Monday, June 30, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Three

I've mentioned it before, but again, Dark Horse did the world of comics and fans of sword and sorcery a huge service by bringing out the old black and white Savage Sword of Conan in these massively oversized compendiums for a great price. The works have been out of print for decades and while it's disappointing to see that it's only the Conan tales appearing in these volumes, for example, some covers reproduced inside boast of Solomon Kane or Red Sonja, we only get the Cimmerian.

But that's okay. At this price point and for material that's hard to get ahold of otherwise? It's a great deal.

This volume brings several classic adaptations from novel to comic format as well as many flashback pieces. One of the interesting things about the Savage Sword, as opposed to save, the Marvel Comic running at approximately the same time, is that the Savage Sword isn't necessarily being told in order. Many of the tales are done in one or at best, two shots and then its onto the next one. This volume for example, even does the Scarlet Citadel, which features Conan in his King mode.

For those keeping track, this volume includes 25-31 of the Conan stories. It has illustrations by some of the greats of the comic genre too ranging from Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Pablo Marcos, and Walter Simonson among others. No offense to Dark Horse's modern take on the comic, but this is one of the reasons why it's sometimes looked at like a pale image of it's former glory days. Walter Simonson? John Buscema? Jim Starlin? Some of these are STILL big names in the industry.

The volume is 554 pages with a cover price of $19.99, although Amazon has it on sale for $14.24.

Below I'll be hitting some of the things I continue to enjoy about these tales and why the Savage Sword of Conan acts as such an 'Appendix N' hit for me.

1. Named Gems: One of the longer tales in this collection is the Jewels of Gwahlur. Another is The Blood of the Gods. Each a set of gems that are priceless and unique. These named gems give the setting more character and history as each of the gems have their own stories associated with them. 

2. Recurring Foes: Olgerd is a foe of Conan who makes his third appearance in this volume. In his previous one, the 'Sleeper of the Sands' took him down into the desert hell with him. We never learn how he escaped. It's almost 'super hero' like in that if there's no body, don't assume that the foe is dead. 

3. Languages: The authors rarely fail to make mention of the numerous languages that the people speak in the setting. There are times when speaking with one faction they'll try to hide their true intentions by speaking to their own allies in another language. This brings further depth to the reading and can be a great use in any campaign. The only problem is that usually languages take some heady resources that are often better spent on fighting ability as opposed to something that can just be picked up.

4. Change Meetings: In Hawks of Shem, the tale starts when Conan is accused of following a soldier who turns and attacks him thinking that Conan is an assassin. The real assassins attack shortly thereafter and the two become allies. Having characters be mistaken for someone else is a good way to keep the characters on their toes. In one Dungeons and Dragons game I ran, the party had a Necromancer from the Diablo book with bone armor. They approached a fort that, unknown to the party mind you, had recently come under attack by ghouls, skeletons, and other undead horrors, so they immediately started firing on the characters until the characters could convince them that they were not there to fight. 

5. Quick Change: Tribes, armies, cities, and gods rise and fall at the drop of the hat in Conan's world. A king may think himself an actual god and try to fly. An entity that has lain dormant for thousands of years may rise and devour a city. Armies are betrayed by their generals. Things are constantly in a state of flux.

6. Amara: That's Conan's pirate raiding name, "the lion". It's a name that Conan is associated with only by those in the know while others only know of one or the other and when they put the two together, it's not always a good thing for Conan. Having an alias, especially one that lasts for a while and has specific meaning to a group of people, provides characters with further bits than just their original name. Elric for instance, outside of being known as a Kinslayer, is often called the White Wolf.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Scourge of the Sword Coast: Some rambling thoughts

Properly titled, "Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast", is an adventure for 'Dungeons and Dragons next or 5th edition. This is a second level adventure set in the Forgotten Realms in it's current timeline, which is prone to change with the next edition of the Forgotten Realms. The adventure is very much a sandbox that has a lot of potential but does some things that hit my personal annoyance buttons.

First off, the price. This is an electronic product for $17.99. Ouch. This includes several files and the current existing rules for Dungeons and Dragons in many other separate files.

The 'core' book of the adventure is in total 85 pages but that doesn't count cover or credits page. On the other hand, I'm honestly surprised that there is no 'rear' cover as is so common for books that went from print to PDF. The file does have several bookmarks hitting the major breaks in the adventure to make navigation easier, and those major breaks often have further bookmarks to allow you quick access to those desired spots.

What's worse? It's not designed to be an electronic product. The pages and everything in it, are full color. I can see doing that for the cover maybe because covers sell. But the pages are full color themselves. I mean that they have full bleed backgrounds of 'scroll' like dark yellow parchment color. In addition, the page numbers are surrounded with big red and gold stars.

You will not be printing this puppy. There's also a minimal amount of art in something that has a premium price. There are, I think three, maybe four illustrations in the book. The art is solid mind you, but again, at this price point I'm expecting something of top shelf level illustrations with at least every NPC illustration if for nothing else, to hold up a tablet in game play and go, "This is what you see."

The maps are by +Mike Schley and he does a fantastic job with them. We have a map of Daggerford with a small overview of the region on the same map. The map comes with like 40 noted locations. There's also overview map of the Sword Coast region including Waterdeep, the Ardeep Forest and other locals. It's a fantastic full cramped map that will serve well outside of the adventure itself.

But again, it's in full color. If you have a laser printer, you're like, "Sucks to be you Joe." Yup.

Note there is a separate file with the maps included with them. I imagine that these would have been physical hand outs or elements outside the main book in a printed product.

The adventure is set up so that the players are assumed to be answering a call for 'heroes' or 'adventurers' if you will, by Sir Isteval. The town of Daggerford is well detailed with a lot of characters and locations to explore with a lot of plots for the GM to throw out for the characters to follow up. These NPCs may have a variety of reactions to the players depending on how the players act in initial and later encounters.

In many ways, Daggerford is the 'home' of the players for the follow up in their journeys here with Sir Isteval acting as a patron for the group and potential allies around the corner from other venues. This allows the players to have a 'stand by' place to recover and spend gold without having to worry about being eaten in the wilds.

The adventure has a very 'sandbox' feel which is good. In the adventure itself, it notes what level the players should be as they go through different aspects of the adventure. For an example of how many sessions you could get out of the game, consider the following:

The adventure in Julkoun should get the players to third level.

Firehammer Hold should get the characters to fourth level.

At the end of the adventure proper, they should be fifth.

I'm seeing an easy six sessions here.

Now in terms of utility, Wizards of the Coast could easily have made this more firendly.

How so Joe?

Well, for this PDF only premium price, consider the following:

1. Monsters in black and white. Yeah, with all of the things that are included in the rules as its own file in black and white, the monsters are in the adventure proper. In an electronic file, referencing monsters while you're on a separate part of the book isn't necessarily the easiest thing. Mind you, Wizards of the Coast could have made it easier with hyperlinks to the monster stats under their "Creature" section under each encounter, but HEY, that might require you to do some work.  It's easier just to print them out. But HEY, again, full color so murder that printer will pages that aren't even white but scroll colored.

2. Maps: There are a lot of nice encounter maps here. How hard would it have been to include black and white versions to print out in full scale with miniature use? Again, I know that Dungeons and Dragons in its new edition has made some noise about "it's not a board game" but some of us like miniatures. Really, we do.

3. Tokens: There are a ton of pregenerated characters in this sucker. This is fantastic. There are numerous monsters in the adventure. Again, great stuff. One of the problems that previous editions have had is that you need specific miniatures for various encounters. If you're making an electronic only file, you might want to consider putting some tokens in that represent the pregenerated characters and the monsters to go with those maps. But again, that's just me talking like someone is actually using an electronic file in its most efficient manner as opposed to you know, making it for print and then not printing it.

Now in addition to the adventure itself, the download comes with the Dungeons and Dragons rules. Mind you, these aren't the final rules and are subject to change, but they have a lot of interesting bits to them. If you really wanted to see what the future edition is going to look like or is heavily influenced by, this is the way to go. Not getting into the details of it here as the download, which is huge and broken up into different sections but hey, at least it's in black and white so you won't murder your printer with it.

I know it sounds like I'm bagging on the product, and to a certain extent, I am. If you're the biggest publisher in the gaming community and you can't be bothered to print the product for people to run YOUR game, because this is one of those adventures that was supposed to be run at stores, and then you can't be bothered to make it easy to use, what does that say about you as a company? Nothing good.

The adventure though? I think it has a lot of potential. If nothing else, Daggerford can easily be reused outside of this adventure with minimum tweaks. The maps and encounters can easily be snagged and moved around for any adventure for the appropriate level characters. It's one of the things I used to love about Dungeon back in the day. "While I have no intention of running this as written, I shall surely steal this encounter for Y and this for Z."

Some may be saying, "Well Joe, why did you get this?" Honestly, I was going to run it for my group, but if you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll notice for the past say three months, I've been playing in a Warhammer FRPG and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon so while I'd have loved to have written a actual play review, this grousing will have to do. If anyone has run it, please leave some links to actual play in the comments section. I'm sure people want to see how it runs as opposed to what one fat man says.

If you have a burning desire to see how the rules for Dungeons and Dragons are coming along before the big reveal in the next few months, this can provide a good look at it. If you want the adventure... well, money is relative. To me, it's overpriced for what it is and isn't anywhere near as electronic friendly as it needs to be to justify that price.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Thousand Thrones: A Sobering Game

I wasn't supposed to be at the game yesterday. It was the birthday of one of my former work amigos whose moved on to bigger and better things, and we and a few others were going to go to watch the Cubs. Heck, looks like they even won the game.

I did not go though. My gout was acting up. This means much medication for inflammation and pain and no drinking. No drinking = no Cubs. Sorry Cub fans but for me, baseball is about hanging with the amigos and making fun of the Cubs because they are such a wretched team. Well, no wretched but pitiful? When they haven't won the big game in 100+ years there is a problem.

So sober, I went to game. Bad news there is the alcohol was flowing freely as one of my amigos brought some Modelo. But alas, I resisted. I had brought spicy chips that were 'mild spicy' as well as some cheese dip and some snacks.

 Got to have something if it can't be the alcohol right?

The game resulted in more investigations with our discovering the identity of 'The Vengeance of Sigmar'. The problem with this whole set up though? We spent much of last week learning what a fierce and dangerous man this was, and we find him as a pitiful mutant in his own apartment on the verge of death.

How could that have been different? How could we have found him? Well, he could still be on the verge of death for example, but if you wanted to follow up on how awesome he was, have a few other corpses be there with him. Give the players more reinforcement in terms of who their actual enemies are by the corpses left behind. Or even drag marks in blood showing that the guy didn't go down like a punk after being described as the Punisher/Batman of the Warhammer world.

After some more exploration of the city, we found what we assumed were the last clues and were on the way out of the city when we were attacked by thieves. We managed to quickly incapacitate the 'human agents' when the vampires came out. We learned that a magical bird who'd been spying on us that we killed with a great shot by the wood elf archer, was actually a comrade of ours. It was very "didn't see that coming".

I suppose we could have fought and probably got our asses handed to us as these vampires were soaking up some good damage relatively quickly and had high stats all around, but we'd already learned what we needed to and let the vampires have a tome that provided more information about some magical items that the cultists of Papa Nurgle were trying to use to control the mutant child with his powers.

All in all a satisfying game with a good mix of exploration and fighting and a reminder that there are many factions in the Warhammer setting and not all of them that are you enemies are each other's friends.

Hope everyone else had a good weekend of gaming!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Aquaman: The Trench by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

Aquaman is one of the oldest DC comics characters still in play. The DC universe recently decided to reboot the setting again. This is a fairly common thing in DC ranging from their time with Infinite Crisis and Zero Hour to the latest round with the Flash of all people messing up the timeline and the readers being rewarded with 'the new 52'.

A good as any time to revise Aquaman.

Geoff Johns is one of the biggest and best known writers. Having him write the 'new' Aquaman for the 'new' 52 seems like an effort to boost Aquaman from his so-so status to a top ranking hero. Geoff was able to work wonders with Green Lantern for example.

Fortunately Geoff Johns is joined by artist extraordinaire Ivan Reis. I enjoy Ivan's work immensely. When you have comic that has great art, even if the story isn't that great, the art can 'save' it. The 90's are full of series that only got as far as they did because the art was enjoyable and top notch.

The nice touch in the book is that in addition to the standard work, Ivan treats the readers to some black and white illustrations including designs of the casts and different covers.

It doesn't do it for me.

There is an effort to make Aquaman a character while acknowledging that he's often considered a joke in the first chapter. He's eating in a restaurant and debunking how his powers supposedly work. Its trying to lay groundwork for the whole of things but really? I didn't care. When you have to start blabbing about how you don't talk to fish but take them over, you're already losing the battle to make the character cool via the whole show don't tell. We also get that Aquaman, like Namor over at Marvel, gets by through the use of 'sunken treasure ships' where he's using gold coins to pay for stuff.

And when I see that I'm like really? That's the best you can do with him? Make him have resources from teh bottom of the sea? At least when Marvel did it, Namor used it to fund a corporation and actually did something, not just you know, eat a a fish shack.

Now for those who like action? They should enjoy a lot of this volume. The name of the book, The Trench, is where a group of humanoid monsters come from seeking food for themselves and their queen. These slick monsters look like they'd fit perfectly among other aquatic nightmares. In this volume their not really built up much and I haven't purchased any future volumes, but probably decadent Atlanteans or something of that nature.

The fighting is intense and we get to see Aquaman and Mera using their abilities to the fullest and it's great. We see Aquaman as almost a reluctant hero in that he's trying to learn more about these individuals than simply destroying them. Their abilities make them dangerous including luminescence to light the dark waters they come from, massive claws and teeth, and a paralyzing paste as well as the ability to create cocoons to hold their food for later. Like I said, their cool.

But the rest of the story? It's some lead up with Mera and some lead up with Atlantis that in this volume, is all ground work and in some ways, undoes the whole Aquaman doesn't suck bit. For example, when Aquaman gets stuck out in the desert and has to be rescued? Why bother spending the first few issues showing that he doesn't suck and is a worthy companion for his allies in the Justice League?

Aquaman in a solo title is a hard sell for me at the best of times. He's not outright powerful enough to give him an interesting rogue's gallery, his wife's tale that their doing here appears to be one already done, and well, personality wise, he's not fleshed out enough to be anything but another boring DC hero, the same problem that a lot of people had with the Silver Age Flash Barry, and why they didn't mourn his loss that much as Wally West grew into his own.

Aquaman's role in the new 52 after this volume is unknown to me, but if you've got some volumes you can recommend, lay 'em on me Internet.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Okko: The Cycle of Fire by Hub

I've been reading Okko for a while now. I've been waiting for this volume to come out for what seems like years. Part of the problem is that it's a translated comic so even when it looks like it's ready, it may not be. Okko follows the path of a samurai turned ronin who is actually a monster hunter that travels with a drunken monk, Noshin,  and a fellow warrior, Noburo, who is apparently half-oni or something of that nature. They have a bit of a follower, Tikku, with them who joined them in volume one. As each Cycle comes and goes, the cast ages. At this point, Okko has suffered the loss of a hand and is mighty gray haired.

The art by Hub continues to be highly visually engaging. He uses a lot of smooth lines and great use of colors to capture the mood and elements of the setting he's created. The story? For me it wasn't the best. A little too much is revealed after the fact. It all fits into the setting and the world as presented mind you but continues to push Pajan into chaos.

Just when I thought it was getting good, the Cycle ends with the promise of one final Cycle to come, ominously named the Cycle of Emptiness.

Would I suggest people buy and read this?


While Samurai tales are easy to find and have a rich history in comics and film, having 'mythic' elements to them like the recent movie, 47 Ronin did, are more rare. Mind you I'm not saying you can't find a thousand movies based on Ancient China mind you where the magic and monsters are fast and furious, but for me, actual Samurai action that has supernatural elements to them that are assumed part of the landscape? Not so much.

In addition, the visual designs are simply nice to look at. Because in this book Okko is a guardsman at a wedding, and is part of a huge cast of guards, we see a lot of different characters and a lot of different stations. It's all well told visually and would make a fantastic movie.

For me, because I'm a fan of Legend of the Five Rings and am always looking for some 'Appendix N' style inspiration, this is a great volume. For me it doesn't hit the story high notes that previous volumes have, but that may just be the nature of it's place in the series and it could all be clearer when the Cycle of Emptiness comes out.

In terms of world building, I find it more enjoyable. For example, readers have come to know Okko through multiple volumes here. He's got a certain reputation among various clans and specific people, but to the common folk who may just be studying at a university or 'official' history? He essentially doesnt' exist. No matter how awesome his adventurers, he's just a 'lowly' ronin.

Another nice bit is the various ways magic interact. Okko needs some time to restore an old scroll that has been burned and needs the aid of a fire elemental, such a being is prohibited by others in the area and there is much talk and compromise reached. But that leads to other issues where other factions think that the fire caused by the elemental are committed by a third party. Conflict and misunderstandings are rife in this volume which provide more fuel for the action.

In terms of role playing? Yeah, Okko and his group of allies, as ronin, fit perfectly as player characters. There is a scene where Tikku is caught kissing the bride to be of a noble. That noble goes mad with rage and tries to kill him. Okko cuts him down with little thought or regard as to what will happen to the country at that point.

That's so player character I say.

Another think I like, and it fits in well with the timing, is that Okko and his allies are competent. Even with the whole of a nation after them, they're able to lay low for years. All too often it seems that 'murder mystery' style games are able to resolve issues without having access to the tools and science that we have today, but using the same methodology. Maddening. None of that nonsense here. Part of the problem with some of the higher magic settings is that it's just too easy to bring out the CSI Waterdeep without having to do any actual leg work.

There's also a nice symmetry in the haunting by the shade Okko killed. Being such a powerful swordsman, Okko cut his foe in half from head to crotch. The left side haunts the flirty bride while the right side haunts the father, urging him to slay Okko. It's a great visual that you might not catch the first time you read it.

Okko Cycle of Fire was a long wait and it'll be a long one till the next cycle. It's currently available from Amazon for under $15 bones.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Thousand Thrones: Tequila and Trollslayers

Yesterday it was time for another game of Warhammer FRPG. I think this is like session ten or something of that nature? Has the GM got his money's worth out of the Thousand Thrones campaign yet? Hard to say but my physical book of the Warhammer FRPG 2nd edition hasn't seen this much use in years. Despite the portability and ease of use of PDFs, people like flipping through books and I'm on that list too.

Anyway, that Hornitos Black Label next to the book? A very interesting tequila. As Arnold would say while playing Conan, "I have no words" or something to that effect of providing a 'technical' description of drinking it, but for tequila brewed in whiskey barrels? Very nice. I would buy again. Mind you, I'm not putting it ahead of say, my 'standards' or 'go to' tequilas which include: Patron, Don Julio, Avion, Three Generations, or Corzo, but it has a very rich blend of flavors to it.

For an actual technical review? Go here.

Even better though, one of my friends brought some Nego Medlo and another some hard apple cider and some of those crazy margarita beers. Much drinking to be had.

Anyway, back to Warhammer FRPG.

We had a nice battle at the end of last session and we started this one off in various states of being wounded. Fortunately none of us were badly injured so restoration was pretty quick. Three of us are playing non-humans. I'm a dwarf, another is a wood elf, and a third a halfling. The human 'adventurer', a hedge wizard whose never cast magic around us, has the healing skill and made it only on the other human in the party so we ribbed her about being a species racist.

After that, it was time for more investigation. Part of that was a book dealer who had possession of questionable content. As we went to visit him, the place was burning down. The dealer was taken to the church of the healing goddess while I stuck around and tried to stop the fire from spreading.

Up show the witch hunters and demand we let that building burn but allow us to prevent the fire from spreading.

Meanwhile in the church, two of the four who went are able to get in with some quick thinking with my other friends are just spouting the stupid. I'm sitting there thinking, "Man, the GM is being awful kind to you guys to start with." Ah, the perils of alcohol at the game.

Nonetheless, they find out that under the book shop is an entrance to a secured location with various books and a list of buyers and other goods. As they come out and meet up with me though, the witch hunters are all like, "You must come with us!"

One of the players is an actual empire wizard and doesn't want any trouble so we decide, yeah, okay, we'll go with you.

Then the witch hunters are attacked by an angry mob. The cries of the mob indicate that they are people who lost their homes due to the witch hunters interference, but since I stayed behind, the GM tells me I don't recognize any of them and that they seem to be of a different type of rabble altogether. The halfling gets ready to take off, but as I'm a troll slayer, I'm all up and about the "death!" parts as we didn't attack the witch hunters.

Many of the crowd start taking off when the elf and halfling begin raining death on them and the troll slayer stalks their midsts like a wolf among lambs. The wizard tries to draw official city attention to us with some noise and the 'adventurer' aka hedge wizard flays about with a long sword and takes a few hits in return.

After the battle, the seven witch hunters are reduced to four. I ask the GM what type of equipment they have. Most of the other party members have this image of them being heavily armed and armored and the GM's like "blah blah blah" which meant leather armor and crossbows instead of say, plate armor and guns.

I turn my back on them and they're like, "Nope, you ain't going anywhere." Seeing as how most of the party is for once not injured, we turn on the witch hunters and make quick work of them. The GM laughs about it because he said the book assumed we would flee the scene when the witch hunters came under attack in the first place but he quickly picked up the pace and in the ensuing melee, we are victorious again!

After that, some more exploration. A few of the characters fall through the weakened floor into the basement and it is there that we find the hidden door, buried under a ton of hot rubble and take a few wounds from heat related damage but eventually get it open.  Some more exploration of the sewers and some good subtle smacks from the GM lead us to the books which have already been ransacked.

We find out that several of the people on the list have been killed by Zorro, I mean, the Vengeance of Sigmar. This is a black masked, black garbed vigilante that goes about killing high and low born who deal with chaos including a wizard who we jab our own Bright Wizard college student about. We do some more training and hunting down for clues and information before the GM calls it a night.

It's been nice hitting up the old Warhammer FRPG. Player deaths have been fairly minimal, but I suspect that has more to do with the lack of combat and the great opportunities for investigation as opposed to how powerful we are as characters. Fate points have been spent mind you, but I think it's the Fortune points that are keeping us alive.

Most of the players are hitting up their second careers. This has lead to the whole, "No, those advancements are not cumulative. If it's +10% in one career and +10% in another, you can't buy it up to +20%." leading to protests of outrage.

Kind of annoying to me really. I mean, like I said, it's week ten and people are still looking at like the basics of advancing a character? Sheesh people. Some of them were thinking of changing what they were looking at in terms of advancing their careers. Me? Because the Troll Slayer basic career has so many advancements, and for whatever reason, I'm the type who buys out all my advancements, I still need a few more hundred xp to make it to Giant Slayer.

The GM has also told me that I don't have to kill a giant per say, just something powerful enough to represent a equal threat so that I'd then become whatever that 'slayer' type is. Which is cool and I can see why he'd do it that way. Minimizes the fuss he has to make in order to allow advancement of the character while still providing the 'flavor' and purpose of the whole thing.

I think the GM said we're on something like chapter four now and a few more to go. Probably take us to August.

Anyone else picking up old games and 'classic' adventurers to catch up on things once missed? I'm reading through the Wizards of the Coast Red Wizards PDF only adventure about the Red Wizards. Some nice descriptions on some of the Forgotten Realms locals and a very 'playbox' feel to it. I might run that, but heck, Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition proper may be out by the time we finish this so it's hard to say what's next.

Well, thanks for reading and good gaming everyone!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fornovo 1495 by David Nicolle

The battle of Fornovo in 1495, has it's own campaign book by Osprey. There's also a good article on Wiki found here. I managed to pick this one up from the Half Price Books in Skokie for a few bones and was quite pleased with the purchase. It dovetails nicely into the reading I've been doing on the Sforza, Borgias and others in Italy at this turbulent time in history. Note the cover here is the one I have, not the current edition of the book.

Written by David Nicolle, the book clocks in at 96 pages but text wise, it's probably much smaller. There are a ton of maps, photographs, drawings, historical and those commissioned specifically for this book. The cover for example, Richard Hook, whose works can be found here.

David Nicolle that I'm aware of, but he does a great job of breaking down who the main factions are and the numerous individuals in each camp. The book has the usual breakdown including aftermath and even some ideas on how to use this material for wargaming.

The illustrations inside are of a nature similar to the cover and include many great inspirational pieces in terms of background. For example, the French artillery crossing the Cisa Pass where soldiers are pulling one of the canons up the mountain after having felled numerous tress and moved rocks out of the way. These are hard working individuals, some resting after cutting the tress down and moving them. Many with rips in their clothes for the work load. Another excellent noncombat illustration, the retreat from Novara, where the 'depleted disease-ridden French' retreated to and we see the soldier wearily resting in small groups.

In terms of 'game' ideas, there are numerous ones that pop up due to the nature of the conflict.

1. The Grand Crusade: Charles VIII wants to seize Naples not because, or not only because he's some greedy noble. Rather, he wants to use it as a staging ground for a glorious war against the Ottoman Turks. In this time, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 is very fresh in the Christian World and a leader who would dare to take up this awesome, country spanning task, needs to have grand vision. Are there faiths in your setting that do not get along and are at an uneasy peace? Are there great leaders who would shatter that piece in order to bring glory to their religion?

2. The Clash of Cultures: Here's one that's somewhat terrible in its irony. On one hand, the French have a 'knightly' virtue about them for some things. They see the rise of the footsoldier and firearms as some horrific thing that is eventually going to diminish the glory of personal hand to hand combat and personal honor. The Italians are used to being ransomed when defeated. When the two clash and say, an Italian armored knight is knocked form his horse, the polearms and axes and swords come out and go for the vulnerable points as opposed to keeping the soldier alive for ransom, unlike the Italians who were capturing those they thought were valuable.

3. Side Missions: On their way down from the mountains, the French lost some of their heavy artillery. It's easy to see a pass they couldn't get through, a rockslide, or some other natural disaster. In a fantasy game, such a cannon, and most of them have names historically, might be a powerful artifact that was lost when the group came under attack while transporting the items through the hills. The cannon is assumed lost but a huge reward or the powers of the cannon itself could be available to those bold enough to search the mountains for it.

4. Plunder: One of the biggest loses the French suffered here, wasn't in terms of men slain, but in the lose of their baggage wagons which contained some odd 180,000 gold ducats worth of funds, including royal items like a sword and crown.

5. Little Things: On their return home, the French King Charles VIII decided, honoring the principals of chivalry and knightly duties, to leave some of his forces in Pisa. This weakened his own forces and was supposedly engineered by the most 'beautiful women of Pisa' who appealed to Charles nature. Having known virtues means that people can use those virtues against you.

6. The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men: One of the things that the Italians tried to do, was a hasty crossing against the river but the night before, it had rained and mountain water was swelling the river. This caused the whole concept of rapid crossing to evaporate but there apparently wasn't time to change tactics or strategy.

7. Landscape: Another problem the horses faced, was 'fields of peebles'.  This made riding difficult to say the least.

8. Individual Actions: One of the things reported here, is that King Charles VIII himself is almost captured as he is apart from his soldiers and only has one aide with him when he comes under attack, but his black horse and lone guard give him enough time to escape. In a role playing game, it might be the specific mission of a group of characters to capture or assassinate a noble, or even someone more important. The entire battle itself might be a mere diversion to give the players that one opportunity that they'd never have otherwise.

This time period and this area have a lot of gaming potential. This ranges from having multiple countries invade a 'country' that consist not only of individual city states, but of 'states' within states such as the Romania and the Papal States themselves. It's a time when Spain and France and others will plunder again and again and has a lot of ideas of how wars went and they didn't go according to plan.

Anyone have a favorite history era that they find themselves returning to? I don't know how much longer I'll be delving into the whole Italy bit based on my viewing of the two different Borgia series, but I've got a few more books on the shelf already so I know it'll be a little while before I'm done with the mercenaries and various religious figures that I've grown to read of so much.

The Thousand Thrones: Once More Unto The Breach!

Last Friday, I managed to get in on another game of the 2nd edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing Game aka Warhammer FRPG. The Thousand Thrones is a massive book that details out rise of Karl, 'Sigmar Reborn' in the Empire and the various events that happen around the lad as well as the general terribleness of the Warhammer world.

In this setting, I'm playing a Troll Slayer.

I finally came into some coin in the campaign. I don't want to say it was overdue because I understand that the Warhammer FRPG isn't like Dungeons and Dragons 3rd or 4th edition where X amount of coin and equipment is assumed to be in the player's possession on a level by level basis.  I'll say though, that it was good to have some coin.

Now with the Troll Slayer, the only thing I need, in terms of 'gear' for my advanced career, Giant Slayer, is my great axe. Well, that's not quite true. I also need to kill a giant. The GM has assured me that when the time comes that won't be a problem even though there are no giants within the campaign itself.

This week's session found the group continuing our quest to discover the traitors and assassins within Karl's massive procession. There are those seeking to kill and or capture the boy. This means killing a whole bunch of people around the lad.

This time it would seem that we were against cultists of Papa Nurgle, the ruinous power of plague and disease. Someone trying to poison the soup!

Again, the efforts to find information and discover what is going on, are far more at the front of the game then they are in the big D&D. The game doesn't rely solely on combat or treasure as a method of advancement so those things aren't the focus on most games I've been in.

Mind you, I'm a Troll Slayer and well, I play the character as one whose easily bored with the various gatherings of information, often testing the sharpness of my blade against my thumb. My fellow players have joked that I've done it so many times that my whole thumb is a giant scar at this point.

But in the two combats we had this sessions, they were glad to have the giant orange mohawk there.

Our first encounter was one we essentially knew was going to end in violence as we sought out 'the Butcherer'. This individual was working with others in the camp to poison people with a magical stew of Papa's. We quickly disposed of him and brought our efforts to Karl and tried to beat some information out of the 'rat' in the nest but Karl was distraught with our methodologies and banished us!

The Game Master did note though, that despite our banishment, we were still devoted to the Karl. For those who've never played, that's because Karl is a mutant whose power is inspiring devotion to him. I made my initial Will Power roll to avoid falling under the trap initially a few sessions ago but missed it this time so I too was now planning how best to serve.

Mind you that's what I'd been doing before because the boy hired us to watch out for him and our original mission involved that anyway.

I asked the GM is we would have to sneak back into the giant encampment and work our way from there or if there were things that could happen outside that, as we were in the city of Aldorf. I can't remember if that's our final destination or not but I do know that it's a huge city and we were able to explore a bit including some shopping.

The GM even broke out the Old World Armoury because our newfound apprentice mage in the party kept looking for darts. Not in the core book and not in the Armoury. GM said, "Don't worry about it. It's a non-expensed resource, you just have to make sure you renew your supply every so often." Seemed a good solution to me.

Now again, I have all the 'trappings' I need for my next career. I did struggle with how much armor to buy. A troll slayer starts with a leather shirt, 1 armor point, and mine was destroyed by a critical hit earlier in the campaign. I'd been going shirtless since then. I weighed the whole suicidal urges of the Troll Slayer against the practicality of playing the character. In art, I'd seen Troll Slayers garbed in chain armor before and there isn't really any restriction to it.

But I stuck with leather and gave a lot of my gold to another player who fully armored himself up with it. The other players sought out leads and information unto becoming their next advanced careers and went about buying the trappings to help make that happen.

When you have a character concept, how far will you go against the grain of that concept to insure some level of survivability? Would anyone have bought the chain shirt and said screw the leather? Should I have just went without any armor?

The good news, is that the leather soon proved it's use as agents of caravan from various factions where in the city and a fight broke out between some of them. We assisted those we thought were the 'good' guys based on our previous research, although this being Warhammer, it's possible all of them were chaos cultists.

After that fight we gathered a bit more information and the GM called a halt to the session. We still haven't finished the chapter though, so no XP! Argh! That's okay, one of the 'swing' parts of Warhammer and it's random character creation, is as a Troll Slayer, I have a LOT of advances to take. Most of the other players? Not so much.

Looking forward to the next session.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kobold Press on the Cheap: Review the makers of Dungeons and Dragons 5th ed Adventures without going broke!

With the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons coming out, Wizards of the Coast has made the unusual move of farming out the adventures to a third party. In this case, Kobold Press. I've owned several of Kobold Press products and helped on a Kickstarter of theirs.

I wasn't around for their 'original patron project, which was proto-Kickstarter. The master of that house was quite wise in seeing how the tides were turning as patron funded projects, both in Kickstarter and in various webcomic circles through things like Patreon.

The two adventurers coming out for 5th edition are Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat. They suffer some of that 'weirdness' in Amazon pricing in that the discount is good, but now awesome. Still, $22 bones each isn't terrible considering what the average book is running these days.

But what if you're curious to know what type of game design Kobold Press does in the first place?

DrivethruRPG is having their 10th anniversary sale. While I know that the PDF format isn't everyone's cup of tea, if you want to see what Kobold Press is capable of doing, the 10th anniversary bundle 2, includes Midgard campaign setting. This PDF in and of itself is normally $19.99. It's also an Ennies nominated setting for 2013. It also clocks in at 298 pages. Yeah, I know once you cut the cover and stuff out it probably falls into the 'readable' It includes Pathfinder and AGE rules (which I'm guessing is Dragon Age rules from Green Ronin) so you can see how they handle a few different types of systems.

If you don't want to spent the $10 on that, there's a free preview.

See what the future holds for the writing in Dungeons and Dragons next.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Young Justice Season One

When it comes to my favorite genres, fantasy is at the forefront of things. Even with the various Middle Earth movies, it still doesn't get a lot of airplay on the big screen.

Super heroes, my second favorite genre though, has been. This ranges from special done in one movies like the recently released Justice League War to the plethora of movies that Marvel has successfully launched, or Marvel properties, like X-Men and Spider Man, that have taken up real estate. DC seems to be limping along in the movie aspect but that's apparently allowed them time to do some great television shows like Young Justice.

This cast of characters are the 'sidekicks' of the more experienced heroes of the DC setting. They are also some of the 'newer' incarnations in some instances and allow the story to take place in a larger environment because of it.

For example, way back in the day when I was first collecting comics, Superboy was a young Superman. After the original Crisis of Infinite Earths comic event and things were rebooted to ground zero, Superman was never Superbody but DC managed to sneak a Superboy in as a clone during the whole 'Reign of the Superman' storyline that took place after the huge event 'The Death of Superman'.

There have been all sorts of legal wrangling back and forth with the Superboy character and those discussions are well outside my brief ramblings about Young Justice, but those interested to see how legalities can possibly be seen to effect the comics that are made should look into it.

Other characters are familiar like Robin and Kid Flash, appearing in their 'iconic' versions here.

Miss Martian is a relatively newcomer to the DC in general and was a member of the Teen Titans. Her role her is that of the still learning to be human, learning to be a hero, learning to fit along with everyone else while having her own issues and secrets. It makes her one of the more likable characters as despite her vast array of abilities and powers, she still has much to learn.

Aqualad is a strange one. One of Aquaman's trusted aides, he apparently has all of the heightened abilities of an Atlantian, but he also has some technomagic equipment that allows him to use water as objects, manipulating it as the Invisible Woman might manipulate her force barriers, ranging from shields and maces to other physical weapons and protection.

Aqualad is different than the original Aqualad I believe, who was 'Garth' who later became Tempest. This works out great because it gives Atlantis some more characters to play with, and allows the writers to put this Aqualad into situations that don't necessarily correspond to the massive library of events that Garth went through.

Artemis, the female archer, is a replacement for 'Speedy' who quickly goes onto become Red Arrow in this series. Artemis has her own issues with trust and with proving her abilities but as a skilled archer with trick arrows, she does fine. One of the nice things about Artemis appearance here though, is that it initially at least, seems that she's still learning as Red Arrow proves to be a better archer and show cases that these members of 'Young Justice' are here to learn.

The series takes a weird premises. These younger heroes, will do 'shadow' work. They will do recon and spying style missions. On one hand, the theory is to keep them out of the way of the heavy hitters. On the other, while some like Robin and Miss Martian have perfect abilities to match this type of work, others, like Superboy and Aqualad, do not. All in all, it works well enough to keep the team moving on from mission to mission while giving them an overarching goal of 'joining' the Justice League.

The fact that so many of the characters have issues ranging from keeping their weaknesses secret to keeping their species secret, provides much fodder for the series which it doles out slowly but with a great payoff. The series also lets us see how things might look for some of the adult versions of the Justice League.

For example, Superman is often portrayed as being all on the up and up. Here though he has a real hard time with just the existence of Superboy and keeps his dealings with Superboy to a minimal. Superboy on the other hand, has been created to fill in for Superman should the Kryptonoian ever fall so to be ignored and shunned by him is most troubling. Superboy is also not a pure clone and is missing some of the big S powers like flight and heat vision. This makes him have to 'work' harder on his missions.

Another good example, is Shazam, the big red cheese himself. Unknown to most, the 'man' behind Shazam is just a kid, Billy, and the series does a great job of showing how Billy prefers to hang around with Young Justice as opposed to the regular team mates.

The DC mythology is for the most part treated with respect but the authors aren't afraid to play with some of the bits and elements when it allows them to tell a better story. For example, Starro, is, in my opinion, one of the silly villains. The Starfish Conqueror? Please.

In the series though, they use one of his tendrils, frozen in ice for millions of years, to give Starro more of a 'Old One' feel and use genetic modifications to create the star fish that allow the control of others. That works surprisingly well as opposed to using Starro himself.

The only bad thing? Only season one is available to stream on Netflix so it'll be a while before I catch up on season two.

If you're running a Champions campaign or a Mutants & Masterminds campaign and want to see how a team adventure can be easily run that has complications ranging from hidden identities to family members that are villains, Young Justice is a great inspiration.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev

One of the characters that made an appearance in both versions of the Borgia series I've seen, was Caterina Sforza, a woman whose name on this book goes by Caterina Riario Sforza De'Medici. How's that for a mouthful.

Her Wiki entry has some of the nuts and bolts of her life. This book takes such nuts and bolts and expands them greatly. Elizabeth Lev does a nice job of making a book that's at once readable and one filled with notes from dozens if not hundreds of other resources which curious readers can go further on and read.

In terms of gaming, there is much to mine here.

1. Background. Caterina is raised to enjoy hunting and the military arts. The author notes that this was because unlike other nobles of the time, Caterina comes from a mercenary family that rose to prominence on the strength of their sword arm so raising all the children to fight was only normal and natural as opposed to segregating them into different roles.

2. People: Caterina has eight kids by three different husbands. Two of those husbands had powerful alliances to other families of the time. This doesn't count Caterina's own family and the rise and fall of status dependent upon not only your own abilities as a ruler or with diplomacy, but on the rise and fall of others that you may have no direct control over.

3. Rapid Reversal: There are several times throughout the scene that Elizabeth Lev sets, where one is assured that based on X, Y should happen. Nope. For example, when assassins kill her second husband, they think that they will be greeted with a hero's welcome. They are killed by the dozens instead. This happens a few times where people hear, "Oh, this is a problem is it? I shall solve it and all shall love me." only to find out that yeah, that was pretty much idle talk and acting on it was really stupid.

4. Different Perspectives: One of the other characters that made an appearance in both Borgia series was Savonarola, the initial inspiration for the bonfire of the vanity. Apparently he and Caterina had exchanged correspondence and it left an impact on Caterina that would follow her for the rest of her days. In this exchange, Savonarola doesn't' get much page time, but he does sound rather sane and reasonable unlike how he was portrayed in either series. For one person, an ally might seem saintly and full of vigor and vim and for another person, an adversary of devastating cunning and ability.

5. Disease: Since this is a book about the Renaissance and the various French invasions of Italy, we have to have some mention of 'The French Disease', along with Malaria, and the Bubonic Plague, all of which make their appearance in this historical. Indeed, is is no sword or poison that ends Caterina's life, but rather disease.

6. Social Combat: Initially there are many celebrations and honors given to Caterina upon her initial marriage as that was to a 'cousin' (some say illegitimate bastard) of the Pope of the time, Pope Sixtus IV. Thanks to that connection, Caterina has social advantage and ability that many in her time lacked and the parties that followed allowed for a lot of intermingling that could have consequences lasting well past the initial meetings.

7. Instability: When a pope dies in Rome, the citizens go a little crazy and form into unruly mobs. This can be a situation in a standard game as well when a well loved figure dies and there is a time of mourning as well as individuals using these situations to their advantage. Easier to send in the assassins while the city burns then attack the front gates.

8. Esoteric Hobbies: Among the many things that Caterina enjoy, hunting in the gaming grounds of the city Pavia, as well as breeding and riding horses, she was reknown for her herbalist skills and even had a book published on her findings. Some have even referred to her skills as 'alchemy'. In a fantasy campaign, it's easy to imagine Caterina having levels of Noble, Alchemists, and Fighter among others.

There are so many characters that Caterina interacts with or is there to see rising, that it gives the whole of the Renaissance itself a greater feel, like some massive tapestry that cannot be seen in one viewing and must be taken in from various angels.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Roleplaying and the Lack of Inclusive Characters

Over at , the author has many a note on how race and roleplaying fall together for him. Its interesting reading and I wander over there every now and again to see what is being written about. Another good one for fantasy and race is the chronicles of harriet,

I've mentioned it before but I think getting more authors and creators of content of various ethnicities will bring far more diversity than other white people creating more 'token' pictures and places. I think that for a company, a corporation, like WoTC to be more inclusive they've got to have a 'show me the money' moment as sales of say, Nyambe and other non-standard European knight settings tend to be flat or poor.

Studies and other benefits of how inclusion is awesome for morale and confidence levels are all well and good, but if there's no MORE money to be had from it, a company whose making a new edition to make money off of the old edition fans, isn't probably worried about that. Then there's the 'lame horse' argument that the company 'has to get it right' so that they're not accused of using racist portraits and stylings in the first place. 

In terms of successful African styled fantasy games and popularity, or lack of, this isn't always the case though. Recently Spears of the Dawn, an OSR style project on 'fantasy' Africa, ran a fairly successful kickstarter and delivered ahead of time!

This isn't necessarily just a RPG problem as much as a 'geek' problem. How about comics? I remember reading Milestone when they first came out. Hardware and Icon were some of my favorites but that imprint didn't last and DC's later efforts to incorporate it into the mainstream have fallen flat every time. 

The fact that the initial imprint didn't last, I believe, has more to do with comic glut, the failure of new comics in general, and well, DC being a bone head about things. If you're name isn't Deadpool and you started out in the 90's and are still around now as a comic character with your own title, good work!

Take Hardware for example. Marvel has three movies about a rich guy in a suit. If there was anyone looking for a character like Iron Man in the DC universe, they don't have a lot of options there. Hardware would also give DC another rich person who wasn't Bruce Wayne or Lex Luthor and more opportunity to play with the tech side of the universe. 

In terms of fiction, even one of the original non-Caucasian fantasy heroes, Imaro, couldn't have his initial series published by Night Shade Books through all the way through and had to take the last two volumes self publishing. If you're one of the people who wants to see more inclusion in fiction and other mediums, you have to support it when it's available to start off with so guy buy a copy of Griots, a sword and soul anthology and speak with your wallet. Show your support with money, not internet posts talking about what you want. 

Is there a potential audience that they could be missing? As role playing games shrink in total, the potential buyers of any type shrink. Could more inclusive art reverse that? Well beyond my scope but...

I don't think that's what WoTC is betting on. I think WoTC is betting on, "We've bent over backwards to show how OSR like we are and how cool we are despite you know, not having any of the old artists or losing so many of the old writers but hey, OSR feel in the rules amirght?"

You want real inclusiveness? Get Charles Saunders to write a book for WoTC or Paizo. 

More importantly though, with the low cost to content creation, and the cost getting lower all the time, if you want to see something, if you rely on the corporations to bring it to you, you may be waiting a long time. Paizo makes good use of the OGL license and other people can build on that success or do material like Spears of the Dawn with a different take on things altogether.

All my own opinion and subject to change and be expanded upon as the topic goes back and forth. The internet is at best a poor substitute for 'real' communication.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Until Death Do Us Part Volume 1

I've heard noise in the 'Net that Amazon was trying to shake down a book publisher. Ironically, some of the things Amazon has been accused of, include NOT discounting the companies titles. You know, if you're relying on Amazon to discount your product to move it in the first place, you might be pricing it too high.

Anyway, I see that Barnes and Nobles and a few other companies are trying to 'take advantage' of this situation by offering huge discounts and other benefits like buy two, get one free. If they're not making profit from this maneuver, it's stupid. As has been shown, consumers who are buying online in the first place, don't have loyalty, they have price loyalty. If you're not making any money on the thought that these loss leaders will get people to stick with you online, you've already lost.

Again, anyway, one of the titles that Amazon in it's evilness does have on sale, is Until Death Do Us Part, volume 1. This is set in modern times that utilizes a lot of super tech and low psychic abilities, or at least the first volume does. For $2.99, I was more than willing to give it a read.

I dig the art style. I don't want to say 'standard manga', but well, it's not done in the humorous style and it's done in a manner that allows the high action to be told quickly and with lots of movement and energy so for me, it's fairly standard.

The story is also interesting. The wiki entry over here goes into it a bit more.

The main character, Mamoru Hijikata, is a modern day Zatoichi, a blind swordsman with his own sword cane. The writers make it a little more modern though, giving Mamoru glasses that allow him to 'see' things in grid patterns with no depth or detail but good enough to see people, buildings, and hell, even moving bullets. His katana? It's a mono-katana capable of cutting through almost anything with devastating precision. His initial purpose? He works for an organization of wealthy benefactors who themselves have suffered harm from criminal elements and have pooled their resources to fight crime with technology, but they are vigilantes.

By making the character blind, but competent with a katana, and limitations on his 'sight', the author creates a character with limitations but one whose martial appeal is strong. He's in part an underdog thanks to his limitations.

The whole benefactor angel makes for a great modern campaign. It allows for the Game Master to throw a variety of equipment into the campaign that shouldn't exist in the current era, but thanks to those advances funded with super wealth, are real toys for the characters.

The other main character, Haruka Tōyama, is a young woman who we initially see as a prisoner for a yakuza group that wants to exploit her psychic abilities. In this case, Haruka is able to see the future, or many futures, and find the path most likely to happen. When she meets Mamoru, she knows that he is the one who can free her from the Yakuza and that starts their relationship.

Mamoru's relationship with his organization puts him in contact with a lot of other people. Such a collective would be useful in role playing games as it could allow for new players and new characters to be brought in if old ones die or players have to leave the campaign for a while. The rotating cell nature allows for a lot of flexibility which is great for a campaign. 

One of the twists on the villains in the series, is that the organization 'Plunderers', are not out for lofty ideals, political change, or wealth, but are out for intellectual property. They too are out for the high tech of this near future world and it makes them dangerous.

If the other volumes ever come down in price or I feel like making a physical purchase, which given my limited space, I might be tempted to take advantage of Barnes & Nobles sale as I see they have the first six volumes.