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.

West End Games Free Downloads

As WEG switches to the Opend6 OGL, they are beginning to offer all their old pdfs for free download. Yup, free and legal, pdfs that I paid real money for a couple of months ago. Yay, me! Anyway, it is a great time to go get them. They are big files, but if you have broadband (and really, who doesn't?), it shouldn't take more than an hour to grab the lot. Enjoy.

d6 Adventure
d6 Space
d6 Fantasy
d6 Fantasy Creatures
d6 Adventure Locations
d6 Space Ships
d6 Fantasy Locations
d6 Magic


Rippin' on Warhammer 40k

Zack and Steve have turned their sights on Warhammer 40,000. I don't know much about WH40K, except that every time I've ever gone into a Games Workshop store, I've been simultaneously blown away by the unrelenting coolness and the fact that the cost of a box of 8 figures is more than the GDP of Cuba.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A couple of Pathfinder rules to watch out for

Given how similar Pathfinder is to D&D 3.5, it is easy to overlook some of the less obvious rule changes, but a couple I've found could prove quite important.

First off, casting on the defensive. The old rule was d20 + concentration skill ranks + Con modifier vs. a DC equal to 15 + spell level. This meant that a typical 10th level wizard with maxed out ranks in concentration and a decent Con (+2 mod, say) could cast his highest level spell on the defensive with a roll of 5. If he had the combat casting feat, success was automatic. The new Pathfinder rule is d20 + caster level + appropriate spellcasting ability modifier vs. a DC equal to 15 + double the spell level. The first half of the equation will typically produce a similar result. For example, the aforementioned 10th level wizard will likely have an 18 Int, so his concentration check modifier would be 14 (caster level 10 + Int modifier 4), as opposed to 15 (concentration ranks 13 + Con modifier 2) the old way. However, the DC is now 25 for his highest level spell. So, instead of needing to roll a 5, he needs an 11. That combat casting feat suddenly looks a lot more appealing.

The second rule change I noticed is overcoming DR. The special material-based DRs such as DR 10/cold iron can now be overcome with extra enchantments. For example, a +3 weapon can now overcome DR requiring cold iron or silver, +4 weapons can overcome DR requiring adamantine and +5 can overcome alignment-based DR. This rule harkens back to D&D 3.0 and older editions, when weapon resistance/immunity was based on the how many plusses the weapon had.


Legendary Evils DDM - pics 1

My three huge figures, the Remorhaz, the Balor and the Elder Green Dragon.


Legendary Evils DDM - pics 2

Here is a comparison of the Elder Green Dragon with a previously released huge dragon. Despite my initial reaction, the size of the Elder Green Dragon is actually quite close.


Legendary Evils DDM - pics 3

This image is the Balor and the War Troll, with the Githzerai Mindmage for scale. As you can see, the War Troll is really quite large, comparable in size to previously released minis of fire and hill giants


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Legendary Evils DDM - my first pulls

It has been some time since D&D minis excited me in any way. I still pick up a few singles from time to time to fill holes in my collection, but today is the first day in ages when I actually headed out to the FLGS with the expressed purpose of buying DDM boosters. Legendary Evils is that awesome. The huges in that set are just as cool as I'd hoped, so I bought three, the Balor, the Remorhaz and the Green Dragon. Here are my pulls:

Balor (huge, visible) - simply awesome, nothing more to add
War Troll (large, rare) - score!, almost as cool as the Balor
Foulspawn Seer (medium, rare) - not bad, could proxy for some weird, subterranean spellcaster
Minotaur Thug (medium, common) - looks like typical DDM common, still useful
Hoard Scarab Larva Swarm (medium, common) - good proxy for a pile of gold coins

Remorhaz (huge, visible) - awesome mini, great proxy for huge centipede
Psychic Sentinel (large, rare) - so-so, could proxy for some kind of gem golem
Githzerai Mindmage (medium, rare) - looks great, but doesn't look like previous githzerai figures
Goblin Cutter (small, common) - looks much better than the other commons I got
Human Rabble (medium, common) - meh

Elder Green Dragon (huge, visible) - looks great, although it's a bit small for a huge
Chuul (large, rare) - pretty good, could serve as advanced leader for my other chuuls
Foulspawn Mangler (medium, rare) - four-armed thing, looks good, but don't know what to do with it
Scarecrow Stalker (medium, common) - ok, generic undead thing
Minotaur Thug (as above)

I'll post some pics later


Monday, August 17, 2009

What's next for Pathfinder?

Following Pathfinder's huge success at GenCon, the interwebs are buzzing with speculation about what is next. Some things are certain. First of all, the Pathfinder Bestiary comes out next month. Secondly, the first "Pathfinder compatible" third party publication, The Book of Secrets by Adamant Entertainment, is available in pdf and will be released in dead tree format sometime this fall. There were also some hints revealed at GenCon about what Paizo intended to publish for PFRPG next year. These include a second bestiary and a second core book with four new basic classes. These classes would be the cavalier, the oracle, some kind of summoner and an alchemist of some sort.


Obiri rates the revised Pathfinder classes and races

I'm lazy so excuse the formatting.


Still one of the best races. Strong vs spells and poisons. Darkvision. Not slowed down by medium or heavy armor. Too bad I like my characters to more mobile.

Great wizards, ok rogues and rangers.

Small. I still don't see why anyone would play one over a halfling.


Small but good at what it does. Great for sneaky or talky characters.

Half Elf
OMG, they fixed the half elf. Bonus to perception, free Skill Focus feat, two favoured classes, and a bonus to any one stat. I would actually play a half elf now.

Half Orc

Unfortunately still kinda sucks. A bonus to Intimidate and darkvision. That's pretty much it.

I always thought the human was pretty good before and aside from the extra +2 to any stat which is shared with the other two half human races they got nothing new. Still a very solid choice.


Undecided on the bard. I thought they sucked before but with better casting and being able to maintain bardic music as a free action I think they have hope now. Maybe Derobane will try one out for us.

Given more options but not made much stronger. Probably made more fun to play but I don't see him being more effective in combat (I would argue the Barbarian was the best melee fighter before)

All of the clerics melee spells have been nerfed severely and with no divine metamagic equivalent they are no longer uber front liners. They are even better healers then before but that job gets boring pretty quick.

Another nerf bat victim. Wildshape is now more for utility than combat unless you severely hamstring your casting abilities. I do like what they've done with the animal companions however.

The fighter has lost some of his AC bonus he got in Beta but gained the ability to move at full speed in heavy armor which I think is still worth it. At least with my test builds the fighter was able to outperform the barbarian at the low to mid levels damage wise and can tank much better.

I am going to have to see the monk in action before I can decide. In the beta, they start off really weak but became quite decent by the upper mid levels. I think someone taking a flurry of blows is going to feel some serious pain and you could probably build a very effective grappler. I'm still worried that they are kinda squishy like the rogue.

The paladin went from one of the worst classes to one of the best. The paladin can now out tank the fighter, out damage the barbarian (at least when it counts), and heal almost as well as the cleric. Their caster level is no longer gimped and they can give bonus abilities to their weapon as the need arises. They don't have great mobility, low number of class skills, and still have the alignment restrictions but its all worth it now.

As a ranger fan I was unhappy with the 3.5 version. The fighter could out fight them in every way, their animal pet was useless, and their caster level was gimp. They now get favoured terrain as well as favoured enemy. They get a decent animal companion, and their caster level is now ok. As an archer I think it is now worth it although I'm still not sure the two weapon version is all that.

The rogue is like the barbarian in that it was pretty good before and only got a small upgrade. Rogues are now even better at what they do outside combat and while they have a few more options in battle they are still going to suffer at the high levels trying to get off sneak attacks.

Sorcerers now have a lot more flavour with bloodlines. I still think the wizard edges them out a bit but it's closer now than before and I may change as I see them in action.

Wizards still rock but have been toned down a bit from Beta. The other specialties are now worth playing with conjuration and alteration still stronger than the rest.

I think an interesting party would be Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, and Bard.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.4

CthulhuTech markets itself as a "storybook" game and GMs are referred to as "storytellers". To support this conceit, a series of storybooks are being published, the first of which is Damnation View. Storybooks are basically a set of adventures set in different parts of the game world with different themes. For example, one series of adventures is set in China, on the front lines against the Rapine Storm. These ones are obviously very combat-heavy and oriented towards mecha. Another set pits government agents against Dagonite cultists seeking ancient artifacts to aid them in their efforts to awaken their god, Cthulhu. This series is much more oriented toward cloak-and-dagger roleplay. Each storybook has a section advancing each of these story arcs through a much larger story arc encompassing the entire Aeon War, with each release representing one year of the war.

I picked up
Damnation View and while I must say, the product is top quality, I think it is over-priced for what it offers. Anyone who knows me, knows I hate paying for a lot of fluff. I want crunch and unfortunately, Damnation View offers little. There are three new character classes, all related to a super secretive government agency simply known as Special Services. Good stuff there. There are also a couple of new mecha designs....and that's it. Nothing else with so much as a single number associated with it. The adventure hooks are useful and the associated short fiction do a good job of immersing you in the story lines, but for a hardcover book over $45 Cdn, I want more than that. Now, I am something of a collector and a bit OCD when it comes to completing games, so I suspect I will buy the remaining storybooks (I believe four more are planned and the next one, Mortal Remains is expected in stores next month). Having said that, I wish they were either a bit cheaper (maybe less artwork or not hardcover) or a bit crunchier.


Friday, August 07, 2009

More on Midnight

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Midnight campaign setting, a very dark fantasy setting compatible with D&D 3.5. Well now, in what can only be described as one of the most unconventional marketing efforts I can recall in the tabletop rpg industry, Fantasy Flight Games is releasing a full-length, live-action movie based in the Midnight setting. For a limited time, FFG is offering the movie as well as pdf versions of the script, the Midnight core book and an adventure tied in to the movie as a bundled download for a remarkably low price. I saw a trailer of this movie and it has exactly the sort of production values you'd expect, but just the core book and an adventure alone are worth the price. If I hadn't already purchased the core book, I'd be all over this.


TV tropes - Conservation of Ninjutsu

Since discovering, my internet activities have changed completely. This site is awesome. So, I am starting a new series of my favourite tropes. I start with Conservation of Ninjutsu.

In any martial arts fight, there is only a finite amount of ninjutsu available to each side in a given encounter. As a result, one Ninja is a deadly threat, but an army of them are cannon fodder.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Fading Suns review


Lots of other reviews too. He doesn't like 4e very much. Its his only negative review.

Random Thoughts on Space Flight

In the distant future, assuming mankind eventually takes to the stars, how big will starships be and how many crewmembers will man them? I have pondered these questions before as a GM for various space-based games. There seem to be two schools of thought on this in space movies, the "Star Trek" model and the "Alien" model.

In the "Star Trek" model, starships are like navy ships today. They come in a variety of sizes, but they all have large crews. It's not entirely clear why this should be. After all, a modern warship needs lots of crewmen to man guns, to repair battle damage and to replace casualties. In Star Trek, and most other space shows and movies that follow a similar model, many of these responsibilities seem to be handled by a small number of people. Weapon batteries aren't manned individually, rather, they are controlled from a single gunnery station on the bridge. Likewise, most engineering functions seem to be controlled from a single location manned by only a handful of people. Many of the people on board "Star Trek" type ships seem to serve no major purpose except to repel an occasional boarding party and to serve as casualties so the major characters don't have to.

The "Alien" model envisions enormous ships with tiny crew complements, typically fewer than 10. This is similar to modern freighters and tankers, which have small crews since they don't need much in the way of skillset redundancy or security. A small bridge crew, a cook and a couple of deckhands are sufficient. A giant freighter in space would probably need a few more crewmembers than a present-day ship because help is far away. A couple of people with technical skills would be required as would someone with medical knowledge. Still, that adds up to no more than a dozen at most.

My current thinking tends toward the "Alien" model for a couple of reasons. First of all, humans require a huge amount of resources for life. Food, water, air, living space, recreational activities all take up valuable space and cargo capacity on a ship. Many activities on a spaceship can be performed as well or better by robots and computers, so I'm guessing these will be used whenever possible to reduce the number of humans required. Secondly, I expect the drive systems needed to propel spaceships will be friggin' huge. Consider this, according to E=mc2, it would take 900 petaJoules (quadrillion) to accelerate 1,000 kilograms of matter to 0.1 lightspeed. If we took a year to get to 0.1 c, it would require 28.5 GW of continuous power output. The most advanced nuclear fission reactors today produce about 0.6 to 1.2 GW and they are, themselves, heavier than 1,000 kg. When you add in fuel, radiation shielding and reaction mass, a fission drive will be orders of magnitude larger. Of course, fusion or other more speculative technologies might come into play, but we're still talking about pretty large propulsion systems. For this reason, I suspect space within starships will be at a premium, much as it is now on the space shuttle.

So, I envision massive starships, kilometers in length, with most of the bulk being drive systems. Of course, the question then becomes, why are we going into space at all? If it is just for exploration, why send people at all? Robots fulfil that role right now and they do it a heck of a lot cheaper. On the other hand, if we want to exploit the natural resources of the asteroids and comets, we will need huge cargo holds (probably in the form of detachable modules) and even more drive capacity to transport these massive amounts of material. This seems enormously inefficient, so perhaps factory ships will be the way to go. Process the raw materials where they are and then transport the refined material or finished products. Again, it seems like most of this could be done a lot cheaper by robotic systems. It seems the only reason to send people into space is colonization. That changes the calculus a lot. Now you need large numbers to create viable colonies. Depending on how livable the colonized worlds are and how much support they can expect from Earth, we could be talking a hundred or several thousand. Any less would seriously threaten the viability of the colony.

I'm not really going anywhere with this, hence the title of the post. I'm just looking to generate discussion and get ideas from the rest of you nerds.


Rippin' on Rifts, pt.2

Zack and Steve are back at it with Rifts Japan.

Best line:
"I remember suggesting the Rifts Quebec book so we could make fun of French-Canadians, the worst Canadians."



Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Other Realms

I often poke around looking at other campaign setting to see what else is out there. Quite frankly a lot of them are quite awesome - Monte Cook's Ptolus stands out. Anyway I found this website tonight - last time I'd checked it out it had crashed but it seems to be working ok now.

I have to admit the artwork on the main page drew me in.

A big boobed pirate vs a shark monk with giant tentacles in the background. Awesome.


Pathfinder sold out....yeah, so?

The rpg blogosphere is all abuzz as Paizo has announced its first printing of the Pathfinder RPG has been completely sold out on pre-order. I don't know how many copies we are talking about, although Erik Mona describes the first printing as "hugely ambitious" which in the world of tabletop rpgs typically means something like 10,000. This is obviously good news for Paizo and the Pathfinder game. Paizo has made all the right moves on this with the year-long playtest and the release of a $10 pdf version, so kudos to them. Having said that, I think it's premature to start talking about Paizo becoming a major competitor to WotC. Pathfinder RPG is probably the most highly-anticipated rpg product release since D&D 4e came out. I would have been surprised if it didn't sell out. Also this first print run has been bought up by stores stocking up on what they see as a big seller. It doesn't mean those retailers will be sold out of all their copies. The real test for Paizo will be how the first Pathfinder RPG supplement will sell. Considering how much supposedly compatible D&D 3.5 material is already out there, my guess is that future supplements will have a hard time finding a market.


Edit: It turns out I may have underestimated the size of the print run. While the Paizo folks aren't releasing the number, they have said it is in between the upper and lower ends of the speculation range mentioned by various postings on the Paizo forums. That range is between 15,000 and 100,000 (snicker). It looks like a 25,000 to 30,000 copy print run is not out the question. That is a substantial result for a tabletop rpg, but still not a D&D-level print run for a core book.

A quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests they would have to sell about 100 copies in a city the size of Calgary (and surrounding areas) to sell out a 30,000 copy print run worldwide (based on the assumption that about 90% of their sales are in the four major English-speaking countries of Canada, the US, the UK and Australia). Certainly sounds plausible, since our own little group will probably buy 5 or more copies.