RPG Review Digest: Monster Manual 2, Arcane Power, Thousand Suns, Cortex, Dark Heresy

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is seeing a nice publicity bump from its second round of major book releases as PHB 2, Arcane Power, Monster Manual 2, Eberron Campaign Setting and DMG 2 all hit the stands over the next few months.

Right now the focus is on the just-released Monster Manual 2, which a few sites have managed to get advanced copies of. Living Dice and Critical Hits both have reviews, and the sentiment from both blogs is every game master needs more monsters … and these are these are good monsters. Critical Hits laments that there isn’t a monster theme built into Monster Manual 2; while Demogorgon is the big bad who graces the book’s cover, there aren’t many monsters that fit it thematically.

I tend to agree with Critical HIts; while there are dangers to having a book being too strongly themed (particularly if most people aren’t going to buy into that theme) having a handful of Demogorgon-inspired monsters scattered through the book would have been a good thing.

The other 4th Edition book getting a lot of review love these days is Arcane Power, the 4E supplement that introduces a host of new options for magic users in 4th Edition. My review of the book is up on GameCryer.com; in general I liked it (particularly the return of familiars), but ultimately it’s more of the same. If you like 4E, you’ll like this book. If you don’t, nothing in it will win you over to the new edition.

Stupid Ranger also took a look at the book in its “Arcane Power: State of the Bard Address”, which looks at the new “Prescient Bard” build in Arcane Power, as well as other new class powers and abilities. I share their sentiments; a number of the bard’s new powers feel like a stretch to me, and in general, the class just doesn’t gel for me in 4E. I think that’s because I keep hoping for a return to the skillful bard of 3E, but alas, that’s just not how 4E rolls.

Also out this week for D&D 4th Edition are the new D&D Minis. When Wizards announced they were ditching random sets in favor of fixed and semi-random ones, there was much rejoicing. No more buying booster after booster looking for the right fig! No more buying four sets of boosters and getting four bulletes!

Well the first minis are out and the enthusiasm hasn’t carried over to the actual product. The paint job on the minis seems to be the sticking point; both short reviews I came across — at Wee Bee Gamers and RPG Monks were underwhelmed by the product. Neither felt particularly strongly about the inclusion of new mini-specific power cards, though my group hated this (then again, we hated it when they did it with HeroClix too).

It’s not all 4th Edition. I came across a number of other reviews, including two for systems I’ve been actively reading/playtesting over the last year or so. The first is Living Dice’s review of the Cortex RPG, which is the distilled essence of the Serenity and Battlestar Galactica rules. I love the Cortex rules — we’ve had some of our best-ever role-playing sessions using them (in particular, our first and only Serenity game at Nuke(m)Con was spectacularly good) and I’ve been looking forward to seeing this generic offering. Living Dice liked the rules, but wished they had a bit more setting flesh on their bones. Given that I’d use this rules to power a Serenity game (or maybe even another run at BSG) that’s not a big drawback for me but I can see how it would be problematic for others.

CBPye.net has a review of Creatures Anathema for Warhammer 40k: Dark Heresy. My gaming group’s been kicking around a Warhammer 40k one shot for a while now (we will run it one of these days) and there’s a lot of excitement for the Creatures Anathema. It appears like the book’s been worth the wait, offering a good mix of fluff and crunch (which itself should be a welcome change from D&D 4E’s all crunch, all the time, Monster Manual format).

I was disappointed to see the Thousand Suns review on GameCryer.com, mostly because I’d been hoping to review this imperial science fiction RPG for the site. Ah well, I’ll just have to review it for Nuketown instead! Their sentiments echo mine: this is a great lightweight RPG for powering a galactic-empire/galactic-federation style space opera game. I bought the book to provide fodder for my Star Wars campaign, but I’ve found that it stands pretty well on its own. I’m still itching to playtest it, and I’m hoping we can get in a game sometime this summer.

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