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This review originally appeared in the December 2000 issue of Games Unplugged.

Orkworld - John WickIn 1997 Legend of the Five Rings, designed by John Wick, won the prestigious Origin Award for Best Roleplaying Game of the Year.

In 1999 7th Sea, designed by John Wick, won the prestigious Origin Award for Best Roleplaying Game of the Year.

In 2000 Orkworld, designed by John Wick, was released at GenCon.

And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make a really strong case for giving the award to John Wick one more time.

The system itself is nothing which is going to send shockwaves to the foundations of gaming: A simple dice pool system lies at the heart of it, and is spun off with some interesting, and at times highly effective, extrapolations for combat. The resolution mechanic itself is a nice refinement of its predecessors, providing a smooth modeling of skill and ability. The combat system, for its part, maintains a simple flow while keeping in touch with the game’s inherent pace and spirit.

In other words, its well done – but nothing to get excited about. Orkworld’s game system, however, serves merely as the foundation for the material which really makes the game shine: The orks themselves.

Wick refers to his book as an “anthropological study of a race that never existed”. The concept of an “anthropological game” – a game which focuses on the intricacies of an alien culture, revealing its hidden complexities of daily life so that a common roleplayer will become equipped with the tools necessary to step into the shoes of someone truly from another world – is a lofty goal, worthy of commendation merely for the attempt. It’s one thing to say “look at these characters who are not like human beings at all”. It is quite another to show us to how to play one.

Does Wick succeed? Most definitely. In over 250 pages of setting information, the orkish culture is detailed down to the finest points – from religion to food to sex to love to politics to war to mythology to philosophy to magic… It’s all here in sumptuous detail. And Wick’s great talent offers an assurance that every page is kept interesting and entertaining. Instead of bogging you down as you might expect, the wealth of minute detail is carefully chosen and presented so that it is a liberation, not a limitation.

Orkworld is not flawless by any means: There are a number of unfortunate lay-out and typographical errors throughout the book. A couple of the combat rules have minor holes. Although the orks themselves are laid out in wondrous detail, the rest of the World of Ghurtha suffers from a certain scantness of detail.

But putting the nitpicks aside, there is little doubt that you will find your $25 richly rewarded when you finish this book. Indeed, the reading experience itself is worth the cost of admission – and you won’t have even begun to see the dividends which the book will provide to your gaming experience.

Grade: A

Writers: John Wick
Publisher: Wicked Press
Price: $25.00
Page Count: 304
Product Code: WP10001

After the initial appearance of a review, Games Unplugged would run a short recap of the review in subsequent issues.

Recap/Tagline: In 1997, John Wick’s Legend of the Five Rings won the Origin Award for Best Roleplaying Game of the Year. In 1999, John Wick’s 7th Sea won the Origin Award for Best Roleplaying Game of the Year. And with the release of Orkworld at GenCon this year, John Wick has made a strong case for winning the prestigious reward yet a third time.

Orkworld is an “anthropological game” – a game which focuses on the intricacies of an alien culture, revealing its hidden complexities of daily life so that a common roleplayer can truly step into the shoes of someone form another world. This lofty goal is accomplished through a wealth of entertaining detail – ranging from religion to food to sex to love to politics to war to mythology to philosophy to magic and more. All of this is supported by a solid dice pool system, which puts the finishing cap on an inescapable conclusion: You should buy this game.

 

Tagline: In 32 slim pages Three Days to Kill manages to not only present a really gut-wrenching, fast-paced, creative adventure, but also conjures into existence a highly entertaining, evocative, and believable slice of a fantasy world.

Three Days to KillI’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks reading really bad fantasy modules. It is difficult to describe to you the truly excruciating pain of this experience. Instead, I shall endeavor to demonstrate by way of example:

“The characters are in Boringtown. There is a bar, a temple, and an armory.”

“The characters are in Moronsburg. There is a bar, a temple, and a general store.”

“The characters are in Clicheville. There is a bar, a temple, and a blacksmith. The mayor approaches them….”

“At the bottom of the farmer’s well there is a secret door which has not been opened in centuries. On the other side of the door is a labyrinth containing giant spiders and goblins. Kill them.”

“The abandoned mansion on the top of the hill has become home to a bunch of necromancers and a couple of ghosts. Kill them.”

“The PCs wander around the desert enjoying random encounters until they stumble across a lost pyramid. There they watch two mummies fight over conflicts which existed thousands of years ago (and about which the PCs know nothing). When the fight is over (make sure that the PCs don’t take part in any way) the PCs get to go home.”

Oy.

Between painfully artificial settings, a mind-numbing lack of originality, and stunningly awful “plots”, these so-called “adventures” have earned their designers an eternity upon the racks of the Nine Circles of Hell.

(On the plus side, I think actually playing through these scenarios counts as a form of penance. The equivalent of saying fifty Hail Mary’s or something of that nature.)

(The funny thing is that you think I’m kidding. Outside of those satiric town names, though, I’m not – these things actually exist. They’re out there and they’re waiting for you. Be afraid. Be very afraid.)

There were days when I felt like giving in to a nascent Oedipal Complex… and by that I mean stabbing my eyes out with pins to take the sight of these monstrosities away from me.

But through the good graces of providence, a copy of John Tynes’ excellent Three Days to Kill fell into my hands, and thus I was saved from a truly horrific fate.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Before we begin:

John Tynes is a roleplaying designer and writer of immense talents: He was one of the founders of Pagan Publishing. He was a co-author of Delta Green. With Greg Stolze he designed the award winning Unknown Armies for Atlas Games. Last year Hogshead Publishing’s New Style line published his amazingly evocative Puppetland and the startlingly innovative Power Kill.

With Three Days to Kill Tynes has taken advantage of WotC’s D20 Trademark License and Open Gaming License (see the Open Gaming Foundation for more details on both of these programs) to produce a module for the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. This is the lead-off product in Atlas Games’ new Penumbra line of products. Over the next few months you can expect to see more support material for D&D3 released through this imprint.

Three Days to Kill is designed for a party of 1st to 3rd level PCs.

And now on with the show:

THE SETTING

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for Three Days to Kill. Players who may end up playing in this module are encouraged to stop reading now. Proceed at your own risk.

Three Days to Kill is set in the Deeps, a valley nestled within a mountain range. At the heart of this valley, located on the shores of Shadow Lake, is Deeptown.

And as quickly as that we have come to the first major strength of Three Days to Kill: Deeptown is a generic fantasy city. It has been specifically designed to slip seamlessly into any DM’s campaign world.

The minute you attempt something like this you’ve placed yourself in dangerous territory: If you make the town too specific, then its usefulness as a generic setting is lost. If you make the town too generic, however, you end up with the triteness of “there is a bar, a temple, and a blacksmith”.

Tynes, however, deftly avoids these pitfalls. On the one hand Deeptown is imminently generic – any DM with a mountain range can slap the town into place. On the other hand, Deeptown is also developed very specifically – it exists for a purpose, the people living there have their own character and culture, and the whole place has a dynamic quality which makes it not only a potential setting for Three Days to Kill, but many other adventures. Despite the fact that Deeptown can be placed almost anywhere in the DM’s campaign world, it has been craftily designed so that – no matter what world you place it in – it will seem as if always belonged there.

So what is Deeptown? Deeptown is a small city located on the shores of Shadow Lake, a way-point on the east-west trade routes that pass through the Deeps. The mountainous terrain of this trade route makes it easy for bandits to prey on caravans, and, in fact, any number of bandit gangs roam the hills. This helps make Deeptown particularly attractive for young adventures and other assorted muscle looking for jobs as guards (or opportunities as thieves, as the case may be).

There are six bandit lords in the area (although, as Tynes points out, “calling them ‘lords’ gives them too much credit, really — they’re just competent thugs”). The two largest groups are controlled by the bandits Modus and Lucien.

Deeptown itself is technically ruled over by the Town Council, but in truth it is the Trade Circle – the local guild of commerce – which rules the city from behind the scenes. In other words, even the law in Deeptown is governed by the corruption of the all-mighty dollar.

This leaves only one major power group left to consider: Religion. In Deeptown the two most significant religious groups are the Holy Order (dedicated to the preservation of life) and the Sect of Sixty (a group of diabolists). (Both of these groups – while having their structure and general role in Deeptown life laid out in the module – are left purposely vague in all the right places to that you can plug in whatever gods you like. For example, the Holy Order might worship Athena and the Sect of Sixty Hades. On the other hand, the Holy Order might revere Adaire, Goddess of Light and Purity; while the Sect of Sixty might practice foul sacrifices to Cthulhu. It’s all up to you.)

Basically the setting information in Three Days to Kill can be summed up like this: A solid, interesting foundation. For a 32 page module a surprising amount of detail is included, giving the setting a life and reality of its own through the expert application of a handful of deft brush strokes – all the while maintaining an openness and flexibility which will make its use simplicity itself.

THE PLOT

Modus and Lucien, the two premiere Bandit Lords, have long hoped to turn “legitimate” (within a broad enough definition of that word). They hope to use their strength in order to convince the Trade Circle to ally with them – essentially moving into the protection rackets (expensive Trade Circle permits would be sold, and caravans which purchased them would be spared from the attention of Modus and Lucien). In the interest of seeing this day come to pass, Modus and Lucien agreed to a pact – stating that neither would enter into a deal with the Trade Circle without the other.

Lucien, however, is no longer willing to wait. He has made a secret alliance with the Sect of Sixty. Lucien wants to use the Sect to use their supernatural powers to help him crush Modus, while the Sect wants to use Lucien to help them gain a foothold over the taxation of trade routes (when his day of power comes).

Modus, although hazy on the exact details of the alliance Lucien is planning, knows that his would-be ally is up to something. Of course, he’d prefer it if Lucien was not allowed to be up to anything…

…and that’s where the PCs come in.

One way or another the PCs are attending the Festival of Plenty (a night of debauchery and infamy which is thrown annually in Deeptown by the Sect of Sixty). Several ways of getting them to Deeptown and into the Festival are given, as are a number of ways of having them prove their worth during the course of the festival. One way or another, however, they come to the attention of Modus’ men – at which point they are approached for The Job.

The Job is this: Modus knows that Lucien is meeting with his mysterious allies at a villa north of Deeptown known as Trail’s End. He wants the PCs to crash the party, screw up the meeting, and make Lucien look foolish and unreliable to his would-be supporters. The PCs, of course, will be well paid for their troubles.

So the PCs head north. On the way to Trail’s End they discover signs of orc activity in the region (which is connected to a coming of age rite), but it isn’t until they reach Trail’s End that the adventure really kicks into overdrive: You see, the villa is packed full of Sect cultists and bandits.

And if the PCs rush the front door of the villa, they’re going to be annihilated.

Three Days to Kill is, in fact, a rather ingenious scenario for bringing the gameplay of computer games like Tenchu and Thief: The Dark Project — which emphasize stealth and cunning over brute strength – into the traditional roleplaying realm of D&D. (Tynes actually uses the analogy Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six – but that requires a larger genre shift in my opinion.) The PCs are given weapons, magical items, and a situation which allows them to scout their enemy, plan a strategy, and then carry out a covert operation.

Done right this can be a lot of fun. Done wrong this is going to be nothing more than a hackfest. Either way you should get a good dose of fun before it’s all said and done. Basically its going to play out something like this:

The PCs are going to take out the bandits and the Sect henchman. As they do so, the Sect acolytes are going to fall back to a secluded room inside the villa. In this room is the Bone Mirror – a mystic artifact of great evil which allows them to start gating low-level minions of Hell into the villa.

As the minions of Hell swarm over the villa – and the PCs fight valiantly to reach and shut off the source of the Hellspawn – the remaining bandits will flee… as they do so the orcs (remember them form the trek north?) will come over the top of the hill and charge the villa as well.

Hellspawn on one side. Orcs on the other. Bandits and PCs trapped in the middle. What’s a hero to do?

Smash the Bone Mirror and fight for their lives, of course!

But we’re not done yet!

When the shattered pieces of the Bone Mirror come to rest they begin to bleed. “The blood wells up from the mirror and oozes out of the bones.” At first it merely trickles, but “then the blood comes faster, coating the floor around the shards, and begins to expand rapidly. Tendrils shoot out across the floor and begin running up the walls. As the blood spreads, it transforms the surfaces of the room. The floor bulges, and bones, flesh, and faces to begin to form. The effect spreads rapidly, accompanied by the screams of the damned.” As the process begins to effect the acolytes and orcs who still remain alive, these poor creatures begin to cry out: “He Who Walks is coming! The coming is at hand!”

The shards of the Bone Mirror transform the Trail’s End villa into the Bone Church – an outpost of Hell; a “pulsing, living, screaming conglomeration of bodies”. The PCs and the remnants of their opponents are forced to flee before the birth of this diabolic power.

And thus Three Days to Kill comes to an end: The PCs have, indeed, succeeded at their primary mission (breaking up the alliance between Lucien and the Sect of Sixty) – at least for now – but only by unleashing the seeds of future adventure: The mystery and threat of the Bone Church, the future of the Bandit Lords of the Deeps, the PCs relationship with Lucien and Modus, the evolving politics of Deeptown. Whether you decide to carry these seeds through to new adventures, or merely choose to have the PCs join the next caravan out of the Deeps, is entirely up to you. Three Days to Kill works equally well as a stand-alone adventure or as the germination point of an entire campaign.

CONCLUSION

Three Days to Kill is one of the best damn modules I’ve ever plunked down my cold, hard cash for. It’s one of those great gaming products that makes you instantly eager to call up your gaming group, roll up some characters, and get down to some serious roleplaying.

In 32 slim pages it manages to not only present a really gut-wrenching, fast-paced, creative adventure, but also conjures into existence a highly entertaining, evocative, and believable slice of a fantasy world.

Three Days to Kill is an exciting product.

And recommendations don’t come much higher than that.

Style: 4
Substance: 5

Author: John Tynes
Company/Publisher: Atlas Games (Penumbra)
Cost: $8.95
Page Count: 32
ISBN: 0-887801-94-4

Originally Posted: 2000/10/29

This represents a major turning point in my life. At this point, as I’d indicated in my review of Tomb of Horrors, I hadn’t played D&D in nearly a decade. 3rd Edition had perked my interest, but I wasn’t really planning to do much of anything with it. Until I picked up Three Days to Kill at GenCon. And, as I said in the review, Three Days to Kill was exciting. It was one of those products that just kind of screams, “Play me!”

So I ended up taking over as GM for what was my regular gaming group at the time. And from that point forward, 3rd Edition would dominate my reviews, my personal gaming, and my freelance writing.

Three Days to Kill generated a lot of buzz when it first came out because it was one of two third party modules available at GenCon when the Player’s Handbook launched. These days it seems to have become something of an unsung classic, though, with fewer people being aware of its existence. I heartily recommend snagging a copy for yourself and running it ASAP.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

 

Heavy Gear - Storyline Book 1: Crisis of FaithTo paraphrase somebody famous, there are two ways to handle a meta-story: The right way and the wrong way.

When handled correctly, a meta-story adds depth and complexity to a roleplaying game. Instead of merely describing a setting as it physically exists at some given point in time, a line of products becomes capable of describing dynamic relationships within the setting as they evolve over time.

When handled incorrectly, a meta-story becomes a marketing gimmick – stringing the customers along from one product to the next, always keeping some essential piece of information just out of reach in the “next release”. Buy Product A, which will only work if you buy Product B, which will only work if you buy Product C… Instead of serving as a spice, the poorly managed meta-story becomes a flaw: Existing customers get frustrated with having to purchase books they don’t want in order to keep up, while new customers get lost in a flurry of books whose interrelationships are murky and unclear.

And then there’s Dream Pod 9’s Heavy Gear: The standard by which all other meta-stories are to be judged. The meta-story of this game is clearly presented, compellingly conceived, and brilliantly executed. No other game has come close.

There are three keys to this success. First, there is the Timewatch system. On the back of every single Heavy Gear product there is a date printed: The date in the game setting which the material in the book describes. This idea is so simple and elegant that it would, literally, cost absolutely nothing for every single producer of roleplaying products to mimic it – and yet the effect it has on the Heavy Gear game line is profound: The Timewatch system strips away an entire level of complexity and potential confusion and resolves it in the easy reference of four digits.

The second key is the strength, clarity, and flexibility of the methodology underlying the Heavy Gear product line. “Clarity” because the purpose and scope of every supplement is clearly communicated to its audience. “Strength” because of the interlocking levels of detail and coverage, combined with strong, continuing support across the board. “Flexibility” because each supplement is truly modular – requiring nothing more than itself and the core rules to be fully useable. The importance of all this cannot be understated: The ability for a newcomer to be able to look at a shelf of products and know exactly what each book covers and which books they should buy, and the ability to buy only those books which contain precisely the information they need, makes Heavy Gear the most accessible and durable line of RPG products on the market.

Heavy Gear - Storyline Book 2: Blood on the WindThis second key leads directly to the concept of the Storyline Book: Instead of spreading the development of the meta-story across a myriad array of unrelated products, Dream Pod 9 has instead concentrated the story into this single set of books. The information to be found here, of course, is supported in other products – but it’s supported in the same way that other game lines support their standard world information. In other words, if you want more information about, for example, the Black Talon program you’d pick up the Black Talon Field Guide. But if you weren’t interested in having detailed coverage of the Talons, then the information found in Return to Cat’s Eye would be more than sufficient to let you know what the major developments with the Talons are. This gives you the ability to follow the meta-story of Heavy Gear without having to buy every Heavy Gear product that the Pod produces (regardless of whether or not you actually want the information found in that product). The Pod will make you want to own the books, but will never require you to own anything more than a tightly controlled set of core resources.

And the third key? Mind-blowing quality. The story being told by Dream Pod 9, the first part of which appears in these three books, is one of the best you’re going to find, in or out of the gaming industry. Intrigue, power, politics, war, love, murder, mayhem. You name it – Heavy Gear’s got it.

This story is so good, it’s worth reading even if you don’t play the game – and it’s accompanied by a visual tour de force that fans of the Pod have come to recognize as par for the course. There is no other company in the industry that can feast your eyes the way the Pod can (supported, as they are, by the astounding talent of Ghislain Barbe) – and all the while doing it with exactly the right balance: The art is always there as a supplement and companion to the writing, never overpowering it or distracting from it.

These books actually are designed to stand on their own. The Heavy Gear universe, and this story, were conceived as a whole. They were not produced, specifically, as a “roleplaying setting” or a “tactical scenario”, but rather as a product which could stand on its own. Its creation was a collaboration, combining not only the written word but also the visual elements of the world as an organic whole. The result is a universe broad in scope and rich in detail, driven by a story which is epic in proportion and gripping in the telling.

Crisis of Faith begins the story in TN 1932, as the world of Terra Nova begins to spin towards global war. Told through the collected notes and intelligence data of Nicosa Renault – a “retired” master spy who still keeps tabs on the powerbrokers of her world – the story of Heavy Gear begins to unfold before you through the thoughts, conversations, video logs, and journals of actual Terranovans. As the book nears its conclusion things begin to spiral hopelessly out of control, ending with a shocking surprise ending.

Heavy Gear - Storyline Book 3: Return to Cat's EyeIf the last six pages of Crisis of Faith hit you with the power of a sledgehammer, then the first two pages of Blood on the Wind will send you reeling across the room… and the thrills are just beginning: The world goes to hell and Dream Pod 9 is taking you along for the ride. If you thought the beginning was surprising, just wait until you see the end: A grand mystery is left unsolved and a new crisis looms on the horizon.

Return to Cat’s Eye brings the first part of the Heavy Gear storyline to a conclusion. The pieces left hanging from the first two books are slowly brought to their resolution, but just as you think you’ve figured out the rules of the game, new players begin to appear… and old players do the totally unexpected.

These books are masterpieces. They make me proud to be a gamer. They are something which I can point to and say: “Why do I roleplay? Because things like this are possible.” You’ll use them. You’ll read them. And then you’ll read them again. They are treasures to own, and joys to appreciate. They are something you simply must not miss.

Style: 5
Substance: 5

Author: Philippe Boulle, Marc-Alexandre Vezina, and Hilary Doda
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $19.95 / $17.95 / $17.95
Page Count: 112 / 80 / 80
ISBN: 1-896776-21-3 / 1-896776-27-2 / 1-896776-59-0

Originally Posted: 2000/10/14

When I wrote this review, I had previously written reviews of both Crisis of Faith and Blood on the Wind. I am honestly uncertain at this point whether I had simply forgotten that I had written those review or if (more likely) I decided that a review of Return to Cat’s Eye would have been rather slim by itself and that it would make more sense to look at the collective effect of Heavy Gear‘s “first act” (so to speak) in a single package.

I had originally intended to follow this up with a review of the next trilogy of Storyline Books, but four days after submitting this review to RPGNet (and several days before it was actually published) I received an offer from Dream Pod 9 to revise material from an unpublished supplement I had written for them so that it could be incorporated into the fourth Heavy Gear storyline book. That prompted me to post a rather weird “I’m biased now, but I wasn’t biased when I wrote this” notice shortly after the review went live.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Lightning Strike: Behind the VeilLet’s cut to the chase on this one.

Why you should buy Lighting Strike – Behind the Veil: Twenty-eight vessels of the Venusian fleet – including exo-armors, capital ships, and drones – are described technically, narratively, and in terms of rules. This information is supplemented by a number of special case rules which modify the performance of Venusian ships in the game to match their actual strengths and weaknesses. That makes this book pretty much invaluable for anyone wanting to use Venus in their Lightning Strike games.

Why you shouldn’t like this book: In addition to the special case rules modifying Venusian vessels, a number of additional rules are presented for universal use in the Lightning Strike game – providing for grappling, new weapon characteristics, railguns, cluster munition missiles, stealth and cloak vessels, and external cargo. These are good rules, but their presence here suggests that Dream Pod 9 has decided on a design philosophy which will require you to pick up all the supplements for the game in order to have all the rules for the game. This type of methodology is extremely irritating to anyone on a limited budget – if I don’t want to play Venusian vessels, then I shouldn’t have to pick up a supplement on Venus in order to get four pages of rules.

And, now, the wrap-up: Ships and new rules. Although I may have some reservations about the direction the Lightning Strike product line seems to be taking, there’s really no doubt that this book does exactly what it’s supposed to do. A very solid product, and well worth the attention of Lightning Strike players.

Players of the standard Jovian Chronicles game interested in Venus might also want to check this one out: The Venus sourcebook for JC is still somewhere out on the horizon, so Behind the Veil (along with the Venusian volume of the Ships of the Fleet supplements) represents the only solid information on the second planet. This is delivered in the form of current political and military developments, including some tantalizing summary of the break-up of Bank power which took place in mid-2212.

Style: 4
Substance: 3

Author: Wunji Lau
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $15.95
Page Count: 32
ISBN: 1-896776-61-2

Originally Posted: 2000/10/14

As I mentioned in a previous review, the Jovian Chronicles universe took a weird turn with the Chaos Principle sourcebook by choosing to fast forward the setting by 3 years while not actually providing a full setting guide for the radically transformed solar system. Then Lightning Strike came along and decided to fast forward the setting again while also, inexplicably, flipping the entire premise of the game so that the Jovians were now the moustache-twirling bad guys. I largely point to this as the moment when Dream Pod 9 put a gun to the back of Jovian Chronicles and blew its brains out.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

This review originally appeared in the October 2000 issue of Games Unplugged.

Enchanted Worlds Starter Kit - New World GamingWhere’s the beef?

I hate to sound so flip, but that’s the question that was bouncing back and forth through my brain as I finished reading through my copy of the Enchanted Worlds: Starter Kit boxed set.

What you get: A slim booklet containing rules and setting information, a half-size booklet with an introductory adventure, a reference sheet, two eight-sided dice, a handful of character sheets, and a full color map.

The system is a standard Attribute + Skill deal, rolled against on 2d8. Character creation involves picking a race and then distribution roughly 250 points across your attributes and skills. Combat is handled using the standard resolution system (contested actions are handled by subtracting the defender’s skill from the attacker’s roll), with damage determined by weapon type and severity (the latter is determined randomly). Magic also relies on the standard resolution mechanic. It’s a simple, clean system – but nothing you haven’t seen a dozen times before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but those other systems you’ve seen probably came with more extensive equipment, spell, and skill lists (in other words, more depth and breadth).

The World of Unlond is a standard Tolkienesque fantasy – you’ve got your Dwarves (Earth and Stone), your Elves (Dawn, Twilight, Sun, and Moon), and your humanoids (Goblins and Hobgoblins). You’ve also two or three paragraph descriptions of the various geographical locations of the world (for example, the Eastern Marshes or the Thengold Empire). The “official backdrop” for the game is the Andarian Baronies – for which you are given a column of historical info, two columns of info on the government and society, and a three page overview of the Town of Greenway. The main book wraps itself up with a six page Bestiary (with all your standard fantasy fare – Giant Rats to Goblin Warriors).

The other major component of the boxed set is “Autumn Harvest”, a short introductory adventure. The adventure consists of a farmer asking the PCs for help because a terrible monster (a Giant Spider) has infested his farmhouse and hurt his little girl. Although the cover of the adventure seems to promise some political intrigue (“On the borders of Darkon Andar, a little girl is attacked. Now, you must find out why she was hurt and who or what is protecting the secrets of the past.”), in truth it is just a simplistic and mundane dungeon crawl: You go to the farmhouse, kill some monsters, find a hidden underground complex (consisting of six rooms), and kill some more monsters.

The color map and reference card are both well done – certainly within expectations.

So I ask again: Where’s the beef?

The material found here would make a really good pitch for a fantasy RPG: “We’ve got this good idea for an RPG… here are some rough ideas of the direction we’re thinking of taking.” But it’s not enough. Simply put, there’s no motivation for me to pick up this package.

I live in a world where I can pick up a Hogshead New Style game (and get a comparable number of pages, although of much higher quality and content) for six bucks. I also live in a world where I can pick up the two hundred page Player’s Handbook for D&D (and get a far more complete and well supported fantasy RPG) for twenty bucks. So why am I going to pick up a generic fantasy game which gives me neither a thorough set of rules nor a well-developed background for $14.95?

And I’m afraid the answer is: I’m not.

Grade: D

Writers: Matthew Rodgers and Daniel Price
Publisher: New Worlds Gaming
Price: $14.95
Page Count: 40
Product Code: EWRSK1

After the initial appearance of a review, Games Unplugged would run a short recap of the review in subsequent issues.

Recap: Where’s the beef? I hate to sound so flip, but that’s the question that was bouncing back and forth through my brain as I finished reading my copy of the Enchanted Worlds boxed set. You get a fairly standard system (which doesn’t really go very far beyond the most basic requirements) and an under-developed Tolkienesque fantasy setting.

I live in a world where I can pick up a Hogshead New Style game (and get a comparable number of pages, although of much higher quality and content) for six bucks. I also live in a world where I can pick up the two hundred page Player’s Handbook for D&D (and get a far more complete and well supported fantasy RPG) for twenty bucks. So why am I going to pick up a generic fantasy game which gives me neither a thorough set of rules nor a well-developed background for $14.95?

And I’m afraid the answer is: I’m not.

As I mentioned last week, after unexpectedly receiving review copies of this game I ended up writing two different reviews of it: The one for Games Unplugged that you just read and another for Gaming Outpost, which you can find over here.

Tony Lee, the editor of Games Unplugged, was not happy with the review. He didn’t want to publish a review which was as negative as this one and he asked me to rewrite it. I declined: It was a mediocre game sold in a dress shirt box with an inkjet-printed 8.5 x 11 cover taped on top. I gave it the shitty grade that it deserved. (And to give you some idea of how doomed this game was: The 3rd Edition D&D Player’s Handbook was reviewed in the exact same issue of Games Unplugged.)

The version of the review that was published in the magazine was heavily edited, although my letter grade remained intact.

 

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