Sunday, July 27, 2014

Warhammer FRPG Thousand Thrones Snack Attack Recap

This week was particularly strange. One of my gaming friends died. His mom called me up because my number was in his phone. The memorial service was... not to my taste although I can see it's benefit to the mom. Hung out with several friends way too late and because it was a work day, didn't have a drop of alcohol.

Heck, because of the last attack of gout, I haven't had any alcohol in about a month now. Ugh. Sobriety is not to my liking.

A few of my gaming amigo's friends got together after the memorial and talked about the guy. It was interesting in that for a few of us, including me mind you, that he was so quite, there wasn't a lot we could add to the conversation. For me, it was interesting to hear about the guy's life and what he did when he wasn't around.

In terms of the type of gamer he was, he was a min-maxer. Mind you he learned, as many people do, that what looks fantastic on paper, doesn't necessarily work out in the game. I remember a 'side quest' the group was running during a Shackled City campaign I was running for 3.5 that allowed people a lot of free range in what they could use. He had a mojh magister. This is a dragon man spellcaster and he had some unique bits to him.

In this side quest, it was one of the Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics where I put a magic item that the group was researching. In a random encounter the party encountered some drow with a pslelcaster and the drow won initiative, the spellcaster hit out with a fireball that did almost max damage, and well, that magister was toasted.

Stuff like that never discouraged him though. He just went back to the drawing board to work out what his next masterwork would be.

Some thought him a little... rule lawyer like too. I particularly never had that issue with him, but at the 'peak' my my 3.5 days, I could probably recite whole passages of the game system without needing to reference the book. I also made sure to have handouts of what the changes were to the core rules at the start of the game so there were rarely moments where someone would go, "I didn't know you did that, otherwise I would have..."

One of the reasons so few of us knew anything about him, is outside of making characters and showing up to game, even in the game, he was quite. It wasn't that he couldn't role play or that he didn't engage when spoken with, he just didn't volunteer a lot of that of himself at any particular time. If an NPC had questions for him, he had answers and had no problem role playing out the encounter. If someone asked him how he was doing, he'd talk about it, but they were short answers. He was there to game, to see the mechanics of one part of the system clash with another part.

It sound stupid I'm sure, but one of the things that I'm going to miss about him is seeing him apply that analytic mind to the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

It was nice to have his other friends around to talk about him and the characters he made and some of the goofy mistakes he made and for me, it was great learning a little more about the man behind the mechanics.

Still, even without alcohol, being out past ten lead me to be exhausted the next day at work and the following day, which was game day. So I pulled out some different snacks to help me overcome.

Now this was one tasty beverage. One of my friends brought a coconut coffee something or other last week and it was good. This wasn't as sweet being far more espresso and coconut, which in and of itself isn't really that sweet, but hey, two of these and I was good.

And here we have some of the snacks. I had gone to Dick Blick art store in Evanston to look at the wet palletes they had. They are  far too big to use at my standard painting area. So instead I wandered over to the nearby Costs Plus World Market and picked up some snacks.

The wasabi soy almonds were tasty but the first bite always had a little more kick that I expected The sauce in the middle is a fresh habanero hot sauce. Very good on chips. The salsa is a hot chipotle that was more paste like than chunky, but I enjoyed it. Not shown are the chips and the chocolate covered espresso beans. The beans made it through the game, but the chips were gone in a matter of minutes.

We were short two players for the game. My dwarf was still badly wounded. Our Empire Bright Wizard, not badly wounded, but injured. Our elf bowman in great health. The benefit of being an archer when nothing actually gets up to you. Our 'hedge wizard', who in like twenty sessions we still haven't seen directly cast a spell, was in fairly good health.

We continued our exploration of the grounds with a few random encounters here and there and traps. One of the traps was exploding mushrooms. The insanity points were flowing fast and freely at the den of Nurgle. I got like five in one blast of mind warping insanity that caused me to forget everything. That was fun to play as I went about type listening to one player after another tell me what my character was like and being aghast at the whole thing.

"Dwarves send their people off to die when they make mistakes and yet are in decline? Dwarves don't sound too smart." The elf and his continued assurance that despite the fact that I wasn't as good as an elf, as a dwarf I was far superior to a human. The 'hedge wizard' assuring me that the bright wizard was nothing but a charlatan. It was great.

The final fight was VERY interesting for future games. The main thrust of the game has been the mutant child and his mutant ability to influence those around him. We were in this Nurgle manor in order to prevent the child from being bonded and controlled by a magic item.

Apparently the members in the party decided that the best way to do that was to kill the kid. Before anything else, before engaging the enemy in melee, just, you know, kill the kid. The elf missed with his bow shot, but the bright wizard completely toasted the kid.

The fight itself was brutal and I lost another piece of armor.

Before things could get too bad though, another group of enemies joined the fray, in this case, some vampires that we'd been working for and against in various parts of the campaign. They were less then pleased that we killed the boy, but in the ensuring chaos of the grand melee, we managed to escape. But the bright wizard took enough damage to burn a fate point. Two of the people who have the heal skill failed their roll and thought he was dead.

On the way out, we encountered the source of my trauma which cured me of the memory loss so I looked at the two, who have failed roll after roll in terms of making those heal checks and was like, "So... you two are telling me that the bright wizard is dead and you both looked him over?" Seeing their nods, I went back in and picked him up. Benefit of burning a fate point was that the bad guys tend to not molest you when your down.

So now the GM is reading around and ahead to see how he's going to make changes to the last portions of the book. Apparently the mutant kid is supposed to have survived the whole fight and come out with new insights.

Yeah, didn't happen.

But the weekend wasn't over!

On Saturday one of my friends wanted to head out to Games Plus in Mount Prospect. It's a fantastic store and carries a ton of miniatures, board games, card games, and other miniature related bits. As time goes on though, the physical ability of the store to carry more of the esoteric ranges of things diminishes which means I find myself going online more and more. For example, Andreas has a paint line that contains six paints of a particular color that you can use for highlighting and shading. Very handy. Another one is Scale 75. Another one is Mig or AMMO. This doesn't count the lines, like Foundry or Coat De Arms, that Games Plus has never carried.

Don't get me wrong, I know I don't 'need' any of those extra paints, but I like playing with them. For example, the store is now carrying some of the Plastic Soldier weathering sprays and primers. I've picked up the staining kit from Plastic Soldier but haven't found anything I want to use it on yet, so I held off on buying the weathering spray.

But I did pick up the Privateer Press wet palette. I've got friends who are like, "Make your own you lazy bastard or use the coupon for Michaels of Dick Blick and get a huge one for half the price!" and the 'real' one is way too big and well, I'm lazy.

I also picked up some matte black Army Painter primer. I know again people are like "Use auto primer" and a few have recommended Tamiya, but the Army Painter is usually good and isn't bad in price for the white or the black. I just finished off my Privateer Press Black Primer and I didn't like the design of the spray nozzle and it wasn't that good of a primer and it wasn't cheap so no more of that.

I also picked up some brass rod and some drill bits from Army Painter. There was a 'hobby' company bit there of drill bits, but they costs just as much as the Army Painter pack which came with the brass. An easy selection there.

After that it was off to paint for a little while. I'm showing one of the player's from the Friday game has to lay down some paint and it's more challenging that I thought it would be. Not sure if that's me being a terrible teacher or him being a horrible student. "You need to shake the paint before putting it in the pallette. You need to thin the paint. Only dip the tip of the brush in." Things that seem simple but... That's okay, learning comes from doing.

But the weekend didn't stop there. One of my friends, one who I don't see enough, was having a get together so I headed out there for some card games. We played a few hands of  Coup, a card game where the purpose is to reduce your enemies resources to zero. You only start with two and you don't get any more. There is a lot of bluffing and puzzling to do in it. It's a great and fast card game and we got several hands in. For a game I'd never played before, I'm seriously thinking of buying it because it's easy to pick up and I think can be played with gamers and nongamers with equal aplomb. Not to mention it's under $15 bones and already has some support games out for it.

We also played a game of Torches and Pitchforks. T&P is a game where you play a mob that hunts down monsters. It's a fun game but this hand was a little rough as we were all out of practice and we were very good at countering each other's ability to accumulate pint totals. I wish that Green Ronin would come out with a modern version of the game or a sequel or an add on. There's a lot of potential in it.

Outside of the gaming, it was good to have some intelligent conversation. At work it's either I'm quite because I'm in a cubicle or I'm catching up with my friends on various bits and pieces and 'real' conversation doesn't happen too often. It's one of those things where we see each other so much that b.s. is what we're best at. Seeing people you don't see that often gives you an opportunity to start spouting off and seeing where the pieces fall.

So the week started horrible and ended on a high note. Gaming for me, works best when you get to try out different games, hang out with people you haven't seen in a while, and share new food stuffs and stories among each other.

It may not be family but good gamers are as close as you're going to get and in some cases better.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dresden Files: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher has apparently struck a cord among readers looking for something different than standard fantasy. Make no mistake, fantasy in many of its varieties makes a lot of appearances in Grave Peril, the third book in the Dresden Files series, but it's fantasy layered on top of a Harry Dresden living in the modern era.

Told in the first person narrative, Grave Peril builds on the previous volumes while continuing to expand the world and setting. For instance, Harry met vampires in the first novel, but here, they take a larger role. The name of the book, Gravel Peril, also plays off the other antagonist, a 'Nightmare' ghost that's able to push Dresden to near the breaking points.

Some of my complaints about earlier novels continue to shine through here. Magic is 'hidden' from the 'mundanes' and apparently it's only hidden because either, like the vampires, they have too much pull, or people are just so incredibly ignorant that they're willing to shrug it off. In a city like Chicago where there are literally millions of people, and most of them with cell phones that have cameras on them, not to mention all of the standard surveillance around the city, it remains almost laughable that things like Harry destroying part of a building with fire magic in two separate occasions aren't huge warning signs. This is especially true given hor paranoid America can be with things we don't know about.

Those things though, like secret ids in good old super hero comics, are part of the genre Jim's building though. Either it'll get better or it'll strain my credulity to the point where I stop reading. As I've already read the fourth volume, Summer Knight, I think it's got a while to go. Part of that is I don't take it too seriously. It's a quick read with a character that is often trying to do the best he can and getting his ass handed to him.

But mind you, it's that "Die Hard" ass beating he's suffering. Regardless of how often he's beaten down or how badly, it's rare to see him take any permanent damage. He hasn't like, lost a hand yet or anything. In addition, Jim paces the books so that they aren't flowing one against another and there are often months where Harry is essentially recovering and studying.

One of my friends did run a few games of the system but it didn't last too long. There's just too much competition in the gaming field for him to stick with any one particular game engine for that long when he's the one running it. Quite the opposite of say running a long term written campaign like the Thousand Thrones I'm playing in. One of the reasons I think that Wizards of the Coast better pick up a few more ques from Paizo and have more great adventurers out and you know, keep publishing them.

Anyway, one of the ways that the setting is built on here, include Harry's 'Godmother', an actual member of the fey courts who provided Harry with the power needed in his youth to survive his mentor's treachery. It seems to be setting up a point there as the introduction of the Godmother here leads into the next book that is heavily involved with the Fey and the Winter and Summer courts.

And as Jim builds the setting he also falls into another pattern of Harry using his enemy's abilities against him. In the previous volume, Harry used a wolf pelt to become a magical werewolf. In the volume before that, he used the villain's own monsters against him. Here he uses the whole 'ghostly disturbances' to essentially double his power and win.

These victories are interesting in that they really don't look like they are things that could be duplicated and they are often things that come with a heavy cost. When looking at your own games, try to put the players in situations that allow them to try different and even difficult things with victory over seemingly impossible odds as the rewards.

Another element of expanding the world is Harry has an ally, or I should say, another ally, whose if not on par with him due to the variety of things Harry can do, can at least hold his own against the supernatural. IN the previous volume, Harry encountered some werewolves who were 'good guys' and they continue to follow that path.

But here we are introduced to Michael Carpenter, a 'knight of the cross', a man who uses the sword Amoracchius, a sword that has on it one of the nails used to crucify Christ. In Harry's world, being a man of 'righteousness' a 'holy man', has real teeth when it comes to supernatural elements.  It's a nice way of expanding who Harry can travel with without bringing in more wizards and serves to expand the setting at the same time while raising questions that the author can handle in future volumes.

In a role playing game though, you'll need to have a lot of potential options open at the start of the campaign. It's one of the reasons why game books often have details on a setting that you'll never see, never need in the fiction or movie or television show of the same setting. A game's needs are far different than a reader's needs.

I'll try to have some random thoughts about Summer Knight up later on. I haven't started the fifth book yet and I only own six of them. However my buddy who ran the Dresden Files game? He has them all and has already assured me that I can borrow them whenever I want.

It's one of those things that when you're a fan of a series, you're glad to meet other fans of the series and to pass on the lore and discussions and ideas on what could and should have happened. It's part of having some shared references and those are, perhaps not vital to having a group that gels properly, but certainly don't hurt. If you're playing a game of Stormbringer or Elric, and everyone at the table but one guy has read the books, that guy is potentially missing out on a lot of undercurrents and references that could be made to the novels, if not the entirety of the campaign itself.

When you're gaming in a setting based on a novel, or inspired by one, do you point your players to the books and other media? For my upcoming Champions campaign, I've pointed out a few things to give the player's some reference points of what I'm tinkering with and it's allowed the players to throw some feedback my way with one player going all out on it and others being a little more conservative.

Anyway, the Dresden files continue to be a quick read and may not be to everyone's taste, but are certainly edible popcorn reading for a lazy afternoon.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dresden Files: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden's case files continue in Fool Moon, the second book of the Dresden Files series written by Jim Butcher. The idea is that Harry is a modern day wizard who is drawn into conflict because of his consulting job working for the police on matters that are 'supernatural' in nature.

Jim Butcher's prose flows easily and the use of first person narration makes the reading quick and easy. Those looking for depth and multiple layers of story might be a little disappointed, but in terms of popcorn fiction, I found it fast and easy to digest.

One of the things that Jim really knows how to do, is put the odds against Harry. +John Wick wrote a series of articles that was compiled into a book called Play Dirty. In it, one of the things John puts forward is that beating the hero to the point of death and allowing them to pull out all the stops to achieve victory, is what makes a good role playing game, or story worth becoming involved in. John' primary example in that is the good old movie Die Hard where our hero suffers beating upon beating but manages to claim victory at the end.

Fool Moon also continues to build the world of Dresden. The author lays out several seeds for future books with a casual mention here and a casual mention there. We get more information on the world in general and a lot of ideas on how werewolves work. There are several varieties of the creature presented here and the authors puts all the versions through the paces. In that aspect, it reminded me very much of a role playing game in which the end effect may be reached through several different means.

The fact that there are different versions, also helps explain why so many of the myths may appear to be wrong from one perspective. Those viking berserkers who have an animal spirit in them may be one type of animal soul, but the person whose invulnerable to everything but silver? That's an entirely different type of beast. Makes you want to think more about the different aspects of monster creation.

Mind you, as a Chicago native, I'm still not 'feeling' it so to speak. It may be that these are character focused novels with a relatively small cast, but I also don't get the modern feel of the city. With all of the speed cameras, camera lights, and other bits of surveilance and technology around, it's hard to believe how frequently Harry throws about 'big' magic without it becoming huge news. This problem continues in future volumes I see and its strains things a bit.

I'm also not 'getting' where Harry lives where he has a two story apartment but most of the people he deals with aren't people that would live in the type of area that Harry could afford. He's kind of semi-imposed against some generic city with no Mayor or named politicians. Still, can't blame Jim for that too much as having too many real world details can bog down the writing and Chicago, like many modern cities, is always in a state of transformation with one neighborhood becoming slum like and others rising to renovation and removal of 'undesirables'.

Like other works by Jim in the series, the book is available in a variety of formats and is a quick read for those wanting 'modern' magic.

For those who've played the Fate Game, are there any bits that you're stealing from the books or just going with information from the books themselves? I'm tempted a bit, but it's a two book series and even with the dreaded Amazon discount it's still over $40 bones. What's worse as I'm prepping some material for a Champions aka Hero 6th edition Sci-Fi campaign, I know that I'm not going to be using it for a long time.

Too many ideas, not enough time.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dresden File: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

One of my friends is a big fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. He also enjoys the role playing game powered by the Fate Engine. Not that long ago, Amazon was doing one of their $1.99 sales for books in the series. Right now, +comiXology is doing a sale on the Dresden Files comics. A fairly popular character with several books in the series? And written in an easy to read and quickly moving first person narrative?

Sign me up.

Jim has an easy command of the flow here. He introduces a lot of things but does so in a fairly... generic method. While Dresden is located in Chicago in the 'modern' world, and this could just be due to how quickly technology and everything else moves, it seems like he's actually in the 80's in some near generic scene. The second book brings more of Chicago to life but really, the series doesn't scream Chicago to me as much as it screams detective noir with a twist, and that's where the book shines.

Harry's background and abilities and indeed, his whole world as feed to the readers on a near as you need to know it basis. This allows the author to continue to provide information about Harry's strange world and throw hooks into the setting for future volumes. This continues well into the second book at least. It's additional information and provides a richer, more fuller world, such as when we meet Harry's 'magic computer', an old spirit that's inhabited by a lustful entity, but one that's been around for so long that it has a huge amount of magical information which Harry uses to say, brew potions or to do research.

Mind you, it's a good use and a good tool and that's because Harry can't use a computer. In what I imagine is a nod to some 'balance' equation or something of that nature, technology tends to fail around wizards and magic in general. This prevents Harry from owning and enjoying most of the things that we take for granted in the modern life. It's almost painful to see someone in the 'modern' world without a smart phone or tablet for reference and ease of use!

The other 'problem' I can see I'm going to have with the series, although it's not too bad in this book, is much like White Wolf's World of Darkness, people are 'ignorant' of the supernatural. It reminds me of the Warhammer World where the rat people, the Skaven, are said not to exist. "So Harry, you just engaged in a supernatural duel where a house was destroyed and magical scorpions and all sorts of other weirdness was abounding but hey, no one was around AGAIN eh? You lucky bastard."

You can, in my opinion of course, only push that mundanes know nothing bit so far before everything becomes too coincidental. "Man, another narrow escape where people didn't learn about all the weird things going on! Awesome!"

And Harry's world is weird. There's a mix of things ranging from Italian Mafia (which to me is VERY un-Chicago, this isn't the 1920's), to Vampire Countesses that run prostitution rings.

Nonetheless, it was a quick read and enjoyable enough that I'm already reading Fool Moon, the second book in the series. I tend to enjoy first person narration and when the author has the smoothness that Jim Butcher brings to the telling, it makes it a lot easier to read.

For those who have the Fate game, how did you find it? Would you be better off using the old World of Darkness and it's various Mage settings to try and capture this sort of setting or would you just go with the Fate version?

For those who've read the Dresden Files and didn't like them, was there a particular bit that stuck out or made you drop it? There is a portion where Harry is under attack by a demon and his newspaper female acquaintance drinks a 'love' potion and it seemed a little creepy to me, almost like a date rape drug and the skull spirit Harry uses also seems to 'bring out' inhibitions of people but Jim kind of waves that all away with, "Well, they'd have done it anyway with a few drinks in them."

On the other hand, I love this blog post: . It's from the blog Requires Only That You Hate and there are often some very interesting posts over there. If I have some feelings of "ick" this author smashes the crap out of the things she doesn't like about the series and the book Changes in particular.

Storm Front is available on Amazon for under $8.00 bones right now, but is also available for sale in comic format and in a few other formats, including a hardcover graphic novel on Amazon.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Thousand Thrones: Against the Plague Cult!

Due to an ongoing gout flare up, I missed last week. At this point, I haven't had any alcohol for a month straight. God, how do people live like this on a regular basis? Ugh.

So this week, I find out one of my role playing friends, Mark Topic, native of the South Side of Chicago, passed on Sunday and services will be held on Wednesday. Mark was a min-maxer to the extreme and I was looking forward to seeing what he was going to do with 5th edition. Alas it was not meant to be. I and several of my friends will be there to pay our respects to the family.

A few of our other players knew Mark better and thought that the services were yesterday so were even later and were not pleased to have been so misinformed. They also missed last week, although their absence wasn't illness related.

Due to three of us missing, there was a ton of idle chatter and it took a while to get into the game. One of the amigos tried to steer us into the gaming because he's a sleep deprived bastich and worries that if the game isn't moving forward he's going to pass out.

It didn't help that I brought some chicharones, huge slabs of them freshly made in our local Mexican grocery store, as well as some of the dreaded Nutty Buddies, some real habanero hot sauce, and a host of other junk food. Normally I skip on the junk food and bring booze but gout.

Warhammer continues to be an interesting game. With the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons out, one of the things I hate about it, is random rolling for stats and hit points. The standard array and point buy systems don't seem up to the potential of a point buy and don't have any variety in them, it's one flat level.

I mention this because in Warhammer, I don't mind the random rolling for stats. Mind you though, you also randomly roll what you career WAS when you start playing. This can force you into more situations than just randomly rolling stats and hit points. For me, the difference is that if you want to play a fighter in Dungeons and Dragons and your stats are crap and you roll poorly on your hit points, it's not fun. If you want to play a fighter in Warhammer, even if you don't start as one, you'll get there and the stats are much lower to begin with so it's not as great a difference.

Mind you I haven't played yet, and I've seen people argue that due to the Dungeons and Dragons hard limit of 20 on stats that high stats aren't as important but at the same time, there's going to be a sweet spot in the game, and if one guy starts with a 20 in his prime stat and you start with a 14...

I have the starter set and well, looks like the guys I game with want me to give running Champions aka Hero 6th edition a shot. And of course Hero itself is out of print but the Champions book isn't outrageous. I think everyone's going PDF on this one though so we'll see how it goes.

Anyway, another thing that's funny in Warhammer is how the scenarios can sometimes be written. For example, in the basement of an abandonded building, we saw a seen of such bloodshed, that we had to make a save versus fear. I failed and due to seeing a bloody mess, fled the scene into an ambush. A giant slayer flees from blood? But it's one of the reasons you have rules for those things right?

In disgust, my character cut his orange mohawk off until he's shown that he's recovered his courage!

Another problem is that the ambush? Mutants who infected me with some weird disease so my stats keep dropping by 5% when I miss my Toughness roll. Down to -10% so far!

Also suffering a few more Insanity Points due to wounds and some horrific scenes that we've witnessed. As I think I'm now past six IP, I have to make a roll on the crazy table!

I'm also finding myself interested in how much information the group doesn't find. One of the things we found was a human with some weird plague beetle attached to his back. We killed him in like one round and the GM was showing us walls of text that could have been revealed to us. Mind you, during our exploration of a manor, we managed to find numerous books, journals, and other player hand out bits that revealed a lot of information, but it makes me wonder what ELSE we could learn by being more careful. Good thing my character is a 'humble' Giant Slayer though so I don't worry about those things.

Hopefully next week goes better in both real world and game time usage.

For those who don't game as often as they like, do you have any particular methods of madness to keep your fellow players focused on the game? I find that I'm pretty bad, as a player, at keeping things focused and on track. When I'm a GM though... man, the ruler comes down! I'm too busy playing catch up on everything and keep trying to focus on the game and what's been happening with people I only see at the game.

I suppose the solution is to hang out with the amigos more or get to the game before the game starts but that can be difficult too. Curse you real world!

Ah well...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Goodman Games 4e Sale at DriveThruRPG

So I see that the sale that Goodman Games is having on their 4e material on Drivethrurpg is making the rounds.

Strangely enough, I have most of it, and reviewed a fair amount of it.

Now I'm thinking of the whole Punjar thing because I hear that it may be the next project that Goodman takes onto Kickstarter.

That's very interesting because I enjoyed Punjar. I thought it was very sword and sorcery feel, despite the 4e ruleset. My review of that can be found here.  

For those who've read over the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition stuff and found it wanting, will you be buying any of the Goodman Games 4th ed material?

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Six

This is the last of book of the Savage Sword of Conan that I own in physical print as well as digital copy. Dark Horse did a fantastic sale not too long ago on the Savage Sword of Conan where the whole bundle was a little under $90 bones for like sixteen volumes of black and white nostalgia.

This volume, like many in the series, is a massive tome that clocks in at well over five hundred pages. Roy Thomas, Michael Fleisher and Bruce Jones are the main writers this time around, and included the Conan gold standard of artists, John Buscema, as well as Gil Kane, Ernie COlon, and one of my favorites, Ernie Chan.

This volume collects issue #61-#71 and retails for $19.99, although Amazon has it for $14.04. Those who want to see a free preview of this collection, can check out the Dark Horse website.

This volume tends to be heavy of the 'solo' stories with done in one tales. These usually pit Conan against the wizardry or military might of someone who thinks they know better than the barbarian and well, they usually don't live to regreat it. Some of my favorite bits that come through the title, tend to overlap with material I'm looking at in terms of RPG gaming right now.

For example, in one of the tales, Conan is sent to seek out the secrets of the sorcerer Tamar-Shar Khun. He is sent there because the sorcerer is supposed to "devised a means of making both crops and beasts grow swiftly to sizes most wondrous." And that's needed because the king conan is serving is in a country where famine is upon the land. That whole bit could easily be from any Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

But in terms of gaming, I'm reading the sourcebook, Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, a sourcebook for Lamentations of the Flame Princes, and it's about wizard's domiciles. Kind of reminds me of the old bits from The Complete Wizard's Handbook back in the day. But it reminds me of it because of some of the things that Seclusium talks about, correspond to what happens in the lair of Tamar-Shar Khun. There are magic and mundane traps, guardians of supernatural and standard variety. It's a nice pace and it's done in one issue! Great stuff.

Similar but of more 'high magic' is when Conan is part of a caravan bringing gifts to the alien entity Giyune of the Three Eyes. Here is another ancient power with his own unique lair and unique aspects of the lair that can challenge even the most resourceful characters.

Another thing that occurs, is that the 'bit players' are there to essentially die in order to warn Conan of danger. For example, Zerbo is a giant of a man, but a terrible fighter. When he fails to kill Conan over jealousy, he warns Conan that the queen is after his life and shortly dies thereafter. Next up, Conan's love at the time, is also cruelly handled and dies of torture, but not before affirming what Conan already knows.

Slogans: This is one I've hit before. I've mentioned that a good battle cry is a signature for characters and is often used in super hero comics ranging from Avengers Assemble to It's Clobbering Time to the more simplistic Hulk Smash. Here though, it seems that the gods are the ones to call on. This ranges from Favors of Kilili, By The Holy Eyes of Mitra, Merciful Mother of Mitra, Loins of Ishtar, to.. well, let's just do a quick table:

1. In Crom's Name
2. Crom's Devils
3. Crom and Mitra!
4. By The bones of Crom!
5.By the bears of Crom!
6. By Crom!

Thee are probably a few more I could have grabbed but I thought those sufficient.

One of the most interesting things to me, is that the authors have no problem abandoning a storyline before it's conclusion. Conan, as a pirate leader, takes a merchant vessel's cargo, and one of the ladies of the ship, tells Conan that she knows where there is treasure to be found. Before that story goes anywhere, the crew mutinies and the ship is sunk and Conan, in the same tale, is off to an ancient tribe of immortal Amazon's. Perhaps that tale picks up later but I found it interesting. It was like the author said, "Are people enjoying this? Nah, let's move the action."

There are also some bits that Conan never learns, but that the author is kind enough to provide the reader. For example, Black Cloaks of Ophir, features two military groups, the Black Cloaks and the Iron Maiden Corps. They seeks to have power over the people like Thanus, the Hyborian who first founded Ophir. Turns out that Thanus was buried alive and became a huge ghoul, feeding off the family as they were buried in the same crypts that he was. A neat little twist to things that Conan never learns, but the reader is cued in on.

Some writers will also talk of 'killing your babies'. Find something in the setting and smashing it. Conan is responsible for the destruction of an Amazon society, and does damage to a group of man bat's society. Both are fantastic and fit into the 'weird' aspects of the sword and sorcery age, both isolated from the rest of the world by distance or special means. Both easily added to any game and just as easily destroyed.

Again, for the art and for the various bits that can easily be lifted for any role playing game, I highly recommend the Savage Sword of Conan.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Dragon King Saga by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Dragon King Saga by Stephen Lawhead is a collection of three individual books. I picked up the omnibus edition from Half Price and it's $1 spinner rack. I had never read any Stephen R. Lawhead, his personal website here, before, so didn't know what to expect.

It's standard heroic journey. Very much 'farm boy saves the world'. The hero goes from acolyte, to traveler, to adopted prince, to king. Through the three books, In The Hall of the Dragon King, The Warlords of Nin, and The Sword and the Flame, we have a rise, fall, and return to greatness. Much of the religion seems very psuedo Christian among the pagan gods as it were. For some reason, I continued to get vibes of the old movie, Excalibur from it.

But the problem? The movie Excalibur in it's length, seemed to have more depth than the entire series of the Dragon King Saga. Things are cast in very black and white terms. Good will win. The 'god' will throw out the old gods. The suffering will be temporary. The victories, well, I don't want to say easy, but without much loss.

Combat and long term situations are quickly resolved. For example, in the second book, the Warlords of Nin, the hero comes charging out with his new forged sword and essentially, scares away over fifty thousand villains and kills their leader in one blow. In one chapter. In part of one chapter. It might take Robert Jordan longer than that to discuss the iron shod shoes of the horses.

The good thing about this, is that I would easily recommend this for teens or younger who were looking to get into fantasy. Now if they're already reading the Wheel of Time or A Game of Thrones, then no, this will hold no attraction for them. But if they want to dip the toe into fantasy? Yes, this series, which is quick to read and has a relatively small cast, is the perfect starting point for such readers. In addition, I'd recommend it to someone looking for 'Christian' fantasy writing. While it's not called Christianity as such, the allusions and references to many Christian teachers are fairly easy to spot for those seeking them.

Which again, as an old bastard whose read way too many of these types of stories, makes it too easy for me to go, "story going to go this way, story going to go that way, X, Y, and Z are going to happen at point A, B, and C."

Now mind you, there is a nice twist in the third volume, The Sword and the Flame. The main hero, named Quentin, has a sword, which has a great name, Zhaligkeer, 'The Shining One', is much like Excalibur from the movie. When used wrongly, it loses it's vast power. Quentin strikes down a bandit in rage and well, sword loses it's power.

But that's not the 'twist'. Rather, in the first volume, In The Hall of the Dragon King, a necromaner, Nimrood, is struck down and loses all his power. Through words alone, he almost causes an entire kingdom to crash and it's a nice change of pace from when we usually see the bad guys come back, like Cell or something from Dragon Ball Z, more powerful than ever! Here the villain is reduced to the shadows and never gains vast power or abilities, but rather, uses the whole loss of power to be more careful than before.

In terms of gaming?

1. Named Weapons: Like I said, I dug the whole Zhaligkeer the Shining One as a weapon.

2. Tried and True doesn't mean useless: If you have new players who aren't necessarily readers of fantasy but are playing Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder or another fantasy, this is a good book to throw at them.

3. Quick: Pathfinder and other Dungeons and Dragons variants, like the OSR clones, aren't necessarily designed for court intrigue and combat. Of course you can do it, but outside of some skill checks, all of the role playing is done at the table and there isn't a lot of mechanical resources compared to it, as opposed to say, fighting or magic spells or items. Being quick may mean as little as moving from one ruin to the next as all good murder hobos do, to trying to cut through combat as quickly as possible to get back to the parts of the game that the players enjoy.

The Dragon King Saga isn't for everyone and I can see experienced readers dropping this one quickly. For those who've read other Stephen R. Lawhead books, are all of his works of this nature? Are there any that you'd recommend to read or skip? Any that are essential for the modern fantasy reader?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Deep Magic by Kobold Press: Round 1: Fight!

Deep Magic is a lengthy PDF that I've recently acquired. It's way too long and detailed to do it any sort of justice in one review unless the review itself was product length and that would just bore the crap out of any readers and me writing that review.

The PDF weights in at a mighty 378 pages. Mind you that does count the cover, rear cover, several pages of thanks from the Kickstarter, and other 'standard' things like table of contents. The art is full color and there is a lot of solid art in it. I've heard good things about the print version having full color, which is great because another book I own by Kobold Press physically looks to have had full color art that was turned black and white for the print version and to be honest, it was done poorly and took value away from the print product.


For me, magic is always a fun thing. Well, not always. There can be TOO much supplement suffering. But when I see something like this and read the background of it, funded from a Kickstarter by Kobold Press, it reminds me of 'the good times'.

I remember reading the original Tome of Magic and the Complete Wizard's Handbook and thinking they were filled with awesome options. I remember before that, Ed Greenwood's always excellent Pages From The Magics, and the old FR4 The Magister, magic items and spells and all sorts of other awesome things.

This product brings a lot of those good feelings back.

It's firmly a Pathfinder book mind you. I'm sure that someone with more time and effort could easily point out what might need to be dropped and changed for say, 3.5 or even 3.0, and some will yank some of the back ground text out for any campaign that uses magic but that will not be me! At least not today.

In terms of 'Appendix N' style inspiration, things that make me want to use it right away or steal it for another game, I didn't have to look past Chapter 1: New Magic Options. These are various schools, sub-schools and other options for magic using characters that often include spell books which lists out several new spells, which are in turn detailed in Chapter 2.

Of the ones that really perked my interested though? Fool's Summoining. From the book, "This little-known but horribly dangerous subschool of conjuration and transmutation magic draws upon a group of creatures called the Listeners. These creatures infest ordinary summoned creatures with a template that makes them more powerful. In essence, these Listeners pervert summoned creatures’ biology. Sometimes, affected summoned creatures go insane."

There are more details and information on how there are game mechanic and descriptive changes to various spells. This reminded me heavily of an old Dragon article detailing basic Dungeons and Dragons magic of all things. I believe that old example used an elf whose magic missiles were actual like green arrows to represent the nature bond that the elf had. It was well done then, and it's a fantastic example of seeing some of the professionals of the industry say, "Yeah, change the mechanics in minor ways to make things cool and interesting and intriguing again."

Another one I liked? Living Spellbooks. Sure, we have Stormbringer, and the homage Black Razor as intelligent blades, and intelligent magic items in general are not unknown, but the authors do a nice job of bringing out why Living Spellbooks are cool and why you should include them.

The last thing that really popped out to me? Vril Magic. If your familiar with old school Rolemaster, one of the first companions introduced 'Arcane Magic'. I know that sounds stupid to someone whose only played Dungeons and Dragons, but wait, hear me out!

Rolemaster magic was broken into three types: Channelling (from the gods), Essence (from the weaves of magic), and Mentalism (from the self). Arcane magic was more 'raw' and more powerful but almost more difficult to control and was very popular.

In various Hellboy and B.R.P.D. books, Vril is that ancient power that the prehumans used to fight against those ancient and terrible evils that currently infest the world. It's also used as power for a suit of armor during World War 2 in the Sledgehammer comic. Fantastic stuff in the setting Mike Mignola.

Anway, Vril in this incarnation, is 'raw' and more 'primitive' or 'primal' magic. There are feats and other things that make the caster more distinct and unique and it does a good job of it and I can easily see using it for players looking for methods to fight 'that damn ancient evil' because despite how overplayed and sometimes boring that can be, the quest to bring to light old magics in and of itself can be fun.

I hope to get back to this book soon but I still have a ton of other things I'd like to ramble about. The one thing I won't be throwing my two cents in, at least on the blog here, is the whole 'controversy' on the new 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I've seen two major bones of contention and well, others have gone over them in depth and in detail and at the end of the day, it's not my thing.

It brings to mind an old saying by Conan. Something like "Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.." Yup in a nutshell.

Deep Magic is available from for $24.99 in PDF format.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Five

Just an FYI, I'm probably going to hit all the volumes of the Savage Sword of Conan compilations. I own the first six physically and all of them electronically. Dark Horse did a sale not too long ago on the whole bundle where you got the entire run for under $100 bones. Personally I'd rather have the physical copies, but due to the sheer size of the books, I stopped at volume six. Just no where to put them. As a matter of fact, as I've been reviewing them now, I've been putting them into a box to take to storage. Ah, if only I had massive wealth to spoil myself with a massive house with massive basement for physical storage of such products.

As in previous volumes, there are a plethora of artistic giants in this volume. Many of the tales are illustrated by the master of all things comic Conan, John Buscema, but we also have some by Kerry Gammill and Tony de Zuniga among others.

This is another massive volume that collects the Savage Sword of Conan, at least the Conan tales, from 49 to 60. It clocks in at 544 pages, but the last few are ads for various comics and busts and other bits of Conan miscellanea. Amazon has this one for under $15, clocking in at $14.96.

One of the longest tales, lasting several issues, is an adaptation of Conan the Liberator and a few more issues dedicated to Sword of Skelos. These were comics I read back in the Frank Fazetta cover days of Ace Publications. Well, let me amend that. I bought them second hand in the early eighties as I think the original covers were well before my time.

I know that historically that the add ons to the Conan mythos get a lot of flack but for my original reading? It fit like a glove and worked well. It keeps the whole series together up to the twelfth volume, at which point future volumes dropped the Fazetta covers and wandered all over the place despite having the same numbering. Like looking at my shelf, I can see The Sword of Skeleos is Volume 15.

In terms of inspiration, well, the art in black and white, is very powerful and very old school. It's also very ancient in terms of how it depicts everything. Most buildings appear to be rough cut from rock and barely made habitable. The time it takes people to learn things from afar is weeks, months, or never. Reputations may follow a character from town to town, but nation to nation? Perhaps...

For the cover? Dark Horse, in my opinion, dropped the ball here. If you flip it over, you see the back cover which has part of the cover where Conan has bloodied sword in one hand and crown in that other. It's very powerful and would've been a better choice for this volume.

Like many other compilations of Conan, the chronology only follows the current story. There's no guarantee that the next issue in the volume will continue on with that pattern. Instead it reads like some broken account of Conan's life but usually they'll preface it with something along the lines of, "And here's a tale from Conan's days as a XXXXX."

In terms of my bullet point lists?

1. The Wheel of Destiny is not kind: During the adaptation of Conan the Liberator, Conan suffers many setbacks and loses his army, yeah, an army of ten thousand strong, to traps and magic and spying and betrayal. It's a good look at how even someone as powerful, well known, and respected as Conan can suffer setback after setback and still move forward. If you're players are so sensitive to defeat and temporary setbacks, you have to ask yourself if that's the group for you.

Mind you, the game system has to take part of that blame too. For example, I've been playing a lot of Warhammer FRPG and I've mentioned that it's got a lot of swing in it's combat. I've mentioned that it's a little easier in second edition as opposed to first edition due to the use of Fortune Points. Part of that is counted because xp doesn't buy as much as it used to and the ultimate safety net of Fate points is still around.

If Conan were in Warhammer FRPG, he'd have burnt through several Fate points. For example, there is one scene where he's poisoned by Alcina, a 'wench' he picks up at a local tavern, and left for dead. Poisoned and left for dead. Only magic and a skilled healer manage to save him but it's a perfect example of Fate points in use in the comics medium.

But why mention that it's a matter of game system? Again, all my opinion here mind you. In basic, first, and second edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, magic items didn't necessarily come by the level to assure that the players had power levels of X, Y, and Z. This built the expectation in 3rd and 4th that the characters have to have such items and means at their use. It was so ingrained that there were optional systems to strip the magic out by making the characters MORE inherently powerful. This is the expectation.

Mind you, in a group of friends and close acquaintances, you can do whatever you want, but if you don't let people know that expectations X, Y, and Z don't apply to your world, being captured and sold into slavery even if only for a brief time and stripped of their items, especially for say the Mages, as opposed to the Monks? Grumbling may be heard around the table.

2. Know Your Setting: One thing I didn't like about the whole Liberator thing? The full blown introduction of Satyrs as a race, harvested for their 'magical' blood. In say, the world of Elric, Corum, or any of the numerous Dungeons and Dragons setting, I would't have batted an eye. In the Conan setting? It jars. If you're skilled enough as a game master or have a group open enough not to care that much about cannon, then run with whatever you want. The interesting thing? I don't recall any reference to the Satyrs in any other Conan story, even those after his crown is achieved.

3. Big Stakes Big Risks: Conan notes that if he fails in his whole liberation thing, he's done. Too many people at this point have heard of Conan whose been everything from a general in several armies, to a pirate, to a leader of numerous bandit groups both in the desert and in the city. By taking up arms and leadership against a king, Conan is putting his name out there in such a big way that failure will result in him, even if he fails but survives, having no where to run when its over.

4. Flawed Villains: Right now I'm reading the first book in the Dragon King Saga by Stephen Lawhead, in the Halls of the Dragon King. One of the villains is actually laughing at his own evil plots. Oh the inhumanity of the cheese there. Here, we have several skilled villains in opposition to Conan but they are not perfect. For example, the assassin who tries to poison Conan didn't bother to check to see if he was dead? That assassin's master doesn't count on Conan's long history with magic and a trap designed to kill Conan fails. It's okay to have formidable foes, but make sure that they have their own failings.

5. Satisfying Conclusion: Now this could just be a result of where this adaption ends and that it takes off not into the life of King Conan, but the wizard whose working behind the throne, Thulandra Thuu, after several issues and attempts on Conan's life, runs away with magic. It's like if the players were using Teleportation to escape a battle and then next adventure was just into a completely random dungeon. "Man, glad we escape the lich and his minions. Oh well, into the dragon's lair!" It was entirely unsatisfying to me as a reader to see the build up of Conan and the gathering of his allies only to have the pinnacle fight end on, at best a draw.

6. Respectable Reputations: One of the reasons Conan is able to do so much as a general against a king, is that he has a reputation that stretches back decades at this point. Those in the army who may look at him and initially see 'a barbarian' then recall that oh yeah, this guy has done A, B, and C. It's said that he's fought against sorcerers many times so if he says there's something wrong in the pass up ahead, I'm not arguing with him. Having the Non-Player Characters respect the profession of the players and the reputation that they've built up in game is a great way to showcase the player's impact on the world. Sure, when they started off it may have been brawls in the tavern when someone questioned their competency, but now? People are listening to them and adjusting their own plans based on what the players are saying.

7. Crazy Town: In an old Warhammer FRPG adventure, I think it's Night at the Three Feathers, the characters are at an Inn and there are a random number of things that the characters can get involved in and it can be played several different ways and manners. In the Sorcerer and the Soul, adapted from Conan and the Sorcery by Andrew J. Offutt, Conan, after one of those bar brawls, is on a ledge and hears of a planned robbery of an item of great importance, the Eye of Erlick, and thinks to go ahead of them.

But as he leaves, he doesn't hear them change the time and date that they're going, and Conan runs into them, and other thieves as well. It makes for a nice chaotic mess and winds up more chaotic then initially thought possible for a 'simple' job. It also winds up with Conan tasting Fate's harsh lash again as he loses his soul to a wizard who then uses this leverage to get Conan to do his dirty work.  Try to mix it up when the players think that they have all the answers.

8. Non-Player Characters are people too: Conan is joined in his rebellion against the king by the king's own elite personal guard, the Black Dragons, because the King is insane and has sacrificed the captain's daughter to try and gain immortality but hey, no harm no foul right? Not quite. Giving NPC's family members that they will seek to avenge, their own passions and their own goals, allows the players to have more of an insight into the world and more options to interact with it. Allied with some henchmen and cast fireball into a crowd at market time and kill those henchmen's family members? Yeah... sleep with one eye open!

Again, while I know that black and white comics, and non-canonical tales of everyone's favorite barbarian aren't for everyone, the low price point, the massive page count, and the 'romp' of different eras and takes on Conan make it well worth reading.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Thousand Thrones: And a Giant Shall Appear

Another week of sobriety. My hats off to those who do it on a regular basis. If the goat wasn't slowly devouring my ankle bones I assure you, the role playing of my dwarf troll slayer would've been more in tune with the dwarves actual actions. Alas, I have to remain sober and hope that by next week for an after work gathering I'm invited to, turns out more alcohol fueled. The two bottles of tequila and one bottle of sake aren't going to drink themselves.

Anyway, I've been bringing over chips and dip to insure that I'm still bringing goods over. When you play at someone else's house, do you wind up bringing food for the group, or is it more of an every man for himself thing? The only thing I tend to hate is that sometimes, not with the group I'm with now mind you, is that you become known as "that guy" whose always bringing stuff and when you don't, it's expected that you should have. Screw that noise.

This week brought us back into the forest where we'd already encountered some beastmen and mutants in the past as a way inn. We were seeking out the birthplace for a specific individual and it was like a month away on foot.

In Dungeons and Dragons, I can't imagine something that that being put into an adventure. "The players will take a month of overland travel and have the following list of random encounters and set encounters." Perhaps there are instances of that long distance travel? I know that boats and back in the day, Spelljammers tended to take up the massive amounts of time but travel time was usually a day or a week or so tops.

During our trip we had a few encounters that made this one of the heaviest battle thick Warhammer FRPG's that I've been in for my buddy +Tom Wright game. We encountered a massive spider, very Lord of the Rings like, a group of 10 wolf riding goblins, many corpses strung up along the way in coves, and a few hunters from a nearby town.

Seems that they had some information so we agreed to check out their problems as apparently their village was suffering some malady and many of the descriptions sounded familiar to those of us who'd fought some Nurgle cultists prior to this.

Some investigation wound up with a few great role playing moments that I enjoyed. For example, there was a smithy who was just crushed with despair and I did some repair work on the armor and cast a quick dagger for the mage to use as a spell component. For me, that was solid because my dwarf's background, which only exists in my head mind you, is that he was a dwarf who got a little too greedy, sold some bad weapons to men of the Empire who turned around and sold them to dwarves who were able to track the work back to him, leading to his exile to protect the status of his wife and other family members from the shame, not of necessarily trying to make a buck, but of getting caught and costing dwarves their lives with those shoddy weapons, which were never meant for dwarven hands and bought second hand, to save money.

Another great role playing moment,  took place with our halfling of doom. He's a dangerous slinger and is able to inflict horrific damage and is one of the most dangerous in the group and perhaps deals the most damage consistently. He's also from a hovel, literally, and is finance driven. To get him into the well for investigation purposes in the town, we assured him that there was probably gold and other treasures down there. He found the cause of plague but no money, so our local wizard threw a coin into the well for him to recover and that made him happy.

Further investigation revealed that there was a possible suspect and we picked up his cold trail through more luck than skill. It lead us into a corrupted part of the forest that lead into an underground cave where a giant was being transformed. Tom managed to pull together several previous threads in this fight as a Nurgle cultists was using a giant to pull forth disease and vileness.

In the fight I took wounds enough to bring me to -2, so hey, another insanity point there, but we did manage to win through. With the xp from this one, I had enough xp to move into giant slayer as a career.

The interesting thing, is I don't feel underpowered in terms of me being one of the last to get a second career. Due to the vulgarity of the initial random role, some starting careers are quick to drop and move into a new career. Others have a lot more potential options in terms of stat advancements and I can't speak for you, but in most cases, when I'm player Warhammer FRPG 1st or 2nd edition, I almost always buy out all my advances.

Because I started off as a troll slayer, that gave me a LOT of advances I could take, well over 1,000 xp worth. In the odd twelve weeks we've been playing, while I have been useful in combat, I've never been 'the guy', which would probably go to the halfling.  But that's okay. I'm able to soak a lot of damage and with my great weapon and it's impact ability, allowing me to roll 2 dice for damage, I'm usually able to get an Ulric's Fury, allowing more dice to be rolled, pretty often. It's good stuff.

In terms of game play, man, we lack focus. We must've wasted an hour or so on small talk of various nature. My friends here were apparently unaware that the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons had a PDF of some rules out for free and no one went to Games Plus, the mainstream FLSG that we usually go to, in order to buy the basic set. So most of the conversations were just about BS.

In some ways, I love it. It's a big part of why I play. I work a little under 50 hours on a regular week due to being salary so I don't do a lot during the week. It's not necessarily that the number of hours is so vast, it's just that the 5:30 AM start time insure that if I want to maintain sanity, I go to bed fairly early so not a lot of outgoing parting and socializing going on in my life during the week.

On the other hand though, man, we are like cats or squirrels or some other short attentioned spanned animal and we apparently almost all love to talk. It's great in terms of having friends you can spew your nonsense out and have each feed off the other, but in terms of keeping the adventure moving forward? No, not too easy.

Anyone run into that in their own games? Strangely enough when I've played with strangers at Gen Con or various Chicago Game Days, the group understands that they have X amount of time and often are off at a bullet run to insure that they get the main parts of the rules down and what's the initial start point and BAM! They go.

Another... well, I don't want to say 'problem', but think I noticed, is that several of us have fairly good knowledge of the Warhammer FRPG either from reading the novels, painting the miniatures, or playing the game for decades. This tends to spill over into the characters a lot and I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else. On the other hand, dwarves are fairly long lived in Warhammer and my dwarf is actually older than the wood elf in the party. Anyone strickly enforce that "your character wouldn't know that"? If it's top secret knowledge, yeah, I can see it, but for a lot of the things we pinged on, it was like 'Herd Stones' I think they're called, where the beastmen gather and burn their offerings, the whole 'Ruinous Powers' thing where we pretty much know each of their names and who their servants are, etc... No "Oh, the hidden gods of law? Yeah, know all about them."

A solid game and next week will have me starting out as my new career with a few raises thanks to the XP given at the end of the session. Bad thing? While this week we missed one player due to the holiday, next week it'll be a minimum of two. Hope that GM is ready to go easy on us!

Hope everyone had a happy fourth and stayed safe!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Four

This volume collections material from the Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #37 to #48. The Savage Sword of Conan Volume Four is strangely an even $15.00 from Amazon right now and is 536 pages. That's an amazing amount of black and white sword and sorcery per page there. 

Like many collections of Conan, at least in the magazine, there is little overall continuity. For example, one tale ends with Conan in chains, captured b y the undead legions of Hyperborea. Dropped completely for the next story as that one takes place at a different point in Conan's life. For people used to reading today's hyper dense continuity comics, it may be a little jarring but I didn't have any issues with it.

One of the strange things, for someone whose read a lot of Conan as I have, and much of it by different authors, is that some of the same stories are repeated with changes. For instance, I picked up some of the collections of the Robert E. Howard library that included the Black Stranger. Here, that tale is told as The Treasure of Tranicos. Strangely enough, it works well in the comic despite the many changes, because it fits more into the continuity of the story in the comics. I'm sure purist would gnash their teeth at that. 

As always, the Savage Sword of Conan continues to provide with tons of ideas, if only visual inspiration, for running more 'primitive' games. Rare is the appearance of any type of armor, and full plate and knights? Even rarer if at all. 

Art: This book boasts some great artists again. One of the main streams is John Buscema who work on the comic and the magazine gave it a tremendous feel and power. The man was ahead of his time and back in the day, if a comic had him, George Perez, or John Byrne on it, that was a good indication that it would be a comic I would read. Having said that, Ernie Chan did some full page spreads for the interior and man, if there is an artist who's been undervalued in my time, it would be him, among many others.

Hordes vs Heroes: Conan is often times surrounded by a crew of pirates or units of soldiers. These lead to massive fights, often against greater odds, as he battles other pirates or other soldiers from foreign countries. However, there are many times, often within these same tales, where Conan is, due to his specific background and skill set, the only one able to perform a certain task. This puts him at the center of the action. 

The Hordes are often sometimes monsters that are easily killed such as freshly awakened vampire ghouls that don't move quickly or an army storming a ruined keep that are held at bay through the few openings by the defenders. Think of the movie Willow and Mad Martigan's fight at the keep. Providing numerous weaker enemies while giving the players an advantage that limits the number of attackers can make the heroes giants among men, but keep in mind that it takes time to roll the dice and even the 'heroics' of mass slaughter can get boring quickly.

Skill Challenges: There is a scene where Conan is attacked by a stone toad with gem eyes. It's impervious to physical harm. Conan leads it along a cliff and dodges out of the way when it attacks and down into the sea it goes, sinking to the bottom because of it's stone hide. In some great scenes, the hero wins not by slashing and hacking, but by sound tactics. For example, the end fight of How To Train Your Dragon? Where our young hero and his dragon are, in terms of sheer power clearly outmatched but still manage to achieve victory? 

Rivalries: One of the things that breaths detail into the setting, is that not everyone gets along. For example, when Conan and Sigurd, a blonde bearded Vanir meet, Conan and he know of each other's other past ventures. In this case, one a barachan, a type of pirate, the other a buccaneer. Those two 'professions' are rivals and the Cimmerians and Vanir are also rivals. But in this instance, because the two individuals fought closely, it allows them to look past those things and forge a strong friendship.

Slavery: Conan winds up a slave several times but I think only once in this volume. The problem with this type of captivity though, is that it often requires players to give up their equipment. In games like Dungeons and Dragons 3rd and 4th edition, where the math is branched at the characters actually having those items, it can make this type of scenario more difficult. If using slavery, insure either that the enemies are of a lower level than the players would be by standards, or that the players have opportunities to pick up other material to compensate for it. Providing players with options to escape the slavery quickly can also move the game along for groups that dither about things.

Named Items: Much like I've mentioned with naming gemstones to give them a unique feature, names are powerful things in providing detail and background to items. With one certain Stygian Priest of Set here, we're introduced to the Cobra Crown, the Black Ring, and the Book of Skelos. These items have tremendous value, but often only to those that actually understand what it is they are looking at. For example, a pirate is knee deep in gem and coin and the priest pushes past him, "did you not notice the book beneath the sacks-- its cover bound in the hide of some great reptile such as walked the earth eons ago!?"

With over five hundred pages of reading material and art to please the eye, if you can't find any inspiration from the Savage Sword of Conan you're doing it wrong.