Saturday, December 26, 2009

What am I reading?

It has been a very long time since I even finished a novel, let alone finished it in three days. For that reason alone, I have to recommend Old Man's War, the Hugo Award finalist in 2006 by John Scalzi. To say it was influenced by Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers would be a gross understatement since the novel is a virtual rewrite of the classic. However, if the plot is borrowed more-or-less intact, the universe envisioned by Scalzi is quite different. The galaxy is literally overflowing with life, while planets suitable to support it are rare. Thus competition is extreme among the various races seeking to claim some lebensraum for themselves. People of Earth are largely ignorant of life in the colonies, as indeed are most colonists. The real power lies in the hands of the Colonial Union and the Colonial Defense Force, the civilian and military branches of the authority responsible for administration of the colonies. Because they routinely engage in contact, both hostile and friendly (ok, mostly hostile), with the wider galactic community, the Union and the CDF have the most advanced technology. Earth is a backwater by comparison and the Union seems content to keep it that way.

They still need a steady supply of recruits, however, and they have a unique way of acquiring them. Humans who reach the age of 75 are allowed to sign up to the CDF, enticed with the implied, but not quite confirmed promise of a healthy, young body. After their tour, which may be from 2 to 10 years, they may muster out and settle down to live another lifetime as a colonist. They can never return to Earth, but for many, the trade-off is worth it.

Old Man's War was Scalzi's first novel and three more books in the same setting have been released, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe's Tale. They promise to reveal more of the motivations of the Colonial Union, which seems to be more than it appears. I will definitely be looking for the rest of the series.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar...yeah, go see it.

I'm not sure if there's any point to reviewing James Cameron's new blockbuster, since everyone is going to see it. If for no other reason, everyone will want to see what half a billion dollars buys these days. The visual effects are like nothing you have ever seen before. Take the best of The Lord of the Rings and turn it up by an order of magnitude. They are reason enough to see it on the big screen in all its 3D glory. Good thing, because there's not a lot else to recommend it. The characters are rather one dimensional, the tone is preachy and annoying (with an obvious visual shot at the Alberta oilsands) and it was as much fantasy as sci-fi with floating mountains and pseudo-magical effects. Still, Avatar is crystal meth for your eyes. If you don't see it in the theatre, you're missing out, big time.


Friday, December 18, 2009

What's wrong with game balance? Part 2

While I think that Game balance can go too far. I laughed when I saw this YouTube Video and since the old post was just that, I made a new one.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's wrong with game balance?

Spend any time in the "old-school" blogosphere and you will read plenty of reasons why modern versions of D&D are crap. Some criticisms are valid, some seem a tad contrived, but the only one I've seen that really seems completely out in left field is game balance. Apparently game balance is bad. Personally, I would have thought the desirability of game balance would be self-evident, but apparently not. I have strived to understand the argument, although I don't feel I'm there yet. However, I have acquired a few insights, so I thought I would write them down, in hopes that some old-school reader would further enlighten me. Some believe the pursuit of game balance places too much emphasis on combat. This is probably a fair criticism of D&D 4e in which the pursuit of combat balance has introduced a dreary, mechanical sameness to all the classes. For 3.x/Pathfinder, however, I'm just not buying it. The designers of these editions never attempted to make all classes equal in combat. Fighters and their ilk are clearly superior at low levels, while spellcasters (especially arcane spellcasters) have an undeniable advantage at higher levels. Yet, people still play rogues or clerics because they bring other talents to the game that are just as important as combat power. Having said that, few people want to play a character that is useless in combat and few groups want such a character in their party. So, some level of combat effectiveness is essential for all character classes.
Furthermore, the skills and feats in 3.5/Pathfinder make it easy to balance character classes based on criteria other than combat effectiveness. Rogues and rangers, for example, have a lot of skill points, relative to fighters and sorcerers. This makes these classes more versatile. The ranger can track and survive in the wilderness, has finely-honed senses and is fairly stealthy, giving him a lot of capabilities that the more combat-oriented fighter lacks. Likewise, the rogue has many options. He can concentrate on stealth, climbing and acrobatics and be a cat burglar. Alternatively, he can go for opening locks and disabling traps and be more of a safecracker. He can even specialize in forgery and bluff and be a con artist. This level of versatility certainly never existed in AD&D. Every thief had more-or-less the same skills as every other thief of the same level, with only minor racial variations.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Spelljammer was cool...there, I said it.

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about Spelljammer lately, that AD&D 2e campaign setting with space-faring orcs and interstellar mind flayers terrorizing the space lanes and battling the elven navy which strives to make the spheres safe for trade and exploration. It never really caught on back in the day and I suspect that's because no one knew quite what to do with it. I loved Spelljammer. The thought of beautiful elven man-o-war ships battling the menacing mind flayer nautiloids was simply awesome. It wasn't all cool, I'll grant you. Space hippos, the Giff, were pretty lame, as were the gnomish sidewheelers (indeed everything gnomish back then sucked, Spelljammer or not). Also, I felt some races, such as ogres and beholders, really had no business taking to the stars. Even the space orcs (Scro, get it, it's orcs backwards...lame) seemed out of place to me. The highly-organized and militaristic hobgoblins seemed a much better fit as the interstellar fascists. It would seem a fairly trivial effort to convert the best bits of Spelljammer to Pathfinder. Maybe the next time I find myself behind the screen, I will incorporate some Spelljammer elements into the game. Hmmmm, let me think....interstellar war between the mind flayers and the elven navy....things not going well for the elves....githyanki pirates....neogi slavers...a ghost ship....yeah, that's the stuff!


Friday, December 04, 2009

Axis and Allies Minis - Early War list

Finally, the official list for the much anticipated Axis and Allies Miniatures Early War set is posted over at the WotC forums. Here it is:

AUS U Carro Armato M11/39
BEL U Belgium Bicycle Troop
BEL C Belgium Infantry
BEL U Belgium Officer
BEL R T-13B3
FRA C Canon de 75 Modele 1897
FRA R Morane-Saulnier MS.406
FRA U P107 Half-Track
FRA R Somua S-35
GRE U Greek Cavalry
POL U Polish Officer
POL U TKS Ursus Tankette
POL C wz.36 37mm ATG
SA R Marmon Harrington Mk. II AC
SA C South African Infantry
SA R Valentine II
UK C BEF Infantrymen
UK R Cruiser Mk III A13
UK R Matilda II
UK U Morris Reconnaissance Car Mk 2
SOV U Mongolian Cavalry
SOV C Soviet Conscript
SOV R T-28
SOV U T-38 Light Amphibious Tank
FIN C Finnish Ski Troop
GER R Junkers JU 87B Stuka
GER U Kubelwagen V
GER C Motorized Schutzen
GER U Panzer IB
GER U Panzer II Ausf. F
GER R Panzer III Ausf. F
GER U Panzerjager I
GER R PzKpfw IV Ausf. A
GER U Sd Kfz 2 Motorcycle Half-Track
GER U Sd Kfz 231
ITA U Autoblinda AB 41
ITA C Cannone da 75/27 Modello 11
ITA R Semovente L40 da 47/32
JPN U Japanese Bicycle Troop
JPN U Jungle Spotter
JPN R Nakajima ki-43 "Oscar"
JPN R Type 89B Chi-Ro
JPN C Type 99 LMG
SLO U Motorcycle Recon
SLO R PzKpfw 38(t)

I would have to say the aircraft interest me the most. The early war Stuka, the MS.406, the Oscar and the MiG-1 will all be great additions to the game. Also nice to see them add a couple more Finnish units and the long-awaited Japanese spotter.

As far as reprints go, we're getting another Kubelwagen V (groan), another Morris Reconnaisance Car Mk.2 (groan), another Somua S-35 (may be ok with a better paint job than the last one), another Carro Armato M11/39 (a captured unit used by the Aussies, i.e. cool), a PzKpfw 38(t) (Slovakian, suck it, Czech Republic!) a Sd Kfz 231 (groan), another Matilda II (not Australian, despite the rumour) and another Valentine (South African Valentine II). As far as the Valentine goes, we've had a UK Val I and a Soviet Val VI. They looked like the same sculpt to me, so I'm guessing the South African Val II will be the same. Still, an interesting addition.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

First Thoughts: The Summoner

I am really digging the Summoner but I am rather worried it's just too good. I've only built test builds so far since they released it Monday instead of Friday. Without even looking at the summoner himself the eidolon is very strong. I built one at level 6, 10 and 14 since we usually cap out around 14. All are Quadrupeds

Level 6:
At level 6 he's a real monster. With large size and sinking a few points into more str you can get it up to 28. throw a few more points making the bite better and you get +15 to hit for 2d6+13 damage. Throw Power Attack, vital strike, and Improved natural attack (bite) in there at that is pretty ugly - +13 6d6+19. Only 55 hp but still pretty decent. That's excellent damage against CR6 mobs.

Level 10:
At level 10 the fun begins. Much the same as before but shift a few points from Str to Con, and add the Con poison. His physical stats are now 30/16/21. +20 to hit and 2d6+15 for damage. Again with power attack and Vital strike we have +17 6d6+24. Not a big difference but we now have a nasty poison that does 1d4 con damage every round. Add the ability focus feat and your poison has a DC of 22. Fairly tough for a CR 10 encounter.

Level 14:
At level 14 there is a bit of a problem. While huge size is tempting its often tough to drag a huge pet through a dungeon with you. Which is a shame since a huge critter continued from above is pretty awesome. It is made out of HPs (average 193) and a poison DC of 26. Around this point you start to fight lots of high fort save bad guys and I'm not sure if Poison is still a good way to go. I'm thinking a grappler might be better.

One of the things I dig the most about the Eidolon is you have the option to completely rebuild him every level. You can try out lots of different options to see which is most effective. Its fine to make the eidolon over specialized since its really only half your character and if you encounter a situation where your pet is useless you can just summon something else.

The transposition ability is great. The battlefield tactics it opens up are impressive. I'll probably try building up some humanoid eidolons tommorrow. I suspects that do even more damage.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Two Handed vs Two Weapon Fighting

As I fiddle with my back-up character (the last session came really close to a tpk) I have been investigating the differences between 2 handed and two weapon fighting.

Two Weapon Fighting
Pros: Looks cool. Good for many opponents with no DR and low AC. Exceeds damage of two handed style only at higher levels (14+). Many changes to land crit feats if you are using a high crit range weapon.
Cons: Requires a ton of feats to out perform 2-Handed. Requires both a high dex and high str to be effective. Lower chance to hit and low damage on each swing means DR is a problem. Only decent on a full attack.

Two Handed Fighting
Pros: Only need high str. Works best against 1 or 2 opponents. DR less of a problem. The Vital Strike feats make even attack standard actions good damage. Effective with few feats (Power Attack essential). Higher chance to hit for much bigger damage.
Cons: Large weapons cannot be used in a grapple/confined spaces. Fewer swings mean less chance to land critical hits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rippin' on Traveller

It loses steam near the end, but there's some funny stuff in Zack and Steve's latest bit. If you were ever a Traveller fan, some of this will make you laugh out loud.

Traveller art


The Night the World Walked Home

Ok so this is a gaming block but tonight was just too weird for it not be told somewhere.

Here is the breakdown of events:
16:30. Cold, Snowy. Windy. Buses backed up downtown. Wanting to catch the bus that will drop me off right at my door I began walking along the route looking for the 109.

16:45. I have walked about 4 or 5 blocks. The buses are not moving and I am getting cold so I hop on the first bus that will drop me off near my house. The 116. I brush the snow off myself and pop open my book.

17:30. The bus finally leaves the downtown core area going north on center street. Keep in mind I usually get home between 17:15 and 17:25. I am not too worried as this has happened before when they were doing some bridge work. Back then once we had left the core it was smooth sailing.

18:00. We have gotten as far as 16th avenue. For those of you that don't know Calgary, this is about a 15 minute walk from where we were 30 minutes ago. Traffic is not moving.

18:30. I have by this point read over 100 pages of my book and taken a 15 minute nap. The roads are literally ice. Cars are sliding everywhere and emergency vehicles are struggling to get by. Accidents are everywhere. We've passed two abandoned buses and there are lots of people on the side walks. The bus is roasting hot and has only moved a couple car lengths in the last 10 minutes. 4 of us at the back of the bus have had enough. One woman's husband tried to come get but discovered that the roads have been blocked off by the cops. There will be no rescue. We decide to walk.

I used to be a big runner and am built for it. Tall and thin. I do lots of walking and my pace is very fast. My wife hates hiking with me. I quickly lost the 4th person but the other 3 of us made good time as we marched north. Luckily the snow had stopped and it was actually quite nice out although still a bit cool.

19:00(approx.) We discover the source of the trouble. There is a big hill just before McKnight Blvd. Every single bus that had left the downtown area after 4pm was pulled over on the side of the road. None were moving. cars were smashed into each other and nothing was getting through. Why hadn't anyone told us this? We were now glad that we had decided to walk. It would be many many hours before any of the buses were going anywhere. There is a steady stream of people walking north. A few going south as well.

19:30(approx.) We run into another group of refugees, err I mean walkers. The guy I am walking with knows one of the women in the other group and stays to chat. The woman and I carry on.

20:00 We reach Beddington and the roads are now open. The woman calls her husband for a pick up (she lives in Coventry, the community north of where I live) and thanks me for walking her this far. She offers me a ride home but I decline. I can can catch a bus here to take me home but I decide to finish what I started. The night is lovely and I feel alive. The other walkers seem strangely content as well. I pick up the pace.

20:45 I get home. I even stopped at the liquor store near my house to pick up some Rum. I've had a carton of Eggnog for a week and it was getting lonely with out its wild and crazy pal.

So for some perspective I live just north of 96 Ave and I got off the bus around 30th Ave so I walked almost 70 city blocks in about 2 hours. Crazy fast. Extrapolating that out I estimate I could walk to work in about 3 hours. I think the total distance is 12-13km. Interesting since I had guessed that it would have taken 4+ hours before.

Anyway. I had a great walk home, met some interesting people, got lots of exorcise and got lots of fresh air. So despite all of the traffic misery I had a nice evening.

Not that I wish to repeat it anytime soon.

Oh Mongoose, I can't stay mad at you

Was it all a big understanding? Maybe. Anyway, Matthew Sprange has apologized:

Deepest apologies for that, it wasnt meant how it sounds (Canada is one of the places RPG publishers print if they don't go to China - only reason it was mentioned). The offending line has been removed.

We like Canada at Mongoose. We all want to live there. One of us does!

Ok, we're cool.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Screw you, Mongoose!

In his annual State of the Mongoose address, Matthew Sprange threw in this little nugget of economic nationalism:

We also made a promise this year that we would only be printing books in the US – not China, not Thailand, not even Canada, but the good old US of A.

Which has since been changed to:

We also made a promise this year that we would only be printing books in the US. Mongoose is part American, with offices and our main warehouse situated in Ohio and in these times of economic woe, we wanted to do ‘our bit’ to keep our own nations going, rather than feeding the Tiger Economies.


In truth, I didn't know Mongoose even printed books in Canada and had they not decided to pump up the "America First" crowd, I would likely have remained none the wiser. But they did, so screw you, Mongoose! I will continue to not buy any of your products, especially since you lost the distribution rights to CthulhuTech.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Rejoice! The embargo is lifted.

I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but there hasn't been many updates to the new releases page of the Sentry Box website this month. Before today, no new rpg products had been received since Nov.2. WotC, Catalyst, Paizo and Mongoose had all been "no shows" until today. Finally, someone has run the blockade and delivered our much-needed game supplies to us. At last, I can get my copy of Scavenger's Guide to Droids...and maybe a copy of Poo: The Card Game.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The seal is broken.

I love cool miniatures and I am an obssessive collector. The only way I can resist throwing myself into the many awesome minis out there is to never start buying anything. Sometimes sticker shock is enough to keep me at bay. This is why I never leapt into Warhammer. Other times, it requires sheer force of will. Most of the time, my interest fades over time or the quality of the product becomes so atrocious, I just can't justify the expense anymore (talking to you, WotC). But there is always a shiny new hotness from which I just can't stay away. And so, I come to AT-43 (You bastards!). I did it. I walked through the door. I broke the seal. Rackham did what Games Workshop and Wiz Kids could not. They hooked me. May God have mercy on my soul.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Magic item creation in D&D and other strangeness...

The manufacture and trade of magic items in D&D has always been problematic for designers of the game, at least it appears so to me. In 1e/2e AD&D, the demands that had to be met to make magic items made them prohibitive. XP expenditures and permanency spells ensured that no PC would ever make a magic item. In the two decades that I played these editions, not once did I ever see a single magic item produced. As a DM, this was troubling for me. After all, I had to assume the same disincentives that apply to PC magic-users would also work on NPCs. Aside from the XP costs, which no red-blooded adventuring spellcaster would tolerate, magic-users and clerics have a virtual monopoly on magical power in a world where magic items are scarce. Why would they jeopardize that priviledged position? True, there would be exceptions. Liches, for instance, have all the time in the world. They could probably find time in their busy schedules to forge a few magic blades for use by their minions. Also, there would likely be a few potent items created at the behest of powerful nobles who have the authority to demand such items from their magic-wielding courtiers. However, this doesn't seem to be enough supply to furnish the multitude of +1 longswords circulating within most D&D campaign worlds.

D&D 3.5 included a somewhat more complete set of rules for magic item creation. Some items, such as scrolls and potions, could be created by low-level spellcasters and the XP costs for such items was low enough to entice at least some non-adventuring NPCs to give it a try. The permanency spell requirement for permanent magic items was dropped, however XP costs were still involved and the same disincentive was there. Supply should still be miniscule in comparison to demand. Further adding to the problem was the weird D&D economics of magic items. It costs half the list price of a magic item to make it and you get half the list price of a magic item when you sell it. So, there is literally no profit margin at all and no compensation whatsoever for the days or weeks it takes to make magic items. Obviously, a DM who wants some sort of commerce in magic items could step in and rationalize the magic item economy, but a game that has such clear and complete rules on so many other aspects of adventuring life seems to have a curious blindspot as far as the magic economy is concerned.

Pathfinder made some progress in making sense of the magic item creation system. The biggest and most far-reaching change is the eradication of the XP cost. I have seen more magic item creation in the last year as we started playing Pathfinder than in my previous quarter-century of playing D&D. The availability of magic items for purchase has also been tackled. In D&D 3.5, it was a free-for-all. Adventurers would return from their dungeon crawls loaded down with perfectly suitable magic items, but knowing they could buy any item they wanted at Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, they would happily liquidate their massive hauls to get that +2 flaming burst keen greatsword for which they'd been pining. Those days are past. The availability of powerful magic items for sale on the open market has been dramatically reduced. If a character wants a particular item, he must acquire it through adventuring, commission its construction from a willing spellcaster or make it himself. And make it, we do. Now we happily liquidate our massive hauls in order to buy the raw materials needed to make the items we want. Item creation feats, once seen as pointless rule bloat, are now highly desirable. Still, the irrational economics of the magic item trade have not been abandoned. It is still not possible to make a living making magic items. Maybe in some future Pathfinder supplement, they will finally correct this oversight.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pathfinder campaign - moral crisis grips the team

Our new campaign is heating up. We have Damius, the sorcerer with a taint on his soul, Alphonso, the pure-hearted paladin with a strange past, Haer, the bard on a slippery slope of moral decay, Shadowstalker, the elven ranger who is drawn to human cities as a moth to a flame and Mugden, the brooding cleric of the god of death. We find ourselves entangled with a nascent rebel movement in the decaying city of Westcrown, former capital of Cheliax, the empire of devils.

So here we are, facing the first internal crisis in our new campaign. We have uncovered an amulet, which our paladin has determined to be some sort of evil magic item. Our "morally-flexible" bard has informed us that the item is a "brain cylinder", a device which stores a human mind. He goes on to tell us that the mind is probably imprisoned and that there is a way to free it. The sorcerer, no genius to be sure, wants to destroy the item, figuring the trapped mind will simply move on to its just reward. Although the sorcerer has little reason to trust him, the bard is almost supernaturally persuasive and no one else has any means of verifying the bard's conclusion. The bard seeks to take the item for a couple of days so as to facilitate his intentions for it, whatever they may ultimately be and no one can come up with a suitable justification to argue otherwise. Is this the start of the eventual unravelling of the group? We shall see.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

What am I reading? The Black Company

This book lived up to its reputation and I quite enjoyed it. Unlike most of the books sitting in my "To be Read" pile this one doesn't clock in at over 700 pages but a much more manageable 320. I love reading big books but I've noticed a tend that fantasy books are increasing in length. 300 pages is a good size, I don't want to read a monster each time.
The book is written from the point of view of a single character which seemed a bit odd at first but I got used to it pretty quickly and it works well. I knew something of the plot going in and elements that I expected to be a bit cheesy worked just fine for me - even the silly wizard duels. All of the characters are painted in lovely shades of grey. Even the "good guys" in this book are black hearted villains. The only character that can be described as an innocent has a future foreshadowed. This future will obviously play a big role in future books and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for them.
I've got work to do so I'm just going to sum it up by saying that I really enjoyed it and look forward to borrowing the rest of the series.

Power to the Droids

Next Tuesday, the Scavenger's Guide to Droids makes its long-awaited debut and if early reviews over at the SWSE forums are any indication, it has the potential to be one of the best supplements yet. Droid characters are getting a complete overhaul. Different droid types, like astromech droids, medical droids, battle droids, are being presented as races. This sounds interesting. In the past, droid statblocks included a statement as playable or non-playable. It tended to be rather arbitrary and not always very intuitive. I don't know how the new rules will play out, but the thought of playing a droideka (previously verboten) will be sure to excite every red-blooded Star Wars fan. Sentry Box, here I come.


By the way, fan support from WotC for the Star Wars RPG is reaching new lows. Less than a week before a new release and there is still no mention of this product on the website, except from fans in the forums. Fans have to get their info from I'm beginning to think rather than seeing a new edition of the game next year, they may simply stop publishing new products, the d20 Modern model of product line support.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest we forget...

Heartfelt thank you to all Canadian servicemen and servicewomen, past and present, who sacrifice so much for the freedoms we enjoy. You are all heroes.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Pathfinder playtests coming soon!

Oh happy day, new Pathfinder character classes are being revealed by Paizo for playtesting. The cavalier and the oracle start on Friday, followed later by the summoner, witch, alchemist and inquisitor. I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl.


Another "New School" myth

Wouldn't you know it, just when I start talking about what I consider to be misconceptions about modern versions of D&D within the "old school" community, the Grand Poobah of that community, James Maliszewski of Grognardia, starts talking ability scores and what role they should play in D&D. I have never played the original game called D&D. In fact, I have never even seen a copy in person (although I've heard there is a complete set in the special collections of the Miskatonic University library). So imagine my surprise to learn that once upon a time, Str meant nothing in the game. That's right, if Conan the Barbarian and Wesley Crusher both whacked you with a sword in OD&D, the result would be the same. Now, JM has some issues with OD&D and ability scores (though oddly not with the aforementioned), but he doesn't want ability score benefits to dominate level benefits as he apparently believes to be the case with newer editions of D&D. I will concede, this was the case to some extent with AD&D, although I don't personally take issue with fighters having exceptional strength benefits other classes don't. Still, this discrimination has been addressed to a significant degree in 3.5/Pathfinder, both through the use of multiclassing and feats. For example, you have a wizard and you want him to be a passable swordsman. Obviously, he won't be on par with a dedicated fighter of similar level, but that doesn't mean he can't hold his own against a few orcs. He can take a level of fighter. It costs him a bit in terms of casting ability, but he gains proficiency with a whole slew of weapons. Maybe he's not very strong, but maybe he has a high Dex. Ok, take the weapon finesse feat and use a light weapon such as a short sword or rapier. Voila! Now he can use his Dex bonus instead of this Str bonus on attack rolls. Of course, I haven't even touched on the spells the wizard has at his disposal to improve his combat prowess, such as bull's strength, cat's grace, heroism, haste and rage. With so many options, there is virtually no character concept that can't be accommodated using the 3.5/Pathfinder ruleset.


"New School" myths

The tabletop RPG blogosphere seems to be dominated by proponents of "old school" gaming. I have a theory about this. First of all, WotC and Paizo provide online forums for fans of 4e and 3.5/Pathfinder respectively, thus diminishing the need for fan sites to provide that sense of community. Secondly, the demographic of old-school fans is probably older than the average of the rpg community and in the age of Twitter and Facebook, weblogs are probably seen as a bit old-fashioned. Younger gamers probably prefer these more up-to-date social networking options.

Now, since I am a "new school" greybeard, I have a foot in both worlds. I like to read what the old-timers have to say (cuz I was there, man!), but the games themselves have limited appeal. I'm a bit of a power gamer. I freely admit it and I don't apologize for it. Old school gaming just doesn't offer the cornucopia of chargen options that I can get with 3.5/Pathfinder and there is nothing a power gamer loves more than character options. Now, I don't begrudge the old-school folks their preferences, but I have noticed some misconceptions circulating within their community that may be colouring their opinions. I don't seek to change anyone's mind, I'm just telling it like it is.

First off, not putting any ranks into a particular skill doesn't mean you can't use said skill. There are exceptions (mainly knowledge skills), but most skills, such as Swim, Climb, Stealth, Bluff, Intimidate and Diplomacy, can be used untrained. Of course, an untrained character will be less skilled than a trained one, but that is how it works in the real world, so why should it be any different in the game world? Also, being required to use a skill untrained encourages creativity on the part of the character because they will seek out ways to improve their chances of success. For example, someone untrained in Diplomacy might offer a gift or favour to an NPC in hopes that will improve his chance of success. Another character unskilled in Climb will make a habit of carrying around a knotted rope or a hammer and spikes.

Another criticism I read recently is that characters cannot be generated on the fly. Now it's true that guys like me spend a fair amount of time on character generation, but that's because it's fun and challenging, not because it's necessary. It is entirely possible for a veteran player to create a character in 5 or 10 minutes, after making a couple of decisions on your character concept. For example, I want to create a 5th level melee fighter. Okay, first is ability scores. In 3.5/Pathfinder, there are several options for generating ability scores, but your DM has already made that decision. If he makes you roll them, then roll. It's the same as older versions of D&D. On the other hand, if he wants a point buy system (which is what we use), chances are you've already got a favourite set of numbers. 20 point buy? I like 16,14,12,12,11,10. The 16 goes on Str, the 14 on Con, the 12s on Dex and Wis and the 10 and 11 on Int and Cha. Saves and attack bonuses take a few seconds to look up. Feats may seem daunting, but after playing the game for awhile, you learn which ones are worth it and which ones aren't. I give my fighter weapon focus, power attack, cleave, weapon specialization, iron will, toughness and blind-fight. Are these the feats I would select if I spent more time on the character? Not necessarily, but they are commonly known to be good choices for my character concept, so they can be chosen quickly. Skills are easy, since fighters have few skill points and few choices anyway. I'll take Climb, Swim and Intimidate, maximum ranks. All I have left to do is equip my character. Sure, this part takes a bit of time, but it takes time in every version of D&D I've ever played. Of course, spellcasters will need a bit more time, due to spell selection, but again, this is no different from older versions of D&D.


Monday, November 09, 2009

The doom that came to White Wolf

Wow, I had no idea White Wolf had fallen so far. Using terms like "imprint" and "legacy business" to describe a company that was, at one time, a serious competitor for WotC/TSR is stunning. While it's sad to see any tabletop rpg publisher fall on hard times, I have absolutely no attachment to White Wolf at all. I'm just glad it didn't happen to a company that makes products I care about, like Paizo or Catalyst Game Labs.


Friday, November 06, 2009

"Defiance" has finally dawned

I first took notice of the Dawn of Defiance adventure path on the Star Wars Saga Edition website back in March '08. At the time, the first three installments were already available and I seriously considered running the campaign at that time under the ridiculous notion that future installments would be released at reasonable intervals. It's a good thing I didn't since the 10th and final installment only just became available a couple of weeks ago. Considering how quickly we ran through Age of Worms last year, we would have spent a lot of time twiddling our thumbs if we went through DoD instead.


Edit: Obiri set me straight. It's been over two years since we finished AoW. When you reach my advanced age, it's hard to keep these things straight. All events since the Battle of Waterloo seem like they just happened yesterday.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Rippin' on Warhammer 40k, pt.3

The second half of Zack and Steve's beatdown of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Blast from the past - Star Frontiers

From 1981, when I first started playing D&D, until 1989, when I went away to grad school and became exposed to a wider world of RPGs, there was basically only one game publisher for me. Despite a brief dalliance with the Space Opera game by Fantasy Games Unlimited, I was a tried-and-true TSR fan. AD&D was our game of choice, but we did try some other TSR products, namely Gamma World and Star Frontiers. The former seemed a bit silly to me and my gaming buddies and we quickly shelved it, but the latter was a frequent diversion from our usual weekend AD&D game.

First published in 1982, the original boxed set, called Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn consisted of a 60 pg. rulebook and the complete module, SF0: Crash on Volturnus. Despite its small package, the original game is remarkably complete, with an elegant ruleset. It lacked rules for spaceships and ship-to-ship combat, but those would be introduced the following year in the Star Frontiers Knight Hawks boxed set.

There were four player races in the original Star Frontiers game, Humans, amorphous Dralasites, insectoid Vrusk and simian Yazirians. These races have seen a recent resurrection in the d20 Future supplement to the d20 Modern game from WotC. A fifth NPC race, the vermiform Sathar, represent the main villains in the game. The game uses a percentile, skill-based system. There are 13 skills, divided into three primary skill areas (PSAs). The skills are as follows:

Military PSA
beam weapons
gyrojet weapons
melee weapons
projectile weapons
thrown weapons
martial arts

Technical PSA

Biosocial PSA

Players would choose a PSA for their character, which would allow for more rapid advancement in the associated skills..

There are 8 abilities in the game which are generated in pairs. For example, strength and stamina are rolled together, although after that first stage, they can be advanced individually. The other ability pairs are dexterity and reaction speed, intuition and logic and personality and leadership.

Besides skills and abilities, XPs can also be spent on special abilities of the alien races. For example, Dralasites have the ability to detect lies and XPs can be spent to improve that.

In 1985, the game underwent a radical reboot with the publication of Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space. It changed the rules quite dramatically and introduced several new player character races. Unfortunately, two more books were in the works, but never got published and so, the new version of the game was never completed. Thus, diehard fans of the game insist, the original Star Frontiers is the real Star Frontiers.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Five for fighting

Several iconic monsters from D&D 3.5 have undergone significant revisions in the Pathfinder Bestiary. Here are the top five:

5. Outsiders - There have been lots of changes to the various classifications of outsiders, although the capabilities of most of them seem relatively unchanged. The terms baatezu and tanar'ri have been abandoned, thus removing the last vestiges of the demon/devil controversy. Kytons (chain devils), which weren't true devils anyway, have now been removed from the ranks of devilry completely and given their own entry. The celestials have also undergone a reorganization. The eladrins have been renamed as azata and lillends have been added to that group, along with the ghaeles and the bralanis, while guardinals seem to have disappeared completely. Perhaps the latter will reappear in later books (assuming anybody cares).

4. Drow - There are now two flavours of Drow, the garden-variety dark elves and the new and improved Drow Nobles. The latter possess all the abilities of standard drow, but enjoy higher spell resistance and greater attribute bonuses. They also have more spell-like abilities.

3. Zombies - Are you bored with plain old zombies? Now there are fast zombies and plague zombies to raise the tension level.

2. Dragons - The most iconic of all D&D monsters have been pumped up with a bunch of new abilities. For example, ancient blue dragons can use their breath weapon to create lightning storms, while old black dragons develop an acidic bite.

1. Tarrasque - From its very earliest AD&D days, the tarrasque has been the ultimate monster, nearly impossible to kill. Well now, that line from nearly impossible to just plain impossible has been crossed. There is no known way to kill a tarrasque.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.7

After the disappointment I felt towards Damnation View, the most recent sourcebook of the CthulhuTech game, my enthusiasm for future releases was greatly diminished. Happily, I didn't give up on the game because I am pleased with the new book, Mortal Remains. The new release is much more like a traditional sourcebook than Damnation View. It has tons of useful information and crunchy goodness. By far, the best part is the large section on all things Migou. There are new mechs, new weapons, new magic and rules for creating Migou characters for people who really want an intense role-playing experience. There is also lots of interesting fluff on Migou life, history and motivations. All told, there are about 45 pages dedicated to the Migou. This is good, since the rest of the book, which contains large, fluffy sections on the New Earth Government and the Nazzadi, is pretty weak. Oddly, the adventures which made up the bulk of Damnation View, are almost completely absent in Mortal Remains. Only about ten pages at the back of the book are dedicated to adventure hooks and there are no full adventures at all.


OT: Halloween was less busy than past years, as one would expect because of the swine flu. We tried a couple of times to get our yard apes vaccinated, but the queues were just too damned long. This whole vaccination program has been a massive clusterf*ck!

Friday, October 30, 2009

What am I reading? Gardens of the Moon

I've been seeing Erikson's books in the stores for years and most seem to have pretty cool looking covers. I was over at a friends house a week ago and we were talking books. Gardens of the moon was one that caught my attention and he mentioned that he'd never been able to finish it, although he got about 80% through it. Well I did get through it and here what I have to say about it.

This is a very ambitious novel. It doesn't take long to see what the author has planned. He sets up 5 or 6 different plots and then runs them into each other at high speeds for an explosive finale. This is both good and bad. A good element is that it builds great tension. After a while you can see how the plots are going to come together but how its going to end is anyone's guess.

There are however, a lot of things wrong with this though some of it can be blamed on the authors style. Each plot have several main characters, many of which are somewhat similar to each other making tracking what's going on very difficult.

Another fault of the author is that he explains very little. There is a ton of history and background for this setting and very little of it is explained. The magic system is rather unique and very complicated.

I kept wondering if it really was the first in the series. It felt more like a third or fourth book where the setting, background and any unique features to it had already been explained.

This book is over flowing with cool ideas but organized in a way that makes many of the incomprehensible and meaningless. New characters keep getting introduced before you've managed to get the current ones straight. The characters are interesting but there are too many of them. They often have diametrically opposed goals and its hard to figure out who to cheer for.

I liked most of the mundane characters and their mundane plot lines. I can follow the bits about revenge, love and duty. Where I got lost is when he starts talking about magic, gods, soul shifted insane puppets, and ancient monsters.

Overall, I have to say I'm disappointed. After a huge buildup parts of the climax failed to deliver. Too much of the book didn't work for me and unless someone comes along and tells me its gets better I'm not sure I will continue with the series. I liked the war theme but there was just too much left unexplained for me to continue.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.6

Today is my birthday, a characteristic I evidently share with James "Grognardia" Maliszewski (although I am 4 years older). It is unlikely JM reads this blog (or is even aware of it), but if you are reading James, Happy Birthday! Anyway, as if on cue, the much-awaited Pathfinder Bestiary arrived at my FLGS this very day. Grasping a handful of shekels generously provided by my family for this very purpose, I headed downtown and bought myself a copy. The Pathfinder Bestiary delivers everything we've come to expect from Paizo. The artwork is, for the most part, top-rate and in some cases, truly outstanding. All the important monsters are presented, except for the well-known non-OGL creations like the beholder and the mind flayer. There are some surprises. Some monsters have undergone significant changes in appearance (the troll being the most significant) or design (the ogre mage is now an oni, a type of outsider). There are also a few new monsters. One in particular had me picking my jaw up off the floor, that being the SHOGGOTH! Holy crap! An iconic Cthulhu Mythos monster is in there. My first question is, "How did that happen?" Chaosium is notoriously protective of its rights to the Mythos. Did this just slip past or is it indicative of some sort of arrangement that may allow future Mythos entries into the Pathfinder campaign setting? You cannot imagine my excitement if it turns out to be the latter.

I do have a couple of minor complaints. There is precious little in there on playing monstrous races such as gnolls as PCs. This is certainly something that can be adapted from D&D 3.5, but it does some odd that the designers don't seem to feel this is a priority for players. The other obvious omission is advancement guidelines for monsters. Again, this is easily adapted from 3.5, but I don't understand the reason for leaving it out. Still, despite these minor issues, the Pathfinder Bestiary is excellent. Go out and buy it.


One more thing, the medusa is hotter than the succubus. That just ain't right. Also, dryads apparently now wear Prada.

Edit: Upon further reading, I see that monster advancement rules are to be found in the appendices and they seem pretty similar to those in D&D 3.5.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nooo. Not THAC0

So I tossed out the idea of running a PbP to my gaming buddies a couple weeks ago. Something to fill up the 13 or so days between our regular play sessions. Originally I had an idea of what I was going to do but as I started to plan it out and looked through some of my resources I decided on something a bit different.

Anywho, I planned to run it with the Pathfinder rules. With no battle mat nor miniatures, combat was going to be somewhat subjective to my whims as DM. Rognar suggested that I might look into something more rules lite like Labyrinth Lord or any of the other first edition clones.

I like free so I downloaded a copy of Labyrinth Lord and looked through it. It was very much like my much beloved Red and Blue boxed sets from so long ago. With a bit of work I could run the PbP with these rules.

Now the point of this post is that possibly changing the rules has got me thinking how it would change the game. The initial plot hook wouldn't change. Since the path to the "dungeon" was going to be largely role playing based, I don't see this part changing much either. The biggest change I can see is some of the cool encounters I had been dreaming up. With no grapple rules, one of my custom beasties won't be nearly as scary (although I think I can still make it work). With no skill rules, I am going to have put more thought into how the PCs can overcome certain obstacles that they are almost assuredly going to encounter.

I don't think the NPCs will change drastically. Sure the stat blocks would have little in common but since I haven't created any of them yet no loss there.

It would be interesting to run a 1st edition game. It has probably almost 20 years since I have. Who knows, with fewer rules and systems to deal with it might even improve the PbP experience.

I have just realized that THAC0 is a second edition term but the mechanic would still work in first edition so I am leaving the post title alone.

Kobold Quarterly, it's no Dragon

I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with Dragon magazine since the early 80s. I would subscribe for a couple of years, let my subscription lapse, forget about it for a few years, then notice a glossy new issue at my FLGS and re-subscribe. I held a subscription when WotC pulled the license from Paizo and went digital. That's when we parted company for good. I don't like to read stuff online and I wasn't switching to 4e anyway, so Dragon had nothing more to offer me. I still like a little light gaming read when I'm in the bathroom or lying in bed late at night, so I picked up Kobold Quarterly 10 last week to give it a look. It's certainly not as colourful or well-illustrated as Dragon and being a quarterly, rather than a monthly publication means it would never be able to satisfy all my light reading needs, but I felt I'd give it a try. Sadly, I found, upon perusal, that KQ is trying to be all things to all people. It covers D&D 3.x and 4 as well as Pathfinder. From what I can tell, the decision to include 4e is a recent one and not a very popular one either. Given that WotC already has a house organ for 4e, I can understand 3.x fans would be upset that KQ has decided to include articles for the new edition. In any case, I gave them a try, but I have no desire to pay for 4e content. Kobold Quarterly will not become my new Dragon.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eclipse Phase chargen - third stage

As noted in the previous post, Ravel is sleeved in an Exalt morph. Basically, he is a genetically-modified human. His morph gives him +5 COG as well as +5 in three other aptitudes chosen by the player. I will increase his SAV, REF and COO by +5 each. All skills based on the improved aptitudes are also increased by +5. As an aside, it is helpful to keep track of what aptitude and skill bonuses you received from your morph, since at a later time you may be resleeved into another morph which may provide different bonuses.

Ravel has a total of 270 Rep points (50 for free, 220 purchased with CPs) to divide up among his reputation networks. He divides them up as follows:

Hypercorps (c-Rep) 80
Autonomists (@-Rep) 80
Firewall (i-Rep) 80
Criminal (g-Rep) 30

At this point, all that remains is to purchase equipment, including upgrades to the morph.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Eclipse Phase chargen - second stage

Characters get 1000 customization points (CPs) to spend on skills and other character aspects, such as morph, starting wealth and reputation. A minimum of 400 must be spent on active skills and 300 on knowledge skills, but I will spend 500 on active skills. Skills can be bought up at a cost of 1 CP per point up to 60 and 2 CP per point from 61 to 80 (the starting maximum). The base level for each skill is the relevent aptitude plus any bonuses derived from background and morph. So, from the list of active skills, 500 CPs buys the following:

Networking: Hypercorps 70
Networking: Autonomists 60
Networking: Firewall 60
Networking: Criminals 40
Persuasion 70
Infosec 65
Infiltration 65
Interfacing 60
Pilot: groundcraft 40
Fray 45
Perception 80
Freefall 30
Freerunning 30
Investigation 70
Protocol 30
Beam weapons 30
Kinetic weapons 30

From this, you can see Ravel places a high priority on interpersonal skills. In particular, his networking and persuasion skills are quite impressive. He's also quite skilled at dealing with information systems and computer security and is a very perceptive person. On the other hand, his combat skills are not impressive, so he tends to keep his head down when the bullets start flying.

From the list of knowledge skills, the following:

Language: English 85 (native speaker)
Language: Mandarin 70
Language: Russian 50
Art: writing 50
Academics: computer science 60
Academics: cryptography 50
Academics: psychology 60
Academics: mathematics 45
Profession: security ops 50

Ravel is a native English-speaker, although his Mandarin is nearly flawless and he's quite fluent in Russian. He also has a background in several fields related to his professional competencies and he dabbles in a bit of creative writing from time to time.

I spend the remaining 200 CPs as follows:

Exalt (30 CPs)

Positive Traits:
Adaptability (20 CPs)
Fast Learner (10 CPs)
First Impression (10 CPs)
Situational Awareness (10 CPs)

220 Rep points (22 CPs)

5 Moxie points (75 CPs)

23,000 credits (23 CPs)


Eclipse Phase chargen - first stage

Character generation in Eclipse Phase is no trivial undertaking, so it is fortunate that character death is rarely permanent. Throwing together a character on the fly is simply not an option. I decided to share my first chargen experience to illustrate the process.

The character's name is Ravel Pasternak, he is a spy working on behalf of Extropian interests in a Hypercorp city-state on Mars. He is also an agent of Firewall.

The first step is selection of a background. I have chosen to make Ravel a native-born Martian. This gives him a +10 Pilot: Groundcraft, +20 Networking: Hypercorps and +10 to any technical, academic or profession skill. I chose Infosec. As stated previously, Ravel serves the Extropian faction, which gives +10 Persuasion, +10 Networking: Hypercorps and +10 Networking: Autonomists.

The next step, I have 105 points to divide up among 7 aptitudes, which are cognition (COG), coordination (COO), intuition (INT), reflexes (REF), savvy (SAV), somatics (SOM) and willpower (WIL). The default for each is 15 points, but Ravel is involved in information gathering, so he needs an edge in interpersonal skills and information technology. I make his SAV and COG 20 each. As a trade off, I drop his COO and REF by 5 each. He's not quite as naturally agile and dextrous as the average transhuman, but he will be able to compensate with his skill selection and benefits derived from his morph.

My base aptitude scores are: COG 20, COO 10, INT 15, REF 10, SAV 20, SOM 15, WIL 15.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Rippin' on Warhammer 40k, pt.2

With the recent release of Rogue Trader RPG by Fantasy Flight Games, it's appropriate that Zack and Steve should turn their attention to the original Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So, what's on your iPod?, pt.4

The late 70s/early 80s was a very influential time for me. My life-long tabletop rpg addiction began then, as did my love for British metal. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motorhead still dominate my music collection. The thing was, back then everyone liked those bands. That's why I had a special place in my heart for Saxon. It wouldn't be fair to say nobody was listening to Saxon back then, but among my circle of friends and acquaintances, I was the only one who really knew the band. So, I was especially saddened when Saxon started to decline in the mid-80s. Like with rpgs, golden age cool was giving way to silver age suck, eventually giving us grunge and "storytelling" games (my apologies to Nirvana and/or White Wolf fans but I'm old, so get off my lawn). Imagine my sheer, untarnished joy when Saxon came out with a truly great album in 2007! The Inner Sanctum is a return to the awesome sound of early Brit metal and to my youth.


Yo, West End Games, what up?

The glorious resurrection of West End Games was the talk of the gaming world a few months ago. They had a shiny new product called Septimus, even including softcover print copies for sale at GenCon. They had a new business model, the Opend6 project. They started releasing old d6 products as free pdf downloads. It seems now, however, all that momentum has melted away. If you want a dead tree copy of Septimus, you have to order one of the softcover copies left over from GenCon, since the hardcover version intended for retail still hasn't shipped. The Opend6 website still hasn't been activated and some of the d6 products intended to be released for free have not yet been made available.

Regarding Septimus, it is a game setting that fills the same niche as Eclipse Phase by Catalyst Game Labs (an awesome game with an awesome setting) and Fadings Suns by RedBrick and Holistic Design (a mediocre game with an awesome setting) as well as games like CthulhuTech, Dark Heresy and Traveller to a lesser extent. Suffice to say, there is some stiff competition out there. WEG can't afford to be perceived as a fly-by-night operation.

Oh, one more thing. Please WEG, do something about the website. Your average cat blog looks better.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Gaming makes you think

I am simultaneously working on the perfect combination of options to build a potent fighting mage and pondering how technology will impact human evolution in the future (yeah, slow day at work). What other hobby demands such mental flexibility? Be proud, brothers!


Random Thoughts on Transhumanism

I recently bought a dead tree copy of Eclipse Phase and it has gotten me to thinking about the future more than any game purchase I've ever made. The basic premise of the game is the concept of transhumanism, the use of technology to advance the human mind and body. In the game, the mind (called the "ego") is decoupled from the body. The ego can be stored, uploaded and transmitted at will. The body is little more than a mobile storage device. If the body dies, it can be replaced. The body doesn't even have to be flesh and bone, it can be robotic. It can even be a nanoswarm. This concept raises a lot of questions about identity and social constructs. It is just a game, of course, so certain assumptions are made for the sake of playability, but it is thought-provoking.

One thing I have been pondering is the question of sanity. How would a human mind deal with being "resleeved" (the game term for being downloaded into a new body or "morph") into a synthetic body? Would it drive that mind insane? Is it even possible for a consciousness stored in a synthetic matrix to be afflicted by mental disorders? After all, brain chemistry is often at the root of most mental disorders. How would an ego perceive the world differently in a digital versus an organic form? I guess the designers of synthetic brains would have to recreate the human brain to a very high level, even to the point of producing electronic analogs of serotonin, dopamine and other brain chemicals that affect how the mind perceives the world.

Speaking of perception, what about human senses? Do all humans perceive a particular shade of blue the same way? Presumably, we could measure the frequency of the electrical impulses moving along the optic nerve when a person is looking at a particular colour and then reproduce it in a synthetic system, but do all human minds interpret that particular frequency the same way? Does it even matter, as long as the frequency is the same? What about more exotic morphs such as nanoswarms? It's hard to imagine being able to recreate human sensory input in such a radically different physical form.


Still more on the "Gish"

Derobane-bane offered up quite a comment to my most recent post on this subject (perhaps it should have been a new post). I will endeavor to address some of his points. First of all, there is this:

I'm not sure if one could make a 'gish' as effective (in terms of game combat mechanics)as Vendalin in Pathfinder. 3.5 was pretty easy to manipulate with all the extra sources out there. Still, I'm sure that one could make a PC that is almost as awesome as a fighter and spellcaster of equal level, given enough time and thought.

There is something to consider about Pathfinder that is different from D&D 3.5 which tends to work in favour of the gish concept at the expense of straight up melee classes and that is the relative availability of magic items for purchase. In Pathfinder, the maximum value of items available for purchase in a metropolis is 16,000 gp. That is equivalent to a +4 armour bonus before adding in the cost of the armour itself. Therefore, high-level fighters will have to find their magic weapons and armour in the treasure hoards of defeated foes or cajole their spellcasting comrades to make them. For this reason, I think the fighter with the +5 full plate, +5 heavy shield, +5 ring of protection and +5 amulet of natural armour is probably a thing of the past. So, the difference in AC between a gish and a fighter of equal level will probably not be as great. Of course, the fighter will still have a ton of hps, but he also has that low Will save and as we all know, smart opponents will always try to charm or dominate the enemy meat shield.

Another issue in gish creation is which sort of arcane spellcaster to chose. I have gone with sorcerer for one main reason, the bloodline benefits. Abyssal and Draconic bloodlines both provide some very useful benefits for a melee fighter. I chose Abyssal mainly because the bonus spells at lower level were more appealing, especially bull's strength, rage and stoneskin. At higher levels, the Draconic bloodline gives you the various form of the dragon spells, but getting there basically means you have to go with the sorcerer class all the way (in which case, you aren't really a gish).

The main drawback of choosing sorcerer is that there are effectively no dump stats. First of all, you need Cha since your spellcasting is based on it. Some of your bloodline bennies also use Cha. Of course, you need Str, Con and Dex for their combat benefits. That leaves Int (which you need for the Spellcraft skill to make magic items) and Wis (for Will saves). Int probably comes closest to being a dump stat in this case, but you will soon find yourself wishing it was at least 10. A wizard could choose Cha as his dump stat, but as handy as that might be, it doesn't come close to counterbalancing bloodline benefits. Sorcerer is the way to go.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wheel of Time Bah!!!

Well this was going to be a victory post celebrating the release of book 12 to the Wheel of time finally bringing to end the highly enjoyable but extremely bloated series the Robert Jordan started about 20 years ago and that I've been reading and rereading for almost as long.

As I was perusing Amazon I saw that the book was finally going to be released October 27th but a bit more searching has turned up only disappointment. The actual release date is November 3rd which is not big deal. My real issue is that its not really book 12 - the end. Apparently book 12 is so bloated (no surprise considering the insane amount of story arcs that need to be resolved) that it has been split into three parts. So its not really a 12 part series if book twelve is 3 parts long is it?

So it will be another 2 years before the ghost writer finishes the final book(s).

Anyway, here's a quick review of the different books in the series.

Book 1: Great book. The ending is a bit of a head scratcher but the rest of the book is so good I didn't care. Many people are critical of the way he writes the female characters but I didn't have any issues with it.

Book2: One of the best in the series.

Book3: Not one of my favorites but still very good.

Book4: Most people that I talk to agree this is the best book in the series. It's a bit odd in that it ignores most of the main characters and really only focuses on a single story arc.

Book5: Second only to Book4 in terms of greatness. The ending presents one of the greatest mysteries in the series. At least it's my favorite to debate. This book starts to show the problems that will ruin the series as it progresses. The number of separate story lines is beginning to reach the point where they are difficult to keep straight.

Book6: The last of the "good" books. While I still really liked this book most poeple agree that this is the last book where enough stuff happens. From this point on there are too many storylines and each one fails to progress significantly.

Books7-10: The are the stinkers. While the writing is still enjoyable its a very fair criticism to say that almost nothing happens in each book. And when each book clocks in at over 1000 pages that's saying a lot. You can probably read the first and last chapters of each book and not miss anything significant (they are usually 100 pages long each).

Book11: after years of nothing book 11 finally started to show that there was some hope for the series. Jordan actually began to advance the main plot lines and wrap some of the lesser story lines up. Then he died.

Book12: I do have hope. Jordan created a great story that collapsed under its own bulk. I'm hoping the ghost writer Brandon Sanderson can do a good job of piecing Jordan's notes together and ending this thing in a satisfactory way. Everyone already knows how its going to end, what we aren't sure is how we get there.

As an aside, the reason I was on Amazon is that I was looking at getting Glen Cook's Black Company series. Any of you guys have it, recommend it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Star Wars Saga Ed., end in sight?

Notice this list of release dates for the Star Wars Saga Ed. supplements:

The Force Unleashed - Sept.,08
Scum and Villainy - Nov.,08
The Clone Wars - Jan.,09
Legacy Era - March,09
Jedi Academy Training Manual - May,09
Rebellion Era - July,09
Galaxy at War - Sept.,09

This is the list of currently planned future supplements:

Scavenger's Guide to Droids - Nov.,09
Galaxy of Intrigue - Jan.,10
The Unknown Regions - Apr.,10

What is that I see next spring? A three-month break in the release schedule which has been consistantly bimonthly. The declining crunch-to-fluff ratio combined with an upcoming hiccup in the release schedule leads me to conclude that game has run its course in the current form. All signs point to a new edition of the Star Wars RPG in 2010.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

More thoughts on the "Gish"

In my opinion, the key to building a gish in D&D 3.5/Pathfinder is to concentrate on creating a melee fighter. There are three basic approaches, creating a range combatant, a melee combatant or a balanced fighter-mage similar to the old elf class from Basic D&D. I think most people would agree the last option is the worst since it fails to generate any synergy between the two classes, in effect, creating a lousy fighter and an ineffective spellcaster in one character.

The ranged combatant approach is not bad, especially if the character concentrates on using ray spells. The fighter has several feats that can be applied to ray attacks, including weapon focus, improved critical and point blank shot. Also, the increased BAB is always handy even if most of the attacks are ranged touch. Having said that, the loss of a couple of caster levels to gain a modest increase in BAB and a couple of useful feats is not really that great of a trade-off. I would say the result would be quite inferior to a warmage.

So, how about the melee fighter? Well, obviously a gish is going to be less effective as a front-line combatant than a pure fighter or even a ranger or paladin. However, with the right choice of spells and feats, it can certainly hold its own. You really want to get rid of your arcane spell failure as much as possible, so arcane armour training and arcane armour mastery are essential, especially when combined with mithral armour. Oh, pretty, pretty mithral. Another sweet little feat is arcane strike, just an extra little bonus to your damage since you won't be able to dedicate as many points to Str as you might like.

On the spell side, the gish is going to want to stack up the buffing and defensive spells; bull's strength, bear's endurance, shield, heroism, alter self, rage and stoneskin are all great choices. A few offensive ranged spells are also a must, but since you will be down a couple of caster levels and also won't have many feat slots available for metamagic or spell penetration, you will want to take ones that either don't have saving throws or are not affected by spell resistance.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Building my Pathfinder "Gish"

I am striving to build the perfect Pathfinder "gish" (fighter-mage) and I have concluded that a combination of sorcerer with an abyssal bloodline and eldritch knight PrC provides the most bang for the buck. The real question is when to switch to EK and forgo the remaining bloodline benefits of the sorcerer. Specifically, do I go for the 9th level bennies or not? Here is my build with two different advancement paths. Opinions are welcome.

1. sorcerer 1 - abyssal bloodline, eschew materials, toughness, arcane strike, claws (1d4), CL 1, BAB +0
2. sorcerer 2 - CL 2, BAB +1
3. sorcerer 3 - weapon focus (spear), electricity resistance 5, +2 save v. poison, bloodline spell (cause fear) CL 3, BAB +1
4. sorcerer 4 - CL 4, BAB +2
5. sorcerer 5 - craft magic arms and armour, claws (magic v. DR), bloodline spell (bull's strength), CL 5, BAB +2
6. sorcerer 5/fighter 1 - arcane armour training, CL 5, BAB +3
7. sorcerer 6/fighter 1 - combat casting, CL 6, BAB +4
8. sorcerer 7/fighter 1 - great fortitude, claws (1d6), bloodline spell (rage), CL 7, BAB +4

1st advancement path
9. sorcerer 8/fighter 1 - arcane armour mastery, CL 8, BAB +5
10.sorcerer 9/fighter 1 - +2 Str, electricity resistance 10, +4 save v. poison, bloodline spell (stoneskin), CL 9, BAB +5
11.sorcerer 9/fighter 1/EK 1 - improved initiative, quicken spell, CL 9, BAB +6/+1
12.sorcerer 9/fighter 1/EK 2 - CL 10, BAB +7/+2
13.sorcerer 9/fighter 1/EK 3 - weapon specialization (spear), CL 11, BAB +8/+3
14.sorcerer 9/fighter 1/EK 4 - CL 12, BAB +9/+4
15.sorcerer 9/fighter 1/EK 5 - improved critical (spear), critical focus, CL 13, BAB +10/+5

2nd advancement path
9. sorcerer 7/fighter 1/EK 1 - arcane armour mastery, improved initiative, CL 7, BAB +5
10.sorcerer 7/fighter 1/EK 2 - CL 8, BAB +6/+1
11.sorcerer 7/fighter 1/EK 3 - weapon specialization (spear), CL 9, BAB +7/+2
12.sorcerer 7/fighter 1/EK 4 - CL 10, BAB +8/+3
13.sorcerer 7/fighter 1/EK 5 - improved critical (spear), critical focus, CL 11, BAB +9/+4
14.sorcerer 7/fighter 1/EK 6 - CL 12, BAB +10/+5
15.sorcerer 7/fighter 1/EK 7 - greater weapon focus (spear), CL 13, BAB +11/+6

Clearly, at 10th level, the first path is superior with the Str bonus, the improved resistances, the higher CL and the bonus spell balanced only by a higher BAB and improved initiative in the second path. However, at higher levels, the combat feats start coming earlier in the second path. I am just not sure which option I like better.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Thoughts on XPs

Character advancement is a very abstract concept in games like D&D 3.5/Pathfinder, as opposed to, say Call of Cthulhu and other Chaosium games which use the Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system. In the latter, if you use a skill successfully, you have a chance to improve it (although it is not automatic and becomes more difficult as you get more skilled). If you don't use a particular skill in an adventure, it cannot be improved. This feels more realistic. The "XPs and levels" approach of D&D could never be adapted to such a character advancement philosophy, but I think it could be done better. In older versions of D&D, you got XPs for treasure. It didn't matter how you got the treasure, be it from killing monsters, picking pockets or even taxing your serfs. Treasure was treasure and it was all worth XPs. Now, when you get right down to it, accumulated treasure is a purer measure of character success than monstrous bodycount. After all, it takes into account eveything your character does. If a bard spends the week entertaining at the local inn or if a wizard makes a few potions and trades them for some rare spell components, do these activities not warrant some experience? Such a system would also encourage players to take skills which might earn them some coin during the downtime between adventures. The gps earned might not entice them, but combined with XPs as well and suddenly taking a few ranks in Profession (woodcutter) looks a lot more interesting.


Rippin' on AD&D, pt.6

After wasting the whole month of September ripping on Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game by White Wolf, possibly the most obscure RPG ever published by a major company, Zack and Steve are funny again. Check out their take on the classic module, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Talislanta...for free!

I never tried Talislanta before, but I remember the ad campaign in Dragon. The big selling point was that the campaign setting was radically different from the various fantasy worlds available at the time. The slogan was "No Elves!" It never attracted a big following, but its fans were truly fanatical. So now, there is a plan to release everything (literally everything) previously published as free pdfs at the official Talislanta website. I guess I will finally check out this venerable campaign setting.


100 posts in 2009! Yay for us!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back in the day, you could roll for...

...whores! When AD&D 2e came out, we lost more than our demons and assassins, we also lost our random harlot generation table. It truly was a golden age of role-playing games.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Labyrinth Lord - a walk down Memory Lane

It was 1981. I was 15 years old and a total nerd. Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC and Judas Priest were my favourite bands, Stephen R. Donaldson and Terry Brooks, my favourite authors and my best friend, Mike, was about to introduce me to something called Dungeons and Dragons. As it turns out, that first exposure was to the Moldvay version of Basic D&D. We quickly moved on to AD&D and as the years rolled by, I played dozens of different games and multiple editions of D&D, never once returning to Basic D&D. I certainly didn't notice when it disappeared.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in interest in the older versions of D&D, the so-called "Old School Renaissance" or OSR. I can't say I miss some of the arbitrary rules such as level and class limits for demi-humans or the combat matrices of older versions of D&D, but I do feel a certain nostalgia for where it all began for me. As it turns out, Basic D&D (and Expert D&D, which quickly followed) have been revived as Labyrinth Lord, available as a free download from Goblinoid Games. As best as I can tell, Labyrinth Lord incorporates both Moldvay and Mentzer versions of D&D, since human character advancement tables extend up to level 20, whereas the Moldvay Expert rules stopped at 14. Of course, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling are both races and classes combined and their progression is limited to 10, 12 and 8, respectively. So, I guess any D&D campaign will end whenever one of the characters reaches his level limit. Given my ever-diminishing attention span, however, that probably wouldn't be a bad thing. Really, who would want to play Garbarg the Dwarf for more than 12 levels anyway? It's time to switch to my new character, Bargarb the Dwarf.


The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.5

The Star Wars Saga RPG design team continues to squeeze every last drop out of the franchise with its latest release, Galaxy at War. Surprisingly, Galaxy at War is somewhat crunchier than the previous sourcebook, Rebellion Era Campaign Guide, with new rules on martial arts and cybernetics, several new races (all quite obscure, and some actually extinct) and a host of new feats, talents and equipment.

Without a doubt, the best part of Galaxy at War is the expanded martial arts rules. There are eight new martial arts feats representing different unarmed combat traditions including Wrruushi (Wookie martial arts), Stava (Noghri martial arts) and the famed Teräs Käsi. In addition, there is a new Martial Arts Master prestige class.

Obviously, a sourcebook about war is going to have a lot of weapons and armour, and this book doesn't disappoint, but I think even more valuable are the new cybernetics. They even include rules for total replacement cyborgs like General Grievous, although these rules seem a bit thin, so I'm not sure if you could actually reproduce all the capabilities of Grievous using them. However, a cyborg similar to Darth Vader would be possible. There are also a bunch of other gadgets that no well-equipped rebel commando would want to be without.

The crunchy bits of Galaxy at War comprise about 70 pgs of the book. Beyond that, there is a large section describing various famous military units such as the Senate Guard, the Mandalorian Protectors and Wraith Squadron. There's also a section on battlestation design, which doesn't seem all that useful, and about 50 pgs of adventures and hooks. All-in-all, it's a decent release, not as meaty as Jedi Academy Training Manual or Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide, but certainly better than I was expecting.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gropos in the 23rd century

Over at WotC's Star Wars rpg forum, there's a thread going on about which sci-fi army would win in a land battle. Given that these are all SW fans, naturally Imperial Stormtroopers fare pretty well in their minds. However, this site, being much more scientific, requires a higher level of evidence. Therefore, in true Deadliest Warrior style, I propose a comparison of some of the best-known armies from sci-fi TV and film (I will leave out literature, since different criteria would have to be applied). So, who are my combatants?

Starfleet Security (Star Trek)
EarthForce Marines (Babylon 5)
Imperial Stormtroopers (Star Wars)
US Colonial Marines (Aliens)
Mobile Infantry (Starship Troopers)

I will base my analysis on three criteria, kit, training and combat experience. Each criteria will be scored out of 10. Embarrassing and silly events (i.e. the Battle of Endor) will be stricken from the record, so that a more objective analysis can occur. Here we go:

Starfleet Security
kit - weapons: phasers, particle beam weapons with capabilities ranging from stunning to disintegration, by far the best weapon of the lot, armour: typically none, score 9/10
training - the best the future has to offer, advanced psychiatric techniques, holodeck training simulations, you name it; training is broad-based, not specifically related to infantry combat, score 9/10
combat experience - the Federation is a relatively safe place, so Starfleet personnel don't have much need or opportunity to fight large-scale ground-based military actions, score 4/10

EarthForce Marines
kit - weapons: phased plasma guns (PPGs), small bolts of plasma encased in residual magnetic bottle, comparable damage to firearms, armour: some, typically polymer weave type vest, score 6/10
training - first-rate, though probably not as sophisticated as Starfleet, but much more combat-oriented, score 8/10
combat experience - quite a lot, many veterans remain from the Earth-Minbari War and other recent conflicts, score 9/10

Imperial Stormtroopers
kit - weapon: blasters, particle beam weapons, comparable lethality to firearms, armour: full-body combat armour, score 9/10
training - good, but hobbled by the Tarkin Doctrine and the clone army heritage of the force, not conducive to innovative tactical thinking, score 6/10
combat experience - quite a lot, but Imperials typically enjoy overwhelming superiority of numbers and firepower, thus limiting the value of combat experience, score 5/10

United States Colonial Marines
kit - weapon: automatic firearms, grenades, armour: battle dress, score 7/10
training - much like 21st century USMC, top quality, score 8/10
combat experience - quite a lot, though the quality of the opposition is probably questionable, too many bughunts, score 6/10

Mobile Infantry
kit - weapon: automatic firearms, mininukes, armour: advanced battle dress, score 9/10
training - decent, although recruit quality may be variable, score 7/10
combat experience - significant, bugs found on many worlds, quite adaptable due to brain bugs, score 8/10

The final score is:
#1 Mobile Infantry (24/30) - I mean really, they've got f**king mininukes. Damn!
#2 EarthForce Marines (23/30) - These guys fought the Minbari, that earns them some respect.
#3 Starfleet Security (22/30) - Phasers rule!
#4 US Colonial Marines (21/30) - Tough hombres, but less advanced.
#5 Imperial Stormtroopers (20/30) - I wasn't going to bring it up, but Endor is starting to make some sense.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - weird, but watchable

Admittedly, I'm not much of a Tarantino fan. Nothing personal, he just doesn't make the kind of movies I like to watch. In fact, before last night, the only Tarantino flick I had ever watched was Pulp Fiction and some of his more vocal detractors might argue that's the only one you should. Still, the idea behind Inglourious Basterds was interesting, so I checked it out. Even with my limited experience of Tarantino, the style of the film was very familiar. It was a fusion of Pulp Fiction and Saving Private Ryan. It was strangely edited, it was violent and Brad Pitt's squad of vicious Nazi hunters was featured far less prominently than one would have guessed based on the trailers. Still, it was long, but it didn't feel long, which is always a good sign. The multiple storylines came together quite nicely to a very satisfying, if grossly ahistorical, conclusion. I also have to add an extra hat tip to Tarantino for making Brad Pitt's character a member of the First Special Service Force (also known as the Devil's Brigade), a joint Canada-US commando unit which became the precursor to modern special forces units around the world. His affiliation is not stated explicitly, but the red arrowhead FSSF shoulder patch is clearly displayed on his uniform.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Winging it

Back in the old 1st and 2nd edition days I was almost always the DM. I'd been doing it long and often enough I had large numbers of monsters memorized and could basically make things up as I went along. I had enough supplementary materials (adventure modules and what not) that I could pull out if I needed a cool map or a better NPC name. They were definitely sandbox campaigns as I usually had only a couple plot ideas in mind and so the game often wandered down paths that I never expected.

Can this be done anymore? One bonus I've heard about 4E is that it is much easier for DMs to make stuff up on the fly. In 3.x this is really hard to do. Maybe its just because I rather DM anymore, or because I have other things to do with my time then memorize hundreds of monsters, but with things so much more complicated and detailed I'm not sure it could really happen anymore. I suppose you could keep a stack of premade NPCs that you could throw in when you need them and a bunch of maps but its much harder then it used to be do come up with new things in a smooth way.

I think this is why the adventure path has come to dominate our 3.x games. That pirate campaign with drow and pirates would be much much harder to run today then it was 10 years ago. With the APs you can still make minor tweaks like dropping or modifying encounters but most of the work is already done.

Could a sandbox game be run in 3.x without a ton of prework?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My Most Memorable Characters - Radikar

It's been a few months since my last post in this series and I hadn't planned on submitting any more, but I was throwing out some old papers and I ran across the character sheet for my hobgoblin warlock, Radikar. Unlike my previous characters, Radikar was a true villain. Even Nikolai Grenovic, though evil, was a man of honour. Radikar was a monster who would engage in wholesale slaughter at the slightest provocation. Yet, despite this, Radikar was a compelling character. His bestial manner and growling voice camouflaged an impressive intellect. He viewed his own people with as much contempt as he did the hated humans, because he felt they were capable of so much more than that to which they aspired. He dreamed of a day when he would lead an army of goblinkin to crush the human kingdoms. He got his chance. With the aid of comrades just as vile and merciless as he, Radikar found himself at the head of an army destroying towns and villages through Tethyr. Though eventually, the horde was stopped, Radikar escaped and his current whereabouts are unknown. Rulers from Waterdeep to Calimport tremble at the thought of his reemergence. Ok, maybe not tremble, but certainly note with some trepidation.

Oh, and he owned a personal set of masterwork torturer's tools.


Thursday, September 03, 2009

The demise of the fireball

As I worked on the finishing touches of my new sorcerer character last night, in particular, selecting my spells, something occurred to me. Back in the "good old days", when your magic-user achieved the level necessary to cast 3rd level spells, it was a given that first one would be fireball. Oh glorious fireball, that mighty arcane fist of doom, the slayer of man and orc, the spell that all other offensive spells aspired to be. Asking how many 3rd level spells you had was virtually equivalent to asking how many fireballs you had prepared. Sure, sometimes you would throw a lightning bolt into the mix and at high levels, when you had a lot of 3rd level spells, you might even take a dispel magic or haste for variety, but you always made sure you had plenty of fireballs on tap.

Boy, what a difference a few editions make. With damage topped out at 10d6 and with evasion and fire resistance as common as +1 longswords, it hardly seems worth it. Sure, a wizard might prepare one in the unlikely event he gets to whack a large concentration of cannon-fodder that he needs to wipe out quickly, but for a sorcerer with limited spell options, fireball is a toothless dinosaur. Heck, even lightning bolt, long the idiot stepbrother of fireball is now more attractive since electricity resistance is ever so slightly less common than fire resistance. How times have changed.

On another note, I notice they nerfed ray of enfeeblement in Pathfinder. Not surprising, that spell was way too powerful as written.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

CthulhuTech or Eclipse Phase

Catalyst Game Labs feels to me like a serious up-and-coming publisher. It already had two solid properties in Shadowrun, the first big cross-genre rpg, and Classic BattleTech, the granddaddy of the mecha combat games. Recently, they added CthulhuTech, poached from Mongoose, and Eclipse Phase. The former peaked my interest early on, even before Catalyst became the distributor, but after buying the pdf for Eclipse Phase, I find myself more attracted to that game. It lacks the supernatural horror component of CthulhuTech, which is something I usually look for in my quest for the perfect sci-fi horror setting, but the game mechanics are far superior to the gimmicky CthulhuTech game engine. Also, the kitchen-sink approach of CthulhuTech left much to be desired. Though there are many play options, they don't all mesh together well. Mecha combat doesn't work with cloak-and-dagger style role-playing. The game ends up being spread too thin and there just aren't enough options once you distill the components of the game that apply to your particular choice of campaign style. The final nail in the coffin was Damnation View, which I reviewed in an earlier post. It is a beautiful book with lots of pretty pictures and well-written short fiction, but there just wasn't enough meat on the bones given the price. For these reasons and my limited gaming budget, I am making the switch to Eclipse Phase. By the time I finish reading through the core book in about six months, the next book, Sunward: The Inner System, should be on store shelves.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra...boy, did that suck!

[Spoiler Alert] Man, never go see an instant classic like District 9 and a stinker like G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra in the same week. Big mistake. To be fair to the latter, I will compare it to the Transformers movie instead. First off, there is no discernible Megan Foxiness in this movie at all. Sure, it had no Shia Leboeuf either, which is a plus, but it has a Wayans brother, instead! WTF! Yeah, the same one from the first Dungeons and Dragons movie (although, in fairness, he might have been the least offensive part of that abomination). All the explosions were cool and they did destroy one world famous landmark, which is essential in any action movie. But the plot was convoluted and ridiculous. Right from the beginning, it made no sense. Why the hell would NATO fund research for a doomsday weapon in a lab facility in f**king Kyrgyzstan? Also, why make the doomsday weapon, then go through all these convoluted plans to steal from yourself? Why not just make another batch of the warheads in your secret undersea base in the Arctic? Ah, nevermind.

Save your money. Go see District 9


By the way, it is official, Egypt has the highest density of top secret military and alien bases on the planet.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Eclipse Phase - Game Mechanics

Eclipse Phase uses a d100 system in which a roll is made against a target number, typically generated from a character's skill with possible modifiers, with a value between 01 and 98. The result is a success if the roll is equal to or less than the number. 99 is an automatic failure while 00 is an automatic success.

In some cases, the roll is opposed, as is the case in combat. In fact, Eclipse Phase bucks the recent trend toward rules-lite combat resolution seen in many small publishers today, by creating a fairly complex combat routine. First of all, there is an opposed attack by which the defender attempts to avoid being hit. Then, if the attack is successful, damage vs. armour is determined with factors such as critical hits and armour penetration value of weapons coming into play. Finally, assuming some damage gets through the armour, a wound threshold for the morph must be overcome to inflict actual damage. This is not a game for those who like streamlined combat. Personally, I'm more of a simulationist-type gamer, so this combat resolution system doesn't discourage me at all.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Eclipse Phase - First impressions

I really had no intention of purchasing Eclipse Phase by Catalyst Game Labs, despite reading some pretty intriguing things about the game. However, Catalyst, taking a page out of the Paizo playbook, offers the pdf for $16 Cdn. Good deal, so I caved. These are my first impressions. The game is incredibly hard sci-fi. Though set in the distant future where the very definition of human has been distorted beyond all recognition, none of the concepts seem to embrace any of the fanciful space opera tropes. Well, that's not entirely true, there are some examples of alien technology that verge on science fantasy, but these are peripheral and may be ignored entirely. The first thing I noticed about the game is the remarkable number of character options available, starting with "morphs". Morphs are different options the character may choose for his or her physical presence. There are biomorphs, entirely biological morphs that range from completely unmodified humans, called flats, to a dozen different types of genetically-advanced humanoids to uplifted avians, primates and cephalopods. For those unable to afford a highly sought after biomorph, there are a variety of synthetic and cybernetic alternatives, although depending on the option, some significant social stigmas may apply. Lastly, it is possible to exist entirely in digital form and this may be a playable option depending on the campaign.

Technology in Eclipse Phase incorporates many of the things we understand today and takes them to the next level. Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and genetic modification are the primary driving technologies in the game setting and nothing in there seems fanciful.

I will go into further detail in future posts as I digest the enormous amount of material in this game. Next time, I will talk about the game engine.


District 9 - There are no words to describe...

...the sheer, unrelenting awesomeness of this film. I predict in 10 years, we will describe District 9 the same way we currently talk about Star Wars, Aliens and The Terminator. It is simply that awesome. If you haven't seen it, see it. If you have seen it, good for you. See it again. It is not simply the best sci-fi film this year, it is, in my opinion, the best sci-fi film of the last decade.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Pathfinder Results

I'm been playing around with more of the classes and wanted to post some of my thoughts and findings. All of my test builds were to level 10 and none have ever been playing so there may be things good and bad that I've missed.

Prestige Classes

Arcane Archer
I thought the original 3.5 version totally sucked. The beta version was no better. So what if you can imbue your arrows with spells, you don't get any caster levels so you won't have any spells in the first place. Well, now the AA get 7 caster levels (out of 10) which works well for me. The best comparison is to an archer ranger or fighter which are also the best lead-ins to the class. The fighter once again does the best damage from the many bonus combat feats and weapon specialization. The ranger shines in certain environments and against certain foes as well as gets some great archery feats early (Pin Point Targeting stands out here). A little bit of spell casting and the animal companion add some interesting possibilities.

The Arcane Archer gets pretty good spell casting and tends to have the best saves of the three - at least where it counts most - Will and Fort. The spells add lots of utility out of combat as well as a way to keep the enemy from getting too close.

Now maybe I was biased against the duelist by its resemblance to its 3.5 cousin the swashbuckler. I thought the Duelist sucked and didn't really look at what it could do objectively. In a moment of madness I decided to build a test Duelist and see what it could do. To be honest I was pleasantly surprised. I built the duelist from a barbarian base and a fighter base (with a 6 bab entry requirement no other way sounded appealing). The barbarian sounded odd but they actually blended quite well. The uncanny dodge would help a lot since most of the duelists defenses are dodge based. I could almost see the barbarian duelist repeating over and over "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." The fighter ends up having better AC and ability to hit and do damage.

After looking the duelist over I figured the best build would be a crit build. Precise strike is now a set bonus so it multiplies on a crit. Throw in power attack and at level 10 you can get a combat round of +15/+10 1d6+17 15-20/X2. Almost 1 in three swings would be a crit for pretty decent damage. Assuming a single hit per round damage of 26.65. The fighter does 32.40. The fighter also has 4 extra points to hit making the real damage gap bigger.

The problem is that the Duelist is stuck using a single one handed weapon: the worst fighting style. The lack of shield option hampers the duelist on defense. The duelist is fast and gets some nice dodge and initiative bonuses. He also gets significant bonus to fighting defensively. I actually think a duelist can out tank the barbarian but pales next to the fighter or the paladin. Near 16 a duelist fighting defensively could fairly easily have a higher AC then a two handed weapon fighter.

My overall view of the duelist is that it would be great in a pirate type campaign where heavy armor isn't viable but otherwise not so hot.

Arcane Trickster
I've always had a soft spot for wizard rogues as my fellow contributors might recall (Think 2e drow pirate campaign). The old AT sucked. It was a crappy caster and a crappy rogue. Well all that has changed. Now a 16th level AT is only 3 levels behind a rogue for SA and 3 levels behind in casting level. Pretty good for that much versatility.

My first thought of all that sneak attacking with rays was "drool" but then I realized a few things. At level 10 SA damage is only 4d6 and unlike a rogue get only one attack per round if you are using ray attacks. Sneak attacks are also difficult to set up from range. Getting into melee to flank is an option but 2 potential AoO could hurt. The good news is that you should have a good selection of spells to help you out setting up SA like Invis, Grease, and a variety of illusions to hide behind.

While I haven't seen one in play yet, I think that an Arcane trickster can out rogue a rogue. In a fix they could fill in for a sorc or wiz but would lack the variety/number of spells of a full caster.

The first killer c-c-c-c-combo I've noticed is a bard doing the Dirge of Doom and a rogue with Shatter Defenses. After the first hit, all hits would automatically be sneak attacks assuming the rogue lands at least one blow a round. A rogue could out damage a Barbarian with this.

As there is no D&D this week, I will continue to monkey around in my spare time and post my findings.