Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Come Armed For Bear

SLA Industries is a Scottish RPG with something of potted publishing history. A game of dark urban horror, ultra violence, and extreme celebrity culture set in a distant future; SLA Industries was originally published by Nightfall Games in 1994, and after going through a few other owners and publishers, has found itself back with several of its original development team once again as Nightfall Games. In that time though, there have only been a total of eight releases for the game, so Nightfall Games has begun releasing a series of short PDF titles, each very reasonably priced, especially given the production values on each title. To date, there are only three available, but in each case, they look good and they serve as opportunity to showcase the artwork of the game’s creator, Dave Allsop. The first release is 001 – Ursa Carrien, part of the publisher’s Data Packet series.

The setting for SLA Industries is the World of Progress and more specifically, Mort City, a densely populated megalopis dominated by the SLA Industries Corporation and surrounded by several regions of extreme urban decay known as Cannibal Sectors. Besides more traditional means of law enforcement, SLA Industries trains freelancers known as Operatives who then undertake any number of jobs, known as BPNs or Blue Print Newsfiles, that range from monster hunts in the sewers and chasing down serial killers to silencing dissidents and preventing terrorist attacks. Successful completion of a BPN brings an Operative money and possibly an increase in security level, but what he really wants is fame and celebrity status, to one day look good on TV.

Running at eight pages in length and 9.96 Mb in size, 001 – Ursa Carrien describes a new creature to be found within the festering wastes that are Cannibal Sector 2, one that has mutated, evolved, and stabilised into a new niche within the Sector. Along with a full description of the creature, its ecology, its lifestyle, and its full statistics including the weapons it prefers, the Data Packet includes a full BPN for Operatives of SCL (Security Level) 8.

Carrien are the ever-breeding, ever-mutating vermin of the Cannibal Sectors, and are particularly rife in Cannibal Sector 2. Some mutate and die, some mutate into Greater Carrien, while others have mutated into this new variant, the Ursa Carrien. Standing almost three metres tall, Ursa Carrien are hunchbacked slabs of muscle and teeth that are sedentary and territorial in nature, slow to anger and almost unstoppable when roused, their bulk and strength making them capable of barging through concrete walls and smashing armour. Their territorial nature means that they are displacing Greater Carrien and spreading throughout Cannibal Sector 2. How long it will take before one includes the great fortified wall between Mort’s Downtown and the Sector and so becomes a threat is unknown…

The BPN is appropriately named “Armed for Bear.” It tasks the Operatives with determine the fate of a lost team of Operatives and sends them deep into Cannibal Sector 2. This is a relatively straightforward BPN, one which will be appreciated by anyone who likes a combat challenge. Pleasingly though, it also touches a little upon the way the SLA Industries sometimes deals with its Operatives and it requires relatively little preparation to run.

To get the fullest out of the BPN, the GM might want to purchase the Cannibal Sector 1 supplement (which is good in its own right) if the players’ Operatives want to purchase Cannibal Sector specific equipment, but any good SLA Industries GM will probably already have a copy of that. If there is an issue with the PDF it is that the information for the players and for the GM is not as clearly delineated as it should be.

Overall, 001 – Ursa Carrien is a well presented affair, with an interesting foe that the players are unlikely to forget, especially if they play through the BPN. Pocket-friendly, but still very well produced, 001 – Ursa Carrien is an excellent start to the new series of support for SLA Industries.

Friday, 29 April 2011

The Thousand Suns Signal

Thousand Suns from Rogue Games is perhaps the best emulation of Imperial Science Fiction – the subgenre best seen in the writings of Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, and Jerry Pournelle – in RPGs since your preferred version of Traveller. It offers a pleasingly simple approach to the subgenre that is relatively easy to modify to a setting of the GM’s choice, and for the players offers a means to create characters without the chance of their dying. Foundation Transmissions is a companion volume for the game, bringing together a number of short articles that either expand upon aspects of the game and its provided setting or detail an aspect of the game not covered in the core rulebook. The other notable fact about Foundation Transmissions is that it has attracted a number of first time writers and artists.

The first of Foundation Transmissions’ eight chapters is “Moving Through The Ranks,” which presents a means of handling rank and promotion in military Science Fiction games in the mode of Babylon 5, Star Trek, and Starship Troopers. It works by assigning three ranks to each of the Career Levels – Novice, Experienced, Veteran, given for the military paths in the game. Thus for the Navy career, the three given at Novice level for the Enlisted are Recruit, Able Spacehand, and Senior Spacehand, and for the Officers, Cadet, Subaltern, and Sublieutenant. During character creation, each rank grants the player extra Skill Ranks to assign, but their main purpose is to handle eligibility for promotion during play.

As a campaign progresses, a player tracks his character’s earned Experience Points and once he has accrued enough, the character is eligible to be promoted from his current rank to the next. This need not be automatic and so presents opportunities aplenty for roleplaying. For example, why is a character not being promoted when he has accrued enough Experience Points or in-game, enough time in service? Or it can act as a reward for heroic action during play. In addition, the gap between each Career Level acts as a natural break between ranks. For example, Sublieutenant Matsue Nioko cannot be promoted to the rank of full Lieutenant, which is at the Experienced Level for the Navy, unless he has, as a character, increased his skills to a required minimum.

The second chapter is devoted to the art of the con trick. “The Ways of Scheming” is all about pulling the long trick from a planetary to the galactic scale, much in the mode of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series or the television series, Firefly. It builds on Thousand Suns’ Social Combat mechanics, with the players needing to set their objectives – rig an election, bring down a government, or conduct corporate espionage, for example; their methods – bribery, extortion, infiltration, surveillance, and so on; and their assets – people, adoration, and so forth before the GM. These factors are used to generate the modifiers that will affect the rolls for the final skill checks. Unfortunately, the article leaves the reader wanting, the problem being the lack of application and the lack of examples, so we never get to see the mechanics working and the author’s intent brought to fruition.

Where the previous “Moving Through The Ranks” is easy to apply to a game, “The Ways of Scheming” is less so, being in places a touch obtuse. There is the obvious use in that any scheme can used as a framework for a campaign, perhaps with the players gaming out individual parts of the scheme, such as breaking into a bank to place a certain piece of evidence. Yet it could have been made obvious and easier to use if there had been a full example provided so that the GM could see a full scheme as the author intended. There is clever intent here, but poor editing has prevented it from being brought to the fore.

With “The Aurigan: Nomads of the Thousand Suns,” Chapter three introduces us to a new alien race. They are a biomechanical arthropod, upright turtle-like species fleeing the death of their home world and travelling aboard their massive starships through Thousand Suns space. Renowned tinkerers with a love of mechanical devices and particularly pocket watches, little is really known about the species and interaction is rare, except the occasional Aurigan which signs on as a passenger aboard commercial vessels. Although details are provided that they can be played as player characters, Aurigans are intended to be used as an NPC encounter, their being too alien for some players to roleplay. To that end, some encounter ideas would have been welcome.

The title of the fourth chapter, “Planets of the Core,” is pretty much self-explanatory, detailing the twenty or so worlds of the Meridian sector. Every planet is given its primary terrain, gravity, climate, atmosphere, government, tech level, and population as well as a quick thumbnail description. The planets themselves are a varied lot, with a cliché or two included, and perhaps could have done with a bit more description than is given. Still, this sector is easy enough to add to an existing game.

Chapters five and six, “Custom Weapons” and “Custom Protection,” are essentially the two sides of the same coin. Their rules enable a GM or player to design new arms and armour, customised or otherwise, beginning with the base concept and technological base before adding refinements. Together these determine cost, weight, damage, rate of fire, and tech level as well as a new value, concealment, for weapons, and armour value, dissipation value (protective against energy weapon fire), weight, bulk, and cost for armour. The system is really easy, so melee weapons and leather armour can easily be created as can advanced plasma rifles and powered battle armour. So for example, here is an attempt to do “Vera,” Jayne’s Callahan full-bore autolock from Firefly. It uses the assault rifle as the basis with the Assault Rifle, Spread Shot, Barrel Extension, and Revolving Magazines refinements to reflect the fact that it can fire both rifle and shotgun ammunition. Its magazines do not revolve, but rather the ammunition type is changed. This is reflected with two sets of stats for the gun. The first is for when it is fired as a rifle, the second when fired as a shotgun.

Callahan full-bore autolock, “Vera”
Damage Value: 6-4
Maximum Damage: 75-/70
Range: 32m-6m
RoF: S/A-S/A
Cost: $2975
Concealment: +5

What the previous chapters did for arms and armour, the seventh, “Robots and Androids,” does for all things robotic. Again it works much the same way, but here the GM selects a technological level or Class for his robot, from the Class V semi-autonomous models up to the synthetics of Class VII and the metallic liquid metal models of Class VIII. The obvious cues for the latter two are the Tyrell Corporation’s Nexus-6 model of Blade Runner and the T-1000 Terminator of the later Terminator movies. These are not just rules for the GM to create and design his own robots and androids, but for a player to create and play a robot character, either a mechanical android or a biological synthetic. Still, ready to play fully designed examples would have been useful.

Chapter eight, “A Space Farer’s Introduction to Lingua Terra,” rounds out Foundation Transmissions. It presents a short guide to the pronunciation of the constructed international language, Esperanto, along with five pages of common words and words pertaining to the Thousand Suns setting. The aim here is not teach either the GM or his players how to speak Esperanto, but rather to help add flavour to said setting with just a little detail.

Physically, Foundation Transmissions is a nice little softback book, with a neat and tidy layout and an array of decent artwork. What lets it down is the editing. Some of the writing should never have made it this far and really should have been sent back to the relevant authors for clarity.

There is a great deal to like about Foundation Transmissions. “Custom Weapons,” “Custom Protection,” and “Robots and Androids” round out the technical aspects of Thousand Suns, whilst other chapters such as “Planets of the Core” and “A Space Farer’s Introduction to Lingua Terra” add to the setting. Although there are places where both a better edit and more detail and examples would have been both welcome and useful, Foundation Transmissions still provides the GM with plenty to work with and use in his game.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

BattleTech at Twenty Five

When it comes to the gaming hobby, BattleTech is unique. Originally appearing as a table top game of piloted robot combat in 1984, successive publishers – first FASA, then FanPro LLC and WizKids, and now Catalyst Game Labs – have developed that game and its setting of the Inner Sphere into a Science Fiction franchise that has supported multiple board and miniature games with even more supplements and source books, numerous computer games, a television cartoon series, a collectible miniatures game, a role playing game, and novels galore. All of which revolved around battles fought between battlemechs, the giant walking combat machines that range in size from twenty to a hundred tonnes and are armed with weapons that include machine guns, lasers, missiles, auto cannons, and particle projector cannons. Over the years innumerable designs and their variants of battlemech have appeared on paper, and as miniatures in varying scales. Indeed, the fact that players could design their own battlemechs and field them against those official to the setting has always been a selling point.

I have been along for the ride for most of that time. I have played many of the BattleTech board games, played it as a miniatures game and played the collectable miniatures games, played a few of the computer games, have some of the official patches, got all of the toys based on the television series, done a little playtesting, and read just about every Classic BattleTech novel right from the start. You will probably not be surprised to hear that I even have reviewed a BattleTech gaming supplement here and there. In truth and as much as I enjoyed playing BattleTech, I was never and am not a great player of the game, and I liked reading the fiction set in the Inner Sphere more than I did playing in that setting. Plus, as clever a design as WizKids’ MechWarrior: Dark Ages was, it never quite grabbed me, let alone the fact that I am not necessarily a fan of anything that comes with the tag, “collectible.” Nevertheless, I was more than pleased to see Catalyst Game Labs release a coffee table style volume celebrating the franchise’s silver anniversary.

Indeed, so were a lot of people, for BattleTech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction won the 2010 Origins Award for Best Game Related Book. As befitting the coffee table style format, this is a very attractive looking book, its white text laid out on matt black pages throughout. Art taken from the franchise’s history appears on every page, the majority of it in full colour, but there is plenty of black and white also. Besides the artwork, the book contains an introduction to both BattleTech and the Inner Sphere; a complete timeline from the twenty-first century to the thirty-second; presentations of every licensed aspect to the franchise, from cloth patches to toys; a complete guide to the BattleTech computer games; a bibliography of every game and book released for the franchise between 1984 and 2009; and of course, eighteen new pieces of short fiction, written by some of the franchise’s best known authors, including Robert Charrette, Loren L. Coleman, William H. Keith, and Michael A. Stackpole.

The fiction ranges back and forth across the BattleTech timeline, with stories set during the era of the Star League, the Succession Wars, and the Clan Invasion as well as at the end of setting’s history with the fall of the Republic of the Sphere, and the BattleTech universe, with stories set in the Inner Sphere, on the Periphery, and on the home worlds of the Clans. Several allow authors to revisit characters previously seen in the classic novels, such as Victor Milan’s Cassie Suthorn of Comacho’s Caballeros (originally seen in 1994’s Close Quarters) in the story, “Ozymandias;” and the freeborn Clan warrior, Horse, who fought alongside the Clan Jade Falcon hero, Aidan Pryde (as described in Robert Thurston’s The Jade Phoenix Trilogy), here appears in his last days in the story, “Face in the Viewport.” Surprisingly, few of BattleTech’s major figures appear in these tales, the notable exceptions being Anastasius Focht, Precentor Martial of Comstar and first envoy the Clans prior to their invasion of the Inner Sphere, and Victor Davion, once head of the Federated Commonwealth, and later, Focht’s successor. Here Focht appears in Loren L. Coleman’s “Means to an End,” dealing with a potential assassination attempt on Tharkad, whilst in “Well Met The Future,” Michael A. Stackpole tells us of Victor Davion’s first encounter with the future Exarch of the Republic of the Sphere, Devlin Stone.

The fiction certainly captures the broad swath of the setting, from major political figures down to ordinary mechwarriors, from infantry combat up to planetary assault by Star League era battleships. The stories are snapshots of each aspect of the setting, but sometimes the lack in terms of both context and the wider picture leave the reader none the wiser. Perhaps the best of the stories comes late in Classic Battletech’s history during the period of the Jihad launched by the Word of Blake. Blaine Lee Pardoe’s “The Walking Dead” tells of a poisoned, yet noble sacrifice by warriors of Clan Smoke Jaguar, while “Teach the Wicked” by Phaedra Weldon explains the mournful strike at a reviled figure in the Word of Blake. Lastly, Keith R. A. DeCandido’s “Three Sides to Every Story” neatly captures the use and misuse of information in the Inner Sphere.

Inserted between each story are more pieces of artwork as well as two page spreads that showcase other aspects of the franchise, such as the mechwarrior known as the Black Widow, Natasha Kerensky, and the various types of battle armour. Once the fiction ends, BattleTech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction takes on a more bibliographical function, covering everything from the computer games, Battletech Virtual World, and the patches to the fiction, sourcebooks, comics, and magazines. Apart from the listings for the fiction, games, and sourcebooks – complete up until time of publication in 2009 – this is not a complete bibliography, but again more of a retrospective. Nevertheless, having the listings for the fiction, games, and sourcebooks in one place is handy, and there is a certain pleasure in noting what you have on them.

As attractive a book as BattleTech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction is, it is not quite perfect. Several of the pieces of fiction need another edit, while it would also have been useful if the book had included more than the one map of the Inner Sphere. The only included map is from the thirty-second century, the period of the Republic of the Sphere, and the setting for the MechWarrior: Dark Age collectible miniatures game. Given the book’s focus on the history of BattleTech, both in game and as a game, it would have been nice if maps had been included that covered most of the Inner Sphere’s history, especially as every period of the setting is gamed by someone. Similarly it would have been a nice touch if it was stated what each piece depicted rather just the book it was used for and its artist. Some of the art is obvious, but not all of it. Also, whilst it was great to read the detail given to BattleTech’s computer games, some background could equally been given to other aspects of the franchise.

Of course, it is the artwork that is the highlight of BattleTech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction. The book contains hundreds of pieces of artwork, much of it capturing the battlemech in all of its fearsome glory and blazing action. Unsurprisingly, the most commonly depicted battlemechs are those signature to the BattleTech setting – the Madcat, the Loki, the Atlas, the Vulture, and so on, appear again and again. Part of the pleasure of seeing this artwork is not just seeing again, but in seeing it divorced of its original appearance and thus free of any text and logos that go with a trade dress.

There are explanatory elements within BattleTech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction that make it suited for use as an introduction to the BattleTech universe. It is not quite that though, there being just not enough of a contextual explanation for much of the franchise’s myriad elements. So it is much more of a look back that those in the know, the devoted fans, will appreciate and understand. Nevertheless, BattleTech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction is a very attractive retrospective of the game that has pulled me back into the setting and make me want to play – however bad I am going to be.

Follow the Trail...

...of Cthulhu

Although there is no review today, you can follow this link to a review that I wrote of Pelgrane Press' Trail of Cthulhu. It originally appeared in The Unspeakable Oath #18 -- an excellent magazine if you are into Lovecraftian gaming -- and has now been made available online by Shane Ivy. You can read my review of issue #18 here.

In the meantime, more reviews to follow tomorrow. Thanks again for reading.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Danger of Mathematics

When it comes to Delta Green, Pagan Publishing’s update of Chaosium Inc.’s venerable RPG of cosmic horror, Call of Cthulhu, there tends to be focus upon on how the update hides the Mythos behind contemporary cultural elements. In particular, behind the threat represented by the New World Order of the post-Communist world of the 1990s and its sprawling conspiracies; and behind UFOlogy and the belief in UFOs, and the conspiracies behind both. The focus is understandable – and I am as guilty of it as anyone else – because the designers’ act of hiding the Cthulhu Mythos is incredibly clever. After all, it not only explains how entities of the Mythos can continue to survive in a media age when nothing remains hidden, but also gives a reason for the player characters to investigate the sanity depleting true nature of the Cthulhu Mythos. Yet there is element intrinsic to the Delta Green setting and it is one that is brought to the fore in The Last Equation.

The Last Equation is the latest scenario written for Delta Green by Dennis Detwiller and like GODLIKE: The Invasion of Jericho Bay has been made available for free following a successful KickStarter funding program. Available direct from the author's website, as the scenario opens, eight members of the same New Jersey family lie dead, gunned down at the hands of a post-graduate mathematics student at Columbia University, who is also dead by his own hand. The gunman also left a series of numbers at the scene, numbers that are known to possess dangerous properties. A-Cell does not direct the Delta Green agents to investigate the crime itself, that being the job of the FBI in conjunction with local law enforcement, but rather either to insert themselves into the investigation or to shadow it such that they are able to redirect it away from the case’s outré elements to something more mundane. In other words, The Last Equation is more about the cover up than the investigation, though this is not to say that the investigative process is ignored by any means. Several paths of well laid out inquiry are offered, but ultimately, these only determine the extent of cover up necessary to both keep the existence of Delta Green a secret and satisfy A-Cell.

The author discusses several means by which the investigators can achieve this cover up, none of them straight forward and all of them firmly mired in the moral murk as the potential consequences, also discussed, show. At the very worst, these consequences include one or more agents being investigated themselves for impersonating a Federal agent and exposing evidence of Delta Green’s activities. None of which is helped by the fact that the media has taken an active interest in the case. Both this aspect of the scenario and the cover up are supported with a set of solidly written NPCs, most of whom will not take kindly to the efforts of the Delta Green agents to misdirect the investigation.

To some gaming groups, The Last Equation might be too difficult to run and play. If their style favours the more gung-ho, cowboy style of fighting the Mythos with fire, then The Last Equation is definitely going to be an all too nuanced affair. For the group that likes a challenge, The Last Equation presents the opportunity to roleplay their way the murkier aspects of the conspiracy that their characters are involved in. If Delta Green has a dark, dark downside, then The Last Equation brings it to the fore.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Bursting the Bubble

In RPGs that focus on combat, it is up to both the GM and the writer to create situations that do two things. The first is to make the combat itself both interesting and challenging. The second is make the players think. Arc Dream Publishing’s GODLIKE: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936–1946 is certainly a game that focuses on combat. After all, it is set during the greatest conflict that mankind has ever known, the Second World War. To the standard set up of man-to-man conflict, GODLIKE adds a second element, that of superheroes, but not superheroes in the traditional sense. The player characters are Talents, trained commandos or marines who have amazing abilities or talents, such as being able to send your skeleton to fight for you whilst you sleep, force any mechanical object that can to open at your will, or turn into a gorilla G.I. All of these talents are fuelled by the possessor’s own willpower and can literally be turned off if an enemy breaks a Talent’s will. The standard set up in GODLIKE demands that the players be inventive in creating their Talent’s talents, usually because they only have a few points to spend just on powers. So, in its own way, GODLIKE asks much more of both the GM and the writer because it has to take account of the superpowers in order to present more interesting and more challenging situations.

Fortunately, GODLIKE: The Invasion of Jericho Bay, the latest scenario from writer, Dennis Detwiller, to be made freely available after a KickStarter programme, does both. As with Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan, this is another scenario set in the Pacific, late into the campaign against the Japanese. As it opens, the player characters are involved in the invasion of Okinawa in April, 1945. They are summoned to a briefing and given new orders: explore a new object that has appeared on the battlefield and is not only stalling the American invasion efforts, but will threaten those efforts if it is some kind of Japanese beachhead capable of delivering reinforcements. The object in question is the Yae-Take Bubble, a giant black bubble over a mile high. All efforts to penetrate the bubble so far have failed, and because it registers as having been created through Talent means, the invasion commander requests the services of the player Talents.

Investigating the Yae-Take Bubble sets up its interesting situation. Once inside, the Talents find themselves not on the island of Okinawa in the Far East, but thousands of miles away back on home soil. Which is probably something of a welcome situation for the player characters, since the last time that they will have been back in the USA would have been months, if not years ago, whilst at the same time be a perplexing situation – why exactly are they in the USA? The Yae-Take Bubble also creates the scenario’s combat challenge – the player Talents arrive without weapons. In order to explore and resolve the situation inside the Yae-Take Bubble, they are either going to have to rely solely on their talents – and remember, unless those talents involve armour, force fields, or toughness, the Talents can still be killed by bayonets, bullets, and bombs; or they are going to have to find firearms from somewhere…

The situation that is described in GODLIKE: The Invasion of Jericho Bay is actually really very simple, but the twists placed in way of the player characters make it more interesting and more challenging. This situation is made all the more complex with the addition of several NPCs that the player Talents can interact with. These NPCs are relatively simply drawn, but there is enough detail given for each for the purposes of the scenario. If there is an issue with the NPCs, it is perhaps that the Japanese enemy are relegated to the status of a faceless foe. That said, this scenario is all about the situation rather than the enemy.

Four pre-generated US Talents are given for use as either player characters, as replacement player characters, or as NPCs. All four are designed using just the standard twenty-five character points, so their talents are not particularly powerful. It would have been nice if more player Talents had been included, but player created ones will need to be built on the same number of character points. In creating these, if the GM were to give his players some advice, it would be that not Hyper- or super skill is going to work in the situation given in GODLIKE: The Invasion of Jericho Bay.

It is fantastic that this scenario is available for free. It is worth just downloading just to get an idea of what a scenario for GODLIKE: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936–1946 looks and feels like. If the GM already runs a GODLIKE campaign, particularly one set in the Pacific Theatre, GODLIKE: The Invasion of Jericho Bay is an excellent scenario to add to that campaign.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Rise of the Dud II

Since 2003, the Miskatonic University Library Association series of monographs has been Chaosium’s way of making other works available to players of both Call of Cthulhu and Basic RolePlay. Bar the printing, each monograph’s author is responsible for the writing, the editing, and the layout, so far the quality of entries in the series have varied widely and has led to some dreadful releases. Fortunately, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid is far from dreadful in terms either editing or layout, but unfortunately, just like the scenario that it is sequel to, Rise of the Dead, is dreadful in terms of storytelling and writing.

As outlined in Rise of the Dead, the setting for this series of scenarios lies a year into the future. Within the last twelve months, the world has gone to hell in a handcart. Mass sacrifices have been discovered around the world; the planet suffered a near miss with a red comet; and as fragments of the comet fell to Earth, causing earthquakes and tsunamis, world leaders were assassinated. As the scenario opens on this new post-apocalyptic future, the red comet orbits the Earth and survivors from this unnatural apocalypse face a new threat – the dead can walk. Worse, there are men and women who are capable of controlling and directing these newly arisen members of the corpse cortege. They appear to be members of a cult devoted to a being known as Zaoth.

Much of this most recent information was gained by a group of survivalists who also managed to steal a helicopter from the cultists before fleeing to Morgan Farm, a secluded retreat in Vermont. Since the apocalypse, the retreat has also become to a number of diverse groups, from local residents and an engineering team to a detachment of US Army Rangers and a BBC documentary team. The player characters – and I stress “player characters,” for like Rise of the Dead before it, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid involves no investigation whatsoever – do not come from any of these diverse groups and nor are they the same ones that appeared in Rise of the Dead. Apart from a small time crook, the six pre-generated player characters are either ex-military or wilderness guides. Their task is simple. Obtain equipment and uniforms used by the Cult of Zaoth and disguised as cultists infiltrate a nearby cult headquarters with the aim of obtaining as much information on the cult’s aims and activities as possible.

Designed for four to six players, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid describes itself as “A complete b-movie style convention scenario with highly detailed characters and hand-outs intended for a theatrical style presentation in a single long session.” Unfortunately, and just like Rise of the Dead, this is mostly true. Interestingly, this description also manages to be unhelpful in that it raises the purchaser’s expectations. The scenario is complete in that it comes with everything necessary to play, but as a b-movie style scenario, it fails to evoke anything of that genre’s feel or style, and the only exploitative aspect to Rise of the Dead II: The Raid is the fact that it is sold as a scenario for Call of Cthulhu. Just as with its forebear, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid is actually a zombie apocalypse scenario better suited for use with Basic RolePlay, there being no discernable Cthulhu Mythos present. Of course, if Rise of the Dead II: The Raid was a b-movie, it would be an extraordinarily long one at a five to seven hour second feature.

In terms of theatrical style, the author provides staging advice throughout Rise of the Dead II: The Raid, suggesting how lighting and sound can be used to enhance the play experience. Which seems appropriate because the scenario reads just like a play that the players have to sit through whilst the Keeper doles out thick dollops of dialogue and exposition. Lastly, whilst the scenario does come with both detailed characters and hand-outs, the characters are neither interesting nor engaging, and the hand-outs fail to serve either the scenario or the pre-generated characters. In fact, it is a case of the other way around. The scenario feels more like it serves the hand-outs! The only other function of the hand-outs is to set the scenario up – all seven pages of them. There are no hand-outs to be found during the actual play of the scenario, but then that is no surprise, as already mentioned, the scenario involves no investigation either.

As to the scenario’s actual play, there is surprisingly less combat involved in Rise of the Dead II: The Raid than in Rise of the Dead. Not very much less though, and what there is, is replaced by some sneaking around. The other improvement over Rise of the Dead is that Rise of the Dead II: The Raid does offer some player choice as to their characters’ actions. Or rather, the one choice – the route of their escape from the cult headquarters, because otherwise, the players and their characters have absolutely no choice. They are either pushed or led from one scene to the next, almost as if they following the plot on rails, and it should pointed out that the given provides no opportunity to achieve the aims set during the extensive player character introduction. Escaping from the cult headquarters is seen as successfully completing Rise of the Dead II: The Raid – so its plot can be summed up as “Go over there. Get captured. Run away. No repetition, hesitation, or deviation.”

Rise of the Dead II: The Raid offers no complexity in terms of background, challenges, or roleplaying. The threat faced by the player characters is mundane in terms of the genre, and whilst there is a little more information on Zaoth, the Mythos entity behind the situation described in the series, it still comes across as a “cookie-cutter” creation. Why an actual Mythos entity as described in Call of Cthulhu was not used, is a mystery, though if the entity did not have the name of Zaoth, his followers would not have looked quite so cool with another capital letter on their armbands. Still as with Rise of the Dead II: The Raid, Zaoth might still as well have been named “Debbie” for all of the effect that he has on either the scenario or the player characters.

Physically, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid is an improvement over Rise of the Dead. It is neater and tidier, and is profusely illustrated with photographs of people dressed up as zombies. Not the zombies particular to Rise of the Dead II: The Raid, but zombies none the less. Slightly odd is the fact that the hand-outs were better in Rise of the Dead than in Rise of the Dead II: The Raid, but only because the background for both scenarios is delivered as series of newspaper articles in Rise of the Dead rather than as one long narrative as in Rise of the Dead II: The Raid. Even so, this is all but irrelevant given what little bearing the hand-outs have on this scenario. The maps are decent enough though, and that is probably the best thing that anyone outside of the author can say about Rise of the Dead II: The Raid.

Given how dull Rise of the Dead is, it is no surprise that its sequel is a match in every aspect. Yet because our expectations have already been lowered by Rise of the Dead, the sequel feels worse. Worse because even with such expectations, what scant efforts have been made to improve the scenario – the extensive use of the photographs, for example – have no discernable effect on the end result. If the prequel was dull, the sequel is worse: Rise of the Dead II: The Raid is banal to the point that nobody should be paying for it.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

A New Keep on the Borderlands

Having looked at B2, The Keep on the Borderlands for Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Return to the Keep on the Borderlands for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition, you would have thought that this mini-series would have ended there and then. After all, there is no version of the scenario available for the game’s current iteration, Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. In which you would be absolutely correct, but also quite, quite wrong. Keep on the Borderlands, as it is now known, is not available to the general public and so cannot be found on the shelves of your local friendly gaming store. Rather it was made available via Wizards of the Coast’s in-store D & D Encounters official play program. This program is built around short campaigns or seasons consisting of several chapters, each chapter containing four sessions or Encounters. An Encounter is designed to take roughly two hours to play through with just the one encounter being played through each week. Thus a complete season should offer about twenty sessions of play. The aim of the program is not only to introduce both new and old players alike, but also to facilitate easier and more casual play. Hence the shorter playing time for each Encounter and the capacity for players to drop out one week and return another, presenting a version of the game for which less commitment is demanded of the players.

The other purpose of the Encounters Program is to promote particular releases from Wizards of the Coast. For example, the second Season of the Encounters Program tied in with the release of Dark Sun Campaign Setting for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. Similarly, the Keep on the Borderlands series – the third Season – fittingly ties in with the release the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line, in particular, Heroes of the Fallen Lands and the Rules Compendium, since it takes the game back to the archetypal setting popularised by B2, The Keep on the Borderlands. It should be pointed out that this review is also being done in conjunction with Wizards of the Coast’s promotional efforts, though of the Encounters Program, rather than of the Keep on the Borderlands Season as a new Season of scenarios is now being run. The reason for my providing you with this information is because Wizards of the Coast is the only source of these scenarios and I had to ask for them directly. That said, entries from each season have appeared on eBay, but their relative rarity has made them collectible and means that their prices have been quite high. Anyway, I appreciate Wizards of the Coast giving me the chance to look at this particular season and so enable me to bring this mini-series of reviews to a logical conclusion.

Physically, each Encounters Season consists of several kits, one per chapter. So for example, the complete Keep on the Borderlands Season consists of five individual kits. The first or base kit comes with a few more bits and pieces than just a scenario. The first of these is a double-sided poster map that has two purposes. One side can be used to promote the Season’s regular sessions, whilst the other is used to track the Renown Points gained by each player over the course of the Season. Next is a set of six character sheets, done in full colour and double-sided. They include a Halfing Rogue, a Human Fighter, an Elf Sun Warpriest, a Human Storm Warpriest, a Dwarf Fighter, and just a single Eladrin Wizard. In general, these sheets are well done and easy to read, but it would have been nice to have a little background on each character from which their players could have roleplayed. In addition, there is a set of Delver Reward cards, earned during play and an Instruction Sheet. The latter describes the contents of the kit and how to use it, plus a blank character sheet and a tracking sheet for each session.

Also in the base kit is a set of twenty-seven On-going Damage Cards. Each of these is a Condition Card that can be used in both this Season and in a normal game of Dungeons & Dragons. They serve as the reward for the DMs who run this particular Season.

The scenario itself – and every Chapter after – comes in the traditional folder format. The card cover contains the twenty-page black and white booklet that is the actual adventure and a full colour poster map that folds out to show the four locations the chapter’s four Encounters. The maps are also reprinted on the inside of the card cover, though in black and white rather than colour. A set of player character, monster, trap, and condition token are provided to use with the poster map.

Playing through the Keep on the Borderlands Encounters Season not only earns the player characters rewards in the traditional sense – gold, Experience Points, and magical items, all of which are listed at the start of each chapter, but also Renown Points. These are awarded to the players for actions in the game and out of it. For example, five Renown Points are awarded if a player creates his own character for the Season; three for completing an Encounter; and one each for reviving an ally, killing three enemy minions in one attack, hitting a single enemy for fifteen or more damage, and so on. Once a player has accrued twenty Renown Points he is given one of the Delver Reward cards. These can be used once per subsequent Encounter to grant the user’s character a bonus to his next roll as well as a slightly better bonus to an ally character. Later on the Season, a DM will be able to hand out other rewards, but these do not come in the base kit.

The setting for this Season’s campaign, more properly known as Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents, is the Chaos Scar. It is detailed both here in the first scenario and in Dungeon #176, though this article includes both that information and a better version of the area map given in the booklet. The region has been scarred in ages past by a starfall, and the barren strip has since become home to caves and monsters, a cult devoted to Tiamat, and other dangers. The module references the town of Fallcrest, so the Chaos Scar is located within travel distance of the Nentir Vale first described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. Where exactly the Keep of this adventure is located in relation to the Chaos Scar is not made clear, as it is not marked on the map, but can only be a short distance away as the player characters move between the Keep and the Chaos Scar and back again, with some regularity. That said, the Chaos Scar itself is roughly shaped like a hemispherical amphitheatre, so it is not unlike the shape and structure of the ravine that is the Caves of Chaos in both B2, Keep on the Borderlands and Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.

The Keep in Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents is “Restwell Keep,” rumoured to have once been the home to bandits, a dragon, hobgoblins, and more. Of late it has been take over by a paladin, Lord Drysdale, who hopes to restore order over its previous lawfulness, and this has caused some friction with the inhabitants that have been there for a while. The player characters arrive in the traditional fashion that is, having worked as caravan guards. Once there, they find themselves in the employ of a local friar and herbalist, Benwick. A popular local man around Restwell Keep, he shares his concerns with the adventurers that cultists devoted to Tiamat have found a home in Restwell Keep and threaten both its future and that of its inhabitants. Benwick wants the adventurers’ help in routing out the cult and its members at the Keep, and to that end, has them perform a number of short tasks, including rescuing a spy within the cult and confronting the chief cultist at the Keep, the banker and self-confessed ex-thief, Ferdinand Ronnik. Although the adventurers will not confront Ronnik in the four Encounters laid out in the base kit, they will at least be on his trail by the end of the fourth.

There is a pleasing progression to the kits. In the four Encounters of the first kit, the adventurers visit a series of separate places, whereas in the second kit, they get to delve into their first dungeon which is comprised of three Encounters and does involve an actual dragon. By the third chapter, the adventurers are expected to be second level and thus ready to enter a testing dungeon located below Restwell Keep – something that never in previous iterations of the module. A major plot twist also occurs at the end of this Chapter, forcing the adventurers to change allegiance and sending them off into the Chaos Scar in search of their former ally, all before rushing back to help save Keep Restwell in the fifth Chapter. By now third level, the characters will find themselves deeply involved this cinematic defence, and should have accrued enough Renown Points earn an Adventurer Reward card each. This card can be used once per session to re-roll an At-Will or Encounter attack roll.

Each of the Encounters consists of a set-up scene and a combat scene, the latter making use of the poster map. The set-up scenes usually provide situations where the players can roleplay, and while most of the actual Encounters focus on combat, one of them does involve a skill challenge. The short nature of each session in the Encounters Program means that they are also very direct and straightforward. While two hours is the given play time for each session, divorce them of the Encounters Program and it would be easy enough for a normal gaming group to play through two of the Encounters in three hours.

In comparison with earlier iterations of the setting, Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents is very light in terms of detail. In fact, the Keep is barely described, the half page of details folded in with descriptions of the major NPCs and the immediate region around the Keep, and its best description is actually the view of it given from above. This should not be seen as a design flaw, but as part of the format and purpose of the Encounters Program. With B2, Keep on the Borderlands, it was a case of the DM having to extract a story from the contents of the scenario, whereas, with Return to the Keep on the Borderlands, the DM had to pick and choose the elements he wanted, otherwise the degree of detail threatened to overwhelm his running of the module. The aim in Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents is very much on giving the players an experience and in the process, tell the story provided in the Encounters right through to its heroically rousing ending. The end result is that Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents is the lightest, yet most straightforward and direct version of the setting to date.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Rise of the Dud

Since 2003, the Miskatonic University Library Association series of monographs has been Chaosium’s way of making other works available to players of both Call of Cthulhu and Basic RolePlay. Bar the printing, each monograph’s author is responsible for the writing, the editing, and the layout, so far the quality of entries in the series have varied widely and has led to some dreadful releases. Fortunately, Rise of the Dead is far from dreadful in terms either editing or layout, but unfortunately, is dreadful in terms of storytelling and writing.

The setting for Rise of the Dead is one year into the future. Within the last twelve months, the world has gone to hell in a handcart. Mass sacrifices have been discovered around the world; the planet suffered a near miss with a red comet; and as fragments of the comet fell to Earth, causing earthquakes and tsunamis, world leaders were assassinated. As the scenario opens on this new post-apocalyptic future, the red comet now orbiting our planet ominously, a group of survivalists have arrived at one of the recent meteor strikes, their geologist wanting a sample. These are the player characters, and I stress “player characters,” for Rise of the Dead involves no investigation whatsoever.

Designed for four to eight players, Rise of the Dead is described on the cover as “A Post-Apocalyptic Scenario for Call of Cthulhu,” and in the frontispiece as the first part of a series and as “A Complete Scenario Kit.” All of which is mostly true. Mostly true in that it does describe a post-apocalyptic scenario for Call of Cthulhu; that it is part of a series – the second part, Rise of the Dead II: The Raid is already out and the full title of this part, Rise of the Dead Part I: The Arrival, is also given in the frontispiece; that it is complete as is; and that it is a kit in that the author gives everything to build one thing only, and that one thing in exact, unerring detail sans modification or deviation. Where it is not mostly true is that it is not a scenario in that it does not present a complex situation which the players have to apply any thought to solving its problems. Instead, the solution lies in the application of good old fashioned iron, or rather, firearms. Right from the start, the player characters are presented with one combat situation after another, and out of the scenario’s six scenes, just one of them will absolutely not be resolved by the application of force. Unless the player characters – or even the players – decide to shoot each other.

The last untruism is that Rise of the Dead is a scenario for Call of Cthulhu. Whilst it is true that it is written for use with the Call of Cthulhu rules, the Mythos is completely absent. The only threats faced by the player characters – other than that of their players having to essentially sit through this affair – consist of other men with guns and zombies. Now there is an alien entity mentioned in the scenario’s introduction, but given the fact that the author tells us nothing about him, he might as well have been named “Debbie” for all of the effect that he has on either the scenario or the player characters. Otherwise, Rise of the Dead is not a Call of Cthulhu scenario, but a zombie apocalypse scenario. To be honest, the clue – and I say clue in its loosest possible sense, because that title is about as subtle as a dead giveaway -- is in the scenario’s title.

Even so, am I wrong to have expected something more than a linear exercise in nose leading? To have expected something that demands more of the players? Either way, Rise of the Dead offers neither and nor does it provide anything out of the ordinary when it comes to the zombies. Arguably, Rise of the Dead should have been offered for the Basic RolePlay system rather than for Call of Cthulhu whilst also being offered as a standard horror scenario. Had that been done, then the purchaser’s expectations might not have been raised with it being for the wrong game.

Physically, Rise of the Dead is adequately done. It does not help the Keeper that there is little explanation prior to the scenario’s beginning. There are no illustrations, but there are maps and these are nice and clear. What few hand-outs given in the scenario really only set the scene for its opening scene despite the fact that they are actually more interesting than the supposed adventure to come. Eight pre-generated survivalist player characters are given, each ready to play. They are quite detailed, but not all that interesting, and it does not help that their backgrounds are written in the third person, so fail to engage the reader. It would have been better had they been written in the second person so that the reader and thus potential player could better identify with them. Also, several of the potential player characters identify NPCs important to them. Unfortunately, none of these NPCs appear in the scenario. So that is one potential set of character motivations completely ignored then.

Throughout the scenario the author gives staging advice, suggesting what lighting, music, and sound effects to use, and at the end, explains its origins as a campaign that had been adapted into a series of convention scenarios. This is as about as much Keeper advice as the scenario provides. Then again, how much advice does the Keeper need to have if all he is expected to do is point guns and the undead at his player characters? Oh hold on. There is piece of dialogue that needs to be read out to the players. This is about as demanding as it gets, so all the Keeper has to do is emote his best William Shatner impersonation, roll the dice, and cross off the numbers.

If Rise of the Dead is a convention scenario, and it is, then it should say so on its cover. That it does not is misleading. Just as saying that this scenario is for Call of Cthulhu is misleading. It is a horror scenario and nothing more, one that is hindered by its lack of depth and detail, and hampered by its linear structure. There is though, a potentially interesting campaign to be found in the pages of Rise of the Dead. Unfortunately, it is only described in the scenario’s hand-outs, and we have to make do with this dull sequel instead.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Fortune On Open Design's Fifth

Let it be known that for whatever reasons, Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition is far from my favourite iteration of the classic fantasy roleplaying game. Which begs the question, what I am doing reviewing a book that is expressly written with that game system in mind when my target audience are not necessarily fans of that game either? The answer is simple. Soldiers of Fortune is from a publisher that I like – Open Design; which publishes a magazine that I like – Kobold Quarterly; which publishes supplements that I like, from the Zobeck Gazetteer: An Introduction to the Free City to Sunken Empires: Treasures and Terrors of the Deep; and because Open Design is celebrating its fifth birthday last week. So think of this, if you will, as a birthday present for all concerned at Open Design. A late birthday present I will admit, but a birthday present all of the very same.

Soldiers of Fortune is the latest sourcebook from Open Design, an examination of the mercenary and the sellsword, of the reasons that he fights, of the ways in which this can be introduced to a campaign, and of the ways in which his wars, battles, and campaigns can involve the player characters. Ostensibly, it is written for use with Open Design’s house setting of Midgard, which the publisher began describing with the Zobeck Gazetteer: An Introduction to the Free City, but much of the contents of Soldiers of Fortune applies to any fantasy medieval setting as much as it does to Midgard.

The book opens with a discussion of the most obvious question when it comes to war – why? The five reasons given – Conquest, Defence, Necessity, Patriotism, and Religion are not examined to any great depth, and nor need they be, since that will come with whatever flavour and detail that the DM wants to add. Each reason though is supported by a trio of adventure hooks, one for each of Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition’s character tiers. There are also suggestions on how to run a multi-system campaign, for example, using Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battles to handle the broader combat whilst still using Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition for the character involvement.

As its title suggests, “Warfare in Midgard,” the second chapter is perhaps the most specific to Open Design’s home setting. It examines how each of the major races in Midgard approaches and handles warfare, so providing background material that works well with the five reasons for war mentioned above. The more generic part of the chapter provides three extended skill challenges – Besieged, Command the legion, and Defend the Kingdom, that each in their way map out a whole military campaign. Again, they require fleshing out with flavour and detail, but are easily adapted to other settings.

The third chapter, “Midgard Stratagems,” devotes itself to the most highly regarded treatise on strategy in Midgard, “The Midgard Stratagems.” Written by the near mythical heroic knight, Sir Yaran the Even-Handed, it lays out and discusses the seven edicts or principles of strategic warfare – the Calculations of War, The Challenge of War, Positioning, Engaging the Force, The Army on the March, Areas of Resistance, and The Five Situations of War. Heavily influenced by Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, these pieces of advice are not really that specific to Midgard such is the aphorism-like nature of each. What this means is that they can easily be slipped into the setting of the DM’s choice. Now while the advice is good, it is almost a pity that the seven edicts were presented separately so that a player could have them for his character to read in-game independent of the rest of Soldiers of Fortune. Perhaps they could be made available as a download for that purpose. A nice touch is that each edict is supported with an associated background, representing a character’s mastery of said edict. For example, the associated background for the fifth edict, The Army on the March is “Field Medicine,” which grants bonuses that enable an army to march effectively without succumbing to the effects of terrain, weather, and disease.

Mechanically, mercenary characters are supported with just the single new Theme, that of Mercenary, but a host of new Feats; At-Will, Encounter, Daily, and Utility Powers of levels one through twenty-nine; and Paragon Paths. The Powers, some of which work with the use of siege engines, are drawn from a variety of sources, enabling Arcane, Divine, Martial, and other Powers to select them instead of the standards given for their associated classes. Which means that it is possible to build mercenary style characters that are not just Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers, but also Mages, Priests, Warlocks, and so on. This aspect is also carried into the four Paragon Paths. While “Soldier of Fortune” and “Veteran of War” are what more or less what you would expect, the author gives two other interesting Paragon Paths. The first is the “Sacrosanct Legionnaire,” which is for the mercenary who fights with the conviction of his faith, while the “Spellscourge Mercenary” actively hunts down spellcasters for coin and country. Certainly the latter lends itself to interesting possibilities away from the battlefield as the potential enemy of a player character spellcaster.

One issue that the author raises with these new options is that of party optimisation. The inference is that this an important aspect of the game and of the mercenary campaign, but none of these aspects, important or otherwise are really ever discussed. Except that is, in the author’s note that character optimisation should never come at the expense of character, and though good advice, seems at odds with his intent. We shall never know, for the matter is left un-discussed.

Every Dungeons & Dragons supplement has to have its selection of magical items of course, and fortunately, those in Soldiers of War are appropriate, well thought out, and amusing in places. Of the latter, the Deserter’s Boots stand out, preventing as they acts of cowardice by making harder to run away from battle. In fact, Soldiers of War contains few personal magical items, listing instead the Battle Standards carried by various forces in Midgard along with the abilities they grant to their units, as well as several common rituals and martial practices. The given Battle Standards can easily be adjusted to most fantasy settings, or at the very least serve as inspiration for both DM and players to create their own. In general, the rituals and practices, such as Forced March, Inspiring Speech, and Supplies Divination are more utilitarian than combative in nature.

To get a mercenary campaign started, Soldiers of Fortune includes a short battle scenario designed for five characters of seventh level. “The Battle of Sanguine-Crag Pass” is again nominally set in the world of Midgard, but is easily located elsewhere. The scenario opens with the player characters hired to take a mountain pass at all costs, and is presented not just as a series of encounter to be overcome, but also as a series of skill challenges that replicate the guidelines given earlier in the book. As with much of the rest of the book, this is another example that can be fitted to suit other campaigns and settings.

Rounding out Soldiers of Fortune is an extensive bestiary of “Monsters, Minions, and Templates.” The templates, such as Bold Commander, Inspiring Sergeant, Jittery Conscript, and Reckless Commander allow a DM to add detail and differentiate between the NPCs in his military campaign, whilst minion hordes get new powers for on the battlefield that avoids the DM having to roll for every single one. The new monsters range from the generic archetypes for the major races and mercenary types to be found in Midgard right up to Perun, God of War and Lightning! The last three entries – the ballista, the cannon, and the trebuchet – will invariably end up on the battlefield and tie into the feats and Powers given earlier.

Physically, Soldiers of Fortune is a nice looking book, though you getting the feeling that both the artwork and the cartography would have looked better had both been presented in colour. Although it needs an edit in places, the book is well written.

If Soldiers of Fortune has a problem, it lies in the balance between the generic content and that relevant to Midgard. The likelihood is that the reader is going to want more of either, if not both. So there is a certain lack of depth to the book for that reason, just as there is a certain lack depth in the book because the book never examines the place of the mercenary beyond the battlefield. It is almost as if they have no interior life. Neither problem as such is down to the author. The first comes of his remit from the publisher, as does the second, but the second also comes from the choice of game system which does not always lend itself towards play away from the skirmish style play mandated by the Encounters format.

Nevertheless, this is far from being a poor book. Soldiers of Fortune provides an excellent set of tools if the DM wants to run a more military orientated campaign in his Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition game and the book is full of details, large and small, that the DM can bring to his wars.