Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kingmaker: Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Second Session


I continue my bastardization of running the Mines adventure that comes with the Dungeons and Dragons starter box set mixed in with the Kngmaker Pathfinder adventure path that takes place in the River Kingdoms.

This week's adventurers included:

Gerak: Thief halfling: The player is using an old prepaint from the Dungeons and Dragons miniature line.

Kantos: Dragonborn Fighter: The player is using an old prepaint from the D&D line. He's lucky that my friend, Tom, whose house we're playing at, has a ton of these. Tom was quite the collector back in the day.

Amun Ramas: Druid: Using a metal Reaper cleric with an Ankh staff to represent his Osiron (Egyptian) character. I painted this for him a few campaigns ago but thanks to the Army Painter dip I used, it's still in great shape. That stuff keeps a nice hard shell around the figure.

Erdan: Elf Monk. Using a prepainted figure from the batch, but that prepaint is not an elf. I just finished painting an actual elf monk from Stonehaven, but the gloss coat I threw on it to protect it hadn't dried yet so I'll bring that over next week. Note, there aren't a lot of figures that fit this race and class combination. I think that Reaper has one and that's about it. Too bad I'm personally not a fan of either sculp but you take what you can get.

Erik, who is playing the elf monk, was running late so the group decided to do a little exploring and to hunt down Tuskgutter, one of the side quests in the adventure. This would be one of the things that set the tone for the game in that monsters look like they have a lot of hit points but that tends to be countered with poor Armor Class values.

The group killed the giant boar and make their way back to the encampment as Eric had arrived at that time. With their elf monk in hand, they made their way down to the bandit hideout, which they knew its location from capturing a bandit in an attack against the outpost. On the way, the encampment leader, Olog, asked the party to check in on the hermit who provides the outpost with potions.

The party had an encounter with some wild hogs, rolled off the random encounter table, but after fighting Tuskgutter, I didn't want to fight out another combat with pigs so I ruled that the party made short work of them and that they continued on their way.

Meeting the eccentric potion maker, they did him a little favor, gathering some various berries, during which time I described a few of the local bits of fauna and flora to give the players more information on the River Kingdoms region. The eccentric old man offered them 25% off potions but hey, when they looked at information on Potions of Vitality, no actual prices. I ruled that if a potion of healing for 2d4+2 was 50 gold, that Vitality, which does a lot more, was 100 gold.

Looking real forward to that Dungeon Master's Guide. The current download also didn't have prices, not does the starter adventure.

A few set encounters on the way to the bandits included some kobolds that were resting in a field of radishes, and a huge trap door spider, both of which the party made relatively short work out of. One of the players got a little too enthusiastic in his cleaning of the trap door's spider lair by using his dragon breath on the lair and set aflame the webbing and some paperwork that was down there.

Ooops for him. It's like when players smash open a chest with potions. If you insist on doing things the violent way...

I had an NPC cleric join the party while they were fighting the bandits. I figured that they were short one character so it shouldn't be that big of an issue. The fight was run with generic bandits and a bandit captain and the players did fairly well although the dice sometimes turned against them.

The party returned to the outpost and encountered a few more travellers who'd either come here due to visions, a priest looking for an ancient temple, or because they were here to 'officially' fight bandits from the home kingdom.

I had the druid of the party have a vision of the White Elk, a herald of 'Old Deadeye', a farmer's god of battle so to say. The White Elk showed the druid where the ancient temple was and the party managed to clear out the cursed individual there who was a maddened Polar Bar (aka Cave Bar variant from the Monster Manual.)

The party made enough XP to get up to third level.

In terms of the original starter adventure, the I switched out the Forgotten Realms city for Pitax, a city of scum and corruption in the River Kingdoms, and the party will probably head there after fighting against the 'Stag Lord', the main antagonists of the first chapter of Kingmaker.

While using the 5th edition Monster Manual, not a fan of it in some instances. In many ways, 3rd edition brought animals into a meaner place with the various 'Dire' versions of things. There's no template for that in 5th edition that I saw but I was able to use various animals like the giant spider and polar bear to make up for most of the things I needed. Running kobolds and bandits also proved easy.

Another quirk of 5th edition? And it could be I'm missing it, no masterwork items. I could have introduced them to the game but m'eh. I'll live with those not being available.

The relatively low armor class of the characters, the highest being the dragonborn fighter with a shield and his armor, was 18. Everyone else tends to be in the 14-15 range.

Still haven't handed out any inspiration. Think I'm going to have to ask the players to write the various bits that they get inspiration for and use it for reference or something. The Dragonborn player described his handling of Tuskgutter well and I probably should have given him a point for that. But to be honest, I'm not feeling the love for this mechanic. It seems very limited, especially if you can't have more than one at a time.

Maybe I'll offer to give them a point if they write up campaign session recaps? Not sure. How's everyone else handling it?

In terms of props, I used the old map tile set Ancient Forest. Let me say that I'm thankful Paizo figured out a better way to store and keep those tile sets? The new one, Forest Trails for example, the new forest pack and it comes in its own holder and has a miniature version of itself on the back. This allows you to see which tiles go with which set and allows you to keep them together without having to rubber band the package? Fantastic work there! It's an actual evolution of a product.

Compared to the flip mats, the tiles are still a pain in the ass. The flip mats, you bust out the mat and slap it down. These you still have to assemble. Mind you, I like a little variety so I have both but in terms of easy of use? Yeah, the flip mats take the cake here. I have the old one by Gale Force 9, but as we're playing at a friend's house, I'm not carrying my whole library over there every week.

Note for those who might be interested in the Pathfinder setting in this region, Paizo offers for free, a Player's Guide that's supposed to allow players a bit of customization to fit in the region here: http://paizo.com/products/btpy8dqh?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-Kingmaker-Players-Guide

In terms of Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition itself, I'm actually kind of disappointed and okay with it at the same time. The dearth of support coming from WoTC, especially in terms of content that would keep me interested in coming back to the site, is amazing in this digital day and age.

On the other hand, the game system, from a few plays so far, seems a lot easier to wing. It seems a lot more compatible with the material that's already available. Good for me, bad for WoTC. I wasn't impressed with their previous hardcover adventure Hoard of the Dragon Queen and am seriously thinking about cancelling my preorder for The Rise of Tiamat.  If I can run any of the hundreds of older bits I have, if not completely free range it, my need for actual new product drops pretty close to zero.

How's everyone else finding the system? My players haven't complained about the lack of fiddy bits like Prestige Classes or Feats, which is surprising in it's own one as one of the guys is a master of manipulating game systems. To see him 'cool' with the relatively limited amount of options in the Player's Handbook is interesting.

I still need to find my old make your own game master screen and put together a few of the rules on combat, although we didn't run into any show stoppers this session.

Next week I imagine that the players will take on the Stag Lord and then move back into the starter adventure so I'm curious to see how that goes. They may be a little more powerful but I doubt they'll be much higher.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Elric The Ruby Throne


Huge fan of Michael Moorcock's creation Elric over here. I've read the old comics when they were published by First and Dark Horse. I had read the books long before that.

This volume, which is a slim hardcover that goes for $10.01 on Amazon, slipped by me until another fantasy fan showed his own copy arriving. Didn't take long and I had ordered my own.

This volume covers the point we're introduced to Elric till the time he summons Arioch. I'd say what, a third of the book?

The story is familiar since I've read the novel and the old comics, but it's different as well. I don't know if that's because the author and artist took some liberties with the material or I'm senile. The good new though, is that even the material I don't remember being here, fits in well with the overall theme and arc of the character of Elric.

Now one of the things I like about this version? It really puts a new spin on things for me. The artists, Robin Recht and Didier Poli are fantastic. While I'm not sold on all of the character designs, the overall graphic design and choices made in the book are fantastic and powerful.

For example, let's start with the Ruby Throne. I'm probably not alone when I say I've always thought of the Ruby Throne as being, well, a throne made of one solid ruby or something of that nature. Here, the artist creates a massive throne of which the chair portion is the smallest. The throne is the type that could not physically be moved so large is it. I can see a question to break off a part of the throne for use in a spell component or ritual but actually stealing the whole thing?

At the end, when Elric summons Arioch, who appears in this instances as a child, he does so with numerous blades surrounding him. This gives Arioch a 'anima flare' if you will that fits in well with the character and his name as the Prince of Swords.

There's also the common cruelty of live in the empire. For example, Doctor Jest here looks like he could be from a certain mercenary faction in Warmachine with his artificial limbs that are dissecting prisoners. Elric's fiance feeds him blood and souls in order to empower him, because he is a sickly creature. It's far more graphic then I recall but it fits with the theme of a demon worshipping society.

There are other little bits that don't match my memory. For example, when Elric leads his kinsmen against a raiding party, when some seek to escape, Elric summons the demonic depths of the sea to handle them. This leaves him weakened at which point he is dragged by one of the raiders over the ship and his evil cousin has opportunity to save him. I recall it being his cousin who pushed him.

Minor things and they don't effect the story at all.

This book is perfect for any fantasy fan who wants to have some fantastic art work. The story is short enough that it leaves you wanting the second book, which is also available for pre-order. Hope I remember that one!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I'm Back In The Saddle Again (5e Setup and Play Report)

What's that old group Aerosmith sing about? Something about being Back In The Saddle Again?

That would be how I feel in my return to being a Dungeon Master after many moons. For years I've been pulling in overtime that's crazy. Or at least crazy for me. The last year and a half has calmed down tremendously but then I happen to discover my love for alcohol and spreading my time into BYOB resteraunts and hanging with a different crowd.

In that instance it wasn't that I didn't play, I just was honest enough to admit that if a couple of the work amigos called up and said, "Tequila at Garcia's?", I was probably not going to be at the game.

The guys I play with though, are a stable group and didn't mind. The former Game Master who was running the Thousand Thrones campaign though, needed a break and I decided, "Well, most of the people I drink with have left the company or been fired so might as well take a swing at it."

This happened around the time 5th edition had just come out with the Player's Handbook. I won't harp too much on how disappointing it is in terms of the amount of gaming material save to wag a finger at #GaleForce9 for failing to have a Dungeon Master screen out and WoTC inability to have a FEW starting adventurers out.

The good news though? I don't think it's that difficult to do on the fly conversions. Mind you, if there is an 'official' monster, I go with it. If there is a 'CR' appropriate monster, I'll reskin it and throw it in there.

But what to run? I didn't like Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It felt very incomplete and very much an adventure for Game Masters that wanted to do a lot of customization., Pathfinder on the other hand, has a ton of adventurers. I had found Thornkeep at Half Priced books a while ago, and as a backer of the Emerald Spire, thought that I might just mix and match between the two and have a bit of a dungeon crawl.

But here's the thing, I had heard good things about the starter adventure in the basic set. When I ordered it for like $12, it was an afterthought and I didn't pay much attention to it. I broke it out again and reading it over, there was a lot of stuff in there that I did like.

The Emerald Spire and Thornkeep are both in the Paizo setting, in the portion of the world known as the River Kingdoms. I have the full adventure path as well as Guide to the River Kingdoms and the more recent People of the River. So I decided I'd mix a few parts of the starter adventure, some of the introduction bits from Stolen Land, and see where it went.

My group consist of the following:

Kontos: A dragonborn fighter. If I was in 'prick' Game Master mode, I would have shot down the dragonborn right away. Maybe I'm old but I just don't like them. They're also not native to the Pathfinder setting. On the other hand, a handful of dragonborn could be native to the setting and with all of the other strangeness in the campaign, shouldn't be a big deal. For this player though, the dragonborn hit the spot. He's one of those whose tired to death of the dwarf, elf, halfling, human dynamic and was happy to see something that catered to him.

Amun Ramas: A human druid. The player did a lot of research into the setting and this character hails from the Egyptian style of the setting.

Gerak: Halfling thief that serves Amun Ramas. Apparently in the Egyptian style kingdom, halflings are good luck. The players are good friends so I didn't see this being a problem.

Erden Nail: An elf monk. Good luck to this guy. While his armor class isn't that terrible, the hit points are bad and while I love the concept of an unarmed fighter kicking ass and taking names, it's been my experience that monks get the beat down with the short end of the stick.

Damaia: A tiefling warlock. Has an academic background but hasn't decided where she's from.

The guy playing Amun Ramas decided the whole Pathfinder society bit was a nice touch in terms of forming a group and even put together a charter. That saved me the hassle of trying to come up with a reason of adventurers to gather together and allowed the group to gel fairly quickly.

I decided I'd set the Lost Mine of Phandelver in the River Kingdoms. It's a pretty lawless region and all sorts of keeps, villages, and towns rise and fall so a lost mine fits right in. They were on the road heading to an outpost to meet up with a fellow Pathfinder member who had some information for them.

When I ran the goblin ambush, I decided to pull out the old map from Keep on the Shadowfell. While that was the first adventure for 4th edition, I've used that roadside map that also includes an ambush, although in that one by kobolds, over and over again. It's really paid for itself in that aspect.

One of the things I love about Pathfinder? It's depiction of the goblins. The difference in physical appearance, the comical, yet dangerous nature of the creatures. Their unique weapons and little chants and slogans.

Now I own numerous metal miniatures that first came out from Crocodile Games and later by Reaper but since I was transporting these, I figured that the recent goblins from the 'feed' pack that Paizo put out would suffice.

I also knew I would be having some bandits at some point. I was very disappointed by the types of bandits out there. After asking around, I decided to go with some Games Workshop Empire Freebooters or Empire Militia. Say where you will about the evil empire of gaming, but those Empire figures in plastic have a ton of configurability and customization and being lightly armored? They make perfect bandits for any fantasy setting, including one with guns as these can be configured with them.

I had an old spree for eight figures. I used +vallejocolors vallejo color primers, leather brown and plate mail metal and then a few washes and some basing and they were good to go. Bonus that since they were plastic, they were unlikely to be damaged and would reduce the amount of weight I was carrying.

I hoped that the guy's house we were playing at would have whatever else we needed. While I don't have to have miniatures out on the field, I find that it helps things.

One of the things I hope to have ready for next week is a Dire Wolf I put together from Avatars of War. It's a fantastic looking figure but fits together terribly so I'll be throwing a lot of green stuff at it. The druid shape changes into it.

Combat was a little different for me. There were a few cases of flipping through the rules to look up things like disengage. We've all been playing for years so we're used to the last two editions of the five foot step rule but that appears gone. We were also looking for rules on a charge, but those werent' there. I also didn't take into account the advantage rule for the goblins who had surprise on most of the characters.

I went with the predetermined damage. Even so, when a gobo hits for five points a crack it's a telling blow. Especially since most of the characters have hit points ranging from 12-9.

The fight put a bit of a hurt on the group but they decided to follow the trail of the goblins back to their lair. More fighting and the characters got a hefty beat down and won because I ruled that some wolves that the party befriended earlier turned on the goblins who treated them poorly.

The characters then made their way to Oleg's Trading Post, from the Stolen Land Kingmaker adventure. Here they were asked for their help in dealing with the bandits.

I had wanted to pull out the Bandit Outpost, which is what the trading post looks like, but out of all the flip mats I have from Paizo, that was not one of them. I hand drew it out on a standard Cheesex map and the old wet erase markers.

Here's where I got to sit back for about a half hour. The players went into vast elaborate methods that they might use to get the drop on the bandits and different tactics they could engage in and different ways they could maximize their battle.

Way overkill on the players part, but that's part of the fun for them but then they didn't quite make it as easy as they could have as they changed some of the standard setup and this slightly tipped the bandits off but I allowed the players surprise anyway and they quickly killed three of the four and captured the last one who spilled his guts to the group.

And that's where we left it. The group is currently at second level, about half way to third, which I imagine they'll make pretty easily next week. I honestly don't see why WoTC didn't just default to 4th level with how easy they made it to bounce up in levels in those first few levels.

Overall it ran pretty well.

I gave the goblins a lot of the 'Pathfinder' charm. When I first introduced them, I didn't even call them goblins just described their oversized skulls and wide grinning maws filled with yellow stained curved teeth sitting below maddened red eyes and their rags and remanents of clothing as they carried weapons that appeared to be made from cast offs of other weapons and discarded bits of iron.

For the bandits, I described them as hard men, some old, with various problems ranging from missing teeth or a patch over an eye, to weathered skin and dirt covering everything. Not a glamorous life by far.

There were a few areas I could have handled things quicker. I hate looking in the rule book during game play but for somethings I'm just too used to the way the system used to work.

I also didn't hand out any Inspiration. I knew off the top of the game that would be a problem because I knew there was no way I was going to remember what to award it for. The players shrugged it off as none of them were sure what the best way to point out when they'd done something was either but I'm going to think about it this week and see what strikes.

For other Dungeon Master's out there, what do you do? Do you have a sheet with each character's traits that can award inspiration and then give them a point according to that?

I'm still looking for my blank Game Master Screen so I can put some notes in it. Maybe when the official one is supposed to come out the company which is reknown for being late will have it out on time. Maybe the properties of weapons and some other things that came up in combat a few times.

The players have a ton of options ahead of them. Their friend, I'm using the dwarf Gundren Rockseeker as a member of the Pathfinder society, hasn't been found yet, but the players will discover clues to where he's at.

They also have a lot of bandits they can kill. One of the things I like about the Kingmaker adventure path is that it's very open and there are several 'quests' that the players can take at Oleg's Trading post. I'll also throw a few hints that they can do the adventure path if they want to or after finding Gundren and clearing out the bandits, move on to the Emerald Spire region proper.

For other people playing, how much do you customize the adventure? Do you pull a lot of sources or with the dearth of official material, just wing it? Using older adventuers? I think that with the low scaling of skills and armor class, that it'd actually be fairly easy to run older adventuers in this edition.

For maps and miniatures, is anyone using them or going back to the abstract? I use minis and maps for a few reasons. One is I like them on the table. Two is that occassionally you get the problem scenario where its not clear where things and people are. Three is you get people who think that they can teleport from one area to another and having an actual map prevents that miscommunication from happening. Mind you, it can be difficult to do maps if you don't have the funds to buy them or the skill to draw them and it can potentially ruin the 'wonder' of a scene but I find I'd rather have them then not have them.

Anyone run into any snags in running or playing so far?



Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Thousand Thrones: Ended

So after many months, we finished the Thousand Thrones.

It broke down to an encounter with an ancient hag trying to use one of our allies as a 'power source' to take over the world.

Half of us attacked the hag, who had a force field around her. The other half attempted to awaken our friend.

It was the ones who awoke our friend who wound up winning the fight.

The biggest problem we had at the end was that the last section was a 'Dungeon Crawl' and well, Warhammer isn't Dungeons and Dragons. One of the traps managed to almost kill everyone. A few random rolls that hit the damage reroll can quickly bypass toughness and armor points to bring down someone who has, say 19 wounds to say 2.

A big part of the 'problem' our group had was just not being prepared for that whole crawl. We lacked a priest and had no healer and no healing potions or poultices or anything of that nature. We also had a lot of bad rolls in some areas.

Overall though, the GM did a great job of keeping us moving through the whole thing. Could the adventure have been far more upfront about what the end goals were? Sure. Was it worth playing in? Yup.

So next up is a quick game called Ninja Burger. I've never played that one before. After that I'm taking my 5th edition Player's Handbook and Monster Manual and doing some on the fly conversions for Emerald Spire and Thornhold as well as some River Kingdoms bits that I have for the Pathfinder setting and see how that goes for a while.

I am disappointed though that the Dungeon Master's Guide has been pushed back. And that WoTC is licensing things off to Gale Force 9. Not that I think that there's anything wrong with the quality of GF9's products. I have a ton of their 4th edition stuff including the big box of Dungeon Master things as well as a lot of their miniatures.

It's just GF9 is not a timely company. I'm hoping we get that DMG screen before 2015 for example.

Anyway, that was many months of campaigning and we bought the GM a cake from Sam's Club with the cover of the product on it. It was great and less than $20 for a half sheet which easily feed like six of us so I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to reward their GM with a quick thank you that's affordable and gives the group some tasty treats.

Anyone else make it through the Thousand Thrones? Any specific quips or memories? Would you recommend it for someone else?

In looking at Pathfinder, any specific things to watch for while doing my on the fly conversions? Mind you I'm reading everything ahead of time and have already started taking notes. The low armor classes and other bits in the Monster Manual have stuck out in their simple stat blocks versus the Pathfinder ones.

Any River Kingdoms resources outside of Thornhold and Emerald Spire I should be aware of? I already have the people and the gazetteer books on the River Folk as well as the old King Maker adventure path so I think I'm pretty well covered.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition: The Meta-Support

I've been playing in a Warhammer Fantasy RPG now for many moons. Long enough for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition to hit the shelves. A few of the players didn't buy it, but were soon swayed by those who had purchased it.

Rule wise, it hits some of the things I like but not all of them. For example, my group had a very short discussion about the benefits of random rolling character bits, like stats and hit points and almost unanimously went with point buy and fixed hit points.

In terms of gaming, I've been reading Hoard of the Dragon Queen, it's the first 'separate' adventure for the new edition. I know that the basic set has it's own adventure mind you but I figured I'd start with something that Wizards of the Coast has been promoting on their home site.

Bad news is I'm not too thrilled with it. It's a little too open and feels incomplete to me. Others have less kind things to say about it on such regular locals as RPG.net.

My dislike of the only print adventure, only 'official' print adventure, has me wondering about the 'meta-support' if you will.

First off, there appears to be no OGL or even GSL. Mind you, that hasn't stopped some like Goodman Games from offering 3rd party support and Necromancer Games has decided to disregard waiting for a license and has already run a Kickstarter to fund some support for the game. Honestly wish that Necromancer Games had the conviction of their legal ground when they had the license to do Tegal Manor mind you but what can you do? The past is the past.

Now the other thing, is back 'in the day', Dungeon and Dragon magazine acted as useful tools in order to bring hype, previews and all sorts of other fun things to the game. I know that during the transition from 2nd to 3rd they were very handy to have and even had things like the game stats for Bahamut and Tiamat.

More importantly, it also acted as a monthly source of adventurers.

Now Wizards of the Coast, in my opinion, has always been weak about supporting its games with print adventurers. 3rd edition had the OGL and SRD and all sorts of other things that meant Wizards of the Coast didn't necessarily have to put those resources in place. But when they killed the print version of the magazines and then when 4th edition didn't engage a lot of 3rd party interest due to its restriction license, WoTC did NOT step up the published adventurers. Sure Dungeon magazine continued its online support but WoTC did weird things in that era.

So you'd think with a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons coming out, that we'd see some new incarnation of either magazine? Something that might allow Game Masters, who at this point don't have the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Monster Manual, some quick adventures.

No such luck.

This to me is a failure on Wizards of the Coast part.

I remember when 3rd edition came out. There was a conversion document. It was a nifty little thing. Wasn't perfect by any means mind you but it was handy.

Anything like that on the WoTC home site? Nope.

Failure again.

Mind you, it's not like WoTC didn't KNOW they were coming out with a new edition for oh, say the past year.

But what about miniature support? While the new game doesn't require miniatures, Wizards of the Coast is doing some new Dungeons and Dragons miniatures thanks to Wiz Kids help. Something like Icons of the Realms?

And it's possible my own internet skillz are failing me here because I can't find a listing of what those miniatures actually are. I see a brief product synopsis on the WoTC site, but in the past, they'd have a gallery of what the miniatures actually were. I GET that it's a Wiz Kids product but sending people to another company's website is stupid.

And even the Wiz Kids website is terrible. Maybe I'm missing it but there are supposed to be like 44 figures (50 counting the non-random pack) and I count 24 images including the non-random pack and a picture of the booster pack. Argh!

Fail!

One of the things this set is supposed to do, is support the adventure.

If so, it doesn't do a fantastic job of it.

This being the first miniature pack of the game, you need to have miniatures available for players to pick from. So with a LOT of ground to cover, because the Player's Handbook is jammed with race and class options, every pick for a miniature should be important.

Eight of the miniatures are 'invisible', see through plastic. Out of 44 miniatures, eight of them are duplicates to be 'cool'.

Imagine that you're a game company. You pay people money to illustrate characters in a setting book.  Say one of them is Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, a halfdragon, blue, champion of the bad guys.  A named character that makes several appearances in the adventure. You have a great illustration of him in the book. Perfect for making into a miniature right?

Nope. They have a 'generic' half red dragon. So you PAID someone to make miniatures that should probably have some type of visual reference and for the adventure itself you PAID someone else to make numerous illustrations that you don't bother using for the miniatures that the game is supposed to be supporting?

Okay, but at least all of the 'core' races are supported right? It's not like 4th edition, where again, Wizards of the Coast KNEW they were introducing dragonborn to the core rules and we have a few Dragonborn miniatures to select from right? They're not going to have to reprint an old dragonborn that looks nothing like the current version of the race right?

Wrong! You may get an invisible gnome that's a copy of the visible gnome, but ain't one dragonborn in the whole pack. And yeah, any of you drow players who aren't doing the whole two scimitars thing aren't going to find anything useful either.

It's like the guys making Dungeons and Dragons want to push the 'standards' of the game by including different things like tielflings and dragonborn but then FAIL to support it.

You want to make some fixed packs? Since the Dungeon Master is probably the one whose going to be buying a lot of these, how about, oh, I don't know, some kobolds, cultists, and ambush drakes? A pack for those times when you need 'em? To me, the whole thing is like Wizards of the Coast going, "Yeah, let's tap into that Star Wars and Star Trek market with this Attack Wing stuff but throw a bone to the miniature players of the role playing game".

To me, they're essentially saying, "Yeah, go buy the Reaper Legendary Encounters line and we'll blame the lack of sales on a soft market or something." For those who can paint, the Reaper Bones, while not prepainted, offer an even better value.

In terms of 'support', on one hand, WoTC has a supplement online with all the monster stats. They need this because you know, those stats aren't in the book.

On the other hand, if you're not going to support the game with miniatures, despite having a miniature set dedicated to it, perhaps, like Fiery Dragon and other companies have done, there can be some counters made? A nice little download for either stand up or lay flat counters since in many cases you already have the art made?

While miniature mapping isn't required, some like it in order to simply keep marching order straight and area of effects straight. When you buy the product, you don't get large resolution sized files that you can print out and use for your game. I've seen some people buy them directly from the artists and make their own maps that way.

I have no problem with an artists supporting themselves through secondary use of their work, but maybe, just maybe mind you, Wizards of the Coast, and Paizo and other companies for that matter, can pay the map makers a little more and get scale sized maps that the people trying to support the companies can then download for their own games? Just putting it out there.

Another venue of what I'd consider failure on the part of Wizards of the Coast is the lack of a PDF product. "Hey, we're sorry we abandoned PDF years ago and stomped off like children who didn't like the way the game was being played. We're back and have a ton of old material for you to buy. Oh, you'd like to support the new material or want it for reference? Uh... no see, we have this digital thing that is not ready yet even though, you know again, we've had something like a year or more to have a product launch..."

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that these elements will "doooom..." the new Player's Handbook. Sales have been very brisk in various online stores and it'll have its moment in the sun. I've never argued against that. I've argued that due to the lack of official product that initially sales will be awesome and may even be some sell throughs of the first printing.

But long term I don't think WoTC is going to be able to compete.

Let me boil down my "you fail" list for Wizards of the Coast.

1. Miniatures that don't actually support EITHER the player's options from the core rulebook or the adventurer that they were designed to, you know, support.

2. Lack of adventures.

3. Lack of Dragon/Dungeon magazines as marketing tools.

4. Actual digital tools that people can use.

5. Conversion documents.

6. OGL/GLS/something official to let third party companies know what they can do. Mind you, Necromancer Games and Goodman have already given WoTC the finger on this one so maybe it'll be irrelevant in the future.

7. PDF support.

8. Adventure Support with full scale maps that people can use in their home games.

9. Better website. When you're sending readers from your website to Wiz Kids website, you fail. Get a gallery up and some real information.

10. Price. Still think that $50 bones for three books is too high a buy in.Sure Amazon and other methods of acquiring the books can reduce that but that slaps the whole "play in your friendly local store" in the face.

I'll be curious to see where 5th edition is this time next year because once the shine wears off, if WoTC isn't firing on at least a few of those cylinders, people have a TON of options out there including supporting companies that, you know, DO fire on those cylinders.

How about other games out there? Everyone happy with how WoTC is handling the Dungeons and Dragons line outside of the rules? Any of these points strike home or are all these just minor things? Let me know what you think!




Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino


For those looking for some light reading, The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino may fit the bill.

I'd never read any of Italo Calvino's work until recently. Amazon had a sale on several of his books and while I'm still reading the Italian Folktales, I managed to finish this one setting. It flows very easily despite the fact that it has a few words I didn't know beforehand. One of the benefits of a kindle book is the ability to engage the dictionary right there in the text.

I had a feeling I'd enjoy this one. It's set during the era of Charlemagne, one of the sources of knights and paladins in the Dungeons and Dragons game and the era of one of the 'greats' of the time, the knight Roland.

I enjoyed the Song of Roland and the 2nd edition Green Historical book, HR2 Charlemagne's Paladins back in the day, available from DriveThruRPG.com for $9.99.

The 'hero' of the title, Agilulf, is a knight in shinning white armor that is kept meticulously clean. A knight of great deeds and ability, he is not an actual person. The armor is empty. He exists as a 'mere' suit of armor that goes about keeping order and maintaining his presence through willpower alone.

His story follows through with other characters, each with their own compelling tales that interlink into different adventurers that take place and resolve themselves until the author brings us to the end. One of my favorites is the squire, a buffoon whose main introduction involves a cauldron of soup and him getting trapped in it temporarily and insisting that "all is soup".

The tale told by a 'nun' is charming and entertaining and I'd almost be loathe to see it wind up in the hands of some of the darker corners that authors tend to travel these days.

While certainly not originally intended as anything for say, Dungeons and Dragons, but rather an an allegory for far different things, such a character makes for a great origin for fantasy settings, gonzo settings like Rifts, or super hero settings. A hero that comes out of nothing and is capable and better than the average hero or knight.

For those looking for a little whimsy in their fantasy, The Nonexistent Knight is a solid, quick read.



Friday, September 5, 2014

B.P.R.D. THe Reign of the Black Flame

One of the things I enjoy about digital products is the ability for the distributor to call a sale whenever they want. Oh, I want to put X on sale or Y on sale and bam! It happens! It doesn't require a whole new working of the distribution chain or anything. Just a few bits of coding to make say, The Bureau For Paranormal Research and Defense go from $1.99-$3.99 to .99 cents an issue.

And with that sale I picked up the last few arcs that I'd been missing, namely the Reign of the Black Flame.

For those who don't know, it's a difficult series to do a quick synopsis on. It started off kind of like Fringe or X-Files in that it was fairly normal people with a few oddballs here and there with some special abilities that were put into weird situations but as of late, those situations and those oddballs have both kicked it up by more than a notch or two.

It's a setting that shows mankind fighting in what may be it's last days. It's somewhat like Walking Dead in that society in many aspects has fallen down yet, but isn't completely forgotten. There are still guns and some bits of high-tech and depending on where you're at, perhaps even fellow humans. But it gets worse each story line.

In Reign of the Black Flame, the B.P.R.D. is sent into New York, which has gone completely dark. Strangely enough though, the corporation Zinco seemed to be hoarding supplies before everything went dark...

For a quick review, it's a powerful tale. It's one of my favorites as we see Liz hitting all of the 'awesome' buttons but countered by how terrible the setting is. We see some of the other characters like Iosif, an undead Russian commander,  getting to flex their chops and seeing how things, even when they work towards the B.P.R.D.'s side, don't always mean victory.

In terms of gaming and inspiration...

Right off the bad it's an adventure seed. Imagine one of the great cities of a setting that is cut off from the rest of the setting. Imagine that there is so much going on in the character's own sphere of the world that for a year they can't get in to look at it, but during that time, no one is heard from in that city. Anyone that goes into the city doesn't come out. Sounds like a job for adventurers to me!

One of the things I like about the story right off the bat is the framing of it.

In terms of a campaign, it makes me think of effective ways to bring the impact of what's going on to the players.

The B.P.R.D. is walking into the ruins of the once thriving city and note that there are no bodies.  One of the people in the group is a psychic, Fenix, who provides a quick bit of background. That the inhuman monsters have been hunting the remnants of humanity and devouring them whole. That in hospitals they are filled to overflowing. That many people decided to make a run for it in boats. In thousands of boats. And well, travel by boat in these dark times? Decidedly not a good idea. There is no method of procuring the "bigger boat" as previous attempts to enter the city with submarines and battleships have shown these vessels destroyed by the water serpents and other aquatic horrors.

But one of the mundane explanations that slips through? "I'd say a lot of cans of dog food haven't been opened around here lately." Yes, normal dogs following a group of armed soldiers look to be fairly well feed.

During the investigations early, another framing piece comes in. The group spots a group of people in a park but when they get there, these people are all suicides. They came to the park so that they wouldn't be alone when they died.

Mind you, it goes against the numerous reasons why there were no bodies earlier. It's not like an explanation is ever provided as to why say, the dogs don't eat the bodies or why the various monsters don't swallow the corpses whole, but as a piece showcasing how hopeless and powerless the normal people are? It's powerful.

In terms of tone being set, the characters see numerous monsters laying eggs or taking up massive amounts of physical space but not doing much. they become set pieces against the backdrop of horror without actually interacting with the characters. These pieces help set and maintain the tone of horror and hopelessness.

On the side of the B.P.R.D., there is also the loss of the tanks and other heavy weapons. Some bemoan this fact until the leader points out a huge monstrosity that takes up much of a bay. "What good is a tank against that?" he asks. "Our mission requires stealth. Lacking that, no armament can help us." It's a good example of a group of specialists sent into enemy territory to find out what's happening.

In terms of 'positive' things happening? The group captures Leopold, a former servant of Rasputin who strives to make his way, on the side of devils mind you, in this new world. Still, he's unhappy with how he's treated and quickly spills his guts to the B.P.R.D. in terms of what he knows and provides a handy source of information.

Having such a character, one who is willing to defect to the character's side given half a chance, is a useful tool to provide information to the characters who may otherwise be missing it.

One of my favorite bits? The fight between Liz and the Black Flame. Liz has long been shown to be a powerhouse whose upper limits really haven't been tapped. The Black Flame? An old foe brought back from the grips of the Old Ones themselves. His connection and abilities in his new incarnation haven't been tested but Liz does manage to test them.


It's a great fight because it shows Liz at the peak of her game. She's confident in her abilities. She uses her powers at full throttle. It brings a level of upper level power that has long been missing from the series. The good news is that as an opponent, the Black Flame is far beyond what he used to be and is in essence, a channel to the Old Ones whose tied into all life, or at least all life in the city and in this instance, without destroying the city and all her friends within it at the same time, Liz is unable to claim victory.

One of the things I like, is that the story show cases a number of characters that have vastly different abilities. If you as a Game Master have ever run a super hero game or a Rifts campaign, you may have had the pleasure of dealing with characters of vastly different power levels. In some instances it's easy to hand wave the differences. In Champions for example, 12d6 can come from a 20 STR, an offensive Strike, and a few levels of martial arts to match a laser blast that does 12d6. In other games like Rifts... the effect isn't something that matters to the affect. Getting hit for 180 M.D.C. when you're a S.D.C. creature isn't a good thing for example.

But here we see those different power levels each doing their own thing. It actually requires a bit of 'splitting' the party in that the power house characters, like say a Cosmo Knight, go specifically for the big bad who doesn't bother to associate with minions or have any guards because hell, he's the big bad. It allows the special players who may not be Cosmo Knights but are still powerful to pump out the damage on a significant level even if they can't touch the next level of villain but at least one member of the party can.

B.P.R.D. is one of those titles that while being modern and horror and supernatural based, is strong enough that no matter what type of campaign you're running you should be able to find inspiration for characters, adventure seeds, monsters, and all sorts of other good things.

The book is available from Amazon now for under $16 bones and is well worth reading.