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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.