Thursday, February 28, 2013

Inspiration Mars

I watched the Inspiration Mars press conference yesterday. Dennis Tito, aerospace engineer, entrepreneur and most famously, world's first space tourist, is spearheading the effort to launch a private manned flyby mission to Mars in 2018. The goal is to take advantage of a favourable planetary alignment to send two humans, one man and one woman, within 100 miles of the Martian surface, then slingshot them back to Earth. The entire mission would take 501 days. The risks involved in this mission cannot be overstated. There will be no abort option. The crew will be subject to cosmic radiation for a prolonged period of time and the re-entry will be, by far, the fastest ever for a manned spacecraft. All of this will be done on a shoestring budget from private donors. Only the Americans would have a hope in Hades of pulling this thing off. I wish them well.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Skill enhancement you use them?

In the Pathfinder core rulebook, there are ten feats specifically designed to enhance skills. Of course, the main one is Skill Focus which allows you to pick any one skill and add a +3 bonus (+6 at 10 ranks). Beyond that though, there are nine others which define two semi-related skills and provide a +2 bonus (+4 at 10 ranks) for each. In my experience, the popularity of these feats ranges from lukewarm to "wouldn't-touch-it-with-a-ten-foot-pole". Personally, I find for many of these feats, there is only one of the two skills that I wish to enhance, making Skill Focus the better choice. Below is my hierarchy of these feats:

Feats I might consider taking for most characters: Alertness

Feats I might consider taking if I was playing a rogue or ranger: Deceitful, Deft Hands, Self-Sufficient, Stealthy

Feats I might consider taking if I was playing a sorcerer: Magical Aptitude

Feats I would never consider taking: Acrobatic, Animal Affinity, Athletic

Of these, only Magical Aptitude is really useful enough to be considered a "no-brainer"and only for sorcerers (and maybe bards). The absolute worst one has to be Acrobatic. It enhances the Acrobatics and Fly skills, which are pretty good skills, but has anyone ever played a character that uses both? If you can fly proficiently, why would you ever invest skill points in Acrobatics? Feel free to comment on my rankings. Any skill enhancement feats that you simply can't live without?


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rippin' on...old school D&D art

The more touchy members of the OSR might get offended, but Zack and Steve are at it again, this time directing their cynical gaze at the early D&D artists like Erol Otus and Jeff Dee. Duck and cover, guys.

D&D art


Too much fantasy for d100?

Chaosium has just jumped in with both feet in the d100 fantasy battle royale with the pdf release of Magic World (hard copy expected in March). Alongside RuneQuest 6 from The Design Mechanism and Legend from Mongoose (not to mention OpenQuest, which is a nice, little rules-light variant from a nano-publisher called D101 Games), we now have three major versions of the venerable d100 game engine for fantasy role-playing. This is shaping up to be an interesting, if ultimately, self-destructive competition involving a young upstart, a disinterested, second-tier publisher and a creaky old-timer that doesn't know when to hang 'em up. My money is on RQ6, largely because both Mongoose and Chaosium have other priorities (miniatures and Call of Cthulhu, respectively) that drive their release schedules. Still, given the glacial pace at which all three companies release supplements for their respective games, I should have little trouble supporting all of them. Anyway, the three games are so similar, any material published for one can easily be converted to use with another. An embarassment of riches, to be sure.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Magic Book (Basic RolePlaying)

Basic RolePlaying is a generic game system. As such, it has a variety of different kinds of supernatural powers, magic, sorcery, mutations, super powers and psychic abilities. They are designed with the idea that multiple types will be used together. For example, a futuristic sci-fi campaign might include both mutations and psychic abilities, while a "kitchen-sink" style campaign might throw everything in there. For a pure fantasy or sword-and-sorcery campaign, however, the magic system is a bit sparse and bland. Fortunately, Chaosium has access to the rich history of RuneQuest and has released The Magic Book, a revised and updated version of the RuneQuest 3rd Ed. magic system for BRP.

The Magic Book contains four integrated magic systems, Spirit Magic, Divine Magic, Wizardry (formerly called Sorcery) and Ritual Magic. Anyone familiar with any version of RuneQuest will be recognize with the first three. Spirit Magic, as the name implies, deals with the Spirit World. Its practitioners are typically called shamans and they communicate with and bind into service various types of spirits including demons, elementals, ghosts, beast spirits and even spirits contained within inanimate objects such as weapons and armour. Not surprisingly, Divine Magic is derived from the power of the gods and includes a lot of spells involving healing, illusions and natural forces. Wizardry derives its power from scholarly study of the universe. It demands greater commitment from its practitioners than other forms of magic, but can become the most powerful. There are a wide variety of spells in Wizardry including many that resemble those of the other types of magic and is the tradition of choice for anyone dedicated to serious sorcerous power.

The last type of magic is Ritual Magic. Rather than being derived from a different source of power, it represents a different way of spell casting that can be practiced by any sort magic-using character. Powerful summoning, enchantment and divination spells typically involve time-consuming magical procedures, called rituals, to cast.

The Magic Book is an excellent supplement to the BRP core rules. Although it could be used along with the magic system already included in the game, The Magic Book provides a self-contained set of rules that are far superior. I suspect most gamemasters will prefer to simply use them in place of those provided in the BGB.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: The Prince of Nothing (Series)

I'm not going to go into to much details here other than some of my opinion on the series as the wiki entry for this series is very accurate and quite helpful and I don't really see any reason to repeat it.

The series of three books is all about character development. The central plot is fairly straight forward and most of the book follow a fairly plodding pace. The plot is important but really this book comes down to its characters. The book series has a fairly strong philosophical bent and tons of words are devoted to laying out the various lines of philosophical thought, the nature of the various magics, and probing the nature of human perception. It's some pretty heavy stuff.

What did I think of it? Well, I finished it. I finished it even though I had a copy of the last book of the Wheel of Time series. The Prince of Nothing is not an addictive page turner. With most books I read, I burn through them as fast as I can. I read this series at a very relaxed pace, in one case taking over a week off before I started reading it again. It is pretty easy to put down because the pace is very slow and there is always lots to absorb. The series does lay out a few mysteries that I was very curious about and I had to get to the end to discover the answer.

The first book was VERY hard to get into. Through out the series I found myself not really liking any of the characters. They were interesting but I really didn't give a hoot about whether they lived or died. The two most interesting characters don't show up until the second half of book one making the first half a real pain to get through. It is all world building and character development.

Don't get me wrong, there is lots of interesting stuff here. The world has a very 12th century Mediteranean  feel to it. A Crusade is being called and the Byzantine Emperor is both scheming with and against his European associates. There is lots of political jockeying and it isn't until the arrival of the "Prince" that the story really gets underway. A Jesus Christ like prophet figure even gets thrown into the mix. The battles are great and well written but the real conflicts here are all interpersonal.

The series doesn't have a full end. Like real world events, the story never stops and this tale is no different. At the Climax of the series, the Prince of Nothing reveals his true motivation, makes an important decision and a large battle is fought.  There are hints about what events are likely to follow but the book simply ends without tying up many issues. I wasn't surprised to learn that the author is writing a second series that takes place 20 years in the future. The Second Apocalypse is coming after all.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Spider God's Bride (for Legend)

Morten Braten's The Spider God's Bride is a compilation of sword-and-sorcery mini-adventures for the Mongoose Legend role-playing game. Originally released as The Spider God's Bride and Other Tales of Sword and Sorcery for the d20 system, the new edition is available as a pdf (and presumably POD). It starts out with an explanation of the tropes associated with the sword-and-sorcery genre, noting in particular, how it differs from the high fantasy genre more typically associated with fantasy role-playing games. Next there are sections on player races (all various humans), magic and cults. There is only one type of magic in The Spider God's Bride (sorcery, of course) and in keeping with the style of sword-and-sorcery, the use of magic is subtle, sinister and self-destructive. Although players are allowed to employ sorcery, they must always be on guard to avoid becoming too tainted by it. Also, many spells we associate with fantasy rpgs are not permitted, although this restriction is probably more noticeable in the d20 version since sorcery in MRQII/Legend/RuneQuest 6 tends to be similar to sword-and-sorcery type magic anyway.

The adventures themselves are quite good, though some appear very challenging and potentially quite lethal if the players aren't extremely clever and at least a little bit lucky. All the tropes you would expect from a work inspired by Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith are present in abundance, palace intrigue, snake-worshipping cultists, ancient tombs and steaming jungles. There are muscle-bound barbarians and seductive sorceresses, and naked steel awaits in every alleyway. All of this takes place against the backdrop of the world of Xoth, the author's own campaign world. Additional information, including a map (unfortunately not provided in The Spider God's Bride) may be found on This additional online content greatly enhances the published material, allowing for more sandbox play.  I hope two later d20 Xoth products, Song of the Beast-Gods and The Citadel Beyond the North Wind will also be released in the future as Legend publications.


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Rippin' on....adventure hooks

Something different from the guys this week, Steve's Adventure Toolkit: Wicked Encounter Generator. I'd really describe it as a random generator of encounters and adventure hooks and it's awesome. My favourite so far:

A mother is afraid her son has been eaten by a giant toad, but the giant toad is actually protecting the child from his emotionally abusive stepfather.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Dragon Age on TableTop

I've always wanted to watch a group of top tier players run a tabletop rpg, to see how a game goes when it's not being played by a bunch of average nerds like us. So I anxiously watched last night's episode of TableTop on because instead of playing a card or board game as they usually do, Wil Wheaton and his friends were playing Dragon Age by Green Ronin. A group of professional actors and the DM was the game designer, himself. I was expecting flourishes of Shakespeare-inspired role-playing and a rapier-sharp repartee between the players and DM. Imagine my dismay when instead I got to watch a bunch of dudes playing a game pretty much just like we do. The DM was just another doughy, bearded geek trying to keep a group of jackasses focused on the game. One guy created a wizard who was modelled on "The Fonz" from the 70s sitcom, Happy Days, while another one created an elvish rogue who spent most of the game smelling things. Obviously, they were playing it up for laughs and there were a few moments of humour, but I guess if I'm ever going to see the superstars play, I'm going to have get myself to GenCon.