Monday, May 31, 2010

Kingmaker begins

Rising from the ruin of our unfinished Blackmoor mini-campaign, we rush headlong into Kingmaker. No question, this AP is different from any of the others we've played. I've read it's very "old-school", but to be perfectly honest, I don't remember doing a lot of hex-mapping back in the day. My recollection is that we spent a lot of time underground, be it in the Tomb of Horrors, the Lost Caverns of Tsocjanth or the Temple of Elemental Evil. I suspect my 15 year-old self would probably have viewed this sort of systematic mapping exercise as a bit like homework, something I had little patience for if memory serves. However, that was before I learned the joys of turn-based computer strategy games like Sid Meier's Civilization, which bear a much closer resemblance to Kingmaker than anything I remember doing with AD&D.

There is one AD&D 2e campaign setting which does come to mind, however, when I read the player's guide for Kingmaker and that is Birthright. TSR started getting very experimental with 2e campaign settings, releasing oddities such as Dark Sun, Spelljammer and Planescape, but Birthright may have been the most unusual. It could be played as a straight-up medieval fantasy campaign, but it also had the option of playing as rulers of small kingdoms, battling to expand and develop one's holdings. There were cards for various military units that could be purchased to build your kingdom's army and rules for governance and economics. It was a remarkably well-done setting, one of my personal favourites, and won the Origins Award for the Best Rolepaying Supplement of 1995, but it never achieved much market success. There were just too many D&D campaign settings back then

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Dying Earth - mine at last

In my youth, I was a prodigious reader of science-fiction and fantasy. Tolkein, Asimov, Clarke, Donaldson, Brooks, Eddings, Herbert, Haldeman, Heinlein, Moorcock, Lovecraft, Howard, Norton, Lieber, Zelazney and so many others, I read them all, every spare moment. When others my age were going to the high school dance, I was locked away in my bedroom reading (or playing D&D, of course). But through the years, one writer had always eluded me, Jack Vance. He was right there in the heart of D&D, Vancian magic, but I could never find a copy of The Dying Earth in the bookstores and this was a time before Amazon or eBay. If the local bookstore didn't have it, you were out of luck.

Jump ahead to today. I'm all grown up with a wife and kids, a job and a mortgage. I don't have much time for recreational reading anymore, but lo and behold, a chance trip to a big bookstore and there in a corner of the fantasy section is Tales of the Dying Earth, a compilation of all Vance's Dying Earth works. I had to have it.

Now, I have to make time to read it.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The 50s version of Empire Strikes Back.

OK this is pretty awesome. What if Empire Strikes back came out 30 years earlier?

It isn't sized properly and I don't feel like fixing it so just click on the link to go back to Youtube to watch it properly.

D&D is Metal or Metal is D&D

In the wake of the recent passing of Ronnie James Dio, a lively discussion about the relationship between role-playing games (D&D in particular) and heavy metal music has erupted over at Grognardia. The subject has been thoroughly explored and I agree pretty much with James M's view on this, but with two cultural phenomena so near and dear to me heart, I can't let this pass without something to say.

First off, as a metal fan, the connection between heavy metal and D&D is obvious to me. When you see an album cover featuring an axe-wielding warrior, you don't think jazz or disco. There are exceptions, of course, but typically fantasy art and imagery is associated with metal. This wasn't always the case. Sure, Black Sabbath was dealing with occult themes since its inception, but these early efforts were directed more towards gothic horror. Fantasy themes were more prevalent in the music of Rush and Led Zeppelin, bands which were, at most, proto-metal. When D&D began to expand beyond its midwestern US roots in the late 70s, the dominant force in heavy metal music was the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" or NWOBHM. The most prominent bands to come out of this movement were Judas Priest (some would argue they predate the NWOBHM), Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Saxon and Venom (also Def Leppard, but they sold out, so screw those guys). In the early days, fantasy themes were not common in the music of the NWOBHM bands. Traditional rock n' roll themes of cars and motorcycles, sex, drugs and crime were more prevalent, along with a smattering of the occult. It was really in the early 80s that fantastical imagery began to take hold in metal, coinciding with the growth of D&D as a cultural phenomenon. I would suggest this was no coincidence and that D&D was influencing heavy metal as much, or more than the music was influencing rpgs.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Blackmoor campaign, recap pt.5

Forced to abandon our favoured Saturday night game time, we gathered on Friday night, tired, distracted and a bit giddy, to begin the onslaught on the Temple of the Frog. Clearly, nothing good was going to come from this.

Earlier we had the opportunity to witness the might of the Frog as a foolish froghemoth decided to assault the town. Although several unfortunates met their demise in the gaping maw of the beast, the temple guards and the monks were able to muster quickly and drive off the monstrosity. The monks were armed with strange rod-like weapons that shot beams of light which caused great damage to the froghemoth. They were truly impressive.

The next day we prepared our infiltration. Now GWAR isn't the most stealthy band of warmongers to ever grace the lands of Blackmoor, so we used all the stealth magicks we had at our disposal to at least get them into the temple undetected. From that point on, the gnome alchemist scouted ahead using his sneaky juice and a little bit of trickery to get around. At one point, he happened into a room full of swarms of dire tadpoles which bored into his flesh. They had to be carved out with a dagger. Worst of all, the gnome was rendered visible as a result and had a lot of perceptive bad guys to slip past to get back to his comrades. Naturally, the gnome was spotted and it was on.

The party did have some element of surprise, so the resistance was a bit disorganized at first. We killed a few temple guards and one of the weird monks with the deadly beam rod. We fought our way to the room with the man-eating tadpoles and this time we were ready. The alchemist lobbed an acid bomb into the room and the tadpoles were destroyed. Then GWAR charged in...and were promptly trapped as giant stone blocks descended on both sides of the room, sealing both exits. Then water started filling the room...and then sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads (ok, I made that last part up). Fortunately, the members of GWAR ate their Wheaties that morning and some heavy lifting was able to extricate them from the room. The gnome fiddled with the mechanism and locked the trap, preventing further problems (snicker). We knew there were guards beyond, so our warlock decided to try to bluff them into opening the door. Dressing as a guard, he convinced them that the intruders were defeated and that he needed to enter to make a report. The bluff check was made and the door was opened. Two-thirds of GWAR then busted in, but fatigue and questionable judgement struck Dark, the cleric. He decided to cast obscuring mist while remaining inside the tadpole room. The spell worked fine, but it did nothing to prevent one of the guards from tripping the trap again from his side. The stone blocks fell, the water flowed and Dark was all alone in the room. It was now a race against time. The guards had to be dispatched so the trap could be disarmed and Dark spared. To add to the difficulty, another of the beam weapon monks appeared with an ogre zombie. The fighter, the barbarian and the warlock battled inside the guard room, the cleric practiced breath-holding techniques and the gnome used his wall-climbing juice and his fast-running juice to go around the other way and flank the bad guys. It was close, but the battle was won and the cleric was saved. We did a bit more exploring, briefly held a female rogue prisoner (before killing her because she wouldn't spill the beans) and very nearly caused one of the captured beam rods to explode, but we finally succumbed to fatigue. The Frog would live for another day.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another god is felled

In a week that already brought the sad news of Frank Frazetta's death, another god in the pantheon of my youth has fallen. Ronnie James Dio died today of cancer at the age of 67. Dio rose to prominence in the mid-70s alongside Ritchie Blackmore in the band Rainbow, but his true greatness only became apparent when he took over lead vocals for Black Sabbath following the departure of Ozzy Osbourne. He would later release several solid solo projects through much of the 80s and continued releasing studio albums until 2004, including a brief reunion with Black Sabbath and the release of Dehumanizer in 1992. I will be listening to Sacred Heart on the commute tomorrow.


RIP Carl Macek

It has just come to my attention that Carl Macek (September 21, 1951 – April 17, 2010) has passed away. As you may or may not know, he was the guy that took the various Japanese series, re dubbed and rearranged them and gave us the great Robotech cartoon. Robtotech was always one of my favorites as a kid and I still play the theme song today (and have the entire series on my computer). I just thought it should be noted here. I would not be at all surprised to see some cross over between the D&D and Anime worlds.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.11

Pathfinder Companion: Adventurer's Armory
As Obiri mentioned below, the Blackmoor campaign is coming to an end and with it, my brief exploration of the new Alchemist class. I haven't decided what I will play in the new Kingmaker AP that we will be starting in a few weeks, but with the new options available in the Adventurer's Armory, I'm leaning towards giving alchemy another try.

At a mere 32 pages, the Adventurer's Armory is little more than a pamphlet, but there's lots of crunch in that tiny package. New arms and armour, equipment and alchemical items are introduced. Also, prices for a lot of things that were not given a gp value before are included, such as animals and black market items (including slaves, in case you want to buy their freedom, of course). There are a few new feats, new traits and new rules for using alchemical items as spell components to improve the effects of spells. Finally, there is a new concept, the channel focus. Basically, it is a pseudomagical item that can be activated by the channel energy class feature. For example, a consecrated weapon can be activated as though the Channel Smite feat were used, but the weapon will hold the "charge" for up to 24 hours or until released, doing half the cleric's channel energy damage (Will save for half) to the target in addition to the normal weapon damage. It is also possible for someone other than the cleric to wield the weapon.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rippin' on....tribute to Frazetta

With their usual biting wit and obvious affection, Zack and Steve pay tribute to the art of Frank Frazetta.

Frank Frazetta


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


In less then 48 hours we'll be playing through the last part of my mini Blackmoor campaign. I always have such grand aspirations with these things but I find being the DM very draining. I cut a huge side adventure out and one night to explore the Temple of the Frog really isn't enough.

Anyway, it was a fun interlude to let the Kingmaker adventure path get a little a head of us so we don't run into a situation like we did with Council of Thieves where Paizo fell behind schedule and we did side quests for 2 months.

Picking a character class is always a fun task for me as you can tell from the many character related posts I make. I rejoined the group at the tail end of Age of Worms never really having played 3.5. Making a decent 17th level character with no real experience is quite a task. Since then each character gets a little stronger as I try out new things and learn from earlier character's weaknesses.

I've been especially proud of the last 3. Mendle was build using Pathfinder's beta rules for the Second Darkness AP. An elven wizard who didn't like to get his hands dirty; he specialized in cloud spells and debuffs (his Enervations and Rays of Enfeeblement were notorious for turning BBEGs into sissies). For our last 3.5 campaign (Legacy of Fire) I played Vendlon (see my campaign blog for details). An Archivist who started out rather weak but was a true combat monster by the end of the campaign though the use of Persistent spells via Divine Metamagic. I went somewhere a little different during the last campaign. Alphonso the paladin was nearly indestructible and shows that in Pathfinder, paladins are the ultimate in defensive tank. Sure I kicked some BBEG ass but that was largely due to the nature of the campaign (lots of devils and undead). The rest of the time damage was fairly mediocre and he had rather limited mobility.

So with Kingmaker on the horizon (we'll likely start in early June) I am still pondering what to be. I never did try out my Summoner vs the evil PCs but I think I've lost some interest in that class for now. For now I have it narrowed down to 4 choices.

The first is Melina the Witch. She is character that is a cross between Mendle and Vendlon and would hopefully prove to be as effective as both. An excellent debuffer with a nice selection of many of my favorite cleric and wizard spells.
The second is Samson the Inquisitor of Abadar. A decent archer, a solid skill monkey and tracker, mixed with decent cleric spells. I haven't played the skill monkey in a while and I think this guy could be fun.

The third is Jonathan Bevari (version 1). A fighter archer, this guy will be able to lay down some serious damage. My main concern is that he'll get boring. I mean when all you largely do is stand in one place and do full round attacks with a bow it might start to get a bit boring.

So I came up with Jonathan Bevari (version 2). A falchion wielding fighter. The guy is the anti-Alphonso. He is all offense and little defense. Most critters will die in a round or two but with a mediocre AC, and poor saves, I fear this guy may not live long. Tayloritos gave me a good idea with his evil PC. Jon v2 will use the the Lunge and Stand Still feats to keep opponents from moving past him to help protect the back line. I have to admit that I am strongly tempted to play this guy as it is something I haven't tried before. I'd just need lots of back line support to stay alive.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I am Whiplash

I went to see Iron Man 2 last night. It was good. If you liked the first Iron Man, you will probably like the sequel (a bit less, perhaps). I'm not going to review it, however. Rather, I want to talk about the character of Ivan Vanko (aka Whiplash...or Crimson Dynamo...or something). This character was brilliant and a good template for DMs trying to come up with a compelling villain. [Minor Spoiler Warning]: I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to say, Vanko combines two elements that make a great villain. First off, he is the antithesis of the hero, Tony Stark, even though he comes from a similar place. His father and Stark's father were partners at one time, until that collaboration was harshly terminated. From that point on, the lives of Vanko and Stark went in radically different directions. Secondly, there is a definite "tail wags the dog" theme going on in the interaction between Vanko and the character of Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell), a jealous rival of Stark. The dynamic of puppet and puppeteer has rarely been better presented.

One more thing, if there is ever a shortage of Awesome in Hollywood, blame Mickey Rourke. He is clearly hoarding it.


By the way, I notice it has been a full week since my last post. Shame on me. I risk losing my legions of fans. However, in my defense, I have been quite busy on my other blog.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.10

Traveller Book 4: Psion by Lawrence Whitaker

Since rediscovering Traveller a few weeks ago, this time in its current Mongoose edition, I have grown to appreciate the depth of the system for dealing with all sorts of different science-fiction genres. I suppose Mongoose has come to a similar conclusion as they have begun adapting several of their licenses to the Traveller system, including Babylon 5 and Judge Dredd. Obviously, incorporating such a wide variety of campaign settings demands that the core rules have to be made more flexible and nowhere is that design imperative more obvious than in the psionics rules, as described in Traveller Book 4: Psion. In the "Third Imperium", the default setting for Traveller, psionics play a prominent, but subtle role. One of the main races contending the Imperium for control of the galaxy is the Zhodani, a race of humans in which the ruling caste is made up of telepaths. Mistrust of the Zhodani leads to similar mistrust of psionically-gifted individuals within the Imperium. Therefore, those with latent psionic abilities often have a difficult time finding training and support. Even those who do have developed psychic powers often refrain from using them as many planets have laws forbidding their use. Psionics in the default Traveller setting are, therefore, generally weak and often discarded completely. On the other hand, psionics in Babylon 5 are front and center. Such powers can decide the fate of whole civilizations.

To accommodate such a wide range of psionic capabilities, the rules have been greatly expanded in two important ways, psionic strength and advanced talents. In the traditional Traveller game, psionic strength is a 2d6 roll with a -1 DM for each 4 years of adulthood spent without training. This would give a typical starting psionic character 6 or 7 psi points. Since even something as basic as reading someone's thoughts would cost 2 to 3 points, and a psionic assault would cost 8 or 9 points, we are obviously not looking at high-powered psychic abilities here. Psion introduces new levels of psionic power with examples of campaign settings where such levels would be appropriate. For example, a hard sf setting with prominent psionics, such as Babylon 5 would have a power level of basic psi + Int DM, just a slight boost (and a bit low in my estimation). A science fantasy setting such as Judge Dredd, on the other hand, would have a power level of basic psi x 2. At the very top of the scale is what is referred to as transcendent culture sf (Dune being an example). An appropriate power level for such a campaign is given as basic psi x 2.5.

Beyond the basic psionic talents of telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, awareness and teleportation, Psion introduces a bunch of advanced talents, some of which will knock your socks off. Among the most powerful of these are dimensional manipulation (i.e. interdimensional travel), ship integration (i.e. folding space), tapping (i.e. psychic vampirism) and temporal manipulation (yeah, time travel). These new advanced talents really open the door to using Traveller as the be-all-and-end-all of sf game systems. I've definitely found my system.


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Blackmoor campaign, recap pt.4

After resting up, following our little dust-up with the slavers in the ziggurat, we decided to explore the rest of the dungeon. We found a large statue of some sort of frog-like humanoid and more of those mysterious runes. After setting off a "trap" that cures wounds, we found a room with a large, rune-covered structure that emitted sparks and gouts of flame. After some examination, we determined it to be some sort of seal, imprisoning a powerful evil. Naturally, we set about trying to break it. The warlock hit it with an eldritch blast and got hosed with acid for his trouble. Touching runes and throwing rocks proved equally futile. So we did what any self-respecting party of adventurers would do, we gave up.

We headed back to South Pym. Since we had no further opportunity to cause mayhem at the ziggurat, we figured it was time to settle the score with Toxinu, the cartographer that sold us the magic map. We arrived to find his shop burned down and him gone. It was proving difficult to find someone or something to kill today. That's when a representative of Master Bilch, the self-appointed mayor of Boggybottom approached us. He said Bilch wanted to meet with us in Boggybottom and that we had some mutual interests to discuss. Given that this was a trip of several weeks, there was some reluctance to drop everything and head off to meet Bilch. After much discussion, it was decided to go to Boggybottom, but not before going back to Lake Gloomy. We had heard from Senora, the wizardess who first directed us to Toxinu, that a more powerful member of the Cabal was in Lake Gloomy, appointed by the King to administer the Barony of the Lakes until the fate of the baroness was determined. We figured he might be able to translate our mysterious writings for us.

We went to visit to new ruler of the barony and after a convincing performance from our silver-tongued warlock, he agreed to look at the writings. After a couple of days, he told us that the writings were over 10,000 years old, of a language associated with an ancient empire that ruled these lands long before men. He also told us that there were two different dialects present. Most of the writings were of the same style, but one set which we had found on one tablet in the ziggurat were of a different and possibly newer version of the language. He also informed us that he had sent for a scholar who was an expert in such matters.

The next day, when the expert arrived to study the writings, we were offered a hundred gold pieces and sent on our way. It was all we could do to avoid slaughtering half the town in retaliation. Instead, the gnome maxed out his stealth capabilities and headed in to the baroness' keep to spy on the proceedings. It took all the patience the gnome could muster, but he was able to view the scholar's notes. he determined that the writings fortold of the release of an evil frog god when a set of indeterminate conditions were met. This suggests the current activities of the Frog are aimed at bringing this prophecy to completion.

At this point, we figured it was time to pay a visit to Master Bilch. A long voyage and some pointless reconnaissance later, we finally managed a meeting. Bilch revealed that he had a slaving operation of his own and that he assumed we originally showed up in Boggybottom to cause him trouble. Once he concluded that we were after the Frog, a rival of his, he decided to seek an alliance so that we could work toward bringing down a common foe. He suggested we attempt to sign on with the Frog. He told us of a Frog recruiter he had uncovered in Kenville and a password to use to establish contact. The stage was set for the final climax.

Following some parting macho posturing, we left Boggybottom and headed for Kenville. We found the recruiter, an incautious drunkard, and made contact. In no time at all, we were on a boat headed for, you guessed it, Frog Island. We were blindfolded for the last couple hours of our trip and when the blindfolds were removed, we disembarked and entered a scummy, foggy little hamlet named Frog Town. We had a look around and quickly noted the slave pens and a large temple surrounded by a stout wall. It was clear, we had found what we were looking for. That night we asked a few questions and did a bit of spying at the temple. Although it's doubtful what we discovered would be of much help in the upcoming battle, we did uncover a fair bit of simmering animosity between long-time residents of the town and the relatively new Froggies. Would the locals be of any use? That remains to be seen. Next session, the confrontation.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Rippin' on F.A.T.A.L....the horror, the horror

Zack and Steve have entered the dung pit. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here: