Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Freeport Trilogy

The Freeport Trilogy is a Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 campaign from Green Ronin Publishing designed to take a party of four plus player characters from 1st to 5th level. It originally appeared in three parts, Death in Freeport (which won the 2001 Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Adventure), Terror in Freeport, and Madness in Freeport. Its setting is confined to Freeport, a pirate city on the Serpent’s Teeth isles. Ruled by a pirate captain called the Sea Lord, it is home to many races, and keeps an uneasy peace with the mainland nations. So self-contained, it slots easily into most RPG fantasy settings.

The player characters come to Freeport for adventure, which they find after being asked by a cleric of the Brotherhood of Knowledge to find a missing priest, who had also gone missing years before after a personality change. Their investigations uncover ancient serpent men below the city, a cult that worships the Unspeakable One, a Great Old One, and something strange about Freeport’s towering new lighthouse, called Milton’s Folly after the current Sea Lord. Low on magic, but high on intrigue and conspiracy, The Freeport Trilogy is like a Call of Cthulhu fantasy campaign. It is a good campaign, but is let down by its slightly weak ending. Getting there though is great and The Freeport Trilogy setting is well supported with setting material and different rules such as Savage Worlds and True20, each having their own Cthulhu supplements, making it the best choice for Lovecraft-inspired fantasy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

50 Fathoms

50 Fathoms is a Plot Point campaign for Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Shane Lacy Hensley’s Savage Worlds which mixes pirates, magic, fantasy, and a mystery. It is set on Caribdus, a world cursed to drown under a constant rain that has submerged nations and forced refugees to flee to other islands or to take to the sea. It is prophesized that a stranger from Earth will save Caribdus and its Thousand Isles, many humans having been transported to Caribdus from Earth’s Age of Sail (approximately 1500 to 1815) via great storms. Player character options include the crew, passengers and even live cargo from Earth, plus Caribdus’ own races: including the winged Atani, the Walrus-like Grael, Dolphin-like Doreen, and the Squid-like sorcerers, the Kraken. Caribdus’ magic is based on the four elements. A mage can only master one element at a time, but master all four and he becomes an ArchMage. Unfortunately, elementalists are hunted by Tomas De Torquemada’s magic-hating Inquisition.

The core of 50 Fathoms is its Plot Point campaign, consisting of Savage Tales (scenarios) triggered when the characters go up levels, visit somewhere, or discover something. It reveals the source of the threat to Caribdus, three vengeful Sea Hags. The players can follow the campaign, but are also free to roam the world, letting the GM run the 40 other Savage Tales set across the Thousand Isles and explore the book’s material. 50 Fathoms is fantastically complete, enough character information, a good gazetteer, and an easy, pulpy, swashbuckling, piratical campaign.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Unhallowed Metropolis

Unhallowed Metropolis from New Dark Age through Eos Press combines a neo-Victorian future with an Undead Plague and Tesla-powered technology. Everyone lives in fortress cities, on rations and under ash laden skies, fearful of ghouls, zombies, and vampires, and even their recently deceased relatives rising again. Outside, the undead roams the countryside, sent out from the mysterious Sepulchres, possible headquarters for undead lords. This is a horror RPG inspired by Dracula, Frankenstein, and Jekyll & Hyde, with an emphasis on the Victorian way of death and the anatomy of the undead. Character options include Aristocrats, Dhampir (romantic half-vampires), Mourners (female undead killers), Criminals, Doctors, and Undertaker (professional monster hunters), all looking their best in the game’s “Gasmask Chic.” The latter also being the name for the book’s excellent artwork.

Unfortunately, Unhallowed Metropolis suffers from too few character options; an imbalance between social and combat skills (too many of the latter), and between high and low class characters (how do you bring them together?); and lethally clunky mechanics, which make doing anything even moderately difficult, actually very hard. Re-rolls are allowed, but only so many before a character suffers from Corruption, which with a hard resolution system demanding re-rolls, comes too soon. Also, outside of the undead, the setting is underwritten. More information should have been included about the mundane facts of this setting. Although it demands more options, better rules, an expanded background, and an index, Unhallowed Metropolis should demand the attention of both devotees of Victoriana and the undead.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Apocalypse Prevention, Inc.

In the recently self-published Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. from Third Eye Games, the characters are employees for the same named corporation, which has protected mankind for centuries from demonic and supernatural activity. They work as a squad from one of ten offices worldwide and investigate prophecies, miracles, and other weirdness. In particular, policing demonic immigration from other dimensions, most demons being illegal on Earth under the terms of the API Registration Act. Other demons, like Burners (Fire Demons), Changelings, Lochs (Fish People), Spectrals (Ghosts), Taylari (Vampires), and Wolf People are legal and can be employees. The detailed point-based character generation system lets characters have cybernetics, magic, and psionics. Mechanically, magic and psionics are treated the same, and each spell/psionic ability is easily customized with small upgrades during character generation or with experience points. The rules are straightforward, but combat is crunchy, its emphasis being on a fairly detailed martial arts system.

Apocalypse Prevention, Inc.’s setting is our world, but with demons and tight gun control in the USA! Which seems too fantastic. Otherwise, the setting is underwritten, focusing on the corporation over the real world. It also lacks a scenario, and has too few scenario ideas. A scenario is needed to show how the game works, but is currently only availabe in the supplements. The lack of a detailed setting means that the game’s intended humor is lost, while the horror element is poorly supported by an inadequate fear/insanity mechanic. Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. does not lack potential, but it needs support.