Monday, August 26, 2013

[Review] Milecastle 42

Silver Gryphon Games released Milecastle 42 a little while back, and once again, they were kind enough to send me a copy to review.  Well folks, this one is a sandbox style adventure that promises a ton of action for both combat monkeys and problem solvers.  If you are interested in Milecastle 42, you can find it here.

Summary (Spoilers!):
Romans, an undead horde, and absolutely no room for failure sums up Milecastle 42, a sandbox style adventure from Silver Gryphon Games.  The adventure itself opens with a brief back story that explains the setting and explains who the characters are and why they are present.  It also notes that this adventure is supposed to be a sandbox and explains what that means.  Characters are partially pre-generated, providing what the writer feels are essential skills and abilities, and leaving a little wiggle room for the player to customize it.  It's too bad this adventure was released before Pinnacle's own Weird Wars Rome setting, because it would have been nice to see how a person's own established characters could be "hooked" into Milecastle 42.  Regardless, it all begins with the player characters as Roman Legionnaires sent to investigate the lighting of a warning fire at a nearby border fortress designed as a bastion again the undead. Unfortunately, the zombies have come in force.

The Good:
This adventure looks like a ton of fun to play.  As a sandbox, its basic setup is to present a core problem and leave it up to the PCs to find the solution. In this case, the problem is a Zombie horde that cannot be allowed to pass through Milecastle 42 and enter the lands of the Empire.  The solution, no matter how you go about it, is going to be just brutal.  Aside from the core issue and the level of detail provided about the locations in the Milecastle, there are a number of other things I liked.  First and foremost, the writer gave us just enough background information about this version of ancient Rome (including a list of names), how to function as a legionnaire, and enough basic knowledge to give the PCs a fighting chance at survival.  Second, I've begun to notice that Silver Gryphon Games includes some very well done maps with their adventures.  The map of the Milecastle is excellent.  Third, the Zombies in this adventure are the infectious kind -- as if it all wasn't bad enough, you may have to cut down your own brother in arms if they take a hit.  And lastly, there are some funny parts to this adventure amid all the carnage.  My favorite is the random zombie walking around in the latrine.

The Bad:
There are a few proofreading errors, but nothing to make me dislike this adventure.  However, it can make things difficult when some of the calculations for NPC/Beasts aren't correct.  The Zombie Goths most notably need to be reviewed for accuracy.  Also, it seems this adventure is using a different scale for base Armor values instead of the values in the Savage Worlds: Deluxe rulebook.  Chainmail has a value of 3 Armor instead of 2, and Lorica Segmentata has a value of 4.  I don't really have a problem with that (indeed, I'm a fan of the 1-5 instead of 1-3 range as well), but it would have been nice if they had pointed out the use of an alternate rule in a sidebar.

The Ugly:
This adventure is brutal and unforgiving.  There is no room for error. Considering the sheer number of opponents, the two enemy wildcards, and the nature of probability when rolling to avoid infection, I would almost expect a total party kill in more cases than not. Because of the difficulty, Milecastle 42 might not be the best choice for all gaming groups.

Overall (9/10)*:
This looks like a lot of brutal fun, and I could almost call Milecastle 42 the Tomb of Horrors for Savage Worlds.  Expect a high body count, but also a few laughs as well.  And if, just if, some PC's make it, they deserve their rewards!  As an aside, I'll probably end up adapting this adventure to my own Savage fantasy campaign, though it may have to be toned down a little or my campaign could grind to a sudden, bloody halt.
Content: 5/5
Presentation: 4/5
Rules: 4/5
*Fun Factor: 5/5 only if your group likes a challenge

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Savage Fantasy Game Pics

Had another session of our Savage Fantasy game this evening.  I think we had a lot of fun, especially since we got to play a few combats with a variety of terrain effects and levels in this session.  Bloated frog-men were setting ambushes and swimming to and from different pools of water, while the heroes themselves were attempting to draw attacks to toward the party's "tank" and looking for high ground and clean lines of fire for ranged attacks. Of course, everything went to hell when the tank decided to leap into the water after a trio of these frog-men, only to find three more waiting for him and ready to pull him into the depths.  

"I'm jumping in!" became the buzz phrase of the night.  

After he nearly drown, the rest of the heroes and he manage to fight off waves of these foul beasts.  The climax was finding the matron of these creatures -- a massively corpulent female laying clutches of eggs -- and their shaman leader -- a heavily scarred male who, alongside his bodyguards, chased back the heroes and nearly killed them.  Fortunately, the PCs rallied and though bloodied and battered won the day.  

Monday, August 05, 2013

[Review] Djinn of the Deep

Silver Gryphon Games just released a new adventure for Savage Worlds (and, perhaps more importantly, for Shark Week!), and were kind enough to send me a copy for review!  I hope they still like me when I'm done, since I've a few things both good and bad to say about this adventure.  If you are interested in Djinn of the Deep, you can buy it here.

Summary (Spoiler Alert):
Djinn of the Deep is a pulp action yarn of the purest type, designed for fast play and over the top action, complete with wild locations and encounters.  It is ideally suited for use as a convention adventure or pick up game, and should be playable in one long session.  The Player Characters are all pirates in the 1920s (with rules on how to generate and customize them), who find themselves caught in a grand adventure.

It all begins after hearing rumors of disappearing pirates.  Despite the local chatter, the PCs and their captain hit the seas to raid what appears to be a poorly defended research vessel.  Unfortunately, not everything is as it seems, and upon attacking the much larger vessel it becomes clear that several trained soldiers are on board.  After fighting through a boarding attack (and possibly getting somewhat involved in the research vessel's crew's own internal politics), and nearly winning the day all suddenly is lost.  As a wildly enthusiastic scientist bursts above deck screaming loudly that hes found all hes been searching for, a gigantic shark is spotted a short distance away, and is closing rapidly.  Even as the scientist rants and raves about how his precious Megalodon is getting closer and closer, it soon becomes evident that the man is not wholly correct. The Shark is actually a huge shark-shaped submarine which thrusts itself out of the water and onto the research vessel.  Shark armored soldiers march out of the vessel and begin attacking, subduing almost everyone and bringing them as captives onto the Shark submarine.

Everyone awakens as the dinner guests of the Shark Submarine's Captain.  He welcomes them on board the Leviathan as he calls it, and explains that he and his crew hunt down pirates.  Those who can be redeemed are set free or even allowed to join the crew.  The adventure sort of assumes that the PCs will join his crew, albeit for only a short time.  Of course, nothing is easy.  As the Leviathan travels observant PCs can note several great white sharks fleeing the area.  Soon after, crewmen detect something easily as big as the Leviathan closing fast.  It's a real Megalodon, and it doesn't want interlopers in its territory.  Critically damaging the submarine, the Megalodon attacks the PCs and surviving crew who have to flee using the shark suits. The Megalodon must be killed or driven off before the PCs can reach the surface and, hopefully, one of their ships.  

The Good:
Djinn of the Deep is just pure, pulpy good fun.  It's a great story with plenty of opportunities for fighting, problem solving, and just plan showing off.  The partially pregenerated pirate characters make setup for a one-shot or a convention game very quick and easy. The GM tips are a nice addition, giving ways to keep the feel of the pulp genre and make the adventure more engrossing. Lastly, the maps are downright gorgeous, easily some of the best I've seen in a short adventure like this one.  

The Bad:
The adventure seems like it can get kind of rail-roady. There is a definite ideal progression to the adventure, but fortunately, that progression is damn fun.  Also, you can tell that this adventure was sort of rushed to completion since there are numerous typos and editing errors left over from converting it from Silver Gryphon Games' other game system.  Most of these proofreading and editing errors are easily figured out and don't much affect the adventure itself.  

Less easy, however, are a few points in the adventure where exactly what happens is kind of muddled and unclear.   First is the subplot involving Jack Morgan and the Professor (the one want to make sure the other does not survive so he can claim an insurance payout) -- it's an interesting dynamic that could be fun to explore if given the opportunity, but can never really be addressed because of the action that follows.  Secondly, when the Leviathan's Captain offers to let people join his crew, he states that he only has room for thirty crewmen.  He then forces them all to fight among themselves for the positions.  However, as far as I can tell, the adventure never states how many crew slots are vacant, so theoretically the adventure could grind to a halt because the PCs fight not only any NPCs, but kill each other down to the last man.  Thirdly, the adventure assumes that its easy for the PCs to find the ship after dealing with the Megalodon -- which should not be the case if the Leviathan was ever moving at all.  All of these problems are easily corrected.

Perhaps must frustrating are how some of the rules and stats are applied in this adventure. For no stated reason, most of the NPCs have been given the Hardy ability and I think there may be some typos in the stat blocks.  The Megalodon has a ridiculous d12+4 Fighting skill, placing it beyond even the greatest skill levels, apparently only to beef it up so that its -4 Parry penalty due to size is negated and so that it can swallow its prey whole more often than simply biting them.  Another issue with the Megalodon is that the writer of the adventure seemed to forget that Savage Worlds is not a hit point system.  Characters swallowed whole can try to "cut through" it, but doing so ignores the Megalodon's traits entirely, instead requiring a total of 75 points of damage (actually there is a typo that says "75 5otal"), does not allow any raises to count, and pretends the wound system does not exist.

The Ugly:
Aside from the Megalodon?  I found that the side notes in Djinn of the Deep can be difficult to read. The darkness of the background plus the background drawing sometimes makes the text muddled and hard to discern.  

Overall [7/10]:
Criticisms aside, I think Djinn of the Deep can be an incredibly entertaining adventure.  I'm fond of the setting and love the core storyline -- How can you go wrong with pirates, submarines, and giant sharks?  Most of the flaws can be overcome simply with a little GM preparation to fill in the blanks or flesh out those things the author overlooked.  A few things - most notably the Megalodon - are a bit more troubling.  I'd rather see the whole beast, and by extension, the final encounter, retooled to better fit with the mechanics Savage Worlds already has in place.  Perhaps I'll post my own version of the Megalodon here on this blog. That aside, Djinn of the Deep is everything good pulp should be.  

Content: 4/5
Presentation: 3/5
Rules: 2/5
Fun Factor: 5/5