Friday, January 30, 2015

Shopping for Superhero Systems: The Icons Assembled Edition

Over the course of the last few days I was reminded that Green Ronin produces awesome stuff on occasion, albeit some of it requiring a great deal of effort to properly absorb (I'm looking at you, Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition). While reviewing my MnM 3rd collection (I have all of it for various arcane reasons, although the DC Adventures part is probably easy enough to figure out the "why" on for me) I realized that the problem with MnM ...for the last two incarnations, at least because 1st edition did not have this that it's very dense, and requires a lot of personal time and effort to parse through, at least for the sort of gamer I am who likes to go into things fairly well informed. It's D20 roots aren't helpful, either; a lot of terminology in MnM requires that you not only learn the system, but you must unlearn all the numerous extremely similar features of other systems in the process.

This isn't really a knock on MnM at all, but rather my recognizing that the game is beyond the scope of what I want in an RPG these days. It is to superhero gaming what Pathfinder is to D&D: a much more iterative, complex process that is delightfully majestic in its labyrinthine mechanical design for those who are into labyrinthine mechanics. I guess in this analogy that would make Champions equivalent to Chivalry & Sorcery, then?

Realizing that what I really want is a superhero system that does for the genre what D&D 5th edition (and also 13th Age) did for the "D&D fantasy" genre, I started a bit of shopping around. There are a lot of contenders out there in this market, actually....but there's an interesting Goldilocks-space in the realm of superhero games, not unlike that equivalent Goldilocks-space that D&D 5th edition walks in, where you can easily find lots of games that are too complicated, and also plenty of titles that are too simple, but very few that are "just right."

As it turns out, a bit of research does suggest a magnanimous contender for ideal superhero gaming, and it comes from the same designer as MnM (Steve Kenson): The Icons Assembled Edition. I have ordered a print copy and picked up the PDF. It appears to be a very concise redux of the superhero RPG genre, with precisely as many rules as one would need to run a fast-paced comic universe campaign without stopping to check your scientific calculator for anything or get into yet another argument about grappling (slight hyperbole there, I would assume MnM fixed that issue).

Helping this decision along was the unexpected reveal that Icons is very well supported online and has more than a few print products, including from 3PP. My next closest contender was Supers!, which still looks fascinating and may be on my hit-list in a few weeks; we shall see. I have some vague memories of D6 Supers from many years ago being rather cumbersome in actual practice, but Supers! looks like a more refined edition of the same.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fostering good eating habits in gamers

When you're having one of those weeks where there's just no inspiration to blog, it can be a great time to point out other amazing blogs instead. To that end I would like to turn you to The Bedrock Blog, where Bedrock Games discusses the benefits of eating right at the game table (and in general). This is a subject near and dear to me as I have had diabetes for going on 15 years now (discovered I was diabetic in 1999-2000) and keeping a good blood sugar is a careful juggling act.

My diabetes may have been a "tipping point" issue, where I maintained excellent health and eating habits throughout college and early into my post-degree years, but around 1998-1999 I landed my first serious desk jobs*, got married to my second wife who was an amazing cook with a serious sweet tooth, and dropped biking from my regular regimen (mostly due to downtown Seattle being a nightmare to traverse on a bike, and my job requiring a lengthy driving commute). The story of everyone's life....stay fit because it's routine, then one day the routine changes and time becomes precious. These days I am forcing all the time I can in; I plan to be around as long as humanly possible for my family, and eating right is part of that process.

At my game table I like to drag along snap peas, mini sweet peppers, celery sticks and carrots (among other things). Do it long enough and pretty soon the pizza, candy, potato chips and endless high-carb dessert snacks start to looks positively disgusting. Trust me! It's worth it.

*Also I tended to work weird hours, mostly to get that shift differential, and later because that's just the way it was. Turns out that diabetes is not helped by poor sleep habits and weird work schedules. There were months --months!-- at a time that I functioned on 3-4 hours of sleep every night. So protip: don't do that if you don't want to be sticking yourself with an insulin pen for the rest of your life, m'kay?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How to Tell if You are in a High Fantasy Novel

This is absolutely hysterical, and reminds me of Diana Wynn Jone's "Tough Guide to Fantasy Land," another fantastical mocking gem of satire on the industry of heavily churned fantasy novels. Thanks to Akratic Wizardry for finding this!

Monday, January 26, 2015


Just a reminder that if you're not following Elfmaids & Octopi's adventures in BRP Babylon then you're missing out on one of the few "adventure logs" I really enjoy. Great stuff. Konsumterra has a lot of blogs on the subject, with an archive here as well. I like his stuff so much I just feel the need to keep plugging it, not least of all for the reason being this is the kind of stuff I like to read myself.

Fantasy AGE's newsworthy first setting is....

ENworld folk speculate here. The mystery all boils down to the statement from Chris Pramas that the announced setting could be perhaps the "biggest story of the year." Everyone at Enworld, being typical of our hobby, are thinking in terms of literary and game worlds. I'm going to suggest that we may in fact find out it is this: a tie in to....

...Pillars of Eternity:

if you're saying "Huh? Wazzat?" then congradulations, you are a hardcore tabletop gamer who's venn diagram does not overlap with an interest in the recent isometric CRPG revival. Among gamers into that stuff, Pillars of Eternity is a pretty big deal, though.

A second guess would be maybe a license for this upcoming big release:

Bonus points if you are like me and think that Andrzej Sapkoski's books alone are worthy of adaptation into a pure RPG setting.

A Third likely candidate, the one I personally consider most news-worthy, is the grand multi-title arc that is the Elder Scrolls Universe. That would definitely be news-worthy, and in keeping with the AGE System's origins with another popular fantasy CRPG.

But which version of The Elder Scrolls? Done right, it could be any of them...

These days a "story of the year" for a tabletop RPG is going to inevitably involve a big video game license....just my opinion. I do agree, a Fantasy AGE edition of a previously D&D-only world setting would be huge news....but the likelihood of that happening seems infinitesimal.

Although.....I imagine if they announced an Arduin or Blackmoor book for Fantasy AGE, that would be pretty impressive. Now I'm kinda hoping for one or both....but I don't think either would qualify as "news of the year," unfortnately. The only IPs out there in game and ficiton land that are currently without a host system are Moorcock's Eternal Champions books (Elric, Hawkmoon and co.) and of course Howard's Conan. Landing either of those properties would be big.

So...I'm gonna call it: we're either seeing an Elder Scrolls pnp RPG or Moorcock's Eternal Champions get a new home. I'd say Conan but I think Conan's still got some legal problems to sort out.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fifth Edition Foes gets a general pre-order release date

If you're like me and have decided you like your books complete and available for general release --or at least protected by more conventional consumer laws-- then there's some good news: Frog God/Necromancer Games' Fifth Edition Foes is apparently getting released April this year, and they have opened it up for pre-order.

Ordinarily I'd try to get this through the usual retail local outlet or online, but I've noticed Frog God seems to keep themselves exclusive, so it may not be possible to find a copy until some of their books trickle down to the secondary resell market on ebay.

Anyway, pre-order page is here. If it ends up being as good as the Frog God Tome of Horrors Complete then it should be well worth it. Given WotC seems to be aiming for a very lite official release schedule of actual RPG books, this could be a much needed follow-up tome to the Monster Manual.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Green Ronin Shows how a Real Game Company Announces its 2015 Game Lineup (but...)

Green Ronin apparently also made an announcement for its 2015 book lineup, In this listing we have some very robust entries, including:

The AGE System gets:

A new Dragon Age Core Rulebook comprising the contents (revised) of the three boxed sets

An Inquisition sourcebook and revised GM's Toolkit

Faces of Thedas (formerly a PDF line) gets its own book

A may release of the long-awaited Fantasy AGE engine with a Gencon-release setting book

Mutants & Masterminds gets:

The Cosmic Sourcebook so you can have faux Guardians of the Galaxy Adventures

Freedom City revised book

Atlas of Earth Prime continues with an eventual print release

Other Stuff:

A Return to Freeport book for Pathfinder

Two Song of Ice and Fire releases for people who are into that (I have only ever read the novels. Seriously. We don't get Cable so no HBO, and until they show up on Netflix I am not going to see it)

Some card game called Love2Hate

Ork! the beer-and-pretzels RPG gets a re-release! This is kinda cool.

Now THAT is a proper game line-up. Of course, there is that giant BUT......

And if you know Green Ronin, you know what the BUT is: they are ambitious, determined, and produce fantastic books, but they are also notorious for slipping deadlines, sometimes by a year or two. So when it comes to much of their planned schedule (especially and chiefly for their licensed IP) I suggest adding 6 months to a year minimum to the release dates. I could be wrong.....I seriously hope I am wrong!.....but it's just how it's been for a long time now.

However, the good news is Fantasy AGE is not tied to any IP, and the rules are functionally out there now, so we just need the "IP-free" edition and we're good. My post yesterday mentioning to Paizo that we need a competitive "lite" edition of their game to go up against D&D 5E with more product support? Yeah, forget that.....I think Green Ronin may have this one handled just fine.

As a complete aside: I really need to look at Mutants & Masterminds seriously. I don't know why I am not playing this game (at all). I loved 1st edition, liked (but did not run) 2nd edition, and own all of 3rd.... 3rd edition appears to be amazingly well done, actually, and the DC Heroes books, despite being pre New-52, are also great resources. I don't know why I'm not doing something with this, need to investigate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Adventurer's Handbook may not actually exist?

So my predictions for 2015 are ahead of schedule as it is apparently being rumored at ENworld that the Adventurer's Handbook that was to accompany Princes of the Apocalypse is not actually a thing. Hmmmmm.

So, does this mean WotC really doesn't have a coherent game plan for 2015 right now, or one which is actually still months from seeing fruition? So...what has WotC announced, then....

Elemental Evil: big event time! What's lined up for it? 

Neverwinter MMO expansion (oh the humanity). Who cares, its a substandard MMO for the brand and fails to live up to the standard set by D&D Online.

Princes of the Apocalypse super module, now scheduled for April 7th (yay an actual RPG product)

Elemental Evil Booster Mini Packs - okay.

Temple of Elemental Evil board game. Whatevs

Sigh. I sincerely do look forward to saving all this money in 2015 since I won't have much to spend it on, 

Hey, Paizo, can you hurry up, confess that you realize there's a market for people like me, and make a real "Pathfinder 2E lite edition" I can run? Cause I can see room for this in the giant hole that WotC is not filling right now.

I kid....a little....I suppose its nice knowing I don't have to worry about lots of future rule books and scenarios crowding my gaming shelves....right?

Post Script: it may seem glum, but you know what, then I just remember I can go poach anything I like from and update it to 5E and I'm good!

Monday, January 19, 2015

13th Age - now with a monthly subscription; also, Mutant Year Zero arrives

ENworld talks about it here, but apparently Rob Heinsoo and co. will be doing a monthly 4000+ word subscription service for 13th Age content. Interesting idea....I've seen these concepts crop up in the past (Dungeon-a-day, for example, or the endless array of 'zines and content-delivery services that can be found on rpgnow) but no idea if it will have legs or not; prior examples of this subscription approach usually didn't have a game with a lot of clout and a real following behind it, though....13th Age has both.

 Personally I'll wait for the PDF and print compendium, but the idea of a monthly service delivering 13th Age content is tempting.

In unrelated news, my copy of Mutant Year Zero, along with dice, cards and map showed up this weekend. Beautiful book, much more to discuss about this one soon....some quick observations so far though: very high production quality, sturdy tome, cards are utilitarian but useful, map is great but not essential (reprints the images from the interior cover of the book), and dice are cool. It was passed around at my Saturday group and generated much interest.

Friday, January 16, 2015

More 2015 Acquisitions: Renaissance Deluxe, Entropic Gaming System and Deus Vult

Continuing my January/Winter trend of snagging new RPGs to explore, I have acquired PDFs and print copies of a few more interesting RPGs worth discussing.....

Legend has three settings for those who didn't know: the citybook settings which include Sheoloth and Skaar (traditional fantasy with a D20 origin), the world of Xoth (hardcore traditional swords & sorcery in the vein of Howard, Smith, Wagner and Carter), and the third, which is Deus Vult, a world of medieval witchcraft and demon hunting in the name of the Catholic Church's top-secret medieval monster murder units. Or something like that....I have print copies but no PDFs on the way, will discuss more when the GM's book and Player's Book arrive.

Of very similar nature to Deus Vult is Renaissance Deluxe, published by the fantastically-named Cakebread & Walton. Renaissance Deluxe has been out for a bit, and if I recall it originally was slated for a release around the time Mongoose lost their RQ license, which put something of a crimp in release plans. Anyway....they seem to have a robust collection of D100-based historical and steampunk RPGs on rpgnow these days, and Renaissance Deluxe with its promise of a relatively purist take on historical renaissance gaming grabbed my attention. The PDF is quite interesting, looking forward to my print copy.

My third find is an exotic take on something I thought I'd never see: it's essentially a Savage worlds-inspired game system called the Entropic Gaming System. Published by Mystical Throne Entertainment, this is easily the first time I've encountered what could amount to (depending on how you look at it) a Savage worlds heartbreaker, an Advanced Revised edition of Savage Worlds, or a game system with heavy inspiration from Savage Worlds. Yes, it's got a lot of Savage Worlds DNA in it's design. Up to now, not surprisingly, Mystical Throne has been known for some concise historical supplements for Savage Worlds and even some Legend books....but it looks like they decided to branch out into their own system.

However, before you dismiss EGS out of hand as a SW-wannabe, I need to tell you this: I like it. A lot. The mechanics may have started from Savage Worlds, but the end result is a much more developed game with a metric ton of interesting additional content, extrapolations and improvements. This is in many ways what a future edition of SW might look like if that system ever saw progressive iterations beyond the most rudimentary. EGS adds a couple more attributes, a metric ton of additional skills, a more elaborate yet somehow easier combat system, and all with the same level of focus and ease of use in multigenre gaming that its forebear offers. It's Savage Worlds on steroids and Mutant Growth Hormones, and I really hope EGS grows and gets's a better version of the game.

So confident am I that I'll actually use EGS, that I actually purchased the first two supplements for it, both of which are revisions of prior SW/Legend books: The Xenopedia and Ultimate Roman Legions Guide. The books are decent looking but do rely on stock art (much of which I recognize)...but the formatting is concise and user-friendly.

Anyway, I wish Mystic Throne luck in this endeavor, they have taken the core concepts of a great game and made an even better one.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mongoose Stealthily Returns to Releasing Actual Books - Arcania of Legend: Elementalism and Sheoloth among Others

Mongoose Publishing had a weird year in 2014 when you look at it: lots of planned releases, a few of which actually made it into PDF format, but very little traction in terms of releasing titles in print. Suddenly, they got a deal with Cubicle 7 to get their books back into print and distribution, which was a great move. So now, we have the following books out in print for Legend, which I may add are all on their way to my doorstep (and according to UPS my copy of Sheoloth from Noble Knight is waiting for me now):

Sheoloth, The Sprawling City - a revision of what was originally a D20 book from long ago, but they did a good job with the Skaar Citybook and these definitely add "flavor" to Legend that it needs...and also dark elves, lots of dark elves. (UPDATE: very nice book, and if Matt Sprange's Year in Review is anything to go by they plan more print follow-ups in Sheoloth soon).

Citadel Beyond the North Wind - a sequel to Legend of the Spider God's Bride that revisits the world of Xoth with an eye on expanding it as a full setting as well as reprinting the previously PDF-only Song of the Beast Gods adventure. Extra win! (but the Song of the Beast Gods is not in here....apparently its some very badly worded back-cover ad copy--pity). If you haven't seen Xoth, you're missing out on one of the better Conanesque sword & sorcery game worlds on the market, and its an excellent fit for Legend. (UPDATE: still well worth it for $14.99 and its a full-size format so it will match the main Spider God's Bride book; maybe Beast God will get a print version soon too).

Arcania of Legend: Elementalism - an expansion on elemental magic for Legend. Not too familiar with this one (don't have the PDF yet) but if its as good as Blood Magic was I'll be happy. (UPDATE: nice book, even includes a look at historical/mythic elementalism, Loz was involved at some point apparently, and it introduces a very nice looking new stat block format for Legend monster entries which I heartily approve of).

Legend remains a strong D100/BRP-based engine, and its material should be quite easy to convert to Runequest 6 if you prefer to use that tome for your gaming. For my purposes, I have added to my list of games this year a plan to run the full Spider-God's Bride campaign in Xoth soon, straight up as presented in the two books released so far.

Traveller is also getting back into print and distribution too, by the way. I'll have to start looking at some of the recent releases for that system again, as well....although I concede Savage Worlds SF Companion has sort of won me over for now.

Here are the links to the Cubicle 7 Pages as well:


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

6 Dungeons & Dragons 5E Predictions for 2015

Continuing in the tradition of "lists of things" that the internet exists for, I offer up six predictions for D&D in 2015 that I suspect will come to pass....

#6. WotC will at some point embrace electronic media for their rulebooks.

Actually, they may very well not....but I have a hard time seeing how they can succeed without providing such an online resource. The D&D Basic page is a step in the right direction, but they need something more robust for the main rule books. Expect it no sooner than August, but it will be coming, probably in the form of a DRM-laden android/ioS app.

#5. The Scheduled Adventurer's Handbook and Princes of the Apocalypse will be delayed until May or June at the earliest

Right now, the only place to find definitive info on these two planned releases is at ENworld. Anyone who's spent the last decade and a half watching WotC's catalog release page knows what it means when a product slated for release in two months is not listed: it ain't coming out then. Morrus at ENworld got someone to send him a couple low-res pics of planned covers that seem legit, but that's it. My prediction: we won't see a new, official D&D 5E release product until the summer.

#4. Forgotten Realms will be the first Setting Book, but not until 2016, with Ed Greenwood prominent in its design

As above, lack of information on this year's schedule seems a bit problematic. We might see a sudden influx of data from WotC in the next few weeks, which would be great, but I suspect they are just now getting their ducks in a row for the future, and projects that are being decided on are still in incipient, hypothetical stages of development. To this end, I predict FR in 2016. I also predict heavy Ed Greenwood involvement.

#3. The OGL will release and it won't look very OGL-like

It will look more like a regular old system license, which doesn't allow for the release of rules content (ala the SRD) online, but does allow 3PP to put the D&D logo on products, with stipulations. It will probably excise some of the onerous and draconian language in the 4E GSL that freaked people out, though. It won't cost anyone anything, either. It will probably be made available by March or April.

#2. WotC will lean on freelance work and commissioned studios heavily this year for later product releases, but still have a very limited release schedule for new content

They've done it with Kobold Press and now Sasquatch (?) for the latest books due. This will be a continuing trend as WotC's actual design team is only 7 people strong, and I don't get the impression that the paper-and-pencil RPG, no matter how much of a hit the new system is, holds high priority for the overall brand name. Expect to see lots of new announcements for more minis games, android and ioS apps, fiction, video game news and maybe even a movie deal....but we'll be lucky if we see six more books this year for the actual RPG, and those books will mostly tie into two super-modules.

#1. D&D will Resume being #1 in sales for 2015, at least in the months it releases product; Pathfinder will stay at #2 or #1 depending on the quarter

Pathfinder still has a chance. I actually just sold all my Pathfinder books this weekend, and felt like a great burden was lifted from my shoulders....I guess if I run it again I'll be using the PDFs (which by the way Paizo sells some pretty tablet-friendly lite versions of the rules).  That said, D&D will still dominate on those months it actually has product to dominate with. Unfortunately right now I am having a hard time seeing the future book release strategy for WotC as being sufficiently aggressive.....and I suspect that a lot of people will (like me) start relying on conversions of older edition modules and even Pathfinder modules to work with D&D 5E. The aging gamer crowd coupled with the busy lifestyles of the younger gamers who have too much media fighting for their attention means modules will actually be more important going forward; people will find it easier to prep a scenario than to do their own, and because of this, Pathfinder will still have an important place in the gaming ecosphere, while D&D 5E remains the "cool rules that you can easily adapt to." With any luck this void will be filled with lots of 3PP releases.....if they do a proper OGL, that is.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wanderers - with the words of Carl Sagan

Wanderers is a short film about what our future in the solar system could look like. The narration is straight from Carl Sagan. The graphics derive from constructs and locations (both real and theorized) in our solar system, and it's really quite inspiring. Check it out:

Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

(Yes I'm taking it easy on the blogging this week, so lots of short posts. If inspiration hits me, wonderful....but sometimes it's nice to just relax and not worry about it....)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Runequest Essentials and Hessaret's Treasure Available in Print Format Now

Stumbled across this gem: The Design Mechanism is putting previously PDF only books (and possibly other titles as they go out of print) on Lulu. The free lite edition of the game, Runequest Essentials is available along with the module Hessaret's Treasure, of which I know nothing about because I've been keeping to only books I can also buy physical copies of.

Good idea....but nothing unusual for Pete and Loz, who are the very model of Good Ideas!

D&D Basic now a Searchable Online Resource Document

Well, it's not an OGL by any means, but the Basic version of the rules has been retooled into a searchable online resource. It's similar to the way other online OGL databases provide their content, but for D&D 5E's Basic Set rules.

Kinda cool.....will be more impressive if they announce an OGL format for D&D soon and then start expanding the content.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Death Bat's Top Five Tabletop RPG Books for 2014

To match my video game awards this week I offer up the top five game books for tabletop RPGs that took my fancy in 2014. This list is going to look a little have been forewarned!

#5. Blood Tide
The hefty Basic Roleplaying tome on the world of magic and mystery in the Caribbean is a fantastic and well-researched effort at making pirates accessible as both a mythic genre and a historical setting. If you liked those movies and also know what I mean when I say that On Stranger Tides was one of the best books ever written (Tim Powers, check it out) then you should investigate this book.

#4. 13th Age Bestiary 
This amazing monster book and one of the only such tomes I've enjoyed reading in quite a long time. Every entry is loaded with ideas and concepts about using the monsters in 13th Age games. Every stat block is concise and to the point, a trademark of 13th Age's style, with system-specific tricks and gimmicks to make the monster interesting. Invaluable resource for 13th Age games.

#3. Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion
This amazing book, as as slim as it is, shows just how good Savage Worlds is at doing fast and furious multigenre, and was the source of a great SF campaign and a lot of blog inspiration last year.

#2. 13 True Ways (13th Age)
13 True Ways is the quintessential expansion for 13th Age, this book is a magnanimous addition to that system. From the way it managed to introduce devils into the game and show a multitude of ways to "make them your own" to the six new classes and plethora of setting material 13 True Ways is a real hoot. I got a lot of good gaming out of 13th Age in 2014.

#1. Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (Player's Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide)
These three books swept in and in one fell swoop brought the game back to where I wanted it, while stealthily introducing new concepts and expectations for how D&D should play that have already become so comfortable at my gaming table that stepping back to older editions without these changes feels like a regression. Who knew I'd grow to love the advantage mechanic, bounded accuracy, and a hefty ephasis on "less is more" when it comes to modifiers and variable? This is the last D&D I want to buy, and it's the first edition I feel could be the one I game into my old age with. Please don't eff this one up, WotC.

Honorable Mention:

Lots of good stuff came out this last year, but especially interesting to me were the following books. If only I'd found time to run them, these games might have made it into the top 5:

Interface Zero 2.0 - a fantastic and deep cyberpunk world for Savage Worlds. Possibly too deep for the kind of game SW is, this book could have done just fine if it was half the size it is right now.

Shadowrun 5th Edition - I am not qualified to compare this version of the game to prior editions, as I didn't even decide I wanted to care about Shadowrun until the new android/PC RPGs came out and motivated me to investigate this book. It sold me on the idea of mixing fantasy and cyberpunk, though, and the 5th edition mechanics seem very sound.

Vampire the Requiem 2nd Edition (alias Blood & Smoke: the Strix Chronicles)
Bet this one took you by surprise. Far and away the most interesting read of 2014, the revision of the Vampire: The Requiem runs deeper than just a sound reworking of the mechanics, adding in a new metastory about the ancient Strix and a strong emphasis on a more...2014ish take on vampires (still with 100% less glitter, thank you). Appears to have recently been re-repackaged as Vampire: the Requiem 2nd edition, perhaps due to the insane level of confusion I am sure the original title caused people, for a product which you can only find if you know that it is available online through, being published by Onyx Path and not White Wolf. I would have made this a top contender if I had just found the opportunity to run it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Planescape back on

Planescape has returned to As it happens this was one of the sets I purchased back when WotC did it's first go-round with scanned reprints, so my copy was ready to be downloaded when it released. The quality of the scanned books and map is great, and I couldn't detect any evidence of bleed-through. The maps didn't even seem to have any scan wrinkles from originals, although I might need to blow the image up considerably for a closer look.

Incidentally I was able to snag a copy of the boxed set for about $10 a few months back. All the contents were in mint condition, and even the box was mostly intact. This replaced the one I sold back in 2003ish on Ebay for a mint to help pay for the gambling debts of my ex wife...!

Planescape remains #1 on my list of campaign settings I'd like to see formally presented in a new book for 5th edition. Maybe a high volume of sales for this classic version will help motivate WotC into considering the idea (as if prior polls, requests and fan furor hadn't already convinced them!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Death Bat's Top Five Video Games for 2014

for 2014 we had lots of new video games, including a revival of isometric RPGs, an uptick in the "survival horror" subgenre that includes "little or no way to survive and fight back" as an important component, a flood of incomplete Early Access titles on Steam that are all simply amazing if you are good at using your imagination to pretend like the games are anywhere near completion, and the usual AAA console releases which invariably do something that give the necessary wedge for the press and gaming crowd to call for their heads (looking at you, Ubisoft).

But this is a list of the five games I enjoyed the most in 2014, and which also more or less came out this year. It is my list, and it's what most impressed me:

#5. Marvel Heroes 2015 (PC)
Discovering this literally days before the end of the year, Marvel Heroes moved from a "game I have deliberately avoided due to the premise not sounding like a good idea" to a game I have to play every night, as often as I can. It's Diablo, in the Marvel Universe....and it works. My wife is hooked now too.

#4. The Elder Scrolls Online (PC)
Will it go F2P? Who knows. Is it the best MMORPG out there? YMMV vary but for me it very much is. The game manages to take the MMO framework and drape the interesting story elements and a facade of the Elder Scrolls feel on to what could have otherwise been just another fantasy MMO. We have too many of these, but TESO proved to be the one that let me comfortably delete all the rest. Except Guild Wars 2, I swear I'll figure that one out some day.

#3. The Last of Us Remastered (PS4)
The PS3 remastering on the PS4 of what is easily the best survival horror zombie game out there. Coupled with Naughty Dog's ability to tell a story and gameplay that manages to emphasize the survival and storytelling, this is the sort of game I love.

#2. Shadow Returns and Dragonfall (Android)
Wha....and isometric top-down turn-based RPG on my list??? I have to include these. The versions I've thrown myself into are on Android, and the comfort of these games with a tablet touch screen is an excellent experience (but get a larger screen or you'll never read the text). Of all the recent isometric RPGs to resurface or appear in definitive revised forms, these two new entries deserve the most accolades, I feel, both for the smooth gameplay and comfortable experience. Plus, both of these titles have prompted me to sit up and take notice of Shadowrun 5th edition.

#1. Destiny (PS4)
Gabe from Penny Arcade expresses his love of Destiny as well as I could and hits all the important points. This is a game with an almost eerie mythic poetry of violence, mystery, haunting exploration and then more violence. For those who have been engulfed by this game such as myself Destiny is almost a sort of cathartic event, and much like Marvel Heroes and TESO I find myself needing to get a session in as often as I can (I tend to rotate between these three games right now, but Destiny almost always gets at least one mission in each evening). Who knew a shooter could feel so good and be simultaneously so relaxing and so exciting? I want Destiny to grow into something big.

Honorable Mention: I have three of them, actually:

Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4) - I have been so busy playing other stuff that DA:I hasn't properly been given a chance to grab me. I can see it, I can tell its what I want, but it hasn't captured my focus yet. Not sure why, I expect it will in 2015. Could possibly tie into my general burnout on fantasy as a genre, maybe? That doesn't explain my TESO obsession, though.

Sunset Overdrive (XB1) - this game is amazingly fun in a Saint's Row meets landscape grinding sort of way. It has immense potential, and is eminently playable. SO 2 will be the one that really pushes it in newer directions, I suspect. It's a good for Xbox One to have this as an exclusive.

Halo Master Chief Collection (XB1) - hardly worthy of a 2014 game of the year notice even for a simple not-for-profit private blog, but worth mentioning because it's keeping more than a decade of amazing gaming alive and reinvigorating Master Chief's tale for the current generation, while adding tons of additional (free) content (Spartan Ops went live recently, and word is ODST will be a free add-on soon too).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dragon and Dungeon electronic issues showing up on dndclassics

Dragon 364 and Dungeon 155 and Dungeon 156 are now available on, which is a good thing!* It's not the same as seeing brand new issues, but it does mean that WotC is making these issues, most of which were behind the D&D Insider paywall, available for general access. This has naturally sparked hope in people that if copies sell well on the site that it might prompt WotC to make more of them. I certainly hope so...they have the website, why not use it in this manner? Even a modest 32-48 page effort every other month would be better than no new content, right? Sure, the current model Mike Mearls talks about is free articles, but let's face it, we know that whatever we get in the way of free content is going to be a pain to track and wrangle together (until someone somewhere does it online anyway) whereas gathering that content in a magazine format can make it possible for WotC to actually pay for freelance content, and get a regular "official" voice out that isn't just a smattering of monthly articles.

Ah well, I can dream....

The only other downside to these issues being available on is that a couple of them are actually still free on WotC's website (thanks to this forum thread for the tip). You can find Dragon 364 here and Dungeon 156 here. I believe these were originally the "free sample" issues when the magazine rebooted for 4E. I am impressed at that poster's search-fu on WotC's heavily retooled and archived older site.

Oh and looks like Dungeon 155 is free here, too.

This issue answering the incredibly important question of what happens when you add bugbears to the movie Inception

Even if this does not suggest a test to see if people want to buy Dungeon and Dragon through the website, it would be nice if they plan to release all Dragon and Dungeon back issues there eventually.

ADDENDUM: I suspect there is a problem with releasing issues that are currently part of the D&D Insider subscription, though. We may not see those issues added until D&D Insider evaporates. On the other hand, issues prior to the ones listed above ought to be fair game, right? Not sure about the ones done by Paizo, but the rest of them ought to be available for addition to dndclassics.

*Except for the "these are 4E content issues" part but oh well.

Looking at Blog Stats (NSFW, heh)

Poking into the Google Stats is always an interesting experience. For one thing, I am usually always surprised at what's actually getting the most hits. The top five articles in the last 30 days on RoC include, in order, with hits over 30 days:

My review of Return of the Living Dead (177)

Five Things I'm Not Going to Miss About Pathfinder (173)

An Open Letter to One Book Shelf (154)

Building Fantasy Worlds in Five Easy Steps (142)

Chivalry & Sorcery 4th Edition Rules are Out (93)

(not going to feed the beast by linking, use the search button if you want....)

Why these five? Damned if I diatribe about Pathfinder has been fairly popular, which I find a bit odd. I've noticed that a little vitriol or negativity can go a long way with blog hits, although "doing it right" is hard....for me at least doing it right is a lesson in how to make it entertaining without coming off like a crazed loon or half-mad old geezer sitting on his lawn, as many other blogs end up doing. Not easy, I assure you.

Why the review of the Return of the Living Dead? No clue at all unless someone, somewhere, is hunting for Linnea Quigley pics. It does, after all, have a NSFW designation in the title. Again, seems like those four letters make great click bait. Pity I'm ad-free!

Open Letter to One Book Shelf....I suppose I'm glad it gets some attention. It was linked in another more popular blog than mine (Tobold's Blog) so probably why it gets a higher number of hits.

Building Fantasy Worlds in Five Easy Steps....a fun little "roll a world" generator I posted like ages ago, ignored for so long, but suddenly collecting 142 hits in the last four weeks. Did someone link to it somewhere?

C&S.....who knew it was still popular enough to roll in some hits?

I remain, as always, both amused and perplexed at what gets the most hits on this site. As always I write what I want, but with the caveat that I try to make it something other people will want to read as well. The blog has been a fantastic method of engaging in "displinary writing," though I admit the ultimate goal of turning that learned process of disciplinary writing into something that will eventually field actual novels is still a bit behind the curve. Behind the scenes I am writing plenty of game content...and much of it ends up on the blog, but that's not honestly what gets the most hits.

Well, if I ever go for an ad-based blog model you'll know it when I start listing daily articles with the "Top Ten Horror Movies Linnea Quigley is nude in!!! (NSFW)" every day....

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Jagged Coast - Random Campaign Fragment

Often when plagued with the need for a future campaign or scenario idea, I can just trawl through old files and stumble across all sorts of hidden gems. Some of them come from campaign ideas I formulated or outlined and never went anywhere with, while others might be notes on planned content that never got off the ground...or very far. The following notes, which I am thinking I might expand into a proper scenario/mini-campaign, is one such example....I think, if memory serves, it came from a AD&D 2nd edition game I was prepping to run in 2008, not long before D&D 4E came out and derailed many plans at that time:

The Jagged Coast Campaign

The Eranna Mae – A 3-masted pentecoster run by Captain Morrow Digh
Survivors of the Wreck:
            1st mate Elandon Moore (espanean male)
            Lady Brythka Alinovska (Grelmanic noblewoman)
            Heturion of Krytea (Nithiadian scholar mage male)
            Chirita the cabin-boy (really a girl, Sabiri)

The Coastal Enclave ruled by Trisanna Darego, the Sea Fox

The Lost City of Eredor
Ruled by the Gnome Antigonus
The Slaves of Eredor (Eredites), descended from Sabiri blood (chalk white skin)
The Polliduri Gnomes are the ruling caste
The Behemoth of the Jagged Coast: A great mechanical land and sea dragon, created by Antigonus, and used to shatter ships that sail too close
The Minion-Automaton: Morgason (clockwork animate)

The Watching Gods
Ominous relics encircling the Ziggurat of Polidarchus. They have golden eyes, which release awful energies when touched. The watching gods are a warning to all to stay away from the ziggurat.

The Ziggurat of Polidarchus
Contains the entombed body of one of the greatest generals of the apocalypse. Polidarchus was a member of the near-forgotten race called the Thraedarii

The Huron Sandstrider Tribe of Minotaurs

Ruled by Elder Melenieux and the Witch Catharghha

That's what a typical round outline of mine will look like.....we've got evidence of a ship, implication it wrecks, a coastal enclave run by a rather infamous Chirak pirate from back in the day, and a lost city ruled by a gnomish elite, near the presence of an ancient ziggurat. I know exactly where this all rests in my Chirak setting (west of the Huron/Beltraine area, SW corner of map), time go dig and see if I did more with it than is presented here....

Friday, January 2, 2015

Chivalry & Sorcery 4th Edition Rules Free for the Downloading

The complete Chivalry & Sorcery 4th Edition rules are suddenly up on here for $0. It is a 307 page scan of the 4th edition rules, and even includes a page (maybe more) with some hand-written errata...which was interesting, given the pedigree and history behind this PDF release that it implies.

If you've never delved into C&S before, do so now and prepare to experience a moment of terror at the sheer enormity of the mechanical rigor that is C&S. I regard C&S as a decidedly Old School game system, but I can assure that it most definitely does not jive well with the contemporary take on the OSR, as this is a game system that could very well make you miss the good old days of D&D 3.5's simple and easy mechanics....

Grimtooth Traps Collection Kickstarter

Goodman Games is doing the Grimtooth Traps Collection as a Kickstarter. This is a 460 page compilation of all the original Grimtooth's Traps books from Flying Buffalo back in the 80's, complete with the original content, which was built for easy use in any system under FB's Blade/Catalyst line of products. From the sounds of it there may be some extra Dungeon Crawl Classics content in there as well. A hardcover will set you back $50 or a softcover is $35.....or you can do like I do and wait patiently for the actual July 2015 release to buy a retail copy. In this case I think Goodman Games has a sterling reputation for timeliness so I am sure we can count on the release being pretty close to on-time.

Watch the video, it's well worth it!

As a total aside, does anyone remember the cartoon illustrations of Michael von Glahn? He did work for some of the Grimtooth books,  as well as other products such as the Murphy's Rules cartoon in Space Gamer and he also illustrated (at no cost) for my old fanzine The Sorcerer's Scrolls. Michael did one of the best maps I ever owned for my original campaign world back in the day, too. I have been out of touch with him for all these years, and he doesn't have an internet presence, either....which can mean nothing, I've learned, other than that some people are very good at staying off the grid. If Michael is still out there I would love to reconnect.

2014 Year in Review

I was reading some other interesting "year in review" blog posts and thought I should really do one too, because bandwagon and all that.

Normally my blog focuses on gaming, both tabletop and PC/console, with occasional delves into the mildly controversial world of publishing, but I don't usually do much more than that. Despite my blog "intro" at the top I have spent a lot less time talking about my non-gaming interests here than I probably thought I would when I wrote about it; I read mostly nonfiction these days, for example, and most of that being books and magazines on archaeology, astronomy, archaeology and physics. It's a compulsive thing....I can't seem to get enough of popular science reading. Maybe I'll change that this year....but honestly I feel like its hard to do "serious" subjects right without putting a bit more effort into it.

Comics took the forefront of my interest in 2014....something I blog slightly more about than other neglected subjects. This was the year that I formally went off the deep end and dived back into the mosh pit of picking up issues on a monthly basis for both Marvel and DC. My monthly take-in is larger than my "read" volume so the pile grows ever so slightly larger each month, which is always a good sign I need to cut back a few titles. I think I'm grabbing about 40 books a month right now between DC and Marvel, plus a handful of graphic novels. Speaking of graphic novels, if you don't know about Barnes & Noble's sale you ought to check it out, as it ends January 8th: they have a buy two get one free deal for Marvel and DC titles on their website, which includes their usual discounts. It's a great deal, and I've spent far too much there this last month already!

2014 was the year of Dungeons & Dragons' triumphant return, and 5th edition proved to be a hit with my game tables, squelching all interest in Pathfinder. 13th Age held it's own, managing to keep interest with its interesting, weird sort of "D20 mechanics but with lots of free-form wiggle room" approach to the D&D era, and I also got some Magic World and Savage Worlds Sci Fi in. The Savage Worlds Sci Fi and Magic World were the most enjoyable....the broke out of the "box" of D&D gaming. Speaking of which....

2014 was the year I reached an almost terminal level of burnout on D&D, sadly ironic given 5E came out and proved to be an edition I enjoy as much or more than all prior editions, including my old favorite 2nd edition AD&D. The problem goes beyond the rules, though: it's the "conceptual space" that D&D occupies which is burning me out. I want to play fantasy gaming, but I want it to move away from the tropes and mores of D&D right now. I need fantasy which doesn't involve armor class, saving throws, spell slots and classes. I need more Magic World, Runequest, or even something more exotic and elaborate like GURPS Fantasy of Fantasy Hero. I just need something not D&D for a bit. Maybe not even fantasy, actually. Or if it is fantasy, it needs to be unrecognizable to me as anything remotely like D&D. I think a good 8-10 session campaign in something exotic will help scrub the palate a bit.

2014 was also (for me) the year that most big titles that were Kickstarted did not come out. Games such as Call of Cthulhu 7th edition and Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls remain in development, theoretically to be released in 2015. Fingers crossed.... but the lesson I have learned in all of this is to be wary what I back, for I greatly prefer paying for a finished product.

Finally, 2014 was the year that I learned to love the new generation of consoles and also slowed down my focus on MMORPGs. As some of you may have picked up, I have a wide but shallow approach to MMO interest: I play MMORPGs too slowly to absorb them at the rate the dedicated MMO bloggers do, but that also means I am more likely to burn out and lose interest well before hitting the end game. My inability to reach that level of hardcore dedication is anathema.....I have played, as an example, close to 300 hours of Rift and have 20 odd characters in that game, but only one reached level 52, and I felt that the second expansion for Rift (Storm Legion) was a tanker for soloers like myself, making the grind from 50-60 exruciatingly slow with a dearth of visible story content in the process. By contrast WoW at least keeps you stung along from one inane albeit amusing quest log to the next.

Either way, I closed out 2014 with a singular interest in The Elder Scrolls Online, and Destiny if you want to count it in as well. TESO is a great game for people who want a story-driven MMORPG experience and aren't too worried about grouping....oh, and who are slow levelers. Every time I log on I can find something interesting to do that feels like a quest. Sure, I can't sneak around getting into trouble with theft like you can in Skyrim, but I am willing to accept the MMORPG limitations of the medium for an experience that is decidedly stronger on story. This, alas, is not what most MMOers want, and I imagine that TESO's stats on play show that a very small percentage of gamers ever stop to listen to all the recorded dialogue in the game.

As my article from last week indicates, I closed out 2014 with my unexpected dive into Marvel Heroes 2015. It's an action RPG, but it does a marvelous (heh) job of capturing the world of the Marvel Comics Universe with shocking accuracy. If you ignore the "gameist" parts like endless loot drops and instead think of it all as a sort of abstraction for the "non fighting downtime" progress instead, or however you want to rationalize/ignore it, then it's a fantastic game with a crazy-fast playstyle, never-ending character trait and gear progression system, and a firm focus on the iconic characters in Marvel as playable entities. The game has a feverish atmosphere that's hard to beat, and so far I haven't found any Barrens Chat* moments anywhere, which is amazing.

Consoles became a key component of keeping up with current games, as my PC rig, a decent Gateway i3 from a few years ago is now a bit too old to run current titles which demand i5 or i7 processors as a minimum standard of entry. As a result, the PS4 and Xbox One have become my go-to machines, which turns out to be okay because I find the mostly fluid and trouble-free experience of  popping a disc in and starting up Destiny, Dragon Age: Inquisition, GTAV, Halo or Sunset Overdrive to be a no hassle experience. It's actually kind of interesting comparing some games you can access on all three titles for a comparison/contrast. For examples, if you get into Warframe (a game I'd love to try if they didn't have time-limited gear) I noticed it was more fun to play on the Xbox One than PS4 or PC. By contrast, you could do worse than to experience Final Fantasy XIV or DC Universe Online on the PS4.

For relaxed gaming where you can kick back with a controller, I remain a firm fan of the console era.

Outside of all that, personal life has been the single most dominant element of my year. My son Marcus turned three on November 25th, and the long road to that moment was a fascinating journey in discovering what it's like to see a two year old grow up. He started the year with a basic grasp of simple language and an interest (albeit very limited ability) to grokk the cool tech stuff his parents are into. He ended this year with better video game skills than dad when it comes to certain titles we let him play: he owns the entire Disney Infinity toy line now, for example, and plays it on Xbox One. His saved games in the "Toybox" are like some sort of freakish dystopian vision out of the mind of a junior Salvador Dali, and his goals in the game, at his age, are never about completing quests or meeting game defined objectives, but instead involve unique goals that no adult mind could ever grasp....such as placing 100 female shield agents in the map, then rescuing them from Venom by either picking them up and sticking them in a tree house of throwing them off the map so they can parachute to safety. His "100 beach balls" level is equally fascinating, and involves lots of giant beach balls, cars, and pillars. I think he invented pinball. Oh, and he's like a little chatter-box now, narrating everything and repeating every word he hears. My wife and I have had to start restricting ourselves on what games and movies we play when he's awake now, and Gramma has been informed to stop cursing so much.

I mean...he's getting his ABC's down and he's only three. He can count pretty well for a little guy. He knows left and right. I didn't know left and right until I was about six!!!

Meanwhile my career shift to a new employer (but same area of work) in 2013 paid off in 2014, and as I prefer not to discuss work in this blog beyond generalities, I will state only that my wife and I have found this to be a rewarding experience, and end-of-year reviews with the client were heartening. 2015 contains some uncertainty, but I am dedicated to my employer, who is a good man, and hope to steer the business into greater directions as we go ahead. My family is fortunate in this manner not to be suffering from any economic loss or downturn as others are, and my budget allows me to employ a decent staff of 11 and insure they have a decent living wage and benefits.

So that's it.....and welcome to 2015! I'm looking forward to whatever the new year brings.

*Barrens Chat, at least for my definition, is that spot where people are playing the game but insanely bored, so they turn the regional or public forum into their source of entertainment, a sort of mini trolling game in which everything from religion, sex and drugs on down to the admission of their own infantility (sometimes literal, often metaphorical) is exposed for all to see. In non-WoW games barrens chat also includes copious amounts of trolls discussing how shitty the current game they are playing is compared to WoW, although that trend mostly gravitates to MMOs that are new, or have a new expansion or release going on.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Making of Quagmire!

Morrus at ENworld talks about it, but I thought for those who don't frequent that site too often you'd like a tip on this: Quagmire! The Making of a 1980's D&D Module provides an exhaustive overview of the process of getting a TSR module to print in the early 80's, with lots of interesting examples of the behind-the-scenes work and structure necessary to make it happen in an era when PoD publishing as we have it today was just a fantasy.

Check it out, well worth the read...a good trip into the past for some like myself, and a remembrance on just how tough it was to get a professional game product to print back then (or an eye-opener for younger gamers who have never known anything other than an era of tablets, PDFs and PoD services).

Welcome to 2015...year three of the Post-Mayan Apocalypse. Yay!