btw, spoilers ahead...

And it has some little creepy set bits: the way he gets the file, the movie theater scene, the music playing in the woods. It mixes standard camera work with 'found-footage' and some interesting effects (like a slide show for one sequence). It layers on the creepiness as the group heads into the woods, getting farther and farther away from civilization. And I'm watching this on my couch, in my house, eating crackers, middle of the day. I've paused several times to stop and move laundry along, make coffee, etc, but the movie's still managed to raise my anxiety level up.

And then there's a brief flash of violence.

It doesn't come out of the blue exactly, but it snaps (literally and figuratively) the characters and film in a new direction. And it absolutely freaked me out. I suspect if anyone else had been watching it with me, my reaction wouldn't nearly have been so profound. And I likely wouldn't have immediately turned the DVD off.

Which is what I did.

And here's the thing. I haven't yet finished watching it- but I've been thinking about how this film is going to play out. I've imagined scenarioes, explanations, stories, scenes and awful dooms for these characters. And that's almost been more fun than actually going back and watching the rest of it. But in some ways it has been a great exercise- an interesting GMs tool that's got be thinking about horror games and how to structure them. So I put that out there as a recommended tactic for GMs needing to recharge your batteries. Find a film, TV show, graphic novel, or book you don't know that much about in a genre you like, read a chunk of the way through it- until you hit something significant and then put the thing aside for a week. Let it work its way into your mind, imagine the possibilities, especially for the characters that you like, come up with cool and different ways the story could go...good endings, bad endings, and everything in between.

That sense of wonder- that sense of possibility, control, and surprise: ideally that's what your players ought to be feeling between sessions.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Dwarves of Rockhome: RPG Items I Like

Supplement covering dwarves and their nation within the Mystara setting.

Would it be too much if I said that Dwarves get the short end of the stick in fantasy rpgs? This week I continue with my tour of the gazetteer series with GAZ6: The Dwarves of Rockhome. Like the previous volume, GAZ5: The Elves of Alfheim, it focuses on a race and a nation. My perspective on dwarves may seem a little odd, given that I may have bad-mouthed elves a little bit in my last review. Dwarves, I think, more than elves get stuck with a few fairly limited cultural and physical traits. I've certainly seen more and wackier variants on elves in various rpgs than I have of dwarves. They also have the problem of a “close cousin” in the form of the gnome. I've talked before about my dislike for gnomes- and often when they're placed in a fantasy context, they simply take up roles normally associated with Dwarves (tinkers and gadgeteers).

Dwarves get stuck with a good deal of baggage, with one of the most common tropes being their decay and extinction. Some of that comes from Tolkien's world, and his original Northern European sources. So in many settings we have dwarves broken and divided- having been overrun by the forces of darkness or chaos which have exploded up through their ancient holds. Warhammer borrows a little from this approach for example. Two of my favorite game depictions of Dwarves use this approach. The Mostali of Glorantha are clearly shattered and declining, though they keep on. I love them because they can actually be read as a metaphor for rules-lawyers. The recent CRPG Dragon Age also has the Dwarves in decline, holding onto only two of their old places and those beset by darkness. What I love about Dragon Age is the awful and severe caste/class system presented and the horrible Machiavellian maneuvers among the nobility. One reason I really like The Dwarves of Rockhome is that the Dwarves aren't fallen- they aren't in decline. Instead they're a potent and powerful force, with some structural limits to that power, that offers a vibrant option to the human world.

For more on Mystara and the Gazetteers, see here.

Aaron Allston, author of the really excellent Karameikos volume, returns to pen this one. Like Alfheim, we get a nice dense 96-page booklet. As with the others products in the series, the overall design is excellent. The amazing Stephen Fabain with amazing illustraiotns of people and places. The additional images showing layouts and machines are equally excellent. A couple of design points bear mentioning. The enclosed map is once again double sided, on a slightly different and sturdier paper than the previous ones. One side shows the map of Rockhome as a whole, plus cross-sections of some features, and city maps for upper and lower Dengar. The reverse side has graphics for modular city blocks, in two sizes. I'll come back to that. Interior folio cover is the only odd bit for me in the whole thing. On the previous series entries, this has offered additional maps or the like, a kind of pseudo-screen. Instead here the “Outsiders Perspectives on...” sections have been printed. Usually these are in the booklet or even a pull-out section. Bizarrely, the text blocks are printed in dark pink ink on a pink background- really, really hard to read.

In past reviews, I've walked through the book fairly thoroughly. However, my head cold this week suggests I approach this more generally. The booklet's broken into three relatively equal parts: the Players' Section, the Gazetteer Section and the Adventure Section. Like the Elves of Alfheim, Rockhome offers a nearly platonic group of Dwarves. Sure- there are a few shifts (no inherent racial antipathy towards the Elves for example). But overall you get an incredibly solid, clean and useful treatment of this race.

This is useful for both DMs & Players. The former may want to make copies to hand out for the latter. I half expected this to be a pull-out section, but I don't think that would work. This material needs to come before the rest. Instead you'd need a seperate booklet (which they do in some of the latter gazetteers). The Dwarves of Rockhome have a pretty awesome history, with nice ties back to the world of Blackmoor. Dwarves are divided into different clans, each with a different approach to life, different focus and different ideals. That's a classic approach- and mirrors how they set things up in Ylaruam, Alfheim and Glantri: developing interesting and dynamic internal relationships within the power groups of the nation.

Unlike Alfheim, Rockhome takes on the race-class question a little more directly. It introduces rules for dwarf-clerics, a new class which players can take from the beginning. The rules offer other new options- including an even more expanded discussion of the idea of skills presented in earlier gazetteer volumes. That makes sense, as dwarves might have to rely on those abilities more than others. Several options and ideas for dwarven items and armor, lifestyle, politics and roles are discussed in depth. Options for dwarven craftmagic and science are given, allowing players- high-level players to make things. The player section ends with a discussion of dwarven cities and settlements which are all built using some basic block layouts. The blocks shown on the back of the pull out map can be arranged and rearranged in different patterns, and the book talks about how those function and gives several examples. It reminds me of ICE's approach to Moria, but ever better and more clearly done here.

This opens with an even deeper treatment of dwarven history. We have racial animosity with the orcs, but not the elves. My favorite bit from the whole thing is the concept of Denwarf, an immortal-created guardian set to rule the dwarves in the early days who stepped down eventually but may return. It is a great detail- with some interesting tensions. Several cities and sites are describe din detail along with their block arrangement. These are really well done- and the breakdown of clan influences in each settlement offers a great hook for the GM. Twelves pages of NPCs- well described with motivations and personalities offer rich opportunities to the DM. They also confirm the classic dwarven approach to names- solid and serious like Barad rather than anything lighter. A treatment of monsters, including some new ones rounds this out.

This spends some time considering the three major approaches GMs will likely have toward Rockhome: passing through, one or more dwarf PCs, or an entire dwarven campaign set here. I expect the last is a rarity, but the book really offers the tools to pull that off- with tons of individual stories and an exciting overall story arc. It talks about what makes a dwarf and adventurer, and what their clan and people then means to them. And as a dwarf rises in rank and role, how dwarven politics might impinge on their life.

Probably the most interesting section appearing here are solid rules for adapting the Gazetteers to AD&D. I expect this was an attempt to open up the line to more gamers. I can't comment on the mechanics given, it only takes up a little more than a page, but it shows how TSR was evolving. The section ends with 16 pages of adventure seeds and ideas. Three major and extended adventures are plotted out- broken down by level. Then it gives several pages of smaller stories, with level suggestions. There's great ideas here- easily adapted by any DM.

I think you have two potential audiences for this. If you're a Mystaran DM (or a D&D Dwarven player) then you really ought to pick up this book. It is really well-written and a pleasure to read through. On the other hand, if you're a general fantasy rpg GM looking to drop a Dwarven nation into your campaign setting, then this is an excellent choice. There's mechanics here- but far more is giving over to cultural, society and adventure ideas. That's actually the way I ended up using this material in my own campaign. I'd had a place marked on the map as “Dwarven Lands” for several years. While they'd met Dwarves, I'd never really done anything with them. Finally I sat down and decided to, with some easy changes, just drop Rockhome into the game. Ironically, within a few sessions I wiped out the country, but that's another story...