Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Questions of a Random Wizard

Source


I've seen this pop up elsewhere but didn't catch the bug until Barking Alien passed it on to me. So here goes...

1. Race (elf, dwarf, halfing) as a class? Yes or no?
Yes if I'm playing B/X D&D, otherwise no. I need a more nuanced class/race system.

2. Do Demi Humans have souls?
In my Lingusia campaign elves, halflings and gnomes are spirits of the weirding made flesh, so no. Dwarves are natural creatures of the earth and do have souls, however. In my Chirak setting elves have souls, as do all other living creatures. In my Enzada campaign absolutely, they have souls which must reincarnate like everyone else.

3. Ascending or Descending Armor Class?
I'll use whatever the system calls for, but I personally prefer ascending AC for play, while preferring the way descending AC tended to create a "hard cap" at -10 AC, insuring you didn't get the no-upper-limit problem of 3rd edition.

4. Demi-human level limits?
I personally never liked level limits and wouldn't use them anymore, unless I was going for a "purist" approach to whatever edition I was running just for novelty.

5. Should thief be a class?
Absolutely. Thief has been a class for what....38-39 years now? It was "not a class" for all of 2-3 years prior. So I think thief has earned it's place. Note however that "rogue" works fine for me with thief as a subtype/archetype/kit of such, too.

6. Do characters get non-weapon skills?
Absolutely. I invented my own skill system as a kid, to allow for more detail in characters. When you're 12 and don't know a lot about, say, siegecraft, engineering or astrology it's nice to know your character, who is supposed to be a master sieger, engineer or astrologer has something which helps regulate what he knows, even if you don't. That stance hasn't changed even as of today, and I have found that a robust skill system dramatically improves all the cool story bits, lore and esoterica that players might seek out because they have an incentive to do so.

7. Are magic users more powerful than fighters? (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead?)
This seems to be a mechanical, edition-dependent question. I guess the short answer is yeah, sure....because wizards in every edition eventually learn spells that let them do stuff beyond mortal fighter's abilities. That said....I do prefer editions in which the fighter is still relevant at high level (say, 10+) despite the fact that the wizard is flinging around prismatic spheres and disintegration rays. How else did Conan still manage to chop up half of the magic users in Hyboria, anyway? The best wizard spell is still solved with a swift jab to the midriff, after all!

8. Do you use alignment languages?
I thought this was a dumb concept poorly executed when I was ten years old, and I still do. I tried to run a purist 1E game with aliagnment languages last year and gave up after two sessions. It was just....no. When even Gary is writing in the book that it's not a very good working concept, and justifies it by pointing to other secret languages (that are only tangentially relatable to alignment languages) then you know it's a concept with issues. With one exception, however: alignment languages might work really well for a Planescape campaign.

9. XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc.)?
I discarded XP for gold when I was ten; it seemed like a weird "double reward" to me when I first read it....you get experience for acquiring treasure? It made no sense to me! Treasure was its own reward. So I worked out a mission bonus for completing levels/areas of the story, and only kept GP for a 1:1 earning for paladins and clerics who tithed their gold to the temple. I played 1E that way consistently, and when 2E came out I adopted it's methodology and never looked back. 

10. Which is the best edition, ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E AD&D, 2E AD&D, 3E AD&D, 4E AD&D, Next?
Such a hard one for me to answer, as my default response is "The one that's D&D." But I guess if I go by "what I've played the most" I'd have to say 3E/Pathfinder because it's the edition that does the most of what I want, but 2E is the spiritual top dog for me....so I guess I'll say 2E (best overall) and 3E (best actual play). As for D&D Next...time will tell. 

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?
I have no preference here. A unified table is simpler, but it is less nuanced and requires a class system for the edition that insures that classes are balanced according to the same progression. If you have different progression tables then you can customize them to reflect different rates of advancement for each class, which means that you can treat the XP chart as one way to adjust for class balance and power. Ultimately it makes little difference for me either way.

Well that was fun....! It's an interesting list, built I think primarily for an OSR-heavy view of D&D, and the paradigms that are most commonly associated with the older editions, I suppose. I tend to treat each edition as it's own thing, and usually don't play favorites if I can help it. I'd rather toot the horn for things I like than gripe about things I don't, but it's generally interesting to see among these questions what are most acceptable. Ultimately the editions I play the most will be those which let me build and create the worlds I want with the greatest ease. My Chirak setting has minotaurs, animates, muskets and other strangeness, for example. My Lingusia setting was founded on 1E AD&D and B/X principles so it's the most malleable, while Enzada was built from the ground up to take advantage of what Pathfinder has to offer. Each of these worlds are easier to use in some editions than others. If I do get around to running a B/X game, for example, I'll probably write a new setting (or dial back Lingusia to an earlier age) to run it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Save or Die Effects



A discussion over at rpg.net on this prompted me to write a comment which I then thought might be worth replicating here. Save or Die effects feel important to me in D&D, as a way of distinguishing certain encounters from the norm. What's a medusa without a save or die petrification gaze, other than another ugly monster to be hacked down? Here's my comment:

If I'm playing in a game where a medusa gazes at me and I don't turn to stone because the rules forbid it on grounds it would be a misuse of power...well, I sort of feel cheated. The whole point of SoD effects is that you should figure out how to overcome them by means other than "I have more petrification points than your gaze deals to me in damage," or whatever.

I did like how 4E handled this specific example, though (a series of consecutive saves), so I think one can find a middle ground between "missed your roll, now you're stoned" vs. "missed your roll, now your 10% on your way to maybe being possibly stoned."
                                          
On the other hand, I get the feeling that people who see SoD events as an abuse or misuse by the DM granted within the rules are either dealing with adversarial DMs (always bad) or missing the point of the game entirely. (this sounds like I'm endorsing the badwrongfun concept; what I realized after writing it was that I was asserting that "rulings, not rules" is my preferred default stance; don't think fixing the rules stops a bad DM from making trouble, I say, so leave the rules as flexible as possible and provide as much "how to be a good DM" subtext as possible).

All I want is a version of the game that reflects consequences intelligently and in a way that doesn't suspend disbelief. If my PC drinks hemlock and doesn't have a strong chance of dying as a result, I will be disappointed. If my PC locks gazes with a medusa and suffers no ill effects....I will feel cheated. Just my 2 cents. I will be happy with any system in which I feel that the point of SoD effects is retained, even if the mechanical application lets players feel like the results are "fair," I suppose so long as doing so doesn't kill the point of such effects in the first place.


If you have, say, a medusa with a SoD pertification gaze that works like it says on the tin, then the players should reasonably expect to approach a medusa differently from any other monster and deal with her carefully, at a distance. If the medusa's gaze is turned into a "save or start accumulating penalties or moderate damage with an end result of petrification" it changes the fundamental approach to a medusa from a tactical, measured consideration to a zerg rush from the players. This effectively removes a tactically interesting encounter from the game, I feel, and replaces it with an entirely different approach that sort of defeats the whole concept of the monster in the first place.




Monday, July 29, 2013

Body Horror and Pop Music - Whatta Combo

I like how body horror, bizarre and almost mythosesque symbology and visuals and a keen, sometimes unsubtle sense of the occult manage to consistently...and with great visual effect...commingle with conventional pop songs. Lady Gaga is just the latest in a long line of performers who somehow manage to be mainstream while flaunting the esoteric under the umbrella of artistic expression...great stuff:

Monday Update! Sick Family, More of the Saints, and Lots of Rain

This is another Update blog, which is to say I've missed a couple and have no content lined up as yet. Last week was a hectic work week as co-workers were out on vacation and I was pulling double duty in other departments I don't normally dabble in if I can help it (even if I am the boss; knowing when you don't know something is an important part of the job). Then as work returned to normal I and my entire family came down with some hideous virus simultaneously, with myself, my wife and my son all equally sick. Plus, on top of everything it's been pouring cats and dogs in New Mexico, which is amazing (and needd). What a weekend! Lacking much energy or time I did not get much blogging done.



I did, however, play a lot of Saints Row the Third, and actually finished all the story arcs and primary campaigns. I got to about 78% completion, with only a smattering of the miscellaneous missions and challenges incomplete. All in all I got about 45 hours out of the game, which was not bad. The storyline remained as crazy as one could expect right to the end, albeit with the caveat that SR4 due out next month will top even the craziest storyline in SR3 right from the opening, a tradition now for this franchise, it seems.

After finishing SR3 I started a new campaign on hardcore mode with a male character using the gravelly Statham voice option (as my wife puts it) to see if playing a second gender made a replay worth trying. Aside from the entertainment value of seeing and hearing a dude go through everything it appears to be an identical experience, but the visceral enjoyment of replaying the game is pretty strong, stronger than many other recent titles I completed (i.e. Diablo III, Max Payne 3 and Star Trek, to name the last games I completed). There's also an advantage to replaying SR3 in hardcore mode, too: it's a tougher challenge, but I know that the accrual of reputation (leveling) and accompanying perks will lead to game-changing superiority over time, and this might make for a more challenging experience with a greater sense of reward when those really amazing perks start being acquired.

A week or two ago I pitched an idea about using SR3 as inspiration for a supervillain campaign, maybe powered by Mutants & Masterminds. As it turns out, one of the final missions for SR3 actually ends up giving you a range of superpowers, with which you proceed to trash Steelport. It was a great deal of fun, and a hint of things to come in SR4 if some of the trailers are anything to go by. Apparently Volition toyed with the idea in this once DLC pack (the one with Clone Gat) and realized that there was a great deal of additional potential by elaborating on it. I'll be curious to see if SR4 makes it a more integral portion of the game, or restrains it to a specific set of missions. In SR3 it's a temporary effect that lasts for an hour or less (more use burns it out). They could do something similar in SR4, but make it possible to purchase or find more doses, I imagine. One of the trailers shows Gat running up a building, though...Prototype style....so maybe they'll expand on the power options, too.



Speaking of Prototype, I snagged that plus Prototype 2 on the Steam Sale and got a few hours in. It inspired me to also resume playing more of InFamous, to contrast the two. Both are very decent games, worth playing, and I'll talk more about them in weeks to come, thanks to my newfound fascination for the wacky world of Open-City Sandbox/Theme Park GTA-clone titles. Prototype is especially interesting because it is best summed up as, "You start the game playing as the end boss from a Resident Evil title." InFamous has an interest good/evil moral quandry mechanic, which means you can be a suitably villainous menace or a misunderstood hero, depending on how you play your cards. Many of the quandries are sufficiently nuanced that it is actually easy to see why choosing the villain path might be smarter, if not kinder, which is interesting.



You know what the biggest threat to the next generation of consoles is right now? It's the last generation of consoles.....at least it will be, for the first couple of years. There were so many amazing and well done titles released over the last seven years that it's impossible to to have kept up for most people, and for gamers who aren't obsessed with the new and shiny (and I would postulate that most of the aging gamer base eventually become more concerned with games they can enjoy on a decent time:money ratio, as opposed to whatever is brand new) being able to pick from such an amazing selection of discounted titles is a real boon.

This is why the Xbox One and PS4 aren't offering backwards compatibility....they know their greatest enemy out the gates is everything that has come before.

I'll try to have more content out this week....been blogging about video games a lot lately, but I concede that my focus lately has been on gaming and also catching up on reading (especially some Wade Davis books I have been enjoying). I really should do some more book reviews soon, and maybe put more of an effort into blogging about all the interesting stuff going on in archaeology and anthropology in general. There are some blogs out there which I admire for their quality over quantity approach; maybe I'll try focusing on fewer but more substantive blog entries....we shall see!



Monday, July 22, 2013

Steam Summer Sale After Action Report: Sleeping Dogs, Van Helsing and Borderlands 2

The Steam Sale ends today, and with it I came away with a few gems worth mentioning...

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing

Just as I was getting ready to fire up Diablo III again to see if the itch I had for an isometric ARPG could be scratched by repeating the D3 content one more time, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing comes along and says, "We know what you like best about Torchlight II and Diablo III, and we have merged it all into an unholy concoction of villainous joy, right here! Also, offline and co-op play.Seriously, check us out." It was a chatty game.

Either way, it's also a very good game, and it really does fill a much-needed post-D3, post-Torchlight era niche that has been largely vacant since those two games came out and demonstrated that the era of the ARPG is far from over.

Van Helsing is very polished, at least as I've seen so far. It's graphics are crisp. The voice-overs are well-done, the plot is well-presented and sometimes takes a moment to slyly wink at the fourth wall of computer games, and it is just generally feels good, something that a surprising number of ARPGs fail miserably at.

Bottom line....if you've been jonesing for an ARPG experience that riffs off of what the Big Two have done, and manages to blaze its own trail in the process, then you should check it out.



Sleeping Dogs

In fair disclosure I owned the core Sleeping Dogs title prior to the Steam Sale, albeit purchased from an older Steam Sale. What I hadn't done until now was play much more than the main intro/prologue sequence and then set this one aside for other more pressing games. When I recently realized that I really enjoyed Saints Row 3 for its bizarreness, I also recognized that the vast open-world (open city?) zones of SR3 were actually a big component of the draw. It was then that I remembered I had a few other games that did the same thing, and after downloading those games I realized most of them were either too old and crusty or too obnoxious (never liked the GTA style) to enjoy....but Sleeping Dogs was an exception.

I took advantage of the Steam Summer Sale to snag all the DLC for Sleeping Dogs, which includes a range of additional suits, scenarios and content for this bizarre and fun romp through a Chinese Metropolis, a setting which has been loving crafted in great detail....the city of Sleeping Dogs is so well done, in fact, that I've enjoyed just wandering around to see the sights and explore. It's really very impressive. The fact that it has a compelling and very well acted principle storyline, mixed with a metric ton of amusing side quests is just icing on the cake. The main character is an undercover cop, which means you can play the game with the safe sense that you can become a vile bastard if you wish, but you're not starting off as one.

If you like the concept of an open-world exploration/sand box GTA title, but wanted it to have a more exotic location than Liberty City and a more empathetic character than some cheap con, Sleeping Dogs is for you. It even has some trippy alternative costumes, nods to Hong Kong cinema and wushia action, and an occasional wacko scenario that almost makes Sleeping Dogs as bizarre as SR3 at times. Almost.


 Borderlands 2

I began to suspect that Borderlands 2 had something more to offer than its predecessor when my wife, a largely MMO-only enthusiast, kept playing it. She's been playing B2 on and off now since it came out last year, actually. Obessively, even. And even more amazingly, her other MMO cohorts all join her regularly for their crazy romps through the landscapes of Pandora. My wife bought B2 for me last week during the sale, and I subsequently snagged all the DLC (the only time it makes sense to buy DLC: Steam Sales).

I have played a few hours now, and can state the following: if you, like me, had various issues with the original Borderlands, those issues are all resolved in B2. My issues with the prior game included: great lead in, followed by unfulfilled promises of and sort of meaningful or engaging story and characters and a general annoyance at the vast array of completely random guns. I had other issues, but those two were what made it less satisfying to finish the game for me. B2 immediately demonstrates more attention and effort to story, doing a great job of punching it up, a lot. Likewise, it's got a reinvented inventory system that at least makes figuring out what gun is worth your time a bit easier. Will it sustain through other gripes I had? Time will tell, but those two fixes right there are making B2 an immensely more entertaining experience already.

Also, if you (like me) couldn't muster the energy to finish the original, be assured that while this is a direct sequel, it focuses on new characters and so far I have found nothing which suggested I should have survived through the end of the first game to understand the second at all. In fact based on what I've read, the original Borderlands had a pretty basic and uninteresting ending (spoilerish alert: they find the vault, open it, and a tentacle monster comes out, the end). B2 starts some time after that, but then adds lots of new reveals that would never have been seen in the threadbare storyline of the original.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

The B/X D&D Project Part VI: Minotaur Racial Class

Source

It's back! After a bit of an absence I feel the urge to write some more about Basic/Expert D&D. I have acquired PDFs of the remaining Basic series modules, as well as the Creature Catalog and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. Many of the modules I have never owned before, but I once held the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and CC in my collection....ah, if only the years hadn't been so unkind to my library over time!

The Minotaur Racial Class

For this installment I present a racial class for minotaurs. The D&D minotaur is a ferocious, not often smart brute that eats humans and is very determined. The mintoaur presented in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia is a creature with a 5 intelligence and a minimum of 16 strength to reflect its damage bonus with weapons. The typical minotaur stands around 8 feet in height and can fight with weapons, gore and bite. Finally they save as level 6 fighters.

To make minotaurs into a playable race we'll assume that the bit about "minotaurs of greater intelligence" is actually typical of PC minotaurs; your average NPC minotaur may be a brute, but its the smart ones that tend to be more agreeable with other humanoids, or to seek out a better station for themselves in life apart from running down and eating men in dark catacombs. We will also assume that the average minotaur presented in the core rules is actually a level 6 minotaur; a PC class minotaur actually begins at first level with 1 hit die like any other adventurer.

Prerequisites: When rolling stats, minotaurs must have a minimum of 9 strength and constitution with no upper limit. Their intelligence score will fall between 3 and 16, as will their charisma. Minotaurs have no limits on other stats.

Class Advancement: minotaurs roll D8 for hit dice at each level, through level 10. After level 10 they gain 3 hit points per level thereafter. Minotaurs can advance to level 15 before they are maxed out (at the DM's discretion). They advance as fighters for purposes of experience points per level. Likewise, minotaurs gain saving throws as a fighter, but roll on the monster attack matrix, and use their active hit dice to determine THAC0 hit numbers; if the minotaur gains a CON modifier bonus to hit dice that is factored in (so a level 3 minotaur with a +1 CON modifier per level is treated as "3+ to 4" on the chart).

Weapon Skills and Armor: Minotaurs are familiar with all weapons, but tend to favor spears, clubs and axes. They are also familiar with all armor, but a minotaur has to pay four times the cost for a suit of armor that is properly sized for his unique shape and height.

Natural Attacks: any minotaur can attempt a gore and bite attack in a round, each of which deals 1D6 damage.

Natural Armor: minotaurs have tough skin, and a natural AC of 6. Minotaurs will always default to the better AC of either worn armor or natural armor, but they do not stack for effect.

Combat Maneuvers: if using these rules, minotaurs gain access to combat maneuvers at level 15, but in the same manners as dwarves do at level 12, including two attacks per round, and advance in the same fashion as dwarves from this point.



Spellcasters: a minotaur which meets the prerequisites for clerics (shamans) or magic users (wokani) may advance as spellcasters in addition to their regular advancement. To advance as a shaman, the minotaur advances as described above, but also must pay the full XP cost for advancement through level 4 as a cleric at the same time, and gains none of the cleric benefits except for spell casting. After level 4 the minotaur shaman can continue to advance as a minotaur, but no longer pays the supplemental cost for the four levels of cleric; at the DM's option a high-wisdom minotaur could continue to pay XP for cleric levels up to a level equal to wisdom minus 10 (so max level 8). Likewise, a minotaur wizard, or wokani, is limited to level 2 in the same manner, gains only the spell advancement, and may continue to advance as a regular minotaur after maxing out; a higher intelligence may optionally allow for higher advancement in the same manner, to a maximum of level 6.

Note that the XP cost for advancement in these classes is tallied separately from the minotaur class XP accrual; all XP earned while advancing in both classes is split evenly.

Shamans and Wokani have limited spell lists; the lists are on page 216 of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia; if you're using an older set like B/X, just use the cleric and magic user lists, instead.

Minotaur Advancement:

Level   Minotaur Warrior    Minotaur Shaman                Minotaur Wokani         
2           2,000                         2,000+1,500                           2,000+2,500
3           4,000                         4,000+3,000                           4,000+5,000** (Int 13)
4           8,000                         8,000+ 6,000                          8,000+10,000** (Int 14)
5           16,000                       16,000+12,000*(Wis 15)       16,000+20,000** (Int 15)
6           32,000                       32,000+25,000*(Wis 16)       32,000+40,000** (Int 16)
7           64,000                       64,000+50,000*(Wis 17)       as minotaur warrior only
8           120,000                     120,000+100,000*(Wis 18)
9           240,000                     as minotaur warrior only
10         360,000
11         480,000
12         600,000
13         720,000
14         840,000             Attack Rank
15          960,000*            C
             1,080,000           D
             1,200,000           E
             1,320,000           F
             1,440,000           G
             1,560,000           H
             1,680,000           I
             1,800,000           J
             1,920,000           K
             2,040,000           L
             2,160,000          M

*add cleric XP cost per level if the DM allows optional advancement by Wisdom score
**add wizard XP cost per level if the DM allows optional advancement by Intelligence score
*** advancement through level 15 as per XP requirements on the fighter chart

Other Notes: minotaurs are not often accepted in society, though some cultures may be more or less used to them depending on circumstances; some regions may know little of the bloodthirsty subterranean minotaurs and find a bull-headed man to be a novelty, others may fear them due to frequent raids, or know them only as gladiator slaves in the arenas. DMs should weigh carefully reactions to minotaurs in humanocentric regions, or areas devastated by monster attacks.




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

D&D Basic Mentzer Edition and B-Series Sale


If you peruse lots of OSR blogs then you should already know about this, but the 1983 Mentzer edition of Basic D&D is now up on dndclassics.com at 4.99 apiece for the player's book and the DM's book. I distinctly recall when these first came out; I was playing a 90% AD&D 10% B/X edition of the game by then, with the B/X side mostly to resolve mysterious portions of the AD&D rules that were impenetrable to I and my other fellow 12-13 year-old cohorts. I snagged the new Basic D&D set with an eye toward....not sure what, actually....I guess because it was D&D and I bought all things D&D back then whether I used them or not (some things never change). I remember disappointment, a bit, at realizing that the Mentzer edition felt a bit more basic than I was interested in, and realizing that it wasn't really much of a replacement for my older Otus cover basic book.

Despite that, I still relied on the basic set as a reference for a while, and it's nice to see the books in that boxed set again after all these years. Even better is that buying one gives you a coupon code to get any and all of the B series modules at half off, so if you haven't gotten them all yet now is a good time. I just snagged the eight modules I still didn't have so my B-series PDF collection is now complete. Many of these I never owned...back then I had run or played in The Keep on the Borderlands and Palace of the Silver Princess in the B-series, but that was it; so most of these modules are new to me.

Given my Old Guy fascination for Basic/Expert D&D this is a good thing. I'm still waffling on picking up the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, chiefly because for every person who says, "great scan!" there's someone else who says the scan is deplorable. Also...when the D&D Cyclopedia came out in 1991 I was deeply into AD&D 2nd edition and the idea of "downgrading" the D&D BECM seemed a bit preposterous. I adapted plenty of BECM modules from the time (Hollow World remains a favorite D&D setting of mine) but actually using the rules? Nah. That attitude has changed, though....it's really hard to beat the stark, simple elegance of what B/X D&D and it's BECM follow-up was all about, and I am pretty sure that when my son is old enough to start gaming that this is the edition I'll introduce him to.

Review: Team 7



Team 7 (issues 0 through 8)

When Team 7 (and it's sister title Team 6) came out as a set of miniseries during Wildstorm's "Still Part of Image" heyday (such as it was), it served as a sort of bridge between several characters and series, tying in a number of the more venerable characters in the old Wildstorm universe together, via a rather complicated backstory set during the Cold War and later. The Grifter, Lynch, Backlash and others were all part of this Vietnam Era team on which various experiments (a throwback to MK-ULTRA and such) led to a curious mix of war heroes with psychic abilities. The team survives a variety of harrowing encounters before splitting to the "present" of the nineties at the time, and to their own titles and future lives as costumed vigilantes.

Team 7 drags a metric ton of Wildstorm and DC characters into a potpourri in similar fashion, with Cole Cash (Grifter) rubbing shoulders with Lynch again (albeit for the first time in the New 52), along with a younger Deathstroke, a younger and thinner Amanda Waller (formerly of Suicide Squad last I checked), a younger Dinah Drake (alias the Black Canary) and more.....even Steve Trevor of Wonder Woman fame appears at one point (pretty sure its the same guy...he's a pilot and all that). This bizarre mixture of characters comprises an ongoing eight issue medley of madness in which the Wildstorm universe is mashed into the DC continuum.

Arguably some of this shift is necessary; there are plenty of DC characters that have backgrounds that fit the Team 7 dynamic well, and the book demonstrates this handily. Likewise, some of the old Team 6 and Team 7 characters are simply no longer with Wildstorm...some were properties of Top Cow and other Image Comics publishers; such is the hazard of the great and sort of failed Image experiment.

Anyway, Team 7 takes the potentially great premise (the secret history of various heroes in a sort of spec ops quasi-military outfit, filling out the backstory that helps explain the present) and manages to weave some great stories even as it makes mince meat out of certain characters....including characters many of us might have liked to see reimagined in the actual New 52 universe.

A few spoilers ahead: Caitlin Fairchild appears and is apparently assimilated borg-style by a rogue Spartan who actually appears to be a creation (?) of Gammorah's evil mastermind Kaizen. This same event leads to the creation and destruction (?) of Ladytron, who gets enough screen time to look vaguely like who she's supposed to be before either disappearing or dying. It's not that these characters are absolutely dead and gone....they could be....but this book left a lot of cliffhangers and "no explanations" to questions I can only assume may be answered elsewhere. Maybe I just have more reading to do. Still....this is not how I would have written Caitlin Fairchild (from Gen-13) or Ladytron into the DC universe.

In the end the plot and pacing gets really wacky as the tale progresses. At times I felt like the writer for this book was at best mildly familiar with many of the characters, and it was rather unsatisfying to see Lynch brought in (as an example) to found the team, yet his presence is all but eliminated before the book concludes...despite some hints that he's still around and alive. Foreshadowing? Maybe, but it felt more like "rushed, and couldn't wrap up the intended script," to me. I head this book may already be winding down....this could either be the reason for the feeling of rushed plots or a cause of such.

Anyway, if you're a fan of the old Wildstorm/Image era of Team 6 and Team 7 then this is going to be a pale shadow of what once was. If you're a DC fan who is not too familiar with the Team 7 notion, then you may find this book a lot more enjoyable as your stake in the Wildstorm characters abused here is not going to be as problematic.Indeed, the DC characters tend to shine, being placed in the more visceral environment of a Wildstorm-flavored plot, and when characters like Eclipso appear it's got a real nasty, interesting vibe to the whole tale.

I still can't believe that they brought in Spartan as some sort of Gammoran robot and Majestic as some sort of byproduct of being assimilated by said robot (it's becoming painfully clear that the Kherubim did not survive the transition to the New 52 universe). That entire plot was.....so poorly executed.....it's just beyond words how disappointed I am in this series' run through issue 8 so far.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Musings...Saints Row: The Third as a Premise for a Modern Day RPG (mildly NSFW)

This was the NSFW one!
I realized as I was playing Saints Row: The Third this weekend that the D20 Modern system would work really well for this sort of game. You'd have level progression, hit point mechanics, a rule set just buff enough to handle some weirdness....


I suppose it goes without saying though that Hero System or GURPS could both do the "Saints Row" genre (because it really is its own weird thing) rather well, too....GURPS especially if you do it with every possible cinematic rule and quick-use short cut turn on (i.e. the group skills and such). Not sure how fun such a game would be, though....Saints Row: The Third has the distinct advantage of being so wild because of it's medium (open-world GTA-esque game in which you run around causing trouble for a virtual city) which not only allows for characters with remarkable resilience, but in a break from convention it sort of assumes that the game universe really is a "game" universe, the sort of place where the rules can and are broken Just Because There Are No Limits. Hyper deadly Japanese game show? Sure, why not! Gun which fires mind-controlling cephalopods? You got it. Gun which sprays targets with chum, attracting ferocious burrowing land sharks? Absolutely! There are no bad ideas in Saints Row: The Third, only fully realized dreams and madness. Hell...it's sequel (#4) features an all-out alien invasion of the city....so there ya go.


Anyway...the thing I get from playing this game is that sometimes it pays not too take one's fantasy realms too seriously. Also, internal logic is only as reality based as you care to make it. I am definitely considering how I can apply these lessons in some future game campaign...


Okay, the SR3-inspired idea I have: a world in which the most flamboyant and over-the-top super villains won, and society has been operating for decades (or longer!) based on some principles (such as they are) established by those winning villains long ago. While society madly plunges along into a state of increasing anarchy, it turns out that the super villains won so long ago due to the meddling of clever aliens, who are pulling strings behind the scenes; the aliens have a massive ship in space powered by a reality-warping engine, which is accidentally responsible on occasion for especially strange and bizarre manifestations on Earth, up to and including worm holes to other times and dimensions (pulling in everything from dinosaurs to cowboys and zombies). Meanwhile, the heroes --okay, protagonists-- are out to profiteer from the whole sordid mess....


One game I haven't considered, but which I really should: Mutants & Masterminds 3E. Seems like this sort of crazy would be very easy to execute in MnM!

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Random Friday: Tunnels & Trolls updates, Neverwinter and more

Just a short post as I am behind my Monday-Wednesday-Friday quota this week (sort of). News bits and other random stuff:


Tunnels & Trolls

Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe will be running late, as Rick Loomis announced in the latest update, due to Liz Danforth being sick and also behind schedule due to a round of conventions going into August. They wanted to have it ready for Gen Con apparently, but no go. On the up side, the second PDF module is out, and I now have a nice copy of City of Terrors on the tablet.

Speaking of Tablet gaming, there have been a number of releases in the last year or two featuring revamped Fighting Fantasy books (and others inspired by such) which are pretty effective in the ios/Android format. I wonder if Rick and Ken have considered what it would take to turn T&T into an app-based gaming experience, at least for the solo adventures?


Runequest 6

 I am still reading Book of Quests for Runequest 6. It's a great book, and will provide some detailed discussion on it, hopefully next week. I've been talking to some of my players, and we have a new game interest brewing, just need to find a way to squeeze it in. My Wednesday regular campaign is Pathfinder-only, unfortunately; the player collective I have for that night comes for the Pathfinder, and deviating would be to seriously upset the apple cart. Maybe an off-weekend, played at home, so my wife can bring her gruesome RQII elven blood sorcerer out of retirement....


Max Payne 3

Last weekend (July 4th weekend) was very productive in terms of moving "games I've been playing for a while" to the "games I've finished" list. Max Payne 3 was on that list, and I wanted to discuss it at some point as I really enjoyed it, albeit in periodic short bursts, and feel it was one of the better titles of the last few years out there.

Long story short: fantastic campaign (as it should, the end credits for this title was insanely long) and when I could get into multiplayer it was a lot of fun, but strangely (or not) when I finished the single player side of the equation I found myself utterly and totally disinterested in sticking around for the multiplayer experience anymore.  The drive behind this game is the Max Payne story, and that was now wrapped up; continuing the never-ending cycle of violence in Brazil that the game depicts in MP just seemed sort of....pointless? I may revisit it at some point, if only to see how long the community lasts, but... Well, let's face facts; I'm getting old and apparently that has an effect on one's interest in highly repetitive video game tasks (of which MP is easily a component). Also, with like a million games in my to-do roster it's hard to take time for MP unless it's so compelling that it smokes the prospect of something better around the corner. Plus that Steam Summer Sale dealie just started. So...yeah.


Neverwinter

Remember Neverwinter? I've been playing it occasionally (not much), a game here and there, enjoying it in short bursts but not finding it the sort of game that I am motivated to plow through or keep up with, unfortunately. That could change if I find some willpower to stay focused on it (as I recently did, at least for a short while with Guild Wars 2). Maybe once the novelty wears off with Rift's F2P model.

My experience in Neverwinter isn't the interesting bit, however. My wife, who absorbs these games like most humans breathe air, recently seemed to stop playing Neverwinter entirely, after a month-long gorge-fest. I asked her why she had stopped and migrated back to WoW and Defiance....as it turns out, she explained that they all played through at least one or two characters to max level and hit the end game...or lack of it. Best as she can tell, the end game in Neverwinter is nonexistent, and it mainly seems to be an expectation that the community content through the foundry is the source of new material to explore. Anyone who's messed around with the foundry content by now may realize what a problem this actually is; although there is some good stuff in there, the general consensus on the foundry now is that it's lacking the tools for the sort of nuanced and detailed scenarios that it's predecessor titles allowed for. Also, for every gem there are mutliple steaming piles of code you have to dodge, and the Foundry's menu is atrocious for just finding something....I never could successfully locate my wife's own scenario through navigating its menus, for example.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Post Mortem Review: Star Trek the Computer Game



Hey look, I played another movie tie-in game all the way through to the end. Unlike Aliens: Colonial Marines, the general dislike for move tie-in games hit Star Trek with a soft glove, rather than a heavy mallet, but Star Trek took some hits, just as they all do. Unlike A:CM there may not be as much deserved hatred here, although Star Trek is far from perfect.

Star Trek TVG is effectively an episode of the adventures of the new Abramsverse Star Trek that slots in between the two films. It's also the unholy love child of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Mass Effect and Gears of War; if you've played any of the above titles, then you will find Star Trek to be extremely familiar territory.

One thing this game isn't is a triple-A budget title. When I got to the finish I was pleasantly surprised to see a credits roster that lasted maybe two minutes at the most, and was considerably shorter than the credits roll in most games I've played in the last three or four years. This explains, among other things, why the game has a lot of odd little glitches on occasion, but it's also commendable that they got a game like this to work so well without having a thousand people on staff. To contrast, sit through the credits on Max Payne 3-it felt like I was scrolling through the phone book of a modest city!

So who is Star Trek TVG for? It's at least partially for fans of the movies, of course; the J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe if actually rather well-suited to video game logic and plotting. It's definitely not for fans of the older Treks, as like the current movies this one takes very little time to slow down and think about what is actually going on. In many ways the Abrams take on Trek is about misrepresenting the extent to which Star Trek is or was an inheritor of classic pulpy space opera; it's about grabbing that "western in space" feel that Roddenberry mentioned and ignoring all the other stuff Trek was about. But hey....if you're enjoying it (and I do enjoy it, with the caveat that it feels more like parody and fanfic than a real inheritor of the Trek legacy) then this game could be fun to play.

The game has several strong points: it's got the crew from the movie doing all the voice acting, and it really lends to the quality of the game. If they had used substitute actors or relied on read-only dialogue the game would have suffered for it. The game also plays very well, and occasional glitches aside it's a competent chest-high-wall shooter ala Gears of War, with a huge dollop of Mass Effect-style run and gun mixed in, occasionally broken up by Uncharted-style wall climbing and platform jumping. Kirk and Spock occasionally like to jump out of airlocks with some handheld rocket packs for some Dead Space-styled flying sequences, too. At no point does any of this feel uncomfortable, although as I said earlier, older Trekkies might start to wonder at what a dangerous universe this iteration of Trek portrays.

The game's plot focuses on the founding of New Vulcan, as a planet is chosen for possible terraforming using an enigmatic plot device (the sole purpose of which appears to be to open wormholes in space and blow up) which becomes the target of the gorn, who pop through one such wormhole and decide to wreak havoc. Despite not having been encountered by humans or vulcans before (to go by what the game stated) gorn are nonetheless well versed in alien physiology and have these robots which inject people with a zombie-mutagen, turning Starfleet personel and vulcans alike into rage monsters who are out of control. The game gets momentarily ethical with it's secondary goals, which include disabling and knocking out victims of this injection rather than phasering them into oblivion.

Once the gorn invade, the Enterprise arrives in time to beam down it's Captain and Commander into the thick of the party, after which Spock and Kirk single-handedly carve their way through a mound of zombified personnel and an endless array of gorn, in locales which include New Vulcan, the Enterprise, the gorn warship, the gorn homeworld, a starfleet space station and occasionally the depths of very debris-cluttered space. In the end, you will have single-handedly neutered the gorn navy, although it does feel like a majority of the remaining vulcans and Enterprise officers in this universe have now been subjected to zombification (don't worry, they get better) in the process.

In a very disappointing scene, two redshirts appear and do not die.

Aside from the rollercoaster plot which propels itself along at a breakneck pace, the game pulls out plenty of movie-quality stunts and makes a complete mess of the previously messy but now totally FUBARed physics and internal consistency of the Star Trek lore. Star Trek has always been about inventing lots of imaginary particles, subspaces, and other nonsense in the past to help justify its stories, but previous efforts usually (with mixed success) tried to maintain some level of internal consistency, if only for the sake of the fans who take this stuff very seriously. The new Trek does this, but tends to do so with a complete disregard (some might say "lack of respect") for what has been previously established. The game is pretty much no exception, and in all honesty, much like the movies, you have to accept that things work the way they do in this version of Trek because it's Unified Theory is "Rule of Cool" and not anything remotely related to real physics, logic, or even prior Trek canon.

Why, for example, do Kirk and Spock regularly jump out of fast moving objects to sprint with handheld jet packs to another distant ship or location, despite the fact that no one mentioned whether or not the transporter is working, or even that they could transport them to within meters of their goal, at which they could use the handheld jet packs to travel safely a few more meters for entry? Rule of Cool.....it's not as fun as jumping out of one space ship to fly through a debris field to another ship.

The gorn get a major face lift here, the first one as best I can tell (unless they showed up somewhere else that I am unaware of). They are now apparently multiple species....or one species with multiple different subtypes (no one comments on or notices this in the game, best as I could find). The gorn are basically what happens to a rubber-suit lizard monster who's job is to fight Captain Kirk in the California desert for a 45 minute TV show when the core nugget of lore is extrapolated forward into a post-Halo, post-Covenant, Post-Gears of War Locust universe in a video game world where enemies must fit different types. But hey, good news....it was an excuse for the developers of the game to get the requisite odd variety of exotic weapons into the mix, all freshly reskinned from Mass Effect 3 and Halo.

Star Trek TVG is actually set up so you can play it as a two person co-op adventure, with one person as Kirk and the other as Spock. I played it single player, and admit that it would have been more fun with a second live person, if only because Spock's pathing as an AI was awful, and on occasion I would have to restart due to the AI taking him somewhere to die quietly. Once, and only once, I got to watch him sink through the floor and disappear, then die later. Sigh.

There is also a multiplayer option, of which I can say little because each time I tried to get into a game I could find no other players (go figure).

So, having finished the game, was it worth it? Yes, if you fit the following profile, as I did:

1. First, find the game on a very nice discount. If you may more than $20 for it you may feel buyer's remorse.

2. Second, you liked the movies even though the Rule of Cool physics and inherent plot monstrosities they actually are still vexes you. Double plus if the movies didn't bother you like this at all, or you can't see what the big fuss is all about.

3. You like adventure games of this sort, and want to support the industry by showing them that an audience does exist for games which involve guys in space suits running around and doing stuff, and not always just shooting things. Actually this game is a relatively poor example of "games that require more than just shooting" but in it's defense most sequences include a non-violent "do this stealthfully or quietly" option which is an extra reward if you succeed; it just so happens that shooting your way through the game is the easiest solution most of the time.

4. you want a co-op game to run around in with a buddy.

5. You freakin' love Trek and are exceptionally forgiving, and you happen to think Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine make an excellent Spock and Kirk.


Monday, July 8, 2013

A Very Late Post Mortem on Diablo III


This is a very late post mortem because, of course, Diablo III has been out for more than a year. I share these thoughts because...why the hell not, it's my blog! Plus I know that there are many other fathers, mothers, wives and husbands out there who, like me, are just happy to play a game, let alone find time to play one through to the end, and hearing about last year's left-overs might help one to make a decision about whether the time invested is worth it.

Diablo III After Action Report

I played a variety of characters up at least a few levels, and took one dour male witch hunter all the way to level 31, with the murderation of Diablo himself at the end. I logged a grand total of 34 hours in Diablo III according to Raptr, and I think about 28 of that was in the main campaign.  According to How Long to Beat, had I been a younger man with spazzier reflexes I would have knocked it out in about 19 hours. That fact that a sought out every text and bit of data I could locate in the game on the story (and paused to read/listen to them) probably contributed to this time increase.

In the course of playing through the campaign I learned a few important details:

The Diablo Difficulty Curve is more of a Gentle Slope: The game was clearly designed to be relatively easy...as in, click this repeatedly easy....for most of the way. If you find yourself in a pickle, it's because you haven't thought about your skill choices lately, or you're getting tired....or you're lagging. The game's difficulty really doesn't even begin to ramp up until late in the third act, and even then it's still fairly trivial to plow through most encounters. In the fourth act you finally get monsters and bosses that do interesting things that require you to pay more attention....but it would have been much nicer to have more features like that early on; I'm just not that thrilled at the button masher genre anymore (okay, I never was; this is the first button-masher ARPG I have ever finished, let alone gotten halfway through!)

The Nightmare and Inferno Modes at Locked to Character and Come Later for a Reason: Or put another way, Nightmare mode is really just Blizzard's way of saying "difficulty aimed at level 30+ characters" and Inferno mode is even tougher. Hell mode or whatever comes last is for level 60, I think. I cleared one campaign on Normal mode, discovered that unlocking Nightmare meant only for a second playthrough on the same character, and decided I was done with the game. The interest I had in playing through a new class on normal, or seeing what new stuff my witch hunter could get on a second playthrough of the storyline, with not even a smidgeon of effort to explain why he'd be doing it all over again; typical "lack of RPG logic" style of computer games, where RPG has nothing to do with story and all about stat leveling. I could neither tolerate a repeat of the same content purely on the off-chance that they might make those first three acts slightly more interesting, nor did I care enough to kill things with fists, magic missiles or axes with another class just for the slightly different novelty.



It's Still Better than Torchlight II: but that doesn't mean Torchlight II isn't good, it just means that, for a single play-through, Diablo III was more rewarding in terms of story content and graphic design. For me, of course. YMMV.

The Always-On Connection Problem: this was only a problem for me once when playing the game, a few months back when I couldn't get online to play due to Blizzard authentication servers being down (or something). However, a bigger issue which I could only attribute to lag was the tendency for the game, after starting up, to have a lot of herky-jerky actions for monsters and laggy response for characters in the first encounter or two. On rare occasion or when playing on my laptop wirelessly I could get some serious lag that made the game effectively unplayable. This was, as so many have said before, total nonsense. I tried hardcore mode, and this opening lag got my hardcore barbarian killed. I realized then it wasn't worth it.

The Auction House: this became the only real way to make money and get gear. However, it was also probably the most damaging to the game's internal consistency as a whole, as it was definitely packaged as an outside fourth-wall event breaking in to the game's world-space. You had to leave the game to engage the auction house, and in doing so you guaranteed that loot would drop like magic into your character's lap, usually far better than most of what was actually found on play-through. Selling "grey items" was only for vendors; anything else would be guaranteed to net you more cash on the auction house. I have no idea who would spend real money there, or why; I never once needed to do so, nor could I find a compelling reason to do so, not even the matter of prestige. I think that's something only the hardcore hell mode crowd can answer.

The Chat Screen: it was like having the Barrens Chat in a single player game! Yay! Seriously, 90% of the time it was dead, but when it wasn't you were occasionally forced to ignore the random yappings of infantile players. Business as usual for online gaming, I guess.

And so, after trying a monk for a few levels, trying nightmare mode for a short period and finding it no different than normal mode (relatively speaking) I realized I had gotten exactly all that I wanted out of Diablo III and sliced it free of my hard drive. It was a fun story with an interesting twist....but like An M. Night Shyamalan film, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have the same impact the second time around. I shall reload it in the distant future when Actiblizzard finally, theoretically, releases an expansion for it.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Runequest 6 Hardcover on Indiegogo



There's an Indiegogo event for Runequest 6 in hardcover format, which has been much requested by fans (including myself). At $65 (which includes S&H in the US) that's not a bad deal, especially for what is easily the best and most well-conceived fantasy RPG to be released in the last few years. Anyway, there are thirty days left on it as I write this, so plenty of time for me to plan to contribute.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Recent History of Eredoth



Recent History of Eredoth

   Eredoth was founded approximately 250 years ago under the guidance of the expatriate Syrgian king Gareden Voranius. Garedan had made a power play against the throne, to seize control before his elder brother Garast took rightful ownership of it, and he failed. He was given the chance for exile instead of death, and so he took the opportunity to leave Syrgia, migrating west with a fleet of ships carrying his family and loyalist followers. They eventually found their way across the expanse of the Glittering ocean and into the channels that led to the Grey Sea, where they settled what appeared to be a vast wilderness of deep forest and high mountains, occupied only by a barbarous local people called the emac. He called the land Eredoth, which means “far land” in the Syrgian language.

   The emac were initially friendly, but as the Syrgian expatriates soon discovered they were not so receptive to exploitation, and a series of local conflicts arose during the initial colonization. The first thirty years of Eredish expansion was a bloody affair, but the superior arms, armor and tactics of the Eredoth soldiers prevailed.

   In the following two centuries, the population of the emac broke into two distinct groups, consisting of those who accepted the occupation of the foreigners, and those who rebelled. The independent emac continue to dwell in nomadic forest and mountain tribes throughout the region, and have come to carefully guard their territories against the foreigners, who occupy mostly the lowland and forest regions along the coast. In contrast, a number of emac tribes eventually integrated with Eredoth’s new culture and rulership, and became clients of the kingdom. These emac are called “iquiri’san” by their independent bretheren, a word which means “willing slaves” in the emac language.

   After two and half centuries Eredoth has become its own power. The people speak Eredish, a dialect closely related to Syrgian but sufficiently removed in time that it now requires some study to properly interpret. Syrgians “rediscovered” Eredoth about a century ago, and infrequent trade has ensued ever since.

   Although Eredoth came from Syrgian culture, it also lost much of it with the transition to this new land. One of the first changes was in religion. The Syrgians are notoriously non-religious, even atheistic by Chirak standards, and eschew all forms of faith and religion when possible. The Eredish where of similar bent until they arrived in the new land, where they discovered that the local emac worshipped something they called the Divine Wind, a force of nature that was a willful manifestation of something they called the “World Spirit.” The World Spirit would choose from among the deserving and humble, granting them the gift to do good things. They said this was important, because the land was suffused with evil spirits who crept out of the Outer Darkness, spilling like pools of shadow into the world  to corrupt men. They called these shadows the Yagoth.

   It did not take long for the Eredish to believe in the emac’s religion, as actual manifestations of the Divine Wind took more than one colonist over the years, changing them into something that the newfound theologians called “spirit saints,” roughly translated from the emac term for them, the iniar’quiam. Just as impressive but more disturbing were the first Eredish to succumb to the corrupting fleshwarping touch of the Yagoth. Over time, the men and women who devoted themselves to understanding, following and eventually worshipping the spirit saints founded the Church of the World Spirit. To be chosen by the Divine Wind, sent from the World Spirit, was considered the greatest of honors. The adoption of this local belief was at least partially responsible for the integration and acculturation—on both sides—of Eredish and emac alike.


   Today Eredoth is divided into three chief lands. The northlands, along the coast of the northern Frostmounts are held by King Seviron of Calladania, the collected northern duchies, which reflects the united northlands. In the south there are two kings, including King Emerad of Duchies of Ghaellan, and King Sarnaris of Saagerast. Though the land is presently divided between three kings, they all regard themselves as part of Eredoth proper. The current division derives from the War of Winter Blossoms, so named for the fact that it started during the middle of winter thirty years ago, an unusual time for conflict to arise, and pressed on for two decades until the major powers sued for peace, then divided the lands three ways, with a treaty that asserted that all of Eredoth would unite in times of need against foreign powers. The ever-present threat of the Xiang-Kotonos, Nindragom, the giants of the Frostmounts and other threats insure that this treaty is taken seriously.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Player's Knowledge of the Relic Kingdoms



Player’s Overview of the Region
Eredoth is a northern empire, embedded in a thousand miles of rocky coast. They are a relic empire, descendants of expatriates from long ago who colonized the region and fought back against the barbarianst of the Frostmounts. The people of Eredoth are divided, in that there is no stable king. In southern Eredoth two major powers vie for control: the kings of Ghaellan and Saagarest. Saagarest is centered on an island in the Grey Sea roughly the size of England, along the coast dominated by the duchies of Ghaellan. You are all starting in the city of Ghaellan, where self-appointed king Emerad rules. Finally, Eredoth's religion is based on the worship of something called the Vestiges and the Spirits.  The Spirits are saint-like figures that are believed to be granted godlike power by the enigmatic Divine Wind, a manifestation of the lost Ancient Divinities of old that was said to have been worshipped by the ancient colonists of Eredoth, and the reason for which they were exiled and forced to colonize this distant land. The Vestiges are described as the ancient Spirits of the Earth, immortals which perished eons ago and of which only the power of the Divine Wind still exists. Vestiges might be seen as undead gods. Eredoth also has a beliefer (fear) of demons, calling them the fiends of Yagoth.

Nidragom is located to the south of Eredoth, and it is best described as a land of madmen and wild barbarians. They are fiercely warlike, tribal, and disorganized, but by virtue of their own ferocity and dedication to something they call the Mania (which is worshipped both as a philosphy and a god) they are a formidable force of berserkers and killers. When Eredoth's polities are not warring amongst themselves, they recruit from Nindragom for mercenaries.

Easter of both lands is the Xiang-Kotonos, an eastern empire of warriors and godless men who revere the blade before all. The Xiang-Kotonos are made less threatening only by virtue of the thousand miles of desert tundra between their kingdoms and the region of Nindragom and Eredoth, but an occasional warlord will brave the barren lands to seek out battle with the western powers.

South in the deep high mountains of the east is Laiwan, a remote kingdom of mountain dwellers who are the gateway of trade between the westerlands and the distant east. They are small in number but safe by virtue of their isolated mountainous homeland. They are mysterious and mystical people, said to worship the Sun itself, although they have a complicated pantheon of Demon Gods that they feel dictate the trials and tribulations of their daily lives.

Across the Grey Sea from Eredoth is the largest mountain range in the known world, the immense Anantes mountains, The people of this region are called the Capac, and are divided into two cultural groups: the lowland Capaci of Narasco, who subsist on trade and the sea to survive in the harsh, dry deserts along the slopes of the great mountains that touch the Grey Sea, and in the immense highland regions of the Anantes Mountains is the mysterious and very ancient culture of the Astananku, said to be ancient magicians and nearly immortal descendants of a lost race of old. No one knows much of who the Astananku worship, although the lowland Capaci strongly favor the water goddess whom they call Mataki, and her counterpart, the storm god Hukil.

Finally, there are known to be other, more distant lands which the Eredothian sailors sometimes trade, far beyond the dominion of the Grey Sea. Westward beyond the Anantes Mountains the Capaci people speak of a terrible empire of evil, dominated by demon worship and sacrifice. South of Nindragom is a vast, trackless desert waste from which occasional merchant caravans emerge, claiming to come from the distant kingdom of Dragos across the desert.

Elves in the region of Eredoth are known as the Asharion tribes of the frostmounts, a cunning and secretive race that lives in nomadic tribal groups. They are often at odds with their dark elf counterparts beneath the frozen glaciers and deep in the mountain caves of the region, who are called the Kaddan. The Kaddan worship the vestige Zaramast; in the elvish mythology, it is said that the Kaddan were normal elves who stumbled upon the burial ground of the ancient vestige thousands of years ago, and his dark tendrils corrupted their flesh and spirit, turning them into what they are today.

There are haflings all along the coast of the Grey Sea, and there are several enclaves of stout dwarves in the Frostmounts and Anantes mountains. As with all other lands, gnomes and goblins exist, though the goblins are seen as pests of the Arescu Forest and the lowland, warmer Iargan forests of the south, while the gnomes gravitate toward cities and towns of other races.

Dragonborn are extremely rare, but tieflings are extremely common, especially among the Nindragom, who prize the blood-induced madness of some tiefling warriors, and often rely upon rituals of the mysterious Demon Gods to call upon the Mania and allow them a bonding with infernal beings to create such offspring.
 
Minotaurs are known in this land, but they are found chiefly in wandering tribes in the southern deserts and eastern tundra. Orcs are present, as ever, existing primarily in a vast network of caverns Gazad Mountains of Eredoth, though many orcish tribes can be found in the Frostmounts and Anantes mountains as well.




Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Runequest: Monster Island - an Overview



I'm still working through my physical copy of Book of Quests (don't have it in PDF) but I also have Monster Island in PDF format thanks to some timely PDF sales at rpgnow. This means I can provide some more details for those interested in what they get for the $14.99 PDF sale price.

Monster Island is one part sandbox setting and one part monster manual for Runequest 6. The book consists of a lengthy introduction to Monster Island proper, including a map. The print version has a full color pull-out version, and a separate Companion download for $4.99 includes this map with some collected charts and tables; presumably this keeps the price down on the main PDF. For those concerned about price, the black and white maps in the main book are perfectly serviceable. I haven't picked up the Companion yet, but will let you know if it's worth it when I do (come on rpgnow sales, don't fail me now!)

The  book spends roughly 187 pages on the island itself, although that includes 15 pages on the general nature of sandbox campaigns and how to run them. The latter half of the book is about 94 pages of monsters, and the book includes a wide variety of new beasties for your Runequest campaigns (and easily adapted to Legend, Magic World or BRP if you're using any of those systems, too). Here's a summary of the new monsters for those interested (note that some campaign specific monsters that appear in the setting section are not included):

Adaro (shark men, samebito)
Ahuizotl
Alan (moon bats)
Alicanto
Allosaurus
Ankylosaurus
Giant Ant Lion
Carnivorous Ape
Arumco (hellfrog)
Assassin Conch (terrifying sea snails)
Aswang (yes! I love Aswang as monstrous foes)
Bakunawa (a very neat and freaky shadow eel)
Bone Wraith
Bultingin (werehyenas!)
Bunyip
Byangoma (wise, fortune-telling magic birds)

...let me pause a moment to state that this monster list is AMAZING so far. Loads of fascinating and decidedly non-western mythical beasts, ripped right out of mythology and folklore....

Cannibal Spirit (wendigo)
Giant Centipede (welcome to Interzone, biatch)
Giant Clam
Cob Hobbler (probably one of the neatest new monsters in the book....a parasitic infestation that turns the victim into a spider-monster)
Giant Cockroach
Deathdrip Flowers
Deinonychus
Dudreyas (a carnivorous plant with a siren like twist)
Dune Haunter (a sand ghoul!)
Dziwozoana (succubus-like swamp demons)
Giant Eagle
Giant Eel
Lightning Eel
Ettin (treated as a template applied to other humanoid creatures that would like more than one head; did not include a sample...i.e. an ogre-ettin or something, unfortunately, but the template is easy enough to apply)
Febrilis (winged snakes)
Flocks, Hoards, Packs and Shoals (a mess of tiny monstrosities and how to manage the swarms of such, includign bats, leeches, pirahna and more)
Flying Worms (oh yeah, they went there...purely awesome here)
Gibberer (a template for one possessed by a dark spirit)
Heterodontosaurus
Hitotsume-Kozo (a jump to Japanese legend, cyclopean Japanese boys....and we all know that Japanese children are terrifying)
Huakaipoor (warrior ghosts)
Ophidian Hydra (OMG a hydra at last statted out in Runequest. The world may end soon)
Isnashi (skunk ape meets King Kong)
Ivory Impaler (another deadly plant....Monster Island is a tough place....)
Succubus Ivy (...)
Giant Jellyfish
Jempulex (okay, I love this one...a hand-sized wasp that stings you to turn you into its zombie servant)
Kanaima (a werecreature formed from people bonded with/possessed by shape-shifting spirits)

...This is already my favorite monster book, fyi....

Kapre (bear men)
Kitsune (fox folk, natch)
Kraken (!)
Kulamyu Pod (we're in little shop of horrors land here now)
Lakooma....okay, this is one of my favorites....it's...well:


Lammasu (the classics! yay!)
Blood Lizards
Thorny Lizards
Lizardfolk of Monster Island (at last...at long last....lizardfolk, real, honest-to-god lizardfolk in the rule system most suited to their use and presentation in classic pulp fantasy....swoon; EDIT: sigh, I keep forgetting that RQ6 has lizardmen in it, too; its MW and some other D100 system books that are missing them. My bad!)
Malcathorn (a nasty beast)
Manananggal (a terrifying form of vampire....one of my favorites, used it extensively in it's Pathfinder incarnation)
Mantithorn Cactus
Megalonyx
Mokele-Mbembe (my wife, being the cryptozoologist she is, should be happy to see him show up here)
Moonflower (there are a lot of deadly plants on Monster Island...)
Morko (a unique monstrous hag)
Lotus Moth
Naga (ah yes, one of my favorites)
Nanaue (weresharks of a fashion....disturbingly so...)
Nukekubi (a variant head-detaching monstewr ala the pennangalan, sweet zombie Jesus this book has a lot of cool monsters)
Olgoi (nasty worm)
Ophidiodis (literally a ball of snakes)
Oviraptor
Pachycephalosaurus
Panopticus (terrifying giant amoeba)
Pihuichen (another flying snake, this time vampiric)
Possessed Plant
Polong (a hideous thing created from the collected blood of the murdered)
Quathil (Runequest gets its version of the flumph)
Rokurokubi (long necked demons who masquerade as normal by day)
Saltasaurus
Giant Scarab
Sentinel (giant golem-like animated entities)
Spellbreaker Serpent
Serpent People (one cannot have a place called Monster Island without both lizardfolk and serpent people; I can now put my Malleus Monstrum book away, MI has all I need)
Snapdragon (one can imagine at this point the list of safe flora on MI is tiny)
Spineapple Tree
Tengu (for those who are accustomed to playing Tengu as PCs, I think these would work for such just fine, too)
Tetrapus (yet another great aberration; on MI they exude from the Smoking Mirror)
Therizinosaurus (hey....there are a lot of dinosaurs in this book...)
Tikbalang (another of my all time favorites; monsters of the forest formed from fetuses aborted by black magic)
Triceratops
Trifrond (read; triffid)
Tiger Turtle
Palm Vampire
Vorompatra (giant predatory flightless birds)
Vorslurp (brain eating slugs!)
Giant Vulture
Waheela (giant bear dogs)
Yeti (voormi...degenerate humanoids)

And that's just the regular bestiary. Many more sample monsters, NPCs and location-specific entities are detailed in the campaign section and the appendix is loaded with specific sample monsters. The best part of the appendix is on "The Gods That Walk," which is a polite way of saying "Kaiju!" Yep, we've got, among others (find the analogues...) Gamaru, Ghidoru, Kangu, Varanru (hint: Varanru is Gojira, m'kay) and more.

This is a loaded book. Will be buying the print version ASAP and now need to set my RQ6 campaign intentions to IMMEDIATE.