Large packages have been arriving at Grubb Street, as Kickstarters that have been on the water for several months have finally arrived at the docks and deliveries have been made. Most are late to a minor or major degree, owing to the pandemic, the massive snarl in shipping, and the phases of the moon. For the most part, I'm OK with that - I funded stuff so long ago that I had frankly forgotten, so the arrival feels like a gift from the ghost of my former self. Thanks, past-me.
Some of these are original games, and some are "line extensions" - modules, sourcebooks, and expansions. As always, these are not so much reviews as notifications - I haven't done enough digging to give a full review to them, so this is all initial responses. Even so, I've got a lot to say about them.
So, what do we have here?
Vaesen: Mythic Britain and Ireland (Graeme Davis, Lead Writer, Johan Egerkrans, Lead Artist, Free League, 156 page hardback) Vaesen: Seasons of Mystery (Gabrielle de Bourg, Tomas Harenstam, Andreas Marklund, Kiku Pukk Harenstam, Writers, Free League, 96 page hardback). Free League makes great-looking books, often build around existing art - solid hard covers, thick pages, luscious illos. The downside of the original core book was that the text felt slighted in favor of the art and graphic design Both Mythic Britain and Ireland and Seasons of Mystery make up for that with a hefty textural density. Mythic Britain is by long-time game design veteran Graeme Davis, and expands the setting out into the British Isles. Seasons of Mystery are four smaller adventures, which have the investigative nature of a Call of Cthulhu game without the world-threatening and senses-shattering results. Mythic Britain came with a separate map pack which I hesitate to open and then immediately lose all the pages from.
Carbon Grey (Andrew E.C.Gaska, Creative Director/Lead Writer, Magnetic Press, 224 page hardbound). This was a bit of a disappointment. It came with a hardbound collection of the comics it was based on, and, upon review, I hated the comics. Billed as "Diesel Punk", it was WWI politics and intrigue with WWII weapons with a dash of magic, involving anime girls who sever heads and limbs with grand guignol style. I found the comic art jarring and murky, and the story impenetrable in places. The game, on the other hand, concentrates more on the world, using the West End d6 System as a base but concentrating on primarily combat in the game. Came with a bundle of tchotchkes (badges, decals, art prints), which will soon be scattered throughout the home office, to be found years later with the question "what was THIS for?"
Level Up Advanced 5th Edition Adventurer's Guide (30+ listed designers, EN World Publishing, 656 page hardback), Trials and Treasures (20+ designers, EN World Publishing), 370 page hardback), and Monstrous Menagerie (Paul Hughes, Lead Designer. EN World Publishing, 532 page hardback). This was the most massive of the shipments coming in. It is not D&D 5.5, but rather D&D 5E's Pathfinder, in that it takes the original mechanics (ability scores, combat, die conventions), strips away the additional material, and rebuilds the structure entirely. You don't get a new variant of Ranger to stand alongside the previous ones, but a completely new version. I play a Ranger in our 5E campaign, and have to admit that their version is a serious upgrade. The monsters are similarly redesigned, and are close but different - the numbers tweaked, and most information on encounters provided, as opposed to a direct reprint of OGL material. This one feels like the early variants of D&D, where someone pulls at a loose thread for their personal campaign and ends up with a completely different game. It is a massive undertaking, and is effectively like learning a full new edition. It arrived with Memories of Holdenshire, an intro adventure that looks solid and self-contained.
A Shadow in the Downs (Kate Baker, Green Ronin, 36 page softbound). Some projects, even from trusted and reliable professionals, are just snake-bit. Case in point - The Lost Citadel from Green Ronin. Kickstarted in 2017, it was delayed by personal issues, covid issues, shipping challenge issues, and all manner of sundry other issues, such that this introductory adventure is finally showing up five years later. Yet, the Ronins have delivered on their promises, which is greatly appreciated. The Lost Citadel was a "grimdark" setting where the world has fallen, the undead roam the land, and the last bit of civilization is confined to a single city, the Redoubt. The adventure takes place in the city itself and in the underground mazework beneath it. It looks pretty good, and hits all the points that set Lost Citadel apart from others of its subgenre.
Nightfall (Angelo Paluso, Mana Project Studio, 240 page hardback) and Nightfall Bestiary (Angelo Paluso and Andrea Lucca, Mana Project Studio, 168 page hardback). This is also "grimdark" (It says so on the cover), but is written to a larger scale. Darkness from the shadow plane has risen, the sun has gone out (its deity dead/converted), though the moon still provides what light is available. The moon still works without the sun, because, well, magic. It is literally a points of light campaign, with only a few places that not overrun with monsters. Nightfall is Italian, and comes out with a beautiful look for a dark setting. The monster book eschews redoing D&D monsters for more Italian Folklore, though it does list creatures in subcategories (Dragons, Horrors, Witches). This can make for a more cohesive read, make it harder to find what you are looking for as opposed the alphabetizing the entire list. I probably will not play it, but I will read it through. Came with a boatload of Kickstarter-Tchotchkes which are generally useful in play - a DM (Sorry, Nightmaster) screen, Standups, separate map, pregens, and a cute pin.
Cults of Cthulhu (Chris Lackey, Mike Mason, and Friends, Chaosium, 368 page hardback). This was NOT a kickstarter, but rather picked up at the Mox Boarding House where a group of friends were gathering. It's been a book I've been looking forward to, and contains a summary of all the Cthulhu Cult information from various sources, five different versions of the cults through the different play periods, information on creating your own Cthulhu Cult, and some adventures. I'm looking forward to reading it. It does raise the question in my mind of "What is cult, beyond being a religion or organization that the dominant society does not like?"). I had Remarkable Cults in the previous writeup, and there are other cult books out there. The book itself is up to current Chaosium standards, but the spine is making these disturbing creaking noises as I open it.
Lex Arcana: Italia, Land of Ancient Magic and Dark Intrigue, (Francesca Garello and Andrea Angiolino, Quality Games, 260 page hardback) and Dacia and Thracia, Storm at the Empire's Borders (Mauro Longo, Quality Games, 160 page hardback). Lex Arcana is a game set in the 5th Century where Rome, propped up by magic, is threatened but not collapsing. You are part of the special investigations branch of the Cohor Auxiliaria Arcana, the Empire's X-File department, tasked with dealing with the weird, supernatural, and deadly. The game uses original RPG rules (as opposed to 5E offshoots). These two supplements bore down into the Italian peninsula and the territories to the east, respectively. Looks good and involved, though I still have to engage with the the game itself. Only comment I can make is that if you are going to talk about features in the game, put them on your map. Tchotchkes include separate maps of the areas and some cities, and multiple decks of cards with magic items and opponents on them. Looks good.
That's it. I remain impressed by the stuff that comes in from overseas producers, and am delighted to see them appear in English, and yeah, I'm will to wait a bit longer as the entire shipping question clears itself out. Kickstarter has been a boon to overseas game manufacturers and players on this side of the pond. This is good stuff.
ADDENDUM: Nightfall Bestiary and Cults of Cthulhu both won ENNIE Awards at GENCON. Hard copies of both just arrived here, so I assume they are voting based on PDFs.