Monday, February 22, 2010

So, what's on your iPod?, pt.6

The latest effort to reconnect with the bands I loved in my youth takes me, once again, to Saxon. The quintet from Yorkshire went off the rails in the mid-80s, attempting to emulate the hair metal sound of bands like Def Leppard and Whitesnake and doing a piss-poor job of it. It wasn't until the 90s that Saxon began to rediscover its NWOBHM roots and produce quality music again. One of their better efforts was the 1999 release Metalhead. Although a bit uneven, there are several solid tracks on the album, including "Are We Travellers in Time", "Sea of Life" and "Conquistador" (which Biff Byford annoyingly insists on pronouncing 'con-KWISS-ta-door'). Saxon, as it turns out, was quite prolific in the 90s, with Forever Free (1992), Dogs of War (1995) and Unleash the Beast (1997) still to come on my list of albums to check out. I can't wait.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Psycho-killer, qu'est que c'est?

So apparently this homicidal prof down in Alabama was into D&D and maybe even LARPing! Whatever. If LARPing is going to make someone flip out and shoot up the place, it's time we started taking a hard look at these guys, Redneck LARPers:

After all, their weapons are real.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Random chargen? I hate it.

Hot topics in the RPG blogosphere always seem to start with something James Maliszewski has to say. Suddenly, his post on the unforgiving nature of Traveller character generation, something of which I have very painful memories, has spawned other posts, rebuttals and comments. I don't really know if any insight can be drawn from all this discussion, but I can tell you why I hate random chargen, because I am a monumentally lousy dice-roller. It's absolutely true. In AD&D, I was almost never able to roll minimum stats for any class at all. Literally, even getting a single 9 on 6 rolls of 3d6 was only achieved after multiple attempts. We had to house rule the chargen process to allow me to play the class I wanted because actually getting a 9 on the appropriate roll to play a wizard or a fighter was astronomically unlikely for me. For all you old school guys who insist the old dice-rolling approach was best, try this, instead of rolling 3d6 for your next character, just roll 2d6+1. That way, you will get a distribution closer to my rolls for the two decades I spent playing AD&D 1e/2e.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The economics of poison

I've never really given much thought to the use of poison in D&D 3.5/Pathfinder. Some monsters have it and can, on occasion, use it to good effect, but players rarely use it. First of all, there is the danger of a self-inflicted poisoning, a risk to which only assassins are immune. Also, poisons don't seem all that effective against any of the really powerful monsters you might actually want to use it on. Sure, you could use something like black lotus extract with its hefty save DC and its truly scary 1d6 Con damage per round, but at 4500 gp per dose, it isn't even remotely cost effective. Spells and swords can accomplish even more and generally don't cost a thing. However, with the addition of the alchemist class in Pathfinder, the use of poison is going to become more common and it may be time to examine the economics of poison (and alchemy in general).

I remember in the olden days, we used to butcher every poisonous monster we killed, trying to extract the precious poison glands for our own use or resale (assuming there wasn't a pesky paladin in the party). Of course, there was always a risk of being poisoned (an exaggerated risk, in my opinion), but it was worth it. There is, of course, nothing preventing a group from doing the same in Pathfinder, but, depending on how firmly the DM adheres to treasure rules, adjustments would have to be made to include the value of any poison in the treasure of the encounter. This could get tricky since a monster may have multiple doses or it might use up all its available poison in the fight, so the value of its poison could vary wildly and may, in fact, be more valuable than any treasure such a monster might be expected to possess.

Next, there is the question of how to extract the poison. In older versions of D&D, it didn't matter, you just did it and hoped the DM didn't have a fight with his girlfriend the night before. These sorts of things are more formalized now, so some sort of skill check is called for. An appropriate knowledge skill might be a possibility, but that means a different skill for different types of monsters. Also, knowledge skills usually involve theoretical, rather than practical knowledge, like knowing where the wyvern's venom sac is located, but not necessarily how to extract it intact. Craft (alchemy) includes the ability to make poison, but doesn't really seem to imply the anatomical knowledge of poisonous creatures. Survival would seem to skirt along the edges of this activity, since it includes tracking and hunting. It wouldn't be a stretch to include butchering monsters for their valuable body parts and it is a class skill for alchemists, leading me to believe that is what the Pathfinder design team has in mind.

The upshot of all this is right now, poisons are way too expensive, even if you make your own, to be a significant part of any PCs bag of tricks. The alchemist class will likely require some rule changes to make poison use more accessible.


Friday, February 12, 2010

The Landmaster

Over at EXONAUTS!, Jay has an excellent post about space age vehicles. It got me to thinking about just such a vehicle that is near and dear to my heart...and it's real! I'm talking about the Landmaster from the 1977 post-apocalyptic movie Damnation Alley. Built by Dean Jeffries for a whopping $350,000 US (well over a million in today's dollars), the Landmaster still exists today and is fully functional (except for armaments, I'm sure).

I give you, the Landmaster:


cross-posted at Rognar's Space Horror Blog

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Review - Starblazer Adventures

As part of the New Year's sale at DriveThruRPG, Starblazer Adventures by Cubicle 7 was available for a mere $10, so I bought it out of curiousity. For those unaware of this game, it is slightly-pulpy, FATE-based space opera game based on a '70s-era British comic book series. The game setting is enormous, weighing in at over 600 pages, yet still manages to feel a tad light on crunch. I think this may be a function of the modified FATE system used in the game. Actions are resolved by rolling 2 d6s, one designated as a negative die before the roll. The positive and negative dice are added together to give a result from -5 to +5, with the highest probabilities being the closest to 0. Added to the result is a modifier resulting from skills and other factors. This modifier will typically range from +1 to +3, although higher modifiers are possible. In addition to skills, characters also have stunts and aspects. Stunts are a lot like feats (or in some cases, class features) in the d20 system. They typically allow you do something with a skill you wouldn't normally be able to do, or give you a positive modifier to a skill under certain circumstances by accepting a negative modifier on other skills.

Aspects are rather less well-defined. They are brief phrases that describe motivations, personality quirks or background information of a character that can be used under certain circumstances to cajole the GM to allow some benefit. Alternatively, the player can use an aspect to his character's detriment, in order to earn fate points. Fate points are at the very heart of the FATE game system. Spending fate points allows a player to temporarily take control of the story. They can be used for a variety of things from adding an additional +1 modifier to any dice roll to powering some stunts to compelling a negative result from an opponent's aspect. While GMs do have veto power over the use of fate points, they are encouraged not to use it unless doing so would cause serious problems for the story.

Not surprisingly, Starblazer Adventures borrows heavily from the Starblazer comic books, incorporating story arcs, recurring characters and technologies from the comics directly into the game setting. The setting itself is divided into three eras, although other settings are possible. The three main settings are the Trailblazer Era, in which mankind first takes to the stars (think Enterprise or Star Trek), the Empire Era, in which a human empire battles across the galaxy with other great alien empires (more like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5) and the Cosmopolitain Era, in which a galaxy-spanning empire made up of many races including humans maintains the Pax Galactica (best analog might be the Old Republic era of Star Wars).

Overall, the game is pretty good, especially if you are looking for a bit of pulp or campy feel to your space opera campaign. The FATE system tends to encourage a bit of whimsy on the part of the players, so serious or gritty campaigns probably won't work as well unless the GM and the players are all on the same page. I would never use the FATE system for my space horror campaign setting, but if you're looking for "a wee bit o' fun", this might be just the thing.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Another House Rule: Blasters

Not the Star Wars kind.

Evocation in 3.5 and Pathfinder sucks as a school of magic. Between massive hit point inflation and caster level caps Evocation just doesn't pack the punch it used to. In fact I would argue (and do quite frequently) that evocation spells are a waste of a spell slot.

Sure it's nice against low level mooks but why not just let the melee types feel awesome for a bit. Between SR, Saves and Energy Resistance, why bother?

So for the up coming campaign I am ruling that energy type spells are not effected by spell resistance.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Have we seen the last of Axis & Allies miniatures?

I made a rare visit to the WotC website today and scanned through the brands...Magic: the Gathering, Heroscape, Dungeons and Dragons, Duel Masters, Axis & Allies, Star Wars. It got me to thinking. With the Star Wars license gone, has the streamlining stopped or are there other product lines on the chopping block. Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons have to be considered core brands and pretty well untouchable. Heroscape is the only one of the brands commonly seen in mainstream toy stores like Toys-R-Us, which likely makes the Hasbro overfiends happy. Duel Masters is a CCG based on an anime property, pretty much an obligatory product line for a card company. So, that leaves Axis & Allies. Hasbro owned Avalon Hill and rolled it into WotC when it bought the company. It already owned Milton Bradley (man, Hasbro is the Evil Empire of gaming) which developed the original Axis & Allies boardgame, and promptly switched that product line to Avalon Hill. At this point, the various versions of the boardgame, a few other boardgames such as Diplomacy and the miniatures lines are the only Avalon Hill properties actively being produced. Of these, the minis lines are clearly the most neglected, with only two sets being released in 2009. Pre-painted plastic minis are apparently quite expensive to produce, certainly more so than the unpainted play pieces of a typical boardgame and while the Axis & Allies brand is well-known, it's mostly because of the venerable boardgame, not the minis. So, I think all signs point to A&AM being the next property to face the firing squad.


Further note: Hasbro also owns Parker Brothers, the makers of Monopoly and Risk. In other words, they bloody well own everything. I add Hasbro to my list of other companies and organizations I hate; Microsoft, Disney, the New York Yankees...

The latest purchase from my FLGS, pt.8

With the end of the Star Wars Saga Ed. coming soon, I actually have the opportunity to own the entire game, every hardcover published in the product line. To that end, I picked up Galaxy of Intrigue, the penultimate sourcebook in the SWSE series. I knew before I bought it that it would be one of, if not the weakest product so far and in that regard, my expectations were realized. However, it does have just enough crunch, combined with my inherent collector's obsessive-compulsiveness, to compel me to buy it. The main selling point is updated stats for a number of fairly important alien races, such as the Bith, the Defel, the Gotal and the Neimoidian. Although these races had been described in past releases, they had not been given the full treatment. No doubt, the SWSE braintrust had been saving them up for just this reason.

There are some new feats and talents, as well as equipment and droids, but Galaxy of Intrigue is, without a doubt, the fluffiest book so far, knocking The Rebellion Era Sourcebook off that pedestal. Still, some the fluffy bits, like the numerous mini-adventures, are not completely devoid of merit. A seasoned group of SWSE players probably won't find much that's indispensible in Galaxy of Intrigue, but new players and GMs, especially those with an interest in "cloak-and-dagger" gameplay will find a lot of useful material.


Further note: With only The Unknown Regions remaining to be released, a lot of the "Expanded Universe" stuff will not get covered in SWSE. One notable omission is the Yuuzhan Vong. Although there have been fragments of info about this race scattered through several books, it has never gotten a sufficiently detailed description to create a campaign centered on the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. My suspicion, however, is that few tears will be shed by diehard Star Wars fans.