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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.”


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.

Tagline: Life on Caprice is an incredibly strong book and absolutely essential to anyone interested in exploring a new world or keeping up on the cutting edge developments of the Heavy Gear universe. But behind its success there is a flaw — a flaw which must be corrected.

Heavy Gear: Life on Caprice - Dream Pod 9In 1995 Dream Pod 9 released the first edition of Heavy Gear. The game was set on the world of Terra Nova, a colony orbiting a distant star, in the cycle TN 1932 (6132 A.D.). The game consisted of two core books: The rulebook (containing both a roleplaying and a tactical system) and Life on Terra Nova (which described a setting of epic scope in copious and useful detail).

Over the next five years both of these books would see a much-improved second edition, and three additional volumes were also added to the core of the game: Crisis of Faith, Blood on the Wind, and Return to Cat’s Eye. Also known as “storyline books” these secondary core books would advance our knowledge of Terra Nova by nine cycles – taking us to TN 1941. Over the course of that time Terra Nova was wracked by an Interpolar War, and then suddenly faced with the knowledge that the fascist powers of Mother Earth were returning once more to conquer their world.

Confronted by this new threat, Terra Nova decided to respond in kind. At the end of Return to Cat’s Eye we learn that Terra Nova has launched a covert campaign against Caprice. Also known as the “Gate World”, Caprice has been subjugated by Terran forces, and represents the link between Earth and her “lost” colonies.

All of which opens the door to Life on Caprice: The most recent secondary core book for Heavy Gear and acting as the basic supplement describing the world of Caprice.

Life on Caprice, essentially, is the exact same type of book as Life on Terra Nova. This makes for a rather unique product – one which can be used as a supplement for existing Heavy Gear campaigns, or one which can be used as the basis for a whole campaign in its own right. Indeed, Life on Caprice comes so tantalizingly close to functioning as a completely separate entity from Life on Terra Nova that it becomes disappointing that the possibility was never realized.

First, let us understand that Life on Caprice is an incredibly strong product: Describing an alien world with startling precision and breadth. For those unfamiliar with the Heavy Gear universe, Caprice is a largely barren world – except for a deep trench gouged in the surface long ago where atmospheric pressure is high enough to support human life unaided. As a result, almost the entire population of the planet lives in Gomorrah – the city which chokes the trench from one end to the other with a population of 311 million. Colonized and controlled by corporations, the Capricians wage a silent battle against their Terran conquerors, who are using Caprice as a staging area for their invasions against the other colony worlds (including Terra Nova). While crafting an entire planet, the authors have not failed to provide all sorts of “gritty” detail that is immediately practical for the GM.

As I read through the book I literally began to seethe with the possibilities of adventure which are not only promised, but delivered. The aptest metaphor which occurred to me was that of a monument: Large and symbolic; yet also something real and tangible.

So let there be no doubt: Life on Caprice is a strong success that is an admirable addition to a wonderful game line.

Where it fails, however, is in the details. It is here, between the realm of the successes it achieves and the successes it should have achieved that Life on Caprice finds its strengths being chipped and whittled away.

For simplicity, let us compare Life on Caprice to Life on Terra Nova. Life on Terra Nova gives coverage to every single city-state and important settlement on the face of Terra Nova – a grand total of 80 different communities. The closest analogy to these on Caprice are the “Hubs” of Gomorrah – each of which is large enough to be a city in its own right. There are 72 of these on Caprice, but Life on Caprice only describes 11 of them. Thus, where Terra Nova was given a dynamic breadth which made the world seem to come to life even as you read through the book, all the facets of Caprician life become oddly focused through the one seventh of the planet’s Hubs which are actually described. When a character’s haunts are mentioned, they are always in these hubs. When a location is described, it is always within these hubs. When an important historical event took place, it is always within these hubs.

In the historical section in Life on Terra Nova we are told of Amanda Miyagama – important because she was the key player in establishing the Caprician Corporate Executive (CCE), a body which continues to function as Caprice’s government to this day. Why, then, is she not even mentioned in Life on Caprice?

In Life on Terra Nova dozens of influential people are described to us. In Life on Caprice we are given only 7 NPCs. Only four corporations. Only three Liberati clans. Again and again and again Life on Caprice finds itself damned not because it fails to give, but because it fails to give as much as we’ve come to expect from Dream Pod 9. Terra Nova seemed to have a legitimate life of its own, but that sense of life is lost in the all-too-narrow focus of Life on Caprice. Lang Regina is described in Life on Terra Nova because she is an important part of Terra Novan life; the fact that she ends up playing a major part in the peace effort following the Interpolar War seems to be simply a result of part in Terra Novan life that she plays. Qaid Henault, Captain of the Princess, on the other hand, is described in Life on Caprice because he plays a major role in the Black Talon program (which is, in turn, a major part of the Heavy Gear metaplot). Instead of feeling like a world which just happens to be involved in an interesting period in history, Caprice is described as a place whose primary function is be involved in the evolving metaplot.

I recently wrote (and feel compelled to repeat) that being truly excellent is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, of course, you’re excellent – and that comes with a lot of perks. On the other hand, though, you have set yourself a very high standard indeed – and a failure in the details suddenly becomes a notable offense.

And it is in the details that Life on Caprice fails; and it is in the details that Life on Caprice disappoints. On the larger scale I rejoice, because Life on Caprice is a success there. On this smaller, but no less important scale, though, I am depressed – because Life on Caprice could’ve, and should’ve, been so much more.

Consider this a message to Dream Pod 9: The 96 page books have failed. In producing books of this length you have been forced to sacrifice the fine hair’s breadth difference between being merely good and truly excellent. The true problem, though, lies in the next level: Left unchecked these problems will begin to cascade across the product line – information that was left uncovered in Life on Caprice will now have to be picked up in supplements further down the line. In turn, those supplements will be forced to sacrifice information in turn. Slowly, but surely, the shorter formats will increasingly weaken all of Dream Pod 9’s books.

By all means: Buy Life on Caprice. It is an incredibly strong book, and absolutely essential to anyone interested in exploring a new world or keeping up on the cutting edge developments of the Heavy Gear universe. But behind its success there is a flaw – a flaw which must be corrected.

Thanks are extended to M. Ramirez, Jeremy T. Fox, and Derek Guder for feedback during the process of writing this review.

Style: 4
Substance: 4

Author: Lucien Soulban (with Stuart Elle, Chris Hartford, Auden Reiter, and Marc-Alexandre Vezina)
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $18.95
Page Count: 96
ISBN: 1-896776-66-3

Originally Posted: 2000/07/07

The weak Canadian dollar in the late ’90s did really serious damage to both the Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles product lines. They had originally featured 148 and 160 page sourcebooks. When these were reduced to 96 pages and, later, 80 pages (literally chopping the books in half) the quality of the material necessarily suffered in what quickly became a cascading catastrophe (with the weaknesses of one sourcebook spilling over onto the next).

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

Tagline: Strong potential makes this product that you might want to take a look at; but the execution leaves much to be desired.

Vampire: The Dark Ages - Fountains of Bright Crimson - White WolfIn the year 1099 the First Crusaders came to the gates of the holy city of Jerusalem. They were surprised by the lack of resistance with which they had been met, but as they entered the city they were seized by a strange and furious madness. In their rage they began to slaughter the townspeople. For weeks the streets ran red, and their bloodlust did not stop until every man, woman, and child who lived within the city had been cut down.

That much is true. It is a recorded event of history and – as the authors of this book say – the historical butchers who committed these savage deeds needed no mystical fiends to drive them to this… They brought their own monsters with them.

But in the world of Vampire: The Dark Age these events took an ominous turn: As Jerusalem clotted on its own blood, crimson streams ran down into the secret caverns beneath the city… and its scent reached even the ancient burial place of Malkav. The Antediluvian stirred in his sleep, and reached out with his mind – driving the Crusaders to ever more bloody deeds, but also corrupting the minds of the Cainites who had come with them. As the Weeks of Blood (as they were known) came to an end, not a single vampire who had accompanied the Crusaders remained in the ancient city… they had vanished without a trace.

Now it is a hundred years later, in the year 1197… and mad Cainites screaming of blood have emerged from the catacombs, while the fountains of Jerusalem run crimson. Malkav stirs in his sleep once more, and the city of Jerusalem hangs in the balance.


Perhaps you won’t agree with me, but I think that’s an absolutely fantastic premise for an adventure. The author has found a historical event which resonates with themes of the occult, and then mixed it seamlessly into the mythology which has been crafted around Vampire: The Dark Age.

Unfortunately, from this point out, the adventure deteriorates rapidly. To sum up the plot quickly: The PCs are approached by Bernardus, who is concerned with recent acts of infernalism. He tricks the PCs into killing diablerist Tremere, and then uses that to blackmail them into investigating the appearance of a raving mad Cainite wearing the livery of the First Crusaders. After investigating the PCs will discover that this Cainite, along with four others, were inhabited by shards of Malkav’s spirit. Unless they can free them properly, Malkav will wake and Jerusalem will be plunged into blood once more. Meanwhile, a vengeful Muslim Cainite is pursuing these Crusaders in a quest of vengeance for their acts of murder a century ago; and the local Baali are trying to pry from them the location of Malkav’s body for their own nefarious purposes. Eventually, though, everything turns out okay in the end.

For starters, this is a rather weak delivery on the promises of an adventure of epic scope. The actual consequences of Malkav’s awakening are totally left in the hands of the GM and are only supposed to come into effect if the PCs utterly fail in their mission. Thus the richest tones of mythological possibility are left untapped, as is any sense of true urgency in the PCs actions.

But that just begins to scratch the surface of where this adventure falls down flat…


For starters, this adventure is so linear it makes my teeth cringe. And to make matters worse, there’s no way I could keep a group of PCs on this railroad track, even if I wanted to. Repeatedly the author puts the hypothetical player group into a situation where all common sense tells them to go one direction, and then simply tells the GM that the players “have no choice” but to do something completely different.

For example: The PCs are summoned to Jerusalem by Bernardus for the fake mission of hunting down infernalists. The author notes that “it should be obvious that the whole thing is a poorly-conceived ruse”; but then tells us that the PCs will want to help Bernardus anyway because “they risk the possibility of demonic powers destroying the most sacred city on earth – while they’re standing in the middle of it”. Admittedly, if my PCs actually believed there were infernalists (weak assumption if they already suspect Bernardus is lying) and they were good guys (another assumption) then it’s conceivable they might decide to hang around. Otherwise it’s far more likely they’re just going to take off.

For example: At another point in the adventure the only reason the PCs can’t just pick up and leave is because they’ve been tricked into killing the Tremere. Even though there are no witnesses, the PCs have to stay, because they are “in too deep.” Garbage! The most logical course of action for the PCs at this point is not to go back to Bernardus and subject themselves to blackmail (as the author instructs us to encourage them to do), but to get the hell out of town.

For example: At several points in the adventure the skill checks of NPCs are predetermined to fail.

For example: At one point in the adventure the PCs need to cross an underground river. If the fall into the river, we are told that they are automatically swept away and may (if they’re lucky) reappear thousands of miles outside of Jerusalem where the river emerges into the light of day. Then, later on in the exact same scene, an NPC is allowed to jump into the river and re-emerge at his leisure whenever he feels like it.

For example: At one point the PCs are, I swear to god, given the blood Malkav with absolutely no strings attached. The blood is described as having wondrous powers, and is necessary to complete the adventure the way it is written. Yet again, though, I am struck by the fact that the PCs have absolutely no connection to this adventure at all – and therefore their most logical course of action at this point is to skip town with this amazing gift they have been given.

For example: The entire middle of the adventure consists of the PCs randomly visiting places which, for the most part, they have absolutely no reason to visit.


The lack of logic doesn’t end with the means by which the GM is supposed to keep the PCs wandering down the path which has been laid for them: The world itself is apparently rendered in a Matrix plagued with software glitches.

For example: Bernardus, who is supposed to trick the PCs into believing a string of absolutely absurd lies, is described as “guileless” in his character description. Huh?

For example: A large part of the adventure takes place beneath the surface of Jerusalem… but if the PCs go “too far” in their explorations of the caverns they will automatically become lost and never be seen again.

For example: Unless the PCs follow a very particular and specific course through the adventure, they will only encounter the Muslim Cainite assassin once – and then he will never be seen again (even though he is supposed to be the primary opponent of the PCs during the course of the adventure). However, if the PCs do follow that particular course of action there is a good chance that the Muslim Cainite assassin will successfully kill the one and only link they have to the end of the adventure.


There’s a degree of false advertising involved in this product. Although repeatedly described as a “standalone” product (separate from Jerusalem at Night and other Vampire: The Dark Ages supplements), at several points in the text important NPCs are referenced merely in the form of names – without any supporting detail. Either this is a crucial design flaw, or these NPCs are described elsewhere in the product line.


The basic concepts on which Fountains of Bright Crimson are incredibly powerful – and might well be worth $8 just to take a peek at. However, to successfully use this adventure would require some extensive fixes – and to successfully use the concept to its full potential would require a massive restructuring. This one doesn’t come recommended from me.

Style: 3
Substance: 1

Author: Ree Soesbee
Company/Publisher: White Wolf
Cost: $7.95
Page Count: 32
ISBN: 1-56504-270-0

Originally Posted: 1999/10/23

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



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