Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pathfinder Mystery Monsters Revisited

I normally don't hit up actual game products because there are so many other things out there but this one holds a special "ha!" for me.

I picked it up at Half-Priced Books along with several other Pathfinder books by Paizo. It was also during the 20% off sale. On one hand, that's awesome for me. $8.00 for a Pathfinder book? Awesome. But seeing multiple copies of each book indicates to me that it was a 'dump' and that Paizo is making too many books and that those books are being dumped into used book store chains. If we had any Powel bookstores around, I'd be curious to see if they had any as well.

But that's not what I get the "ha!" from.

Rather, it's that this book includes "cryptids", creatures from the 'real world' that are 'mystery' monsters in that even with all of our modern science, we can't find them.

Some of these are classic bits like the Mothman, the New Jersey Devil (aka the Sandpoint Devil in Pathfinder), Yetis, and Sasquatch

But that's not what sold the book to me.

Rather it was the Death Worm!

How can you not love a monster from Mongolia that is not only poisonous, but has electicity as well? I actually have a few miniatures of the thing that i got for cheap when I was looking for some monstrous creatures.

For me, I got my money's worth right there. The monsters themselves are a CR 11 so it's not a piddling threat either!

Some of the other beasties will get to see immediate use. For example, the bunyip has a 'muck' variant. My group is in the River Kingdoms right now with a lot of rivers and waterways so I'll get to throw one of those big bastiches right at them.

Some of the other stuff may come up later but between the death worms and the bunyip's immediate use in my game? Well done Paizo.

The book also includes the standard bits. An example monster for each type. One of the bigger bads is a sea serpent, the mourning one, that clocks in at CR 19.

It also includes names and historical/setting information on monsters not statted out. For example, also under sea serpent, the ashen worm, a white worm that is never about in the daytime but hunts at night.

It's a fun little book that can allow some quick use for a variety of CR's.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pathfinder Comic: Dark Waters Rising

Jim Zub is a writer that handles fantasy with a touch of humor and timing. His work on Skullkickers is great.

It doesn't quite necessarily transfer over to Pathfinder though.

Dark Waters Rising collects volumes 1-6 of the Pathfinder monthly comic book. This includes a full arc as well as an individual piece that relates to that arc.

FIrst off, look at the cover. There are six characters there. In larger team books like Avengers and Justice League, often, although not always, there are some B and C list characters that are anchored to the team by a few A listers. When it's not like that, it's usually just all A listers.

In a new series, in a new publication, we cannot have any A listers. The problem with that is well, there are too many 'voices' to handle. No one gets enough screen time. This doesn't make the book weak mind you, but it does put it in a 'middling' area where one hopes that if it finds its audience, that it will continue to expand on the characters and showcase some more of them.

Mind you, the size of the cast doesn't stop Jim from giving us a few defining bits for each character. It's just for me at least, it wasn't necessarily enough.

More importantly, Jim does a great job with the verses of the goblins. If you've never played Pathfinder and seen it's take on the goblins, you're missing out. They are creepy, psychotic and rhyming. They are a fun race for players to face just to see what they'll say, but can be an annoyance for a GM to run unless he's got some notes prepared. Reading through Dark Waters Rising, break out that pen and copy those verses down!

The art is a little busy for me. Now that's strange if you look at the cover, but that cover is done by... some unattributed artist. Someone better at finding these things then me will be able to find it, but when I look at the cover and I check the interior to see who the artist is and the cover artist isn't listed? M'eh.

Outside of the story though, this is a hardcover collection so what else is present?

First, the book collects the covers. There are some great homage covers here ranging from Dark Knight Returns with a goblin taking the place of Batman, to Attack of the 50 foot Woman, amists others that tend to run towards cheesecake versions. As a comic collector, I've never been considered, impressed, or found the need to hunt down the variants. As an extra in a hardcover collection, it's a nice bit to have.

The covers done by Tyler Walpole for example? Great fantasy art and nice to see in paper. My own favorite thought, despite the skill Tyler brings to the genre, is by Lucio Parrillo. While it's a static shot of the group, it's good a feeling of weight to it.

The other thing the hardcover collection brings to the reader, is role playing information for Sandpoint and its surrounding environments. While I'm sure most of this material, including the art, is pulled from the role playing game, for those who've never played any role playing game, or who have fallen out of the hobby, it's a nice addition to get more details on the locations where the adventure takes palce.

As a comic fan, I wouldn't recommend Pathfinder. As a role playing fan, it's a fun bit.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis

One of the pleasures of the dollar spinner rack at Half-Priced books, is finding authors you've never read before. I know for some, that's a no-go as you're limited to the randomness of the rack and may be picking up books out of series.

Fortunately, for $1, I'm willing to give an author a chance to see if the novel catches my interest and if so, follow up from that point. I've been shopping at garage sales, used books sales, store closings, and other bits for so long, that if I didn't buy another book in years, I'd probably still have material to read or reread in some instances.

I initially bought Shadows in Bronze for my mom. While it may seem silly, she's a big fan of detective novels and especially of those in a historical context. After she finished it and before putting it back into the box for Half-Price, I decided to give it a go.

I'm glad I did. After reading the book, I immediately looked up Lindsey Davis and was surprised by the wide berth of material she's done. Her webpage is here. I was a little disappointed thought to see that so many of her books, in Kindle format at least, was over the $7.00 mark. I know that's nothing for some, and some would argue that the $1.99-$3.99 specials I'm so fond of are starvation wages, but when I can hit Half-Price again and again, well in one of these transactions, the author gets something. In the other, the author gets nothing.

Still, it's good to see the books in Kindle and other e-formats for those who prefer that medium to read in.

Shadows in Bronze is the second book in the Falco series. There are twenty novels with Falco, a low classed former soldier now turned investigator. The novel is 366 pages. The new version is 464 which is a good thing. My paperback is densely packed and while not difficult to read, does tend to feel crowded.

The novel is told in first person and Falco, the narrator, does a great job of providing the reader with descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of ancient Rome, while keeping the action flowing. Falco is one of my favorite types of heroes. Competent enough to get himself in trouble, but flawed enough having a hard time getting out of that trouble!

One of the things I enjoy about the novel, and indeed, about many mystery novels that don't take place in modern settings, is the lack of technology makes the main characters have to work harder. In working harder, one of the things the characters have to do is investigate.

These investigations act as windows to the setting. It allows the reader to see how things work in Ancient Rome without the author having to throw huge chunks of knowledge at the reader to digest.

Thankfully, Lindsey Davis is a skilled writer and I found myself quickly finishing the book.

It has a nice mix of intrigue, romance, and action. It isn't so grim and gritty that you look away in disgust, but nor is everything sunshine and flowers. Lindsey walks a nice balancing act of throwing oobstacles emotional, financial, and physical, into the character's way to make sure that when they do succeed, they earned it.

I'm looking forward to my trip to Half-Price today so see if I can find any more of the novels.

If you're looking for a historical mystery, Shadows in Bronze is a strong read and one of the better books I've read in 2014.

For those who are gamers and role players, I'm going to discuss some of the specifics of the book that I enjoyed and what you might be able to drag out of the book into your own games and settings.

NPC as obstacle. One of the problems with role playing games, is the dreaded motto, if it has stats we can kill it.

Make characters that the primary objective, isn't to make the NPCs villains who are out to threaten everything that the characters love and cherish, but political foes who are striving to enhance their own powers using the lay and laws of the land so that the characters have to come up with methods that showcase other aspects of the game.

Too often it's easy to forget in a role playing game that has vorpal weapons that there's a 'role playing' aspect to it. You can work on that part by making the NPCs memorable entities that may disagree with the players on crucial bits, but may otherwise agree with the players in almost everything else they do.

For example, in Shadows in Bronze, one of the most dangerous people Falco meets is Aufidius Crispus. The man is charismatic, wealthy, well liked, has his fingers in many pies, is willing to bet it all on the cast of a single die, and other bits that mesh well with Falco. But in this instance, Falco learns that Crispus isn't too concerned about women's rights, which sits poorly with Falco because his own beloved was attacked by an associated of Cripus, who not knowing this, shrugs off the attack as nothing special. That loses Falco right there.

NPC as Disadvantage: One of the things that the author does well, is puts Falco in family. Good lord am I tired of loners and orphan children who can't interact with society and have no family. Falco has brothers and sisters, nephews and cousins. It's great seeing him interact with them. However, those interactions take time. Those interactions come with responsibilities. Those interactions aren't always pleasant. It's refreshing to see someone have to help raise his dead brother's son with that son is whip smart and has his own ideas on how the world works. It's entertaining to see a grown man still have to deal with a mother who has her own iron in the belly.

NPC as complication. This one is a little different in that the NPC is skilled, powerful, well known, has their own circle of contacts and abilities. But the character has a history with them that's both pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. Ah, the dreaded love interest! In this instance, Helena Justina is "a high-born beauty" that is very competent and has her own family and agenda that aligns with Falco's, but Falco has such guilt for his low born status that it complicates things.

Remember that when designing your campaign and your dungeons, that when dealing with mysteries, the main source of information is going to be the other characters that are involved with it. Make sure those characters are memorable and can stand on their own if the player's aren't there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Prep Work for Kingmaker

I know I've got a heading for Kingmaker, the Adventure Path from Paizo, while posting the Lost Mine of Phandelver image, but it's because I'm using the two in one setting.

For the last several weeks, I've been doing a survey at Woodfield Mall that takes place at 4:00 PM. It finished about 5:00 PM. I got home around 6:30 PM. Eat and it was 7:00 PM. At this point I've been awake since 4:00 AM so yeah, I wasn't going to run any games and to be honest, didn't even leave my house.

But I did have time to catch up on some stuff. I've been reading the whole series over to try and get a better feel for things. I've also been making some 'internal' notes if you will. Kingmaker has a lot of situations that assume the party is going to negotiate with the enemies they're fighting. For example, in the first book, the kobolds are one that the party can opt out of fighting. In the second book, lizard men and a hill giant fall into those categories.

I'm reading this like "Really? Unless the party is severely getting stomped, I can't imagine the party leaving either of these two encounters without wiping out the opposition. They are flesh eaters. They kill people and eat them. In the initial encounter with the lizard men, they're torturing a child. "Well, you know, they were just going to eat it and that's okay." Wha? I get it that 'neutral' is often used on monsters to indicate that hey, if you happen to be made out of meat, they're going to try and eat you, but at the same time, when you apply such alignments to thinking creatures who KNOW that the things they are eating are sentient, well, you've got a problem.

And the hill giant? Yeah, I can't see the party doing anything but pumping that guy for information before fighting him to the death or retreating. "No dude, it's perfectly okay that you attack wandering humans and elves because you're a hill giant and want to eat them. No, go along now."

While I've been doing that, I've also been trying to hunt down a copy of the map folio. I initially started buying the map folios when the Adventure Paths started but wasn't impressed with their actual use. Reading the reviews of this one though, seems like it's actually useful. So of course it's out of print and the Amazon sellers are crazy in the prices they're asking. Damn internet making people crazy with that stuff.

I've also been painting up some miniatures. While 5th edition doesn't require them and I've run several combats without them, I always enjoy using them. It also gave me an excuse to start hitting up some old and new miniatures and get some paint on them.

So outside of that, what's everyone else been up to? Any good deals you picked up for X-Mas? I ordered miniatures from Miniature Market and FRP Games. I've already painted a boxed set from Miniature market and still haven't got my order from FRP Games. Sigh.  I was supposed to have that order sometime last month and well before X-Mas. Problem with ordering stuff on sale I suppose although I'd rather someone just go, "We have to hold this for four weeks or we can ship it now and you can cancel the backordered stuff or cancel the order." Several contacts by me later and it's finally shipped. It'll be here after X-mas.

Outside of that, things are moving at the same clip as they have in the past but I myself may have to rethink the whole role playing on Friday nights. I hate to say it, but waking up so early and trying to play with the guys on Friday, a day when I've worked, isn't really working out for me. And I hate saying that because I know a lot of the other people come from far away and also work. I guess my bum factor is kicking into high gear or something.

Oh well, happy holidays everyone! Enjoy your Christmas and have a great New Year if I don't post again till then!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Graveyard Musings

I live two blocks form the Bohemian National Cemetery. I pass by it every day on the way to work. I've admired the stonework on the tombstones for years.

My girlfriend and I finally decided to take a walk through there.

First off, these Canadian Geese need to be taken care of. They have managed to leave their droppings on almost every section of that place. Foulness indeed!

Outside of that though, as I walked through, I had several thoughts flash through my mind.

Of interest to me, were the portraits of people, even on old tombstones.

I saw several such tombstones, where one of the images was missing. What if in a modern Vampire campaign, the image is missing because a vampire or other immortal creature doesn't want his visage being linked to one on a person that's supposedly dead?

Next up, several of the tombstones had decorative elements that were of animals.

While it's all too easy to blame the medusa when it's a full fledge statue of someone, what if a medusa that's not necessarily evil, sells her services to capture animals for ornamental purposes? While a druid of other nature protector might find the idea of squirrels and pigeons disappearing problematic, it's a low enough level threat that such an individual might even find welcome in a more progressive city. Imagine then if someone tried to frame the medusa?

On the other hand, what if in an evil society, the culture specifically breeds handsome and beautiful individuals, training them well and insuring them of physical perfection, only to turn them to stone when a patriarch of the family dies? Further evil would be killing said person with poison that acts as some type of ecstasy so that they die with a smile on their face and then turning that corpse into a statue. Heroes trying to reverse the process will find their efforts leaving only corpses.

Several of the tombs had places that looked like they could hold oil for flame. What if part of the standard duties of the attendants is to insure that at night, those flames are lit? In case any undead do show themselves, they can be spotted easier and set aflame easier. Perhaps it's a sacred white or blue flame that only affects the undead in addition to shedding light more than ample enough to see by?

And what of the unknown dead? What if the players have to find a specific headstone but the graveyard has suffered such vandalization that tombstones are missing?

Even on some of the older tombstones and inside some of the crypts, there was evidence that people were still honoring the dead with flowers. In a setting with long lived races, would those races make a pilgrimage to a famous site to show their respect to the dead? Would families follow rites and rituals to insure that their honored dead remained at peace?

The talent at display in some of these works is amazing. I can easily see famous artists having to carefully pick their patrons and in a fantasy game, some might even come under threat if they did not do as a powerful patron bid them.

Some of monuments towered well over ten feet tall. The Chicago weather though is most unkind and while several were still readable, many had lost their readability to the ravages of time.

I kept my eye out for different types of stonework to see how they look. I paint miniatures and I always like having reference points. Some of the tombs appeared to have copper doors that had long since become green. Some had locks where rust was evident and I doubt it would take more than a good pull to yank the chain open.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stag's Helm: Magic Item For 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons

One of the things that is terrible in running 5th edition is the lack of magic items. Well, that problem should be resolved somewhat by the publication of the Dungeon Master's Guide, which if you didn't go 'Black Friday' at your FLSG, you still don't have.

But that doesn't solve the problem of unique magic items, such as the Stag's Helm in the Pathfinder setting. It's an item that the Stag Lord has about him. But it's a relatively simple magic item so here's my take of it:

This striking helmet is crafted to resemble the skull of a mighty stag. Although made from bone, the antlers and helm are as strong as metal. When worn, the helm greatly enhances eyesight and hearing, granting a +2 bonus on Perception checks. In addition, once per day the helm may be called upon to enhance any ranged attack made by the wearer to make an insightful shot. Activating this ability is a free action, and once activated, your next ranged attack against a target within 30 feet is made with advantage. If you don't make a ranged attack within 1 round of activating this power, the insight fades and is wasted for that day.

A worshiper of Erastil who wears this helm may utilize the insightful shot ability up to 3 times per day.

The Perception check isn't a big deal as both games have Perception skill checks. The original item had a feat and I didn't want to break down the feat and go into all that detail when there was already a mechanic to represent gaining some advantage, in this case, having advantage on an attack roll.

The image is from the Kingmaker Game Master Item Cards. They're inexpensive clocking in at under $10 and can give you some visual cues to various things that don't necessarily just copy the art from the RPG products. The cards are a nice idea but it's rare that the bottom of the deck's stay together and even rarer when I can open the set without inflicting some damage to the box itself. Argh!

Anyone else rolling up new magic items or are people still waiting on the official book?