Deadworld with Drama System

If you follow our blog, you may have noticed a few mentions of Deadworld campaigns. There is something we find enticing about these post-apocalyptic settings, and as a result, we keep coming back to them.

Recently I decided to try running a gaming session for Ken, which isn’t something that happens often. We agreed to take a break from our current campaign, one set in a series of hidden, magical kingdoms, and have a one-off gaming session.

Why the Drama?

After some consideration, I decided to use DramaSystem (published in Hillfolk by Pelgrane Press) as our recent attempts with it have created a lot of tension and allow us to focus on the interpersonal drama, something I thought would be ideal in this setting.

Something I love about DramaSystem is the ability to share game-mastering duties, and for all participants to feel like they have a say in the story.

As it turns out, the one-off session really took off, and between the two of us, the game is going as smoothly as any game set in a world that is falling apart would.

Interested in hearing how it went? Below is the introduction as the main character, played by Ken, made his way to his girlfriend.

Have you used DramaSystem? Ever tried a post-apocalyptic setting? 


The Beginning

The crunching sound of metal in the distance made Andy jump as he pedalled down the abandoned side road. The silence that followed was unnerving but he kept pedalling, forced to move toward where the sound came from. He wiped the sweat from his brow.

“They’re evacuating us, Andy. I’ll wait as long as I can, but we have to go.”

Her voice still rung in his ears.

“Please, Andy. Please get here.”

The vehicle came into view up ahead.  It was a small blue car, and the front of it was now wrapped around the telephone pole on the left-hand side of the road. Smoke billowed from the engine. Andy slowed down, hopping off his bike and walking it closer. He kept his distance from the vehicle but peered in the half open windows from the other side of the street. He could see still figures in both front seats.

“Hello?” he called out cautiously.

Silence.

“Hello? You alive in there?” he called again.

This time he heard a groan from in the vehicle. Setting his bike down in the middle of the road, Andy glanced around before approaching the car carefully. The body in the passenger seat moved, groaning again as he raised his head.

“Hey, you okay?” Andy asked, lowering his shoulder bag to the ground next to his bike before moving around to the passenger side of the car cautiously.

“Oh, my head,” murmured the passenger. Andy still couldn’t get a good look at him. He was wearing a dark blue hoodie, and his face was twisted in a grimace of pain.

“Alright, but you’re okay? You’re alive?” he asked. His heart was pounding in his chest, but he was standing still, poised to move forward to help, or run toward his bike.

“Yeah, yeah,” responded the man, a bit disorientated. He sat up now, rubbing his head and grimacing once more. Andy couldn’t see any blood on him. The airbag had deployed and the man seemed dazed more than anything else. Andy moved forward quickly and opened the passenger side door as the driver’s hand twitched.

“Your friend, is he okay?” asked Andy, glancing the stirring figure nervously.

“I don’t know. Chris?” the man asked, turning to look over at the driver. The body twitched again, and then suddenly sat straight up before vomiting a black liquid all over the dash and deflated airbags. A guttural howl emerged from his mouth and he turned to Andy and the passenger.

“Come on, you’ve got to get out of the car,” Andy said frantically, pulling a pocket knife.

“Chris?” the passenger asked, looking toward the driver’s seat in horror while fumbling with his seat belt clasp.

“Get out! Get out!” Andy called, slashing the seat belt with the knife.

He grabbed the groggy passenger and tried to pull him free of the car as the driver lunged toward the passenger seat screaming.  A hand reached out and grabbed Andy’s arm as he pushed the deflated airbag out of the way. The driver, his face twisted in rage, lunged toward the pair. He was not restrained by a seat belt, and the grip on Andy’s arm was tight. Andy, grip still tight on the passenger, tried to pull away. The driver’s leg seemed to be caught and he howled again, mouth wide open. Andy gritted his teeth and wrenched both himself and the passenger free. The pair tumbled to the ground outside the vehicle, and Andy managed to kick the door closed.

He scrambled to his feet, holding a hand out for the man, who took it and stood up himself with Andy’s assistance. The pair backed away from the vehicle as the drive let out another guttural howl and began to feverishly alternate between banging on the car window and extending his arms out of it toward the two young men.

“What’s your name?” asked Andy glancing at the stranger and back at his bike. He quickly picked it up, setting the tires on the asphalt and straightening the strap of the side bag he had slung over his backpack. The weight of the bags was heavy, but he knew the contents could be useful.

“Matt,” said the man in shock, staring at the car. He was wearing well-worn jeans and a pair of beat-up sneakers with his hoodie.

“Where you going, Matt?” asked Andy, wheeling his bike away from the vehicle. “We should walk while we do this,” he added.

“Oh, uh, away from here….” Matt trailed off, running a hand through his short hair.

Andy nodded and glanced back to see Matt making his way to the trunk of the car.

“What are you doing? We have to go,” Andy said, glancing nervously at the angry driver.

“My bag, it’s in there,” he gestured at the trunk.

“What do you have in there, man?” asked Andy, eyeing the driver who was still flailing his arms angrily out of the car window.

“My bag, it’s got food in it, and my stuff,” he replied, looking helplessly at the lock and then back at the driver.

“Yeah, you can probably find more food, lets just keep going,” said Andy.

Matt looked at the trunk again and glanced doubtfully at Andy.

The thing that was once the driver let out another angry scream. His head was now out of the window, his arms reaching for Andy, who stood a good ten feet away.

“Matt, let’s go!” said Andy sharply. “He’s going to get out of there at some point and he sounds pissed. Let’s get a move on.”

Matt shook his head, almost coming to and nodded. The two of them started off down the road, Andy pushing his bike and shouldering his large backpack and shoulder bag, Matt empty handed.

The two of them walked briskly in silence for a few minutes, the hostile screams of the driver still echoing down the abandoned side road.

“What happened?” asked Andy. “Why’d you crash?”

A look came across Matt’s face. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He shook his head and opened his mouth once more, almost not believing what he was about to say.

“A wasp.”

Andy frowned and looked over at the man. He had to be about seventeen, a few years younger than Andy. He was wearing jeans and t-shirt, which was now flecked with dirt and a few pieces of grass from the fall out of the car. The boy ran his hand absently through his short blonde hair again and winced as his hand ran over a bruise on his head.

“A wasp?” Andy clarified.

“A wasp,” Matt confirmed. “Chris is,” he started, “was, really afraid of them. Freaked out every time one came near him. One flew into the car while we were driving and he started yelling and flailing his arms around at it. Next thing I knew that pole was coming right at us.”

Andy looked horrified.

There a moment of silence.

“Where you heading to?” he asked Matt.

The boy gestured north, toward the direction Andy had come from.

“We were trying to get out of there,” he said. “It was getting bad. No real destination though.”

As if on cue, a series of small explosions could be heard from that direction.

“We need to pick up the pace,” said Andy worriedly.

Matt nodded and tried to speed up, still a bit shaken from the recent accident. He rubbed his arms.

“Where are you going?” he asked conversationally.

“Olympia,” said Andy thoughtfully.

“Yeah, you got people there?” he asked.

“Hopefully,” Andy replied.

He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the end of the call.

“Andy, there’s something I have to tell you.”

Her usually confident voice had sounded scared, pleading. And then the line went dead.

What did she need to tell him? Will he make it to her in time?

More Drama System Themes

Our new campaign is high on the drama, and what better system for interpersonal conflict than DramaSystem? This ruleset is easy to follow, easy to implement, and can honestly (IMO) be laid over-top of just about any game system, all in the name of extra drama, better character development, and a break from drawn out battle sequences. (You can read more about that here!)

Quick recap: each session is like an episode of TV, and has its own theme. There are lots in the book, but we’ve come up with a few more (and a few more before that). These themes worked particularity well for us in a game of loss, rebirth, and struggling to find your place in a dying world (aka zombies!!!)

Themes

  • Move
  • Stay
  • Fever
  • Limits
  • Weight
  • Healing
  • Searching
  • Hungry
  • Shift
  • Loyalty
  • Secrets
  • Heartbreak

Examples

The theme of the episode is pulled into each scene in various ways.

Stay

Our second episode had our second-in-command, the camp doctor, trying to stay the execution of hundreds of civilians by delaying the turnover of a list of less-valuable individuals to the commander. The doctor’s assistant learned of the list and had to decide if she should get her family and extended family out of the camp into the unknown, or stay and stick it out knowing the risks. The troublesome daughter needed confirmation from the doctor she should stay quiet about the small thefts of food from the kitchen. The doctor’s assistant and her baby-daddy were split up suddenly before a run (despite assurances such things wouldn’t happen). They forced the commander of the camp, in a later scene, to relent and promise not to let it happen again. And finally, the doctor assured her assistant that if things get bad and the camp falls apart, she’d flee with her apprentice and help her deliver the baby.

Hungry

A riot ensued at camp. The civilians became convinced the military leadership was eating better and more food than them. An NPC became hungry for blood as she sought vengeance. The second in command became hungry for power and his chance to claim the new outpost for his own. The mechanic demanded the local gang leader pay out his cut of black market profits in rations due to the apparent food shortage. The local gang leader, for his part, redoubled his efforts hiding stolen rations, and the spokesperson for the civilians became hungry for information when it became apparent the leader of the camp was hiding important information.

Shift

In this episode the raid commander tried to convince his lover she should leave her baby-daddy for him because he can take care of her better; he pushed her too hard and she pulled away. The mechanic explained to a girl he’d been looking out for he was leaving for the new camp and wouldn’t be seeing her anymore (so he could leave her). She shifted the power around, denying him and convincing him to get her to the new camp as well (even approaching his daughter to enlist her help). The commander of the old camp had the tables turned on her when her new second in command had her arrested and was going to have her executed. Almost the entire named cast of the old camp shifted over to the new one through a raid/rescue mission by two key characters. The civilian leader blackmailed the commander of the new camp into treating her as an equal, shifting the balance of power (at least for awhile). Our raid commander held his ground when his superior tried to convince him to think of killing his lover’s baby-daddy.

 

“Power is Power.”

One of the things I love about this game system is the tv-style drama. It reminds me of everything I love about teen drama shows, or even something like Game of Thrones. No one can keep all the power for long. Everything is shifting with each character’s own desire, goals and relationships are at the forefront of their minds. If another character can take advantage of them, you are out in the cold.

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

And since everyone is scheming, someone is bound to foil your plot, even if they were intending to get to the same result. The number of times the characters have inadvertently stabbed each other in the back may rival the number of times they’ve done it on purpose in this campaign. If only they’d communicate with each other… but then, where would the drama be?


Have you played Hillfolk or otherwise used the DramaSystem?
What are your thoughts on it?

30 Drama System Themes

We recently took a break from more combat focused game systems in favor of trying a DramaSystem rules engine. For our first go-around with it, we used it in combination with a 5e campaign we ran, but for the second, we went full on Drama System, and we are loving it! If you haven’t checked it out yet, or even heard of it, here’s the basic synopsis:

With the Hillfolk roleplaying game, you and your group weave an epic, ongoing saga of high-stakes interpersonal conflict that grows richer with every session. Its DramaSystem rules engine, from acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws, takes the basic structure of interpersonal conflict underlying fiction, movies and television and brings it to the world of roleplaying. This simple framework brings your creativity to the fore and keep a surprising, emotionally compelling narrative constantly on the move.

Because it is set up similar to a television show, each session is an “episode” and each episode has a theme. The ideal drama system campaign is said to be 10-12 episodes per “season.”

There is a good sized collection of episode themes in the Hillfolk book by Pelegrane Press, but if you have played a lot of sessions, you may find yourself in need of additional themes.

The list below is a collection of some of the themes we have used in our recent campaign.

  • A New World
  • Beginnings
  • Bittersweet
  • Conflict
  • Demons
  • Desire
  • Family Ties
  • Friendship
  • Knots
  • Legacies
  • Many Happy Returns
  • Moving Forward
  • Moving Pieces
  • Out of the Frying Pan
  • Picking up the Pieces
  • Positioning
  • Puzzle Pieces
  • Second Chances
  • Shadows
  • Show Time
  • Something New
  • Surprise
  • Taking Charge
  • Transitions
  • Triumph
  • Truths
  • Unravelling
  • Waking Up
  • Winter
  • Workin’ It

Have you tried the Drama System?
What themes have you used?

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August 2019 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month.

The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name).

Continue reading August 2019 Reviews

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July 2019 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month. The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name). Continue reading July 2019 Reviews

The Dagger of all Daggers

Our interest in writing RPG products stems from our love of playing RPGs. One of my favorite campaigns, and certainly our most epic one, is Way of the Wicked. Written by Gary McBride of Fire Mountain Games, this adventure path allows the PCs to be anything but good. (Specifically, it actually recommends they all be lawful evil.)

The Bull & The Bear coverSome years ago, we ran through this campaign, taking the time to explore the cities more than the adventure path may have intended, which is where the Bull and the Bear was born. The PCs began amassing a reasonable collection of taverns, some of which have been published by us since.

We enjoyed dropping a fair few 3rd party products into this PFRPG campaign, including the 101 New Skill Uses by Rite Publishing and Legendary VIII: Evil by Sam Hing and published by Purple Duck Games.

It was in the latter we pulled Black Spider – a magical weapon (and a then some). Though intended for use by the BBEG, it was allowed in our evil solo campaign. (I should note here this product received a poor review and indeed has some glaring oversights.)

This blade was legendary in the course of the campaign. One moment I still clearly remember was when many of the party had fallen, with only the rogue (myself) and our anti-paladin remaining. Both of us were near the death. The righteous paladin still stood before us, and with the blade knocked from my hand, and my companion drawing her last breath, I was sure we were done for. Then this diminutive construct unleashed its fury upon the virtuous knight, scuttle across the floor before actually puncturing through his calf (hello double nat 20!). Perhaps it stole a bit of the thunder from the characters, but it earned this weapon much favor from its master.

Very recently we decided to revisit a version of Way of the Wicked: an alternate reality with some minor and some glaring differences. All of the PCs are rogues. The valiant Mitrans in the country are unknowingly demon worshippers (those pesky demons and their deception filled long game!). Our PCs did not start in prison (which made sense, but if you haven’t played WotW as intended, give at least the first module a go – it’s amazing!).

Some things have stayed the same, and one such similarity is the presence of Black Spider. With the switch to 5th Edition as the framework (as well as some of those glaring oversights), we’ve had to adapt the blade. Here is our modified version below. Again, a big shout out to Purple Duck Games for creating an amazing (and overpowered!) collection of weapons, as well creating one of my favorite weapons to date.


BLACK SPIDER

Weapon (dagger), legendary (requires attunement by a creature that meets all the listed requirements)

Requirements. A creature that wishes to attune itself to Black Spider must meet the following criteria.

  • Any evil alignment.
  • Proficiency in Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
  • Sneak Attack feature.

Black Spider grows in power with the creature it is attuned to. When a creature attunes itself to Black Spider, it gains all of the benefits listed for a creature of its current level.

  • When you reach 2nd level, Black Spider gains a +1 bonus to attack and damage. The dagger maintains a telepathic bond with you, and regularly urges you to commit acts of violence.
  • When you reach 4th level, Black Spider can animate itself and act independently from you. When it animates, the barbs lining the blade twist and act as spidery legs. Black Spider maintains its telepathic bond with you and follows your instructions, unless it can cause more carnage by doing something else. Black Spider’s starting statistics are below.
  • When you reach 6th level, the telepathic bond between you and Black Spider allows you to see and hear everything occurring within 60 feet of the dagger as an action. This effect can be ended as a bonus action. While using this feature, you have disadvantage on ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls until the start of your first turn after ending the effect.
  • When you reach 8th level, Black Spider can urge you to overcome certain conditions. If you fail a saving throw and become charmed, frightened, paralyzed, or stunned, you can use your reaction to reroll the saving throw. If a condition allows a new save to overcome it at the end of each of your turns, you have advantage on it. If you are unconscious, Black Spider can use a bonus action to deal 1 hit point of piercing damage to wake you. Black Spider Enhancement: Armor Class increases by +1 (natural armor), Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Dexterity increases by 2 (add +1 to Armor Class,stealth skill, and Stab action to hit and damage), Challenge increases to 2 (450 XP), Sneak Attack damage increases to 14 (4d6), Multiattack action is added adding one additional attack per round. Black Spider’s CR 2 version is below for your convenience.
  • When you reach 10th level, Black Spider’s bonus to attack and damage increases to +2. Black Spider Enhancement: Stab action to hit and damage increase by +1.
  • When you reach 12th level, attacks made with Black Spider score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20. Black Spider Enhancement: Hit points increase by 7 (3d4), Challenge increases to 3 (700 XP), Sneak Attack damage increases to 21 (6d6).
  • When you reach 14th level, when you make a sneak attack against a creature, you can gain half of the sneak attack damage as temporary hit points. Once this feature has been used, it can’t be used again until you have finished a short or long rest.
  • When you reach 16th level, if you have surprise when you make your first attack with Black Spider in an encounter, you deal maximum damage. Black Spider Enhancement: Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Challenge increases to 4 (1,100 XP), Sneak attack damage increases to 28 (8d6)
  • When you reach 18th level, Black Spider’s bonus to attack and damage increases to +3. Black Spider Enhancement: Stab action to hit and damage increase by +1
  • When you reach 20th level, if you are hidden from your target when you hit it with Black Spider, it must succeed at a Constitution saving throw with a DC equal to 8 plus your Dexterity modifier plus your proficiency bonus or die. Once you have used this feature, you must finish a long rest before you can use it again. Black Spider Enhancement: Proficiency bonus increases by +1 (affecting skills, and Stab action to hit), Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Dexterity increases by 2 (adding +1 to AC, Stealth skill, Stab action to hit and damage), Sneak Attack damage increases to 35 (10d6), Black Spider can make three attacks per turn with Multiattack.

Black Spider is both greedy and jealous. You have disadvantage if you make a melee attack with a weapon that is not Black Spider. This penalty does not apply if your attack is made with a weapon in your other hand when you are fighting with two weapons.

 

 

 


What’s the most memorable weapon you’ve used in your game?

June 2019 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month. The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name). Continue reading June 2019 Reviews
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May 2019 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month. The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name). Continue reading May 2019 Reviews

Open Origins: Royston and Petunia Hamperstand

Sometimes an NPC’s story begins long before they are born. The fate of these characters can be traced back to the decisions of their parents, characters who, while interesting, are unlikely to ever meet the PCs, and as such, their tale goes unnoticed and untold along with hundreds of others about the places the PCs explore.

Our Open Origins series focuses on these bit characters and gives some history and context to some of our NPCs.


Royston and Petunia were a match made by the gods. Dedicated to the intense study of magic, the pair of halflings were undefeatable by just about any foe that crossed their path. Petunia had begun her studies early in life and excelled quickly. When she met Royston the two maintained a friendly feud for a time, but eventually admitted their feelings for each other. Their love was intense and pure, as strong as their combined forces against those that would move against them.

Petunia was kind-hearted and generous, no matter how powerful she became. At her insistence, the pair helped those in need, and always came to the aid of the rulers of the kingdom in which they resided. They quickly developed a reputation for charity and Petunia especially was beloved by the smallfolk. After some years together Petunia became with child, and their son was born some time later. Little Billet Hamperstand with his brown ringlets and chubby face was celebrated by everyone in the kingdom, and Petunia and Royston had never been happier.

When Billet was a toddler the city was attacked by a band of orcs that had been growing restless in the nearby mountains. Officials, as well as Petunia and Royston, had been keeping an eye on them, but they had seemed disorganized and scattered. The sudden organized attack had been impossible to predict. 

The pair rushed to assist the city, hiding Billet in a nearby home with some trusted acolytes before proceeding to the hilltop where they would have the best vantage to fend off the opposition. They had almost reached their destination when Petunia heard a squeal from Billet. She pivoted on her heel, realizing her young child had followed her into danger. Unbeknownst to the residents, the orcs were a distraction meant to allow an assassin inside the walls of the city.

Petunia’s eyes met her sons only for a second before the assassin upon her. The unsuspecting halfling was no match for the silent stalker, and right there in front of Billet, she perished. It was quick, too quick even for Petunia to see the horror that crossed her toddler’s face, too quick to see her son faint or her husband attack her killer. A single wound to the throat.

Royston, also hearing his son, had turned and seen the whole thing. He and the nearby guards quickly dispatched the assassin. Alas, despite Royston’s best efforts, and those of the local healer, his beloved Petunia could not be revived. 

Royston was devastated, but he gathered Billet, and prepared himself for a life without his beloved wife.

Consumed with Petunia’s death, Royston poured much of his energy into furthering his own magical ability and determining who sent the assassin after his wife. What remained was focused on his son Billet in whom he instilled the idea that the boy was destined for greatness, and that he was to follow in the footsteps of his parents. 

Royston became increasingly powerful, eventually surpassing the skill of his late wife. Despite Petunia’s passion for assisting others, Royston turned his back on helpless citizens of nearby towns and others in need, determined no one else in his family would sacrifice their life in service to the weak and incapable. Instead, he and his son remained locked in their town, forever studying and researching.

Much to Royston’s frustration, Billet struggled with his studies and when the boy reached puberty, Royston sent his son to an arcane academy, where it was hoped he would finally excel in his magical studies. Billet despised the school and wrote to his father constantly begging he be allowed to return home, but Royston, for his part, had become even more obsessed with finding the identity of the individual who had his beloved wife killed, and so he refused his son’s requests.

After much magical investigation, Royston was confident his wife could be attributed to a seer assisting a powerful noble in gaining control of the land, and Royston set off to enact his revenge. While much of the intel the widower had gleaned was correct, he was not prepared for the seer to be Primula Flemarand, Petunia’s own sister and a fellow student from many years prior who had been most interested in Royston during their studies. Royston had spurned her advances due to his interest in Petunia (who was unaware of Primula’s interest).

Where Petunia was patient and caring, Primula was impulsive and selfish. Where Petunia was gentle and encouraging, Primula was forceful and demanding. The sisters were as different as night and day. Primula, ever second to her smarter, prettier and more charming older sister had been furious at the time and her anger for Royston and Petunia had festered and boiled to pure hatred in the years since.

Primula’s power had finally blossomed, and with her gift of foresight she knew breaking the bond between her sister and Royston would change the tides for her new employer; the fact that it allowed her to finally seek her revenge against the man who spurned her was mere icing on the cake.

And so, when Royston confronted the oracle who was responsible for setting the wheels of his wife’s death in motion, he was caught off guard by the familiar face. In that brief moment of hesitation, Primula gained the upper hand. Royston, quickly found himself underprepared for the battle and so he retreated to his tower, hoping to collect himself and attempt once more to avenge his wife.  

Primula, knowing such a thing was likely to happen, had already advised her employer, who sent agents to dispatch the wounded halfling, and so, inside his own home, the great and powerful Royston Hamperstand was slain.

From her crystal ball, Primula now watches over her nephew, ever curious to see what the young man will become.

Learn more about their son Billet Hamperstand, the humourless halfling in 5e NPCs: Flawed Foes.

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April 2019 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month.

The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name).

Continue reading April 2019 Reviews