Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Honor Among Thieves (Tales of Servin) by Elaine Cunningham

Honor Among Thieves is book one in a new series set in Servin by Elaine Cunningham. Elaine may be familiar to fans either of the Forgotten Realms setting where she's written numerous novels, or even fans of the more recent setting and novels, Pathfinder, where she's got one down and hopefully more to come.

At her website, http://www.elainecunningham.com/ she has numerous bits of lore on the setting. Some of that comes through the story, which is a novella. These isn't quite a steam punk setting, but there are clockwork elements including mechanical men along with magic and other bits.

I'll be delving into the book so there will be spoilers below.

So why am I mentioning it? There were a few bits I enjoyed.

For one, she takes the familiar, in this case the dwarfs, and provides her own touch, in this case, a sub-race, one of the "stone races", a Carmot. First, their blood is believed to amplified alchemical transmutations. Something useful in this setting because alchemy is on the rise and magic on the downfall. More interesting though is that the natural state of this type of dwarf, pale silvery gray hair, kin and teeth can be changed, like a chamelon. With a few reflavoring bits, you could take feats and PrCs designed for a Changelling and apply them to a Carmot.

New monsters are also good. How about a swarm of giant half moth, half mosquito creatures known as death moths that guard dwarf tombs? Good stuff. Some brute clock work guards done up in old style knight armor also show up.

Another thing I enjoyed was how the author makes it like an ongoing situation as opposed to some books where all the loose ends are done in one. There are things that are introduced here that don't come to a tidy end, even though they may in the future as the second book is now out.

Lastly, I enjoyed the twist. I admit that I did not see the big switch at the end coming. I suspected something was going to be different or special, but didn't know what it was. This would make for an interesting switch around in a role playing game where one of the players was using class and race X but perhaps even without them knowing it, they were perhaps monster Y. It's always good to be able to surprise the readers and yet leave enough slack that you can go back and reunite the heroes at a later date.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lesserton and Mor by Joel Sparks and Jeff Sparks

I picked this and a few other OSR books up at Gen Con last year but haven't really had a lot of time to dig into it.

While waiting for some glazes to dry on some Khador models I'm working on, I figured I'd hit the Referee's Guide a bit.

One of the things I thought interesting, is that while there are 'half orcs', they don't call them that here. Instead, it's orckin. A simple enough change, but one that makes a lot of sense. There are so many half-X races in D&D and other fantasy games, that it seems lazy to just call a half orc or half elf by those names. One of the neat things about the Dhampyr is a unique sounding name that's still pretty recognizable if you know where its coming from. When using such races in your own setting, try to give them their own name.

Another neat little aspect, is the trade game. A lot of the humanoids here are known for their mastery of one particular type of large vermin; bees, crickets, frogs and spiders. Each one has its own economy of sorts but its all based on the barter system. Each tribe having its own specialty. A clever group can make some 'real' money on the small level if you will, but it can work.

One of the reasons it can work, is because like many older editions, the game focus isn't necessarily on money as a means of purchasing magic items so that you retain game balance or can overcome damage resistance.

This allows the authors to do some fun things that normally they might not be able to do without stressing the simple system to see if its going to break the economy of the game and push the players in one direction or another in terms of their relative power level.

In addition to playing various editions of Dungeons and Dragons, I hope that 5e design crew is scrutinizing what the current publishers and supporters of the OSR are doing and can take those best bits and learn from them.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I get to kill two birds with today's posting. As I've noted on a few spots, I'm trying to work less this year and enjoy life more. We'll see how long that last as my work situation could change or any number of factors outside my control can smash my plans. But until that happens...

So today was clean house day. This may not sound interesting, but if you're a gamer who has played and collected for a long time, it can lead to some interesting times. While due to space constrains I've lost, sold, traded or otherwise lost much of my collection, I still have a lot of things like my old Polyhedron magazines that I stumbled across or some maps by one of my friends.'

Jason is a great artist and a good guy and I haven't talked to him for years but hell, that's part his fault and part my fault.

I also came across some photos of my friends and I when I used to live on Mozart playing some second edition. Good times.

But on another front, nostalgia hits from a completely unexpected source; Wizards of the Coast is going to reprint the first three Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books with new covers and provide some of the cash for the Gary fund.

I noted over on RPG.net that I'm of two minds. The first is the cynical aspect that looks at this as a ploy by WoTC to sell some books at an inflated cost and notes that they completely ignore Dave, the other founder of Dungeons & Dragons. There are other bits that go clink clink in my head, but really, I'm trying to be the gamer who goes, "Wow."

WoTC probably isn't going to make much money off this. It's a limited print run that is going through local gaming stores only and no chains. They'll also be donating some money. I think that its a good move because it allows those who want the 'shinny' but also the old, to get a look at it. Mind you, if anyone really wants to get those books e-bay and used book stores probably have them at a much cheaper price. It also allows some good will to shine through thanks to the nature of the product.

There are those who see it as a money grab and as an excuse for Wizards of the Coast to strike out as games like OSIRIC and it is possible. Me? I'm hoping that its an experiment that goes well and that Wizards of the Coast does something like this for Dave and that they keep building what could be good will be doing things fans want as opposed to being a corporation.

We'll see.

Game on folks.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Company by K. J. Parker

I continue to make my reading of K. J. Parker based on the findings at Half Priced books. I would love to purchase the ebooks and provide some direct support for the author, but when I can get the hardcover at half the price of the ebook, and that hardcover is in near mind condition, its not contest. The next book I read I'll have to decide if it's going to be something by this author, whose work I've run out of, but haven't read it all, or some of the other material I have siting dormant on my Toshiba Thrive via Kindle or in one of the many piles around the house.

Anyway, K. J. Parker continues to impress, but honestly, this book would be book three were I to rank them. I'm torn between the Hammer and the Folding Knife, although I think I like the former just a touch more and the Company has its moments but tends to fall a little short in my enjoyment level.

The Company is about a group of 'linebreakers'. This is a term used here to describe the specialist warriors who charge a pike line and break through them so that those ranks can be decimated by the opposing side. I forget what they were called in the various mercenary companies but they were generally paid a lot of money because they were often the first to engage the enemy and the first to die.

The thing that makes A Company unique is that outside of their last fight, they have as a unit, survived every engagement they've been in. This gives them a bit of a legend, an aura of invicibility that provides a lot of backing to whatever they say.

In a role playing game, allowing the character to develop a reputation and allowing that reputation to have an impact on others is something the GM should keep track of. Mind you, that reputation may vary a bit depending on what the players are doing, but if the players are known to have overcome the Temple of Elemental Evil and helped the towns and been generally awesome in their display of prowess, the people should give them their props. It's not a reward that necessarily comes with any mechanic benefits, but clever players will be able to use those props for their own rewards.

Another bit is that when the novel starts, almost all of the characters are broke. In many games, the spending of cash isn't necessarily a big deal. Some games don't even really cover it, instead relying on a vague 'level' of wealth, like Hero of FASERIP, the old Marvel Super Heroes game, does. Others like Dungeons and Dragons have a pretty detail intensive level and various methods of removing said cash from the characters.

In earlier editions, characters might have to pay various maintenance fees to maintain their lifestyle. In 3rd and 4th edition, those funds are assumed to go almost exclusively to the purchasing of magic items.

In The Company, I'd say its more of the former than the later. The characters and wealth are not connected. Wealth in and of itself is something nice to have for them, but isn't their main goal. Their main goal seems to be to stay 'The Company' due to their experiences in 'the war'.

This is an important issue though when looking at games like Dungeons and Dragons. What role do you want wealth to play in your campaign? If you engage the players and allow them to hunt down items they want or allow them to make items they want using various rituals and rites, then in later editions, gold in and of itself can be used for other purposes as it used to be. This is a campaign decision that should be made before the start of the game, and it is one that the players should be informed of.

If for example, you are playing with people you don't know and have it at the back of your mind that you'll allow them do pretty much build their items, or give them quests when they let you know what the items they're looking for are, they might not be expecting it and can grow frustrated if you cut back on the funds, thinking that they will need that gold for magic items.

In another aspect of the book, some of the characters have secrets. Some games are build around bringing out the role playing aspect of such party conflict. In my experience, especially with the older editions, blows might have come out over magic items, especially those high powered ones that might not ever come around again like a Girdle of Storm Giant Strength. In other games like Burning Wheel, probably not, but the fact that you killed someones favored cousin or something along those lines might be an issue that has to be resolved in play.

Depending on the maturity level of your group, and their interactions with each other and you, allowing players to have such 'dirty' secrets can be fun. This is something that you have to be careful with though as some people take their gaming very seriously and things done in the game transfer over to the real world in terms of real anger or disappointment.

The Company is also great for showcasing how large government may think. There are several individuals brought out and quickly brought out of the story, just to showcase how slow things may move. The end conflict is actually about something that has been under investigation for years, showcasing yet again, the inefficiencies of the government.

It is ironically enough in a position that like where individuals can shine. Player characters may have opportunities to gather fame and fortune if they are able to outmaneuver and outhink and outperform those who are in competition with them and the GM should allow it when appropriate.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hammer by K. J. Parker

While I found the Hammer didn't involve a lot of material in terms of fighting, combat, or other standards of fantasy role playing games, there is still plenty of rich material to mine.

The first thing to review, is base campaign assumptions. In this setting, Gig, the third son of the noble exiled family, has no expectations on him that are standard. If the family was not exiled, he would have been sent off to the priesthood because the eldest stands to inherit, the second is a back up so to speak, and the third... well, he's extra and even historically, they were often sent off to the church. What happens in noble families in the setting you're using? Are they given command of legions that they are no qualified for? Are they made heads of guilds through marriage? Do they form unique organizations like Pathfinders?

In that vein though, what happens with other people? Teuccer, a young lady from the mainland, fresh to the colony island, wants to be a doctor. Back on the mainland, that would never happen because it wasn't a woman's place. In her new home though, while some may consider her eccentric, they trust her abilities and treat her like the specialist she is. In some ways though, this is part of what Dungeons and Dragons has suffered a little from.

I don't want to say that the game is politically correct, but when looking at most eras of history, things are hard for the common man. Slavery is a common occurrence. Strength of law is enforced by actual strength. Women in many instances, are limited in what jobs they can take. They face real social barriers and have real hindrances.

By being so modern in its outlook, Dungeons and Dragons takes away some of that potential struggle. Now if your game is all about going into the dungeons and collecting the loot, that is appropriate. After all, you don't want to make it more difficult for one player than you do another in terms of buying equipment and getting solutions that the other players have.

But if its about role playing struggles and every one is the same and everyone has the same benefits and the same flexibility, then you might want to look at some of the old social limits. This includes something like looking at the wearing of certain colors, the use of weaponry outside of the nobility. One of the ideas that the old d20 Excaliber book mentioned as a role playing bit was that only knights could use swords. This didn't prevent other social status characters from making fighters, but they would be known by others weapons. Indeed, some weapons are distinctively peasant in nature or not meant for the higher ranking soldiers.

Another aspect of the colony life, is whose paying for it? Is there a single organization that pays for the people to move there? To pay for the people to live there? what are the obligations of the people who live there? In The Hammer, the colonist are expected to turn off a certain amount of beef in exchange for the necessary tools for living like nails, hammers, hoes, clothing and other farming tools. The isolation of the setting means that often the characters have to make due with what they have. In this book, there is 'the Company', but we don't find out too much about them in this book. Considering I'm reading another book by the same author called, 'The Company', it wouldn't surprise me if that some how all tied in together.

The Hammer is a book that is filled with characters breaking their standard background roles and fighting against the limitations imposed on them from society. It is worth reading to see how island life might cause innovation among the least likely people.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Hammer by K. J. Parker or more blathering about 5h Editio

The Hammer, by K. J. Parker, is another done in one book that I found well written and entertaining. While it takes place in some psuedo-historical context and doesn't necessarily involve any magic or fantasy elements, it is engaging reading.

In terms of pricing, well, I bought it during one of the Borders Bookstore closings with others at something like 4 books for ten dollars so say, $2.50. Which is a shame because I see the ebook is something like $10 in and of itself. A further shame because my local Half Price has numerous books by the author, and while I'd love to directly support the author, as Cage the Elephant would say, "Ain't no rest for the wicked, money don't grow on trees' so instead of paying $9.99 for an ebook, I'll pay $3.49 for a paperback that the author gets zero of. Not what I want to do but hey, the publisher has right now four books on sale for $2.99 so they are fully aware of the pros and cons of various models of pricing.

Anyway, onto gaming thoughts.

Like The Folding Knife, I initially didn't see a lot of room where the material could be considered inspiring outside of getting the reader thinking and engaged with the book and working on the readers own thoughts and awareness.

But as I continued to read, and this might, in part, be caused by all the talk of 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, I came to some interesting observations about what one might look at in terms of making the new edition more playable, that takes its pages from some of what 4th edition did.

In the Hammer, Gignomai or Gig, is a member of the met'Oc, a family of nobles in exile on an island colony. This island colony pays dues to 'The Company'.

Gig though, hates his family. They are not good people. Having been out of contact with the mainland for so long, they have grown decadent and survival is a daily struggle in the overall reach of things. The implications of such struggle are showcased through a variety of methods but...

Looking at 4th edition, there was a bit of a setting called a 'Points of Light' setting. It was supposed to be where things were dark and dangerous and could be problematic.

The problem was that actual game play didn't necessarily feel like that in the games I played or those I've heard of. This is for the most part mind you. In older editions, there were tons of random encounters and these random encounters didn't necessarily rely on the player character's level, they relied on where they were at. Only 3rd level and going to the old dwarf ruins some two weeks travel out of the city? Wandering encounter says you encounter a group of stone giants with two cave bears. Roll for imitative.

The sheer random chance of such an encounter was part of the danger inherent in the setting. On the other hand, you could encounter a group of giant rats or one cave bear by itself. There needs to be more random elements to things while providing players, in the option of the stone giants, with the opportunity to retreat if and when needed.

Another aspect of The Hammer, is that Gig is different. The whole 4e thing should have been the players were rising in a world of decay, not one that was necessarily full of decadence or evil, but one that needed new blood, new ideas and new methods to get things moving. In some instances, this might not even be new methods or new ideas, but motivation and energy. By having the players be the ones who are adding and changing the scenery, the GM is giving them  far more power than giving them a slightly magical sword or dagger.

For example, in The Hammer, Gig creates a factory and with it, guns. This isn't new technology to the setting. It's not a new method. But no one has done it before because no one thought of it. No one took the time to do it. No one was interested in it. Everyone was interested in keeping things the exact way they were, fighting that inevitable decline of their ways as society collapsed slowly, ever so slowly about them.

This, the spirit of exploration, the spirit of fighting against the standard, is what D&D can be about without changing game mechanics and instead working on the settings.

But in order to do that, there would have to be some changes to the core structure of the game.

As much as I enjoy magic, and magic item shops, and schools of wizardry, to get the new feeling, to get the 'shinny' feeling, Dungeons and Dragons has to drop kick it to the curb. Oh sure, in an appendix, perhaps next to the wandering harlot one, put some notes about adding colleges of magic and magic item shops, but for the most part, in order to keep magic different and new and special, it has to be extremely limited and random.

When you provide the opportunity for players to buy anything other then the most mundane of magic items, you've destroyed magic. Now mind you, for many genres and games, this is perfectly acceptable. Magic in and of itself becomes another form of technology.

But then you need to drop the whole concept of a dark savage age where a few independent city states struggle for survival because when players can go to a magic shop and pick up an enchanted sword, if the local government isn't doing something with that magic to safeguard the people in the first place, that logic is flawed.

And magic colleges? Part of the problem with spellcastersspellbooks, and the numerous costs associated with all of that ranging from the inks used to copy the spells, to the spellbooks themselves.

On the altar of game balance, those flavor elements have been fairly neutralized but in exchange, the wizards have become nothing more than fighters that don't use a sword to attack people but rather use spells that do similar damage and have similar effects.

Limiting spell selection, limiting the ability to buy spells, limiting the number of spellcasters in the setting, these all go a long way in making magic, well, magical again.

As I think of it, limiting the scope of what the players can access, when they can access it and how the can access it, is far more of a campaign element than what rule system you're using. If plate armor is something that only the highly skilled can create, then towns and villages won't have it. If players are looking for magic items, they have to hunt down rumors of such and hope that the gods are kind to their request when they hear of haunted ruins where an ancient elf crafted drifted in madness but may, mind you may, just have something similar to what the seeker wants.

And speaking of seeking out magic items, here is another area where I think earlier editions were able to throw in a bit of fun. Magic items tended to be a little more random in their power and abilities prior to 3rd edition and this allowed paladins, who always seemed to have holy avengers, have this iconic weapon with them, despite the fact that it was such a powerful magic item and probably level inappropriate. It allowed White Plume Mountain to be stacked with items of vast and great power. It allowed rings of wishes to wind up as random treasure.

Game balance may have to take a couple of blows to the face in 5th edition if Wizards of the Coast is serious about uniting fans of all editions and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Paizo and Open Design versus Wizards of the Coast: Round one: Monsters

For some, when it comes to game mechanics, less is more. For example, when looking at 3rd edition, on one hand, one of the things many people say it did right, was make things more universal. While there are benefits to having one method of creating an NPC that will match up with a player, and of having standards for lowering and raising monsters, either based on hit dice or giving then levels, the problem almost becomes that you are no longer player Dungeons and Dragons.

Because you know what other systems use such a methodology? GURPS, Hero, Mutants and Masterminds, and I'm sure many others. But in Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, the player creation aspect is so highly specialized and customized that for the Game Master, to honestly use it all the time, can be nightmarish. This isn't to say that many Dungeon Master's don't love to tweak or design or create. In some venues, this is WHY they are Dungeon Master's. In other's, because they are Dungeon's Masters and not playing, they get to tweak that part of the game like a player gets to do so with their character.

Each player though, generally only controls one character. If a Dungeon Master is making highly unique and customized characters and monsters each game, even if his enjoyment is high, his prep time is going to be huge. And taking up large chunks of prep time is never seen as a good thing.

So 4th edition went back to the drawing board on the monster side, and in terms of how monsters work, I think they largely succeeded. Oh, they screwed up the damage dealt and hit points possessed, but those aspects are able to be tweaked fairly right away. The presentation, the building, the roles, these things are shorter and sweater.

Yet in terms of Monster Manuals, after the third one, WoTC went back to the drawing board to tweak monsters because of the tweaks they did to the players in the relaunch of the Essentials line. It was another case of, "We're not going to reprint the core book because that's unnecessary, but here, have a book that fills the exact same role, including takes on all the old stuff, but is not actually a reprint." They followed up that Monster Vault boxed set with another monster product that failed to go epic but was well received due to the amount of information each monster had. It was almost like world building through the monsters. Very well done and very well received.

In terms of making monsters more, Open Design has their own Ecologies compiled from Kobold Quarterly. Paizo, while publishing Dragons and Dungeons, printed a compendium of Ecologies. Currently Paizo has a line of products that revisits monsters and expands them. The focus isn't on the game mechanics, its on making the monsters more useful to the Game Master by expanding information on where they live, how they live, why they act the way they do.

This was a fairly regular feature back in the day for Dragon magazine. Wulfgang's Ecology of the Ghoul is still one of my favorites from 2nd edition.

4th edition may have had some, but I honestly cannot recall Dragon online having any great impact on how I look at monsters. It's focus has been weak. There was a brief time when they created a new feature called Creature Incarnations. It featured a variety of monsters pulled from one monster.  You can see one free article of it here. Its not bad in my opinion but...

I've mentioned before that Dragon Magazine used to be a fantastic resource for Dungeon Masters and players and I feel its become a little more than a preview and feedback machine. Back in 'my day' we had The Dragon's Beastiary and Ecology articles. When Dragon was feeling real generous and wanted to make the reader feel he got a huge bonus, we'd get a Creature Catalog, almost like a miniature sized Monster Manual.

If Dragon continued to support and publish the Incarnation articles, that would be one thing. You could say that they went in that direction. In the years, and its got to be going on something like four years, so over forty eight issues,  there are less than twenty articles that fall in the heading according to a search on the article compendium.

When other companies are publishing books, in what is supposed to be a depressed buying market, especially for what are niche products, products that focus on the background and organization, and methodology, not on new game stats, if Wizards of the Coast is serious about learning from its past efforts, this is one of the directions they need to embrace.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

ebooks: Freebies and Good Deals

Every month Amazon has a 100 books under $3.99 deal.

Rides a Dread Legion by Raymond Feist. I'm a sucker for his writing because I've been reading it for years and years.  $1.99
Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb. Enjoyed the original trilogy and some of the other books written by Hobb. $1.99
The Last Apprentice: I mention it not because I've read it, but because its for young readers. $1.99
Monsters and Manuals, a blog I follow, has a great post talking about a Project Guttenburg Appendix N. Public Domain for the win!
Orbit Books http://www.orbitebooks.com/offer/ has four ebooks for $2.99. Even though I've mentioned I wasn't blown away by Karren Miller's book http://modernappendixn.blogspot.com/2010/06/changing-nature-of-characters.html for $2.99 I bought it again to show my support. And Brent? I did enjoy the Night Angel trilogy so that was a no-brainer. And my mother is a huge fan of vampire and supernatural things so that was another book bought.
And I've mentioned it before, but Baen has a whole slew of free books over here: http://www.baenebooks.com/c-1-free-library.aspx
If you're not reading because paperbacks are $9.99 and hardcovers $30, these are some cheap reads for you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Folding Knife by K. J. Parker

The Folding Knife is a powerful story well told. The thing is, while I enjoyed it immensely, I can't really point out too much that works in a standard Dungeons and Dragons game.

And that's a problem with Dungeons and Dragons. Make no mistake, I love D&D, but 3rd and 4th edition did really one thing very well and that's allow heroes to explore dungeons and battle monsters. While I'm not advocating that earlier editions were all about controlling the fate of nations via finances or that leadership was more that a feat, it was a 'name' level bit and that you had to work with hirelings, mercenaries and more, there is some truth to that. Sure, it was a bloody free for all in many ways and it didn't really work in many aspects but it allowed a GM who had players that wanted a different sort of end game, to not worry about killing Orcus to save the multiverse, but to pave roads and place more catapults onto the castle in order to protect it from the invading orcs.

Others have spoken more eloquently than I have on the 'end game' of the editions and I believe that while looking at opportunities for 5th edition, a hard look needs to be determined in what types of games people can play with it. If it stays focused on the slaying of monsters and the gathering of treasures, it needs to work damn hard to make sure those treasures are magical again. 3rd and 4th edition did a fantastic job of breaking things down into their numeric components but on the way, held firmly to the road by game balance, lost a lot of the magic of the game. Things like getting a Ring of Wishes or Blackrazor at 6th level, as it's old 1st ed stats were, unless you had a GM who loved to wing game balance, were not happening in 3rd and 4th. And maybe they need to.

Another benefit of the non-Epic fight game ending, is that like in the Folding Knife or hell, even in say Beowulf, it allows for some time gaps to fill in the years. Some of the Paizo adventure paths in Dragon magazine felt extremely rushed in terms of what the players were supposed to do, when they were supposed to do it, etc... Mind you, they always offered things that players could do to fill time, to fatten out any levels they needed due to missing a sequence of a dungeon, etc... but I remember reading one of them where the characters are out and about and as they return home, their home base is literally burning! Yeah, not a lot of downtime there.

Another aspect of the Folding Knife that is fairly not D&D, is that the main character, Basso, is a lot like a GURPS character or a Champions character. While he certainly has many numerous positive traits, he has several negative ones, including an inability to use his left hand, which suffered serious injury in an attempt on his life. These negatives and positives might be 'role played' and indeed, 2nd edition was famous, or perhaps infamous, for using role playing penalties to counter real game mechanic bonuses. I'm not certain how 5th ed could get around such an issue, but the fact that so many games build them into the core system should provide some insight as to how it can be workable.

While not a short story or one of my favored popcorn reads like those books in a Forgotten Realms or Warhammer series, The Folding Knife is a done in one which means I can now move onto another book or perhaps one of those epic series. If you're looking for something that is gripping, well written and shows how another end game style might look, then The Folding Knife is for you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

DDI versus OGL

I'm reading The Folding Knife by K. J. Parker. I bought it when Borders was closing. I also have The Hammer. Man, this guy can write. It's almost all character based. There are no elaborate magic systems like the Mistborn series and no big epic arc like too many fantasy series but it's going quick and well.

But as I'm reading that, and reading some Pathfinder material, I'm also wondering about the future of Dungeons and Dragons.

While much has been made of the OGL versus the more restrictive license the GSL, I think that in terms of overall utility in getting people to buy material, the DDI also played a role.

When you have a massive database for creating characters or looking up monsters or finding rules, but it only covers those rules that are official, what are the chances that you're going to put a lot of effort into getting 3rd party sourcebooks and supplements? For me as a player its not a huge issue to write out something and as a GM its again, not a huge issue.

For others, well, if you're paying a monthly fee to use something, why punish yourself with material you can't use?

I believe that if WoTC is serious about uniting the fan base, one of the things they'll need to do is have a license that allows 3rd party publishers to upload their game mechanics to the DDI.

Crazy? Possibly.

Worth WoTC time and money to invest in that and monitor it? Probably not.

Something that the gaming community would benefit from? Yup.

It's one of those things where I honestly don't think WoTC is going to be able to push aside corporate interest in the name of gaming interest and that as a whole, will be another missed opportunity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition unite all fans tip or Orcus isn't covered in gold

In my previous post, I mentioned some of the things that Wizards of the Coast could do in order to improve their relationship to the fans who will make or break the game.

The other thing that has nothing to do with game mechanics, is stop acting like Orcus, Asmodeus, the Slime Lord and the other numerous demons and devil higher powers have been dipped in gold and that we mere mortals are lucky to get one set of such stats per monster manual.

2nd edition pretty much skipped out on these big bads entirely. There were a few reasons why but in the end, it was just plain stupid. Mind you, in the end, it didn't really matter because the differences between 2nd and 1st edition were so small that if you couldn't run a game that incorporated both elements into your own campaign that you had more serious problems.

3rd edition though? Thank god for Necromancer Games and Green Ronin. They provided a ton of game stats that lasted a good long while even as WoTC hoarded the game stats for Orcus and other bad boys for the Book of Vile Darkness that was 3.0 and immediately had to be updated in books later on down the road.

4th edition was even worse in this regard as they decided one demon lord was enough and hey, a Legend and Lore book where you could throw down with Thor or other popular characters? I mean, we all know that there was a Thor movie that mad a ton of cash recently right and that the character is going to be in the Avengers movie? Apparently that was too much for 4th edition.

5th edition, right out of the gate, should look at the 1st edition Monster Manual and go, "If it was good enough for Gary..." and while perhaps not everything was, the demons and devil section of that old book wasn't afraid to tell you how many hit points those demon lords and devil princes had in the first core monster book.

WoTC has some interesting decesions ahead of them. If they are unable to put out quality material that can expand their reach past the core books and decide that the only way people are going to be interested in a Monster Manual 2 is if they piece meal out the game system, they are DOA in uniting all gamers.

Monday, January 9, 2012

5th Edition D&D Already?

In looking at the various news posts today relating to Dungeons and Dragons, it looks like 5th ed is on the way. This is way too soon in my opinion. We didn't get 3.5 this quickly. Mind you, I'm of the firm opinion that the Essentials were a ".5" edition so the cycle does seem to be quite short this time around.

WoTC talks about uniting the fans of the brand behind "one ring" so to speak. Won't happen. While 3rd edition had a lot of the elements that made D&D what its known for, 4th ed went a completely different path. Not necessarily a bad one in terms of game design, but rituals, spells, and magic items were all lain down and sacrificed under the banner of balance. You will not be able to make people who want to play a powerful wizard who is weak at low levels happy at the same time you make those who want all of the classes to retain equal utility throughout the entire careers. Not going to happen. End. Fini.

There are some things that I think WoTC should do that could help reduce the issues that will crop up during this time. Many of them have nothing to do with game mechanic design and I've mentioned them numerous times before.

1. Know what the hell you're talking about. When 4th edition was in the pipeline, the VTT (virtual table top) along with other bits of the DDI were supposed to be seamlessly integrated into the edition. A recent article by Ryan Dancy further illustrates how this was supposed to happen. Not only that though, but anyone remember 'The Rouse'? He was a great guy from WoTC and was talking about how there would be codes you would get from buying the books that would allow you to buy a PDF for "a buck or two." None of that happened. Mind you, by shutting the hell up, you'll cut off some potential communication between players, buyers, and the makers, but people want what you tell them they'll get. Is it entitlement? Probably. Is it human nature? Definitely.

2. Bring back PDF's of all editions. Even if you have to hire someone from India for $1  a page to convert the material, bring back every old book. WoTC has been talking about a solution to the piracy and PDF problem ever since the Player's Handbook 2 came out. Anyone remember that? that the PHB2 sold out but PDFs were undercutting sales? So PDF sales were undercutting sales of a book that physically sold out? Here's something to think of. According to an article on ye old internets, digital sales have surpassed those of physical sales. Provided a legal alternative that people can use for a 'fair' price and people will buy.

3. OGL all the way. Not only does 5e need to embrace 5th edition, WoTC needs to give 'seed' money to companies like Green Ronin, Frog God Games, Malhavoc Press and others to support it. The GLS was a complete and utter failure. By not embracing the OGL, WoTC not only allowed, but essentially actively encouraged Paizo to come out with Pathfinder. And the other editions that WoTC now talks fondly of? Chances are there is a retro clone of it, and chances are there's a GOOD retro clone of it. The old editions don't need WoTC support as people who want to play an older edition have a ton of choices. Now if WoTC supports the OGL, and does so by allowing third parties full access to the material before its printed, WoTC can concentrate on a certain 'style' of D&D while others fill the void. I like many aspects of 4th edition but find it silly that there are still no official rules for firearms. I like some of what WoTC has done with say, Dark Sun, but miss the dozens of options I once had in terms of setting support such as the Scarred Lands.

4. Playtest Intensively. 4e suffers from the Hero/GURPS effect in that a lot of the powers and abilities are the same but due to the way they were written, instead of having a master list of such abilities and powers that players could select from, each class gets its own write up providing monstrous bloat to the system. This doesn't count things like how the first and second 4e Monster Manuals are, I don't want to say useless, but their utility was greatly diminished when the 3rd Monster Manual came out and basically said, "Yeah, we don't know hot to calculate damage so try these numbers instead." And other bits like magic items and rituals and spells? Things that we used to see numerous articles for in Dragon like Pages From The Mages and Bizzar of the Bazaar among others? DOA.

5. Pull in One Direction. It does no one any good to have several people who work at WoTC talking about the Character Builder going online because it makes things more compatible among the various types of computer users and then in an podcast have another person talk about how all the customers are thieves and the reason that the Character Builder is going online is because its the only way to fight piracy. Pull in one direction or risk making yourself look like a gigantic jackass.

6. Examine HTML 5 for the DDI. I'm not a computer expert or anything, but with Tablets and Android becoming larger and larger means of accessing the internet, it would seem that HTML 5 offers a lot of benefits that Silverlight does not. Once again, not a programmer, but when you see tablets talking the place of notebooks, the whole thing about making the DDI something you can access from anywhere becomes more hallow unless its something people using an iPad or android tablet can access.

7. Review your ebook pricing. I'm not saying that every book should be cut to $2.99 or anything like that. but... if you haven't made your money back on the Crystal Shard, or you still don't collect the omnibus editions for online selling, well, when looking at epic fantasy on the kindle and the first WoTC book pops in at #73, well after numerous authors selling their books for less than $6.39, what does it hurt to test out different prices? It's not like you're going to be crushed by returns of unsold books. If the new price points don't work and don't increase market penetration, move back to the old prices.

8. Stop making promises. This one is hard because different people have different definitions of what a promise is. For example, when asked if WoTC was going to reprint the Player's Handbook with all of the errata in it, a thing that would be useful since there were dozens of powers and abilities that were changed with errata, the initial reply was that there was no plan to do so because they had done such a massive print run but when the time was right.... well, after WoTC changed things up with the Essentials, when do you think that time was right? WoTC has to be able to react to market conditions and if those conditions tell them to cancel the first quarter of products, then that's what they need to do.

9. Make Dragon and Dungeon real magazines again. I hear some laughter out there, but seriously, the things have gone to waste when compared to the proud legacy they used to have. There was a time, for those who came into reading these magazines, that they were not just little magazines that were used to preview upcoming game material. They brought their own value. When WoTC doesn't provide epic support because of some unknown factor that its not viable, there was easily the opportunity to do The Dragon's Bestiary or Creature Catalog. When people talk about the lack of spell selection, as I mentioned earlier, even if keeping it in game balance, pages from the mages would easily fill that need. When discussing unique characters and characteristics of characters, Legend and Lore, where heroes of myth and legend are given game stats, would provide GMs with opportunities to see how professional game designers handle weapons like Excalibur and provide a quick round of NPCs that the GM can use if he's running a specific type of campaign, such as an Arthurian one. And for god's sake, stop with the nonsense about people reading individual articles and compile the magazine at the end of the month. Seriously.

10. In terms of print products, remember to support the GM. The GM is the one who makes the game work or fail. While it is great that players have ten thousand options for their characters, if there are not a wealth of adventurers for every level, then the GM has to work. When there are more options for a particular level than another, GMs will cluster around those levels. Support the GM and he will support you. Paizo does an excellent job of this with various books that build on the game setting, such as their recently released mythic monsters revised, as well as single adventurers, and adventure paths. Throw in their maps and other GM focused aids and you can see why GMs, despite the complexity of 3.5, stick with it.

11. Hit 'em With the Classics Right Away. For all the talk of the 'shared experience' that WoTC likes to parade like a show dog, there are dozens of adventurers that haven't seen a 4e adaptation. When launched 5e should come out the door with several options for the GM including a boxed set that has something like In Search of Adventure. In addition to adventures and other classics of setting, for god's sake, throw some money at the old artist that made D&D the sensation it was. The fact that you can see Larry Elmore's art on miniatures and posters but outside of the one cover we got on Dragon when the introduction boxed set came out, is a damn shame. There are numerous artist who should be getting work from WoTC just to showcase their ties to the community. If Kezner and Co can hire a certain artist to do the cover of Hakcmaster basic, there is absolutely no reason WoTC cannot.

12. A decent starter box. WoTC, your started box was inconsistent with the core rules that came out shortly thereafter. Look at what Paizo did. I'm not saying it's perfect, but damn is it better than yours in almost every way that counts.

13. (I knew I forgot one) Don't dick around with the content. What do I mean? When 4e first came it, there was a deliberate decesion to without certain material from the first core books like the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual to 'encourage' buying of future books. Want the Frost Giant? Sorry, not in the core Monster Manual. Want to play a barbarian? Not in the first Player's Handbook. Listen, if your future content can't stand on its own two legs, then its worthless regardless of how you dress it up. What's worse, letting people know ahead of time that this is some dicking around to get money? Another bad marketing decesion.

I'm sure I'm missing some very obvious things or some people will disagree with me, but I think if WoTC can get out of its own way and stop being a corporation long enough to be, and let's be honest, this is what it probably needs to be, a game company, than 5th edition can succeed. Mind you, I personally think it may be too late. The days of Dungeons and Dragons being able to hit the types of goals necessary for it seem over. Look at it this way. If WoTC tells us that 4th edition did better than 3.5 which did better than 3.0 and its still not hitting its target numbers... well, that writing may not be on the wall but it certainly can't be fair away.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Blood For The Blood God by C. L. Werner

I have the omnibus edition of House of Serpents by Lisa Smedman and had started on Venom's Taste. I don't know why, but it wasn't grabbing me. So I put it down to pick up a stand alone book by an author whose work I've enjoyed in the past; Blood For The Blood God by C. L. Werner.

I'll be pinging some spoilers from the book below. For those who want a brief review, this is a stand alone book where the warriors of chaos find themselves hard pressed to battle a legendary entity known as the Skulltaker. It's very pulpy sword and sorcery fare and if this is the type of material you enjoy, then this book is for you.

Now onto the spoilers.

One, if you ever wonder how to run an evil campaign, this book might provide some solid foundations. There are no heroes here, nor even anti-heroes. There are barbarous murderers who fight among each other for survival and each tribe has its own tricks. The threat of an outside menace is what brings a few of these tribesmen together so that they can attempt to cheat destiny.

By providing an outside force for players to gather against, the GM can provide some reason for such players to travel together. This may not solve all of the problems of an evil campaign, but it does take care of at least the first issue; why should they trust each other.

The next thing, is use the setting elements. C. L. Werner, no stranger to the Warhammer setting, provides us with characters who often suffer the mutating touch of chaos with some of the protagonist having a tentacle for an arm or iron nodes poking through their skin.

Werner unleashes not only flesh hounds, but also blood letters. The weapons that many of the characters use, are demonic in nature and destroy both body and soul. These are standards in the world of Warhammer and by not shying away from them, Werner firmly places his tale of carnage into the setting.

Don't be afraid of the one shot. At the end of the story, the realm that the 'heroes' fought to save is destroyed. Everyone the main character knows is dead. Khorne has had his vengeance. But there is still war to be waged and battles to be fought and the book ends as another epic duel is about to begin.

Perhaps you don't want to run an entire evil campaign. Perhaps you just want to test out Dark Sun and see how those rules mesh with 4e. Perhaps you only want to dip your toe into Savage Worlds. A one shot allows you to up the stakes and push the characters to and past their limits as you are only running a one shot and the fate of worlds can be up for grabs. And if you enjoyed the game, you can run a separate game at a latter time.

My only issue with the book is the name of the villain of the piece; Skulltaker. For those who don't play the tabletop, this is skulltaker;

That massive figure above? He's not at all what is described in the book and the editors should have axed that name right away. When your game setting has dozens of slogans and mottos and you mix the material up, it does the reader and the fan no benefit. Keep the material clean, seperated, and easy to understand. It would be like having a new Forgotten Realms novel feature Elminster, a heroic blade troll who hunts down rogue tornadoes. It might be a great story, but anyone looking for Elminster is not going to be happy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Sea Devil's Eye by Mel Odom

The third and final book in the Threat From the Sea series brings a close to the adventures of angst and ancient evil. I'll be discussing some of the things in the book that I didn't like and how I would try to avoid them.

The first thing is over use of the gods. The malanti that starts us off on this journey turns against her master and is protected thanks to the god.

The emo hero of the piece has been directed and guided by a god. He was knocked out a few times early in the series including once where he was shot by a crossbow and lived because he had to serve.

The bard hero of the piece is also directed by a god.

While the use of deities is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a setting like the Forgotten Realms where the gods are very real, after a while you have to wonder, where the hell are the evil gods while the rest of these deities are planting their very firm hand on the setting? Mind you, the villain of the piece of old enough and powerful enough to perhaps qualify as some sort of demi-power, but you figure that some of the evil forces out there would be aligned on his side right?

So when running your game, try to be aware of the powers that be and that their overuse might have an adverse effect on the game.

For one, the players can become spoiled if they expect to have their fat pulled out of the fire by the gods when the going gets tough. If you bust them out of death's door once, why only that time? They can also get jaded in that they'll wonder why they are playing if the gods are going to solve all their problems to begin with. It's a fine line and once that can be crossed easier when you are familiar with the preferences of your group.

The next bit has to do with the villain of the piece. Iakhovas is an ancient entity native to the Forgotten Realms. He enjoyed the love of the Bitch Queen when the lands were young and he was one of the first creatures upon it. But he failed to keep that love and was punished.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands of years later, he comes back and seeks out all the old items that made him into such a power back in the day.

Okay, this is like the Emperor rebuilding the Death Star in the third Star Wars movie. Yeah, it was awesome when we first saw it, but do we need to see it again? Is that 'ultimate power' that got is ass whipped the first time around really the solution?

If in the day he could not achieve his goals with the items he had, why would he search out those exact items again? Did something change where now they are more powerful then ever? This falls into the trap of "the old stuff is better". It would have been more interesting if the author took that old standard and had the heroes going around securing all of Iakhovas old goods while he went and either made new ones himself or had new ones crafted for him.

The other problem I had with Iakhovas, is that he's shown as being a great leader. He's shown that he is a tactical genius. At the end, he stays to fight to the death against someone who has a superior weapon. This reminded me of the Transformers movie with the Fallen going on and on about how only a Prime can defeat him and hey, there's Optimus Prime renewed and invigorated and yeah, let's fight him!

What's worse, is at the point of his death, Iakhovas has a magic eye which when hit with a magical sword, blows his head off. How stupid of an entity do you have to be to put something that can take your head off into your head? "I think this grenade really sets off my features." Stupid.

Now the things that I thought worked, included bits that were set up for future follow up. This includes some glimpses into the future where the hero sees himself fighting his father. I thought this would've happened prior to the fight against Iakhovas as a sort of redemption piece but by leaving it for later, the author saves some space for future conflicts that perhaps may not be as epic, but are still personal to the hero.

The mentor of the young hero mentions his fallen sister, a necromancer, and her alliance with the Zhents. Another field where we get no resolution.

The destruction of the Sharksbane Wall. This was used to keep the old beasties away from the rest of the population in the Sea of Fallen Stars. It is a very real thing that leads the setting into more dangerous tides.

And on that last note, I have to wonder, again, how badly 4e screwed the Forgotten Realms pooch.

Prior to 4e, and not necessarily all at once, but all having long term effects, you have the following:

The elves retake Myth Drannor.

The Shades take over Sembia.

The Sharksbane Wall is destroyed and naval powers have suffered some crippling defeats.

The Dragons have gone mad and destroyed a lot of the standards and standbys.

And then instead of having to help fight back the hordes of undead dragons created during this time, or sail in peril across the Sword Coast or across the Sea of Fallen stars, or fight against the Shades in Sembia, or help rebuild the city of elves, we get a hundred year skip where all of the interesting stuff is someone done by still relevant?


One thing I thought interesting, when discussing the gods though, is that it provides a good example of how some of the deities, in this case, Sekolah, the god of the sahuagin, are multi-natural in order and would allow the villain of the piece to rise to prominence. The villain makes a note early on that the Shark God swims through many worlds, a nod to the huge connected nature of the planar settings that the Dungeons and Dragons rules utilized back in the day.

Threat From The Sea has a lot of action and keeps things moving, even when I'm not down with all of the pieces and bits that are used to tell the story.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Under Fallen Stars by Mel Odom

One of the interesting things about how the previous book, Rising Tide ended, was the heroe's quest to get to Baldur's Gate. This is a fairly famous city in the Forgotten Realms for several reasons ranging from its initial launch point in the gray boxed set back in the day with the mercenary group the Flaming Fist, to its importance in a video game called... yes, Baldur's Gate.

At the end of the previous novel, the hero discovers that he needs to be at Baldur's Gate and so, he goes on an overland journey. Due to the raids and attacks, the pirates in alliance with the various horrors of the depths, the goods going north must now do so through land. But here Mel pulls out another set of sharpened stakes and notes that even overland journeys are more dangerous because everyone is doing it so the orcs, goblins and other land based monsters, are essentially having a field day. This is a good example of showcasing how one change in one part of the setting can effect other parts of the setting. Sure, soldiers and sailors are in more demand than ever, but that doesn't guarantee victory!

At the start of this novel though, the journey is finished. There is no daily recap of the heroic quest to reach the city. They made it. When running your own game, how important is each and every potential conflict? In some games I've played in, the GM insisted on careful calculations of every gold piece spent and earned, of every item of clothing and possession written down. Depending on the GM and the players, this can be fun and serve some distinction between games. In other groups and GMs, it can be tedious to a level that makes the players simply not want to play.

This gets back to another old adage around this blog; know your players. If your players are highly detail oriented and enjoy noting their possessions and are always on the lookout for the strange bits, then indulge them in it. If they don't, have some common ground where the players understand X amount of wealth will be lost on housing and supplies and in exchange you want bring the ban hammer down on them when they make assumptions that might be... presumptious in another style of game.

Now the big bad of the series, his attack on Baldur's Gate is meant to shatter it. To cast the city to the four winds. Well, at least according to this book and the 4th edition version of Baldur's Gate, that didn't quite happen. Which makes sense. Previous novels and material have established Baldur's Gate as well, not invincible, but something that would require such a major upheaval that having it taken down by some fish men might prove problematic to those readers heavily involved with the series.

And here's another old adage; kill your babies. If you, as the GM, are running some epic material and want to do the old styling of showcasing just how powerful and vile the enemy is, destroy a few major cities, kill some major NPCs, and create havoc on the shipping lanes. This lets the players know that the stakes are very high and that they need to be at the top of their game if they are to thrive.

The only potential problem in such cases though, is that if you are running multiple campaigns in the same setting and want things to not be so smashed or if you're running a group with other GMs in the same setting. You can either let the other Game Masters know ahead of time or you can decide that the epic nature of the story requires you to bring the setting to a different level than the players have assumed and this in and of itself will let the players know that something big is happening here.

As a GM though, unlike an author, you have to be ready to follow what the players do after the attack. In the previous novel, Waterdeep took a beating. In this one, it's Baldur's Gate. What if you're players are like true old school players, not like the 3rd and 4th ed ones, but characters who have build their towers, created their castles and have their thief guilds? Chances are good that they may want to rebuild their schools, recreate their schools, and renew their alliances prior to moving on to attack the ones who attacked them.

You can either push them onto the 'adventure' that is waiting, or you can craft material out of their rebuilding efforts. If supplies are limited, then there will be struggles over those supplies. If the players have not made firm alliances with the local politicians, then they will have even greater struggles. At the end of the day, depending on the previous actions of the players and their current activities, they may have to actually pack up and leave the city. If they are ready though, and they do have supplies, then let them reap those rewards. Perhaps they have foodstuffs that the city needs or access to magic that allows them to quickly clean and rebuild the city. Perhaps the fighter is in alliance with the thief and they keep the rougher rogues of the city in check allowing people to come into the city and make new opportunities for themselves until they learn that the beneficial players perhaps have a few 'taxes' of their own that they are going to lay down.

Another factor that comes into play here is a massive gate that allows the villain of the piece to move from the Sword Coast to the Sea of Fallen Stars. There are also nods to Spelljammer with a Helm, used tospelljamming helm on a ship or want that much magic in the setting, if it's not overly abused and isn't a sign of the campaign tone and focus shifting, and just an nod to those other elements, even the most jaded player may get a gidding feeling about knowing what a helm is and how the ship is going to meet up with others in the Sea of Fallen Stars from a river that ends long before it gets there.

Use the setting and the rules are bones to build the structure of your game and if those tools don't let you do what you want, smash them and make some new ones.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Meat Is Meat

One of the things I forgot to mention about Mel Odom's Threat From The Sea, is how with a few key phrases and scenes, he gives the sahuagihn some life that makes their purpose and motivations stand out.

For one, the saying meat is meat. It represents how for those who live under the sea that supplies can often be in short supply and that even other sahuagihn can be meat.

The other one is something like We Who Eat. While people call them the sahuagihn and they themselves do at the same time, it also showcases that a culture can have a specific name for their own people.

In addition, the way of life for these creatures, includes a belief that those who fail or die, were too weak to live. A true survival of the fittest. In those cases when it was a strong sahuagihn who died fighting against a ruler in a blood feud or challenge for example, their mantra of meat is meat allows the strength of that fallen one to be passed onto the rest of the tribe.

When adding unusual races and monsters, thinking about how you can make them more then just a gathering of random statistics will go a long way in making memorable encounters.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rising Tide by Mel Odom

The first book in the Threat From the Sea series set in the Forgotten Realms setting introduces a number of new characters while utilizing existing monsters from the D&D mythology. For those who don't want a spoiler review, suffice it to say that I enjoyed the whole series despite thinking that the main character would win in an Emo off with Drizzt.

Onward to more specifics that may include some spoilers.

When looking at campaign design, there are many routes a Game Master can take. There are many groupings that may crop up. The trick is, do you use them or spread them out? Adventure paths often face this issue. If everything focuses too much on the main plot or event, it can feel very forced. If not, it can feel very random. For the traditional dungeon crawl, that random thing is part of the lure of the game. For those who want a little more focus out of things, it is something to be avoided.

When I read the year of Rogue Dragons series, I noted that by grouping things into a dragon category catch all, it allowed the authors to dig out all sorts of under utilized dragons like planar dragons, as well as various templates and other game bit lore from the 3.5 game engine.

Mel is able to do the same thing here with the Threat From The Sea. It's not just about the sauhagin, it's not just about the sea elves, it's not just about tritons. We have various giant marine predators, morkoth, kraken, and other water related monsters working their way through the series. And hey, look over there, pirates! This allows the author to mix up naval combat, underwater combat, and other entertaining bits that all fit logically together.

Speaking of underwater combat, this brings up another potential problem that the heroes have to face. Man versus the environment is a classic bit and in the Year of Rogue Dragons, when fighting enemies that can all fly, the air is an issue. Here, it's the water. There are several things that complicate the issue in both cases. There are a lot of native monsters to those environments whose mastery of them should be better than outsiders. Combat is now in all dimensions instead of just forward and back. Underwater fighting also involves a lot of things that may not be obvious on the surface like, oh, breathing. Vision also suffers the further down you get from the sun.

The real question is how much do you want those things to matter. Do you want to gloss it over or look for expanded rules and details? In the 3.5 era, there were a lot of aquatic based source books, some better than others. For most though, the core rules should do just fine.

Another element the book handles is weaving an epic story, that of an invasion of Waterdeep by the return of an ancient evil and its minions, with a deeply interpersonal story of a man searching for his purpose. While I absolutely detest the emo nature of the main character, his search for meaning is one that a lot of people can relate to. Regardless though, the fact that the author is able to bring the personal elements of one character to the forefront of a series where danger is all about is important. Never forget that while the action and scenery can help move a game along, if its all action shots and explosions, you get the Transformers which can be entertaining to watch, but lacks any depth or substance.

Mel Odom does a nice job of bringing various elements and areas together and showcases an epic story with a series of heroes that have a long way to go prior to meeting the evil that threatens them all.

1st e-book failure of 2012

I just finished the omnibus edition of Threat from the Sea by Mel Odom. One of the things I do after I finish a book, is look to the ebook edition to see what the pricing is. I do this for a few reasons.

One, I'm just curious.

Two, if it's a good book and the ebook price isn't cheap, I'll buy it. I have too many physical books that I've owned for years due to garage sales, Half-Priced books, auctions, and book markets.

Three, it acts as a good measure of where that company is with their ebooks.

Now I could be completely failing, but when I go to Amazon and look for Rising Tide, the first book in the series, there is no ebook version. The omnibus edition is there for just under $11. But an ebook version? Or the omnibus or the individual books?

WoTC, welcome to 2012 and my first opinion of your ebook catalog is fail.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: A Look Back

I haven't written nearly anywhere as much as I would have enjoyed last year. This was due in no small part to working many hours and being too tired to put much effort into anything outside of trying not to get buried in laundry and spending money on games I don't get to play because I'm at work.

In terms of gaming, it was also a brutal year. With so many mandatory Saturdays, my game groups decesion to play on Friday meant I essentially had to drop out. Not that any other day of the week would've mattered mind you. When your normal start time is 6:30 AM and you're awake at 5:00 AM and then on OT it's 4:30 AM and awake at 3:00 AM, well, gaming past ten just isn't sensible. While I'm pretty terrible at keeping my weight down, my sleep is very important to me.

One of the things I'm going to strive to work on in the new year is gaming more. It's great to have a Pathfinder subscription, and to have numerous books in the line that I enjoy, but I'm getting to the point where my backlog of Pathfinder specific material that I haven't used is so large that if I'm not going to start playing, I might as well stop.

Speaking of stopping, when one of my friends finished his 4e campaign because his own job became a little too time intensive to run, that was pretty much when I stopped buying 4e gaming products. I hadn't renewed my subscription to the DDI sent the character builder went online only and to be honest, while it seems there have been some great articles that have come out of the online DDI, the fact that WoTC can't seem to hit the regulars, the things that should be in many issues of Dragon on a monthly basis, says to me it's not a magazine I need to subscribe to. When the Dragon's Bestiary, Bizzaare of the Bazzar, Pages From The Mages, Legends and Lore, and other features start making monthly come backs as opposed to being a preview magazine, then I might renew.

And it's not that I don't enjoy 4e. It has a lot of things going for it. I just find that Pathfinder is more fun to read and support because, and I've mentioned this before, extensive setting support, wide body support (the various classic revisited), and adventure support. 4e has done a piss poor job of supporting adventurers in print. While both Pathfinder and 4e bite the big one in terms of wide body support for Epic play, at least with Pathfinder I'm not feeling that the book old beastiary books are completely ignoring it, unlike 4e's last monster book. It wasn't that the last book was poorly written or anything, it just didn't feature enough of the material I wanted in favor of capping out at 20th or so level.

Miniature wise, I cut back a lot. I didn't stop or anything mind you. Gen Con alone saw many dollars spent on new figure acquisition. However, I didn't do my usually auction stops, e-bay trolling or other such venues. I'm still buying supplies like green stuff, primer, and brushes, but figures have cooled. I still have a lot of stuff to paint up and I'm going to try and catch up on some of that.

Book wise, I bought my mom a Kindle Fire for X-Mas and she loves it. Because she does most of her reading indoors the screen doesn't bother her. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. With its brightly lit white bright, she can read easier and has done so by devouring numerous books already. A worthy purchase in this case. Add in I'm an Amazon Prime member and she gets to watch videoes for free and that I have a decent collection of music in Amazon's cloud, and well, she is one happy camper. I've continued to support the low end cost books on the Kindle where I can because I want to support a price that I find acceptable. It may mean some weird odds and ends in my collection but I'll take that particular hit to show support for one price point and disdain for another.

Thanks to some great sales, I also have a lot of reading material to get me well through into 2012. When Lamentations of the Flame Princes did their sale, I bought quite a haul. I haven't read any of it yet. Between work and trying to stay informed on the politics, as 2012 is going to be a very interesting year for that, my time to read gaming material that I'm not actively using has sunk massively.

And friends? Ugh. I hate to say that my only friends are gamers, because I hang with some people at work that could care less about gaming, but my older friends, the ones from high school, yeah, mainly we hang out to game, go to movies, and things of that nature. Work and my inability to work 60+ hours a week and still go out at night pretty much killed those things too. But to be honest, they haven't put a lot of effort into keeping me in the loop either so I'm okay with that situation as it stands. Still, in 2012, I would like to do more with my amigos. A lot of my hobbies like painting miniatures, reading, sketching, etc... are pretty internal so I'm not dying to go hang and my work buddies love to drink, but gaming. Again it gets back to gaming. Need to do some more of that.

In terms of what I've been reading, right now I'm into Mel's trilogy of the deep bit set in the Forgotten Realms. Its a good read so far and I plan on doing some posts on it in the near future. I'm also still in the middle of Doom of Camelot. Historical wise, I'm hitting the War on the Barbary Pirates. It's a great look at how a war can have some easy victories and have some horrid losses. It showcases the short sighted nature of government at all points in history, as well as the effects of one man's gross incompetence on a navy as well as various valient heroes. I've also been fascinated by Mexico.

Back in the day, I used to run a lot of Champions. In my games, Mexico and Columbia used to be big drug running companies that would use drugs to create short term bricks that would die out after using the enchancements. The cartels would use either a lot of money, women, or awesome lifestyles to get young stupid people to do it, or threaten families to get more honest people to do it. My image of Mexican 'thug life', if anything, was far too modest.

Cartels have built their own tunnels into America. They use high-tech equipment to make their own communication network. They have access to military grade hardware. And they are killers.

While this makes for a terrible living experience down south, and I know first hand as I have friends who still go and visit and give me some horror stories, it makes some fantastic gaming material. I'll ping that idea later.

In terms of personal health, 2012 is going to be interesting. My company stopped offering the HMO option. While expensive as hell, the few times I've needed it, like when I broke my toe or had major back pain a few years ago, proved its value. Now with a PPO whose coverage isn't anywhere near as impressive, I will be holding my doctors to a much higher standard. When I broke my toe, I was sent to a hospital. They billed my insurance something like $2 grand. And here's the funny part. They did nothing.

I was sent with the assurance that I would be seen right away because they called a specialist. I get there and hey, no specialist. So I have to wait. With a dislocated broken toe. And after the nurse gets my vitals, no pain killers or even ice. So after about four hours of that, I ask for some pain killers or ice. I get the ice. When they do see me, I'm out in the hallway and they think I'm some other hillbilly who broke his big toe in the shed as opposed to the third toe. I make a crack that I'm glad I'm not having a heart attack and the doctor cracks back that if it was my pinkie they'd just cut it off and send me on my way.

Well, they give me one 10 mg vicadine and procedue to pull the toe back into place. Only X-Rays show it doesn't take because it comes out again cause the muslces are torn. So geniuses there bandage it up and send me on my way.

When I see the specialists, he notes that there is nothing he can do because it's already healed. Mind you, the first time I see him, he does a detailed examination of the foot, noting that I have empire amount of arthritis build up in my big toe on the same foot. So more pain killers. When I see him a month later, he doesn't even want to see the foot. He asks how I'm feeling. When I reply fine, he sends me on my way. In 2012, if I have to drive an hour out, wait a half hour in the office, and then have to drive another hour back? Yeah, I won't be paying for a two-minute doctor appointment. In 2012, doctors will have to earn that cash.

Music wise, I think my favorite 'discovered' group for me, would probably be the Vaccines followed by Cults. There are some other groups I'm enjoying but those are ones I found last year like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, the National, Interpol, and She Wants Revenge. If there are any groups of a similiar style, hit me up in the comments.

Anyway, I hope 2012 treats everyone better than 2011 did, even if you had a great year. Now let's get this year long party started!