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.