Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chronicles of Future Earth - mine at last

The wait was a bit longer than I'd hoped, but The Chronicles of Future Earth finally arrived at my FLGS and I eagerly bought myself a copy. It's a 112 pg. softcover with a removable double-sided, two pg. map of the city and the province that comprise the setting (more on that in a moment). Chronicles, written by Sarah Newton, author of the Mindjammer campaign setting for Starblazer Adventures, describes the territory of southern and central Spain as it might be a hundred thousand years in the future. The province of Korduva (modern-day Cordoba) is the northernmost territory of a great, but decaying empire called the Venerable Autocracy of Sakara spanning what is now North Africa (Sakara = Sahara, perhaps). Just to the north of Korduva is the Amadorad (modern-day Madrid) Protectorate, a vassal state and ally of Korduva against the Chaos Wastes which lie further to the north. The world of Chronicles is strange, depleted and decadent. Dozens of races, some human, some near-human and some decidedly non-human struggle to survive in a world haunted by summoned demons and creatures of chaos. The Gods are real and their temples are sources of magical power. Employing ancient technologies such as gravity cannons and force blades along with powerful sorcery and simple spears and shields, the peoples of the future earth defend the remnants of civilization from the horrors that wait Beyond the Veil.

Chronicles of Future Earth begins with a chapter on races and cultures. There are very brief descriptions provided for a couple of dozen races, human, humanoid (Jeniri, the "Cousins of Man") and non-human (Esteri, "Not-People of Urth"). Of these, four races are given detailed descriptions for use as player races. Two of these are human, the Hivernians and the Amadoradi. The former are the people of Korduva [and the neighbouring province of Elikan (modern-day Alicante)], civilized citizens of the Venerable Autocracy, while the latter are the people of Amadorad, hard, militant folk only recently brought into the imperial fold and still chafing under the yoke of civilization. The third race are the Virikki, a Jeniri race of blue-skinned scalyfolk with powerful psychic abilities and a refined aesthetic sense. Finally, there are the Hsun (or Spider Folk), an Esteri race of large arachnoids known for their skillful artifice and their ability to produce alagin, a hard substance used instead of metal (which is rare and expensive).

The next two chapters, detailing character generation and divine powers and demon summoning respectively, serve to adapt the Basic RolePlaying game system to the setting. The details on summoning and using demons are particularly welcome as I always thought the rules outlined in BRP were a tad sparse and unclear in this regard. After that is a chapter on the Gods of the Great Compact, powerful extradimensional beings who united in the distant past to defeat an evil entity known as the Great Hegemonist. Two in particular, Regos, the god of rulership and conquest, and Vareltias, the god of diplomacy and trade, are described in detail such that their temples can be used as patrons or sources of spells. A chapter on artifacts and equipment, another brief chapter on the city of Korduva and a bestiary follow.

Lastly, there is a sizable introductory adventure included which incorporates pretty much everything that is detailed in the rest of the book. It ties everything together quite nicely and provides a pretty good feel for the setting. Other features include the aforementioned map of the city of Korduva and the territory of Hivernia, a handy glossary, a complete index (though no table of contents) and an appendix for various tables and maps.

I really can't find much to criticize in this book. The artwork is black-and-white throughout, but it's quite well-drawn and appropriate (although a couple of images are used more than once). My only concern might be the limited scope of the book. Many things are described briefly, but not to an extent that they could be readily incorporated into an ongoing campaign. This wouldn't be a problem if further supplements were to be released in a timely fashion, but it would not be unfair, I think, to describe Chaosium's publication schedule as glacial. Thus, it could be many months before we get to see the next installment in this excellent campaign setting. I hope Chaosium realizes what a gem they have in Chronicles and proceeds to quickly get some new content into the pipeline.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Firearms in Pathfinder

With a growing sense among the Pathfinder community that the new firearms rules are going to be a mess, it got me to wondering how guns could be incorporated into the game some other way. One simple option that has been used before is the exploding dice mechanic. Roll 1d8 for damage, if you roll an 8, roll again. Repeat as necessary. It's simple enough if you just have one type of gun, but what happens if you have a pistol that does 1d6 and a musket that does 1d8? You actually have a better chance of exploding your die and, thereby, rolling more damage with the smaller weapon. You could do a dice pool approach, a pistol does 1d6 and a musket does 2d6. Any sixes are exploded.

This approach is functional, but I find it inelegant, largely because it is an exception to the normal combat rules. I think a better approach is to take armour out of the AC business altogether and make it all about DR. Give characters a defense value equal to 1/2 BAB. All AC modifiers other than armour and natural armour, but including shields would be added to the defense value. Then, make another type of damage, called ballistic, which would plug into the DR rules just as slashing, piercing and bludgeoning already do. As an example, take leather armour. Instead of +2 AC bonus, give it DR: 1/ballistic. Magical leather might be DR: 2/ballistic. I would want heavier armour types such as plate or dragon scale to have some DR against firearms, so full plate would be something like DR:5/ballistic and 2/- (no stacking). Monsters would also have this. A creature with a natural armour
would, instead, get DR similar to armour of comparable AC bonus. I think natural DR (such as that granted to the barbarian class) should stack with DR granted by armour, which, I concede, is an exception to the general rule on DR, but I think it's an exception worth including.

So what do you all think about this?


More thoughts on the Gunslinger

After reading much of the discussion on the Paizo messageboards, I have come to conclude that my initial enthusiasm for the gunslinger class and the firearms rules in general was unfounded. I have been convinced that there are serious problems which I did not initially consider. First of all, giving guns touch attack capability is really going to mess up any sense of realism. While it is true that in the real world, guns largely rendered armour obsolete, this is not necessarily realistic in a fantasy world. I mentioned in my previous post the problem of adamantine armour, but we also have to consider magic and, for that matter, natural armour such as dragon hide. Should a primitive, non-magical firearm be permitted to ignore the natural armour of an ancient red dragon? Heck, many modern firearms can't reliably penetrate the hide of an elephant or rhino, let alone a dragon. No doubt, there will be some new magic armour quality included in Ultimate Combat which will negate the touch attack ability of firearms, but that doesn't help the dragons and other thick-skinned monsters out there.

The other concern is the economics of the gunslinger. A 1st-level gunslingers starts out with either a musket or two pistols as well as 50 bullets and sufficient black powder to fire them for free. This is roughly 2000 to 2500 gps worth of treasure, giving a 1st-level gunslinger the highest treasure/CR ratio of any monster in the game. What is going to stop a group of players from wandering the country hunting down low-level gunslingers to collect their extremely valuable guns? And low-level PC gunslingers will have massive bullseyes painted on their backs. They will become walking ATMs.

The Pathfinder design team still has a lot of work to do on this one.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Pathfinder playtest - the Gunslinger

Paizo has come out with the first playtest for the upcoming Ultimate Combat splatbook for Pathfinder. The pdf includes three new classes, the ninja, the samurai and the gunslinger, as well as new combat rules for firearms. I don't really have much to say about the ninja and the samurai. We've seen those classes done numerous times before and my only response to yet another incarnation is profound indifference. However, I'm very interested in incorporating blackpowder weapons into my games, so I was more than a little curious to see what Paizo had in store for us.

First off, I'll get it out front. I hate the name of the "gunslinger" class. I would have preferred something like "fusilier" or "arquebusier". For that matter, given the sort of swashbuckler character this class seems designed to create, the name "musketeer" might even be appropriate. The primary class feature of the gunslinger is Grit, a pool of points the character can draw from to execute various daring maneuvers or shooting tricks. It ends with the inevitable True Grit capstone ability which ties in with the name of the class. Still, the iconic image included in the pdf is far more reminiscent of Capt. Jack Sparrow than Rooster Cogburn, so there seems to be a bit of confusion as to what cultural icon (with an avian name) the designers were going for here. Yet, despite the aggravation caused by the Wild West terminology used, the class itself seems decent enough. I doubt most gunslingers in the game will concentrate solely on their guns, given the limitations of those weapons (which I will discuss below), but a gunslinger with a handy rapier at the ready would be a formidable combatant.

Even more than the gunslinger class, I was interested in reading the firearm combat rules. D&D has always had a problem with guns, because of the nature of the armour class rules. Guns are inevitably inferior to bows unless some way of incorporating armour penetration exists in the game system. Some d20 games have done a good job of dealing with this, most notably True20 by Green Ronin, by introducing a new saving throw, called Toughness, which represents a character's ability to avoid damage. The armour bonus adds directly to the Toughness save, rather than the Defensive Modifier (the character's ability to avoid being hit). Likewise, the attacker's weapon adds a modifier to the DC of the save, with firearms generally having higher modifers than more primitive weapons. This approach, however, requires wholesale changes to the game mechanics, since True20 uses a damage track, rather than hit points. The Paizo design team is using a simpler approach to model firearms. Attacks within the first range bracket are touch attacks. Why didn't I think of that? It's so obvious now. No fiddling with DR, just turn off armour altogether versus guns at close range. A few people might have a problem with it, because it means even adamantine armour won't stop a bullet, but that could be house-ruled easy enough. Just increase the cost of adamantine to reflect its added advantage and say that guns don't get touch attacks against adamantine armour. You could then add adamantine bullets to get the touch attack ability back.

Now guns do still have disadvantages, notably the rate of fire, though how much of a disadvantage that will ultimately be is a bit hard to tell right now since only the most basic firearms rules are included. It's possible that feats and magic options may appear in the final product which can mitigate the problem. Another problem I see is the cost of ammo. One shot of black powder costs 10gp and a single bullet costs 1gp, so it's going to cost 11gp per attack. Contrast that with 20 arrows or 10 heavy crossbow bolts for 1gp. Conserving ammo and using a backup weapon whenever possible is going to be the order of the day for gunslinger PCs. Nonetheless, I can't wait to try out my first gun-wielding character.


Update: One more comment about the Gunslinger. It has a class feature called Brave and Tough which provides bonuses to both Fortitude and Will saves. The Reflex save is the good save for the class, but with the bonuses provided, Fort and Will never fall less than one point below Ref, giving the gunslinger almost monk-like saving throws. This is quite a major advantage that might be easily overlooked.

Further Update: Upon further perusal, I notice it is possible for a gunslinger to use grit points and the Lightning Reload Deed feat to reload as a free action. This doesn't really mitigate the rate of fire problem though, since grit points are not typically abundant. Still, it's good to have when you really need it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rippin' on...Rifts Canada

About time the Great White North got to enjoy some of the derision. Zack and Steve take on Rifts: Canada.

Rifts: Canada


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Pathfinder no.1?

It is according to Ryan Dancey, former D&D brand manager at WotC and the individual most responsible for the OGL. In his most recent column at EN World, Mr. Dancey had this to say:

Pathfinder from Paizo couldn’t exist without the OGL and the D20 System Reference Document. And according to my industry sources, it’s outselling Dungeons & Dragons a feat (no pun intended) I would have considered almost impossible 10 years ago.

This has to be considered amazing news to those of us who play Pathfinder, as well as vindication considering all the abuse heaped upon us by the 4e fans on one side and the OSR folks (not all, but some of the more opinionated) on the other. D&D 3.x/Pathfinder, I believe, hits just the right demographic sweet spot. It doesn't appeal much to the greybeards of the OSR (although my beard is certainly greying, I feel little nostalgia for "old-school" D&D) and it takes too much "like thinking and stuff" for the kids, but the 30- and 40-year-olds who played back in high school and are now married with families, it's a perfect fit.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The future of D&D, my 2 cents

Everyone with a blog and an interest in tabletop rpgs has put forth their speculations on what the recent moves by Wizards of the Coast mean. It seems only right that I should too. Like many, I agree that big changes are coming to the venerable old game. D&D as we oldtimey guys remember it is about to disappear. I see two models of D&D coming out of the restructuring, the "World of Warcraft" model and the "Magic: the Gathering" model. I think we will see a D&D MMO in the near future. How that affects the whole Atari computer game licensing issue is not clear to me as I have absolutely zero interest in the legal shenanigans going on between Hasbro and Atari, but I am sure it will eventually happen.

The second model is a little less clear. After all, it's unlikely WotC wants a M:tG clone to directly compete with its flagship property, so a D&D CCG would have to be different in some way. Maybe they could combine a board game with a CCG. The new fortune cards seem to be a nod in that direction. Alternatively, the D&D cards could be part of a Virtual Tabletop game. Your "character" would be a deck of cards, each of which would have a code number. You could input the number into your online account to create a bank of options for your character. It's possible you could simply buy decks online, but I think many customers would be suspicious of purely online cards. Besides, I think WotC still wants the D&D brand to appear, in some form, on store shelves. Nonetheless, I think the days of hardcover rulebooks and sweaty nerds gathered around a table in the basement playing D&D are coming to a close.

Of course, there's always Pathfinder, Labyrinth Lord, True 20, RuneQuest II, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fantasy Craft, Castles and Crusades, Earthdawn, OSRIC, Palladium, HARP.....


Thursday, January 13, 2011

And so, it ends...

My last link with Wizards of the Coast has been severed. They ended my D&D addiction with the release of 4e, they ended my Star Wars addiction with the termination of the Star Wars licensing arrangement for Star Wars Saga Edition and the miniatures line, they ended my Axis & Allies addiction through declining quality and simple neglect of that miniatures line and now, from the January Ampersand article, this:

We have made the decision to depart from prepainted plastic miniatures sets. Lords of Madness stands as the final release under that model. We will continue to release special collector’s sets (such as the Beholder Collector’s Set we released last fall), as well as make use of plastic figures in other product offerings. Check out the Wrath of Ashardalon board game next month for the latest example of this. Moving forward, we will continue to explore more options for players to represent characters and monsters on the tabletop, including Monster Vault and other D&D products that feature monster and character tokens.

Perhaps it's fitting that 2011 is the 30th anniversary of the first time I opened a D&D book. It has been a wonderful relationship, but all good things must come to an end.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A tale of two monster manuals

I have recently acquired two monster books, the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 and the RuneQuest II Monster Coliseum, so it seems like a good opportunity to compare and contrast the products of two mid-sized tabletop rpg publishers, Paizo and Mongoose. Both books are hard-cover and both cost the same at $39.99 US (which given the current exchange rate, works out to pretty close to the same price in Canada). The RQIIMC weighs in at a decent 184 pgs. with an attractive faux-leather cover, while the PRPGB2 is a hefty 320 pgs. with a splashy cover featuring an original work by Wayne Reynolds. Production values clearly favour Paizo, with high-gloss paper and full-colour art work throughout, although my personal taste favours the exterior of the RuneQuest II series of books. I may be a bit old-fashioned, but I've always been partial to musty old leather-bound books. They hold the promise of arcane knowledge that a splashy coffee-table book never could.

As for contents, well, I have to cut Paizo some slack since this is their second bestiary and most the truly iconic monsters were already presented in the first bestiary. I have recently commented on the inclusion of classic Cthulhu Mythos monsters in the Pathfinder bestiaries and I believe this is the best thing about the new release. In the first bestiary, we had the Shoggoth, but in PRPGB2, we have the Shantak, the Leng Spider, the Denizen of Leng, the Gug, the Serpentfolk and the Hound of Tindalos. Beyond that, some of the interesting new addditions include the Chupacabra, the insanely-powerful Jabberwock and Scylla and Carybdis. Of course, with any collection of monsters, there are going to be some you can really do without. For me, the real stinkers are the primal dragons and the new elementals. I never cared much for crystal dragons and para-elementals back in the good old days and I am no more enamoured with them now. Still, there's a lot to like in here, especially if you like to use extraplanar creatures

The RQIIMC is a bit different in that it maintains a theme of gladiatorial combat throughout in addition to the descriptions of the monsters. Each stat block includes advice on how to use each monster in the arena. In some cases, magical control is needed and a few monsters are deemed totally unsuited to blood sports. Another theme of the book is the use of the Glorantha campaign setting with RuneQuest II. Some Gloranthan races, notably elves and dwarves, are significantly different from the Tolkienesque versions we are more familiar with. Gloranthan elves, for instance, more closely resemble treants than humanoids. So, stat blocks are included for both Gloranthan and traditional fantasy versions of some races. Despite its dark fantasy reputation, the Glorantha setting seems to contribute more whimsy than grittiness, from the silliness of the Ducks (and their gladiator hero, Quacktacus...for real!) to the utter ridiculousness of the Jack-O-Bear (yeah, a bear with the head of a jack-o-lantern). Fortunately, such foolishness is not the norm and much of what's presented is quite good.

Overall, I'd have to give the nod to Paizo for value-for-money, but both books are very useful additions to their respective games.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Rippin' on...Werewolf: The Apocalypse

Zack and Steve have once again got White Wolf in their sights, but this time they're hunting werewolves.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse


New campaign wiki

For those who will be participating in my new BRP Weird War II campaign (and for those interested onlookers), I have started a campaign wiki entitled "Tommies at the Gates of Hell". You can find the link in the link list on this page. The introduction has been posted and more information will come soon.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

My gaming wishes for 2011

As I look ahead to the new year, I find myself feeling unusually optimistic. The price of oil is on the rise and while that is typically not viewed as a particularly positive development in most of the world, here in Alberta, it's good news...up to a point. Aside from the general benefit that all Albertans derive from oil revenue, several guys in our gaming group actually work for oil companies, so the continued financial well-being of the oilpatch is good news for us. And to folks back east paying upwards of $1.20 per litre for gasoline, well sorry about that, but at least we'll be able to keep up the billions in equalization payments, so it's a win-win.

As for my wishes for 2011, I hope we'll see some stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan, so we can begin bringing our troops home with honour. I hope the global economy starts showing signs of improvement. We could all use some good news on that front.

On to my gaming wishes, I hope Rackham Entertainment is able to survive its current financial problems or that a buyer can be found for the AT-43 and Confrontation miniatures lines so they will be revived. I hope for another good year for Paizo, as I anxiously await the release of Pathfinder Bestiary 2 and Ultimate Magic. I hope for an improvement in the fortunes of Chaosium with the release of Chronicles of Future Earth. It looks excellent and if there is something Chaosium needs badly, it is a successful campaign setting for Basic RolePlaying. I'll also be rooting for Mongoose and the guys at Wildfire to have a big success with Chthonian Stars. Release delays are not a good sign, but hopefully the extra few months will make it that much more awesome than I'm sure it already was. Finally, I hope for good success for Wizards of the Coast. Although I find I rarely buy much from them anymore (except for some minis now and then), they are the industry leaders and their success is good for everybody.


Monday, January 03, 2011

The Christmas haul of 2010

It was a good year around the Rognar household this past year and that was reflected in the mountain of Chinese-made plastic piled up under the Christmas tree. Of course, not all the toys were for the yard apes. Daddy had an impressive haul as well.

Displayed above are:
Traveller Book:9 Robots
RuneQuest II: Monster Coliseum
AT-43 Red Blok Dotch Yaga
AT-43 Therians Omega Tiamat
AT-43 Operation Damocles Boxed Set
AT-43 Oni Virus Zombie Detonator
AT-43 Cogs Warmongers
Confrontation Griffin Army Fusiliers
Confrontation Griffin Army Demon Hunters
Confrontation Griffin Army Cannon
Confrontation Scorpion Army Crossbowmen

I will review the books at a later date, but at first glance, both look excellent. Heartfelt thanks to all the family members (and especially Mrs. Rognar) who made my cup runneth over.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Clash of the Titans - better than expected

I avoided the recent remake of "Clash of the Titans" when it was released in theatres because of early bad press, both from critics and from the fans. Most of the criticism seemed to stem from the lousy 3D effects, although the movie was panned pretty generally. I finally got around to watching it on DVD the other night, obviously in its intended 2D format and I must say, it is actually a pretty enjoyable flick. True, Sam Worthington is not a very convincing Greek hero, but the action was tight and the story was very reminiscent of my early gaming experience. This is, ultimately, the purpose of this post. Unlike many gamers whose original pen-and-paper role-playing experiences date back to the early 80s, I have never felt all that much influence from the sword-and-sorcery genre. Sure, I read some Conan stories and my D&D characters always insisted on a fair share of the loot, but the thought of playing a thief or adventuring solely for personal gain never occurred to me. My characters were always heroes, like Perseus or Gandalf or Beowulf, defending the weak and fighting evil. The story of Perseus, leading a small band of heroes on a perilous journey to uncover a means of defeating the Kraken and saving Argos was not just an entertaining story for me, it was a nostalgic reminder of youthful fantasies.

Also, riding giant scorpions, that's Metal!