Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Modern Basics: Tools of Terror and Blood (OGL)

Modern Basics: Tools of Terror and Blood
Publisher: NUELOW Games
Page Count: 8
Cost: Ninety-Nine Cents
Release Date: 05/15/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Tools of Terror and Blood is designed for the Open Game License, or OGL. This means it can be used for systems like Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons 3.0/3.5 and so on. Although the name of the product implies that the piece will help Gamemasters with creating a mood of eeriness or horror, that’s not actually the case. This collection is merely five pages (along with three pages for the cover, credits, and OGL license) of mechanics, rather than anything that can be used to convey a sense of dread or foreboding in your game. That doesn’t make it bad. It’s just “Tools of Terror” sounds more like piece to help GMs rather than five pages of more things to add to the character creation process. I’m a bit sad, because if there is one thing the OGL has been sorely needing, it is more help with horror/terror based adventures. Sword and Sorcery’s wonderful take on Ravenloft has been gone (and is not reprintable for legal reasons) for far too long, and most of the stuff that comes out for Pathfinder and its ilk really miss the mark in terms of setting a spooky atmosphere. The closest I’ve seen to a quality affair in this regard is Rite Publishing’s Kaidan and Haunts pieces. At this point, more mechanics are the last thing needed for terror game in a OGL setting, because Cthulhu knows we have enough feats, prestige classes and the like bogging things down.

So what do you get with Tools of Terror and Blood? Well, there are nineteen feats and three talent trees. The feats don’t really add anything to make a game more horrifying or frightening as, well, they are feats specifically for player characters to use against supernatural threats. If you give PCs an edge against the supernatural, that makes them LESS FRIGHTENING and more hack and slash fodder. Now, if these feats had been geared towards giving supernatural creatures an edge, like a vampire with a misplaced heart so staking is harder, or a ghost that drains say, INT instead of age, this would be far more useful, as it would knock players off guard and give them some memorable opponents.

What’s here isn’t very good in terms of theme and intent of the piece. There are some interesting feats, like Eldritch Expert, which gives a character +2 to Knowledge (Occult) and Spellcraft, and others, like Hereditary Curse, which makes for some interesting role-playing opportunities, but the rest are either overpowered to the point where no GM should allow them (like Killing Blow, where a 20 equals an automatic kill of any opponent. Sorry Demi-Lich or Ancient Dragons.) or just spit in the face of the very idea the title conveys (like Too Cute to Die, where the character is so physically attractive, they add their Charisma to Defense and Reflex saves). Most of what’s here simply takes away from a supernatural oriented horror setting. I mean, if I say, “We’re going to play Ravenloft!” what gamer with this won’t instantly consider taking Spirit Armour (which gives you +4 defense and +2 Fortitude saves against incorporeal beings) or Ancient Blood (where you get a +2 to attack and damage a particular supernatural or demonic race AND any weapon you hold acts as a +2 magical weapon)? Also, this feat can be taken at FIRST LEVEL? Seriously, who playtested or vetted these? Imagine this in the hands of a Human Ranger. Stacking with the favored enemy, you have a 1st level character with a +3 bonus to hitting, say, werewolves (a fine low level horror enemy) and he automatically has the power of a +2 magic weapon. That throws all suspense and fear of dealing with a lycanthrope out the window. Don’t even get me started on Zombie Master, which would let a Level 1 Wizard animate dead, and the number stacks with the maximum from the Animate Dead spell they would get as they level up. Holy crap, these feats are so unbalanced it’s not even funny.

Now, if you’re playing a Monty Haul or hack and slash min/max game where the idea is roll-playing over role-playing, sure, some of these feats would be fine. Hell, they might even be okay if they were designed for NPCs only, but they aren’t. Tools of Terror and Blood simply creates the exact opposite mood and feel it was supposedly designed for, and highlights the big problem with OGL pieces – most aren’t playtested or vetted properly, and because anyone can turn them out, the quality of the core system is diluted with sub-par releases.

The Talent Trees are interesting, but again, pretty unbalanced, and something most horror oriented DMs should steer their players far away from. The Sin Eater can absorb diseases and curses from other beings and take them into himself. He also can eat food in a cursed area and gain supernatural powers from doing so. Wow, that wouldn’t be a story killer in most horror campaigns, now would it? The Slasher is simply a hack and slash warrior, but the Survivor Girl is an interesting idea and the highlight of this piece. It would work great with a modern D20 era game, as it highlights the tropes of horror movies and how there’s always a girl left standing at the end.

So there you go, Tools of Terror and Blood is horribly misnamed and would be more appropriately called, “Unbalanced Feats Guaranteed to Suck the Mystique Out of Any Horror Based OGL Campaign.” Just stay far, FAR away from this turkey. You and your players will thank me for it.