Review: FAITH: A Garden in Hell

FAITH: A Garden in Hell is a starter kit for playing FAITH from Burning Games. We’ve been watching the development of this game system over the last few years, and this starter set is a great place to get started with FAITH.

The Starter Set includes a rule book, an adventure book, four pre-generated characters, a deck for play, a deck with NPCs, gear, and robots, a deck with monsters, and some boss cards all neatly packed in an easy to transport box.

FAITH is set in a future where human civilization has fallen and the Earth is ruled by warlords. We would be fated to stay on earth, but an alien civilization arrived and offered a new option, to work for them as soldiers or laborers. These insectoid aliens are called Corvo, and need reinforcements to help in their fight against the Iz’kal, an aquatic race. I really like the touch that the Corvo required any humans that joined up with them be sterilized so that the Iz’kal couldn’t start a slave army of their own. The two societies were locked in something of a cold war, neither side gaining ground until the Ravagers showed up, a gene-stealing race intent on bringing new samples back to their Queen. The Iz’kal, Corvo, humans, and a fourth race called Raag are now tenuously united to fight against this new enemy. They also make up the four playable races in the game.

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Review: Story, Please! – An Adventure-Building Deck for No, Thank You Evil!

I finally got my copy of Story, Please – An Adventure-Building Deck for No, Thank You Evil! last week. I never got any alert to redeem my copy from the Kickstarter and because of the craziness of life didn’t realize it until around Christmas. But emailing any company during the holidays is pointless, so it was a bit before Monte Cook Games had time to solve my issue which they did with much graciousness. Then even longer for me to get around to redeeming it once I got my redemption codes all worked out.

But this weekend, my daughter, age 6, and I got to take out the expansion for a test drive. We loved it. For her, she could look at the pictures and pick places and stories that looked cool or cute or whatever metric a 6 year old uses to pick things. While I the parent had simple guides to help narrate a story. One of the problems I found with playing No, Thank You Evil! with such a young kid is that they need lots of guides and prompts, and that is hard for me as an adult to remember to give them. I have spent so many years working towards collaborative storytelling, that it’s hard to go back to basics and run a game where you need to give the player(s) more information and options. Add this to the enthusiasm of a kid who has dragged me out of bed before I’ve even had coffee to play, and it’s rough to give her the best experience I can. So I was ultra excited when I heard about these cards and story prompts, and even happier now that I’ve seen them in action.

Picture of the story cards laid out in play

In the box you get 100 cards of various types: Story cards that give you dilemmas and problems to solve, Place cards that give you three locations based on a picture, People cards that have many of the characters from Storia, Map cards, Handout cards, Stuff cards, and Twist cards. I’m most impressed with the Story and Place cards because those are the tools I needed the most as the GM. Each comes with a beautifully illustrated pictures and three options of either story or place based on that picture from simple to detailed. My daughter absolutely loved the People cards because she knew them from the stories and some of the adventures from the base game that we’ve ran. For her they were almost like old friends.

So on a grading scale of 1 to 5 dice – Story, Please is hands down a 5 dice product. It enhances the main game without distracting from the fun, which is rare in a supplement and I really needed them to help run the game smoothly and quickly. My only experience with the game is for running it for a young child, but I can totally see new gamers (10-12 years old) using these cards to help create their own stories. So if you own No, Thank You Evil! this is a must buy supplement!

Review: Gods and Icons

Gods and Icons cover showing several of the Icons contained within

The Icon mechanic in 13th Age is one of the more interesting additions to a system that builds on your standard d20 game. The Icons can help, or hurt you, depending on the relationship you build with them. Each have different priorities and strong suits, and of course allies and enemies. Gods and Icons, from Dread Unicorn Games, builds on the existing world to add more flavor to the Icons.

The Icons are well fleshed out in the 13th Age core book, but Gods and Icons goes even further, giving the players and the GM the option to incorporate alternative icons that have clear analogues in the core book, but provides names and a much more expanded history for each. For example, The Dwarf King analogue is King Thorbal of the Glittering Gem. There are then examples of his politics, and a list of organizations operating under his purview. It also details his relationships with each of the other icons, and gives some ideas of variants that you could use to make King Thorbal slightly more unique in your game.

The one thing I like with each Icon page is that it also provides a list of gods that the Icon is associated with. I play a cleric in 13th Age, and I wanted a solid list of gods to grab onto and explore for building up my character. I’m incredibly bad at coming up with names on my own. So, the gods aspect of Gods and Icons is particularly useful for me.

Gods and Icons introduces three pantheons of gods, the Bright Gods, the Thirsty Gods, and the Old Gods. Each pantheon is based more on geography, though certain races are more likely to follow one pantheon then another. The book describes the gods in each pantheon, including the cults that follow them and their cultural impact. I think these small details can flesh out the world, and helps you build a believable culture in the game that your character is a part of. There’s also alternative names and variant rules for the gods, which also helps you make your world your own.

In addition to the new gods, there’s new domains for Clerics and new talents for Druids, Paladins, and Rangers to go along with the new pantheons. For example, your Druid can take Blessing of the Sparrow, giving you a bit of mischief to your magic. There is also a list of new locations, holy sites and unhallowed grounds related to the gods for your players to explore.

In addition to expanding the world of 13th Age with both gods and Icons, this supplement lists new items to give to your players based on Icon rolls. What’s really cool is they include tables, that are divided up by class for you to roll on to decide what items to hand out. And even more, you can decide if you want to give a useful item, in which case only a few items in the table will be in the pool you roll for. If instead you want to truly randomly hand out the loot more options are available. The tables you end up with include loot from the core book, 13 True Ways, and the Gods and Icons book.

The last additional worldbuilding included in the book are new races and NPC appearance tables. These tables can help you randomly decide on a race, gender, icon, and quirk for each of your NPCs. The new races give your players a lot more options on what they want to play – I didn’t even know half-owlbear was a thing. A few of the other options include Dhampir, Goblin, and of course, Gelatinous Troglodyte. I want to see an adventuring part with one of those guys!

Gods and Icons also has a Player’s Guide version that you can give to your group. This includes most of the same information, excluding the loot tables and the locations. There is also an introductory adventure available, called Towers in the Mist, which includes pre-generated characters and helpful hints to GMs running 13th Age for the first time. This includes suggestions on boons from Icon Relationship rolls and how to present them, which should give the GM an idea of ways to frame such interactions in the future. Like with Sleeping Lady, another Dread Unicorn release, the adventure gives the GM ideas on how to alter it depending the number of players and experience they have with RPGs, something even somewhat experienced GMs can lack confidence in doing for the first time.

Overall, if you’re looking to make your campaign of 13th Age a little more expansive, I would highly recommend picking up Gods and Icons. Even if you’re not quite at that stage yet, I think Tower in the Mist is a great introductory adventure, for both the players and the GM.

Gods and Icons is available on DriveThruRPG for $14.95 as a PDF, or $29.95 as a softcovered book. The Players Guide is $9.95, and The Tower in the Mist is $4.95. If you want all three, you can purchase them as a bundle for only $18.45.

*The Redacted Files received a free copies of these supplements for review purposes.

Review: Dungeon Crate

I decided to try out another RPG-themed subscription box, so this month I received my first box from Dungeon Crate! Dungeon Crate has been going since about the beginning of the year, and they have pictures of what was in the previous boxes which gave me a better idea of what I could expect in my box. Each box has a theme, and the one I received was Elementally Speaking, with lots of elemental-related items.

Shows the box before and immediately after opening. Box looks like a small chest with the logo on the top. The box is filled with prown paper packing, a sheet about the contents, and the loot!

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Review: Delta Green Agent’s Handbook

Delta Green Agent Handbook Cover. Shows a man looking fearfully to the side in the woods, while carrying a book.

The designer of Red Markets and long-time contributor to Role-Playing Public Radio Caleb Stokes once remarked that games like Call of Cthulhu are, contrary to popular belief, just as escapist as your stereotypical sword-wielding adventuring fantasy, only in a different way. I couldn’t agree more, and I love them for it. I first came to tabletop role-playing a little after I’d just gone blind. Well, I’d been pretty much blind as far as most people were concerned for quite a while. But Where before I’d been able to make out shapes, perceive color and detect motion, now I truly, functionally could not see. I felt frail and small and decidedly mortal. And then I found a podcast feed from something called The Unspeakable Oath, with actual play recordings of a game called Delta Green.

This variant of Call of Cthulhu starred members of a conspiracy within the United States federal government who conducted investigations within investigations, concealed evidence while trying to find the horrible truth, discredited witnesses of the unnatural, and served as the only effective defense against things man was not meant to know. It was a hard game, one that challenged you to play smart and watch out for any angle because the odds of emerging with your body and sanity intact were already vanishingly small. And therein lies the escapism: with the whole world, the uncaring cosmos arrayed against you in all its apathetic splendor, you play a puny human that goes out into the dark to fight the monsters with nothing but a Glock, a fake ID and the knowledge that you can only ever forestall the inevitable, because if you don’t do it, no one else will. Fuck the odds, humanity is still here and will be until these agents are dead at least, because that’s what it means to be Delta Green. It was a setting whose fatalism and sense of gallows humor appealed to me. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the books from which these games were run had been published more than a decade before and long since disappeared from store shelves. That would change of course, with the advent of electronic sales and print on demand, Delta Green could be had again, but too there was talk of more. Delta Green would rise again.

And now it has, in the form of an entirely standalone product with its own line of hardcover releases scheduled through this year and the next at the very least. Born of Kickstarter and gifted with the depressingly rich world of Post-9/11 covert operations to muck around with for background, the new Delta Green RPG promises a thrilling new world of modern mythos horror for your agents to die in: nihilists rejoice!

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Review: RPG Crate

RPG Crate Box

A lot of subscription boxes are hit or miss. I’ve actually never kept a subscription for one longer then a few months. But I was really excited to hear about RPG Crate– a subscription box that aligned with one of my greatest passions. RPG Crate advertises that it has “Fantastic Tabletop Roleplaying loot delivered right to your castle steps! Subscribers will receive a monthly RPG Crate which may include up to a dozen different products; full modules, maps, dice, miniatures, exclusive adventure settings, and other tabletop role-playing game treasures.” I subscribed to get my hands on the first box and was super excited to have it arrive this month.

Box, closed and opened. White box with red and green sides, says RPG Crate on the top, and Critical hit on the side. When opened there is red and green tissue paper

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Review: CypherCaster Magazine, Issue 006

Cover for CypherCaster Magazine, issue 6. Shows aliens leaving a space ship, blasters in hand on a desert planet

CypherCaster Magazine is a great fanzine for all Monte Cook Games, with a ton of valuable information and inspiration with each release. I have found valuable information with each release, and the latest issue is no exception.

The first piece is a short story set in the world of Gods of the Fall written by Bruce Cordell. There’s not a lot about the setting, but there is a lot of world building that really helped me get a feel for the setting. For those of you who don’t know, Gods of the Fall was part of the Cypher System kickstarter earlier this year as a setting book. It builds a world where the gods have disappeared, but years later people have dominions they can control awakened. There’s a lot to love about this setting, most of all the flexibility of the powers, and how perception can change them.

There is also a short story by Andrew Cady, called Field Mission, which is an action piece set in the world of The Strange. It has a Lovecraftian angle that I really love, and I only wish that it could have been longer.

I really love the small focused setting in Qi for Numenera, written by Chris Fitzgerald. Miranda’s House is a boarding house that you can have your PCs stay in or find a lead at. There’s descriptions of the staff and guests, and what is really great is that the NPCs are given a short description as well as strengths and weaknesses. The strengths and weaknesses really give you an idea of who the character is and how to play them, but isn’t super restrictive and doesn’t require a lot of reading or things to keep track of. There’s a great diversity of people to encounter, plus a menu of food that can be found there! I haven’t seen a Ninth World menu anywhere else, and the creativity was great. Now I want a whole article focused on the regional delicacies of the Ninth World.

The bulk of this release is a really interesting intergalactic police cypher setting called Sector Agents, created by David Wilson Brown. It gives some really great advice on incorporating the variety of foci for PCs as different alien species in a way I think really works out well. I really enjoy pulpy settings, and Brown doubles down on providing that. We’ve been talking about building a Star Trek-esque campaign for a cypher game, and this has so many great ideas and resources, including tables for creating star systems, a table for planetary politics, and a random mission generator. Plus, there’s the laws for interstellar space that your Sector Agents will enforce. This issue really helps give you the resources you need to run a game in the setting, with five species that can be encountered or played by a PC, including ones that aren’t bipedal.

There are two adventures that accompany the Sector Agents setting, the first called “The Curious Case of Praxis-3” by Rustin Coones, and the second written by TRF friend John WS Marvin, “The Prisoner of Morpheus Station.” You’ll have all of the resources you need to try out this really fun looking setting and have your own pulpy, police procedural.

Great minds think alike, and it was a pleasant surprise to see the Vehicles with Character article by Marc Plourde. Vehicles in the Cypher games haven’t been given much attention, and we’ve talked about creating a new system using the character creation rules to make a really special ship on TRF before. Luckily, Plourde did the work for us! Using the same basic outline for building a character, he outlines how different parts of a ship are analogous to a character, and how points should be distributed. He has a huge list of upgrades that are available for your ship, but what I really love is his suggestion that both credits and XP can be used to buy these. Many parts of the ship creation reminded me of the Firefly (Cortex+) system for building a ship, with choosing distinctions and assets. But the method he outlines is really a great fit for cypher system, and I think it’s something anyone running a Cypher game with a ship in it should read.

There is also a campaign set in a new recursion, which is described in Issue 005, called Zuomeng by Rustin Coones, Scott Robinson & Jennifer Ross. The setting is full of pirates and your agents must determine what Rukian agents are doing near a US naval base.

I have found a wealth of information, ideas, and inspiration in each issue of CypherCaster Magazine, and I am happy to read it each time. The magazine always has a really diverse set of articles, and the ideas that I read have been consistently great. However, this issue was plagued by some formatting issues and one difficult to read font. I don’t think any of this is distracting enough to prevent me from giving two thumbs up and my recommendation to add it to your Cypher resource list.

You can find this Issue 006 at DriveThruRPG for $4.

Check out my review for Issue 001 here.

Review: Extreme Cyphers

Sometimes a regular cypher just won’t do…

Extreme Cyphers is the newest glimmer from Monte Cook Games and is compatible with Numenera, The Strange, and The Cypher System. It contains 40 new Cyphers with much more dramatic effects then the standard cyphers found throughout the games. There’s a handy table to roll on to make it so you can randomly hand out these cyphers, but I think as a GM you might want to pick out these cyphers for special occasions.

I love that within the Cypher system a glimmer like this can be used within any of the games. There’s a table included that gives the forms that the cypher could take in the Ninth World, as well as the common recursions in The Strange. This should also give you some ideas how they could appear in your own setting using the Cypher System.

These cyphers are overpowered and some could have some long term effects on your game, like the introduction of a volcano in the middle of a previously geologically boring region. Or allowing a PC to heal up all of their pools to full simultaneously while getting rid of all diseases and poisons. Or even causing everyone within the given radius to rage and attack each other. As a wise man once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” and there’s all kinds of things that can happen if your party maybe forgets being responsible when they have the ability to take the shape of any creature they know to exist.

Any of these cyphers would be a great legendary artifact the party is charged with acquiring, and maybe even destroying. Or maybe they need it just so they can get to the next stage of a plan. Or maybe it’s in the hands of a villain and they need to make sure that they don’t use it. Whatever the reason you introduce an extreme cypher, they certainly can bring an extra level of risk or power to your campaign

This is a really useful glimmer, and very powerful cyphers are something that I think are a great addition to the system. In the Numenera campaign I recently wrapped up running I wanted a one use powerful object, and expanding some options for that is very helpful. One thing that I wish was included is what happens if an extreme cypher is in your possession when you have more then your allowed number of cyphers. I think that this would likely lead to more instability, and perhaps more explosive problems if you hold onto one of these for too long.

Extreme Cyphers is written by Bruce R. Cordell and published by Monte Cook Games. You can find it at the Monte Cook Store or at DriveThruRPG for $2.99.

Review: The Sun Below- Sleeping Lady, A Numenera supplement and campaign

The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady is a Numenera supplement produced by Dread Unicorn Games and written by John WS Marvin. It continues to develop an entirely new location in the Ninth World, an underground tunnel system that has yet to be fully explored or understood. Along with the new location, bestiary, foci, descriptors, and Numenera, there is a short campaign to run for your players that introduces and delves deep into this new location.

Cover of the book, shows three ladies standing over a desert

A great deal of the set up of this game deals with characters and locations that were introduced in a previous supplement – The Sun Below: A City on Edge. However, running that scenario is not necessary for running Sleeping Lady, alternate introductions are given and the adventure is careful to assume that you might not have prior knowledge.

One thing I think is great in this adventure is that they have it set up to run for charactersA screesnshot of the rules on modifying difficulties of any level. Monster stats are modified by the level of the party, so that the GM doesn’t have to put a lot of work into sorting out altering the difficulty of an encounter themselves. There are also instructions on building up crowds of minions, called mooks here, to swarm up on your characters. They provide different ways to create your mooks so that they can last just a little longer. I really like the way they developed this idea for Numenera and think it would be great to adapt to my own games.

A dancing woman with yellow skinThe adventure begins with the party getting a plea to help save the city of Bursang, part of The Sun Below. However, the situation is more complicated then has yet been realized, and the fate of the Ninth World will end up in the hands of the party. This is a nice and neat campaign, and there are several possible ways for the PCs to try to save the world. The easily modifiable levels of difficulty come in handy with this, as neither you as the GM or the creators of the scenario can predict in what order the party will choose to attack.

I think the creativity in a lot of points of this book is great. For instance, one artifact, The Mind Sword, causes the user to laugh evil when they hit on a roll above 17. Adding quirks like this to artifacts really personalizes them to your character and can introduce great reoccurring jokes and character traits.

The supplement seems to be intended for new GMs, as there is some handholding A mass of tentacles, eyes, and mouthsas you read through it for want to do as a GM. I think this can be great, especially for GMs who are unsure of themselves. The layout is in the same style as the other Numenera books, which makes it easy to recognize when they’re pointing out things like GM intrusions. There are some points were it is a little harder to follow, but for the most part flows very smoothly. There is a lot more art then I was expecting, and it really illustrates the creatures and characters you meet throughout the adventure well.

Sleeping Lady is a great campaign to pick up and run for your party, and is easy to use for the GM. I like several concepts that it introduces, such as quirks on artifacts and mooks for swarming fights. It is available on DriveThruRPG for $7.99. You can also visit Dread Unicorn’s website for more information on their supplements and materials.

*The Redacted Files received a free copy of this supplement for review purposes.

Review: Cypher System

Cypher System Corebook cover. Shows images from superhero, horror, scifi, and fantasy scenarios

The greatest thing about the prior Cypher System games, Numenèra and The Strange, is the simple, flexible, yet deceptively nuanced mechanics that work together to really animate any story you care to tell. Yet as liberating from the setting of the Ninth World as The Strange was, it still constrained the “anything goes,”” mentality of the system within a framework of alternate realities. What the Cypher System Rulebook offers is what The Strange so tantalizingly teased us with last summer, the tools to tell any story we like with Monte Cook’s elegant little game engine.
Cypher System Corebook cover. Shows images from superhero, horror, scifi, and fantasy scenarios

The concept of the Cypher System Rulebook is anything but original, and some might mistakenly think that because much of the content is similarly familiar, the book has little to offer: on the contrary though, the book provides a wealth of tips about how to customize a Cypher System game to meet any GM’s needs. Much like previous releases, the book begins with an introduction to the basics of gameplay, then proceeds to follow the A woman dressed in black hugged from behind by a ghostprocess of character creation through the selection of descriptor, type and focus: the adjective, noun and verb of the statement, “I am a ______ ______ who ______.” The Cypher System also adds a new concept – flavors. You can add a flavor to your type and get some new options for your character to pull from. The flavors include Technology, Magic, Combat, Stealth, and Skills/Knowledge. These let you customize your character a little more, like if you want a talk-y character who is also really good at punching people.

From there we discuss equipment, and that’s where things get interesting. Rather than a setting section,following the more detailed treatment of the rules, this book has breakdowns for the most common sorts of genre into which most players will naturally gravitate. In each such section, for Fantasy, Modern, Science Fiction, Superheroes, and Horror, there are tailored suggestions to make your games more unique and memorable. Beyond that, a helpfully well-populated list of creatures is just itching to be let out to challenge the PCs. These range from tried and true adversaries from the previous Monte Cook releases to creatures unreal and mundane from Earth and…elsewhere

So you’ve pick from the long list of foci and descriptors, select which character types you want in your game and what focis they can use. Next you go to the relevant genre section, read it through the advice there and then settle on what Cyphers and other equipment you think would be appropriate for the setting. Once done, you pick a few locales, populate them with settlements and set out some creatures and NPCs for them to run into. And just like that, you’re done with creating a campaign setting.

Ships in the air with bright lights above a victorian looking cityWhen you’ve figured all that out, you document everything on the campaign design sheet provided at the back of the book and hand it to your players to provide guidance for character creation. It’s as easy as that.

As I read through Numenèra for the first time, I thought about how much I loved the system and wished it could be adapted to other genres. Then I played The Strange and fell in love with the freedom I had to explore different genres in the same campaign. Now, we’ve come full circle. With the Cypher System Rulebook, I have the tools to tell the story my players want to tell. Thanks Monte Cook Games, and keep up the great work.

The Cypher System is available from Monte Cook Games as a hardback ($59.99) or PDF ($19.99). The PDF is also available on DriveThruRPG.