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DEADLANDS: Raven #1
Publisher: Visionary Comics
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/16/2020 14:31:50

Ah, Deadlands. It's a game I love, but it has Issues up to the ears, and this issue has all the Issues. Racial insensitivity, historical insensitivity, little bit of the sexism that gets a whole lot worse towards the end of the story in further issues (the recurrent theme of women being identical empty vessels for their sexier forebears is...disturbing at this point)...oof. It also basically does for Raven what the Star Wars prequels did for Darth Vader, so if you want your badasses badass and a tragic backstory to have the true weight of a man's descent into darkness? Dare I say: "NOoOOOooOOoo."

---- essay incoming ----

The main faults are twofold, spreading cracks throughout: firstly, the story talks about systemic prejudice without understanding its nature, buying into the whole "hatred is bad; hating someone for killing your mother is exactly as bad as the guy who murdered your mother because he decided he hated her face one day" thing that divorces ancestral action ("he hated!") from collective responsability towards the collectively disenfranchised ("he hated, we let him, we scorned you as hate-filled when you asked for justice"). Had the throwaway girlfriend been given a little character, Paul/Raven (now there's a fascinating angle brought up and never discussed) could have run up fearing for her life and straight into a moment of character change not rendered petty or anachronistic (the notion of race would not be one Raven grew up with) when she, always safe, blinks at him and says "...but of course they didn't come to kill us, we're white." Tie the introduction of the notion of race to that traumatic moment. Have him hurl away the cross that should have protected him, screaming "WHITE GOD!" in accusation at the altar, deny his Christian name when Delicate Arayan Whatsherface seeks to reason with him and there and then reclaim his dream-got name of Raven.

The refusal to face systemic prejudice leads to a particularly grotesque moment where the protagonist is actually blamed for a real, historical massacre. Just...imagine if someone wrote an alt-history where their Romany protagonist personally offended Hitler and that was why 220,000 people got sent to the gas chambers, just to fuel their personal angst. An entire people. This adds nothing to the story, trivialises Native pain, and apologises for the Paxton Boys (which even the colonial government didn't) as a kind of inevitable force of nature, like the product of Summon Bad Guys rather than endemic imperialist greed. You want a horror story? Betrayal? Have Raven recognise a traveller who'd been that way before, prayed with him, perhaps, crushing some grandmother's skull. White men we'd seen smiling, singing hymns, kissing their children. After the above break with Christianity, have him fail to kill anyone in the heat of the moment: have him beaten down, left unrecognised as breathing among the dead, and then thrown into jail when he tries to attack a perpetrator yet uncaught when he encounters him in the street. Let Raven ferment that frustrated hatred, and when he gets out plan and so get away with far more killing than he would ever have done otherwise, this time of women and children first: striking horribly logical, chillingly understandable blows against the occupation's future on his people's land. A killing in the heat of the moment is an animal action or reaction, not a start of darkness. Killing in cold blood is what stains the soul.

Secondly, Raven himself lacks authenticity. We can't mourn his people because they're never more than generic (white) ideas of Some Natives, even when they're supposedly Westernised to being indistinguishable from colonists save for skin and that fatal better claim on the coveted land (the buckskins even reappear in the art with no explanation). We can't mourn his language because he dismisses it and all sympathy we might gain by listening to how he feels about being the last speaker. We can't buy the "love" affair because the girl is a passive pinup he never thinks of again and they were horny kids at the time. We can't believe his loss of family affected him much, because we never see what was lost in a human light. Take out the "people who aren't white men spend all their time talking about white men" scene and replace it with things like Paul's father teaching him to steam birchbark so that the seams lie perfectly together, to aim heart and breath at the bird and bring it down by the world's consent to his arrow's asking; Paul's shock at seeing his mother cry over the news of a village and cousins taken off the map by smallpox, their bafflement as to where the disease came from since the soldiers in the fort don't die, and what is different about them, in a world before genetic population resistance is comprehended? Basic showing not telling stuff.

Had I enough world and time I would personally rewrite and redraw this mess. As it is...fans, it sells a character short on character shorter; don't read it. Non-fans, Deadlands can do better in the hands of Marshals who care; don't read it. White men, this is what's wrong with our storytelling when we use shortcut tropes and perpetuate unjust ideas through refusal to reckon with anything beyond the shallows; don't read it. Everyone else, this will make you sad with its thoughtlessness; don't read it. Author, artists...next time, do better, in research and in general, and budget for hiring a sensitivity reader or two if you're not hiring diverse staff. Eesh.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
DEADLANDS: Raven #1
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Don't Walk in Winter Wood
Publisher: Red Moon Medicine Show
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/02/2020 09:14:59

An excellent system for easy pickup play ideal for newcomers to the hobby, scout groups or con play with a more experienced GM, basically guided storytelling. A few neat ideas and a very good sense of mythic "Once upon a time"-type place. It's a good-looking PDF, too, with clear effort gone into the design.

The product loses stars because it seems unsure what it wants to be, and in its uncertainty cleaves to lazy tropes that are simply in poor taste rather than alarming or gross in the horror-genre way being aimed for. This could be simply fixed by removing the most racist elements (make up an Algonquin-sounding tribe for the "Indians" at least; make the thinly-disguised Romany/Russian Jewish "strangers" who eat children into trolls, or have them look like familiar settler types but seem slightly "off" until the kids realise it's a mask for creatures older, sharper-toothed and not European at all) and arranging the setting elements by tiers of maturity.

So at a one-leaf tier you could have your basic creepypasta, the half-a-man in the woods, blunt monster spooks, random mean-spirited gnome, on a two-leaf tier more psychological horror stories for the older kids - there's a great one with a buck's head in there, a more baffling one with an army of wolves - and then anything that's going to touch on more sensitive material like that implied/attempted sexual abuse can get kicked up to a three-leaf tier and polished to a sufficient level of maturity and complexity where it can a) have the intended impact and b) is not teaching your scout group or whatever bunch of kids that this is a thing you casually throw into storytelling, no big deal (if nothing else, you don't know that some dodgy uncle isn't already telling one of your scouts that overwhelming lust for pubescent bodies is a normal part of life). Put in a content key to your leaf tiers at the start and bam! GMs can go straight for the stories suited to their audience and the level of silly/spooky/difficult horror they want, and no-one gets unexpected blood libel or reminders of their local lay clergy with a thing for teenagers to the face. Huzzah!



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Don't Walk in Winter Wood
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Soth: a game of cultists vs investigators
Publisher: Steve Hickey
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/20/2020 16:18:56

I love Soth. The baked-in murderin' and conflict mechanics are simple, slick, and easy to get the hang of and the horror is nigh-infinitely customisable. It can be a harrowing tale of a descent into darkness, or a very murdery sitcom fuelled by utter pettiness and stupidity. The kind of cosmic, Lovecraftian horror that fills me with glee: discrimination-free horrendous mind-melting doom for everyone! Hail Soth!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Soth: a game of cultists vs investigators
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108 Bear-Themed Monsters (or Friends)
Publisher: WMB Saltworks
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/16/2019 15:58:20

This is Awesome and I might run Night of 1,000 Bears just to wedge some of these in. My rating is actually something like a 4.7, since there are a few typos etc., but you get what you pay for and this is already more than worth it. You can find stupid bears for comedy campaigns, actually-horrific-if-you-think-about-it bears for horror campaigns, a ready-made bear cult, stealth bears, battle bears, non-bears, drop bears...all the bears you could want on a random table and some you never knew you needed.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
108 Bear-Themed Monsters (or Friends)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you so much! May I ask what your favorite bear is?
50 Ghostly Encounters
Publisher: Pink Dice Bag Publishing
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/02/2019 15:52:39

Nothing strikingly original, but a couple of nice creepy ones in there and the odd mundane thing that could be linked more subtly to ghostly activity. A good inspiration-sparker.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
50 Ghostly Encounters
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Dread of Night [BUNDLE]
Publisher: The Impossible Dream
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/02/2019 15:26:02

The systems are both very good for quick and easy horror gaming. However. There's nothing in the Dread PDF that expands on the free content unless you're very new to TTRPGs and/or horror - if you like the game (and I do, it decidedly deserves its awards), you waste less time to simply donate what you like on the website. Dead of Night has a ruleset that, whilst sleek and on-point, needs playing to be properly grasped. Its technical writing is also disappointing, with the "this book contains content that may offend some readers" disclaimer used as an "I'm not racist but-" rather than a genuine warning on potentially painful topics seriously discussed ahead. I was expecting something like slasher examples with bikini babes and dead women everywhere, y'know, B-movie stuff people'd copy as parody, not things like "Asian horror, also known as J-horror..." (for the geographically-challenged, imagine attributing the entire genre-focused output of Ireland and the rest of Europe to England) and gendered assumptions about the player group throughout.

Decent systems, purchase regretted.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Dread of Night [BUNDLE]
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Convicts & Cthulhu
Publisher: Cthulhu Reborn
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/02/2019 14:56:59

In addition to literally everything you need to play a Coc game in Colonial Australia bar the dice, this book provides excellent, historically-based story seeds in as well as an introductory adventure. The horrors of simply staying alive as a convict or native in the early penal colonies are neither sensationalised nor toned-down, there's no unecessary gendered language in the rules, and the sweet historical accuracy comes with rules for getting drunk on your rum ration, other people's rum ration, bathtub rum, smuggled rum etc.

If it lacks anything, it's guidelines on how to stat a kangaroo, because your players will interact with the wildlife in the least-informed fashion possible.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Convicts & Cthulhu
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Creator Reply:
Hi Alex, Thanks for your wonderful review of Convicts & Cthulhu. In the 3+ years since we released Convicts & Cthulhu we've been contacted (and met) many gamers who have really enjoyed the level of historical-accuracy and research that we put into the writing of this setting. Seems like you are of a similar mind, which is great to hear. BTW we put the same amount of rigorous research into our PDF supplements for C&C, all of which are available here on DTRPG also (I think we may be one of the few game publishers to ever cite academic papers and history PhD theses in our bibliographies :)) On the subject of a lack of kangaroo (and other Australian fauna) stats ... hmm, yes that is definitely something that's missing from both Convicts & Cthulhu *and* Chaosium's sourcebook on Australia. There were some CoC 7e stats written for such things in early drafts of the latter book; contact me directly via email (dean [at] cthulhureborn.com) if your players take your C&C game places where they would be important.
DEADLANDS: The Devil's Six Gun
Publisher: Visionary Comics
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/20/2015 13:54:34

Wherin an inventor who isn't actually Tesla doesn't make a death ray...but does make one hell of a gun.

I really liked this one, and if only some ambiguity could have been added to the ending I'd have liked it even more. As it stands, the antagonist's motives are muddy and the threat of madness induced through the arcane sciences or Ghost Rock Fever is sadly undercut. The conversation at the end still rocks, though.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DEADLANDS: The Devil's Six Gun
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DEADLANDS: Death Was Silent
Publisher: Visionary Comics
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/14/2015 15:00:33

If you like to watch a fella raise hell, Hoyt Cooper sure gets his body count.

That's about as far as this story goes; I'd recommend this to someone who hasn't heard of or isn't familiar with the Deadlands setting, to whom said not-exactly human bodies and the ease with which a Heroic-level character can level NPCs might be novel. Gettng into potential spoiler territory, perhaps the antagonists should have been introduced at a time when they were an active threat to more than a well-equipped bounty hunter, since mowing the slow, largely unarmed foes down in passive minding-our-own-buisness-pretending-to-be-human season makes the gunslinger look more like a bully than a hero.

Alas, the interesting conceit of a mute protagonist is turned into a gimmick as the hinderance is literally removed by magic, but the art deserves celebration - Hoyt couldn't be described as generic or even good-looking from a country mile. There's no trace of sameface or Hollywood-style prettification amongst the spear-carriers, either (even if everyone's Spagetti-Western white), which lends a neat bit of atmosphere and grit to the tale.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DEADLANDS: Death Was Silent
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DEADLANDS: Black Water
Publisher: Visionary Comics
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/14/2015 03:13:27

A tale of supernaturally-induced madness without a twist.

Curiously, the bodyguard who acts as viewpoint/protagonist seems more driven than the deviously enchanted (infatuated?) fellow he's employed by. I was entertained by the secondary characters getting killed off in their various ways, and this is the only one of the three Deadlands comics I picked up where there was a /woman/ who a) wasn't a whore and b) didn't die horribly! hi-fives old fortune-teller crone You go, ma'am!

Get it for the Maze dragons and the guide's hilariously habituated attitude to having to step round nasties, sorcerers, sea serpents etc.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DEADLANDS: Black Water
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Isolation (8 of 16 in UNFASHIONED CREATURES, A Frankenstein Anthology)
Publisher: Red Stylo Media
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/14/2015 02:45:11

This little story would be a quietly thought-provoking short on its own, but in the context of a Frankenstein-themed anthology the thing really shines. The tale of a man who went far further than others would follow, and paid the price. The rough-edged but vibrant art that slowly fades into darkness is absoloutely appropriate and highly atmospheric.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Isolation (8 of 16 in UNFASHIONED CREATURES, A Frankenstein Anthology)
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