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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

RPG Reviews Digest: Manual of the Planes, Draconomicon, Alpha Omega, Sundered Skies

by Ken Newquist / December 21, 2008

Some of the second-stage books for D&D 4th Edition are hitting book stores, which has ignited a new wave of reviews among bloggers. I don't think any of these new books are going to change hearts and minds among those who dislike 4E -- that will have to wait for 2009's Player's Handbook II -- but I do think they serve to fill holes in 4E's lineup.

Interestingly, there are also a bunch of reviews out for Alpha Omega, a science fiction RPG that's been out for a year, but suddenly seems to have grabbed the interest of a number of people in the blogosphere.

Fleshing out D&D 4th Edition

4E overhauled/ravaged the traditional D&D cosmology, ditching the concept of aligned planes, merging the elemental ones into a single megaplane, and spawning the "Shadowfell" out of the intellectual ruins of Ravenloft. Living Dice reviews the new Manual of the Planes, which chronicles the new cosmology.

The Draconomicon was one of my favorite 3rd Edition books; it served as an extended "Ecology of" article from Dragon Magazine, offering background into the life cycle of the dragon, advice on running them, new feats, lairs, and a bunch of premade wyms. The Draconomicon returns for 4E with Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons, thus continuing the 4E trend of "why sell you one book when we can sell you two?" as metalic dragons are left for another tome. reviews the book in the article "Ow, Ow, Don’t Eat Me!! A Review of Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons".

Alpha Omega: Plotting the End Times

Alpha Omega mixes together all of your favorite apocalypses: nuclear war, plague, Biblical armegeddon and (of course) comet strike! I haven't seen much in the way of actual play reports, but everyone who's seen the book has raved about its production values.

MadBrew Labs reviews the game in "Alpha Omega: The Evolution of Sci-Fi Roleplaying", which runs through the game's setting, character creation, game mechanics, and online resources. I like how MadBrew's taken the time to see what's available online for the game; that's a huge deal nowadays, and I think it's getting to the point where it can make or break a game. Hell, just look at how long people groused about not having a character sheet for Serenity on the official web site (or the subsequent loss of said web site).

Game Stew also looks at the game (including photos of the core rule book) but takes things a step further by offering advice on how to run the game in "Alpha Omega: How to GM this New RPG". Reviewer Martin Rayla includes photos of the book, and yeah, the art's every bit as stunning as we were led to believe. The meat of the article focuses on helping game master's get ready to run this game, including story creation and rules mastery.

You can learn more by listening to Atomic Array #12: Alpha Omega, which interviews game creators David Carter and Earl Fischl. I haven't listened to it yet, but knowing Atomic Array it should be a good show.

Sundering the Heresy

Elsewhere on the web, Uncle Bear has a review of the "Dark Heresy: Inquisitor’s Handbook", a supplemental player rulebook for the Warhammer 40k: Dark Heresy. I'd love to run a one-shot of Dark Heresy one of these days, but I suspect that will have to wait until I got to Origins 2009. In any case, if you're into Dark Hersey, this looks like a good (if clunky) book to buy.

Role-playing Pro has two new reviews: one of the Sundered Skies "Plot Points" campaign setting for Savage Worlds and another of Obsidian Portal, a web site offering free and premium wikis for RPG campaigns. I played Sundered Skies at GenCon 2007, and had a blast with it; if you're looking for a fantasy campaign with a decidedly different setting, it's worth checking out. You can listen to my take on Obsidian Portal in Radio Active #74.

Stargazer's World has a retro review of the original Traveller science fiction RPG in all of its ancient, crunchy glory. 

Finally, it's not quite a review, but it's still useful; Greywulf's Lair takes a look at how much it will cost you to get into a variety of role-playing games in "The Price of Freedom". The most expensive? D&D 4th Editon at $74.85 for the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual (which is just crazy given that you can get all three for $66.  The cheapest? True20, which runs around $17 for a single book. He does mention Savage Worlds, which at $9.99 is probably the cheapest option (aside from the free games), but he was building this list for a friend who doesn't like those rules, and thus they don't formally make the list.


I can't agree more that harnessing the power of the web is very important for publishers these days. It helps them reach potential players and if the free content is good enough, will keep them coming back for.

Thanks for the link love!

Your welcome!

I think the two biggest things you can do to enhance your product are to a) include an index and b) have a web site (and if you can't afford a few pages for an index, then post it to your web site...) Unfortunately, even today I think a good web site is an afterthought for a lot of companies, where it *should* be an integral part of your marketing and support plans.

The site doesn't have to be beautiful, but if you post supplemental material there -- scenarios, character sheets, design articles -- fans will read it.I also think it helps smaller companies keep their game in front of people. Gamers tend to have their own unique "publish or perish" mentality; they want to play games that have new material coming out for them (and then bitch abut having to buy it, but that's a different rant...)

Having a web site means you can put some content out there for people even if you're not releasing new books at a WotC-style pace, and I thnk that can make a huge difference in whether or not people play your game.