Do You Feel Lucky Punk? A Vigilantes PC Game Review

In Vigilantes you become Sam Contino – a vigilante determined to rid Reiker City of violent crime gangs.  This is a small squad, turn-based, combat heavy game.  Sam collects allies, builds his base, and puts a beat-down on three gangs: the Mafia, the Survivalists and the Church of the Final Exodus.  As you raid city blocks controlled by one of the gangs your squad battles a gang to the death (or to the knock-out) to loot the gang’s money, weapons and items.

[Sam Level 1 & Sam Level 17]

This review is based on completing the game after 20 hours of play.  I bought the game when it was on sale for $7.50 (50% off) on Steam.  The controls were intuitive if you have experience with turn-based squad level combat games.  The game was very stable and I experienced no locks, freezes, corrupted saves or other problems with my new Falcon Northwest Talon.  The art is traditional comic book style but not anime. 

You start the game choosing your difficulty level and the general campaign length.  I strongly recommend playing a regular game due to the combat system which I discuss later.

[Game Options]

Through combat and other activities, Sam gains experience which can be used to improve various attributes and skills.  His teammates stay one level behind Sam accruing a smaller amount of improvement points per level-up.  Sam’s team maxes out at seven total members.  A maximum of four can go into combat at a time including Sam.  The others use investigation skills to determine gang presence in a city block, heal wounded comrades, and other base activities.

[Henchmen Options Screen]

The game starts with each enemy faction having a leader and three lieutenants.  The names and locations of these leaders are unknown.  After playing Russian Roulette or administering beatings to captured faction minions, Sam and his crew start to identify and locate the gang leadership.  If Sam’s Gang wipes out the four leaders of a gang, the gang becomes insignificant.  Sam wins the game if his group wipes out all leadership of the three gangs terrorizing Reiker City.

[Survivalist & Church Leadership Screens]

Sam’s allies follow common meme’s from vigilante movies and books.  Ray Case is a hard-boiled, film noire detective.  There are two bent members of law enforcement who are determined to use any means necessary to stop the gangs from terrorizing Reiker City.  There is a firebug Fireman who wants to incinerate criminals.  Plus two civilians who have picked up weapons determined to mow down the opposition.

[Blocks of Reiker City]
[Ray Case: Noire Detective Henchman]

Weapons are melee, grenades, or firearms.  All weapons take action points to use and individual weapon skill determines hit percentages.  Sam goes on every combat mission, so players should build Sam’s combat skills.  Since you can only take three team members on combat missions, some of your gang are better used as medics or investigators.

[Inventory Screen at Base]
[Character Item Screen]

All game weapons can be used to kill or knock-out opponents.  Setting the “kill switch” does more damage per hit.  Using bladed weapons and even incendiary grenades to “wound” bothered me.  Since I’ve done a lot of shooting and hunting over the years, it makes me wince when game designers invent a “shoot to wound” combat system.

Like most combat games with RPG elements, Sam’s allies have different motivations.  Some hate one gang more than the others.  Some don’t want to kill the enemy (unless a team mate is knocked out in battle).  Others become happier if they go on a killing spree.  Sam cannot maximize everyone’s happiness.  But a happy team member gives Sam attribute boosts.  Sam will be more tolerated by the police and most of his team if the group shoots, bashes, knifes, explodes and incinerates enemies “to wound.”  But one ally becomes cranky if not allowed to occasionally kill members of one faction.

[Occasional Ordinary Citizen Encounters]

This is a very combat heavy game.  The combat system is turn-based, squad level combat.  Think X-COM Enemy Unknown or Jagged Alliance 2.  The environment has cover which can lower accuracy from some (but not all) sides of the cardinal compass points.  The map uses squares which are inferior to hexes. 

Combat strategy is pretty simple.  Take cover.  Have over-watch with your ranged weapons.  Use a blocker with lots of health and a melee weapon to keep your ranged shooters from being swarmed.

[Turn Based Combat Screen – Blue areas mean you can fire and red areas are max movement with no shot]
[Sam’s Team Takes Cover]

Unfortunately, the AI is weak.  Your enemies tend to rush in one (or perhaps 2) avenues of attack.  Enemies make poor use of the terrain.  Enemies bunch up.  And enemies do not concentrate on eliminating the blocker.  As a result, instead of “smart” survivalists, cult members, or mafia the game combat is more like mindless zombies rushing the nearest enemies.  Your foursome is outnumbered in every combat, but the enemy is so dumb that setting up kill zones is easy.  Overall, I found the combat AI to be much weaker than the X-COM or Jagged Alliance series.

[Dumb AI Tactics. Rush Forward on the same axis of attack with poor use of cover and no flanking attack]

In sum, the game has good atmosphere.  The incorporation of base improvement, weapon and armor upgrades, and leveling up different skills is well done.  The architypes of Sam and his henchmen will feel familiar.  But the combat leaves a lot to be desired – a bad thing for a combat heavy game.

[Mission Debrief]

Many may find the game unsuitable for children.  The bad guys commit horrific crimes.  The language is coarse.  Captured gang members are beaten, forced to play Russian roulette, and given truth serum after every battle.  Deadly weapons can be used to knock people “unconscious” in a fairly realistic world providing a bad example for weapons used to kill.

I enjoyed the game and do not regret spending 20 hours to free Reiker City from criminal gangs.  But I wish the combat AI was more challenging, you could rename team members, and for a variety of allies instead of the same six every game.  But if you like squad level, turn-based combat RPGs you will probably enjoy Vigilantes. 

Strategy Suggestions:

1] Sam Should Focus on Combat since he is a member of all combat missions.

2] You need one melee attack, large hit point tank. That character should lead the shooters while using cover. The melee tank blocks the wave of attackers allowing your shooters to take down opponents without getting swarmed.

3] Look at your battlefield carefully. Choose choke points for your melee tank. Quickly eliminate opposition not heading for your choke point.

4] Use the same characters for a combat team (Sam is a shooter, 2 other shooters, one melee tank).

5] Develop investigation, surgeon, and crafting skills on your “base henchmen.” Put them to work while your combat foursome goes to work in target blocks.

6] Difficulty ramps up substantially when attacking gang lieutenants and bosses. Make sure your combat group has sufficient weapons, healing items, and armor before taking on the first lieutenant.

Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror Review

Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror is a turn based, small group RPG.  Spiderweb is an independent software developer which offers games with a lot of story, simple graphics, and turn-based combat.  The low level graphics with a top down view may turn off many gamers, but Spiderweb’s games offer generous demos, a reasonable price, and a ton of gameplay for the gaming dollar.

This review is based on more than 45 hours of play and completion of the game at the normal level of difficulty.  I finished almost every quest in the game. 

In Queen’s Wish your main character is a lay about, youngest of three children of the Kingdom of Haven.  Your Mother (the Queen) used a portal to conquer a continent in her youth.  Then a horrible calamity struck causing the loss of the conquered territories.

The Queen had three children with your character being the youngest.  Although you had received the best training possible, you had done nothing with your life.  The Queen tells you it’s time to grow up, and has you tossed through a portal to the continent which resents Haven entirely, or resents it for abandoning them previously.

Ships with materials and a limited number of troops sailed months ago and are ready to build forts to help establish hegemony over the three groups of people inhabiting the land.

You have a four person adventuring party that breaks down into the traditional categories of mage, healer, and fighter.  The main character can gain powers which provide healing or party buffs.  Any character can gain powers in the mage, healer, or fighter groups.  But there are a limited number of level-ups (I finished at level 20).  I used the initial party and specialized with one pure fighter, one pure mage, one pure healer and the main character having the buff skills from the Haven Royalty plus fighter skills.  Eventually, all of the characters picked up some healing skills and the healer became a marginally good fighter.

There are a lot of quests and some choices to be made.  There are four areas.   You start in the central area which is marginally under Haven’s control at the start.  You must make decisions on how you wish to rule (merciful, greedy, ruthless, etc….).  In the other four areas you must decide which faction you will support to rule over the other factions within an area.  You can equivocate for quite a while, but eventually you must decide which side to back in each area.

Typical of previous Spiderweb releases, this is a very combat heavy game.  You gain experience points primarily by completing quests.  And as you complete quests more and more raw materials will come under your control (stone, iron, wood and mercury).  You use these captured mines to build your forts.  For example, you can build a carpenter shop in each castle.  There are a total of 8 castles which can be completed.  If you build 7 carpenter shops (one per castle max), then the best bows are available to your party.  However, your party can only wield weapons and equipment which they qualify for based on how many levels they obtain in the mage or fighter tracks (support track does not unlock equipment).

Building shops in your castles also consumes materials monthly.  Thus, in addition the regular complete quests and conquer areas you have a mini-game building and stocking castles.  If you build the second castle in the three initially independent areas – you start having problems with theft and raids.

I’ve played quite a few Spiderweb releases.  I enjoyed Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror more than any of their other series.  This game follows traditional sword & sorcery patterns which I enjoy.  It was different, but not so different to feel weird.  Geneforge, some of the releases which take place underground, and backing the evil Avadon empire all three were less enjoyable settings than Queen’s Wish.

I also liked the meta-story of conquering the lands by capturing resource producing areas, and building and stocking castles.  You must balance your character levels, equipment, resource production, and castle building/stocking activities.  If you let the meta-game get out of whack you cannot properly equip your party or fully conquer any of the three disputed areas.  This was an enjoyable level of empire building without becoming overly time consuming.

In sum, if you like party based, turn combat games which require minimal computing power and graphics capability you will enjoy Queens Wish.  This is a superb game to take on a tablet or a small laptop while on the road.  You will get a lot of play out of this purchase.  Last, you can try a long demo before purchase to see if this scratches your gaming itch.

Demo at: Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror (spiderwebsoftware.com)

Dark Adventure Radio Theater’s Masks of Nyarlathotep – A Review

MONcoverMP3_grande

Masks of Nyarlathotep is one of the best scenarios for a role-playing game ever written. First released in 1984, Masks has been revised and rereleased multiple times. Masks is so well known there is a published 763-page supplement (Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion) to the 251page original campaign. Recently Dark Adventure Radio Theater released a dramatization of the Masks of Nyarlathotep RPG Campaign.

Masks of Nyarlathotep begins with the murder of occult book writer Justin Elias in New York City. The investigators unravel a complicated plot with action potentially taking place in six major locations across five continents. I don’t want to spoil the Masks RPG supplement or the radio dramatization which necessitates a cautious review. Masks is broken up into six episodes each being approximately an hour and ten minutes long. Total program length is approximately seven hours.

The Dramatization uses a cliff hanger approach. Tension builds, something very bad is about to happen, and they break for a very short “commercial.” There are commercials for multiple, fictitious brands all with subtle comedy. No commercials are repeated. Let me provide two examples. The first is a tag line: “Bubble-Pep – the delicious beverage which improves mental health. The “L” stands for Lithium.” A second ad warned listeners of danger that your child’s toy caught fire and burned the tyke. The solution? A teddy bear made of soft asbestos, the miracle mineral that keeps your child’s toys safe from fire! Dark Adventure Radio Theater’s use of the commercials improves the “cliff hanger” feel of the production, and all commercial interruptions are brief.

Initially, all Masks Investigators have some connection to Justin Elias. As the investigation progresses some of the original characters die or go insane. New companions are recruited and some of them die or go insane – or go insane and then die. Nyarlathotep is a tough opponent. The story line is complex with a host of characters. Because every character has their own voice actor it is far easier to follow the story compared to audio productions where a single narrator or a small cast voices multiple characters.

Dark Adventure Radio Theater is a true dramatization. There is a huge cast of voice actors. High quality sound effects accompany the script. There is even an original musical score. Masks would favorably compare to the highest quality radio dramatizations from the Golden Age of Radio in the 1920s – 1950s. If you have ever listened to H.G. Wells War of the Worlds broadcast, Masks is a step up in voice acting and production quality.

I’ve listened to Masks of Nyarlahotep twice. My first listen was in the car and working out at the gym. The second listen was on two long car trips with my wife. I’ve read multiple versions of Masks of Nyarlathotep and have also read the companion volume. I’ve GMed Call of Cthulhu many times and have written multiple scenarios. My wife played Call of Cthulhu a couple of times decades ago, has never read Masks, and has never designed a scenario. Both of us enjoyed this production. My wife was followed and enjoyed the complex story line with no background knowledge of Masks and little knowledge of the Call of Cthulhu game.

Masks of Nyarlathotep has reasonable interpretations of the RPG scenario. Many blanks had to be filled in. Things were added and some things from the scenario were omitted. As someone with an extraordinary knowledge of the scenario, only one change bugged me. The way Bast was handled in Cairo made no sense and that part either should have edited out or further elaborated. Still, that was at most seven minutes of story in a 75-minute program segment.

Dark Adventure Radio Theater’s production of Masks of Nyarlathotep extends their dramatizations of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. They have previously released dramatizations of multiple H.P. Lovecraft short stories and novellas from the Cthulhu Mythos. All are styled after classic 1930s radio dramas. Most of their work is available on Audible. The dramatizations can be purchased on CD or as digital downloads.
Masks can also be purchased with a large variety of props from the story at a substantially higher price. The props are not needed to enjoy the audio production.

Honestly, the props are only helpful if you are game mastering Masks of Nyarlathotep as a Call of Cthulhu game for a group of players. It is the longest Call of Cthulhu segment out there and it takes a huge time commitment by both GM and players to finish. I would only purchase the props if: a] you have a group committed to playing Masks, b] you as GM are committed to running Masks, and c] you think that the props add enough value to your game experience to merit the hefty cost. If this is true, by all means purchase the deluxe package. But most interested in listening to Masks of Nyarlathotep will not benefit much from the prop package.

I’m a huge consumer of audio books and own at least a hundred. I’ve regularly listened to audiobooks for decades. Originally, I listened to audiobooks when I had to make occasional long drives or as background when doing something mind numbing – like painting walls. Then my wife gave me an Audible membership to encourage me to stop listening to the news on my car radio when I had a very stressful job. Today, I listen to audiobooks most of the time in my car, even on short trips. I also listen to audiobooks when I’m at the gym by myself. I complete an audio book about every two weeks.

Masks of Nyarlathotep is an excellent, but somewhat short (seven hour) audiobook experience. It is fabulous if you are familiar with the RPG scenario and the Call of Cthulhu game. If you understand the Cthulhu mythos but have no familiarity with the RPG scenario, Masks is also an excellent listen (according to my wife). It is a little pricey at $35 compared to other audio books. But the price will probably fall somewhat as the years pass. I do not recommend buying the prop package version which runs $70 unless you have a strong commitment to running Masks as an RPG.

If you want a prop set to run Masks, the $129 prop package also sold by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is much better. The props with the CD pale in comparison to that prop package.  If you have a group committed to playing Masks and you want to GM it – this will probably take six months or more of game sessions for people who work for a living. The prop package is a reasonable purchase if you spend that amount of time. A good unboxing video of all of the props can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=480&v=WEjxwI3nWzw

Purchase information and product details are found at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society http://www.hplhs.org/ on their store page. Masks is not currently available at Audible, but Audible sells most other Dark Adventure Radio Theater productions.

A Fallen Star for All – Mutant Crawl Classics Module Review

a fallen star for all

A Fallen Star for All is a level 1 Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC) module running twenty pages with nineteen pages of maps, room descriptions or artwork relevant to encounters. This review is based on playing at MACE West game convention in Asheville, NC and my purchase and reading of a physical copy of the module.

The hard copy price is $9.99 and you can get a pdf of the module at goodman-games.com or drivethrurpg.com for $6.99. The hard copy has high quality using good paper and a sturdy cover. Like most goodman-games MCC modules, there are excellent maps of both the wilderness and the underground encounter areas. Unlike some modules, every piece of module art is relevant to at least one encounter. There is no “gonzo art for the sake of having gonzo art.”

The backstory of A Fallen Star for All is a meteorite hit uncovers several surface buildings and entrances to an underground dwelling of the Ancients. The meteorite was highly visible, and the crash started fires with huge smoke plumes marking the crash. These beacons attract every investigatory team in the area. The module has no pregenerated characters and is suggested for first level characters.

The concept is excellent. The premise that many parties swarm the area is logical. Some encounter quirks will frustrate players – but in a fun way. There is some neat technology, utterly useless from a gameplay perspective, that is interesting and mysterious. A Fallen Star for All can probably be played in one longish (say 3-6 hours) or two short play sessions as long as characters are already rolled up.

The remainder of this review has some mild spoilers. The review is intended for GMs deciding if this module will work in their game and some spoilers are necessary for the review. Stop now if you want to avoid spoilers.

*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*

As written the module is unbalanced. First, many other parties are encountered. The number and quality of opponents will probably crush any first level party lacking overwhelming weaponry. The obvious tactical solution upon realizing many other seeker teams are converging is to wait in ambush for depleted parties loaded with treasure. That tactic cannot work due to a bad design choice.

A doomsday explosion is highly likely to be triggered in a room deep in the complex. The explosion destroys the complex and the surrounding area. If the party charges forward, the combat attrition will probably doom them because most opponents are unwilling to negotiate. If they wait to rest up, or set a long-term ambush, the doomsday device probably kills them.

Last, a very late encounter will almost certainly kill one or more characters. This death is so predictable that the module contains a wonderful illustration of the time and manner of the upcoming death ballet.

I have several suggestions for GMs considering running A Fallen Star for All. If the encounter tables and unwillingness of enemies to negotiate are retained, make the party 2nd or 3rd level. Second, remove the doomsday trigger or make it harder to activate. Last, carefully consider if you wish to kill off a party member in an almost certain death situation regardless of how well they play.

In sum, I like the ideas of A Fallen Star for All. The maps and illustrations fit gameplay better than most MCC modules. I would make judicious modifications before running it in an ongoing campaign. Run as a one-shot or a convention game, merely adjusting player levels or equipment would work fine. A successful mission at the expense of one or two player deaths is reasonable for a one-shot or convention game.

Overall, the poor play balance yields a rating of 3 on a 10-point scale if run without adjustments using first level characters. Even with good players, a total party kill may occur. With reasonable adjustments, this module jumps to an 8 on a 10-point scale.

Two final thoughts. First, I dislike doomsday devices wiping encounter areas off the map. Why snatch away the fruits of victory If the group plays well? Second, although my character was the given sacrifice in the certain death encounter, Michael Jones my GM at Mace West was excellent. The pregens were sufficiently powerful to make the module a challenge but not a death trap – aside from my sacrifice. Mr. Jones has one of the most pleasant voices I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to in an RPG. His maddening dialogue as the AI was memorable.

Hive of the Overmind

Hive of the Overmind is a Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC) adventure module for 0-level characters. MCC encourages starting a campaign with players running 2-4 zero level characters in a “zero level funnel adventure.” Most of the zero level characters die with survivors becoming first level characters (called “seekers” in MCC). In sum, you start MCC by running a pack of zero level characters in an intro game funnel. Most of the “zeros” die in the funnel. The survivors pick a class and become first level MCC characters.

hivecover

This is an unusual and brutal start to an RPG. The only thing I can compare it to is the old Paranoia game. In Paranoia your character is in a future gone wrong. Each character has multiple “clones.” When your character died, a clone was uncorked with all memories and skills of your deceased character up to the moment of the predecessor’s death. Permi-death only occurred when your character and all of its clones perished. Paranoia was renowned for a huge casualty list and frequent “total party kills” (TPK).

My review of Hive of the Overmind is based on two things. First, I and five others played in the module at a MACE game convention. Each player ran four 0-level characters for a total of 24. All 24 died in a TPK. Second, I purchased a pdf from http://www.goodman-games.com. I’m hoping to avoid spoilers. My review is aimed at GMs considering purchase.

Hive of the Overmind has 20 pages. Fifteen are encounter descriptions, maps, results tables and other information directly related to the scenario. The remaining five pages are illustrations (mostly possible game encounters) and advertising. No pregenerated characters are provided.

There are multiple problems with the module. First, characters “awaken” in a combat situation with no escape route. Characters are on a tiny six-hundred-foot-high plateau. The design forces characters to follow a largely linear path holding few choices with no retreat possible. I prefer players having more options.

Second, there are not one but two impossible to defeat combat opponents. The only way to “win” is persuading one impossible for zero level characters to defeat opponent to destroy the other impossible to defeat opponent. Characters will largely watch from the sidelines as one super-powered foe destroys the other over-powered opponent. I prefer modules with more than one way to solve the quest.

Third, there is a potential total party kill room. That is not in and of itself a problem. My problem is the TPK is utterly unknown to the players and can be randomly triggered. Enter a room. Do nothing obviously dumb. Everyone dies. Game over. In my play experience our handful of zero-levels survivors managing to reach this room died. Game over. I dislike TPK traps triggered by anything except very bad player decisions.

My GM who ran this module at MACE did a fine job. The total party kill room was run as written. The players were experienced with RPGs in general and most had experience playing Mutant Crawl Classics

Fourth, there are two means of escape. One involves mind control and the other is obtaining a super high-tech item and escaping inside it. Survivors are now newly minted first level characters owning a super powerful vehicle. This would be a play balance game breaker. If the zero levels win, most GMs would remove the item from future play. I view this as “well played. Now I’m taking away the spoils of your victory.”

I would extensively modify this module before running it. I would change the location to somewhere players could escape from. I would provide player motivation with something other than, “you are trapped with only one way forward.” I would replace the two super powered opponents. Placing the encounter in a less isolated locale makes modifying or removing the two means of escape rather easy.

You might get the impression that I think this is a bad module. That is not the case. Many ideas and encounters in Hive of the Overmind are quite clever. The main opponent is interesting. Excepting the TPK room and the two over-powered opponents, there is good play balance. And by “good play balance” I mean a fun gaming session with perhaps a 50% kill rate. Unfortunately, I cannot describe and praise the many good points of this module without disclosing a lot of spoilers.

On a ten-point scale, I would give this module a 5. This is not fun as written. The module has many fun ideas and could be easily modified. But absent modifications I do not consider this to be a fun 0-level funnel adventure.

Review of Pillars of Eternity 2

Overview:
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is the sequel to the Pillars of Eternity Computer Role Playing Game (RPG). This review is based on 70 hours of play on medium difficulty. My characters are now 18th level and I’m approaching the end game. I purchased the game in December during the Steam Christmas sale without buying additional content. I’ve also played Pillars of Eternity 1 to completion.

In Pillars of Eternity 2 (Pillars 2) your character wakes up from a coma on a ship. In Pillars 1, the dungeons below your keep had a massive human statue made of adra. The god Eothas animated the statue, destroyed your keep, killed most of your friends and servants, stole part of your soul, and marched off to the Deadfire Islands. You are even more of a plaything of the gods as they order you to find out what Eothas is up to and stop him if necessary. Nothing comes easy for a Watcher (someone who can see souls and talk to dead people).

1 - character screen

2 - small island

As expected in an RPG sequel, your collected items, knowledge, levels, etc…. have been whisked away. You start as a first level character with a first level fighter character (Eldar) on your ship begging to be recruited. You have recruitment slots for up to four companions who are directly controlled in combat or run by the combat AI.

The Deadfire Islands are politically complex with five major factions and several sub-factions. Your actions build a reputation with each faction, sub-faction, and island. All factions offer quests large and small. Some factions are enemies, others are allied, and all want you to do things either too dangerous or too trivial for them to dirty their hands with.

3 - relationship wheel

4 - island exploration

After the initial shipboard battle and walkabout with the gods in the “god dimension,” you find yourself on an island with a small wrecked ship, one potential party member, and a small amount of salvaged goods. Several others can be recruited on this island. You must complete some quests to get your ship repaired. It seems like I’m dropping a ton of spoilers, but we are only fifteen minutes or so into the game. Pillars 2 starts by dropping a big bucket of information on your head, but the info dump is skillfully done.

Once your ship is repaired the Governor of the island encourages you to set sail for a specific port on a different island. You can ignore these instructions and sail away to explore and meet other factions on your own. You might try looting every ship and village encountered. Unlike Pillars 1, once you get your ship all map locations are discoverable. Map icons indicate if the dangers on an island or encounter area may be over your head – but nothing stops you from charging forward. I mostly followed the large breadcrumbs dropped in my characters path by the developers.

5 - world exploration map

6 - exploring at sea

Characters, Party Building and Combat Strategy
Like most long RPG games, Pillars 2 has a lot of combat. There are different character classes with different skills and abilities. I suggest recruiting characters encountered in your travels instead of recruiting generic minions from a bar. Characters encountered while traveling have better back stories, more entertaining dialogue, and will each cough up a couple of quests. A fighter, a priest, a wizard, and a cipher (sort of a wizard) can be quickly recruited. The Pillars combat system is best managed by having a strong tank backed by spell casters and ranged weapons specialists.

Your personal character makes up the 5th party member. I suggest playing a ranger with a bear or lion companion. The ranger is the best missile weapon combatant. A good archer deals a lot of the total party damage. A ranger also gets an animal buddy. Selecting a “bear buddy” provides a second “mini-tank” melee character. Last, rangers can select mechanics and stealth points when leveling up which enable lock picking and trap detection/removal. There are a lot of locks in the game. Some areas have quite a few traps.

As I gained levels I selected fighter perks on absorbing damage while wearing very heavy armor. My fighter build was “tank” used to tie up a lot of enemies and absorb most melee damage. Other party members dealt ranged damage or combat buff/debuffs. In this combat system, the mage and priest are better utilized on buffs and debuffs instead of dealing direct damage. Your cipher can deal a lot of physical damage quickly and the ranger can do considerable damage with missile weapons. Priests and mages can carry wands/rods/staffs which deal endless amounts of small ranged damage when not casting spells. In the Pillars magic system, most spells can be cast during a single combat and be ready for use in the next combat encounter.

In most conflicts my tank rushed forward to engage and block the enemy. My “bear buddy” was held in reserve to block leakers. My mage and priest buffed/debuffed, the ranger used their bow and the cipher either fired pistols or dealt direct magic damage. The mage was a secondary ranged damage spell caster. The cipher and ranger concentrated on one eliminating one supporting enemy at a time (missile weapon wielder or spell caster). Melee enemies were usually concentrated on last unless they broke past the fighter/bear line and engaged a supporting character. A “tank build” can absorb a tremendous amount of punishment before dropping.

7 - a serious monster

8 - boarding action

The drawback of tank builds with heavy armor is they attack very slowly. The lighter the armor the faster you can get off attacks. I usually had my secondary troops in relatively light armor so they could cast spells or fire ranged weapons rapidly. But this did make them vulnerable if an enemy melee character locked them in an engagement.

The World is Amazing
Very few computer RPG worlds provide such an “immersive experience” that I felt mentally transported into a different world. The first Fallout, Morrowind, Freedom Force and Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines all did it for me. Pillars of Eternity 2 hits this mark. The backgrounds are very reminiscent of what you see in the Caribbean and Central America. The complex factions dislike each other for very good reasons. Most factions have both good and bad points.

Your character lacks knowledge of the islands. They must be explored to find out what is going on. The sounds and background music gave you the feeling you were on a schooner in an Alt-Caribbean environment. I got a real sense of “exploring the unknown” (at least to me) from this game. I seldom get that “exploration of the unknown” experience in an RPG. I cannot remember the last time I did not turn off the music in an RPG. I still have the music playing at a low volume in the background after 70 hours of play.

The faction and relationship map associated with your main character gives you an excellent overview of where you stand with the various groups.
The artwork, background animation, and voice acting for Pillars 2 are outstanding and build a frontier environment where many factions struggle for supremacy. Some factions are rising, others falling, and some long for days gone by before they were superseded by other factions. The factions did not seem “generic.”

9 - nifty architecture

10 - map of one city section

11 - easy to navigate city map

Games hitting this mark usually become favorites I replay multiple times. Games coming close to this mark (Icewind Dale; Fallout: New Vegas) also get replayed. Otherwise excellent games that felt generic (Oblivion, Daggerfall, Silent Storm, any of the Baldurs Gate series) get one play through and are discarded.

The screenshots provide a taste of what I’m talking about with Pillars 2. But in the background you hear waves crash, see water drop over a falls, and listen to faction leaders who have darn good reasons for hating another faction and vice-versa. The architecture reminded me of a cross between the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and Inca cities from Peru.

12 - spooky environment

13 - things get weird

Pillars 2 is Not as Depressing as Pillars 1
Pillars 1 had one of the most unique and depressing story lines of any RPG. Something is causing children to be born without souls. Nobody knows what is happening to these souls. Various groups are being blamed for “the Hollow Born” and atrocities acted upon various scapegoats are common. Yuck! Compelling, but a real downer of a story line.

Combat and Items
At average difficulty the fights were balanced. The game gives ample warning if you were potentially biting off more than you could chew – but nothing prevents your characters from picking fights with enemies which can easily snuff them out.
I strongly encourage players to turn the combat AI off all party members. With some thought you should be able to run a battle far better than the AI. The combat takes place in real time but can be paused at any time. Effectively managing your buff/debuffs is essential to victory against challenging opponents. Scouting ahead helps a lot. Thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent’s helps. But my advice is RPG Combat 101 and nothing about the combat is uniquely good.

One knock against Pillars 1 seen in Pillars 2 is generic, bland magic items. There is great play balance, but no truly memorable weapons, magical trinkets, armor or whatnot to be had. I would periodically review inventory items and compare to equipped items. Items would be swapped around, and obsolete stuff sold. But I never felt a twang of regret from taking an obsolete but colorful item out of action.

The combat system works well and has excellent play balance. But the items are blah. The storyline is more interesting than your tactical combat strategy – which for most RPG games is a good thing.

You can create items and increase the power of many existing items. But components needed for upgrades are few and far between. My advice is to save most components until the middle game and then use them to create “legendary” items with power upgrades fitting your combat style. Beware of using rare components to make one-shot potions or scrolls. Still, I never created anything “memorable” enough to bring up in chit-chat over drinks with other gamers.

It takes a lot of money to buy better ships and expensive provisions. It costs a lot of money to enchant legendary items with great powers. Many things in this game cost a lot of money. Think about your goals an prioritize your funds in that direction.

What About Your Ship?
You have a ship. You can buy better ships and equip each ship with better stuff. You can recruit crew and over time your crew gains levels and fights, steers, cooks and does other things better. Ships can be named (I sailed the Salty Dog). But ship combat is highly stylized and pretty boring. If you learn the ground combat system, you should win any ship-to-ship fight if you can manage a boarding action without being sunk.

Maybe I failed to grasp something about ship combat, but I found it simplistic and boring. I did far better when I managed to board the other ship. Ship supplies, equipment and crew morale must be managed, but this is easy.

I loved sailing the Salty Dog and exploring the islands. It was a blast. Ship combat was a boring diversion from happy exploration.

14 - ship combat example

15 - ship crew guns provisions

Content Warning: Pillars 2 has some normal RPG content issues: drug use, slavers, prostitution, etc….   There is nudity (tiny figure on the screen) in the bathhouse and a couple of other places – but the nudity fits the locations where it is used (prostitutes, bathhouse, etc….).

But Pillars 2 has content that is pretty far out there for a RPG game.  The game is rated “M” (17+) for a reason.  Some language is unsuitable for those under 18.  How unsuitable?  Think “f-bombs” and more.  Most of the language is utterly unnecessary for the plot.  Vulgarity just for the sake of vulgarity is sloppy writing and game design.  A little more creativity would both ease the concerns of some purchasers while broadening the vocabulary of other users.

My Recommendation?
Pillars 2 excels at providing a rich, engrossing environment peopled with memorable characters and factions. You get a sense of mystery, enchantment, and exploration. Combat is well balanced. Your side-kick characters have interesting personality quirks and foibles. I was not excited about the magic items, ship combat, or the squabbling gods of Pillars 2. If you are like me, most every god would be exterminated, and the Pillars 2 pantheon would be replaced with something more interesting.

If you like RPGs I would absolutely buy this game. If you like interesting worlds, NPCs and factions to interact with I would buy the game today. If your primary RPG enjoyment comes from crafting neat stuff and having extremely exacting tactical combat, you might want to hold off for a year or so and buy Pillars 2 when the price falls further.

I really loved the game and do not regret the 70 hours I’ve put into it. I’ll replay it from start to finish after the three expansions go on-sale as a reasonably priced bundle or “game of the year” edition.

Mutant Crawl Classics Judges Screen

mcc judge screen

The screen has three pages which can be folded out to hide dice rolls.  The MCC writers suggest GMs not hide rolls – but this gives you a convenient way to hide the die if you wish.  But keeping with the spirit of MCC tables are printed on both sides of the screen.

There is a heavy coating on the screen that is “hopefully” resistant to spilled liquids.  I’m not going to test mine for spill resistance.  16 Tables from the rules manual are included on the screen.  Only the cover (pictured) lacks a table.

I’m not sure this is the best use of your gaming dollar.  If you don’t hide die rolls, I would just photocopy whatever tables I needed to run a particular scenario and go with that.  Still, this does provide quite a few tables in an organized fashion.

I absolutely recommend against purchasing a pdf version of this.  Hard copy or nothing.  Why buy a pdf if you can photocopy the tables out of the rules?

Mutant Crawl Classics: Blessings of the Vile Brotherhood Review

blessings of the vile brotherhood

Blessings of the Vile Brotherhood is a Level 4 adventure for Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC).  MCC is published by Goodman Games.  My review is vague to hopefully avoid  obvious spoilers.

The Holy Medicinal Order are a faction of peaceful, wandering healers.  As you would expect, they are beloved by most every faction.  Although wanderers are most of the membership, the Order has a few bases.

Your tribes prized possession, a functioning medi-bot finally broke down.  Your group of 4th level seekers is charged with taking the medi-bot to a Holy Medicinal Brotherhood base.  Specifically, follow the Pilgrim’s Way in hopes of finding the Holy Medicinal Brotherhood base.

Per normal for MCC, nobody in your village has visited the base and you will set forth into the wilderness hauling along a broken bot hoping to find the Holy Medicinal Brotherhood.  Your directions may or may not be accurate.

The MCC system encourages randomness.  “Blessings of the Vile Brotherhood” turns the random chaos to “11.”  Your group will have to choose a path through the wilderness to find the base.  There is a very long trek.  The groups choice of paths will in-turn increase the odds of encountering some factions/encounters and reduce the odds of encountering others.  “The Pilgrim Way” is the obvious, easy path – but is it the best route?

Unlike most MCC and Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures, this module is mostly wilderness travel and encounters.  The dungeon part is less extensive than the wilderness part.  If I was GMing this module I would roll up and familiarize myself the wilderness encounters before I started the game.  The party has a lot of travel choices  and some advance GM preparation promotes a seamless adventure instead of a mad scramble of GM dice rolling.

I like this module.  The broken medi-bot is a great motivation for a wilderness trek.  The GM is provided multiple factions and player choices are rationally integrated into the odds when/how various factions will be encountered.  The wilderness map is well done.  However, I think advance GM preparation is more important since the encounters are less linear than your typical MCC dungeon crawl which is more limiting on player choices.

No pregenerated characters are provided.  You could scale the difficulty up pretty easily.  One could perhaps scale down the difficulty somewhat, but doing so would require more of a pre-game rewrite by the GM.

Basics: Heavy paper, glossy cover.  High Quality paper.  24 pages (including covers).  20 pages of this module are game material with the rest being artwork, company advertisements and what not.  The printing quality is high and should hold up under any normal use.  You can buy a hardcopy from http://www.goodmangames.com and a pdf from https://www.drivethrurpg.com/