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.