Tag Archives: board games

Dwarves of the Hell Forge

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dwarves of the Hell Forge: Deluxe Campaign Guide [Amazon, Bookshop, DriveThruRPG] by Noah Patterson, with illustrations by Dean Spencer, Patrick E Pullen, J M Woiak, Heather Shinn, Daniel F Walthall, and B Design.

Patterson Dwarves of the Hell Forge

This booklet is an expansion of Noah Patterson’s Micro Chapbook RPG system, with additional character generation details and ability mechanisms for dwarf player characters, along with a full multi-scenario campaign. There are some functional omissions: the details for the monsters in the Ironwell Countryside Encounters chart are not among the others in the bestiary appendix, or anywhere else in the book. (I have searched!) The dwarf characters are cool, and the skill system looks like it has real potential for other applications in this growing system. There seems to be a little “power creep” with the addition of the new character features, but it’s welcome as long as it doesn’t go much further. The characters generated from the basic rules can be pretty hapless!

The Art of Arkham Horror

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Art of Arkham Horror [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] ed. Ian Tucker.

Tucker The Art of Arkham Horror

The Art of Arkham Horror is essentially a 2021 successor volume to the 2006 Art of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Both are lavish showcases for illustrations produced originally for a range of tabletop games set in the world of pulp-era Yog-Sothothery. Where the earlier book drew on work for games from both Chaosium and Fantasy Flight publishers, this more recent one is all from the further fifteen years of Fantasy Flight “Arkham Files” games. The art has previously appeared on box exteriors, rule books, cards, playmats, and other game components.

The books are structured in the same manner, with the art organized into seven or eight topically-defined chapters. Other than the artist credits and occasional subject-matter captions, there is little text, and it is all basically ornamental. In many instances, the text in the new book consists of quotations from the Arkham Horror novellas published by Fantasy Flight from 2017 through 2020. The earlier book had what appeared to be artists’ titles for the individual pieces, and those are lacking in The Art of Arkham Horror. As before, art is often shown at a greater size and less cropped than it had been in its game appearances.

Landscapes and untenanted interiors account for a considerable number of the images here, owing in part to the production of art for the location cards in Arkham Horror: The Card Game. At the same time, with the development of the canonical stable of Arkham Files investigators, there is a large bank of individual character portraits which also feature quite prominently. On the whole, the illustration quality does seem to have improved from the earlier collection to the later one. The new book includes a greater number of illustrations overall: there is far less blank page space and the pages are slightly larger than the already-generous size of the predecessor volume.

Standout artists in this collection include Anders Finer, Magali Villeneuve, Tomasz Jedruszek, Jacob Murray, Ethan Patrick Harris, and Cristi Balanescu. But there are dozens of different artists represented, and the quality of illustration is very high throughout. The supernatural horror subject matter allows for surreal vistas, strange mutations, and other striking expressions of visual imagination. And yet much of this art shows real subtlety as well.

Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook [DriveThruRPG, Amazon] by Noah Patterson, part of the Micro Chapbook RPG series. Be aware that there is apparently a separate Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook Updated Edition [DriveThruRPG, Bookshop, Amazon].

Patterson Micro Chapbook RPG Deluxe Core Rulebook

The jacket copy and front matter of this little booklet implore the reader not to buy it, at least not until after downloading it from the DrivethruRPG.com website. I did not follow this advice, since I knew basically what sort of thing this book was, and that I would not want to bother with printing my own copy or reading and referencing it from a digital device. The material quality of the booklet is in fact just fine. It’s apparently print-on-demand, but it is a nice glue-bound publication. The cover art is good, although some of the many clip-art style interior illustrations leave a bit to be desired. The book includes three significant pieces: The Micro Chapbook rule set, a “dungeon” scenario, and an “adventure” scenario.

The rules outline character generation, basic play, combat, and level advancement for a streamlined solo roleplaying game, set in a largely unspecified fantasy world that the cover characterizes as “grimdark.” I am impressed with how minimalist these rules manage to be. Conventional six-sided dice are the only randomizers required, and characters are defined by four base statistics and two derivative ones. There are only four character classes, each oriented to proficiency in one of the base statistics. (Wizards surprisingly have no spells, merely proficiency in Wits.) Section 5.0 prescribes that seven points be allotted among the four base stats when creating a character (10), but my initial play demonstrated that such characters were vexingly weak. Looking at another iteration of these same rules in a different publication, I found the option to use nine points for a starting character, and I have found that to be more reasonable–still leaving plenty of challenge.

The dungeon scenario is “The Tomb of the Necro Lord.” In this game, dungeons are created algorithmically via dice rolls while exploring. A scenario supplies tables of room types, door attributes, and monsters for this purpose, with a boss monster to crown the achievement and signal the completion of the dungeon. The “Necro Lord” dungeon is full of rats and undead. Despite multiple attempts, I never managed to get to the boss, and I only “cleared” a handful of rooms each time. It is a durable sample of its genre, not just a tutorial.

I was able to make much better progress in the adventure scenario “The Haunting of Gilroy Tavern.” While the dice-driven dungeon sometimes feels too chaotic, the programmed adventure format has a tendency to feel like it is “on rails.” In either case, I wished there was a little more opportunity for meaningful choices. In this respect, I felt that the system was less satisfying than the comparable “Four Against” series. (Four Against Darkness is a popular solo dungeon crawl, and I have experienced its rules engine through the Four Against the Great Old Ones yog-sothothery game.) Still, I tend to prefer the Micro Chapbook approach of “true solo” for solitaire RPG to the team-management centered by “Four Against.”

It’s only in the last few months that I have started to investigate the genre of solitaire pencil-and-paper RPGs. Designer Noah Patterson has put out an impressive amount of supplementary rules, scenarios, and campaigns for his system, which has evidently been propagated online for quite a few years now. I’m sufficiently encouraged by this first sample that I will continue to try other Micro Chapbook content.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ghouls of the Miskatonic: Book One of The Dark Waters Trilogy by Graham McNeill, from Fantasy Flight Games:

Graham McNeill's Ghouls of the Miskatonic from Fantasy Flight Games


McNeill’s Ghouls of the Miskatonic is the first book in a trilogy premised on the “Arkham Horror” Lovecraftian gaming franchise. Derlethian might be a better adjective, in that both the typical gaming dynamic and the flavor of this book are closer to a Derleth pastiche like The Trail of Cthulhu than they are to HPL’s own Yog-Sothothery.

I haven’t played Arkham Horror itself, but I have played the lighter-weight spinoff Elder Sign, which I find quite enjoyable. Two of the characters available to players in Elder Sign are featured in Ghouls of the Miskatonic (Amanda Sharpe and Kate Winthrop), and these two—and probably others—are also Arkham Horror characters. I was a little surprised at the extent to which my interest in these characters was enhanced by prior game play. The novel also makes reference to Miskatonic University personalities established in the literary originals of the “Mythos”: Henry Armitage, Laban Shrewsbury, and others.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic is set in Arkham, Massachusetts, in 1926. That places it in the year following the main events described in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (but before the narrator’s discovery of them). McNeill puts a lot of emphasis on Prohibition and other features of 1920s America that aren’t as evident in the “native” accounts of Lovecraft and his peers. Some of this works well. There is an occasional clinker in diction or dialect, and although anachronisms are mostly kept at bay, the assumed co-ed character of Miskatonic is a little off-kilter, as other reviewers have noted.

The story starts off from every which way; at least half a dozen seemingly independent plot strands are brought together over the course of twenty chapters. In the process, the extremely diverse cast of heroes are brought into social relation with each other as well, so that by the book’s conclusion there is a little band of defenders: three students, an anthropologist, a scholar of ancient religion, a journalist, a photographer, a Pinkerton, and a hoodlum. As the first volume of the “Dark Waters Trilogy,” I actually had to wonder if this wasn’t programmed by McNeill on the model of The Fellowship of the Ring!

The narrative is all provided in a pulpy third-person omniscient style, and while the characters’ feelings are described extensively enough, there’s not much to draw the reader in to share those feelings. A good helping of graphic violence is available, for the benefit of those who are drawn to the combat element in the games, I suppose. The cover of the book is both attractive and a clinically accurate depiction of the scene described on page 200. The volume does provide a plot resolution, while leaving a few key questions unanswered, allowing the demand for a sequel to be posed in the epilogue. It was a fast read, and I’ve already acquired the second book—though I’m not too proud to admit that a contributing motive for the latter was to secure the proof of purchase that will entitle me to a promotional component to be added to my copy of the Elder Sign game. [via]



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