Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Gunslinger

As I stared at my unpainted minis tonight debating whether or not to start one, I saw my unpainted monster slayer mini (he's got a rifle). Even though Ultimate Combat has been out for 9 months now no one in my gaming group has shown any interest in playing a gunslinger - including me. With my interest piqued, I decided to do some research. I've seen threads on the Paizo board claiming they are over powered but lots of other people jump in and claim that they are balanced but strong. I wanted to decide for myself so I tracked down a couple threads on what makes a gunslinger good.

With HeroLab loaded I made a gunslinger and fleshed him out at levels 4, 7, 12 and 17. At 4 he kinda sucks. An archer is way better. By level 7 equality has been achieved. They do roughly the same damage but the archer tends to have a better to hit bonus. This is balanced by the fact that the gunslinger is doing range touch attacks in the first range increment (which is scary close if you are using pistols, but a bit more reasonable with a musket).

From what I can see if you want to multiclass as a gunslinger the best break points are after level 5 (when you get dex to damage) and level 11 (when you get all sorts of goodies). For the sake of this demo I decided to go all fighter after level 11.

At level 12 a straight Fighter archer is going to out damage a gunslinger but not many other classes can manage it. By this point the gunslinger can take the signature deed feat which makes one of his deeds practically free to use (no grit required). This means they can do bleed damage equal to their dex bonus on every attack, auto disarm, auto trip, or lots of other nifty tricks.

By level 17 Gunslingers have pulled ahead and don't look back. By taking 6 levels of fighter, the gunslinger is now sporting such fighter only feats as weapons specialization and point blank mastery as well as wearing dueling gloves since he's got weapon training from the fighter levels. Without haste he's firing 5 shots, the lowest at +14, that have to beat Touch AC. Each does about 38 points of damage.

Now the Gunslinger has a deed called Dead Shot. Its a bit complicated so I recommend going to read it but its a bit unclear exactly how it works. It works a bit like Vital Strike with each attack adding to damage but it doesn't state if you can include the extra attacks from Rapid Fire and Haste. If you can't it really doesn't have much use except to help beat any sky high DR that you can't penetrate. If it includes any and all attacks then it's a pretty mean ability. With my level 17 build, with Haste and using rapid shot, Dead Shot has about 1 in 2 chance of inflicting around 280 damage on a full round attack assuming all of the touch attacks hit. If the dice don't cooperate it is a rather lousy 70.

And don't think I loaded all of its abilities into offense. Almost all of the characters I build in HeroLab are meant to be playable so they have to have good saves (lowest save = character level or higher), and AC (or at least some other defenses like Displacement). The gunslinger could be fun to play. They have more options than the Archer Fighter who just shoots his bow every round, or the Barbarian who swings his axe. Rogues would love them since they can render opponents flat footed. I think I can crank out even more damage using dual Pistols but solving the reload problem will some creativity.

That's not to say my next character is going to be a gunslinger. I have a database full of cool characters I'd love to play and I just have one more now. I finally found a Magus build I was happy with yesterday and that's been added to the list now as well. But if we find ourselves in a high level adventure where we need more firepower I know just where to turn.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Slumbering Tsar

Slumbering Tsar is a mega adventure put out by Frog God Games written by Greg A Vaughan. If that name looks familiar its because he writes an adventure for just about every Paizo Adventure Path.

I don't have the hard cover yet so this review is based on the 14 pdfs that have been released over the last couple years and have just been bundled together I assume to raise enough money to print all of the massive hardcovers (over 1000 pages). The adventure for 4-6 level 7 PCs should easily get the party to level 20. The adventure is divided into three main sections: The desolation around the city, the city itself and the temple.

The Desolation is the wasteland that surrounds the city of Tsar, the site of a massive battle between good and evil centuries ago. This part section is basically a large hex crawl as the party scours the area looking for clues at what lies in the city proper. There are lots of quests scattered around and the players can begin to glean hints at the adventure's backstory.

Tsar is a large very detailed city. Although encounters tend to be undead heavy there are still lots of other creatures to be encountered. The PCs scour the city searching for a way to access the final area. The encounters are both location and event based. There is even a mid sized dungeon. Most encounters are immediately hostile but not all. There are even a few spots where you can play one encounter against another.

The temple is the last and by far the most challenging section. In this area the PCs will unearth terrible secrets and deal with Epic level challenges. If you are unlucky enough you could even face Orcus (level 35 demon lord) himself. The temple is nothing short of a mega dungeon. The thing is huge and has over 400 encounter locations.

The writer has tried to give the adventure a 1st edition feel and in some ways I think he's succeeded. There is a large variation in encounter difficulties. There are a few spots where the the encounter is several levels higher then the PCs and their best best is to be really prepared or just run away and come back later. At the same time many encounters will be a cake walk. Most pages have some artwork on them. It is all black and white and the quality is pretty good. I don't recall seeing any that I thought were awful. On the same note I don't remember any being awesome either. While I don't think it would require huge amounts of prep work to play you do have to have a good feel the various areas, how certain NPCs interact with each other, and spend a bit of time thinking about the best tactics for the monsters. Especially at higher levels they are quite complex - most have templates and/or class levels. This is high level Pathfinder so there are not too many bad guys that just walk up and start swinging.

The book is going to be huge and was originally written for 3.5 so its not surprising that a few editing mistakes slipped through. The PDFs have some weird glitches in them but I'm hoping its just a problem with the pdf and will be cleaned up for the hardcover. I figure that it would take us about a year to play from beginning to end - much the same as Kingmaker although if it stretched into the 18 month range I would not be shocked. I worry that so much high level combat can be tedious. I can easily see it devolving into a game of rocket launcher tag. The bad guys are so tough if they are not defeated in a round or two, the PCs will die.Many of the bad guys hit like Mac trucks or have crazy high DCs on their special abilties.

The adventure's focus is combat and exploration. There are lots of very deadly traps and a party would do well to have a rogue (or another trapfinder) along. The adventure has lots of very challenging encounters and players will have to be very creative if they want to survive. Many of the monsters come from 3rd party books so chances the players have never seen them before. Knowledge skills will be very handy for identifying weaknesses. Some of the monsters are pretty awesome, gruesome but awesome. There are NPCs scattered through out the adventure that can be used as replacement PCs or henchmen. A couple are rather unconventional and would be interesting to play as written. Especially towards the end there are lots of powerful magic items kicking around as well as some pretty sweet artifacts. There is no time limit on this epic quest so magic item crafting would be an option.

This adventure ties directly to Rappan Athuk. After the forces of evil retreated from Tsar they fled to the Dungeon of Graves. It would be fun to take the party that cleared Tsar into Rappan Athuk and see if they could beat that pretty much impossible Mega Dungeon..

Overall I think Slumbering Tsar looks like a lot of fun and when my 1000 page brick finally shows up I'll be sure to show it off. My only concern is the length as I recall everyone getting rather bored by the end of Age of Worms.

If you want more details they may be found here

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Princess of Mars, yeah, I read it

After watching the highly-enjoyable, but critically-panned John Carter, I figured it was time to read the source material, Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. It was not a challenging read. Much like the pulp-era stories which would begin to appear a few years later, the plot and characters in this book are fairly simple. The protagonist, John Carter, is a Civil War veteran and soldier of fortune. Unlike the character in the movie, he is not a reluctant warrior and carries none of the emotional baggage that his cinematic version bears. Rather than being a lost and damaged soul seeking only solace and a way home, Burroughs' John Carter is a man's man. Likewise, the princess, Dejah Thoris, of A Princess of Mars is not the warrior-scholar shown in the film. In the novel, Dejah Thoris is, at times, haughty and petulant, but she also shows great poise and courage in the face of unimaginable torments that she fully expects to suffer at the hands of her captors.

[Spoilers ahead]: The basic plot of both the film and the novel are similar, although far more emphasis is placed on the war between Zodanga and Helium in the movie than in the book. Also, the whole subplot involving the Therns and the Ninth Ray is simply not present in the book at all. Indeed, the Ninth Ray is only briefly mentioned as being vital to the anti-gravity technology of the Martians. Beyond that, it doesn't serve the plot in any way. The other major departure I noticed with the film was in the main antagonist, Sab Than, the ruler of Zodanga. In the book, he was a minor character and merely the heir to the throne of Zodanga. Although he did seek to marry Dejah Thoris, there was no evidence he intended to kill her or destroy Helium. His desires were no more sinister than the standard power politics practiced by royalty on earth for centuries.

A Princess of Mars is a light, but entertaining read full of swashbuckling action in a compelling world where men are men, women are beautiful and villains are there to be vanquished, not understood or pitied. It espouses virtues which many today might find antiquated, or even a bit bigoted. I can see why some changes were made to make the film more relatable to modern moviegoers. Nonetheless, it is a good story and I encourage those who have never read it to give it a go.


Rippin' on...Aliens Unlimited

Honestly, shouldn't beating up on poor old Palladium be some sort of crime...

Aliens Unlimited


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Review

First I have to say I am a huge fan of the series even as it has evolved from being more RPG oriented to more of a first person shooter. The plots have been interesting, the characters well written, and most of all its been fun.

Lets start off with things that didn't go so well with part 3.

The ending: Without being spoilery all I can say what is wtf? You are given a bunch of back story and left with 3 options. The problem is that all 3 options lead to almost exactly the same ending sequence part of which makes no sense what so ever. I played through the ending sequence 3 times hoping that there would be some meaningful difference between them. There wasn't. After such an awesome game it was rather disappointing.

Difficulty: The enemy AI is much smarter in this game than in 1 or 2. They like to lob grenades behind your cover and execute flanking maneuvers. Some of the Reaper troops are rediculously hard to kill. I turned down the difficulty about a quarter way through the game because I got tired of dying. I'm here for the story.

Online play: This may be awesome but I'm not interested. The first person shooter aspect is my least favorite aspect of the game ad facing off wave after wave of Cerebus or Reaper troops doesn't sound especially appealing. I've read that you can't get the best endings without playing online but I'm not sure how that can make a difference. Half the stuff I read online about the game was BS anyway.

Planet Scanning. The monotonous tank missions from the first game are gone, as well as the resource scanning from the second. Good. There is still some scanning but its pretty minor. The catch now is that the more you scan the more you attract the Reapers, and when they show up you have to beat it out of the system or you die instantly. Planet scanning can reveal quest items and resources for the war so even though its still a bit tedious it is worth while.

And now the good:

The characters: All of the old characters are back and a few new ones have been added. There was lots of negative buzz about Freddie Prince Jr. joining the cast but I really liked his character James. It wasn't until I sat through the closing credits that I realized who was voicing him. The crew this time around is smaller than part 2 which had a huge crew. Everyone that lived through parts 1 and 2 are back in some fashion. My favorites like Garrus and Tali'Zora and part of the crew but most of the others have a secondary role as you run into them around the galaxy.

The writing: The writing is excellent as usual and is what really makes the game great. You really get know your crew, even the ones that don't run missions with you. There are lots of great little moments as they express concern over what's going on back on Earth and you have to keep them motivated and not lose hope.

The plot: I have only played through it once with my female Shepard paragon character. She has chosen most of the "Good" choices over the last few games but I did the Suicide mission in Part 2 without reading about it online and lost 2 members of my crew who were therefore absent from Part 3 (including the always hilarious Mordrin). In a month or two I'll probably play through the game with my male renegade Shepard and see how all of the different choices I've made in parts 1 and 2 change part 3.

Ending aside the game is excellent and I recommend it for anyone that loves a good space opera. The cut scene for the battle of earth was awe inspiring as the combined fleets of the galaxy show up in earth's orbit and engage. Even the small moments are just wow. It might lose some impact if you haven't played the earlier games but the characters are all introduced clearly and its easy to fall in love with them all over again.

If you like video games go out and buy it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Go see John Carter

I went to see John Carter on opening night and I'm glad I did. I admit, I'm not really an Edgar Rice Burroughs fanboy and have never read A Princess of Mars, the book upon which the film is based, but I do know some of the details of the world of Barsoom. Because of this, John Carter hits the sweet spot for me, midway between a hardcore fan and a total neophyte. I can't say how true the movie is to the original, but given the source material is a century old and it is Disney that made the film, I do not doubt some liberties were taken for the benefit of modern moviegoers. Nonetheless, the movie is very enjoyable and will no doubt satisfy all but the most hardbitten purists.

That's not to say the movie is flawless. Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch, starring in the title roll, makes no effort to sound even remotely like a Confederate soldier despite repeated mentions of his Virginian roots (including a bit of a running joke). This is probably for the best, since a poorly-executed southern accent would have very likely been worse than none at all. Also, in an effort to portray Mars as a dying world, the landscapes are universally desert. These vistas are truly beautiful and stunning, but given the presence of so many peoples (Red Martians and Tharks) and fauna (giant white apes, riding beasts and weird, super fast salamander-dogs), the absolute absence of even a single blade of grass leaves one wondering how anyone finds enough to eat. Finally, I found some of the feats of strength performed by the lead character to be a bit over the top, more akin to Neo from The Matrix than an Earth human in a low gravity environment.

Still, the movie is a visual feast, with competent acting and good pacing. Best of all, it's not stupid, which by the standards Hollywood typically sets for itself these days, is an accomplishment in itself.


Oh, I almost forgot, the movie is 3D and happily, the 3D effects are well done. No post-production 3D-ification here.

Update: Ok, apparently John Carter was not originally shot in 3D. I'm surprised, having seen some really crappy 3D effects (Clash of the Titans, anyone?). I may have to seek out a 2D version of the film to compare. I don't need much of an excuse to see it again.