Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Realms of Chirak: Artifacts from Theliad (D&D 5E)

In recent campaign reveals, Theliad has been getting a lot of exploration. Among other things, the secret of the Immortals masquerading as the gods have been revealed, and the legacy of the many potent weapons left over from ancient times back to the Apocalypse have allowed the party to get some nifty (albeit flawed) artifacts. Here are a medley you can use for your own D&D 5E campaigns:

The Blood Axe
This great axe was forged in the city of Afar when it was ruled by the immortal lord Sultirian during the height of his reign. The axe was allegedly carried by the General Corvus, who betrayed Sultirian and aided in his assassination.
+3 artifact, great axe, requires attunement
Property: you are immune to disease while attune to this artifact
Property: At the start of your turn, as long as you have at least 1 HP you regain 1D6 HPs immediately
Flaw: while attuned to the Blood Axe you are at Disadvantage on saves vs. poison
Flaw: The Blood Axe was forged in the fires of Afar’s forges by the Immortal Sultirian. There is a 10% chance each morning that an avatar of Sultirian will manifest to claim the Blood Axe, in the form of an empyrean.
Main Property: The blood axe steals blood from those it slays. Each time a foe is slain, the axe gains a Blood Point. It can hold up to 3 Blood Points. When the attuned wielder releases a blood point as an action, it forges a second magical blood axe which will strike a target of the wielder’s choice within 60 feet as a bonus action. The attack will be at the attuned wielder’s attack value and damage as if he/she struck with the axe.

The Raven Bow
The Raven Bow was forged by one of Morrigan the Raven Queen’s sons, specifically Glon, to hunt and kill Fomorians and other threats to her dominion in the Shadowfell. The bow is said to have been used by shadar-kai champions of the Raven Queen to slay thousands of fomorian invaders in her realm.
+3 Artifact, long bow, requires attunement
Property: You gain the ability to Speak with Ravens while attuned to the bow.
Property: while attuned to the weapon, each attack does +1D6 psychic damage.
Flaw: when you are attuned to the artifact, if the bow leaves your possession by more than 10 feet you become Deafened.
Flaw: When you become attuned to the artifact you age 3D10 years and must make a DC 10 Constitution Save or die from the shock. You then rise as a wight sworn to protect the artifact and return to the Shadowfell.
Main Property: Against giants this bow always crits if it rolls 5 better than the target’s AC.

The Weapons of Agarthis:
Each of the following weapons were forged by the Raven Queen for her mortal champion, Agarthis, over twelve hundred years ago in Theliad. Agarthis was corrupted by the Thousandspawn Ierata and was driven mad with the taint of chaos, eventually captured and interred beneath a zigurrat of solid iron by the avatar of Pallath, but his weapons are said to have been stashed in the tomb, protected with wards to limit their power; only the Raven Queen could restore them to permanence.

The Great Sword of Agarthis 
The great sword wielded by the dark king called upon primal spirits to induce battle lust.
+3 artifact; unique; great sword; attunement required
Flaw: the wielder of the weapon can “hear” the vestige thoughts of Agarthis, which require a DC 10 Wisdom save each night to fall asleep without nightmares or awaken as if no long rest happened.
Property: This weapon ignores all forms of damage resistance.
Property: Each round as a free action the wielder may add one extra damage type to it besides slashing, which deals an extra 1D12 of that type of damage; the damage types must be chosen from necrotic, radiant, fire or cold. 
Major Property: The weapon sings dark songs in the head of the wielder during battle, and Once per long rest while in battle it will prompt a DC 15 Wisdom save or the bearer will suddenly go berserk, gaining advantage on attacks and +4 to damage, but reduces the AC by -5 due to extreme recklessness, and the wielder cannot benefit from healing or healing magic effects for the remainder of the combat. The effect lasts until the combat end, or the wielder makes no attacks for one full round, at which time he becomes weakened until a short rest.

The Plate Armor of Agarthis 
The armor of the immortal king was decorated with the symbols of the war goddess of shadow, lady of phantoms. It’s power stems from a single embedded gemstone which projects a prismatic radiance.
+3 armor artifact; unique; attunement required
Flaw: Once attuned, the armor cannot be taken off without a DC 17 Constitution Save.
Property: This armor provides full plate protection and also provide Magic Resistance against any save-inducing effect (gain advantage) when worn with attunement. 
Major Property: When worn, the armor can allow the caster to release a prismatic sphere as an action, as if cast by a level 17 mage (DC 19; Attack +11); this effect is restored with a long rest. When the armor is first worn, and anytime the spell is cast, the wearer must make a DC 19 Wisdom save or become overwhelmed by the vestige of Agarthis that rests within the armor, a being of malice and hubris which changes the bearer’s alignment to Lawful Evil. The vestige will fade after a long rest. 

The Long Bow of Agarthis 
The long reach of this weapon gave the mad king the ability to strike directly against his greatest enemies from any distance.
+3 long bow; artifact; unique; attunement required
Flaw: While attuned to the bow, the wielder cannot maintain a concentration effect and fire the bow in the same round.
Flaw: the bow is unwieldly at point blank range and incurs disadvantage regardless of any feats or special exceptions.
Property: This long bow manifests its own ammunition if none is used; merely pulling back on the bow manifests an arrow made of pure force. 
Property: The bow, like the sword, lets the wielder add an energy type to damage each round that adds 1D12 damage of that type (fire, cold, necrotic, radiant). 
Major Property: once per short rest the bow grants the wielder the ability to make an Impossible Shot; the target could be invisible, inside a building and out of sight, or beyond the range of the bow up to 100 miles away. As a free action the archer adds this effect, then uses his regular action and fires his normal attack. The target must make a DC 19 Wisdom save or the attack unerringly finds its way to the target, dealing full damage. Once used, this effect then deals the same amount of damage to the archer, who may make a DC 19 Wisdom save to take half damage.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Symbaroum Monster Codex and Adventure Pack 3 Live

Just got notice from Modiphius, the most prolific publisher in gaming, that Symbaroum has two new books: the Monster Codex and the Adventure Pack 3.

If you're not familar with Symbaroum, it's a Swedish translation of a grim, low-magic dark fantasy world that has a really interesting design and look to it. The setting of Symbaroum is one of an untamed Davokar wilderness where the men of Korinthia are the intruders, and many strange things await discovery; and much worse waits in the vast forests and mountains to push back, hard. At minimum the game is worth its weight in the fantastic art alone, but the system itself looks quite playable, and it remains on my "must collect and read" list, perhaps one day to graduate to some actual play sessions.

At minimum, I've determined that it is not worth wasting one more second on the Pathfinder 2 playtest for now, as even Paizo on their own site is admitting they need to do some serious work. Any such effort I expend should be placed on cool games like Symbaroum, or Lone Wolf RPG, or even the more generic but intriguing Fantasy AGE.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Cypher System Session Five

The weekend game featured, in no particular order:

--A phantom tower which was trapped in time
--The heart of the Obsidian God, which turned out to be a trapped singularity harnessed for its power
--A vengeful, ancient orc bound to a golem by an alien symbiote who lives only to kill the enemies of his ancient people
--A seemingly dead or undead wizard trapped in stasis who communicates through his magical scrying orb called the Elocutor
--A vast floating city in a star system bathed in red light in the interstices between universes
--An ancient army of parasitic beings from another dimension who destroyed the floating city of angels and now seek to bargain a way into the homeworld of the PCs

Stuff like that is why I like Cypher System. None of it is specifically "mechanics" based but all of it is exceedingly easy to do in the Cypher System for GMs who want to do this sort of thing...and the copious sourcebooks out there, between Numenera and The Strange, make it really easy to borrow from both iterations of the game to build whatever you want in Cypher. 

Anyway, we're five sessions in and some interesting questions are being raised as players advance in level, but the GM side of the equation remains smooth and fun. They are probably going to have to demand Call of Cthulhu returns soon if they want to break the grip this system has on me!

The interesting thing game night was not Cypher System (which continues to excel) but the pre-game talk about Pathfinder 2.0. I've been reading the book from a GM's perspective, but I think Paizo has problems.....players do not like what it's got on offer. The system codifies too much, and takes too much away, and tweaks things that most people I've talked to do not feel needed tweaking. If Paizo doesn't get this under control, they may have some serious problems if the edition published next year is not seriously revised from what they just released. And that's not me specifically stating's the summary or pretty much everyone else's opinions so far.

I am starting to think they should have gone for more of a "1E to 2E" switch rather than whatever it is they're doing now. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Mulling Over the Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest

I've had some time to read through the Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest rulebook as well as the online Bestiary; the playtest adventure's been waiting but the premise sounds exciting if you're in to Golarion. That said, when I run this (and I plan to pitch a try-out to my Wednesday group, off-week) I'll probably do my own thing. I know it doesn't help Paizo, but it does help me. Heh.

In reading through the book and messing around with it to roll up some sample characters I've been keeping an eye out for "4Eisms" that many people are saying they are experiencing with the new playtest. I'm not sure if these are observations from people actually reading the rules or running it, but the idea that there is more in PF2 with 4E D&D DNA in it than, say, 5E DNA is intriguing, especially since I wasn't really seeing it (unless you argue for the extremely superficial nature of the skill/proficiency/ability/spell block layouts, which are coincidentally similar to 4E only in that they try to make the information you need as explicit and easy to find as possible). Contrast with 13th Age, for example, which unambiguously extrapolates from 4E for its power blocks and you'll see a world of difference from what PF2 is doing....which is to try and mitigate "information overload" by sticking to an easy to follow format.

Despite making efforts to clarify, clean up, and tighten the overall mechanics of the system, PF2 seems to be trying exceptionally hard to project a more consistent sense of balance in the game experience. Character creation is where this is most evident. Much like 5E, it appears that PF2 is trying to structure class design around a consistent and predictable series of advancement stages. This has the side effect of making it less likely you will have an outliers in design over time....min/max gamers will, much like with 5E, have a harder time of gaming the system, and people who love to see where things are broken (for better or worse) will find fewer opportunities to do so.

A downside to this is that certain elements of randomness fade away rapidly. PF2 still allows for an optional stat roll system, but almost everything else that might have an element of random chance is gone. Hit dice....gone. Feat choices are tighter now, and happen for certain types of feats at certain times. Feats have lots of types (they did before), but these types tell you which group to pick from at what level.

Of really interesting note in the new edition so far is how they handle bonuses, modifiers, and stacking. The rules are on pages 289-290, and they are insanely simplified from PH1. You have three bonus/penalty types: circumstance bonuses, conditional bonuses, and item bonuses. The stacking rule is what we know from before: bonuses of the same type don't stack, and you only use the highest bonus. However, with only three types of bonuses, you're not going to have to spend a lot of time trying to sort out what sort of bonus applies in a given situation. Penalties apply in the same manner (same type penalties don't stack, only the worst applies), but the rules allow for one special exception, untyped penalties, that seem to cover lots of other broad general modifiers, particularly with combat actions. There's also a special exception on how to handle shields and armor, but it seems to be the only identified outlier.

While one might question whether or not the game's underlying mechanics are still complex, the simple act of tightening up stacking mechanics, along with structuring everything around a more tightly defined level framework for the overall game experience, means that the way PF2 is trying to simplify the play experience is by narrowing the number of choices players have, and reducing the number of potential moving parts. It's not that the core mechanical elements weren't in PF1, but rather than the extra complexity made it easier to overlook, forget, or game the system on certain modifiers. have a pretty straight forward rule of thumb to refer to when eyeballing why a PC seems to have an outrageous AC, and hit points will always be the same for characters of a certain ancestry/level/class/Constitution.

Some might argue --rightly so-- that this removes some elements of chance, variability, that makes the game inherently more fun. Others might argue that it makes the game more predictable, and therefore more consistent, which can translate in to a better experience. Neither side is wrong.

I'm still mulling over the resonance rules, however. These seem to be the point system which you use to power up magic items, and they appear to be a limiter designed to keep PCs from abusing too much magic. However, the practical application seems to suggest it will only be a limiter at low level when you have few resonance points, and at high level PCs will have more than they know what to do with. It feels to me like this is a rule that can't really be "seen in action" without an actual playtest, so I will reserve judgement until I see how it functions in actual play. But right now, eye-balling it from a spherical cow universe, I find myself wondering if it's fixing a problem that must exist but which I've never seen in my games before.

Anyway.....more to come. Maybe by next week I'll have some actual play to report, too. For now, though, it is interesting that every time D&D or its relatives get a new edition, it is often with the intent to completely retool whatever was there before. I think for a lot of gamers, building off of clasic PF1 and simply fixing specific issues was all they really wanted, but PF2 is going in a direction closer to what 5E did, when it decided to build on the concept of bounded accuracy. PF2 isn't doing bounded accuracy, but it does seem to be trying to limit what you can build in the game even as it creates a metric ton of invisible walls for the play experience.

Reading the Playtest right now, while I've dived off the deep end into Cypher System territory, makes for an interesting experience. I keep weighing the system against what I know D&D 5E can do with less effort (albeit at the expense of the complexity I enjoyed from PF1), even as I mess around with another system (Cypher) that strips all rules down to only the essentials necessary to move the story forward. It's a weird time to be trying to indulge in this new iteration.

EDIT: In re-reading what I wrote it's worth noting that overall I'm really interested in the PF2 playtest, and like what I am seeing....but I am tempering this with exploring the feedback I see on other sites. For example: I love much of what is going on here, but it will matter not at all if the game's overall reception leaves it in the same dustbin of the game store shelves as Fantasy Craft (another exceedingly well designed 3.5 spinoff that no one plays).

A lot of the critical comments on some sites (such as appear to be from people who wouldn't play PF1 anyway, so ultimately PF2 needs to appease its core audience, and its lapsed audience (like myself); not the audience that never will play it, or landed with D&D 5E and cares not for any subsitutes. Paizo needs a game that will convince active PF players to keep going with them, and lapsed PF players like myself to return to the fold. That's a lot of bottled lightning there....but I feel like the playtest doc is about halfway to a decent spot toward capturing that lightning....can it make it the rest of the way?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Film Review: The Meg

The quick summary of The Meg is as follows: this is the Jason Statham movie that I can trick my wife and son in to seeing, because they love giant prehistoric sharks*, and I like the guy who makes bald dudes viable action heroes. It's a perfect mix!

The Meg is a very old school film, but it's got some interesting modern quirks. It's been adapted --loosely-- from Steve Alten's novels, specifically the first one, but you'll find maybe about 40% of the book's inspiration mixed in to the movie, which presents a more "everyman" hero in Jonas Taylor's character, and moves the action to the Pacific Rim where the Meg gets to terrorize various locales in Asia in a manner that leaves me pretty sure this movie is actually specifically aimed at the Chinese market, and if it does well in the US that will be a happy coincidence. Nothing wrong with this; some of the scenes involving the shark terrorizing the coastal beaches in China are evocative of the original Jaws and are great additions to the movie.

Many of the characters from the original book are loosely represented here, or adapted to new roles; if you read the book you may expect Jonas's ex-wife to be a more conniving sort of person but in the movie she's a deep sea researcher and also a good person. Ruby Rose shows up as (more or less) herself, once again feeling like the obligatory character designed to target multiple modern demographics with as little direct effort as possible. Also, no son of Jonas anywhere (if you read the book you know what I mean), and in fact the film often felt to me like the screenwriters liked their characters too much; not nearly as many people die in this film as you'd expect, and the tone of the film is much more along the line of "epic maritime adventure with a dash of SCIENCE!" and far less of the "horror, with big damn sharks."

Anyway....a completely authentic modern B movie. Which means it's a fine B- or maybe a C+, I just can't decide.  On the plus side, it was fun watching Statham play a role where he (SPOILER) technically, right up until the last confrontation, does not solve a problem with kung fu. And then he kinda sorta does (well, with a spear).

Fun Spoilery Bits:

1. The movie contrives a weird explanation for why Megs live in the deep undetected. It almost sounds plausible, but lacking much familiarity with oceanography I am sure somewhere deep sea researchers are groaning. Maybe even Steve Alten, after he cashes some checks.

2. Was it just me or was the underwater glass tunnel set for the research station really just there for the Meg to bite it?

3. Fat Kid in the water!

4. I wonder what sort of strength it would take to jam a spear several feet into the eye of a giant shark. Statham strength, that's what!

5. Rainn Wilson as Morris, the "Elon Musk of the sea, but dumber and more manipulative" was a perfect casting.

*It could also be the giant shark movie that my wife and son tricked me in to seeing because it had Jason Statham in it.....

Monday, August 6, 2018

Over The Edge Kickstarter

There are a lot of great Kickstarters going on now...too many, if you're not interested in spending all your money on potential next year releases....but one I feel I gotta back is the new edition of Over the Edge:

The original was a fantastic and rare gem, and I'd love to see what a modern iteration of the game of surreal weird adventure might look like.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Using GM Intrusions in Cypher System

GM Intrusions are pretty fun but it's easy to forget to include them....that required a mental shift in my mind from being the GM narrator to making sure I include specific GMIs that the players can choose to accept or spend to make go away. It's fun to do this, but easy to forget that I am supposed to be doing it.

If you're not familiar with Cypher System (or Numenera and The Strange), GM Intrusions are basically "events" a GM can present to a player, along with 2 experience points. The player can accept the event, take 1 XP, and then give the other XP to another player. Alternatively, the player can decide that the intrusion messes life up too much, pay 1 XP from their pool (if they have it), and deny the intrusion.

On average, the system encourages the GM to get in one intrusion per session per player, not counting free intrusions, which are Cypher's version of fumbles on a natural 1.

It's a fascinating inversion on the idea of players having plot points or the ability to influence the story......and it lets players earn XP for increased struggle, and spend XP to make problems go away if it's really going to complicate their lives.

As an example, in last night's game I used intrusions like this:

Player rolled a 1, so I got a free intrusion and stated that the arrow missed the player but killed his horse, forcing him to make a speed defense roll to avoid damage from the crash.

I pushed a GMI on another player who was playing a Speaker and trying to distract the big bad (a rakshasa with revenge in mind). I gave him a GMI where if he accepted, his distraction attempt was too good, and the Rakshasa was now focused on capturing him instead of killing the other PC who had angered her.

Another GMI came up when one player asked an ambivalent NPC who may be a villain for help....the GMI was that she would accept the offer and help, but it would be her way (using her vile abilities to kill the enemies in question), but also spreading her nano-plague in the process. If the PC refused, then she might have offered some nominal (but not damaging) assistance.

Still yet another player was pushing to take out two enemies with daggers after vaulting over the barricade. I used a GMI to state that she succeeded in killing one, but the dagger snapped in his neck.

It's almost like a game within a game, to see what PCs are willing to accept in terms of twists in exchange for the XP. It also encourages me to be even more insidious and inventive with the GMIs, given I have already had a habit of doing something like this as part of the routine narration, anyway.

I've ordered copies of the Asset Deck and Intrusion Deck from Monte Cook Games, interested in seeing how I can put them to use next session.

Cypher System Round Four: Falling For It

We're four sessions in to Cypher System now. Often around this time I might be enjoying elements of a game, disliking others, and usually I have a pretty good sense about how it's going to go for the long run. It took about 4-5 sessions to really decide I liked 13th Age, and a like amount to decide that despite what I love about Mythras it's specific combat mechanics just weren't enjoyable, or that after five sessions I thoroughly was intrigued and frustrated by Genesys Core all at once.

I'm four sessions in with Cypher System and I have come to the conclusion that this is a system that resonates really, really well with the type of GM I am. It's definitely a game which operates in the "GM design style" space, Gumshoe, FATE and most other games, there's a certain expectation of GM style that comes with Cypher System, and systems like this tend to resonate really well with those who can get in to their approach. For example, Gumshoe: GMs who disliked the Call of Cthulhu skill mechanic as a pass/fail (or played it that way) love Gumshoe because it moves to a different sort of mechanic that turns clues into a resource point system for the players. If you as a GM fail to understand how people had a problem with "failing forward" or moving the story along in the regular CoC rules, then Gumshoe's assertion it was a problem to be fixed will perplex you, and the mechanic presented may well be annoying. This is because it is a fix to help a specific kind of GM and style.

Cypher System is very much for GMs who don't want to sweat rules and want to have a system that focuses on the narrative and world-building elements. It's about catering to an experience, while providing a stronger set of mechanics for players to worry about. But the point where player and GM interact in the rules? That's one of the simplest functions of the game.

90% of the material for Cypher System (including Numenera and The Strange) is about inspiring the GM to delve deep in to interesting stories. 10% is about giving more stuff to players to work with. It seems to balance well, because most of my prep on this game as GM has been about world building, and for a system which operates on so few working pieces, it's really doing a fantastic job of giving me what I want.

It does lack in the context of "emergent complexity from mechanics," something I also like at times. D&D and especially Pathfinder do that really well: it's when the system builds deliberate complexity in its design to allow for all sorts of unexpected emergent gameplay elements. These two systems, and others, can do that exceedingly well. In Cypher System, it wants the emergent complexity to spring from the story being told, the areas being explored, and the actions spawned therefrom by the players.

As an example, in Pathfinder you might have a fight where an exciting triple crit drops a foe, or someone uses a feat in an interesting way, or a monster's ability has an unexpected effect. A save made when you didn't expect it, or a shot made that shouldn't, can lead to interesting narrative results spawning from mechanical effect.

In Cypher System, the emergent complexity spawns a bit from this, but more from the GM using intrusions judiciously, players taking advantage of assets and everyone riffing off of the story. An impressive combat maneuver might come from someone asking "Can I stand on my horse, turn around, and fire my bow while galloping?" and the GM sets a level and runs with it rather than explaining you are missing the following requisite feats. (In defense, D&D 5E can handle this improv pretty well, too.) In some games, stuff like this happens because you build toward it. In others, it happens because you are empowered to try (even if you fail).

Anyway, tonight, the fourth night, was a great deal of fun and I anticipate playing this game for a long time to come now. I'm already working on an SF and a superhero setting for future games. It's quite possibly replaced Savage Worlds as my go-to generic RPG--for now, at least.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pathfinder Playtest is Live

It's out, and downloadable here. The Core rulebook, bestiary, and module Doomsday Dawn are all there for free. Print versions are also showing up at your FLGS and online, and no doubt it's the talk of the town at GenCon.

I have a print copy of the rulebook, and so far it's an interesting dive into yet another alternate reality where Pathfinder morphed into a mythical alt 4E and now a mythical alt 5E. As I digest it, more discussion to come.

EDIT: I'll say this much, the new monster statblock is even tighter and more compressed than the Starfinder or Beginner Box statblocks.

EDIT #2: Why do all orcs now and forever more have to be cursed with getting back up after they should be dying? Thanks, 3.0!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Gaming on the Nintendo Switch - Skyrim, Zelda, Gear:Club and More

A few months ago I decided to take the dive and purchase the only console I didn't own, the Nintendo Switch. This was based on at least four factors:

1. The Switch had gotten consistently good reviews from most interested parties, and Tobold on his excellent blog talked enough about it (and Legend of Zelda) to convince me that this wasn't a game to miss, and also that maybe the Switch wasn't another Nintendo dud.

2. The concept of a portable Skyrim was overhwhelming my common sense.

3. I had come to the conclusion that the reason I rarely engaged with my old PS Vita was that the screen was too small, and that it had no easy way for me to hook it up to a TV (and that the one option that existed was difficult and limited in functionality).

4. Finally, it was the only gadget console I didn't own and that just wasn't gonna fly in my house!

Anyway, the Switch has proved to be a really fun device, and possibly even more fun, overall (even if in smaller bursts) than the Big Two that tend to dominate my house thanks to their specific offerings (Destiny 1 and 2 for the family, The Divsion for dad, Monster Hunter: World for mom and pretty much Everything Else but especially Lego games and Minecraft for Marcus). The Switch has instead held sway as a portable that works really, really well and doesn't induce eye strain like the PS Vita, as well as being sufficiently portable that we could pack the whole thing up, docking station included, and take it on trips where we hook it up to the hotel TV. It's battery life as a handheld has also been much better than I expected, and one evening my son managed to run it down after about five hours of play.

For my own purposes I played many games on it (and a lot of Skyrim and Xenoblade Chronicles 2) well before I dabbled into the deep waters that is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is a contentious game since everone else in the house also wants to play it, but do not want me playing it where I can accidentally spoil it for them. Luckily my wife's been playing a lot of GTAV on a special roleplay server (yeah, that's a real thing that exists) which keeps her distracted, and I caved in and got Minecraft for my son on the PC so he could play AlienvsPredator mods in the game which has left me safely ignored, and enjoying what I would describe as a more colorful, vibrant open world exploration experience that is like a mellowed out version of Skyrim....or maybe to use a further analogy, Zelda is to Skyrim like The Hobbit (the book) is to its successor The Lord of the Rings (also talking about the book here).

Picking it up and playing on the go is a lot of fun, but docking it and playing on the available TV is even better. Being able to pull the whole system and move it to a different TV is actually quite handy in my household, which is dominated by 2 UHD TVs and an HD TV (and two of these TVs are also serving as monitors). If my son wants to play on the PC, and I allow it, then I can move to the living room TV and plug in the Switch, no issues at all. If I want to lounge in the safety of the bedroom where there are no televisions and play anyway, the Switch makes this possible.

So far the only negatives I've encountered with the Switch are as follows:

720p Resolution is more normal with the Switch, and wouldn't be much of an issue if I didn't also have an Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. Playing a game like Doom or Skyrim on it for the portability is awesome, but if you happen to have Skyrim Remastered on PC or Xbox One X then it's hard to want to invest big screen time in the Switch version of either game. However, being able to play either game on the go is priceless.

The Switch also doesn't currently appear to have any "family sharing" feature similar to the Xbox, which means I am not sure if I get my son or wife a Switch of their own that they could play my games on their account. Currently I can log in to my son's Xbox One S and he can play my games, even if its on his account, so long as I'm logged in (with a few notable exceptions). Even the PS4 allows this, although it has fewer family-friendly features than the Xbox environment does, but the Switch seems to lock these to your account. However, there's an upcoming online service that Nintendo intends to implement which may well provide for a family account sharing option, so fingers crossed.

Finally, the Switch has limited memory options. I have a 128GB mini SD card loaded up, and I think I can get a 256 GB card down the road, but while many of the games are small loads of less than 1 GB in size, all the really good games tend to lean toward 10-25 GB in size, and that means having just a few from the digital store can eat up your space. This is a very personal issue, though, and if you're like me and tend to buy many more games than you can find time to play, then you may notice it....but if you're a more focused and non-obsessive collector type of gamer who likes to finish one game at a time, then you may never notice the issue at all.

So what games have I been enjoying the most on the Switch? Well, the one's I've found the most overall fun and time consuming so far, in no particular order, include:

Gear:Club Unlimited

This racing game is no Forza Horizon 3 but in terms of general racing games its a lot of fun with just the right sort of depth for a game that plays well in both big screen and handheld mode. In fact, if you play it in both modes it feels (to me) like the handling of your vehicle adjusts in response to the way you are playing, making handheld and pro controller play equally smooth and comfortable. The game is designed around buying and upgrading cars and your workshop and racing various circuits of different types; it's a "lite" version of Forza, but the result is a great experience, and playing this while on my recent airplane trip was quite satisfying (pro tip: playing a car racing game while the plane is ascending or descending is not a good feeling, though!)

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Yes, everyone has raved about this game already, but I will add my two cents and suggest that it's a game with the compelling style of play from Skyrim, but with a more faerie-tale driven element to it, and a escalating series of mechanical elements in the gameplay that one can easily obsess over. Nothing about this design fails to tick the checklist of "things I love in a game" and it's mythology makes for a healthy introduction to the Zelda universe for people who may not know much about it (and considering the last time I delved into a Zelda game it was the Ocarina of Time on the N64, I think I count). If you like Skyrim, and don't mind if most of the violence is exclusively aimed at various goblinoids and monsters, then you will love Breath of the Wild.


Duh, but also, yeah, Duh! The existence of this game on Switch was for me the main selling point on a Switch, if only just to see it work on a portable, and boy, does it work. The graphics are low on a full screen version, and you can tell it's at the low end of the scale compared to Skyrim Remastered on the other consoles, but on a small screen it's hard not to argue that it looks great. Even on a big screen the game is a lot of fun, although it lacks the workshop and ability to load mods, unfortunately.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Ordinarily this is a genre of Japanese RPG I might at best dive into for an hour and then get really annoyed with and move on from. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a different breed of game, however, in that it has meticulously careful voice acting with great voice actors who really improve the game over others of its type in dramatic ways, and the game is structured around expansive open world exploration mixed with focused quests in a way that I feel better reflects the genre and play people like than, say, Final Fantasy XV (which I feel tries to hard to be something it is not). I'm still plowing through this game (and likely will be for months to come) but it is definitely recommended.

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion

This is not a game I thought I'd be playing, and I bought it because I thought my son would get in to it (he's been obsessively playing the Switch version of Lego City Undercover). Instead, he got a little frustrated with this one after a while and dad tried it on a lark. Well, I can see why he got frustrated....the game has a really interesting mastery curve, and even lets you skip hard levels in the single player "Octo Expansion" campaign, although I have not bothered to do so. The design and feel of this game is what I'd call a version of Saints Row (stylistically) if it had been done by Nickelodeon with Cartoon Network and a dollop of Adult Swim mixed in for good measure; the storyline about humanoid inklings, half human/polymorphic squid things which generate copious quantities of ink that they use as both weapons and transportation is hard to fully digest as a concept, but if you just go with it and accept the game for what it is, there's a compelling hybrid shooter/platformer experience to be had that is a ton of fun.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions go to some remastered classics that are on the Switch, such as Bayonetta 1 and 2 (and you can only find Bayonetta 2 on Nintendo!), Resident Evil Revelations 1 and 2, Payday 2, and of course Doom. Doom is a game I have had my ups and downs with, but I have really had fun with it on the portable end....I don't bother to load it up for a big screen event (I have it on PC, after all) ordinarily, but as a fun thing to play in portable mode it's hard to beat.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Fantasy Trip Kickstarter!

Just a shout out to anyone not already backing this who might want to:

I'm in at the "I Want It All" level. This is one of those rare, momentous returns you just don't get to see ordinarily, comparable to a few years back when WotC started reprinting classic D&D and AD&D, but with the added bonus being that I bet, if it sells well, that Stave Jackson Games may continue to support The Fantasy Trip with new content.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Cypher System After Action Report Round Three - Hitting It's Stride

I ran the third session of Cypher System this weekend, set in the "Ensaria" fantasy/SF mashup I started developing in Genesys Core and am now expanding on (heavily) with Cypher System. Some new observations after the third session.....

The GM's side of the table is really, really easy in terms of mechanics. It's still important to keep up on the player end to help them out, but while we tend to find ourselves looking up specific abilities, actually adjudicating the rules is very simple, and after three sessions I've effectively got the mechanics memorized.

The players seem to be getting the hang of the mechanics, too, but they are also aware of the fact that the pool of points which powers abilities and makes tasks easier also keeps them alive. I've run some fairly intense combats, though, to help give them an idea of how much "survivability" their characters have....although tier one PCs in Cypher are fairly unskilled, they still are tough hombres. Against low level foes they can cut a swathe through the opposition without much effort, and a gang of mid level (3-5) foes can be a tough combat but still something they can overcome. I threw one very tough opponent against them late in the game that was meant to hammer home the power scale, and they definitely noticed it.

One new player was quick to notice how inverted the mechanical structure was; with very few static modifiers, much of the game's probability curve is entirely a matter of percentages, minus any imposed assets or spent pools. However, it's clear that with a bit of work you can make a character in this game who rapidly builds up zero cost assets (skill defense, for example) that can generally make life much easier for that character.

The notion that you can have automatic outcomes...foes you can't miss, or enemies who can't miss you, seemed a bit of a surprise to some at the table. I haven't played a system like this since Tunnels & Trolls. It's an interesting conceptual basically places a mechanical cap on the point at which enemies are worth engaging with; if the entire party, for example, were automatically able to overcome a low level foe then the low level opponent no longer needs to be treated like a relevant encounter and can be delegated to the status of a "and then you killed all the goblins" description. The reverse isn't true for foes too becomes a life or death moment for PCs to figure out what gimmick the GM expects them to find/use to make the enemy go away, or to flee with all due haste.

Unlike T&T, Cypher System is a but likelier to let PCs survive their first encounter with an overwhelmingly more powerful foe. If you play T&T, and the PCs accidentally attack an enemy they somehow they didn't get warning was too tough, it can potentially annihilate them in one round of combat.

The low emphasis on skills in Cypher continues to be a perplexing experience for all of us. I mean...the skills are there, yeah, but the game doesn't hand out many at tier one unless you pick the exact right combination of descriptor, type, flavor and focus.

Despite all of this, I am really enjoying the system, and look forward to continuing this campaign for as long as everyone is willing. I am also thinking about developing a new science fiction setting for Cypher System to see how it fares with a genre shift.

Monte Cook Games did announce a second edition is in the works, for late 2019. It's part of the Kickstarter for "Your Best Game Ever," located here. As Monte Cook Kickstarters go this one is almost reasonable, with a $100 buy in for the Best Game Ever book and 2nd Edition Cypher System. I may buy in to it if things look good financially closer to the end of the Kickstarter.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Gamma World 4th Edition Print Quality Review

I'm back! After a prolonged absence I (and the family) have returned from a combination vacation and work event, in which we took off to Portland and then Long Beach, Washington for a few days, and then returned to Portland where my wife and son enjoyed the Zoo and other attractions while I attended a conference. Anyway.....

On returning from our trip I found lots of goodies waiting, including the print edition of Gamma World 4th edition, the version of Gamma World which was released in conjunction with AD&D 2nd Edition. This edition eschewed the mechanical changes of prior editions, which in 3rd edition aimed for percentile stats and colorful charts to resolve actions, and in 1st and 2nd edition was a bit more like a strange spin off of D&D in terms of mechanics. 4th Edition got back to this idea, aiming for something that definitely felt inspired by the design direction of AD&D 2nd edition.

Anyway, the good news is that this POD edition is quite readable, and the copy from scan is very clean and easy to read. I've had some bad luck lately with old scans, most notably with the blurry and unpleasant to look at D&D Rules Encyclopedia, but Gamma World 4th is far superior in appearance and shows no bleed through, as well as good, crisp print.

Anyway, if you're on the fence about a copy, I think this one's a safe bet!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pathfinder 2.0 Pregenerated Characters on EnWorld

Check them out, but these sample character sheets of iconic Pathfinder heroes in the 2.0 edition of the game are actually really nice, clean layouts and the information on them is both easy to follow and familiar in a way I like. Five have been posted so far with a sixth on the way, but here's the links:

Elven Rogue Merisiel 
Human Paladin Seelah
Human Fighter Valeros
Human Cleric Kyra
Goblin Alchemist Fumbus

Of note is the second page on each character sheet with specific rules details, and the inflated hit points for level 1 PCs....about twice what they normally would get. Beyond that, the skill ranges suggest that the skill system is not getting overly nerfed (near as I can tell) which is good, because a key selling point for me on Pathfinder remains its more robust skill system, something I feel D&D can't really compete with.

I'm increasingly looking forward to Pathfinder 2.0, and eagerly await the Playtest book when it is released.

Gamma World 4th Edition Back in Print

WotC just released a reprint edition of Gamma World 4th Edition, the 1990's edition of the game that came out roughly around the time AD&D 2nd Edition was in full swing. This is the one edition I never really got in to (for inexplicable reasons but a lot had to do with me loving GW 3rd edition much more and not wanting to move over) so it's really cool to get a chance to see a copy without paying an arm and a leg on Ebay....anyway, check it out!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Notes on the Cypher System Part 2 - Two Things it Needs

After only two sessions of Cypher System I can safely say there are a few things that the books does need, and from studying other resources and fan sites this isn't just me talking, either. Given that Monte Cook has announced plans for a Cypher System 2nd Edition, I'm hoping the following are considered in the next iteration:

Equipment - more of it, with more guidance on making it

Cypher System doesn't put a lot of emphasis on equipment, but it's still there. The game provides a lot of detail on cyphers (the one-use "magic items" of the system), talks about artifacts, and then provides some equipment lists for different genres. On the surface it seems enough, but when I was running the game simple questions like, "How much is horse barding?" require you the GM to start pulling numbers out of your ass if you hadn't thought of that before hand.*

Games like Pathfinder may be so complete they are overwhelming, but they are also so complete that you never need to make up the answer to a simple question like the cost of horse barding.

Likewise, after playing Genesys Core recently, I rather liked how that system had lots of interesting descriptors/traits for gear that could come in to play. Cypher System has gear that does stuff, and provides artifact rules, but in many ways it has some serious gaps in providing the GM with more than cursory direction on making your own stuff....or providing enough basic stuff for each genre.

For do you reflect a rocket launcher in a modern setting for Cypher System? Is this just a heavy weapon that deals 6 points of damage? Because that doesn't sound like a really impressive weapon when deployed in actual play. Is it an artifact that does a lot more? Probably, but the mechanics of the system are not offering me a lot of guidance on how to model that in a way that isn't also possibly game breaking. Cypher System has some interesting gaps like this. Indeed, the rocket launcher question I had is why I decided to try it out with the fantasy genre first.

Anyway, my wish list for Cypher System 2E is for a 20-30 page section on equipment, with better guidance on building non-cypher equipment, and a fantastic, detailed "default" list of equipment and costs by core genres. Like, ten times more robust than what is in the current book.

Playable Fantasy and SF Species

It looks like the intent of Numenera was that species a player could play would be part of their descriptor, and this is how individual species are statted for play as characters. The result however is that the character gets defined by a species descriptor and has to ignore all the other cool "personality" descriptors. Why can't you be a Fast Elf or a Witty Dwarf? In theory no reason at all, if the GM lets everyone pick two descriptors, but that requires modding the game.

The simplest solution, of course, is to add a Species/Kindred descriptor to the list, and let people pick from that. Add a default "human" descriptor and problem solved. Or, allow for species descriptors that have more flex to them and let you stack/combine with other descriptors in a manner similar to how Flavors stack with Types.

The genres could use a few more baseline examples, as well. 4-6 examples per relevant genre would be greatly helpful.

There may be other things that I feel Cypher 2E could benefit from.....more later!

*I know there are two modes of thought on this in RPGs today. Systems either treat money as an abstraction or a reality, and you either track it or you don't. Some systems give you a mix....Call of Cthulhu's Credit Rating skill lets you abstract some big expenses while still providing precise costs for items. Cypher System doesn't raise this question, except when it does (e.g. Gods of the Fall provides a money system while core rules just say "pick some items.") In the games I run I could just abstract it and say, "Your patron gave you enough money to get what you want," but I am of the school of thought that people (and myself) like actually knowing how much money we just found; treasure is, indeed, its own reward and part of why people play. Abstracting it makes it less interesting and less useful as a feature of the game, and doesn't work well with long term campaigning. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Cypher System Notes on the Actual Play Experience

Technically this is our second night trying out Cypher System, but the first night exclusively dedicated to the new system. I'm using the actual Cypher System (generic ruleset) as opposed to Numenera or The Strange, but based on reading all the giant mess of rule systems together it's pretty clear that the experience of one iteration of Cypher is fairly applicable across the table.

Anyway, Cypher System is striking me as one of the simplest game systems, mechanically, that I've encountered out side of the OSR experience, especially for the GM side of the table. The gamemaster experience for Cypher System is completely different from the player experience. Here's an example:

A Player in Cypher needs to do the following:
--manage his resource pool of stats to advantage; don't use up too much, don't hoard too much
--Keep an eye on effort and edge and apply them
--track skills and modifiers which provide assets to your checks
--roll for all attacks and all defenses (in Cypher, all dice are rolled by the player for game actions; the GM pretty much has to roll percentiles on encounter dice and cypher tables and that's it)

A GM does the following:
--figure out creature level and apply any creature abilities
--Adjudicate the level of difficulty for tasks and apply specific spot rules (falling, drowning, etc.)
--run the story

"Sure," you say, "but running the story takes a lot more time and effort in RPGs than anything a player does." But nope, you'd be wrong.....Cypher System actually strips away so much of the mechanical element normally handed to the GM in other games (like, as in most RPGs) that this game's GM-facing rules feel almost anemic.

At one point during the Saturday night game a question of recover arose the pool cost for a task, and the players were explaining it, so I had to remind them that it didn't matter....this was an NPC so the rule of thumb for the GM is "Do what is needed and makes sense for the story, and eyeball the level of the creature if in doubt."

I haven't seen another game system with such a simplified creature mechanic since Tunnels & Trolls. Seriously. T&T has at its most essential one monster stat: the Monster Rating. You define the monster's hit points, attack dice and adds from this number, and essentially that's all you need. In Cypher System it uses the monster level, which gives you it's health, damage and attack/defense target number....and is all you essentially need. Both systems let you add special abilities and details, but the base stat is completely derived from a single number.

Players are on the opposite end of this, with a mess of pools, edges, an effort stat, skills, abilities, limits and other features which all work toward a point-spending resource depletion mechanic in which you can choose whether or not to spend resources (at the risk of not having them later) in exchange for making tasks easier. It has some advantages and some flaws I can already detect from a couple play sessions as follows.

Players don't need to spend resources unless they feel the need; if you have the sort of players who are low-risk, or who are more worried about keeping health high (health comes from the same pool as other actions) then they may not feel motivated to push the envelope and as a result a game could feel a lot like just rolling D20s and hitting the GM-set target numbers.

There's also a lot of disincentivization to spend your pools of points. When you take damage, it comes out of your might, speed and intellect pools. So spending these points to improve your odds of success is, for Cypher System, literally spending your hit succeed, in a manner of speaking, by taking damage to yourself. Special abilities (such as magic like effects) also cost pool points (usually intellect) thus making this an issue on every level.

The game's focus on risk assessment means you rarely have static modifiers (but gaining some skills will count). With so few static modifiers, there's a problem, to some degree, with how you visualize your character. If you assume a lot of Might in your pool equals a strong character, but that strong character is played "safe" and fails a lot of rolls for failure to exert effort, then what's really going on here? In some ways the mechanic is inventive genius....a resolution mechanic with fatigue/stress inherently baked in to the game itself in a manner that can not be ignored and is also sufficiently easy to grasp that it doesn't feel like a chore as most fatigue/encumbrance systems tend to.

Something I also thought about was the problem of cheating on die rolls. As a GM I roll up front and for all to see, but I don't enforce that of my players at the table. If you think there's a cheater, it may show up in this game system more prominently if you have the occasional player who suddenly hits every time, dodges every time, and always somehow manages to win. And since the book-keeping is entirely on the player side, it can mean the GM must demonstrate a lot of trust in the accuracy (and honesty) of their players. Conversely, the players must "know" the system well enough to understand what they are doing and not muck up how pool, edge and effort work together.

Cypher System also emphasizes a mechanical process that aims at descriptors, types and foci that are used to identify characters and provide the operational packages with which characters function. It seems to provide a lot of stuff for players to pick from and work with, but time will tell if that is enough choice for my veteran gamers to enjoy building their PCs. Some criticism I have read of the system is that it is a "wide but shallow" experience. I don't know what those reviewers were comparing it to....right now on the face of it Cypher System seems to offer more overall content and character design options than most other recent popular RPGs do (that aren't D&D or Pathfinder, anyway).

The biggest concern I have after our two sessions of play so far comes down to the fact that as a GM I am really used to game systems built around verisimilitude. Cypher System is a mechanical experience designed to emulate a stories, which is great, but it's the kind of game where you, as GM, have to prefer to say "I know how this goes down," for the GM-controlled elements of play, and not instead say, "I'd like to see what the system determines here." It's a subtle point, and one I seem to be comfortable experimenting with right now, but for me it was a bit weird not having some die-determinants in more of my story options. As a GM I can see where Cypher System was built from the ground up to remove as much perceived work from the GM's table as possible. It's a very different experience from D20 systems, to contrast. But I really like verisimilitude in my games, and it's really interesting (and a bit outside my comfort zone) to play a game like this where every game element feels like a suggestion or inference rather than a hard-coded example.

Anyway, I'm running Cypher System on the weekends for the foreseeable future, using it for a fantasy campaign with sci fi elements, and plan to keep playing it until (like Genesys Core before) I feel I have decided I like it, love it, hate it, or just want to go on to the next shiny new system. We'll see what happens.....but I am cautiously optimistic here. I like how it liberates the GM, but wonder if after 10-20 games the simplicity of creatures and NPCs will leave me wishing I had more mechanical elements or procedural verisimilitude at my fingertips to let the system surprise me as well as the players. We'll see.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Five of the Best Realms of Chirak Articles (according to the author)

I was poking through the years of this, 8 of them!....and realized I've got some good stuff floating around out there that I'd all but forgotten. Here are five of the cooler articles I unearthed and which I frankly am rather proud of.....

5. Adapting the Alien Universe to Traveller (May 2017)

A quick and dirty but very robust adaptation of the Alien franchise right up through Alien: Covenant. I feel like I should run this.

4. Senempar, City of Shadows for Pathfinder (March 2011)

This was the basis for a campaign I ran for about two and a half years, and the home city of the adventuring party that went from levels 1 to roughly 14. Many good memories, especially of taking down the enigma of the Red God!

3. Pergerron (Starting April 2014)

Now I'm cheating by linking to an Index, but of the various worlds built as exercises on this blog, Pergerron was especially interesting. The setting started as my tribute to classic B/X D&D and eventually morphed into something I used in actual play with Magic World and then D&D 5E. One of the best parts of the setting was the region of the Vosjin Wood, a haunted netherland bordering the mortal realm and the Primordial lands. A lengthy series of encounter write-ups (starting here) were some of the most fun I've had in setting up a weird forest.

Fun fact: I adapted the Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle to Pergerron!

2. Temple of the Whispering Dark (April 2012)

Dual-statted for BRP (Magic World) and T&T, this module remains one of the coolest scenarios I've written which I have never managed to run, mainly because I've never found a way to squeeze the world of Sarvaelen in to my gaming slots, nor decided what system I truly wanted to use for it. Still, it's a great scenario.

1. 28 Days in Savage Space (started February 2014)

You can find it all on the Savage Worlds site index, but before The Last Parsec arrived I was deeply inspired by the fast, furious and fun structure of the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion to create a new setting from whole cloth....or in this case, I found a few dozen random cool picture on the internet and used them as the springboard for creating the Savage Space setting, which I have now used for three Savage Worlds SF campaigns. Definitely some of the most fun I've had writing on the blog, and something I must do again, soon.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Star Wars 30th Anniversary RPG Special Edition Has Arrived

It's here!

This, of course:

This is, for many (myself included) what we tend to think of when we think of RPGs and Star Wars. No funny dice, just six siders all over the place. The original rules which founded for many the love of the West End Game D6 System which was such an effective rule system for space opera gaming.

This edition is much more accessible and easy to use (in my not so humble opinion) than the current iteration of the game, and surprisingly in its relative simplicity compared to RPGs of the modern era manages to be rather flexy....I can see using this ruleset to run Rebellion Era games with no need to spend too much effort revising the content of these books.....indeed, the majority of the contents of the 1st Edition Star Wars RPG laid the groundwork for not only the Expanded Universe to come, but most of what survived the Disney era culling, too.

In terms of the replication, the books are very precise, including the color plates and black and white mix, and the quality appears to be spot on. I don't know how they did it (contrast with what WotC had to go through to recreate AD&D 1st edition) but it has worked. The only complaint I have is the spines seem a bit weak to me. Also, it says 30th anniversary on the cover slip (missed the mark slightly), but the back covers show "40" for the 40th anniversary of the original film. Make up your minds!

I'm not expecting FFG to support this game beyond this special edition print, but I am really hoping that fan support will swell once more on ways to either convert FFG content or simply stat out new stuff seen in the new movies (which for this edition means roughly 7 feature films, two "canon" cartoon series, a cartoon movie and probably some stuff I'm missing)....and all that ought to be easy to adapt to this edition, because when you look at the total content out for the original Star Wars RPG on it's date of release (check out the Sourcebook's bibliography) we're talking the original 3 movies, 3 novelizations, and 6 tie-in books from the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian series (Splinter of the Mind's Eye and the Marvel comics of the era were handily overlooked.)

Anyway.....if I do any Star Wars gaming today, it's going to be with this ruleset.

Weird Things - Pathfinder Resurgence, Return of RTS and Strategy Games, Delving into Descent

My wife might chalk it all up to "midlife crisis" stuff, but I've been amused to see that lately the following things have been transpiring in my personal hobby space, whatever that is:

Pathfinder is back, and I am happy it is. It helps that the group which I've been running it for (the same gang that also plays Starfinder) is playing the game purely for fun as an RPG, and we're not seeing the old escalating "char gen min/max minigame" conundrum that left my love of Pathfinder in the dust years ago.

It's even more amusing that with the exception of some newer books, I'm relying entirely on my Pocket Edition collection to run the current game. Who knew I'd get some use out of them???

In the tradition of the Starfinder game (in which the plot has, up to the last stopping point, been closely tied to the plot of the 1980 Conan the Barbarian movie....but, you know, in Spaaaace) I am also alluding to a plot origin in the Pathfinder plot. Should any of my players read this, I'll just state that it is at least peripherally derivative of Romeo and Juliet, but that should be obvious already. "She was the spirit priestess of the Catfolk god, he was the strapping human cleric of the One True God. Their love was never meant to be.....but these fine gentlemen will help unite the two lovers, for the right price!"

Also, you should check out Planar Adventures. This is the book I really really REALLY wanted back in 2010 after the first two Pathfinder rule books came out. At last, finally, it has arrived. Maybe I'll revive my 2010 planar campaign again.....hmmmm. Either way, this is officially the last hard cover book for Pathfinder (I think) before the Pathfinder Playtest and subsequent release of 2.0 in 2019. Fortunately, the rules content is minimal (more or less) so it will have some utility with the new edition for setting value!

I've also tried some board gaming, something traditionally anathema for me. Realms of Terrinoth was interesting enough that it prompted me to grab Descent: Journeys in to the Dark with the intent of teaching it to my son. As it happens, this became vaguely possible because Fantasy Flight also has a Descent App you can download that acts as the gamemaster for your board game experience, letting the players go co-op against the app.

Without the app, I'd have probably decided Descent was a better utility for map pieces and minis for a D&D or Pathfinder game (or 13th Age, T&T, etc.). With the app, I can see a future for it, although in the time it took poor old dad to figure things out my son grew a bit bored and went back to Minecraft. Sigh. Why is it I can read hundreds of pages of RPG rules and find delight, but board game mechanics make my head hurt? My theory is that too much abstraction is actually outside the deep but comforting grooves of world sim mechanical structuring that RPGs offer. Abstraction in mechanics is actually harder for me to figure out as a result.

Despite this, I seem to have Runebound, Imperial Assault, and Fallout in the wings (my kid is figuring out how easy it is to convince me to pick up games he drags off the shelf).

Finally, I've been a bit annoyed with computer and video gaming in general, though still oddly driven to enjoy the simple focus of the Switch.* That said, I loaded up on war games from the recent Steam Summer Sale, and have been unexpectedly enjoying the likes of X-Com: Enemy Unknown (amazing game), Total War: Warhammer, and 40K Dawn of War series. Also, Starcraft II which I already owned but a convenient sale at Blizzard let me add the stuff I was missing.

I'm not prone to enjoying RTS type games except in intermittent time in this domain was all but exhausted back in the glory days of Warcraft 2, Civ 1 and 2, and the original Command & Conquer. Yet here I am winning (against the PC for now) in Dawn of War, Total War, and others. I've accidentally picked up more stuff on sale than I'll ever have time for, so I need to test the buffet, if you will, and pick wisely. Damn you Steam Sales!

Still, check out this video on Warhammer: Total War II to see why I got sucked in. I'm working through the first game now, but primarily because I am dying to try out the Tomb Kings expansion....see here:

Great stuff!

*Nintendo Switch, for the old farts out there nodding sagely about the need for better discipline. Specifically, the elegant Junior Edition of Skyrim I like to call The Legend of Zelda, but in particular that insatiable, unrelenting Witch Who Wears Her Hair and Casts Magic with Her Gun Heels madness that is Bayonetta. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Kickstarter Countdown for Vaults of K'Horror (Tunnels & Trolls)

I'm really excited to see this one, T&T needs more GM modules:

Chip in! This is a no brainer for T&T fans. According to the latest post, if they hit the stretch goal then the map goes big and poster sized! This will work perfectly with the stretch goal minis rules. I've actually had a great deal of fun using maps and minis with T&T in the past, and the flexibility of the game makes them a lot of fun.

Monday, July 2, 2018

50 Quick and Dirty Fantasy Monsters for Cypher System

Excuse the formatting, although given the simple nature of Cypher's mechanics there may be some tweaking I need to do here.....but in anticipation of running the next Cypher System game I prepped a range of the usual suspects to have a wealth of encounter options as needed. In doing this list I utilized my rough guidelines on Pathfinder conversion, so, here you go...

Cypher System Fantasy Bestiary

Ant, Giant Level 1 (3)
Health 3, Armor 1 point, damage 1, Poison bite Level 4 (effect: cannot spend from Might Pool for 4 combat rounds)
Giant ants are larger than dogs and can be a countryside danger.

Barghest Level 3 (18)
Health 9, Armor 1 (magic ignores), damage 3, Abilities include ability to charm an enemy at short range for one minute (level 3), induce despair level 3 (all pool costs increase by 1 for one minute), can teleport a short distance as a move action each round. GMI: can devour a humanoid corpse in one round to grow, gaining a level. At level 6 becomes a greater barghest and gains ability to teleport and attack in same round.
These other dimensional monsters are superficially related to goblins and seeks such kind to rule as their leader once they transform.

Basilisk Level 4 (12)
Health 12, damage 4, Turns enemies to Stone with a gaze Level 5 (14); coating a fresh victim in the basilisk’s blood within one hour reverses the effect.
These reptilian lone predators with six eight legs are often recognized for the decaying statues that litter their lairs.

Burrower Ankheg Level 3 (9)
Health 9, Armor 1 point, Damage 3, Acid Spit short range, Level 3, deals 4 damage
A large insectoid burrowing creature that terrorizes farmers and eats cattle.

Carnivorous Ape 3 (9)
Health 9, Damage 3
These apes are known for their taste for flesh and are a threat to regions with warmer forest climates.

Dire Bat Level 2 (6)
Health 6, damage 2
Giant cave bats are a nuisance but can be a threat in numbers as they seek to drink the blood of victims.

Grizzly Bear Level 3 (9)
Health 9, Damage 3, GMI: Maul Attack next round deals 4 damage and knocks the target prone.
Grizzly bears are common in the wilderness but tend to be territorial in the spring.

Fire Beetles 2 (6)
Health 6, Damage 2, GMI: the beetle is a flash beetle variant (Level 3) which can cause blindness for one minute.
Fire beetles are glowing dog-sized monsters and their abdomens can be cut free to serve as bottled light for several days.

Behir (Linnorn Beast) Level 5 (15)
Health 20, damage 5, breathes electricity for short range Level 6 to dodge, 6 damage, regenerates every 1D6 rounds; GMI Behir can grab a target and constrict for 6 damage, restraining target (Level 5 might check to escape)
These sinuous serpentine drakes are common in deserts and are often brought out by great thunderstorms.

Dire Boar Level 3 (9)
Health 12, Damage 3, GMI: attempts an immediate gore attack at level 4, deals 4 damage
Wild peccaries can be dangerous but the primeval dire boar is a major threat to hunters.

Bugbear Level 2 (6)
Health 6, Damage 2, Stealth ability Level 4; a bugbear which has surprise attacks at level 4 and deals 4 damage during the surprise round.
Bugbears are larger goblin cousins, reviled for their murderous ways.

Land Shark (Bulette) Level 4 (12)
Health 16, damage 4, Leap Attack Level 6, deals 4 damage to all nearby enemies where it lands. GMI: Savage Bite at Level 5 (15) and 5 damage
These beasts may have been created by some mad wizard, and are fearsome predators in hill lands.

Catfolk Level 1 (3) comoners or 3 (9) warriors
Health 3 or 9, damage 1 or 3 unarmed or 4 by weapon, Nimble: Level 3 or 5 defense to avoid being hit. GMI: deal +2 damage to a magical foe. Sprinters: catfolk may move and take an action each round. GMI: the catfolk move out of sight quickly, and target must make an intellect check Level 4 to keep track or the catfolk is considered stealthed.
Catfolk proliferate through rainforests and mountainlands in tribal groups which demonstrate a deep respect for the lands around them. They avoid city life but some loners take to it quite well.

Centaur Level 2 (6)
Health 9, damage 4 (spear or sword) or 2 (hooves); GMI: the centaur attempts to trample a target (level 3) and knock them prone.
Centaurs are roaming hunters and nomads, living primitive but fruitful lives. They do not get along well with humans and other two legged species usually.

Choker Level 2(6)
Health 6, damage 2, Strangling Attack Level 3 (9), the choker deals 3 damage per round and grabs on to the target, which must make a Level 3 might roll to dislodge the beast.
These aberrations are grotesque subterranean predators which move with a rubbery, boneless gait.

Cloaker Level 3 (9)
Health 9, damage 3, Moan Attack Level 4 Intellect defense (effect will be fear (flee 2 rounds), nausea (fall prone 1D4+1 rounds), stupor (become immobile for 5 rounds) or unnerve (-1 modifier to attack rolls); after 6 rounds in the moaning area on failed defense rolls subject goes in to a trance until moaning stops. Shadow Shift (cloaker level goes to 4 against attacks), Engulf Level 4 (wrap man sized or smaller foe in its wings; Level 4 Might to break free, otherwise take 4 damage per round from blood drain); GMI: uses an additional ability as a free action.
These underworld predators look like evil flying manta rays and are feared for their cunning intelligence and ability to manipulate the goblinoid races.

Derro Level 2 (6)
Health 6, damage 2 (daggers and hand crossbows), Madness (level 3 defense against intellect attacks), Poison Use (Level 4 poison on weapons, deals 4 additional damage), vulnerable to sunlight (Level 1 defense in sunlight); Spells: induce darkness for short range at will; Dazing Sound Burst (Level 4 or become disoriented, -1 penalty on rolls for 1 round).
The dwarves of the deep, these sadistic creatures may have fled to the underworld long ago to escape a greater threat on the surface. They have been warped and twisted in the image of the Old Gods.

Doppelganger Level 2 (6)
Health 6, damage 2, Shape Change ability, Level 6 (18) to detect that they are not the target of their shape change. Mimicry (Level 5) to emulate the behavior of the subject of its disguise.
Doppelgangers look like evil, pale mannequins with blue tongues, pupiless eyes and blue blood. They mimic and replace targets that they seek to take over the lives of.

Giant Eagle Level 1 (3)
Health 3, Damage 1
These cunning forest predators mostly keep to themselves except to protect their young.

Elephant Level 5 (15)
Health 20, damage 5, trample attack Level 6 in short range, 6 damage and knocks all targets prone.
Elephants are useful herd animals but a bull elephant can be dangerous in the wild.

Giant Frog Level 1 (3)
Health 3, Damage 1, Sticky Tongue Level 2 Speed attack, against a short range target will grapple and restrain the target (level 2 Might to break free).
Giant frogs are a tasty nuisance.

Gnolls Level 1 (3) commoners or Level 2 (6) warriors
Health 3 or 6, damage 1 or 2 unarmed or 4 (spear)
Gnolls are hyena-headed beast men who dwell in arid plains and deserts. They are territorial but not fearsome unless they outnumber a target. They often train hyenas as guard pets.

Griffon Level 3 (9)
Health 12, damage 3, pouncing attack Level 4, 4 damage and either knocks foe prone or grabs foe in claws (level 3 might roll to break free).
These flying chimerical beasts are part eagle and part lion. They can be tamed as mounts with time and effort.

Harpies Level 4 (12)
Health 12, damage 4, Alluring Song Level 5 Intellect attack (captivates all targets within long range, compelling them to move toward the harpy, regardless of obstacles or cliffs in the way; new attack each round; once the song is resisted the target is immune for one day).
Harpies are malevolent, cursed half-eagle, half-women who lure humanoids to their doom with their songs, usually by getting them to walk over a chasm or cliff to fall to their doom.

Hell Hound Level 2 (6)
Health 6, damage 2, fire breath that attacks short range at Level 4 and deals 4 fire damage every 4th round; Stealthy at Level 4.
Hell Hounds are believed to come from some abyssal plane of existence, and appear to be smouldering corpse dogs.

Hobgoblins Level 2 (3)
Health 6, Armor 2 points chain and shield, damage 2 unarmed or 4 sword, Stealthy at level 3 without armor.
Slightly larger cousins of the goblin, the hobgoblins are more militant and aggressive, and often subjugate goblin clans to their will (but they will defer to bugbears or barghests).

Hydra (lesser) Level 3 (9)
Health 3 per head, damage 3, multiple attacks (one per head, usually 7-9) in short range, fast healing lets it regenerate uncauterized wounds at 1 point of health per round; if it takes 3 damage a head is severed, and two rounds later it regenerates 2 new heads from the stump. Only cauterizing a stump stops this.
Hydras dwell in swamps and mountains and their regenerative ability makes them insanely dangerous. They are lone creatures.

Lizardfolk Level 1 (3) commoner, Level 2 (6) warrior
Health 3 or 6, damage 1 or 2 unarmed or 4 by weapon
Lizardfolk are part of an ancient reptilian race that may once have spanned the continent long ago before falling to barbarism.

Manticore Level 3 (9)
Health 12, damage 3, spike tail attacks all in short range at Level 3 Speed attack for 3 damage to all targets, but may do so only 1D6 times per day before regenerating spikes.
The manticore is part lion, part human, and part dragon. It is a lone beast and wanders the badlands and mountains hunting prey.

Mohrg Level 7 (21)
Health 21, Damage 7 (tongue with paralysis), paralysis is Level 7 might or become paralyzed for 3 minutes. A creature killed by a mohrg will rise as a zombie under the mohrg’s control.
Mohrg are terrifying undead spawned from serial killers who continue their practice in undeath. They attack with a tongue like appendage forged of their rotten flesh that writhes in their ribcage.

Mummy Level 4 (12)
Health 15, damage 4, Despair Level 5 Intellect defense or all in range become paralyzed with fear for 4 rounds. Mummy Rot Level 4 Might defense on taking damage or target begins to rot, losing ability to replenish Might Pool and dropping 1 point per day until cured or hits zero and turns to dust. Anything which can remove a curse will lift the mummy rot. Mummies take double damage from fire.
Mummies of ancient civilizations which are jealous of what they took with them to their ancient graves can be a major threat to tomb robbers.

Oni Level 4 (12)
Health 15, damage 4 unarmed or 6 (large sword), change shape at will (level 5 intellect to detect), darkness in short range at will, turn invisible (level 5) at will, can charm an enemy for one minute (Level 4 Intellect), can turn to a fine mist once per day, can attack with a burst of cold Level 5, 5 damage, to up to three targets in short range.
Fearsome opponents related to ogres, the oni are other dimensional invaders with an inscrutable purpose. 

Owlbear Level 3 (9)
Health 12, damage 3, GMI: mauling attack (get free second attack and knock foe prone if hit)
These aberrations were no doubt the creation of some wizard, or escapees from another dimension, with hideous skull-like faces and eyes reminiscent of owls, and the bodies or large bears.

Pseudodragon Level 1 (3) (also called Faerie Dragons)
Health 3, damage 1, poison sting level 4 does 1 damage and induces sleep for 1 minute; GMI: also has invisibility and uses it.
Psuedodragons are not believed to be true dragons but may be natural creatures which escaped the Arboreal Kingdoms of the Faerie. They are cunning and intelligence beasts, and can be taught to speak fluently.

Rakshasa Level 5 (15)
Health 15, damage 5, trained in magic (can cast various magical effects, including a lightning bolt for level 6, 6 damage to short range targets, shape change at will, invisibility, and can induce 2 points of magical armor as an action; may have other effects and cyphers). Detect Thoughts as Level 6 Intellect defense to read a crature’s mind within long range.
The rakshasa are an ancient race which has learned to hide from the young races who fear them for their power. They are manipulators and deceivers working behind the scenes to influence history. They are noted for being able to shape change very effectively, but they cannot disguise their hands, which always face backwards from a normal man (Level 4 Intellect check to notice this if actively searching).

Roc Level 7 (21)
Health 45, damage 7, can grab a target it strikes and lift it in to the air to be dropped later.
These enormous birds are mostly solitary predators but can be found and trained as effective creatures of war. They are large enough to grab and lift elephants.

Giant Scorpions Level 3 (9)
Health 9, damage 3, poison on attack Level 4 might check or take 4 additional damage; GMI: can constrict with the claws as Level 4 attack for 4 damage and restraining target, which must make 4 Might check to escape on its round or continue to take damage.
Giant scorpions can be found in deserts, forests and the plains hunting small to medium sized prey.

Shadows Level 2 (6)
Health 6, Damage 2, Strengh Drain Level 3 or target takes 3 Might damage and cannot recover that amount to the pool for 24 hours. A Target reduced to 0 might by a shadow becomes a shadow itself.
These undead beings are disincorporated spirits or vestiges of evil beings that seek to drain the life energy from targets and make more of itself. Shadows luckily often seem rooted to a haunted location.

Shambling Mount Level 5 (15)
Health 15, Damage 5, and a target struck must make a Level 4 might check or be trapped in its mass, taking addition 5 constriction damage until it escapes. Lighting/electrical damage heals instead of wounds shambling mounds.
These strange beings of swamps and woodland may be naturally occurring manifestation of nature spirits but they often act like any other predator and demonstrate a relatively low level of intelligence, albeit somewhat smart.

Tengu Level 1 (3) or warriors level 2 (6)
Health 3 or 6, damage 1 or 2 unarmed or 4 points with swordss, Tengu can learn most languages quickly, and are excellent with swords.
The birdfolk of the land are ravenlike creatures with a cunning intelligence, ability to learn languages easily, some flight and a natural aptitude for swordsmanship.

Troglodytes Level 2 (6)
Health 6, damage 2 unarmed or 4 by weapon, natural stench exudes in short range and everyone in that area makes a Level 3 Might check or become nauseated, increasing attack and defense levels to 3 against foes in that area.
The subterranean lizardfolk known as troglodytes are particularly vile and repulsive in their smell which serves to warn off neighbors to their presence.

Trolls Level 3 (9)
Health 12, damage 3 with claws, 6 with weapons, GMI: rend attack at level 4, deals 4 damage to up to two immediate targets. Trolls regenerate 2 health per round, and only fire or acid stop this.
Trolls are devious and cunning but asocial, and dislike most other creatures, dwelling instead in areas where they can force payment for protection or tolls, or set up ancient caverns filled with traps.

Vanara Level 1 (3) commoners or level 3 (9) warriors
Health 3 or 9, damage 1 or 3 unarmed or 4 (bo staff), excellent climbers
Vanara are simian humanoids of deep intelligence who obsess over their appearance and enjoy raunchy humor. They are rife in deep rain forests and jungles where they form large tribes.

Vargoulle Level 2 (6)
Health 2, damage 2, Vargoulle’s Kiss Level 4 Intellect Check or the target will turn in to a vargoulle within 24 hours unless a curse is removed; on a bite target is Level 4 might check or take 4 extra poison damage; Shriek attack Level 3 Intellect or become paralyzed for 2 minutes.
These horrifying demonic heads with wings are a kind of infernal outsider which invades the mortal realm to make more itself, after which it flies off to other dimensions with its new hellish brood.

Wights Level 3 (9)
Health 9, damage 3 or by weapon (usually 4 or 6), Stealthy at Level 4, and any creature slain by a wight becomes a wight in 1D6 rounds. Wights deal damage to the might and speed pool first, and points lost cannot be restored for 24 hours.
These more ominous undead are found in ancient tombs called barrow mounds sometimes, and at others are part of old risen armies.

Wyverns Level 4 (12)
Health 12, damage 4, on a strike also deals poison (Might Level 4 check) dealing additional 4 damage. GMI: can rake with claws against all immediate targets for 4 damage each.
Wyverns are winged drakes, related to dragons but of a lesser intelligence. They roost in high cliffs and hunt men for food.


Creatures of Ensaria:

The Rabbitfolk:

Dwellers of the Kerenwood, the rabbitfolk are prolific but remain largely hidden in their burrow cities throughout the deep woodlands and away from men, elves and dwarves. They are animistic and superstitious, but they are dangerous in large groups.
A’Hool Commoner Level 1; typically has a light weapon (2 pts) and no armor, but only attacks if they outnumber enemies 3 to 1.
A’Hool Warrior Level 2; these tribal protectors will stand up to any menace protecting their bellow tribes living in burrowed hills throughout the Kerenwood. They tend to have spears (4 points) and leather harnesses (1 point) for protection. If three or more surround a target they attack and defend as if level 3.
A’Hool Shaman Level 2; the shamanic spellcasters can cause many issues, including the ability to cause blindness for 1D6 minutes (level 3) and the ability to crush bones at a short distance (level 3 effect, 6 damage).

Lizardfolk of the Swamplands:
The swamp dwelling hinzin are dedicated to their ancient swamp god, Sorrileth, and believe that they are the fallen survivors of the First Kingdom. They intensely dislike most outsiders.
Hinzin Tribesman Level 2: Typical hinzin lizardfolk are nothing to sneeze at and come about 7 feet standing next to a human, with alligator-like bulk. They deal 2 points with claws and wield weapons for 4 points usually. Even ordinary tribesemen are dangerous in a fight.
Hinzin Marshwalker Level 4: Marshwalkers are scouts, warriors and rangers who watch out for their tribe. They are especially good at stealth (level 5 to detect) and usually armed with broad axes and spears (4 points). They are excellent swimmers as well.
Hinzin Warlord Level 5: these are beastly hinzin who have taken alchemical concoctions in the name of the Swamp God Sorrileth to enhance their physique. As such they tend to have 20 health, and deal 6 damage on a strike, even unarmed. As an intusion they can grab a foe and deal an additional 6 damage trying to break bones and tear the target limb from limb.

Senchir Birds Level 3; these birds are huge, like ancient axe beaks, and native to the terrain. They are equipped with vicious breaks that deal 4 damage and are used to hunting the Hidarit Plainsworms and the local ibex.

The Zankani frogfolk claim to have lived in the lush jungles of their native land long before the catfolk arrived and started hunting them. Despite the presense of humans  stabilizing the never ending conflict, the frogfolk still remain wary of their enemies.
Frogfolk Commoners tend to be level 1 (3), but warriors may be up to level 4 (12) and usually wield medium weapons (4 damage). They are noted for being very fast but only when jumping; in combat they can jump up to a short distance as a free action (similar to the Fast Descriptor).