Posted on February 23, 2009 by Flames
The third installment of “Eden Studios Presents” (ESP) attempts to bring a little magic into readers’ lives. I was excited to review this anthology because it was first mentioned in 2004.
Each component of the seventy-four page PDF delivers something mystical that can be introduced into many of Eden’s various lines. Buffy and Witchcraft gain the most material, although the other titles aren’t ignored. Since this is an anthology, I’ll forsake my usual format and approach each segment of the book as a separate entity.
Carlos Samuel Araya’s cover art to “ESP3″ is a moody piece featuring a magical device called the Shadefont, which is later described in “Cover Shots” by Charlie Von Eschen. The artwork keeps in line with the previous two installments and, to me, is the strongest piece of those three.
One thing about the contents of this issue is that readers get the most out of the seventy-four pages. There is only one ad in the book. The rest of the book’s material is mostly game related. If one wants to be hard-nosed about it, the back cover and editor’s notes do little to enhance a session of Angel, but who really wants a book without a back cover?
The book opens with a table of contents and editor’s notes. You would think that I would breeze by this section, but the first problem appears on the table of contents (and back cover if you want to get technical). According to the table of contents, Page 72 begins a section on New Qualities and Drawbacks by Jarrod Moschner. The editor talks about Moschner in his notes to the reader. Guess what? The book ends at page 71, goes to the one ad, and finally to the back cover. I hope the print copy of this fixes this issues (and later editions of the PDF).
The “Cover Shot” comes next. This is a one-page seed tied directly to the cover image. Charlie Von Eschen creates a vicious little item to both enhance and damn characters curious enough to use it. This is a strong lead-in to the book as the hints laid out by the writer could easily fuel a night (or more) of gaming.
Jason Vey brings the “Gifted to the Cinematic Unisystem.” The artwork and layout in his section are extremely well-done. There are two pieces of art in his six-page look at making the magic of Classic Unisystem games like Witchcraft and Armageddon work in Angel, Buffy, or the Army of Darkness. Vey has written for Eden before, which shows in his compounded knowledge of both systems and skill in laying out a reasonably complex numbers problem.
Pages nine through twenty introduce “The Scalper” by Kyla Ward. The two pieces of artwork in her section are so-so. In truth, it is the same piece of artwork that is cropped differently for spacing issues. The cartography in this section reveals a series of sewer lines that players will investigate in her scenario. I’d like to credit the person who laid out the maps because they are good, especially for game masters who want quick answers to their players’ questions.
Ward opens her piece with a fake piece of Internet feed about an urban legend. You know the myth of the flushed sewer gator? What happened to all the cats that ended up in the sewer systems? You’ll find out here. Ward’s attention to detail makes her scenario work. She opens with a brief introduction, history, and location discussion before diving into the ins-and-outs of her modern-day dungeon crawl. She makes the most of her limited space and has a different type of threat for players to deal with.
Kyla Ward returns in the following chapter with “The Court of Chimera,” a multi-issue setting. I hope that by including something that creates expectations for future issues that issue four follows within the year. This covers pages twenty through thirty-seven. Ward again shows a talent for details as she lays out the castle setting for the realm of Chimera, which she tries to fit as neatly as possible into each of the Eden titles (yep, even Terra Primate). In this offering, Ward glosses over religion, magic, race, and a few other components before fixating on the court.
Combined with more well-executed cartography, Ward’s second contribution is a solid addition to the anthology.
Pages thirty-eight to fifty-three are full of spells and artifacts (magical and hi-tech) straight from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (there are a few homebrew additions hiding in the mix as well). For me, this is the most enjoyable part of the book as well as the best edited, which is likely considering that M. Alexander Jurkat (another editor on this project) worked with John Snead. The spells range from Seasons One through Six (I don’t know why Season Seven is ignored) and cover a great deal of material that should have been in the “Magic Box.” There are two pieces of artwork in this section. Both are okay pieces, but nothing spectacular. Of the artwork within the book, however, these are probably the coolest pieces. The “new” spells will enliven any Buffy or Angel fans who would like to see how a “Slayer Enjoining” spell will work with their troupe. For fun, the cursed bear from “Beer Bad” is also included. For straight jump-right-
into-the-thick-of-it fun, this chapter provides the most.
Steve Darlington’s “New Totem Animals” gives readers more animals to bring into their Buffy or Angel games. Other systems could find these beings, but they are most at home in the before mentioned ones. The artwork in this section is dull and grainy. The artwork for the archetypes has always left something to be desired; however, it really stood out in this anthology.
Also, the decision to show Attribute bonuses by ampersands, number signs, and asterisks is a mistake. When detailing the vampires in ESP2, these were not added to the final layout. Their presence distracts much more than just explaining that they are Totem Warriors and leaving the number crunching to the writer and to those readers who love looking for typos.
The writing towards the Totem Warriors was much stronger than its artwork. I think the section would have benefited from having more writing and fewer archetypes. For some reason, they felt the urge to show an example of almost each archetype. This feels like dead space in the book after awhile, especially with the two typos in the headings on pages sixty-three and sixty-nine.
Darlington’s intro quickly explains why more Totem Warriors are introduced, although I’m not sure why they had to be tied to the original book’s setting. Other tribes could easily have a similar spell or what-not to fuel the same concept.
Despite a long wait, Eden fans will want to include ESP3 to their gaming library, especially those with a magical bent to their stories. With an anthology series, it’s difficult to make each chapter appeal to readers. I think this overall offering is weaker than the first two; however, it has some strong contributions within it. This leads to these overall scores.
Artwork: 2 out of 5 dice (too inconsistent)
Layout: 2 out of 5 dice (would be higher, but a chapter is missing)
Writing: 3 out of 5 dice (too many typos and omissions)
Overall: 2 out of 5 dice (the printed edition will hopefully see an edit because I think this anthology should be a 3 or higher)
Review by Todd Cash