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.







Saturday, August 16, 2014

No Soup (Gen Con) For You!

After the horrors of the Chicago 2013-2014 winter, I asked the mechanic I've taken my car to, to look it over. I knew that it was a terrible winter. It was so bad that where I work shut down for a few days because they had to do a lot of mechanical maintenance and other bits aside. My car was having trouble starting and tended to be shaky when on the expressway. The mechanic is fantastic in terms of his mechanical abilities but...

Tells me I need spark plugs. Get those.

Next day car doesn't start.

Have huge drama getting it to Auto-Zone and it's a whole story here of how I wind up buying a new battery from Tripple A and having some locals repalce my starter.

Total damage including the sparkplugs? $500 bones roughly.

So that's in like May.

Then my mom is driving the car while taking my sister back and hey, there's this awesome snapping noise that sounds like the car's been struck.

NOW the mechanic has no time for me, but gives me a recommendation to another guy he knows.

Rear brakes completely shot.

Rear axle completely shot.

Water pump worthless.

Motor Mounts gone. That was the loud SNAP my mom heard.

There was some other things wrong too and all in all, roughly $3,500 bones.

First, while I know the mechanic who usually looks at the car knows what he's doing, he could not possibly have missed all of that if he had bothered to look for it. Seriously, it can't all happen at one time.

Second, the car is twelve years old. While it was a Saturn and was still getting about 20 mph, and its paint was peeling but not rusting because it wasn't metal, I knew that it was only matter of time before some serious issues hit.

I was honestly expecting it to be the transmission. After all, it was an old car.

But that just meant that if I spent the $3,500, that was something else I could look forward to going out.

So I went out and bought a Kia Soul.

So now I'm on the hook for a few bones for many a month.

But in theory, I could have still went to Gen Con BUT...

About four years ago now, my mom was experiencing debilitating pain when walking. I almost had to carry her down the stairs and had to bring a chair to the flights between levels so she could rest. So among the many reasons I hate doctors is that they don't' know what their doing. My mom went through x-rays, MRI scans, electro-shock tests, muscle tests, bone density tests, and a lot of finger pointing from one specialists to the next.

So with her diabetes, she gets a foot infection and BAM! Half her left foot has to go. But hey, turns out that the pain? That was PAD, Peripheral Artery Disease and yeah, for almost two years no doctor could figure that out. So before she gets the foot lopped off, she has to have arteries transferred to allow blood flow to get to the foot so that the surgery to remove the infected part of the foot actually works.

So then it's four months of physical rehab. The place isn't bad for the most part, but the food is downright atrocious. So terrible that she doesn't eat unless I bring food to her, so that meant for about a third of the year I was going to the rehab place every day, but hey, it was only a few blocks away so that was win.

But in talking about my hate of doctors, they give her a shoe that is visually not good. Where the front meets the back, there is an obvious overlapping section. They insist that she wears it. Hey, it gives her newly healed foot a blister. A wound on the amputated food of a diabetic.

So for the last oh, eightteen months I've been taking her to see a wound specialist. The meeting is before I'm off work so lots of vacation time used up there. Mind you I've used vacation time on some of my own things, because lord knows I get sick myself, but the majority of my vacation and floating holidays, went to taking the mom to the doctor.

So with little money and only a few days of vacation left, which I break into half days to take mom to the doctor, at least four times a month, I made the decesion to skip Gen Con this year.

On one hand, it's a bummer. I enjoyed running games and seeing all the great art and meeting the creators and getting Con exclusives.

On the other, well, I still haven't painted everything I bought from Gen Con last year. I still haven't played all the games I bought last year. I still haven't read all the books I bought last year. It's not that I wouldn't buy more if given the opportunity, it's just I'm not suffering from it.

Another thing limiting my disappointment with not going this year, is that, as in years past, several companies are doing sales for those that aren't going. Several companies are even selling the convention exclusives through the web store for the duration of the convention. I was going to pick some stuff up from one store, but for three books to ship it seemed an excessive charge. Perhaps it's a weird thing but if shipping three books is now $12+ dollars, it's a good thing I'm an Amazon Prime member.

Heck, some of the very late Kickstarters have even started to trickle in so there's that to keep me amused at least. Speaking of Kickstarters I'll have to do another post about that and my own recent actions with them.

Anyway, that's my sob story. I might have been able to sneak down there for a day but I wasn't going to pay $50 to wander the Dealer's Hall for one day and play a few pick up games when I have a regular group and two good gaming stores down here.

For those who did get to Gen Con, how was the trip? It seemed crowded last year but it's a big con and I suspect getting bigger with more mainstream acceptance thanks to movies and board games. Heck, Amazon has a deal of the day for numerous board games and the Fate RPG.

I do miss the food trucks through. Well I ain't missing no meals I assure you, the novelty of the food trucks and the variety of food is great. I wish we had them here. Chicago politicians seem dead set against actual capitalism despite the defense of that word whenever they want to stomp on someone, 

Anyway, tell me of the good stuff you bought. Point out some great threads of Con loot. Post some links to the awesome!




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Leftover Soup Webcomic and the Class of Setting Creation

I tend to read a lot of web comics. One of them, Leftover Soup, http://www.leftoversoup.com/, has some gamign involved along with the other bits.

In the current series, the group is sitting down and discussing their characters and the background of the setting itself is coming into the forefront of the game. Mind you, this is even BEFORE they've started their characters or started out down the road of playing.

It's not going well.

There are certain assumptions built into the campaign that some of the players find distasteful for different reasons and none of their reasons are inherently bad in and of themselves, they just clash with the assumed nature of the campaign.

This is interesting to read as both a GM and a player. As a GM, I'm currently setting up a super hero setting for Hero 6th edition. I had the players start off with 500 points (includes 75 for disadvantages) but depending on what they make, may kick it up higher.

It's a  world where it assumes a lot of things in comics are correct.

Like what?

Well, world population would be down, in some instances fairly dramatically from invasions from space, other planes, alternative universes, etc...

The technology level would be higher, almost universally sci-fi. Heck, if you look at the things they are testing NOW in 2014, it seems that things are very sci-fi.

Massive surveillance state which effectively ends the ability for players to have secret ids unless they have a really good reason/excuse for it. Part of this may be living in Chicago where speed cameras, red light cameras, and dozens of other bits of surveillance technology are a hated, but well, accepted part of daily life.

Magic and psionics and gods are known to exist. Most of these are still 'unknown' for the most part as I've decided that most pantheons left Earth for the stars as mankind continued to move up the ladder and magic never lends itself well to mass consumption.

Fights between groups of supers are potentially very damaging to the nearby environment. Imagine if in Man of Steel, that was a weekly, or a monthly thing. How many billions would it take to repair? Would it even be possible? Would society itself be set back to the stone age after enough such battles?

Bit of 'false utopia' going on, nicked in part from movies like the recent Captain America Winter Soldier, to shows like Minority Report and Psycho Pass where society is able to use predictive technology. I know that again, it may seem sci-fi, but a lot if it is actually in use now: http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/09/tech/innovation/police-tech/

There are some other bits I'm working on. I'm thinking that I'd snag a bit of the recent Guardians of the Galaxy storyline where Earth was essentially marked off limits. The reason being is that in most comic series, it has WAY more value than a dirt ball should and I think Green Lantern's take of things, during the whole Black Lantern War, is a good reasoning for the significance of it.

The 'fun' part? I told the players to be inspired by the Fate system and come up with what the current menace is, what the future menace is, and how their characters know each other and how they'll be working. I've left a lot of options open to them ranging from fighting against the system to working for the system to being agents of Earth on the reaches of outer space.

So yeah, as I read Leftover Soup and see the players arguing, intelligently, their points, I wonder what I'm going to run into with my own players. Mind you, as I've giving them a bit of the world building handles in terms of characters, NPCs, etc..., I think it'll be a little smoother.

As a game master, have you ever run a campaign where you had conflict with the players about it? I find that I try to appreciate a campaign for what it is as opposed to what I think it should be. I'm not always successful mind you as most fantasy campaigns, especially as I get older and read more, tend to make me annoyed. Vikings alongside English flavored Bowmen alongside German styled knights in full plate alongside sword and sandal barbarians alongside wizards and in most cases, it's 'guns' that are seen as too technologically advanced.

Ugh.

Still, I tend to keep that part of my brain off and admit that when I do my own in house writing, I tend to avoid them as well. I think it's just the dissonance of the gun versus the sword.

Ah well, back to enjoying a lazy Sunday!





Monday, August 4, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Seven

Again, as I read through these old classics, I have to give a nod of thanks to +Dark Horse Comics . Not only did they make buying these long out of print magazine compilations possible, but they also put out a huge digital package that made buying all of them affordable.

This is another huge volume, collecting issues 72-84 with art by the likes of John Buscema and others. John's art tends to be larger than life and it's another excellent example of an artist who shames a lot of the current crop in the field these days.

Don't misunderstand me, that's not even a 'good' full page spread by John, but it's another example of how John was able to make so much of the setting pop for the casual reader.

In terms of the cover, I hate to say it, but AGAIN I think Dark Horse blew it. When you have not one, but TWO covers done by Joe Jusko, what the hell would you pick the one they did for? I mean look at this one.


Now that's a Conan at his barbaric level. Axe dripping blood, shield overflowing with arrows and that look? Oh yeah, that's not a look you want coming after you.

And the art in and of itself, with all of the covers reproduced internally, although only in black and white, is one of the best reasons to own the book. It provides a lot of visual inspiration.

The 'bad' news of this volume? Like previous volumes, it's only the Conan direct stories that are printed. Some of the covers hint at some of the other material that was included in the magazines but alas, those sections have been lost to the ravages of licensing.

Many of the stories within are so 'simple' that they could easily work as one shot adventures. For example, Conan seeks to steal the treasure from a temple. The statue is of course alive!

Conan seeks out the lost heir for a throne. Turns out that one he was lead to is nothing more than a cat's pawn to lead people away from the true heir!

Conan seeks out some female company in an Inn (several times) and it leads to violence!

Conan comes across a member of an elder race that is drying! Can Conan survive the intrigues of such a creature?

Conan helps fulfill a dying king's wish by collecting a variety of components for a statue. Each of which is guarded by a unique monster!

As always, some of the stories are stronger than others. There is an effort made to give Conan a recurring foe but it feels weak, especially when we've seen this sort of thing done before. Conan's enemy is defeated by a hand other than his, and look! That son of a bitch is still alive issues later!

One of the most interesting things about Conan though, in terms of world building, is that the authors really don't care.

I don't mean that like anything at all is possible, but there are scenes where Conan meets a pair of cyclops and it's like, 'Yeah, no big. I'm Conan after all'.

Other situations involve him fighting against an alien race that is out to feed his blood to giant mount sized vampire bats and again, it's like, "Well, these aren't the first aliens I've dealt with."

And still others Conan meets some weird creature that appears to be one of a kind and it's often, "Wizard did it."

It's a good sign that perhaps when building up these worlds and settings that fun is more important then internal consistency.




Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dresden Files: Recapping some thoughts on Jim Butcher's Modern Mage series

Summer Knights is book four in the Dresden Files series.


This time we get Harry dealing with the Fey in a larger more involved manner in which we've seen in the past. Like previous books, the reading is quick and easy. Harry himself remains a bit of a rough spot but is always trying his best to do what's right for people and this often puts him on edge against his fellow wizards.

In addition, as the series continues to go, the mythology of the series, and the events of previous books, continues to pile on. In this instance, Harry's work against the vampires in previous books has lead to war between the wizards and the vampires.

All of this is on the down low however and is somehow not caught by 'modern man' despite a plethora of growing technology and ability to spy on people at any point and any time.

One of the interesting twists here though, is that Harry's 'contract' if you will, to his 'Godmother', is bought out by another Fey who offers to let Harry out of his obligations but it's in exchange for three favors. Doing something like this in a role playing game allows you to switch up the pace a bit.

For example, in the Punisher comics, for a long time Frank was pretty much a solo act. But then he got Micro and had a line in to getting high tech weapons and other bits. It brought something different to the character for a while.

Changing things up isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Death Masks is book five in the Dresden Files. 

Jim Butcher hasn't been afraid to throw actual religious bits into the Dresden files in the past and that remains true in this volume as well. Where previous books have had a focus on the undead, werewolves, wizards, and the faeries, this volume kicks things up a notch by bringing in demons.

Turns out those 30 silver that Judas got back in the day were possessed! Each coin with its own specific demon and each demon able to bond with a user providing knowledge and power in exchange for enslavement and well, your soul.

The demons are also on a higher power level than many things then Harry has fought in the past and he's forced to rely on allies to get through the day again. In this case, it's the three users of the swords that are empowered by the Nails of Christ as they search for the Shroud of Turin.

One of the bits that is 'stealable' from this would be how Harry needs a 'second' in a duel with a vampire. This 'second' would normally be a friend of Harry whose gone to bat for him many times, but at that particular time isn't available.

But someone who respects that person, deeply, and trusts that person, deeply, comes out and says, "Well, if it's good enough for him..." And that's an important factor. Sometimes if a resource isn't available, there should be a secondary, but still viable way to do something. If your allies and friends respect the player characters enough to fight and die for them, it's possible that some of their allies would be like, "You know, if they need help, I will provide it." 

It was a nice touch.

Blood Rites moves us into book six of the Dresden files. It, like others in the series, continues to build on the Vampire versus Wizards roles. It also continues to showcase how odd it is when a 'professional' wizard is brought in to handle a 'curse' and yet Magic isn't really thought of to be real. Sigh. One of the things that I have a hard time dealing with but I understand that's my own personal take on it.

It's why I have a hard time with super hero comics that take place in a contemporary setting. There's too many ways to observe and track people for secret identities to be anything other than a nod to the genre itself.  Six hundred million people in the United States alone and how many of them probably have cameras? Monitoring devices of all sorts going up in major cities all the time, and Harry Dresden lives in one of the most monitored cities of all.

But again, that's part of the genre that Jim Butcher is creating here.


The 'twist' on this series, is that Harry's past, which has been teased at, and has been brought into play in bits and pieces, comes a little bit more to the front here. 

This volume also brings out a different aspect of the vampires with the 'White' branch. These are more like the emotional vampires in that they feed off of passion as opposed to blood. They're not as powerful as the Red Court or the Black Court but at the same time they can walk around in the daytime. Thankfully though, they do not sparkle.

Be creating three courts early on in the series, the author has allowed himself some leeway in how things can be taken in the series. It allows each court to have its own feel and presence in the series. By setting up those differences early on, it allows the path of each court to flow more organically then if it were just lumped out in one huge dole.

Dresden Files Dead Beat is volume seven in the series.

While the wagon has circled around a little bit here, as in this volume, we're again dealing with Wizards, it puts the focus on a different aspect of the wizards, that of necromancy!

The bits about me having a hard time taking the whole 'unseen world' aspect hit a little harder here. The stakes are bigger than they've been in the past with uber powered necromancers attempting to summon a host of spirits and undead in effort to eat them and become a demi-god in power.

Now that in and of itself is an adventure seed for a Mage game, a super hero game, or even a fantasy game.

Necromancers attempt a ritual with enough juice that if successful, they will become gods. Stop them!

The fun thing about Jim's writing, is that he continues to beat Harry at almost every opportunity. The poor guy can't catch any breaks. Even when he wins, it's basically a default win by not dying.

The volume is now in the thick of things and continues to build up on previous works.

At this point that includes the following:

Demons: Harry picked up one of the silver pieces and now has a demon presence in his head.

Warders: The warders are the 'fist' of the mages if you will. Harry's relation with them is not good to begin with, but at the same time, he's now been drafted into their ranks.

Fey: Harry on rare occasions, seeks out information from his faerie Godmother. In previous instances, he's been offered the role of one of the Knights of the fey and has turned it down. Those temptations are still being provided.

Vampires: The war with the vampires is continuing and the wizards are losing. Hints are that its due to inside traitors and that I'm sure is further built up on in future books.

We also get a little bit of a look at how Harry is perceived outside of himself. As these books are all told in first person, it's not that unusual for the focus of the story to be on the person doing the telling, and Harry's experiences with the Council aren't all that often and don't take place all that much but as he's called in help0 here, we get a little peak at that.

For one, Harry is considered powerful. Now mind you, that despite having his ass handed to him on several different occasions throughout this book alone. In some instances, merely surviving and moving onto the next thing are good enough.

For another, Harry is seen as a 'rogue' of sorts and isn't' the traditional type of mage that the the council is comfortable with. This makes him something of an icon or hero to the younger generation of wizards coming up in the ranks.

It's a nice change of pace outside of seeing Harry be broke, almost dead, or just considered more trouble than he's worth. It sets up the stage for future material I'm sure. 

The thing is though, Jim Butcher just didn't put this novel out first. There is a LOT of build up, heck, six previous volumes worth, to get Harry to this stage. When playing out such efforts in a role playing game, the temptation to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks can be high, but in a long term campaign, one that doesn't come out of a prewritten adventure or sourcebook, allowing the world to flow with the actions of the players will provide more opportunities to expand that game in ways that interact directly with the players and their actions.

As you can tell, I managed to knock out these books between my two posts on the Thousand Thrones campaign I'm in. Told in first person, the Dresden Files are quick reads that could be the basis of their own game. Heck, even now the role playing game is going through some play testing and is in prep for a new edition to head down the line.

For those who aren't using the Fate system, have you modeled a similar setting to the Dresden files using another game system? Or is everyone still using the original World of Darkness to handle all of the different bits out there?

For me, I'm done with the Dresden files until I hit a sale or something along those lines.

I enjoyed the reading. It was light and quick and each tale builds on the whole of the previous series.

But...

I have dozens of other books to read. Going to book sales in Chicago for years for example, as well as store closings, like Borders, has provided me with enough material to last for at least solid months of reading if ALL I did was reading.

Hopefully I'll be able to get back to the series one day because I'd like to see where Jim takes the demon bit, where he takes the Fey bits, where he takes the war with the vampires. But until then...