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Valkyrie Magazine and RPGnet are happy to provide this review.

Masterbook Game/The World of Bloodshadows
Masterbook Game and Worldbook
West End Games
Boxed Set - [sterling]19.95

A single set of rules with multiple universe books seems to be the way to go at the moment. Of course, Steve Jackson started it all off a long time ago with GURPS, but now everyone seems to be going that way. TSR have their Amazing Engine rules and GDW and Chaosium each have their `house rules' systems (to name but three). It's not a bad idea either, because it gets the players playing almost immediately - without first having to sit down and learn a whole new set of rules. Now West End Games have taken the plunge.

The boxed set contains the Masterbook, the worldbook, the card deck and two ten-sided dice. Each worldbook can be bought srience gained by characters in one Amazing Engine universe to directly affect any future characters from the same core in any other Amazing Engine universe - in other words, the reason for the core rules is to allow a logical link between characters in different universes. The Masterbook system is more directly related to Steve Jackson Games' GURPS - different characters adventure in different worlds, but there is only one set of rules to learn.

The next fourteen pages of the Masterbook (entitled `A Guide to the Masterbook System') sets out the main rules from each chapter in the Masterbook. Unfortunately, this is not actually a guide to the system because, in order to understand what you are reading here, you have to have read the rest of the Masterbook. The rules presented here have been lifted out of the main text as a sort of `spot rules' section, but without taking time to explain what the rules mean. This is confusing where it is and, if it had to be included at all, it would have been better sited at the end of the book.

The third section (making up the rest of the 180-page book) is the Masterbook rules. From even a casual skim-through, it is obvious that the rules are very complex - and this is my main gripe. Both of the worldbooks are set in `pulp fiction' genres where the action flows thick and fast. To reproduce this, I'd expect rules which emphasise that freewheeling style (like West End's Star Wars rules do, for example), but the Masterbook rules don't.

The basis of the Masterbook system is the `skill total'. To generate a `skill total' the player finds the relevant skill or attribute value. The player then rolls the two ten-sided die and compares the value gained with a chart (provided at the bottom of each character sheet) to find the `bonus number' - the chart lists a sliding scale of values (`bonus numbers') related to the total of the die roll. The `bonus number' is added to the skill or attribute value and the total is compared to a difficulty number set by the referee to determine the level of success or failure - unless the action is a combat action. If it is, the result of the calculation is added to the damage value of the attack and compared to the target's Toughness rating. The result of this calculation determines how much damage (if any) the target suffers. There really isn't any need for this level of complexity - it just gets in the way of the story.

The deck of 108 cards, known as the Action Deck, are used in one of two ways: the referee uses the bulk of the action deck to determine initiative and to add uncertainty to already tense situations; the players collect cards which allow them to change the way that the plot is going in a number of ways - if you are familiar with Torg or Shatterzone, you will already know how the Action Deck works. I wasn't fond of the Action Deck in Shatterzone, and I'm still not convinced that it adds anything to the game.

The World of Bloodshadows worldbook is 160 pages long. It's hard to find fault with this book (although I haven't read the novels upon which it is based, so I'm not able to comment on how closely the book mirrors the novels). Bloodshadows is basically a mix of pulp detective fiction and horror fiction where the monsters are very real (and, in some cases, already among you). The mix of player character types is extensive, although the wisdom of player character undead (except possibly for one-off adventures) eludes me.

Conclusion: The Masterbook system makes it almost impossible to run a game where the players can suspend their disbelief because the rules are too obvious (such as the cards) or cumbersome (such as the skills rules) to allow the players time to immerse themselves in the story.

I cannot imagine why West End Games wrote the Masterbook rules in the way they did, considering their choice for the first two worldbooks. Their Star Wars rules system would have been a much better choice for a set of core rules.

If you're really into bleak horror, the World of Bloodshadows worldbook is worth a look just for the ideas it will generate, but unless you're really kinky about rules, get the worldbook on its own.

Review by Dave Elrick

Product supplied by West End Games

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