Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Witcher - The Last Wish

So now that life has geared down a bit for the holidays I've had a chance to do some reading. Strolling around the mall the other day while waiting for new passports photos I pushed my way into Indigo books and took a look around. I really hadn't intended on buying anything but a couple books caught my eye so I picked them up.

The first book is The Last Wish. I written by a Polish best selling author and only translated into English a couple years ago. Its not a tough read and I tore through it in 3 nights. The tale is really a collection of short stories connected through a meta story that separates each part.

The witcher is a monster hunter, a human who was taken as a child and subjected to various experiments that makes him faster, stronger, and heal quicker than regular humans as well as see in the dark. Geralt, the protagonist, withstood the experiments better then most and so was subjected to more which left his with no skin or hair pigmentation.

The world itself is either heavily influenced by D&D or they share many common sources. The book has a rather dark sense of humor and most of the short stories are twists on fairy tales. One thing I really like about the setting is that magic is somewhat, well magical. In D&D, everyone (the players anyway) know what magic is and what it can do. In this world, magic is much more mysterious and there is always a great deal grey. There is no black and white clearly defined rule sets. For example, a mad wizard proclaimed that all princesses born after an eclipse would be cursed with evil. So all of these princesses were locked in towers (because killing them would be inhumane). Unfortunately there was a period where it became fashionable for princes to rescue these maidens. The rescued princesses then sought out revenge on the wizard who locked them up, which the wizards used as proof the women are evil.

There are lots of clever twists on the genre and the book is a worth while read. The witcher makes me want to try out the new magus class that is being play tested by Paizo. Very similar flavor.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to all...

...and may 2011 bring you all plenty of natural 20s, both at the table and in the real world.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Demons need more Chaos

Look at this picture:

Now tell me quickly, are they demons or devils? If you are a true D&D/Pathfinder aficionado, you probably recognized them as demons. But they don't really look all that different from devils. You could easily file the serial numbers off that Hezrou and turn it into some new kind of devil. Think about that, the very essence of Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil are virtually indistinguishable. This has never sat right with me. Demons are supernatural Chaos in its vilest form. They aren't merely superpowerful orcs, they are pure Chaos and pure Evil.

Now, the Evil part is fine. They slaughter the innocent, they corrupt the powerful and they destroy beauty and goodness whenever they can. However, the Chaos part just doesn't come through. One Vrock is pretty much indistinguishable from every other Vrock. If they were truly Chaotic (as opposed to chaotic), every demon should be unique and constantly changing. They should constantly be growing and losing new limbs, developing new abilities while losing others. The Babau you are fighting this round should suddenly morph into a Nalfeshnee next round and then a Dretch after that. What we really need is a random demon generator. Maybe it's too much work for the DM, especially if demons figure prominently in his campaign, or maybe such a system doesn't work well with an exception-based system like Pathfinder. It is something I've been thinking about trying for awhile, so I guess I will find out eventually.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An AT-43 Christmas for me

With the demise of Rackham Entertainment back in October, the race is on to grab up the remaining stock of AT-43 and Confrontation pre-painted miniatures. Supplies are already dwindling at our FLGS, so I have decided to do a little proactive Christmas shopping. There will be a lot of Red Blok and Therians under my tree this year. I even managed to score one of these:

and one of these:

And guys, you better get down there soon if you want to snatch up some Confrontation minis before they're all gone.


Cross-posted at Rognar's Space Horror RPG Blog

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rippin' on...Vampire: The Masquerade

Zack and Steve blast ichthyoids in a cask as they mock the artwork of Vampire: The Masquerade.

Vampire: The Masquerade


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 - more love for the Mythos

I was bouncing off the walls when I first noticed the Pathfinder Bestiary had an entry for the Shoggoth. So, I have been anxiously awaiting the release of the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 due for release early in 2011, in hopes that more Cthulhuesque goodness will be included. Imagine my joy upon seeing Paizo's new poster showing all the monsters that will be included. Not one, not two, but no less than four Cthulhu Mythos creatures will make an appearance. Of those, three, the Hound of Tindalos, the Gug and the Leng Spider are classic Mythos monsters. The fourth one, the Denizen of Leng, is unfamiliar to me, but the name clearly points to a Mythos origin. A fifth one, the Wendigo, is also found in the Call of Cthulhu game, but it is a creature derived from Native American mythology and therefore, the Pathfinder version may not necessarily resemble the Cthulhu Mythos version. A sixth one, the Serpentfolk, may be the Serpent People of the Mythos, or may be something else, like the Yuan-ti perhaps. Lastly, there is the Worm that Walks. This one is found all over the place including the Age of Worms adventure path, but it too, has a Lovecraftian heritage. Recall from Lovecraft's The Festival:

Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Barsoom + d20 Modern = Cool!

Adamant Entertainment recently had a sale on DriveThruRPG in which they were selling pdfs of some of their titles for one freakin' dollar! Normally, I wouldn't give any of their publications a second glance, but hey, one freakin' dollar! Now, Adamant Entertainment is best known for their ICONS superhero game, but my interest in the supers genre is so low that even one freakin' dollar is too much to pay, but I did notice another of their games, namely Mars, a sword-and-planet game loosely based on the "Barsoom" stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I confess I've never read any of the Barsoom stories. Truth be told, I've never been a fan of the "planetary romance" style of pulp sci-fi, having cut my teeth on the works of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke and Herbert, rather than Burroughs, Brackett and Howard. Lately, however, I've become a bit more interested in all that creaky old stuff, having become creaky and old myself. Besides, it was one freakin' dollar!

Mars uses the d20 Modern game system, one of my favourites. Damn, why didn't someone tell me about this earlier? There are six races, Red Men (civilized, native Martians), Green Men (savage, orc-like barbarians), White Apes (intelligent, war-like gorillas), Grey Men (not men at all, but rather octopoids), Synthe Men (androids) and Earthmen (humans from Earth transplanted on Mars). Most PCs will be Red Men and Earthmen, although PC White Apes and Green Men are also possible. Synthe Men and especially Grey Men do not make suitable player characters. Most everything in the rules is taken straight from d20 Modern except for how they treat the Defense Value, which is handled in a clever and superior manner to the standard d20 approach. The defending character decides as a free action if he will be parrying or dodging. Since the former is based on STR and the latter on DEX, a PC will typically choose whichever is better, although ranged attacks cannot be parried, so dodge is the only option in such cases. Each character class has an inherent parry and dodge bonus that is added to the ability modifier to give a total bonus for each type of defense. Armour does not factor into it, although heavy armour will seriously penalize DEX and even place a cap on BAB. In Mars, armour provides damage reduction, rather than an armour bonus. This is the first time I've seen this approach in a d20 game and I must say, I like it a lot. This rule change alone makes me want to play this game.

Magic is not part of this game, although it is suggested that the psionics rules from d20 Modern would be a good fit. Still, they do include rules for creating weird technology, called devices, which function very much like magic items. It would be interesting to see how these would stack up against magic in a campaign setting that incorporated both.

All in all, Mars is a pleasant surprise and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't have an aversion to the d20 game system (and there is a Savage Worlds version if you do). Take up your rapier and your radium pistol, your sky-corsair awaits. Unfortunately, you will have to pay more than one freakin' dollar.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Nerd or Geek?

CNN weighs in on this vitally important question. Personally, I feel much the same way as Futurama co-creator, David X. Cohen:

"To me, nerd is a compliment and geek is an insult," said Cohen. "I feel like with 'nerd culture,' [it sounds like] the nerds have triumphed. 'Geek' has a negative connotation. I'd rather be called a nerd. I love being called a nerd."

I don't view the term "geek" as an insult, but do I feel the subculture that embraces Star Trek, World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons is nerd culture. Geeks are merely dilletantes who obsess over some aspect of that culture, but don't live it every day.

I am Nerd!


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rippin' on...Thanksgiving

Steve (sans Zack) gives us a little RPG Thanksgiving special.

Steve's RPG Thankfulness


New Pathfinder playtest - Words of Power

The latest Pathfinder playtest has been posted on Rather than introducing a new class as last time, the new playtest presents an alternate way of spellcasting, namely "words of power". As it turns out, this is not as cool as I hoped it would be. Rather, "wordcasting" is more of an erector set for spell construction. There are words for range and area and spell effect which are combined to construct a particular spell. I have seen this sort of mechanical approach to magic before and it has always left me indifferent. Perhaps it is the D&D roots of my gaming history, but I've always felt magic should be somewhat haphazard and organic, not regimented and scientific. As with all playtests, the final form may be different from the "beta version", but it seems unlikely that wordcasting will ever be what I was hoping it would be, namely, a playable version of truenaming.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beholder collector set....pricey, but cool

The Eye of Frost, my personal favourite, is made of light blue translucent plastic with an excellent white frosting.

The Eye of Shadow, I don't know what it is, but it looks pretty funky in translucent purple.

The Eye Tyrant, your garden-variety beholder. Hey, you can never have too many beholders.

The Ghost Beholder, my least favourite, is translucent blue and missing its central eye. Well, three out of four isn't bad.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

A look at Mongoose RuneQuest II

What happens when you go to your local gaming store on payday, disappointed that several books you were planning to buy have had their release dates pushed back a few months? Well, in my case, you come home with RuneQuest II by Mongoose. I don't know how it happened really. I just went in to look, knowing the things I wanted would not be there. Worst of all, the company that failed to deliver the desired products on time was the very same group of furry snake-eaters. I suppose it was a result of my renewed interest in Basic RolePlaying, the game system upon which all past and present manifestations of RuneQuest are based and being quite impressed with how well Mongoose buffed up the venerable Traveller rules, I was somewhat curious to see what they would do with BRP.

So, how does it compare, you ask? Not bad. It's different, but not unrecognizably so. Skills have been reorganized, there has been some streamlining (i.e. no more Spot, Listen, Sense, it's all Perception), some unstreamlining (i.e. Dance and Sing are now separate skills, rather than specializations of Perform) and the base percentage of the skills is derived by adding two characteristics (i.e. Athletics = STR + DEX) or doubling one (i.e. Lore = INT x 2). Skills are categorized as common (available to everyone) or advanced (requisite upon appropriate cultural or professional criteria). Also, combat skills have been redefined as combat styles, such as 2H axe or sword-and-shield, although they are purchased with skill points just like in BRP. One notable difference is the introduction of the Evade (based on DEX), Resilience (based on CON) and Persistance (based on POW) skills which act like saving throws, thereby eliminating the Resistance Table so familiar to Call of Cthulhu players. For me, this is a welcome change. I hate tables.

Magic plays a big role in RuneQuest II, indeed, literally everyone has access to at least some magic, right down to the lowliest peasant farmer or footman. I gather this derives from the design philosophy of the original campaign setting associated with the original RuneQuest, Glorantha. There are four kinds of magic, Common, Spirit, Divine and Sorcery. Common Magic, as the name implies, is the weakest and the most widely-available. It is the weakest because each spell is a separate skill, just as it is in BRP. Therefore, most practitioners of Common Magic will know only a handful of spells at most. A fighter may know the Bladesharp or Firearrow spell to make himself a bit more effective in combat, but he won't be mistaken for a serious spellcaster.

The other types of magic might be described as shamanism (Spirit Magic), clericism (Divine Magic) and wizardry (Sorcery). Each has two skills associated it, so it is possible for practitioners to accumulate an impressive number of spells without spending large numbers of skill points. Spellcasters are expected to join a cult, an organization (not necessarily religious) which, among other things, provides its members with access to new magical knowledge. Learning new spells pretty much requires cult membership. This is where runes come into play. Runes are symbols corresponding to various concepts such as law, chaos, light, darkness, man, beast, etc. They seem to have played a bigger role in earlier editions of RuneQuest, but they still have some relevance in the latest version of the game. Each cult has several runes associated with it and these runes shape the philosophy of the cult and the spells available to be learned from it. In order to gain access to a wider range of spells, most spellcasters will belong to more than one cult, as long as they are not opposed (i.e. one may not be a member of both a fire cult and a water cult).

I would say that RuneQuest II is a highly-playable game, if a bit dense for a newbie. I'm not sure if I am committed to investing in Glorantha at this stage, so I hope Mongoose treats MRQII the same way it did with Traveller, adapting the game to multiple settings. I notice Cubicle 7 has already started, releasing the Clockwork and Chivalry campaign setting, an alternate history of the English Civil War incorporating magical clockworks and alchemy into the struggle between the Royalists and the Roundheads. Not my cup of tea, but something else like a Dying Earth or dark fantasy setting might peak my interest. I shall look forward to what Mongoose comes up with in the soon-to-be-released State of the Mongoose address.


Update: I was mistaken in my original description of Common Magic in MRQII. In fact, the is only one skill governing the use of Common Magic. However, the spells are generally weaker than similar Divine, Spirit and Sorcery spells.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rippin' on Spelljammer

Poor old Spelljammer, the red-headed stepchild of AD&D 2nd ed.. I'm surprised it took Zack and Steve this long to getting around to it.

Spelljammer: Space Lairs


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A look at Basic RolePlaying, pt.3

Basic Roleplaying incorporates rules from many past and present Chaosium games, such as Call of Cthulhu, Runequest and Elric!. Though all these games used the basic d100 mechanic, there were some variations in some aspects of the game system. You certainly see that in the powers rules and you also see it in combat, resulting in a variety of optional or alternate rules. For example, initiative can be handled in a number of ways. The basic approach has four stages; statement of intent, power use, actions and resolution. In the first step, players and NPCs declare their actions. This is typically done all at one time in order from highest DEX to lowest DEX. However, several variants exist, including dispensing with the declarations entirely or declaring them in reverse order, lowest DEX to highest so that characters with higher DEX can react to the declarations of those with lower DEX. The next step is the use of powers such as sorcery or psychic abilities, performed in order from highest INT to lowest among the characters who have chosen to use them. Powers typically take a full round to use, so their effects are manifested in the following power use phase. After power use comes actions. Actions are performed in order from highest DEX to lowest, although one optional rule is to add a d10 to DEX to allow for some random component to initiative. If this option is chosen, however, it has implications for multiple attacks since the number of attacks possible in a round is dependent on initiative number, so it's possible to get more attacks with DEX + d10 than just DEX alone. This may make smaller weapons such as daggers more attractive because of the extra attacks they allow. Following each action is resolution. Unlike the other phases, this phase is done after each individual action rather than being grouped together. Resolution in combat is generally some sort of active defense (assuming the attack was successful), a dodge or a parry. There are varying degrees of success for both the attack roll and the defense roll, so these results have to be compared. It is possible for a successful attack to beat a successful defense if the degree of success is greater for the attack. However, the successful defense likewise reduces the effect of the attack, even if it doesn't defeat it entirely.

As mentioned above, there are multiple degrees of success when making an attack or defense roll (or any skill roll for that matter). A roll equal to or less than your skill percentage is a success, a roll equal to or less than 1/5 of your skill percentage is a special success and a roll equal to or less than 1/20 of your skill percentage is a critical success. Each level of success defeats a lesser success, although in the case of dodge or parry, a lesser degree of success will mitigate the effects of a special or critical success result for the attack roll. Special successes on attack add a special weapon effect to the normal damage, such as bleeding, impaling or crushing damage. Critical success cause maximum damage for the weapon and ignore armour. There are rare circumstances (i.e. impaling attacks vs. unarmoured opponents) in which a special success result is actually better than a critical result. In those instances, the player is permitted to choose the better effect when scoring a critical success. In BRP, armour serves to reduce damage, rather than reduce the likelihood of success. This means that combat is somewhat less streamlined than in D&D, but it also allows for more realism and more options, especially for cross-genre campaigns. A perfect example is the introduction of firearms. D&D has never been able to handle firearms satisfactorily. The challenge has always been to model the advantages of firearms over bows. Bows are obviously faster, so even if a musket does more damage, the extra attacks enjoyed by the archer will finish off the musketeer long before he gets reloaded. Factors such as ease of use or intimidation just never seem to be incorporated into the rules in such a way as to make firearms attractive. However, in BRP, firearms work just fine. Armour only provides half the normal protection against firearms and reduces your active defense options significantly. Therefore, the introduction of black powder weapons into your campaign greatly reduces the attractiveness of heavy armour, just as it did in history. Sure, your heavy plate will reduce the damage from a musket ball, but it's far better to dodge out of the way entirely. This is the real strength of the Basic RolePlaying combat system. It is very portable.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Hey, where you at?

You may have noticed my rate of posting has somewhat diminished of late. Sadly, this situation is about to become the new normal. I am being encumbered with new responsibilities at the lab (more work, same pay...nice). This blog will go on, but the posts will be less frequent. My sincerest apologies to my legions of adoring fans.


Friday, October 29, 2010

A look at Basic RolePlaying, pt.2

As mentioned in the previous post, there are five types of special powers in BRP; magic, sorcery, mutations, psychic abilities and super powers. Of these, you might think of magic as the default, since it is the only one that uses the basic d100 resolution machanic. It is also the one that most closely resembles the standard D&D style of magic. If you want to cast spells that burn or freeze your target, or turn you invisible or heal wounds, you use the magic system. In keeping with the d100 mechanics, successful casting of a magic spell requires a roll. Spells are treated like skills and in order to be proficient, a lot of skill points must be invested. As such, a typical magician will only have a small repertoire of spells that he is really adept at casting. It is also possible for a non-magician character to cast spells, but such a character would not be permitted to use professional skill points to improve his spells and would, therefore, be far more limited in his spellcasting abilities.

In a typical heroic-level campaign, a magician will start out knowing six spells. While it is possible to learn new spells, the magician will never be as adept with these new spells as he is with the original ones. Spells must be memorized, but once they are, they can be cast as often desired or until the magician runs out of power points. A magician can memorize a number of spells equal to half his INT, although if he has more spells than that in his grimoire (i.e. spellbook), he may cast them directly from the book. Variables such as damage and area of affect are determined by the level of the spell which is a function of the amount of power points invested into the spell. For example, a Fire 1 spell does 1d6 points of fire damage and costs 3 power points, while a Fire 4 spell does 4d6 points and cost 12 power points. Needless to say, players with D&D experience may find BRP spells somewhat underwhelming at first, but given that a typical character will start with 10-12 hp and probably never see an increase in that number, one can see that spells can be quite lethal.

Sorcery is handled differently from magic. Originating with the Elric! and Stormbringer games to model the distinctive Moorcock style of magic, sorcery spells are generally weaker than magic spells, but do not require an activation roll. The more powerful sorcery spells are those that summon demons and elementals, in keeping with the dark fantasy genre that spawned these rules. It should be noted that sorcery is rare in any game in which it is used. A character requires a POW of 16 to even cast sorcery spells. This requires some pretty good rolls or, at the very least, decent rolls combined with a redistribution of stats.

Mutations are, as you might expect, handled quite differently from magic or sorcery. They typically involve physical changes to the body, giving the character enhanced (or diminished) abilities or even new abilities such as flight or poison attacks. Mutations are rolled randomly and may be beneficial or harmful. When an adverse mutation is rolled, it may be avoided by a Luck roll (5 x POW). If successful, the character is entitled to a reroll. Any time a Luck roll is failed, the character is stuck with the negative result. Needless to say, mutations are a mixed blessing.

Psychic abilities are handled in much the same way as magic spells. They are learned like skills and require a successful activation roll. Characters normally use personal rather than professional skill points to improve psychic abilities, so the number of abilities a character can be good at is quite limited, although GMs are advised that some settings may allow the use of professional skill points, creating, in effect, a professional telepath. The abilities themselves include all the standard sci-fi tropes such as telekinesis, mind control, precognition and pyrokinesis.

Finally, there are super powers. Personally, I am thoroughly indifferent to just about everything associated with the superhero genre. Combine that with the fact that the super power rules are the most complicated set of rules for any of the powers in BRP and suffice to say, I just couldn't bring myself to fully absorb them. It appears a roll is required to activate some super powers, although they do not work like skills, so it is not entirely clear how the success number is derived. The number and relative power of super powers are based on a number called the Character Point Budget derived from the character's unmodified stats and the power level of the campaign. There is a large variety of super powers to chose from, although they do not seem any more powerful than the other types of powers available in the game. This is probably a good thing since it allows cross-genre campaigns without fear of super-powered characters dominating the mutants, psychics and sorcerers.

That is all for now. I will look at combat next time.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

A look at Basic RolePlaying, pt.1

The upcoming release of Chronicles of Future Earth has renewed my interest in the Chaosium game system Basic RolePlaying (BRP), so much so that I parted with $40 of my hard-earned scratch to buy the core rulebook. Weighing in at a hefty 400 pgs., this tome is too much to review in one post, so I will divide it up into sections and review each separately.

As I've mentioned in the past, I played Call of Cthulhu before, so I am quite familiar with the d100 system that BRP is built around and the character generation procedure is the same as the one used in CoC. There are eight basic stats, strength (STR), constitution (CON), size (SIZ), intelligence (INT), power (POW), dexterity (DEX), appearance (APP) and education (EDU), although EDU is optional in BRP. INT, SIZ and EDU are generated by rolling 2d6+6, while the others are rolled using 3d6. There are options for redistributing some of the statistics and there is also an alternate point-buy system included for those who dislike random generation. There are a variety of derived statistics based on those listed. These include melee damage bonus (or penalty) based on STR + SIZ, hit points equal to the average of CON + SIZ and power points, the fuel for things like magic and psychic abilities, derived from POW. These stats also provide bonuses (and occasionally penalties) to various skills.

After generating the basic and derived stats, the player choses a profession. This is like a class in D&D, except that the only purpose it serves is to determine which skills are professional skills. A character gets a much larger pool of professional skill points than personal/cultural skill points, so the selection of a profession will determine what a character is good at.

By necessity for a generic game system, the skill list is extensive, especially since attack and defense actions are also governed by skills. The list is manageable, although there are a few examples (i.e. Spot, Listen and Sense or Fast Talk, Bargain and Persuade) where some streamlining could have been applied. Still, I find little to fault in the skill system. I appreciate the elegance of a game system that uses the same mechanics for all actions, be they combat-related or skill-related. It took D&D decades to achieve this and it's clear from looking through the skill list, that BRP was a major influence on the designers of D&D 3.x.

In my next installment, I will look at the powers; Magic, Sorcery, Psychic Abilities, Super Powers and Mutations.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Rippin' on D&D 3e....Fiend Folio

Finally some love (or maybe hate) for 3rd edition from Zack and Steve.

Fiend Folio


Thursday, October 21, 2010

More on Chronicles of Future Earth

After checking out the fora at, I find my initial understanding of the setting to be somewhat wrong. It is not really a "Dying Earth" setting, although it does share some stylistic characteristics with the genre. The author herself describes it as far future techno-fantasy. She mentions a number of influences including Leigh Brackett, Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique setting and H.P.Lovecraft's Dreamlands. Going back to the movie Heavy Metal, it may be the "Den" sequence, rather than the "Taarna" sequence that best captures the style she describes. Still sounds cool to me.


Pathfinder's not that tough, really!

I was checking out the forum over at and ran across one of the typical 4E v. Pathfinder threads that pops over there from time to time. I don't want to get into the edition wars again, since I feel such posts are just a cheap way for bloggers to up their posting numbers without having anything interesting to say. I do take exception, however, to some of the posts which describe preparation time for DM's running 3.x/Pathfinder as especially onerous. One commentor even describes a situation in which his DM spent two hours on an NPC wizard who was subsequently defeated in a single round. TWO HOURS! I could generate a whole adventuring party of high-level characters in two hours and still have time to grab a sandwich and watch the third period of the game.

The key to NPC generation in 3.x/Pathfinder is to know what the purpose of the NPC is and what relevent information needs to be included to fulfil that purpose. Obviously, if an NPC is supposed to a major player in a campaign, more effort should be put into its design, including ample abilities to escape, since some players consider it a challenge to kill every important NPC that crosses their paths. However, if the NPC is just intended to be cannon fodder, it is a piece of cake to produce even spellcasters in a hurry. Here is my approach:

Ability scores: For low-level characters (level 1-5), make the primary ability score 16, give them Con 12 and make everything else 10. For mid-level (level 6-10), give them 18 for the primary ability and everything else the same as low-level. For high-level (11+), 20 for the primary ability, Con 14, everything else 10. In other words, 1-5 level: +3 modifier for primary and +1 hp per die; 6-10 level: +4 modifier and +1 hp per die; 11+ level: +5 modifier and +2 hp per die.

Feats: Don't sweat this one. It doesn't matter if there are a couple of hundred to chose from, there are only about 20 that are worth a damn for NPCs. Honestly, nobody cares if the enemy wizard has the Forge Ring feat, it won't come into play. If you are rolling up a non-fighter, you won't have very many feats anyway and assuming at least a couple will be non-combat feats, you typically only have to assign 3 or 4 feats to your NPC. For spellcasters, you are looking at Spell Penetration, Combat Casting, Improved Initiative and maybe Empower Spell. There, done. A similar list can be easily thrown together for any other character type. Obviously, you will spend a bit more time on fighters since they are all about feats, but then you don't have to worry about spell selection, so it all balances out.

Skills: Perception, Stealth, Spellcraft and Acrobatics are the only skills that matter in combat. Don't worry about the rest.

Spells: Again, feel free to cut corners. A high-level wizard may have dozens of spells, but chances are he won't be around more than five rounds. He'll either be dead or he will have bugged out. So, pick a half dozen offensive spells and a Teleport, give him Mage Armour and Resist Energy (fire)(already cast) and be done with it. Your players will not notice how little effort you put into a wizard that they kill in three rounds.

Magic Items: The core rule book has a nice section on equipping NPCs. It's fast and easy. Use it.

With a little experience, it is possible to generate NPC combatants in a minute or two. The complete rules for character generation are only necessary for player characters.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

15 games in 15 minutes

I picked up this meme from Save or Die, 15 games that had the biggest influence on me. So here goes:

1.Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D, AD&D 2e, D&D 3.x/Pathfinder) - These games have provided me with almost 30 years of enjoyment.
2.Risk (boardgame) - Honestly, shouldn't this one be on everyone's list?
3.Axis & Allies (boardgame)
4.Sid Meier's Civilization II (computer game) - I still play this old classic from time to time.
5.Star Fleet Battles (wargame) - Hydrans rule! Eat hellbores, Klingon scum!
6.GURPS - It's lost its appeal somewhat, but I played this game a lot back in the 90s.
7.Star Frontiers - My first sci-fi game, loved it.
8.Call of Cthulhu
9.Traveller (Megatraveller, Mongoose Traveller)
10.Star Wars (d6)
11.Star Wars Saga Ed.
12.D20 Modern/d20 Future
13.Rifts - Mostly it is the setting that appealed to me, the game itself is dreadful.
14.Axis & Allies (miniatures game)
15.Advanced Civilization (boardgame) - A true classic by Avalon Hill, played many times, lost every time.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Chronicles of Future Earth....looks awesome

Chaosium reminds me of an aging movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The beauty is gone and the style is dated, but occasionally a bit of the glamour of the past shows through. I used to play Call of Cthulhu quite a bit. Actually, to clarify, I used to run Call of Cthulhu quite a bit. It's a hard game for a player like me to enjoy. I prefer heroic adventure in which my character has a chance of winning. The best CoC has to offer is slow, steady defeat punctuated by small, temporary successes. As such, I would typically run small campaigns of 6 to 10 game sessions. By then, most of my players would have gone through more than one character and any original PCs would be hopelessly crippled by their experiences.

Having said that, the Chaosium game engine, now called Basic RolePlaying or BRP is a good one. It may be a bit more granular than some may think necessary, but it is simple to learn and easy to adapt to other genres. Happily, Chaosium is doing just that. A quick look at their website will reveal many supplements for BRP that introduce a variety of different fantasy and sci-fi settings. Chaosium hasn't yet been convinced of the virtue of selling low-cost pdfs of the core rules ($30...yikes!), but many of the supplements are quite affordable.

One type of setting I think the BRP system is ideally suited for is the so-called "Dying Earth" genre. Though this genre considerably predates the writings of Jack Vance, it is his work that lends it the name. Basically, it is a vision of a far future earth, in which the sun is fading, resources have largely been depleted, the ruins of thousands of fallen empires decay under shifting sands and sorcery and ancient technology exist side-by-side. The "Taarna" sequence from the 1981 animated feature, Heavy Metal, is a good example of the style of the Dying Earth genre. In a couple of months (hopefully), Chaosium will release its own take on the Dying Earth setting with Chronicles of Future Earth. It is written by Sarah Newton, author of the Mindjammer campaign setting for Cubicle 7's Starblazer Adventures game and appears to be the first of a series of supplements for this new campaign setting. As best as I can tell from what little information is available (Chaosium isn't exactly the most communicative company in the business), Chronicles of Future Earth is not a Cthulhu Mythos-related game setting and perhaps it might benefit the company's bottom line to make that clearer, since for most people, Chaosium is synonymous with Call of Cthulhu. Chronicles of Future Earth is looking like a must buy for me.

Now, if I could somehow get a pdf of BRP for under $15...


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cthulhu Rising - not bad, needs polish

I'm a bit puzzled by Chaosium's monograph series. The monographs are publications written primarily by a single author and with limited editorial oversight by Chaosium staff. They typically present alternate settings for the Call of Cthulhu. What I'm not clear on however, is how the works are commissioned. Are they little more than well-written fan scripts that have been submitted unsolicited to Chaosium or are they written by freelancers who have been commissioned by the company? Because of this, I have been somewhat reluctant to purchase any of them (that and the fact I haven't run or played CoC in almost 20 years), figuring they would probably be rather amateurish. Unlike many old-school gamers, I've never been enamoured with the DIY approach to game design and prefer to have my games complete and play-tested before I buy.

So it was with some reluctance that I decided to buy the pdf for Cthulhu Rising, a monograph by John Ossoway detailing a far future (but pre-End Times) setting for Call of Cthulhu. The mundane aspects of the setting are pretty standard fare for space-based game settings. The earth nations are balkanized, but there is a beefed-up version of the UN mandated to ensure we all play nice. There are scheming megacorporations and rebellious colonies, space pirates, rogue mercenaries and shadowy government telepaths. One notable omission from the usual list of space age tropes is aliens. As is common in the space horror genre, aliens are not our friends. They are either unknowable puppetmasters or vicious anthropophages and when you are talking about the Cthulhu Mythos, they can be both.

Cthulhu Rising starts out with a detailed timeline of the next 261 years of future history complete with the obligatory "2271: NOW" ending. I didn't know people still did those things. I thought they went the way of van murals and guitar solos. After that is a brief, but useful description of technology, politics and explored space in the 23rd century. This is, in turn, followed by a few pages on the Cthulhu Mythos and how it relates to the setting. All the setting material is sufficiently thin to allow GMs to customize their own settings with little need to edit.

The next section deals with character generation. There isn't much in here that varies from the basic Call of Cthulhu rules. At this point, I should clarify that I own the 3rd edition rules of CoC. The game is currently in its 6th edition. I also do not own Basic Role-Playing (BRP), the generic game system upon which CoC is run. So, some of the things I am about to write may be rendered moot by more recent versions of the rules of which I am not aware. So, a few changes included in this section include hit location hit points and melee damage modifiers for high STR+SIZ. There are also bonuses for high ability scores based on a classification scheme of skills presented by the author. One of the problems with Cthulhu Rising pops up here. There is no listing of which skills fall into which category. Some are obvious. For example, knowledge skills should be fairly self-evident. However, there are likely to be some toss-ups when categorizing manipulation skills vs. agility skills, for example. Indeed, weapon skills are given special treatment in that Attack uses the manipulation modifier while Parry uses the agility modifier. This classification may appear in later editions of CoC or in BRP, but I'm not aware of it and, in any case, there are several new skills in Cthulhu Rising and the classifications are not provided for those either.

I do quite like the psionics section of this setting. Although there is no mention of it in the acknowledgements, I get a distinct Babylon 5 feel from it, right down to the use of the P-rating system and the existence of an organization called PsiCorps. PsiCorps is a branch of the Earth military in Cthulhu Rising, while another organization called MetaPol is a psionic investigation agency attached to another branch of government, the Federal Law Enforcement Authority (FLEA). The psionics aren't flashy and, much like in Babylon 5, most psychics are incapable of performing much more than minor feats of telepathy and precognition. Jedi-style telekinesis is possible, but requires an extremely high rating which would be all but impossible to generate under normal conditions.

The rest of the book provides rules for high-tech and zero-G combat, as well as lists of equipment and weapons. Oddly, except for a few pages in the setting section, there is very little about the Cthulhu Mythos in Cthulhu Rising. It turns out, that sort of information is intended to be provided in supplements dealing with different parts of human space. The first of these is called Jovian Nightmares, which I will review in the near future. All in all, Cthulhu Rising is decent, if a bit dull. A motivated GM could take it as a starting point to build something truly inspired. For the rest of us, I hope future supplements add some much-needed spice to the broth.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rippin' on D&D

Zack and Steve brought their A game to the module B3: Palace of the Silver Princess. Funny stuff.

Palace of the Silver Princess, pt.1


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

What kind of group do you play with?

Yesterday, I was reading about Christian's ongoing attrition problem at Destination Unknown. I certainly can relate to his problem, we've all been there. But what really struck me was how different a group of players he has/had as compared to our little band of brothers. The players Christian lost from his group include two actors and two screenwriters. Can you imagine a more different collection of folks than our group? Ok, maybe the "Playing D&D with Porn Stars" group. Still, look at us, computer geeks, geoscientists and a teacher compared to a bunch of artsy Hollywood types. One can only imagine how different the style of play must be. I suppose Christian's players are probably a lot more comfortable with the role-playing aspects of the game. It is, after all, what actors do. We science-and-technology types are far more at ease with numbers and machines. I guess that's why we like rules-heavy games with a lot of chargen options. Perhaps it's not surprising that our teacher is the most enthusiastic role-player of the group.


2300 AD is coming back...and it's Traveller!

Back in the '70s and especially the '80s, Game Designers' Workshop (GDW) was a big player in the tabletop rpg and wargame business. They had some major successes, most notably Traveller, and some stinkers (anyone remember Dangerous Journeys?). They introduced the steampunk genre to gaming with Space: 1889 and played on our worst Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation with Twilight: 2000. Since the group I played with throughout the '80s was not interested in playing anything except AD&D, I never had much of an opportunity to try out any GDW games until years after their initial release. The only one that really caught my attention was MegaTraveller. My reaction to that game was lukewarm and with so many other games to try, such as GURPS and Call of Cthulhu, I never really went back to GDW.

Well, recently I have rediscovered Traveller, thanks to the new coat of paint it has received from Mongoose. The folks from Swindon have really breathed new life into the Traveller game engine by adapting the rules to a number of IPs including Babylon 5 and Judge Dredd. Later this month, Traveller will meet Lovecraft with the release of Chthonian Stars and I have just learned that next year, Mongoose intends to revive another GDW classic with the release of 2300 AD, again using the Traveller game system.

I never tried the original back in the '80s, but the setting intrigued me. It takes place a few centuries after the Twilight War (the nuclear war described in the Twilight: 2000 game). France, which chose to sit out the war (insert cheese-eating surrender monkey joke here), is now the most powerful country on earth and has created a sizable interstellar empire. The Americans and the Chinese, having had to rebuild after the war, also have interstellar empires, though smaller than that of the French. In addition to their own mutual hostilities, the human space empires have to deal with an alien race which has a biological imperative to make war. All of this takes place in a much smaller milieu than the Third Imperium setting of Traveller, something I much appreciate. I will be watching closely for this one.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Skyline mind is blown

What is better than movies about alien invasions or giant monsters? How about a movie about an alien invasion with giant monsters? Needless to say, I anxiously await the release of Skyline. Damn!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

So, what's on your iPod?, pt.7

The latest release by Sabaton can best be described as more of the same. Of course, if you liked what they've done in the past, you will probably find little to fault in Coat of Arms. It has the same staccato guitar riffs we've come to expect as well as the usual collection of war-themed songs. This most recent release includes songs dealing with such topics as the Holocaust, the Battle of Thermopylae and Simo Häyhä, famed Finnish sniper from WWII. Solid cuts from the album include "Midway" (about the WWII battle of the same name) and "Wehrmacht" (about the Nazi war machine and the toll of war upon individual soldiers). Sabaton has also returned to the habit of releasing a heavy metal tribute song (called "Metal Ripper"), a tradition they started with Primo Victoria (2005) and Attero Dominatus (2006), but which they abandoned with The Art of War (2008).


New Pathfinder playtest - the Magus

Paizo has revealed its first playtest for the upcoming Ultimate Magic book expected next year. The new playtest unleashes a new base class, the Magus, an arcane spellcaster/fighter combination. Of course, the proof is in the play, but my first thought upon looking at it was that the Eldritch Knight prestige class has just been rendered obsolete. Heck, they even use a new version of the Eldritch Knight iconic art to illustrate the pdf (although I'm sure a new iconic will be commissioned for the final product).


Update: Upon further perusal, the Spell Combat class feature of the Magus looks awesome, maybe too awesome. I wouldn't be surprised to see it nerfed in the final product. The ability to make a full attack and cast a spell in the same round, even with the penalties on both the attacks and the concentration check (which are reduced to zero at higher levels anyway) is a potential gamebreaker.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rippin' on....erotic fan art...ummm...hmmm

Zack and Steve have gone in a different direction this time, presenting the best of the fan-created, erotic D&D monster art they requested a few weeks ago. I cannot begin to describe all that is wrong with this, but there is some nice Erol Otus parody in there. Just check it out.

erotic monster art


Monday, September 13, 2010

A query of gaming preferences

I know that most of my readers mainly play some incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons, be it D&D 3.x/Pathfinder, some form of "old-school" D&D or, dare I speak the name, D&D 4e. I'm guessing most of you play your edition of D&D because it is your favourite tabletop rpg, although the availability of players may also be a factor. I am curious, though, what is your second favourite role-playing game or do you even have one? I know it may be difficult to decide. I have gone through periods when Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, Star Frontiers, GURPS and various Star Wars-based rpgs have held that vaunted second spot. I think the recent Mongoose reboot of Traveller and the subsequent expansion of the game to other settings may make that game my no.2 right now. What about you guys?


Friday, September 10, 2010

Pathfinder Inquisitor: cool, oh wait, ok yeah, cool

Over the last few weeks, I have had an opportunity to assess the new base classes in the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide. My favourite is without doubt, the Alchemist. It offers interesting new capabilities to the game instead of simply repackaging options that already exist from other classes. I am also intrigued by the Summoner class, but I will reserve judgement until I see one in play. The Witch seems to be a fairly effective choice. The hex abilities are decent and the spell selection is nice, but I can't get past the feeling that the Witch is just a slightly different version of the Sorcerer with a bit of healing ability thrown in. A playable class, but not one that inspires me. The Oracle has a similar problem, it's a Sorcerer except it uses divine magic rather than arcane. Again, playable, but not especially interesting. The Cavalier is simpy boring, a fighter who rides a horse. The class features of the Cavalier are nowhere near as useful as the bonus feats of the actual Fighter class.

That leaves the Inquisitor class. This one has a lot to recommend it. The Judgment class feature is excellent and useful in a lot of different situations. There are lots of skills and lots of nice utilitarian capabilities like Track and Monster Lore. The true killer ability of the class, however, is Bane. The inquisitor can, as a swift action, imbue his weapon with the bane special ability, selecting whatever creature type he wants. Damn! He can even change the creature type as a swift action. The only restriction is that the ability can only be used for a number of rounds per day equal to the inquisitor's level. Still, that's awesome and at 12th level, the Greater Bane class feature doubles the bonus damage. The Inquisitor even has a unique feature called Stalwart. It's sort of like Evasion, but it applies to spells that require a Fort or Will save instead. A spell like disintegrate, which still causes damage with a successful Fort save, would instead do no damage if the saving throw was made. Yet, despite all this juicy goodness, I had one of those "aw hell!" moments when I noticed the Inquisitor gets a bunch of teamwork feats. I hate teamwork feats. In my experience, most gamers are lone wolf types. Sure, they can work together if the situation demands it, but they sure as heck aren't going to design their characters with cooperation as the central theme. After all, your teamwork feats are useless if you can't get some other guys in the group to commit to taking them as well. Happily, I noticed the Solo Tactics class feature of the Inquisitor, which allows him to derive benefit from his teamwork feats even if his fellow party members don't have them, as long as the other requirements are met. Since the other requirements are situational and not hardwired into the character design, they are easy to meet. So, with that poison pill thoroughly neutralized, I am happy to put the Inquisitor class near the top of my list of base classes. I still like the Alchemist a bit more, but the Inquisitor rocks. I might even start multiclassing my current cleric character.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Chthonian Stars, the "ch" is silent

It is with growing anticipation that I await the arrival of Chthonian Stars by Mongoose, due for release next month. Much to my delight, there has been a recent upsurge in interest in the space horror genre in the table-top rpg community. Two companies in particular, Wildfire and Posthuman Studios, have led the way with CthulhuTech and Eclipse Phase respectively. Both games have much to recommend them, in terms of game setting. The former embraces the supernatural, in the form of the Cthulhu mythos, while the latter takes a more hard sci-fi approach, with malevolent AIs and aliens serving as the main antagonists. Still, both games have features which dissuade me from embracing them wholeheartedly. In the case of CthulhuTech, the inclusion of anime stylings and a gimmicky game engine have turned me off. Eclipse Phase is somewhat more promising, but the complexity of the game is a bit much for my middle-aged brain to fully master. The d100 game engine is simple enough, but the chargen process is byzantine and the sheer volume of options would leave me at the mercy of my younger and more intellectually-agile gaming buddies were I to attempt to run a campaign.

Enter Chthonian Stars. First off, it employs the venerable Traveller engine. Nice, no surprises there. The setting seems to be nothing short of awesome. It is the 22nd century. Humanity has reached new heights. Technology has made it possible to populate the solar system. The ecological destruction of the industrial age has begun to heal. War has been rendered obsolete and the future holds the promise of even greater success for the human race. Time to put a stop to all that.

Something primeval and malevolent approaches from the interstellar void and long-dormant horrors have heard its call. Random acts of brutal violence are reported. Ships and people disappear. Strange celestial occurrences are observed. The very edge of the solar system, once seen as the new frontier, is increasingly viewed with dread, a place of nightmares and monsters from the void. And out there, ever vigilant in the Kuiper Belt is Warden 4, the Lighthouse, humanity's most distant outpost, where the Wardens, the Unified World Council's most elite agents, observe and prepare for the arrival of the Chthonian star. How much cool can you stand?

To the guys at Wildfire and Mongoose, please don't mess this up.


cross-posted at Rognar's Space Horror RPG Blog

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rippin' on Marvel Super Heroes, again

I'm back in Cowtown and catching up with all my regularly-scheduled activities, including blogging. Let's start off with the latest offering from Zack and Steve as they once again lay a smack down on TSR's Marvel Super Heroes game, this time, the first module, MH-1: The Breeder Bombs.

Marvel Super Heroes


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Riding out the storm

Tropical storm Earl has seen fit to keep me back east for another day. I'm watching the trees sway right now and hoping the power stays on, all the while keeping a couple of fidgety preschoolers occupied. See you all in a couple of days.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pathfinder Fiction

In every Pathfinder Adventure path book since the very beginning there has been a serialized fiction section. In the newer APs the fiction only spans the adventure path but the original story spanned the first 3 APs. They usually give you a feel for the setting of AP and are a decent read. Since I tend to hand off the books as fast as they come in I don't get a chance to read it until after we've played through it and by that point I often forget.

I was digging through my old issues and found that I had never finished reading the first story. I finished the first 6 parts but had never read the next 12. Well I went through them yesterday and was shocked. It totally sets up the Serpents Skull adventure path (the current one). I wonder if this was all part of the plan 4 years ago. Anyway after reading the fiction I now completely understand the opening illustration for the first part of Serpent's skull. It shows the final scene from the fiction.

I found this very cool and it makes me look forward to Serpent's Skull even more.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Hi all. I'm on vacation in Quebec at the moment and heading to points further east. Regular posts will resume after Labour Day. Game on, y'all!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rippin' on Al-Qadim

At no point in the history of D&D did the number and utter stupidity of monsters reach a higher point than with AD&D 2e. Zack and Steve delve into the madness once again with a look at the Al-Qadim Monstrous Compendium Appendix.



Monday, August 16, 2010

The Expendables was Awesome! No, not really

I don't usually review things I don't like. It's not because I was raised to believe if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. It's simply because I don't know what to say other than this thing sucks. However, I have received a special request to review The Expendables and I always try to give the people what they want. So here goes. [Minor spoilers ahead (although the plot is so predictable, I'm not sure anything I write could spoil it)]

The Expendables are a group of mercenaries who do the jobs no one else can handle. There's the leader, Barney Ross (Stallone), the aging veteran who has seen it all, his lieutenant, Lee Christmas (Statham), knifefighter, advisor and the only guy with any apparent life outside of the unit, Yin Yang (Li), martial artist who is always lobbying for a bigger take (why? who knows?), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), badass with a drug problem (gets cut from the group and turns on them, never saw that coming), Toll Road (Couture), the muscle (and a true thespian) and Hale Caesar (Crews), the large black man with a really big gun (a little something for the ladies, wink-wink). There is one additional member of the team, of course. It wouldn't be complete without the retired guy who gives out sage advice, has lots of contacts and runs the business (in this case, a tattoo parlour) where the guys all hang out between jobs. The old wise man is Tool (Rourke).

Now, I won't go into detail on the story itself, as it is pretty typical '80s-era action movie fare. A corrupt ex-CIA agent and a Latin American generalissimo are in cahoots to grow and smuggle cocaine into the US. There's a girl, in this case, the fiery daughter of the generalissimo, who is working against her father. At first, the mercs want nothing to do with the situation, but Ross has feelings for the girl (kind of a father-daughter thing, we hope) and after hearing Tool tell a story of a life he could have saved, but didn't, and the guilt he's lived with ever since, Ross decides he's going to do the right thing. Of course, he intends to do it alone and, of course, his team will have none of that. What follows is a lot of explosions, gunplay and martial arts, all of it awesome. All the bad guys get their comeuppance, all the good guys walk away with barely a scratch and the turncoat is redeemed. Yay for us!

Now for the bad part, the acting and the dialogue in this movie was atrocious. Sure, when we go to a Stallone movie, we don't expect to see Brando or Olivier. But even by the low standards we've come to expect from such films, this was awful. Listening to Randy Couture talk about his therapy and his obvious neurosis about his cauliflower ear was literally painful. It felt like a junior high school public-speaking assignment when the most introverted girl in the class gets up to present her talk on the parallels between Romeo and Juliet and Twilight. Even the brief scene with Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis, three giants of my adolescence and early adulthood, was clunky and forced, although I will say, it ended on a high note with the best line of the movie. Basically, every minute of the movie in which somebody is getting beaten up or shot at was cool. Every minute in between was dreadful. If you can overlook the wooden acting and clunky dialogue, go see it, but first be sure to declare 12 bucks and two hours of your time expendable.


Update: After a big opening weekend, Stallone is talking sequel. My advice, lose Couture and hire some real writers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Two things I like in the Pathfinder APG

Maybe the power creep of D&D 3.5 has spoiled me a bit, but when I picked up the new Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide, I was expecting a lot more "That's awesome!" moments than I actually had. Come to think about it, there really weren't any such moments. That may be a good thing because it means Pathfinder isn't going to follow the path of ever more exotic and powerful classes and abilities. Still, I think some classes needed help. Some, like the monk, got it. Others, like the cleric, not so much. Still, there were a couple of things I did like enough to be noteworthy.

Cleric subdomains. Okay, let's face it. Clerics suck to play. You've got to have one for the healing, but playing one is like being someone's personal assistant. They are supposed to be good at combat, but they mostly just get in the way of the real warriors. They don't get much offensive magical ability unless they're evil or fighting undead. Finally, to rub salt into the wounds, they have a bunch of "1 round-per-level" buffing spells. These are truly the most hateful and fun-killing invention in the history of D&D (ok, second after level drain). You can't cast them ahead of time, because they will expire before the next fight. You can't cast them at the beginning of a fight, because by the time you get a decent buff going (typically 3 or 4 spells), the fight is all but over. Sure, you can cast quickened versions, if you want to give up 5th-level spells to cast 1st-level ones, but it doesn't take a genius to see the problem with that. So, what are you left with, channeling and domain powers. The former used to be awesome late in the D&D 3.5 cycle with all the channeling feats, but if you're playing pure Pathfinder, those are gone and what you are left with is an occasional weapon against some exotic opponents and yet another source of healing. Yawn! So, finally, we come to domain powers. There are definitely some cool ones. The domains of War, Protection and Good are particularly sweet. The problem is, designing cleric characters based on a few decent domain powers really limits options and who wants that? Enter subdomains. As the name implies, subdomains are incorporated into domains and act like alternative class features. They don't completely replace the domain, but typically provide one alternate domain power and a few alternate domain spells. The best ones are those that salvage an otherwise useless domain. One I really like is the Feather subdomain of the Animal domain. The latter gives the ability to speak with animals and an animal companion. Yeah, I know. But substitute the Feather subdomain and you give up the talking animals in exchange for a nice Perception skill bonus. You also get feather fall and fly as domain spells.

The Alchemist base class. I loved it in the playtest and I still love it now. There have been many attempts in the past to incorporate pseudotechnology into the D&D rules. Even when done well, such as Monte Cook's Chaositech, it never seemed to catch on. I think it's hard to balance the requirements that pseudotechnology feel different from magic, but be approximately equal to magic in usefulness. The Pathfinder alchemist seems to have finally achieved that. It will be interesting to see if the designers make some effort to incorporate other technologies like steam, clockwork and blackpowder weapons in future supplements. There are third-party publishers who have released 3.x-compatible products dealing with these, such as Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Clock & Steam from Zeitgeist Games and The Tome of Secrets from Adamant Entertainment, but wider acceptance is only achieved when new rules are included in official products.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Paizo dominates ENnies

Pathfinder has dominated the ENnies at Gencon this year, taking home a ton of awards including Best Game and Product of the Year. The success of Pathfinder has also earned Paizo the nod for Best Publisher. I'm also glad to see some recognition for the excellence of Eclipse Phase, which won for Best Writing and was runner-up for Product of the Year. I'm happy to see that my impeccable taste in games has been validated. All the results are presented at EN World.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Pathfinder - Advanced Players Guide

Well I finally got my hands on a copy after drooling over the leaked bits for weeks.
I had a pretty good feel for most of the new classes from the free preview so it will take a while for me to go through the minor tweaks to see what they mean.

The optional alterations to the original classes are interesting. They are very similar to the class kits back form the 2E days. I was a bit disappointed with the rogue ones but the bard,monk (zen archer - woot!) and fighter had some really interesting ones.

There's some good feats too. An alchemy feat that leads to making cheap potions, and one that allows rogues another opportunity to do sneak attacks from range.

I'm only half way through the book (its so good, I'm actually not playing starcraft!) so it remains to be seen what other treasures lurk in the pages!

Sunward - Eclipse Phase heats up

I'm not sure what I expected to see in the new Sunward: The Inner System sourcebook for Eclipse Phase. In hindsight, I suppose what it contains (which I will discuss below) is exactly what one would expect. Yet, somehow, I feel slightly disappointed. I bought the pdf from DriveThruRPG and have nothing negative to say about the production quality. The artwork is beautiful, the editing appears tight, it has a good ToC and index. The "hack pack" version I bought for $15 includes a printer-friendly map of the inner solar system as well as other goodies made available for use under the Creative Commons License. Really, I have nothing to complain about, so what's the problem?

Sunward: The Inner System is basically an encyclopedia of the inner solar system in the Eclipse Phase setting. It provides an exhaustive list of colonies and space stations throughout the inner system, from the hell mines of Mercury to the nomad settlements of the Martian outback to the luxurious Venusian aerostats, there are plenty of ideas and settings to exploit. I found two of these particularly inspiring and it may be a window into my soul that both are bleak and gritty. One is the "TITAN Quarantine Zone" or TQZ on Mars and the other is Earth itself. At this point, a little background may be in order. Eclipse Phase is set in the far (but not really far) future after a "war-against-the-machines" scenario. The machines, in this case, are the TITANs (Total Information Tactical Awareness Networks), military AIs, not unlike the famous Skynet, that turn on humanity. They don't simply nuke us to extinction, however. They collect our consciousnesses (usually by way of decapitation followed by download directly from the harvested brain) and store them for some unknown purpose. Most of humanity is slaughtered, but many escape offworld. The lucky ones are able to escape intact, but most are infugees, digital consciousnesses uploaded and stored in hope of one day earning the means to have a body or "morph" and becoming a functioning individual. Most never will. Anyway, the TITANs were not defeated, although the commonly held belief is that they were contained. The discovery of Pandora Gates, portals to other star systems, which have distinct TITAN design features lead most to conclude that the TITANs built them to leave the solar system completely. The problem is, even if the TITANs left for good (an open question, to be sure), they left behind most of their automated weapons. Nanoswarms and warbots patrol the scorched ruins of Earth's great cities, while dormant viruses lie in wait to infect any biomorph that encounters them. Yet, despite these horrors, small pockets of humanity remain on Earth, ten years after the Fall. Do these survivors look up to the heavens and wonder if rescue is just a few thousand kilometers away in the glittering space stations that orbit overhead or do they assume the TITANs must have pursued humanity to the very edge of the solar system and left none alive? How can one not find that compelling? In fact, the TITANs did pursue humanity beyond Earth, most notably to Luna, the near-Earth orbital habitats and Mars. The most troubling reminder of that pursuit is the TQZ on Mars. It is a little taste of what Earth is like on the most populated planet in the system. The same technological horrors inhabit the zone, yet for some reason, do not seek to expand for the moment. Imagine the role-playing possibilities. Corporate agents, separatist militants, desert nomads and TITAN technology, Mars is a pretty interesting place.

So, what about the crunch? I guess perhaps this is where I feel a bit let down. Maybe, there wasn't much left to offer after the core rulebook, but a paltry selection of new morphs, some rather silly (sun-worshipping space whales, WTF?), as well as new traits and gear. There's also a selection of new character templates. The Earth Survivor is the coolest damn thing I've seen in months, but the Martian Ranger, the Scavenger and the Siftrunner Techie are pretty sweet too. An encounter between a group of Scavengers in their flexbot morphs and Earth Survivors, looking like Tusken Raiders after ten years on a heavy diet of steroids and hate, would make for a pretty sweet evening of hardcore gaming. While Sunward is not everything I'd hoped for, it has a lot to offer and the hack pack is worth the extra few sheckels if you want to customize your game setting or maybe use some of the artwork for a blog or other website.


cross-posted at Rognar's Space Horror RPG Blog

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I write like Arthur C. Clarke

Yeah, sure I do, if Clarke suffered a massive brain trauma and a partial lobotomy, perhaps.

I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


Monday, August 02, 2010

Rippin' on Planescape

It was only a matter of time until Zack and Steve turned their attention to the wild and weird Planescape campaign setting.



Monday, July 26, 2010

Gaming Kingmaker

We've completed a year of nation-building in our Kingmaker campaign and have learned a few things about gaming the system. I will outline some basics and then suggest a house rule to make the building process more rational.

1.Build a Shrine early. It is the cheapest building unit in the game that makes items. A DC 20 Economy roll and you have 2 BP. A Shrine will pay for itself faster than anything else.
2.Pedal to the metal on Economy and Stability, Loyalty can wait. Your early goal is to make Economy rolls, so you want to up the Economy modifier with cheap units that give Economy bonuses, such as Smith, Tannery and Mill. These units also have the virtue of providing Stability bonuses as well. Missing Stability checks isn't quite as dire as missing Economy checks, but they do cause Unrest which penalizes your Economy rolls. If you start to get a few Unrest points, build some House units. You don't want to fall into an Unrest death spiral.
3.Don't expand too fast and keep your consumption at zero. Farmland reduces consumption. Claim and farm just enough hexes to keep your consumption at zero. Adding hexes makes your Control DC go up and makes it more likely you will fail your Economy rolls. You should always keep your Economy modifier close to your Control DC. I can't stress this enough, missing Economy checks sucks.
4.Take advantage of cost savings offered by big buildings. After you have a nice comfortable little barony, with Economy and Stability modifiers in the low 20s, take a few months to build your treasury and then build something big. It will save a fortune in future building costs. Also, plan ahead. Don't build a Market, then build a Waterfront. Hold off and build that Waterfront. The Market will be much cheaper.

We built our city with the intention of maximizing economic output and with little regard for logic or the wishes of the citizenry and the rules do not penalize us for it. For example, our town has a tannery, a smithy and a mill, but no shops, inns or taverns. The reason for this is because craftsmen tend to contribute to Economy and Stability, while services tend to contribute to Economy and Loyalty. Stability is more important than Loyalty, at least at the beginning, so the service sector gets neglected and the town's business profile becomes unbalanced. I think there is a simple and logical solution to this dilemma. Since the Stability of any nation depends, to some extent, on the general happiness of the people, make it a rule that the kingdom's Stability modifier can never be more than 5 points above the Loyalty modifier.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Rippin' on D&D, again

I was more of an AD&D guy myself, so I really know very little about BECMI D&D modules. For that reason, I can't say if B8 Journey to the Rock is a classic or not. Still, Zack and Steve show it their usual level of respect.

Journey to the Rock


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kingmaker report #3

As our initial stipend from the swordlords of Restov begins to dwindle, building projects become less ambitious. In the fourth month since the founding of the Barony of Drekmore, we decide to switch our efforts to our borders. We accept the offer from Chief Sootscale to join our fief. A mutual defense pact is signed and part of the kobold cave complex is made available to us in times of national emergency. We also build roads into the kobold territory and stake out some nearby farmland. Beckwitt is none too happy to be working road construction in kobold territory, but what can you do?

Satan! That no good, lowdown, sneaky, smelly bastard. Never trust a sorceror, especially if he's a tiefling. I go drinking with him for one night and he talks me into volunteering to build a road for a month. Do you know how much work that is? Oh and on off-days we will just help clearing the farm fields. Next time he wants to go for a drink, I'll throw him in the lake.

Those kobolds give me the willies, but they can work when they want to. It would have taken much longer to clear that land without their help. Still, I wouldn't want them in Dunwin. The Baron seems to have a handle on them. He has them sticking close to the caverns and they have laid up some supplies and fortified the place a little. The local farmers have been told they could go there in case of trouble.

In the fifth month, we attract a tanner to our growing town. Craftsmen are the lifeblood of any town and the addition of a tannery is most welcome news. We had set our edicts to include one festival this year. Since it is harvest time, this is a good time to let the people have some fun. Once again, we hear from Beckwitt:

I had a good month, work in Dunwin was slack with just some housing and the tannery going up. Out on the farms, the first harvest is coming in. The weather has been so good, the Baron thinks we will fit in another crop before winter. The harvest has been bigger than thought and most folks are happy.

Satan must have realised he pushed me too far last month. He has been real nice and even paid for a night at the Aphrodisia House, when I got back from working in the boonies. He can be a real nice guy. We have even started playing cards again, of course, only when we are playing on a team against someone else.

Tomorrow is the big harvest festival and the Baron promises it will be a great time. I'm not sure Erastil knows how to party, but I sure do. There will be some free drinks and a nice meal. I helped start the pig roast this afternoon.

A half year has past and our grand diplomat has been recalled to Dunwin. Batholomew Hester, besides being our eyes and ears in the courts of Brevoy, is also a paladin of Erastil. The Baron, the High Priest and the Grand Diplomat, all holy men in the service of Erastil, have gathered together to consecrate the first holy shrine in Dunwin. Though not all the town's inhabitants are adherents, most are and the service is well-attended. Father Jhod and his acolytes begin work immediately, producing healing potions and other items for the greater good of Drekmore. The following month, we expand our borders a little further north, before the cold winter months settle in. Anything to add, Beckwitt:

When you're busy, time sure does fly. We are celebrating our six months of existence and things are going well. None of my debts seem to have followed me from Brevoy, the boom times continue here and everyone seems happy. The crazy pace of the first few months has slowed a little.

I have a new job, and I get to hang out with Satan most days. He hired me on in the treasury department even though I don't know much about it, he says he 'll watch out for me. I know my letters and numbers and mostly I copy stuff from one book to another. There's only five of us working in the treasury, so I feel mighty important.

We built a Shrine to Erastil a month back and it has generated some economic benefits, or that's what Satan tells me. Just in the last two weeks we claimed some more land to the north and have started some roads and farms in the area. The Kobolds made a big deal of going up there and burning down some tree. Crazy buggers.

We will take a few months to consolidate or territory and build our treasury. We have an ambitious plan to build up our waterfront next year. Piers, drydocks and warehouses will hopefully attract merchants and shipbuilders, allowing Drekmore to become Brevoy's doorway to the south.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kingmaker report #2

Progress is being made on the expansion of Drekmore. To keep us updated, I have asked Beckwitt, sometime friend and drinking buddy of Satan, to offer his views from the point of view of a commoner on the streets of Dunwin.

Founding a kingdom is damn hard work and don't ever let anyone tell ya different. Bloody Satan the Sorceror with his silver tongue, he convinced me to join up and come out here to the middle of nowhere. I had a nice house and I could have paid my debts eventually.

This first month has gone well, I think. The castle looks like a castle, if you don't look too hard. The layout for more buildings is ready and hopefully we can build some real houses soon and get out of these damn tents.

Satan and I had a drink last night and he mentioned that the treasury is a little better off than expected. Something about all the fish in the lake and the natural radish patches. It was nice that things were so quiet. From all the stories you would think there was a bandit behind every tree, but this month has been peaceful. We have done well and our reward will probably be to work harder.

In the second month, we decided to begin expanding. We need farmland and we have to get going on the road northward. We also need to start building our economy, so we built a smithy and enticed a blacksmith to immigrate. We also received an emissary from Chief Sootscale, the leader of a nearby band of kobolds. We had encountered the kobolds during our initial clearances and had developed a friendly relationship. The emissaries expressed the Chief's desire to join our growing barony. More from Beckwitt:

Second month and all I got is more blisters. A blacksmith shows up and we gotta build him a workshop, while I live in a tent? Sure I know his job is important but come on, I just want a roof that don't leak.

Besides me it seems most of the people here are happy, they probably didn't have Satan Snaketongue convince them to come. Baron Dakros has done a fine job, he works hard and don't spend too much time talking at us. I guess we all see winter a few months ahead and want to be ready.

We started some farms to the north along the river, I still can't remember all the names. I guess those crazy kobolds to the northeast asked to join the kingdom, don't know what the kings will say about that. Seems they like our style and see our human ways as superior.

Had beers with Satan last night and lost at cards to that shark. Don't know why we play, I should just hand over my money right away. Seems we are a happy crew and that has made us more efficient. That has carried over to the treasury in general, sounds like boom times.

By the third month, we have begun to attract some attention from the wider world. First off, Lady Helibet and her retinue arrived to offer their services to our growing number of labourers. While the Baron and the High Priest do not endorse such activities, both are wordly men and are willing to overlook the appearance of a new brothel in town.

Secondly, Dunwin has attracted its first celebrity visitor, the famed bard, Kvothe Lightfinger. The castle was made available for the distinguished guest and several prominent (and somewhat adventurous) patrons from Restov came to meet him.

We also addressed our growing housing shortage, by building several permanent homes for our earliest immigrants. What say you, Beckwitt:

Woohoo, what a month! A house, a brothel and entertainment in the same month. Poor Satan, I found a better way to lose my money than playing cards with him. The Aphrodisia House is the best.

Things have been chaotic around here all month. Some of the new people were grumbling about how us first settlers got the best spots, but what did they think? We was going to choose to live in swampland? Anyway, the Baron talked to some of them and they seemed to accept his explanation.

Well, right after we got going on the houses our first official visitor showed up. One of the most famous bards in all the land showed up on the Baron's doorstep. Kvothe Lightfinger, master of six strings came to Dunwin! Well you can't say no to him when he asks to stay. So, he stayed the whole month. We had people from all over come to town to hear him play music and tell stories. I tell you, we barely got half the work done this month as we done in the last two. Everyone was cutting out early to see what Kvothe was doing.

Satan says he actually came to hear about the exploration of these lands. I figure Satan's just jealous. He seems just a small man beside Kvothe. Anyways, we are still waiting to hear if the Sootscales are going to join, seems like the Baron is stalling a little, but he did mention they have some nice land with a good river that you could travel on.


Thanks to Tayloritos for his commentaries from Beckwitt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kingmaker report #1

The Stag Lord and his bandits have been destroyed and it is now time for our group to build our fief. Dakros, priest of Erastil, has assumed the throne of the newly-founded Barony of Drekmore and has established his capital city (ok, town...ok, small gathering of tents surrounding a ruin) of Dunwin on the site of the Stag Lord's fort. Satan, the mysterious southerner with a faint aroma of brimstone, has taken over the treasury. The witch, Rahasia has assumed responsibility for magical and scholarly affairs. Halak, our stout ranger and woodsman, has been tasked with defense of the hinterland, while the warrior, Lung, will command the city guard and ensure the rule of law is maintained within the realm. Several other courtiers have also been appointed to deal with internal security, foreign affairs and the spiritual and worldly well-being of the people.

Our first task is the repair and expansion of the Stag Lord's stronghold such that it may serve as a suitable seat of power. With a generous stipend from the swordlords of Restov, construction has begun and should be completed within a month. We have also brought in labourers to clear the land around the castle so that construction of the town may proceed and begin the efforts to build a road north to Oleg's trading post to provide a vital connection to Brevoy. Assuming all goes well, we will then begin our expansion northward, building the road, opening up farmland and attracting craftsmen to Dunwin.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interesting WEG news

Zachary at RPG Blog II has the latest (and very likely last) bit of news to come out of the sad story of West End Games. With Septimus returned to Bill Coffin and TORG already sold off to a German publisher, the last remaining IPs were sold to Precis Intermedia. I can't say I know much about Bloodshadows or Masterbook. Truth be told, I thought they were part of TORG. I would be interested in seeing a revival of Shatterzone, however.

Shatterzone is an edgy, space-based campaign setting featuring corrupt megacorporations, nihilistic cults, a great alliance of three races (including humans) that excludes all others and a malevolent and powerful alien empire. The title of the game refers to a region of space that separates the Consortium of Worlds from the Armagon Empire. It is a zone of disturbed space with asteroid fields and dark matter making travel very hazardous. Many adventurers still risk it though, for there are great riches to be found. I think with some dedicated support behind it, the setting could be a real winner. I checked out the website of Precis Intermedia. It appears their plans for Shatterzone do not include the Open d6 license. Too bad, but I remain cautiously optimistic.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Predators - it's not crap!

I went to see Predators last night. It has been savaged by both critics and fanboys alike, so my expectations were low. But you know what, it wasn't that bad. It was clearly an homage to the original, although the characters were somewhat less heroic than Dutch and his crew. [minor spoiler alert] A cutthroat band of mercs and murderers is paradropped on an alien planet, still carrying the weapons they had on them when they were beamed off Earth by the Predators (sucks to be the deathrow inmate, armed only with a small knife). Let the bloodshed begin. The major innovation to the Predator canon in this movie is the addition of a second type of Predator, bigger and stronger than the original. They hunt both humans and the smaller Predators.

There were a couple of minor plot holes. For example, the token female in the cast, an Israeli sniper who serves as the conscience for the group, turns out to know a lot about the original mission which encountered the first Predator. Considering this was highly-classified information about a US military/CIA operation, it's not clear how an IDF soldier would have that intel. Also, the dreaded alien sky trope was displayed in all its glory as a sky full of planets, so close together they would tear each other apart if the laws of gravity were being enforced, suddenly appeared to inform the cast of the enormity of their plight.

Minor aggravations aside, the action was tight, the acting was satisfactory and there were a few easter eggs for fans of the original (as well as the Alien franchise, the convict starts channelling Private Hudson at one point). Worth the price of admission, especially if you are already a fan of the series.


Update: I should add, some firearm aficionados may be underwhelmed by the obligatory minigun scenes in this movie. While just as incapable of killing anything in Predators as it was in Predator, it also seems to have lost its ability to defoliate huge swaths of forest as well.

X-Wing or Y-Wing?

I've always had the sense that my sci-fi inspirations were outside of the mainstream. A good example would be my love for the largely unloved Y-Wing fighter. In that final assault on the Death Star, as a small squadron of rebel pilots flew out to meet their destinies, it was obvious the X-Wings were the stars of the show, and why not? Just look at it:

The very personification of cool, a hunter, fast and deadly. It looks like a modern fighter jet with just enough stylistic changes (like lack of tail) to make it look futuristic. But it doesn't look like a spaceship to me. Spacecraft don't need wings. Yes, I know they are actually X-foils, but they look like wings and that makes it look like an airplane to me. Contrast that with the rugged and unsexy Y-Wing:

Instead of wings, it has nacelles. Also, there is very little effort at aerodynamics. Real spaceships don't need aerodynamics, except when lifting off from a planet. In a couple hundred years, when starfighters battle for supremacy in the skies over Mars (it will happen and it will be awesome), I think we will see a lot more Y and a lot less X in their designs (insert Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus joke here).


Monday, July 12, 2010

Traffic report

Now that I have run my traffic counter for a few days, I'd say my initial excitement has worn off. We do get a lot of views from all over the world, but the average viewing time for the majority of these is only a couple of seconds, not long enough to even read a single post. It makes me wonder if most of these are not even real people, but just automated spambots. Not surprisingly, our biggest source of traffic is us. Roughly a third of our traffic comes from Calgary and it is generated from 15 unique visitors. Since most of us view the blog from multiple locations (home, work, mobile), it's possible most of those unique visitors are still us (and our friend from Citadel). In a way, it's reassuring since it appears nothing I write here will come back to haunt me if I decide to enter politics.