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.