Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!!!

These are some of the many zombies
 hanging out in front of my friend's house
 who hosts the Saturday game
Green Zombie!!!
Green zombie!!!!
Batman and Arrow? Or Batman and Level 1 Rogue?
Huntress? Or....level 1 Ranger?
Huntress and Batman!

...yes, we have a cluttered house =)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Blaaagh: on the long dark month, kickstarters, Sword Coast Yawns and other stuff

As October rolls to a close I can only say thank goodness....ever since I moved to the more demanding/more rewarding position of my current company I have found October a brutal challenge, as this is a "major activity" month for me. It's one of the reasons I haven't done an October Movie Month for a few years now, unfortunately. Things don't really calm down at my job for a while....but October is the worst month for me, so the subsequently horrible November and December still don't look as bad by comparison (my staff might disagree).

Kickstarters

So for this month I tried backing three Kickstarters. Tome of Beasts is looking strong with more than six times it's Kickstarter goal and the amazing talent at Kobold Press behind it.  The Dungeon Crawl Classics 4th printing looks cool but I admit part of me wonders if there's as much point to backing it as I felt initially....is the cool alternative cover art work the extra money when XMas is closing and I need to plan to buy a ton of loot for my kid (who has a Birthday on the 25th of November, too)? Will I ever actually get to play DCC? It seems like such a great game, but it is fundamentally dependent on my ability to focus my GM style on its requirements, while finding a group of players who are intrigued at what it brings to the table.

Maybe just enjoying the collection and reading of DCC will be enough in the end.

And finally there's the Borderlands Provinces Kickstarter from Frog God. On the one hand I am keen to support any 5E development they want to aim for. On the other hand, it's having some trouble hitting the goal, and in wondering why I realized that their many updates on the Kickstarter have been less exciting than I might have hoped. Not "less exciting" in an objective way, but rather that they made me realize I probably won't use this setting. I love the modules Frog God makes, but I have never been interested in Lost Lands as anything other than a world sufficiently generic and portable as to make it easy to run the scenarios in the setting in my own worlds. It's hard to tell from this project, even with all the updates, if it will have much "ease of conversion" to mine for ideas. I may end up backing out.....we shall see. What I'd really like them to do is another monster book or two and more Book of Quests tomes.

Sword Coast Legends

Sword Coast Legends arrived on PC earlier this month and while it was fun for a little while I really lost momentum....there's just none of the actual "D&D feel" you'd want in a game that purported to be a direct successor to the best of the previous era of D&D gaming. They made a crucial error by trying to simplify the character design system and streamline it to be more action RPG friendly in feel....almost every competing game on the market in the same general niche has more to offer and a abetter overall experience as well, which is in many ways even worse; people who like SCL are likely enjoying it because they haven't played other, better games like literally everything else out there, unfortunately are more forgiving than a guy like me with too many choices of entertainment (and too little time). For SCL to work for me they needed to make this a turn-based tactical RPG, like Divinity: Original Sin, or study what Pillars of Eternity did. Or better yet, WotC needs to license the brand out to a real game development studio, one which knows how to make a really good RPG. As it stands, SCL is better than Daggerdale, but still falls way short of every other CRPG based on D&D out there.

I'd ranted a bit earlier this week about my inability to focus on isometric RPGs. That is certainly a thing, but it really doesn't help if the RPG isn't ultimately interesting enough. I want to see SCL's story.....but I just don't want to suffer through the tired, simple gameplay to get there. I think the only isometric RPG that is holding my attention right now will remain Pillars of Eternity (and Shadowrun on my Nexus 7).


Either way, if you like SCL then don't let my lack of enthusiasm affect you! Remember, I'm the guy who can't get enough of Halo 5, so my tastes in the world of video gaming run far afield these days of what SCL offers, anyway.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fragment: Orontes' Tale

Although not recent, I've written a lot of mostly incomplete fiction in the past. Here's one of those pieces, in the raw.....this was a fictional rendering of the start of a campaign event in Lingusia I ran sometime ago, back in 2004ish.


Orontes' Tale

   Atop the cliffs of a quiet island surrounded by the shimmering waters of the Inner Sea, a vague form, not unlike a shadow trapped in the brilliant light of the sun, came to rest upon a loose outcropping of rock.  A flock of seagulls nesting alongside the cliffs beneath the overhang raised a cacophonous cry as they spun away from the cliffs one by one, avian instincts deeply upset with the unnatural shade above them.
   There was a time when this shadow remembered what the sun felt like. He could remember it shining down on his face, warming his skin. He could remember a strong breeze, off of the coast, sending a shiver through his very being as his body experienced the sudden contrast of warm and cool. It was a memory so vivid, he felt as if he had thought of nothing else for an age or more. That was long ago. Now he felt only the passage of time.
   An anger, like a half-forgotten memory, would flood through him at the realization that he could only remember the experience, but not the feelings. He had been upon that same cliff side overlooking the deep, azure lagoon a thousand times it seemed, and yet he could never remember what it was like to feel. He didn’t know why. Even his anger was a trickling brook compared to the river of rage he once knew.
   Long ago he had decided he was simply asleep, for a very long time. He felt as if he could recall the moments of his last waking memories. That he was on the cliff, he was certain, but beyond that he could not say. Not entirely. He did remember someone else, a woman, and another figure, one which had no form in his mind, yet was always present, always just behind him.
   The woman was so young, so vibrantly alive. She had red hair, long and glossy, flowing lightly in the airy breeze. Her skin was pale and unburned, wet as if she had just bathed. She knew him well, he was certain. He didn’t know why, but he suspected they had children. But she was so young in his memory.
   He knew her name, once. He knew she was very much like him, a free spirit, strong with the sensations and emotions of the body. Primal. She was at the cliff, too. Something happened to them. They went to overlook the lagoon. They were happy, perhaps for the first time.
   Though he knew it not then, a whispery, formless companion lurked nearby, ever mindful of the couple. That day on the cliffs he knew it was so close to them, he was certain of it. Did it reach out and push them off of the cliff? Did they jump? Was there some other reason that that cliff was his last recollection? Damn his memory! Whatever had happened, he realized now, was forever lost to him.
   Trapped in this formless, unabated sleep, he struggled to remember. It was important. He had to know.
   This was how he spent his days, uncounted, trying so hard to remember what had happened. Too often, he would become distracted by the smaller details, those which were so compelling, because it had been so long since he felt anything. A breeze, the sun, all of it was so distracting. It was too easy to think of these details, and focus on them. How had it felt again, that great warm resonance in the sky?
   And once again, he trailed away, forgetting the presence behind him, the companion on the cliff, and his betrothed who stood next to him when all memory and consciousness was lost forever more.

* * * * * *

   Dusk fell over the smoky streets of Malas. The densely packed city was built from great grey and black basalt mined from quarries along the coastal hills. The city overlooked a great bay, which had been guarded by an immense, artificial sea-wall to seal off the docks within from outside invaders for nearly three millennia. Color seemed to be outlawed in the bustling metropolis, along with good will.
    Overlooking the piers below along a rocky outcrop, a small tavern was preparing for an influx of patrons for the evening. Inside was filled with the measured voice of a man telling a tale. Gathered around him, children and curious onlookers sought a better position to watch the man as he elaborated on a tale written before him in a fat codex. His name was Orontes, a philosopher and priest of the White Robes.
   “On a small island in the deep blue waters of the Inner Sea rested a graveyard. Here had come to rest the body of countless villains, men and women of dubious character throughout the countless years. For four thousand years, the waters of the Inner Sea has served as the greatest inland gateway to the great world beyond. Here, the Hyrkanian Empire could reach out to the thousand kingdoms of both men and monster, for discovery, trade, warfare, and worse. And for ten thousand years, since the first day man carved a raft to sail upon, there was always another man waiting to steal it from him.”
   The priest paused for a moment to drink from his mug of ale. Before him, opened like an accordion with its leather bindings undone, was the codex from which he read. The small crowd of listeners around him were all transfixed, forgetting even to drink their own ale as they listened to the tale. None of his onlookers could read, but all knew the power of writing, and its use in the hands of sorcerers and learned men.
   Orontes continued, returning to the dense script of the Old Tongue from which he read and translated, in to the more common middle speech of his audience. “On this island, a legacy had been born. The first of the great pirates to have been buried here was lost to time, his name changing from tale to tale. Some called him Haberlan, and so the island is now named. His grave was simple, unadorned, a pit dug in the sand, his rusted copper blade protruding from it as a simple marker.
   “It is said that he was brought here by his queen, the first queen of ancient Blackholm, whom he had kidnapped from amidst her own armada. Haberlan was said to have stolen her heart as well as her lady hood, and when at last he was found and captured by the general to which she was betrothed, she helped him escape and fled with him to this island. She knew the island held the spirits of ancient beings from a time forgotten, for it was here that she had learned of her talent for necromantic arts. Such arts are the tradition to this day of all of the Queens of Blackholm, you see, and it was because of Haberlan that this started.”
   His audience was rapt, but one boy up front looked quizzically at the priest. “Sir,” he asked politely.
   “Speak, Cantas,” said the priest. Cantas was the boy who had found the scholar-priest sitting in the corner of the tavern, studying his ponderous tome. It was Cantas who convinced Orontes to tell the tale to begin with. Orontes, ever compelled to spread wisdom and learning in his wake, could not help but oblige.
   “How did Haberlan get captured? Was there fighting? And how did he escape?” The boy seemed eager to hear tales of combat and glory.
   “Now see, Cantas, the ancient scholars liked to write down what they knew, but no one can truly say how Haberlan was first captured and then freed by the queen. If I were to make it up, it wouldn’t be truthful, and so I can only tell you what greater men than you or I saw fit to commit to the written page. I am sure a foppish bard or teller of tall tales will come along, who will happily fill in all of the gaps in my text with the most fanciful speculation imaginable. But I shall tell you only what it written, and no more!” He tapped his book forcefully, a grin spreading on his lean, yet kindly young features. Barely 28 years of age, Orontes was young, as members of his order went.
   His audience subdued, Orontes returned to the book. “Now, to continue. It was on this island which the queen and her pirate hid, and it was here eventually to which the general Malabras of Blackholm came, and in a great battle all were slain. At last, only the general stood alive, and he took the body of his lost queen home. A handful of Haberlan’s men saw fit to bury him and whisper unknown prayers before his simple grave. That was the beginning of the tradition.
   “Four thousand years later, the legacy of this first grave of Haberlan had passed in to oblivion. Where once common dogs of the sea saw fit to bury their dead on the isle, an entire culture of deviltry soon sought out the island for their final resting place. Tombs, mausoleums, and graves of a hundred kinds now dotted the hidden valley that lay nestled in between the volcanic mountains that formed the small island. The dead of a dozen evil cults, a hundred unscrupulous mercenary companies, and a thousand purely evil beings had now been laid to rest in unholy ground, condemned by the Solarian priests, warded by the guardians of the god of death, and praised by the cults of chaos.”
   Orontes frowned. Elaboration, indeed, he thought to himself. Bards were not the only ones guilty of such crimes, and even scholars of ancient history appeared to be given to some flights of fancy.
   “This was how they wanted it. The Necopolis of Haberlan, blessed by the lords of chaos, shunned by the protectors of order. So it was that, during the Time of the Reckoning, the dreadful followers of Haro came to the island, and in doing so, continued the tradition of burying their evil dead.
   “During the Reckoning, the gods warred and the mother goddess rose up to cast down the minions of chaos. In this time of divine strife, it is said that the duplicitous god of assassins, named Haro, had betrayed his own brethren in chaos and sided with the lords of order to save his own skin. As such, when the Reckoning was past, his followers knew that they had to disappear, to avoid retaliation by the cults of those gods who had fallen from the heavens due to Haro’s betrayal. The Island of Haberlan became a new place of meetings, and it was here that they chose to lay their dead.”
   Orontes eyebrow arched at this. His audience, rapt with attention, could not know that, as they heard the story of the Island for the first time, so did he. Not three hours earlier, Orontes had purchased the tome from a book seller in the grand market. “It was purchased at cost from the estates of a powerful merchant who claimed that his father was a servant of the cult of the Mad God Slithotep,” said the merchant. “None could know wickedness so well as these men,” he continued, and after much haggling, the book was Orontes’.
   Hoping that it would lend him a clue to his ultimate destination, the scholar-priest had sought immediate refuge in a quiet tavern to begin translating. Suddenly, it looked very much as if his investment was about to pay off.
   “The followers of Haro identified themselves by the symbol of a flaming knife against a shield of stars.” He paused, reached in to his leather folio and pulled forth a canvas sheet with exactly that image painted on it. He showed his audience the curious image of a mirrored shield reflecting the stars of the sky, crossed with a bolt and dagger.
    “It is said that if you travel to the Island of Haberlan, you can find a great many tombs with this dreadful symbol upon them. The Flame Knives of Haro believe that only the greatest of their kind can survive long enough to eventually be buried in the necropolis of the island, and it is seen as a great honor. So it was told to this scholar by a wizened sylveinurian who claimed to have once been a grand master of the vile order, who’s name was Celiobantes Astiriate. He relayed a further tale of how he had personally taken the body of one of their greatest members, the legendary Cassios Augustos, to be entombed in the first mausoleum of his ancestors.” Orontes trailed off as he read the final page, and many seconds passed before the sounds of his impatient audience drew his attention back to the theatrical lesson he was involved in.
   As he looked up, Cantas looked ready to burst. “Yes? Speak!”
   “I heard a story from my uncle that Cassios was betrayed by Celiobantes, that he was stabbed by his own friend. Is this true?” He looked a little awkward as he spoke, shifting from foot to foot. Such a story seemed odd knowledge to come from a boy who’s uncle was likely a sailor or shore man.
   “Really? I’d like to hear your uncle’s tale, if I may.” He looked earnestly at the boy, who shuffled a bit more.
   “Well, I’m not supposed to talk about such things,” Cantas looked ready to bolt.
   “I did read to you from my book of tales,” Orontes reminded him. “The least you could do would be to introduce me to your uncle. I’d consider that fair payment for you and your friends interrupting my research with demands for entertainment.” He smirked, knowing the boy would either have to concede or flee.
   Cantas’ companions jeered and needled him. “Show him to your uncle, Cantas!” One boy shouted, “But read us another tale before you go!”
   Peer pressure seemed to topple the lad, and he relented. “Tell us another story and I’ll take you to see my uncle. He’ll be done from his labor for the day soon, and I can take you to his home.” The boy’s companions cheered him on, and Cantas perked up, more confident in his decision now.
   “Well, how can I refuse such a deal?” Orontes smiled. “Now, let me tell you a slightly different tale. Let’s see now, it’s in here somewhere. Ah, how about the story of the Beautiful Empress Phyxillus, who led the Emerald Knights against the Troll Queen Invidia. The vile trolls fell before the Empress’s Crusaders, but at great cost! That’s a fine tale of warfare, intrigue and betrayal. The tale begins long ago, when the Mad God saw fit to sire a daughter of darknes…”
   And for an hour more he regaled an eager audience with tales of adventure, intrigue, and even more importantly, history.

*  *  *  *  *  *

   In the clear night sky, a thousand sparkling pinpoints cast light upon the smoky streets below. Snaking its way amidst the starry scape was a dull red bur, like a star out of focus and trailed by a great tail. In the light of Selene, this great comet called the Red Dragon would fade into nothing, but on a new moon like tonight, it stood out starkly against the sea of night. Men moved fearfully beneath it, muttering various wards to protect them from the gaze of the dragon. None had seen the likes in more than a lifetime in the sky, and with each month it grew larger and more distinct, as if a great wave could be seen to be moving inexhorably towards the coast.
   Orontes followed Cantas through torch-lit streets, which grew ever narrower as they moved in to poor neighborhoods. Sultry women who sought to disguise brusque sores with thick makeup gestured for Orontes to give up his faith and join them for an evening. Rough scalawags lurked in darkened passageways and sized up the man and his young guide, then looked hastily away as they noticed Oronte’s luminous staff. Wizards made poor marks for easy coin.
   “Here we are,” Cantas stopped before a tiny passageway, sunken half a man’s height in to the earth with narrow steps leading downward. “He’s lived in the under level here now for as long as I can remember.” Cantas trotted on down the steps.
   Orontes looked uncertain, if only for a moment, but he felt certain that the boy intended only good will. As he descended, his staff shed faint, eerie blue light in the darkened passage, revealing an old wooden door some ten feet down past the steps. The floor was wet with drainage run off from the streets above, and the stench of piss and vomit filled the air. The boy did not seem to care or notice.
   At the end of the passage, the boy grabbed a crude iron knocker in the shape of a portly mermaid and beat hard upon the door. “Uncle Tymoran, it is your nephew!” The boy hissed the words, loudly, but as if he feared they would carry too far.
   A few seconds passed, and when the door opened, a rough character limned with firelight beyond studied the two visitors carefully. A loaded crossbow was nestled in the crook of his arm, which relaxed after a moment. “Cantas!” he spoke, softly. “Boy, why do you bring a priest to my door?” He cast a curious gaze over Orontes, as if he could divine the man’s nature with his eyes. He stared long and hard at the staff, then muttered a silent curse and crossed himself with a curious gesture Orontes had not seen before.
   Cantas seemed abashed at the rebuke. “But uncle, he wants to hear your stories. Your old stories, from when you worked in the city, not down by the docks.”
   The man lashed out, and caught the boy in a firm grip, then threw him inside. “Enough of you! I tell you never to repeat such things, and here you go tell a priest!”
   Before he could reap further violence upon the child, Orontes stepped forward, and place a hand on the man’s shoulder. “He means no ill, but he knows I study that subject of which you have knowledge. My order is wealthy. I have coin, and will play for such information as you can tell me.”
   The man cast a doubtful glance at Orontes, but then relaxed. “Aye, I’ve seen the splendorous halls of your temple in the Sacred District. You worship the lord of knowledge, right? Nistur, his name would be. My gods have no care for yours. Enter and show me coin. I’ll speak.”
   Orontes entered, then, as the man moved away in the cramped basement apartment. He moved to the side of a small pantry and retrieved some bread and a mug of crude ale, which proved to be whiskey from Cretea by the seal. He poured a cup for himself and his visitor. Cantas looked on eagerly. Scowling, Tymoran grabbed another mug and poured a small amount for the boy. “You’re old enough to cause me grief, you’re old enough to drink.”
   They drank and ate bread for a short while, and Orontes explained his interest. “I am on a mission of some importance.” He grimaced as he downed another sip of whiskey. “I seek the tomb of a man named Cassios. He once consorted with an order of assassins, he Flaming Blades, who were said to have ruled this city from the shadows in days past. I found a book which claims that he was laid to rest on an Isle called Haberlan. The boy spoke of a tale in which Cassios’ fate was detailed, and that it involved treachery. Know you of this tale, or the isle on which the man’s bones may be found?”
   The man looked on with a stony silence, then downed his whiskey and poured another round. “You’re order must not lke you to put you on such an errand, priest Orontes. All knowledge having to do with the Flaming Blades should be buried and forgotten. But yes, I do know these tales, as they have been told to me by my fathers before me for many generations.” He grimaced, as if the tales held a bitter taste to his memory. “This boy is my only relative, though I am sure I have left many bastards in other ports. I have told him sme tales, to carry the tradition, but I do not wish him to follow in my footsteps.”
   He got up then, and pulled aside a dark red curtain along one wall, exposing a crude earthen closet. “I have it here. Ah.” he pulled a roll of cloth out and unraveled it, exposing a fine dagger of blackest iron, upon which a silver-inlaid image reflected in the firelight.
   He handed it hilt-first to Orontes. “An assassin’s blade,” he pointed to the weapon’s tip. “See there, two pinprick holes along the flat of the blade near the tip. The base of the hilt unscrews. You place the poison there. A mixture of curare from Amech with local the berries of burnt ivy was a favorite concoction. It rendered the victim paralyzed and in such pain as the would beg for mercy if only their mouth would work. A terrible weapon.”
   Orontes looked at the image on the weapon. It was a circular emblem, with several small star-like points, crossed by arrow and blade. The style was characteristically southern Hyrkanian. A sentence in a language unfamiliar was etched beneath. “I have studied many languages, but this one is unknown to me,” he game Tymoran a querying glance.
   “The Flaming Blades work hard to obscure their very name. What you see is the language of the killers, a script said to have been crafted by Haro himself, and given to the first slayer of man in the days fo creation. It is said that the language mutates itself over time, to insure the secrecy of the secrets written in it’s dark script.” He paused, studied the words. “I am out of practice with my knowledge of this tongue, but the words on this blade tell of the owner of this blade. His name was Celiobantes Astiriate, servant of Haro.”
   Cantas, nearby, was wide eyed. “You mean you have the blade of the one who killed Cassios?” he reached out to touch the blade but Tymoran slapped his hand away, then took the weapon from Orontes.
   The scholar priest wiped his hands on a cloth drawn from a hidden pocket. The blade felt unpleasant to the touch, and was warm, in spite of having been locked away in a cold earthen closet. “This is an artifact of evil. The man who used this blade killed many, I gather.”
   “And all owners thereafter,” Tymoran wrapped the blade up and replaced it in the closet. “But never again.”
   Orontes braved a question lurking in the back of his mind. “When did you quit?”
   Tymoran was silent for a very long time, then at last sighed, as if he was letting loathsome spirits loose upon his breath. “I retired from the art of assassination ten years ago. I chose to end the profession of my fathers on the night I was forced to kill someone dear to me.”
   Orontes’ stoic silence was palbable, as if the instincts of the priest were carefully being fought back by the needs of the scholar. When at last he spoke, it was with measured certainty. “Are you descended from Cassios? Was your ancestor of the blood of Augustos and Sorinos?”
   Tymoran looked askance at the priest. “You seem unusually interested in the tales and tombs of dead villains, sir. Why would this interest you?” Tymoran was retired, but old instincts still kept suspicion alive in his mind.

   “I am on a quest, as I have said. It is on the matter of a prophecy, one which has been held in confidence by my order for millennia. You have seen the Red Dragon, have you not? It grows larger with each passing day.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Can't talk, playing Halo 5: Guardians

Dang this game is good.

This is just the opening cinematic for the Osiris Team introduction, of course (and I've posted it before because it's just so great I can't resist).



For those interested, this is the most story-driven content in a Halo game I've seen yet. It incorporates a lot of stuff we've previously only read about in the expanded Haloverse books, including other Spartan IIs, weird AI, more ONI deviousness-- and then it rapidly expands on the new post-Halo 4 content regarding the Prometheans that were last seen escaping from the prison planet of the Didact.

Oh, and spoiler alert!

Cortana appears to be back, and apparently despite the suggestion at the end of Halo 4 that she had succumbed to rampancy, it appears her connection to the hard light "digital realm" of the forerunners/prometheans has left her elevated--such that when Master Chief starts seemingly hallucinating her existence his sanity is not questioned, which implies (again) that everyone took seriously exactly how it was Master Chief survived the end of Halo 4 when the nuclear bomb took out Requiem or whatever the weapon was called. So...backed by his fellow surviving Spartan IIs (all of whom have been in various books) Master Chief sets out to find her and place an immense amount of trust in what she is intending to do (involving the Reclamation, which long time fans will know refers to the idea that human kind will rise again to restore its place in the galaxy after the near total subjugation/elimination by the Forerunners. Or so I have pieced together).

Whew. Anyway....back to playing after I convince my son to go to bed. Probably should convince myself, too.

No idea if multiplayer works. I'm one of those "buy it for the campaign, investigate multiplayer when I feel like it" kind of guys. I'm sure it's fun and all but hard to imagine it would hold a candle to the shear gravitas of the campaign, which is so far blowing this year's competition out of the water.

No promises on how many more blogs this week. Got a lot of quality time on the Xbox One coming, sorry!!!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dungeon Crawl Classics 4th Printing Kickstarter (plus DT&T incoming)

I hadn't really intended to back the DCC 4th Printing Kickstarter but I love the new alternative Peter Mullen cover, so I'm in at the $60 level.

I mean....look how amazing that alternative cover is:


I really need to finally convince one of my groups to give DCC a try, or maybe (finally) start a third experimental group night.



In other news I got a flier fro Flying Buffalo indicating my Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls package was now shipping. I can hardly wait....must add DT&T to the list of games I need to find players for.....


I swear that I will damned well get a DCC campaign, DT&T campaign and Fantasy AGE campaign in within the next 14 months! Somehow.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Secret Confession: I can't get into isometric RPGs anymore

I'm not knocking them...definitely not; these are all clearly good games. I've played a few to death in the distant past (Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale specifically) and in the ancient past played all the precursor Gold Box SSI games....Treasures of the Savage Frontier remains one of my best experiences ever. But....I've been having a hard time feeling motivation to play far in any of the amazing isometric RPGs currently out there, and I'm not sure why. Pillars of Eternity....Divinity: Original Sin, Sword Coast Legends, Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns are all cool games, but apparently the "thing" that pushes one to play them is just not clicking for me. In each case I get quite motivated on an initial sit down, but after the opening session is done it takes me weeks sometimes to find time to come back, and by then it's ...well...not all it seemed after all; the motivation or fascination is either gone or the lapsed time has dragged me out of it. The old days of starting one of these games and finishing it in a week or two are way beyond my ability and free time these days, apparently. That, or flashier games like Destiny, Mad Max and Batman: Arkham Knight are just ruining my ability to enjoy video games that don't rely heavily on audio-visual immersion.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Hitting Game

XKCD has precisely and accurately represented how I experience sports, which I now wish to convey to all of my co-workers and relatives, both past and present so they understand how their delightful pastime translates for me:


Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Gazetteer of Irkalla

Irkalla: A Gazetteer of the Continent of Erebas

The Arvillias
The Arvillias is the city of fae elves, the Isminari, who have served as the quiet guardians of their world for countless generations. Their queen is Evathia (an Orichani) and their lord is Regalios (a Mercurian).
   The Arvillias elves belong to four tribes: The Mercurians (fire elves), the Aqualians (water elves), the Penumbrans (shadow elves) and the Orichani (light elves). They co-exist within the walls of Arvillias, where all elven kind meets to keep the peace among the four great tribes.
   Outside of the Vale of Arvillias are the vast and untamed lands of the Narrian Forest. The closest human neighbors to Arvillias are in two regions: the mountains of Rekosk contain the barbarian tribes of the Nulmir, a rough and uncultured folk who regularly war with the Vakoshkan trolls, and southward, along the shores of the Glimmering Lakes, is the colony of Sinar, a city founded a century ago by the seafaring people called the Memarik. The Memarik have maintained pleasant relations with the elves ever since.
   The main threats in the region are the trolls of the northern mountains, The Yengasi lizardmen of the distant eastern steppes, and the local threat (as always) of the volgarak wolven. The volgarak wolven are enemies of elf and human alike, and migrated here three decades ago after they were driven out of the westlands by an even more ominous threat.
   Traveling southward, to the northern tip of the Glimmering lakes reveals the fishing port of Sinar. Sinar is a small but well-established fishing community and trade port for merchants who venture northward for commerce with the elves and barbarians. Sinar’s patron deity is Enki, although there is a local cult dedicated to Nergal.
Some famous characters from Sinar include:
Marshall Ardan: the gatekeeper and commander of the local militia, which consists entirely of local men and women who volunteer for city defense.
Elder Pharian: The elder orichani elf who represents his kind in their private ward within the city.
Dredaris the Artificer: A maker of fantastic devices, Dredaris is known for his most remarkable water clocks. He is also an arcanist, and dabbles in elemental gadgets.
Rekath’s Mansion: Not a person so much as a famous haunted mansion, with an ancient curse upon it, so some say. Known to have been occupied by the great antiquarian and treasure hunter Rekath the gnome, and his beloved Emma Pareel, who both passed away mysteriously within.
   The Ruins of Nakark (also called Elrin’zenarde, or “Lost Ancients” in elvish) predate the elves by at least a hundred thousand years. They are thought to have been founded by an ancient, long extinct race of multi-limbed giant quadrupeds, who could see in spectrums of light beyond normal men. The elves have spend at least two centuries excavating, exploring, and trying to render safe the immense, mostly subterranean ruins of this miles-wide city complex. Many unique and sometimes unfathomable devices have surfaced in these explorations.
   The Draegul is a large, almost giant-like warrior armored head to toe such that his true species is unknown. He arrived in the region recently, with a company of a thousand swell-armed mercenaries from all species and lands, and established an encampment on the far southern edge of the Nakark ruins. There, is has begun his own forays in to the ruins, and intrudes with force regularly upon the elvish archaeological sites. The elves have attempted parley and now secure their sites with armed warriors, but being peaceful folk, have resisted conflict whenever possible. It is not known what this being is looking for.
   Wintersbite is an elder Wyrm of the north, one of the dragonkind, who traveled to the region recently. The dragons of Irkalla are intelligent, but suffer from a bloodthirst, which drives them mad with hunger at least once a month. They do not recover from this madness easily, and much damage is usually done when they succumb. As such, most dragons prefer to be recluses, to avoid instigating too much conflict with the lesser species around them. The one called Winterbite, however, has recently appeared near Arvillias and caused much damage to local towns. It is not known why.


The Kingdoms of Revarik and Vald

   In the deep wilderness of the Northeastern kingdoms of Revarik, where no True King has ruled for almost eighty years, a lone stone fortress juts out from the high peaks of the Theranic Mountains. It is the highest settled point in all the wild kingdoms of the north, and from the watch peak, one can see across the distant mountains in to the domains of Vald, as far south as Altanar Lake with its misty expanses, and as far east in to the Wilderlands of Combrias as the eye will allow. From this peak, all of Revarik in the west lies exposed, hidden only by its perpetual canopy of dark forests and snow-capped mountains.
   This high peak is Firemount, and the Citadel of the same name is an ancient construct formed from immense stone blocks carved right from the very mountain upon which it rests. It is here that the dwarves of the mountains stand as vigilant guardians to the Theranic Mountains, and watch over the land around with a fierce dedication.
   Though the dwarves of Firemount Citadel are most often found defending their subterranean kingdom from the incursions of orcs, trolls, ogres and goblins, they also dedicate their time in the citadel to managing an efficient cavalry, dwarves who ride war ponies and who serve the community at large. In times of warfare, the dwarves have sent forth their mounted cavalry to the aid of the True King, and should another such man arise in the future, they will do so again. For now, they content themselves to helping the local men of the mountains in times of need. Dwarves, after all, can never resist an opportunity to scrap with the giant-kin and goblinoids of the land, an these beasts threaten men as often as they do dwarves.
   This land is set in a corner of the world of Irkalla. The region and its various potential adventures will be described in elaborate detail, to allow for an open-ended campaign to adventure in. Some important facts about the world of Irkalla are worth mentioning, however:
Dwarven Spiritualism: The dwarves are animists. They do not believe in gods and goddesses, but in spirits of the land. There is a spirit of each element, and it is said that the element of earth (male) and water (female) bonded to create the dwarves, who think they are minor elementals. There is a war spirit, hunt spirit, civic spirit, and so forth. They think that malicious spirits are often responsible for the giants and goblinkin they war with, and that the goblinoids were sprung from a forbidden commingling between the spirits of air and fire, for example.
   Revarik is the first free kingdom north of the Altanar Lake region, which acts as the borderland with the Narzhamid province of Visinare. Although the Narzhamites could easily siege Revarik in an effort to bring unity to the land, it has been over a century since an Emperor of Narzham has been motived to do so. These days, most of Narzham’s military might is found south, across the ocean fighting the forces of Old Sumar. This keeps Revarik’s environs relatively safe.
   Revarik’s history is tumultuous. It was said that the land was occupied by wild men and demihumans for centuries before any civilized rule of law came to the land. The first such civilized men to enter the wilderness were of Brythanic descent, regarded as barbarians by most standards even now. The Brythanics were part of a great western movement, a nomadic people who were moving from unknown conflicts in the north, heading southward until they effectively ran in to the ancient fortifications of the Narzham-united provinces. When they arrived, the Brythanics tried to take the lush agricultural land of the Narzham Empire, and a war lasting generations carried on. The people of Revarik are said to have descended from one Brythanic warlord, named Revarik, who grew weary of the fighting an decided to take his tribes and settle elsewhere, peacefully.
   This founder, Revarik, was the first True King to unite the land. The old lore of his coming to the lands of Revarik speak of a legendary tale, about how the dwarves of Firemount were engaged in a bloody war with the trolls and ogres of the Theranics, led by the Fire Giant Gnosros. As the tales go, Revarik slew Gnosros in one-on-one combat and brought his head as tribute to the dwarven king Gromsatter. Gromsatter was so impressed that he swore allegiance to Revarik and his line henceforth.
Revarik’s lineage was the basis for all future kings, and they ruled for seven centuries, it is said, before the time of troubles, which started about 120 years ago as historians reckon. A split between the northern regions, called Vald, and the southern nobles who were loyal to the Revarik line, heralded the time of troubles. The king at that time was Ail’goth, and though he was a sick man from many years of hard living in the cold north, he nonetheless took up arms to quell the Vald uprising. The Valds, led by the traitorous Lord Kale, had secretly made a pact with the goblinoids and orcs of the Northern Theranics. They managed to decimate the armies of Ail’goth and swept over the southern cities one by one. Only when Lord Kale proclaimed himself Emperor of the North in the capitol of Votenhold did the orc king Ragganamos and his vile queen Thracia announce that they would accept his empire as tribute for their assistance. Lord Kale and his men fought wildly against the orcish uprisisng, but it was too late.
   The orcs overran the land. In a curious turn of fate, it was the wildermen of the Theranics and the dedicated dwarves of Firemount who rallied the fractured Revarik soldiers in to an army that could stand against the orcs. For twenty years the humans, wildermen, and dwarves fought, along with elves out of Illvynir and even Halflings from Combrias who were well aware of the troubles in the west, and didn’t want any more of it spilling in to their quiet lands.
   In the end, eighty years ago, the united forces, led by the dwarven general Gadruman, and the sole heir to the Revarik line, a young woman named Ilmyrith, at last slew Ragganamos and drove the horde back in to the northern Theranic Mountains. Now, decades later, the only presence of orcs in the Southern Theranics remains in the underground fortress of Blackrock, where some claim Ragganamos fell, and his body lies entombed. The orcs have shown such dedication to keeping hold on that mountain that the dwarves have even conceded it to them.
   Unfortunately, the queen-regent Ilmyrith was a bastard daughter to the deceased king, and the men of the land, as grateful as they were for her aid, could not support her rulership over all. The land fragmented, and now, today, the reign of queens continues in Votenhold, where the young Resara Ilmyrith III rules in her grand-mother’s wake, and the many cities of Revarik are split among petty king-regents who can barely agree on anything save common defense against the monstrous wilderness. She is the only one the dwarves recognize as the True King of the land.

Brythania
   The Brythanics are a vast and warlike collection of rough feudal chiefdoms in the northern reaches of Erebas. The Brythanics have on three occasions united under a strong leader, to pose a real threat to the borders of Narzham. The last great conqueror of the region was one hundred years ago, named Nathirion, also called Dragon Killer. His armor was a potent artifact, said to contain the spirits of all who wore it before, offering compelling tactical advice, but the bearer of the armor was cursed, in turn, to find his soul trapped at death, as well.
   Major cities of the region today include Denandir, which is the largest and strongest chiefdom in the land, ruled by King Hazad Altiros. Cadwl, in the west is the second largest city, and a viable river port. It is dominated by high lord Ultanaris, who defers to King Hazad, to avoid needless bloodshed, but most consider his standing army stronger and more disciplined.

Memarik
   The people of Memarik are situated along the coast of the Glimmering Sea. The Memarik are a predominantly seafaring culture, still bronze age, who remain allies with the Narzhamites and are tenuously considered a client province to the empire.
   The Memarik are a loose collection of city-states dominated by local chieftains, who in turn are elected from among the local democratic electorate, consisting of the land owners and businessmen of the land. This is the system that has been in place for centuries now. The oldest known records of the Memarik refer  to their migration in to the region and fierce conflicts against Yengasi invaders about six centuries ago.
   The Memarik venerate a deity of the waters not seen by the Narzham, called Scylla. Other than Scylla, they maintain shrines and temples to Anu, Nergal, Innana, Sin and Ninurta.


Narzham
   Narzham is the largest single unified realm in the world today. Its dominion stretches from the western tip of the straights of the Cortadarian Sea, all the way to the Glimmering Lakes of Memarik, its easternmost province. It is surrounded by wary neighbors, and depending upon who is king or emperor in any given moment, warfare can easily break out. Narzham maintains a large, mandatory standing army that can muster one hundred thousand men in a matter of weeks, if necessary.
   The capitol of the empire is the city of Narzham itself, from which the empire is given its name. Narzham is widely regarded as the seat of civilization and the center of all culture and learning by most people, even Narzham’s enemies (save perhaps for Phaerik, which prefers to think of itself as such).
   Across the waters from the capitol, on the Isle of The Mother is the sacred city of Eridu, said to be the oldest city of man in the world. Here lies the temple of the gods, to which all gods are worshipped and their deeds recorded. The sacred order of the Oracles of Law resides here, dictating the mysterious visions and declarations that come from the spirit world, and the island itself is scattered with the ancient tombs of countless kings and nobles who sought to be buried before the monument to the gods.
   Other prominent cities of Narzham include Netruar, where eastern commerce is conducted, and Chalidash, where the trade between the north and south along the western coasts is conducted. Chalidash is also where the legendary general Varizhan sailed westward, and became the first Narzhamite to set foot on the continent of Umbiras.

Ildaniir
   The Brythanic people are always at war with the Ildaniir, or perhaps it is the other way around. Ildaniir is a region without unification, of ancient cities from a very old civilization that some scholars believe is the oldest continuous region of human occupation outside of the venerable city of Eridu. The Ildaniir are so insular and xenophobic, however, that as a people they remain pure bred, and their language is untouched by other cultures. Only certain Ildaniiri, charged with learning the ways of foreign cultures, are even allowed to learn the languages of lesser men. These diplomats in turn are eventually forced to exile, for they are no longer allowed to marry within their own society once they have been corrupted by foreigners. Thus it is from these diplomats and some soldiers who became enamored with the ways of foreigners and fled their native lands that most of what is known about the Ildaniir has been passed on to others.
   The two chief cities of Ildraniir are Camyros and Eldrasan, but between these two city-fortresses rest dozens of smaller keeps and forts, all built to keep the enigmatic nobility of the Ildraniir safe. The society is held aloft by slaves, who are bred locally, although it is said that when new slaves are needed, the Ildraniir dispatch armies to slaughter neighboring cities and steal their children.
   Ildraniir are a taul, gaunt and fair skinned people. They are seen by some as almost inhuman, with deep red eyes and hair in shades of light grays, blacks and whites. As a people, they are so universally strong in their belief in Ildraniir superiority that a dedicated Ildraniir will refuse to even acknowledge a foreigner speaking to him, save perhaps to run him down or slay him.
   The only reason the Ildraniir have not come to direct blows with the Narzham is because of Brythania. The wildermen of the lands between these two kingdoms have perfected warfare to an art form, but have never had success in conquering either of the neighbors, preferring instead to engage in persistent warfare for a quick grab of resources, while defending their own from Narzhamite land-grabs and Ildraniir slave runs. 

Old Sumar
   This southern land lies in burning deserts across the Cortadarian Sea. It was once a great empire from long ago, but is now dominated by wandering nomadic tribes. Further inland, beyond the nearly inpenetrable desert there is said to be a land of jungles and dark kingdoms, but few have penetrated that far. Narzhamites periodically mount expeditions to these southern lands beyond Old Sumar, to bring back fabulous beasts and slaves for the arenas.

Phaerik
   Phaerik is a southern neighbor, along the Ultradamic Sea. Phaerik is the only true rival to Narzham. It is ruled by the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Sun, Mazrathar, and dominates a wide swath of territory in the deceptively lush Phamarian Deserts.
   Phaerik is the most recent incarnation of a legacy of older kingdoms, and ancient pyramids and ziggurats dot the land, monuments to old and forgotten kingships. The people of Phaerik worship most of the Irkallan gods, but there is a strong and unique cult to Nammu in the region, the goddess of the formless abyss of creation, to which the lands of the Phaerik are likened at times. This cult of Nammu is disliked by Phaerik’s emperor, who seeks to stamp it out, for the cult of Nammu suggests that all gods before the abyssal goddess are mere shadows of thought who must be cast down.
  
Esgatana Wilderlands
   This wild region is ruled by the Esgatanan tribes, fierce and primitive warriors who are  barbaric even by Brythanic standards. The Esgatanans live in large communities, but have not mastered better than simple bronze weaponry. Still, they breed like rabbits, and the only successful foreign colony on Esgatanan soil to date, Daladron, is sieged as often as it makes peaceful treaties with the locals.
   Narzham emperors have, at stressful times, approached the Esgatanans for aid in warfare, hiring large numbers of them as mercenaries and dispatching these soldiers once properly equipped as frontline troops.
   Esgatanans are said to revere only Gugalanna and Ereshkigal, although some Narzhamid soldiers claim that a cult to nergal has become popular, as well. In addition, the Esgatanans engage in strong spirit and ancestor worship.

Yengasi Steppes
   The Yengasi steppes are dominated by fierce nomadic lizardmen, descended from a breed of such that was said to have once conquered half of the continent, and was stopped only by great unified effort of the men of that time. Today, they are not unified, but travelers in the region must be wary, for the Yengasi can vary in attitude, with one tribe friendly and helpful, and another prone to attacking all humans.

   The lizardmen have a strong worship of Tiamat and her children. Yengasi also have a belief that their old empress, the warrior-woman Nadirata, daughter of Tiamat, will rise again one day and return to lead the Yengasi people to conquer all of the world and subject the tall apes to their rule.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Witch Hunter for 5E

So, the backstory: this is a class played by Vin Diesel, the actor better known for his action roles involving Riddick and cars. He's a long-time gamer and recently Geek & Sundry posted a game session they held with him in which he got to play D&D 5E. They created a custom class for him based on the upcoming movie The Last Witch Hunter.

I'm not going to link to all that other stuff, but click here for the Witch Hunter 20-level class for 5E. It's pretty cool (but I couldn't say anything about balance issues or other stuff people worry about).


Vin Diesel and Jason Statham remain my favorite action film stars because they make being middle-aged and bald cool!

Gods of Irkalla

Pantheon of Irkalla
   The oldest religion of the world, indeed the only religion which all recognize and from which all iterations derive, is that of the ancient Irkallan gods, worshipped first in Narzham. Narzham is a powerful, expansive realm as such goes in Irkalla. They are the first humans, so the myths say, and claimto be directly descended from the Anunnaki (the first gods). Each city of the Narzham is given a grand temple, usually a pyramid or ziggurat, dedicated to a key patron deity from the many gods they worship. The capitol city of Narzham holds Enki as its patron, but the Emperor Serigas considers Marduk the patron of the Empire.

(Edit: sorry for the background/font error. Not sure why that was happening when NONE of the other copy/pastes from Word carried any weirdness over!!!! Hotfix to make it readable in...)


The Pantheon of Narzham is summarized as follows:

Anu, The god of Heaven
Enlil, The god of the air (from Lil = Air) and storms. He was usually portrayed in human form but also appears as a snake to the humans eyes. (Jupiter)
Enki, The god of water and the fertile earth, (Mercury)
Ea, the god of magic, wisdom and intelligence
Ninhursag, The mother-goddess representing the earth
Ashur, god of the sky
Kishar, the goddess of the earth
Ninlil: goddess of air (possibly the south wind) and wife of Enlil
Inanna, The goddess of love and war (Venus)
Marduk, originally Ea's son and god of light, also now god of kings. (Jupiter)
Sin, god of the moon
Shamash, God of the sun - the god of justice as well
Ninurta, god of agriculture and crafters (Saturn)
Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld, Mistress of Irkalla
Gugalanna, The wild bull of heaven, hsuband to Ereshkigal
Nergal, The lord of death and son of Enlil and Ninlil (Mars)
Isimud, the two-faced androgynous steward of Enki
Tiamat, the destroyer goddess, mother of monsters, and the goddess from whose body sprang the earth of creation and the salt seas.
Ninshabur, patron of the evening and lady in waiting to Inanna
Apsu, the counterpart to Tiamat, goddess of the fresh water bodies and spirit of creation
Nammu, the formless abyss of creation

   Narzhamite cosmology is complicated. The short version of creation involves the appearance of two powerful beings, Tiamat and Apsu, were created from the formless abyss of Nammu, the goddess of chaos and creation. In turn, the world was created from their bodies, and they spawned the Lahamus and Lahmu, who then gave birth to Ashur and Kishar, who in turn birthed Anu and Ninirsag. These were the first Anunaki.
   The stories of the gods go on, with protracted tales of their conflicts between one another. The belief of most Narzhamites is that these tales are happening, right now, in the spirit world of the gods. Indeed, some priests feel that the gods are cursed to relive their lives over and over, in one form or another, giving birth, making love and war, and conspiring against and with one another endlessly.
   There are moments where it is believed that the mortal world and the spirit world are inextricably linked. There is the tale of Tiamat’s wrath and betrayal, for example, in which she takes Kingu as her consort, and then tries to destroy the world in her anger. The younger gods go against her and Apsu, and in trying to stop the young gods they are instead slain by Marduk, who then uses their bodies to recreate the creation which they had unwrought.


   Other myths tell of the creation of humankind. The younger Igigi gods (called the Watching Gods) go on strike, refusing the work of keeping creation working and the Gods consulted Enki for a solution. He suggested humankind be made from clay, mixed with the blood of the captured God Kingu, son and consort of Tiamat. Most Irkallans take this fable to refer to the time before man descended to Irkalla to escape destruction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sword Coast Legends - First Impressions


I only had time to play my copy for about an hour last night, but I was surprised to discover that it's rather compelling. For those of you wondering about it, or reading various comments online and trying to discern just what the game is about, here's a relatively neutral take on the initial experience so far, with more depth to come (since it turns out I really enjoyed that first hour):

Is it D&D 5E? Sort of, but not really. It's got the trappings....I'd call it "70% in feel" in that you buy attributes the same way, pick a background, race, one of six classes (cleric, wizard, fighter, rogue, paladin and ranger) and then you pick from a series of progression charts on abilities. The abilities are where it moves away from D&D 5E...they tend to be named after actual 5E abilities but do things geared toward the game environment, rather than a simulation of 5E like Baldur's Gate was for 2E andNeverwinter Nights 1 and 2 were for 3E. Why this approach? It's because....

SCL is an action/RPG/tactical hybrid. The game incorporates a pause button, like the older RPGs it follows, and plays like it has some DIabloesque DNA. Not a huge amount....but somewhere in there. You can create a character and at least at the low level march around smacking stuff on timed attacks almost like you were in any old classic ARPG (action RPG).

What Modes of Play Are there? There's campaign mode, story mode and dungeon crawl mode. I played the main story for a while and was pleased to see it had good voice acting, and a story which compelled me to keep going, although time prevented me from getting very far last night. Likewise, I tried out a bit of the dungeon crawl and was pleased to see it's kind of like a fun mix of random dungeon delving. While playing I had random players join the game. Not sure if there's a way to do dungeon crawls solo, though.

How are the graphics? This is an odd one. The scenery/background graphics are pretty nice, actually. The game's environments look good. The models however....well, the good news is that the models don't need a lot of resolution in an isometric title, but they are pretty ugly. Surprising level of customization, though.....but I didn't bother too much beyond hair style and colors as lipstick on a pig is still a pig. Not atrocious, though; nothing here is as terrifying as the average result of an Elder Scrolls: Oblivion character, for example.

Concerns? My big concern is that it's clear the game is going to hit us up with microtransactions soon, probably for extra races (such as tiefling and dragonborn which are in the game but not playable), new classes beyond the initial six, and if you want to get in to the dungeon mastering side it looks like it can get really expensive. It seems that the developers must have concluded that DMs are the "whales" of the D&D world and therefore are planning to monetize that side of the game heavily. I bought in at a nice discount through Green Man Gaming the basic game only; once I figure out the pricing structure for in-game purchases we'll see if it looks worth the effort. Other reports on the DM element of the package don't make it sound enticing; there's not enough customization to make it a viable utility for tabletop online gaming, for example....and the system's loose interpretation of 5E mechanics into a action/tactical hybrid mean that 5E fans won't get quite the same experience they'd like as playing at the table provides.

I'll play more and provide a progress report as I go along. Right now however if you could find the basic campaign for a nice discount I don't think you'd go wrong......but if it was a toss up between this and Pillars of Eternity I'd still suggest Pillars of Eternity first.

UPDATE: I have some follow-up here. Short version is the interest didn't sustain, largely because the action-rpg feel just got to me too much.