Thursday, May 31, 2012

Multiplayer Madness: Mas Effect 3, Call of Duty, Black Ops, and Gears of War 3

Spoiler Alert! ME3 discussion ahead (but no ending stuff yet)

Mass Effect 3 at 22 hours in plus several hours of multi-player time has left me with some head-scratching issues. I'm looking forward to getting to the end and finally seeing what all the brou-haha is about because right now this game is excellent, delivering some deep closure and interesting tales about the many personalities surrounding Commander Thera Shepard (my femshep), from finding out her only potential love interest Jacob was involved with another woman and she missed the boat to seeing the tragic fate of Mordin Solis and good old Thane. Very sad Thane, lemme tell ya.

At this point in the game I've learned about poor Thane and Mordin, reunited briefly with Jacob, seen an inspiring tale on Jack, gotten Kaiden back, Garrus of course, Miranda (bitch), and am now on the Quarian quests with Tali. I am getting all sorts of closure, and my storyline is distinct to my pre-ME3 choices, especially with interesting bits like the fact that in my storyline poor Kasumi died fighting the Collectors, and Ashley bought it back in ME1. I am wondering what sort of content a person experiences in ME3 if they did not survive with the bulk of their crew intact through ME2....I only lost Kasumi (because it just didn't feel right not to lose someone) but if someone had lost several characters.....even key characters such as Tali and Garrus....hmmm. That would be a shorter game, I imagine.

But a key element I've heard about the complaints on the ending are that there's no wrap-up or closure. I don't know (yet) what these people are talking about, having tried to avoid spoilers compliments of the bizarre outraged fans who are so vocal about the "ending." So I have to assume that it must go south toward the end or something. We shall see. Honestly, I'm expecting to get to the end and see a really "bad" ending in the sense that something horrible happens.....but remember, I absolutely LOVED how my poor character had to sacrifice herself at the end of Dragon Age: Origins. I am not someone who decries tragedy. Now, if the tragedy was senseless (like a bad horror movie) I could imagine some outrage. We'll see, I guess. Shouldn't be too much longer.

Anyway, I've started to finally "get" the multi-player approach in ME3 even though I think 10 wave rounds is ridiculously time consuming for online matches, and it means I can only engage in such when Marcus is occupied with mom or napping/asleep because you can't pause a MP event without dying and irritating your allies. Also, their "pack rewards" you can buy with in game curency or microsoft gold are kind of fun, like card boosters. But you get so much XP and gold for a single successful 10-wave mission spending real money to buy them seems silly.

So far the ME3 multiplayer is lacking a few key elements that I am happy to note the Call of Duty and Black Ops franchises have gotten right: specifically offering a form of single-player which works. I've really enjoyed Black Ops for the better part of a year and a half now because I can sit down and play a mode with bots in the "practice mode" that feels almost like the real thing (except the bots often act more normal, like "in game" characters instead of teenagers and man-children hopped up on cheetos and po rocks....except for the occasional odd moment when they get stuck on terrain or something. The bots, not the teens and man-children, I mean!)

Call of Duty 2 introduced Covert Ops missions which while fun were just vignettes of what we already had in the single player experience. Call of Duty 3, however, introduced a survival mode and much better black ops (are they black ops? Covert ops? hmm memory faulty) which are actually fun to play and often go beyond aping what we played in the single player campaign (which remains as delusionally fun a mess as always).

The survival mode, however, is a lot of fun either solo or co-op. The solo mode is a "survive continuing waves of attackers" that I think stops after 10, but don't quote me on that because I can't remember if I lived through wave ten last time or died on it. But it's got all the cool level up mechanics and perks, and as you advance it even lets you "buy" or hire special ops teams of bots to come to your aid.....neat features. It's something that feels kind "meh" the first couple times, but then it starts to steamroll, perks start unlocking, new maps start to unlock, and pretty soon its just as compelling as the practice mode in Black Ops, with the added perk that dropping the game when baby wakes up doesn't have to instill rage in any living allies.

All of these games, though, are still not quite as cool as Epic's Gears of War 3. I'm on break from GoW3 because I frankly played a lot of it....and it's not something I can play with Marcus awake either, as its one of the few games he doesn't like; he clearly gets agitated at the noises from the game, no surprise there; in contrast, he all but passes out to the smooth space music of Mass Effect. So GoW3 is definitely a "when baby is asleep and dad has time" game for me. But Epic knows how to make these games, including an excellent range of multi-player events you can populate with bots, and bots can even fill out incomplete regular matches. It's also a much better third-person shooter game than Mass Effect 3, which is a game that likes to kill you frequently with akward sticky terrain that your avatar will try to seek cover from when you didn't want to, or which won't let you take cover when you want it. And of course the cheap deaths of enemies coming from an unseen angle. This is why the ME3 multiplayer is best with people (since it doesn't have a bot option)...if you solo, death is always, inevitably, right behind you. I haven't made it past wave one yet, even with upgrades and perks, in a "one player private match." it's just easier to do MP with people. Plus, I learned ages ago that you mute everyone in-game on Xbox Live, period. It makes for a much more satisfying experience, as I am sure anyone with XBLA and a gold subscription has learned.

Anyway, just rambling for fun. My son is #1 in terms of attention and focus these days, and his daily growth, his endless curiosity, his sudden mobility and his complete adoration of mom and dad is absolutely fascinating to behold and utterly endearing......but it's nice to still have a "strategy" to scratching the computer gaming itch, which is still a good outlet for daily work stress! My nightly raptr and Steam statistics tend to skew along the lines of 0-1 hour a night, an occasional rare 2 hour night, and then suddenly once every two or three weeks Mom is kind enough to wrangle the boy for a few hours and you'll see an 8-10 hour spike (which is what Monday was all about, thus why I am stoked about so much ME3 progress at last).


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Doom 3 BFG Edition

This has me excited....I'm an old id fanboy, self admitted, so Doom 3, released on consoles and PC in a remastered HD edition with the original game and the sequel (Resurrection of Evil) plus 7 never before seen levels and a bunch of hot fixes that even includes an armor mounted flashlight? Count me in!

With any luck this is a sign that Doom 4 is looming in the near future. Rage was (mostly) fun, but I've really been hoping id would get back to what they do best...

And unrelated to Doom, it turns out The Witcher creators CDProjekt's new RPG will be based on RTG's Cyberpunk....woah.

Soggy Bits of Wisdom

Okay, it's only been 6 days and I am already tired of the grand brouhaha that the Dungeons & Dragons Next playtest stirred up. Six days isn't a lot of time, but it feels like 60 already. And it is enough time for me to decide the following:

WotC should just reprint all the classic editions and then lend support to the ones that sell the most.

Not that they can or will do that, but it's the only thing that seems to make sense anymore. I like what I see in the playtest doc, but it's interesting (and actually kind of damaging) toward my sense of goodwill to the hobby at large to watch the D&D crowd fight tooth and nail over every little thing. From those who despise the very paper the playtest doc gets printed on and want to salt the earth of the WotC offices on down to those who are completely ballistic about how this is clearly a move to embrace old school at the expense of all things's a horrendous mess. And I see almost no one save for a few occasional lone voices of sanity crying into the maelstrom actually treating this like the playtest its supposed to be.

So I don't think this is going to be even remotely the "edition to unite them all" and I honestly have no good advice to offer WotC except, "support all old editions, to the best of your meager abilities."

Me? I'm going to stick to C&C and Pathfinder for now and quietly enjoy my participation in the DDN playtest on my own terms. On Pathfinder, while I'm kinda burned out on it, we're still having too much fun in the campaigns and if Pathfinder is sufficient to act as the rules medium then so be it. For C&C, it's just a clean, efficient and tight game design and the Trolls are just a really nice bunch of guys.
On the aforementioned C&C and Pathfinder, both have at their core a team of writers and designers who are surprisngly good for the most part at avoiding the conflict inherent in flame wars online. I'm going to completely abstain from all other editions and retroclones for the forseeable future, though I still plan to grab DCC. Sooooo very tired of all the endless rules arguments and conflict. This hobby is an oroborous eating its own tail.....!

Maybe I'll focus more on computer much more peaceful in that neck of the hobby woods, right? Wait....what's this about fanrage over Mass Effect 3? Gahhhh!!! There's no escape! turn off the internet for a while....heh heh....bwah..hah! HAH! Click.

(Just kidding, internet, I could never quit you!)

Kasdalan: Dark Plots

There are many sinister plots, schemes and threats lurking in Kasdalan. Some may require intervention by well-intended adventurers, others may become the focus of meticulous destruction by Lady Poe and her forces, for whom the adventurers might become mercenaries in the service of the queen. I present now the first of many plots in Kasdalan...

The Cult of the Pale Queen

The Pale Queen is the subject of a cult that has sprung up in recent years throughout Kasdalan. The Pale Queen is believed by those in the know to be a representation of no less than Tyrea herself, the first and eldest daughter of Lady Poe. The rumors, if they are to be believed, is that Tyrea has at last found her way back from the Far Realms at the edge of existence, and that she intends to seek revenge upon her dreadful mother as well as to at last lay claim to her heritage. Those who claim to have seen or spoken to her, either in visions or dreams, say that she is a dreadful entity now, far removed from the comely young woman of centuries ago, for the Far Realm warped and twisted her in ways unprecedented.

Throughout Kasdalan covens dedicated to this Pale Queen have arisen. They are not allied with or even sympathetic to resistance groups or cults of other gods in the land, all of which are equally persecuted under Lady Poe’s reign; rather, they seek to subjugate the kingdom to their will, to depose Lady Poe and pave the way for the Pale Queen to at last return and become a new queen of Kasdalan. The cultists believe firmly that Tyrea is destined to be the one who leads Kasdalan to world-spanning greatness.

The Lionhead Resistance

The Lionhead is the title given to those men and women who have banded together quietly to seek to overthrow the endless rules of the dark queen and to end her ages-long reign of terror over the land. They seek to cast out the evil and darkness that plague Kasdalan, and to return once more to the idealized ways of lost Pellucid. The leader of the Lionheads is a man known only as the Revolutionary, though the inner circle of this order knows him to be Araden Gilharad, a man who claims to be a direct descendant of King Gilharad, which makes him a blood relation to Lady Poe, and that his ancestors were among the lucky few to survive Poe’s fratricide in her early rise to power.

The Lionheads (a reference to the old heraldic symbol of house Gilharad) espouse a sense of traditional chivalric virtue derived from the old Pellucid standards, which have become almost sacred and magnanimously more significant to the Lionheads than the standards of chivalry are even now in Mercurious or Correnstal. They number a few thousand strong, but work in secret, for the overwhelming power under Poe’s control is still too great for open rebellion. Recent efforts have involved trying to forge meaningful alliances with the Pellaeans, the Lakemen and even the Kasarak barbarians in the north, to serve as mercenaries in what is hoped will be a major initiative within the next two years.

Next: More Plots!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Kasdalan: The Map

A Map of Kasdalan, reprinted from the Realms of Chirak:

I'm not entirely sure how well this map shows up in the blog, or if it can be copy/pasted to its correct size for easier reading. Shall have to experiment...

Next: Dark Plots in Kasdalan!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday: Chernobyl Diaries and More

I figured it out: Dungeons & Dragons Next is making me want to play more Castles & Crusades. DDN, as I read it, is feeling to me to be on about the same level and focus as C&C, which is good....but unlike the DDN playtest doc I've got a complete rules set for C&C. Plus, I'm actually running it (started a new Saturday campaign as of last week, yay, hope my players show up again....)

Why does it say June 22nd? Hmmmm.
So I saw Chernobyl Diaries. In many ways I enjoyed it more than The Cabin in the Woods, if only because Chernobyl Diaries was an earnest effort at using horror scenery porn and mood to build slowly but effectively to a somewhat overdone but still entertaining was survival horror done right, but very simple in its execution and approach, no overarching plot, just some unfortunate people stupid enough to follow Yuri the tourist guide to visit the abandoned city of Pripyat on The Wrong Day.

Plus, if you watch this movie AFTER Cabin in the Woods, its fairly obvious that (spoiler alert!) Russia, at least, contained their Old One for one more season, heh....!

So anyway, Ten Cool Things about Chernobyl Diaries:

1. Awesome scenery porn. Bonus points if you really dig the whole "collapsed civilization/fallout/Chernobyl rotting away" look and want to see a movie set in such a place.

2. Excellent blend of a real world location with an already weird and distrurbing history with the terrifying horror-nightmare reimagining of the same.

3. Good old fashioned survival horror of the doom-iest kind.

4. Learn what would happen if a pack of feral ghouls were loose in Pripyat.

5. Russians are so fatalistic and pragmatic all at once.

6. Yuri the tour guide from your nightmares!

7. Although one would not want to march into Chernobyl's reactor #4 unprotected, this movie dials up the residual radioactivity to some new highs.

8. I love the slow, methodical build through the first two thirds of the movie. It saves the more conventional over-the-top horror elements for last, but really, the whole movie manages to make a threat out of normal physics, normal people and minimal CGI.

9. Excellent, absolutely marvelously terrifying use of real darkness and night to convey mood. No fake exterior lighting here (I'm looking at you, Cabin in the Woods).

10. This film manages to skirt the lines of supernatural, sci fi, hillbilly horror, chainsaw massacre and Nature Hates Us horror without actually being any of those. It also manages to keep from displaying full-frontal monstrosity; you'll never really get a good look at the antagonists.

I don't remember this shot from the movie. Hmmmm.
I only really had one gripe about this movie. I appreciate that it is common now in most genre films to have a bunch of young, handsome college-age twenty-somethings out for a bit of fun which goes disastrously wrong, and I appreciated that Cabin made fun of this trope, but really, seriously....I haven't seen a decent horror film in some time now that didn't start off this way. What the hell!

I see Feral Ghouls everywhere...

But Yuri, for as long as he made it, was a real hoot, lemme tell ya.

Now, excuse me, as I need to go load up S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl, I have an intense urge to playuthat game...

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Five Edition+ Conundrum

A quick follow up to my outrageously enthusiastic piece from yesterday. I do like what D&D Next is presenting in the initial playtest document, but after a day of reading it over and thinking about it, I realize that there are some issues....broad issues....that are for me at least tempering my overall immediate interest in this thing and where it's going.

First off, I've never been a big fan of beta testing. I once got to engage in closed testing for Nintendo. It was an interesting albeit brief (2 weeks or less) experience in which I decided one day to just not show up because I was sick or ramming funny polygon animals into walls to look for cracks and seams in the polygonal environments. Over the years, I've had opportunity to engage in both closed and open betas for other games online, especially MMOs, as the developers of these games decided to start using beta tests as a combination stress-tester and last minute advertising boon. Inevitably I have found that when I beta test something, it's flaws are glaring and if they don't end up being fixed to satisfaction with the final release it's disheartening. Better to go in oblivious to the beta state, I have found. A fine example of "final release is just like the horrendously flawed beta edition" was Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising. Although in that case playing the open beta saved me a lot of money. Another game where beta testing diminished my overall experience despite the generally good quality of the game: Lord of the Rings Online. A very good game, but shaking off the beta impression was hard for me to do.

Anyway, what this means with DDN is that I might wait for a while yet before I try to mess with the playtest. I might just even abstain from the playtest and simply watch from afar to see how it develops. There are issues with the current playtest that I admit are concerning to me....I don't like where they are going with the hit dice mechanic, one of the core issues I had with 4E being the way healing surges killed most dramatic tension, for example. I like the whole themes and backgrounds idea in characters, but after studying the rules I realize that the static skills as bonuses approach is limiting; I've always had a sweet spot for the overly complex proficiency rules of 2nd edition, and 3rd edition's skill system was, while slightly more refined in terms of options, pretty decent except for how stingy it was in handing out skills to characters. Pathfinder cleaned up the 3rd edition skill system a's still stingy and lacks certain skills I wish the system supported (such as an athletics skill) but overall its generosity with ranks is a huge plus. But going to a new system where skills are modest, static bonuses....hmmm. C&C has something like that, of course, and I don't mind it at all, but at the same time C&C's core assumption is that "classes are skills" after a fashion, or at least define what your character would know to be good at the class, and that means you do improve in those "skills" as you get to add your level over time to all checks of a nature consistent with your class.

Some 4E fans are suggesting that there's way too much retro-system fetishism going on in the new DDN playtest doc. I kind of think this is correct, albeit with the caveat that what its doing for me is hammering home the fact that for some bizarre reason every edition of D&D since 2.5 has tried hard to completely reinvent itself, and this one is no different. It might be "stepping back" to look a bit more like the older editions, but it is still decidedly not 1st or 2nd edition by any stretch. How many other RPGs out there regularly reinvent themselves in ways that appear to be designed specifically to make them look like new mechanical wolves in old sheeps clothing? Imagine if Call of Cthulhu had this much change from edition to edition....I would think that CoC's base would be fragmented to hell by now (Trail of Cthulhu and other spin-offs for Savage Worlds and True20 not withstanding).

So anyway, I've offered to run a playtest game for my regulars, and will do so if there's interest (there is). But I will probably then shelve it for a while (unless actual play playtesting really "wows" me) and wait to see how it all evolves as its own "thing" apart. This crowdsourcing (is that the right term here) approach to design already looks very messy....I can't see how the older edition fans and the 4E fans....since apparently no one plays "D&D" in general anymore, everyone's gotta have an edition camp to sit in....will ever be able to reconcile their specific needs and wants out of this edition.

Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil: Dread Zaravande

Dread Zaravande

Deep in the wastelands of Camrinal, along desolate tracks of forgotten roads now half-covered in sand, there exists one particularly bold and dedicated keep, staffed by the heartiest of the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil. These particular watchers are all exclusively chosen from older knights of the order, especially those who no longer have family or kin to care for, or who have for whatever reason chosen to remove themselves from their former lives. Life this far into the wastelands is short and bloody; only heartbreak and mourning await those who still cling to family out here.

The Watch Tower of Zaravande requires a trek about one hundred miles deep into the wastelands, and few dare to make this trip.

When the Final War rolled to a close and the war mages of Camrinal called down unimaginable power from the skies, sundering the cosmos itself in twain for a period of time, it was said that the black and frothing energies of other dimensional realms cascaded uncontrolled down upon the empire, eviscerating the land and its people even as the power of the ritual spell bathed Camrinal’s foes in unholy fire. When the battle ended almost none lived, and the great city of Zaravande was a blackened expanse of ruins dotted by thousands upon thousands of skeletal remains. Whatever it was that oozed forth from the skies and engulfed Zaravande, it picked the flesh clean from the bones of every living thing within one hundred miles of the capitol.

The old stories say that “it” left; speaking of these unholy energies as if they were an entity with thought and intention, but some questioned that, observing that there is no evidence of any living witnesses to this event. Occasional tales from the deep recesses of the wastelands by maddened ghuls suggest that a handful of survivors, all changed into hideous half-dead abominations, claim to have seen the black energy writhe and coil about the land and its inhabitants, draining all creatures of life, sucking the flesh from their bones, before retracting once more into the rift in the sky. They claim that the rift never closed, and that it opens on occasion and feeds from the world below. It is tethered, these ghuls assert, over the ruins of Zaravande. Indeed, the ghuls claim that the pulsing darkness looms above, plainly visible to their eyes only.

The watchers do not try to assess the validity of these ghul folktales, but they do keep them in mind. Occasional night-time spectacles of light and shadow play over the city with no earthly explanation, and the entire domain is haunted by ravenous undead. The skeletons of two centuries gone have long since turned to dust, been covered in the encroaching sands of the ruined land or risen from the dead to stalk the living—and themselves.

Indeed, hundreds of risen dead from the old armies which both stood in defense of the Last Emperor of Camrinal as well as those who sought to destroy him continue their senseless fight long after death, as if unaware of their current state. The old dragon riders and their undead draconic mounts from the lost kingdom of Altenspar continue to bombard the city with ectoplasmic flame in the dead of night, sparring with troops defending from the crumbling walls. Ghosts and phantoms stalk the city streets seeking to escape the madness. It plays out in the dead of night, every night, until dawn…when with the first light of day, as if blasted by the unholy radiance of the Final Weapon, the undead disintegrate into dust once more until the following night.

Watch Commander Josheras Calliston has been in command of this garrison for seven years, a record by any standard of the Sullen Vigil, especially for the Zaravande Watch. He knows better than most the dangers of the city. He knows the vast catacombs beneath the ancient capitol, formed from centuries of improved civic works heaped on top of the tell-mound of ten thousand years of human and pre-human construction, have created an elaborate network of underground tunnels and passages; and that while the sun chases the surface undead away each day, the tortured restless souls and much worse continue to occupy the subterranean realms below.

Commander Calliston has no illusions about what and why the watch is here, that they are to serve but one purpose: to make sure that whatever it was that Camrinal unleashed upon the world does not return. Whether it was a force or energy ripped from other dimensions or a being of insatiable hunger, there is a persistent belief among his order that it, whatever it is, has not yet completed its task upon the mortal plane and that it desires intensely for someone to finish the ritual that summoned it, to allow it to break free of its tether within Zaravande to roam the world freely.

Over several decades, some truth to this fear has come from the persistent issue with cultists who will travel as pilgrims to the city. While some bold ascetics and flagellants of the All Mother Nevereth seek out the ruins and the dangers of the wasteland specifically to atone for the sins of their ancestors of Camrinal, the truth is that many more cultists arrive seeking entrance to the city to uncover the darker secrets of the Empire’s lost magic, and a few on occasion seek to uncover the lost secrets of the college of war magics, the source from which allegedly the Final Weapon ritual was devised. The Watchers observe these visitors, and either expel them or drive them out by force if necessary.

Ghuls occasionally prove a threat as well. The mindless normal ghouls pervade the city, an ever present threat, but the more intelligent and cunning ghuls seek to inhabit the lower regions of the city at times, carving out small communities in the labyrinth below. Not all of these ghuls seek escape from the surface world; some are as bad as the cultists, and seek to find hidden magic and power.

A curious phenomenon among the ghuls that some Watchers have discovered can be studied during the “transition of madness,” as scholars have called it. When a ghul at last begins to slip the tethers of sanity and descends into the realm of the feral, engaging in foul undead cannibalism with unchecked abandon, there is a short period from a few weeks to a few months during which their lucidity of thought directs them to make a pilgrimage to Zaravande, to “see the expression of the destroyer,” as they call it. The ghuls caught in this transition of madness seem to believe that the force or entity which destroyed the city is this so called destroyer, and a few have even admitted to feverish dreams in which it was revealed that they are its children. Eventually, though, their minds rot to madness and they turn to cunning but maddened cannibals of living flesh. Such ghouls do not evaporate with the daylight though they do not like it, seeking refuge in the city’s labyrinth below. The Watcher regularly mounts dangerous expeditions to slay these feral, maddened ghouls.

There are rumors and tales of other threats and denizens within the city. Zaravande in its prime had a population of nearly 500,000 of all races and ethnicities. It was the most powerful city in the world, and stood as the center of trade and commerce for Camrinal. When the ally nations united to bring down the Empire, it became the focal point of attention for the enemies of the Empire, and in the end it was the city under siege that prompted the war mages, under order of the Emperor, to call upon their most powerful ritual yet. The mystery of this ritual is lost now, but there is a story among the Watch that one of the war mages yet lives, a lich who somehow survived the transition of the city to its undead state while retaining his mind, if not his sanity. This lich is called Quermelain, and he is met on occasion by members of the order on patrol. His power is impressive, and the order otherwise leaves him alone, for to do otherwise would be to invite murder upon their tower. Quermelain, by contrast, has actually even assisted the watch on certain occasions and seems to despise the subhuman ghouls and their intelligent counterparts, going out of his way to destroy them.

Elsewhere in Zaravande is is said that an agglomeration of hundreds of skeletal remains appears at dusk and then wanders about the desolate sand-filled streets until dawn, comprised of hundreds of skeletal remains. This being kills all living entities in its path without mercy, then adds the corpses to its own mass. The watchers have seen it, but they wisely avoid any engagement with this creature.

There are many other oddities and terrifying encounters within Zarvande, about more of which shall be revealed at a later date…

Next! The Lady of the Lost Lake and the dark secrets of the faerie of Sarvaelen

Achievement Unlocked: Six Months!!!!

Six Months Old Today! Woot!

Marcus Torbin!
Marcus has unlocked the following achievements so far:

Survivor Track I: Reach six months, yay!

Forager: Hold my own bottle and feed self milk

Om-Nom-Nom: Eat three forms of pureed food: carrots, sweet potatoes, banana

Serve Yourself: Grab the spoon from Dad and stick it in your mouth. Also, grab food container and spill it everywhere while trying to eat All The Food.

Boldly Going Forward: crawl forwards, backwards and sideways!

"No!": Figure out how to open the glass cover to the gas fireplace with the lit pilot, causing dad to go apoplectic.

Sit Up!: sit upright on your own consistently. (every morning I've woken up to go to work that he's awake already I find him sitting up in his crib playing)

Marcus is making lots of noises, and he loves to "raz." He almost immediately grasped the idea of the spoon and tries to grab it from me every single time to feed himself (also tries to grab the food dish, and dad's food, and anything else that looks edible). He's said "hi" as a word in the morning after waking up on three occasions but not consistently enough that I can say for sure it wasn't an accident, and he knows his own name well, looking around for us when we call him. He also knows "jump" when he's in his jumpy seat, "dance" when he's in the seat and dad shows him how to dance, and a variety of other words seem to be creeping into his understanding as well. "I'm hungry" still comes out as "waaaaaagggghhhhhh" however....!


Stole Mom's Momma's Day Bear

Good morning!

Taken at three months....seems like ages ago!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

D&D Next may be D&D Last for me and this is a Good Thing

Got the playtest docs, going through it now. First impressions:

I love the modularity of themes and backgrounds, or at least how they appear to work going by the pregenerated characters (this doc has rules, monsters and scenarios but not character generation rules). That said, with the limited number of pregens here (5) I think it might be possible to extrapolate from these using the provided backgrounds and themes to make three or four more pregens going by these templates, as needed. The pregens do include level up notes to get players to third level for the playtest, which is good. They need a couple more pregens though for playtest groups with more than five players, though.

The first impression feel: kits are back

Monster stat blocks are smaller than they've been since the 1/2E days. And cleaner, more concise. Monster stat blocks are 20% stat and 80% cool stuff. Wow.

The mechanics are much simplified. The good bits of 4E (the really important bits, where unnecessarily complicated mechanics in 3rd were slimmed down) seems to have an effect on this rules, but otherwise the impression of 4E is nonexistent right now.

Spell blocks are more hermeneutic and descriptive than I've seen since 0E/1E days (but with more flavor). Seriously. The class traits which are like spells are treated here as being spells (like turn undead).

Rogues have schemes...interesting.

Fighter is the only one page character sheet.

Sample stat block from the modules include AC, HP, and weapons attacked with, nothing else.

That's it. Wow. There is a block of text afterwards that talks about kobolds, and what these kobolds are up to, but the actual combat mechanics are above.

This is definitely not 4E.

So right now, once they release the playtest char gen docs, I think I can safely say that I will never need to play Pathfinder or 4E again. Period. I seriously hope that the playtest serves to fine tune the mechanics but otherwise keeps what we're seeing here intact, because this really will be the last D&D I  ever need.

Countdown to Playtest

Okay, so I got the official invite this morning to the Dungeons & Dragons Next playtest. It led me to a page where I officially signed in and agreed to the terms of the playtest, which were not in the least bit as strict and terrifying as some in the bloggosphere were gleefully predicting (it's basically just a short agreement stating in so many words, "we own this stuff, and we own the stuff you suggest we should do to this stuff." If a big company/publisher didn't do this sort of stuff they'd be fools.

But, it says I will get my download link in about an hour, so it is time to patiently wait (and work)....

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kasdalan: The Secret History of Lady Poe and Zam Redar

Lost Tales: Kal Vassos, Zam Redar, and of the rise of Lady Poe

This backstory helped to explain how Lady Poe came into power, what her curious connection is with Chirak's most famous villain, and also served to outline the events which had a major impact on 2010's lengthy time travel campaign.
Once, centuries ago, Kal and Zam were young wizard apprentices studying under the tutelage of a now long-dead but great man named Tykarnias. Tykarnias was a rebellious soul himself, and he was perhaps overly permissive of his adopted sons and apprentices, letting them delve in to mysteries and magic perhaps best left untouched.

Kal and Zam were both orphans at a young age. Kal was an infant child found abandoned in the Mythric Isles by Tykarnias towards the end of his adventuring days. When discovered, he was preserved, seemingly perfectly, in a time-distortion bubble. Tykarnias deduced that Kal was, in fact, a child of true Mythric blood, and that he had been saved from death as a last act of defiance by his parents, using a time-displacement spell. Tykarnias in interacting with the bubble ended the spell, releasing the young child to a world far removed from his own time.

Zam Redar was the son of a chieftain who ruled a clan of loggers along the Legoran coast, and by the age of three he displayed profound natural powers of sorcery. Tykarnias found the child two months after his expedition to the Mythric Isles, while moving along the coast of Legora in search of a famous ruin. The village in which Zam was found had been razed to the ground in an attack by Blood-Drencher clan orcs, and all of the villagers had been slaughtered. Curiously, Zam was unharmed, but a hundred and more orcs around him had all been slain. There was a unique anima radiating an aura of dark magic around the child, and Tykarnias could sense a true sorcerer’s blood within the child. He adopted Zam as well, and named him after the chieftain of the village, whom he had known before in life on previous visits, for the child, bore the marks of leadership. In later years Tykarnias would learn that the chieftain’s wife had encountered a dark force within the woods of Legora, and that this entity had manifested as a black knight with whom she had frequent relations, until she became pregnant. Such was Zam Redar’s origins, though they were not to be known until much later.

Both children, in time, proved to be uniquely gifted in the magical arts, albeit in two different manners. Zam Redar’s perpetual anima seemed steeped in dark sorcery, which flowed naturally through the child’s blood. Kal Vassos was born in to natural power as well, and had about him an aspect of invocation, coupled with a natural penchant for wizardly lore. Tykarnios could not have been luckier to have two such gifted apprentices, though in time they taxed even his ability to keep up.

Tykarnios dwelled in a remote keep along the borders of what are now Mercurios and Nubirion, where he traded with all folks of the time. In his day Mercurios was a province of the Pellucid Empire, and Nubirion was a wild, untamed land with only the mysteries of the Yellow City to penetrate its vastness. The region was rife with ancient magic, a legacy of the cataclysm, and Tykarnios relished his studies in such. He was no arcanist, but his methods would not have been approved by the budding order of the Preservationists in far Eristantopolis.

The boys grew up under the tutelage of Tykarnios for magic, while their father’s retired adventuring ally, the Pellucid knight Morrick aided them in more physical arts, such as swordplay and horsemanship, neither of which were as good at such. Still, they did try. A third tutor, the elder priestess Nimrasa of southern Ur provided them with proper studies in religion and history. Nimrasa, though forbidden from marriage by her religion (for she was dedicated to the worship of Laddaskar) nonetheless was dedicated to Tykarnios and had stayed by his side for many decades. She had never borne children, and could not. The two adopted sons were a secret joy for her.

Life went well for this curious family of wizards and their adventuring allies who periodically visited. When the boys turned of age, they were tasked with journeying to the Pellucid Capitol, known even then as Mercurios. There, Tykarnios intended that they present themselves to the emperor, and that in turn they would dedicate themselves to him and his rule.

When Kal and Zam arrived, a journey in its own right for the two who had seen less of the world in person than in books, they did indeed present themselves to the service of the emperor, who was delighted to have the two sons of his valued ally and advisor as his new young agents. It was during this time that Zam Redar met the young Lady Erissa Poe, then princess of her father of Kasdalan, the King Gilharad Poe, who was negotiating a treaty with the Pellucids to insure peace and safe trade between their borders. Zam and Erissa became enamored with one another almost immediately, and did a terrible job of disguising their relationship. Indeed, not two weeks after the talks of treaty began, Gilharad left in anger when he learned of the tryst his daughter was having. The damage, however, had been done.

Kal Vassos remained loyal to the king, and petitioned Lord Kaledon himself for entrance in to his exclusive tutelage. He later went on to become the true advisor of the king when his father perished, and one day would be approached by the Order of the Chronomancers, who recognized his unique tether to the time stream, for entry in to their order.

Zam Redar, however, renounced his father’s name, and after being expelled from the courts of Pellucid in shame for his dalliance with Lady Poe, he set out on his own, to explore the world. He traveled for many years, and in his quests he discovered many powerful and ancient artifacts. Though none know for sure, Kal Vassos is certain that Zam was responsible for Tykarnios’s death, as Zam later showed he had acquired their father’s Robes of Wizardry, an artifact otherwise unattainable.

It was in the deep south of the Everdread Desert that Zam Redar found the Orb of Dragonkind, hidden in a ruined fortress where a last stand of the Betrayer Gods was made. Here he also met a powerful, ancient being named Skaddras, a Shadow Dragon which recognized Zam Redar for what he was: a Thousandspawn, a child of the chaos god Ga’Thon. This was revealed to Zam Redar, who upon discovering his nature, realized his true potential was as yet undiscovered…

Meanwhile, Lady Poe was the youngest child and only daughter of her father, Gilharad, and the Poe line had always been prolific, such that there were seven sons ahead of her who were destined to rule Kasdalan. It had always been a peculiar trait of Kasdalani blood that the women tended to have a strong talent for wizardry, and Erissa Poe was no exception. Her development of these talents was interrupted by the birth of her bastard child, a daughter she named Tyrea. Tyrea was unusual, and could speak as an adult by the age of one. Indeed, it seemed that Tyrea was a Thousandspawn, born of Zam Redar’s bloodline, and that unlike her father, she was fully aware of her nature from infancy. She told Lady Poe that she was destined for greatness, and that she would teach her how to manifest her destiny. Shortly after her child turned one year old, rumors of diablerie and witchcraft grew rampant, and Lady Poe was forced to flee with her daughter or be destroyed.

Ten years passed and in this time Zam Redar grew powerful, Kal Vassos joined the Chronomancers in studying the secrets of the time stream, and Lady Poe fled in to the swamps of Kasdalan, where she met the death cults of the Apocalypticists, who revered only the passing of the soul and the eternity of death. Each became important in a different fashion, and at last, after much time had passed, destinies once again converged.

Zam Redar, now powerful in a manner he had not previously imagined, sought out his true father, the Black Knight Voskos Redar of Legora. The two fought, for it difficult for Thousandspawn to tolerate one another. He nearly slew his father out of mere spite, choosing to steal most of his magical powers, instead. He then journeyed southward, after experiencing a sudden vision of Lady Poe, and remembering his lustful encounters with her.

When Zam Redar reached Kasdalan in the south, it was with a small army of draconian and mercenaries at his command. He quickly set about using his sorceries to depose and slay the elder Gilharad before the king even knew he was threatened, and then quickly invaded the land while its leadership was in disarray. Upon reaching the capitol, he declared that the rightful heir to the throne would be the first Kasdalani true blood to best him in combat.

One by one, the nobles, knights and princes of Kasdalan fought Zam Redar, each perishing against the man who wore chaos-inscribed armor, upon a steed that was at once horse-like and draconic. It was not until a sharp-eyed woman with raven black hair, now twenty five years of age with a young daughter at her side, that Zam Redar was fairly beaten. Matching sorcery for sorcery she soundly demolished his defenses and he immediately bowed before her, granting Lady Poe the rule of the kingdom. Lady Poe, knowing he had let her win, bade him to stay within Kasdalan, and be her captain of the armies. He consented.

Thus was born the reign of Lady Poe. In the decades to come, Kasdalan would be shaped as she desired, as she learned much from her captain and lover, as well as her half-god daughter. In time, her quiet, cautious ways coupled with her own profound instinct for magic allowed her to become more powerful than either Tyrea of Zam. Thanks in part to her participation in the death cult; she even learned the secret of conquering death.

Kasdalan grew powerful under the reign of Poe, and after a decade she consummated her well-known affair with Zam in marriage. She and Zam had several more daughters, and though it was never known if she had male children, most were sure any so born would be slain. Eventually, with seven strong daughters and her husband, it was decided that Kasdalan deserved to rule the world, and so the great and ancient war against Pellucid and the other neighbors of their kingdom began. Decades later, the Kasdalani would be the greatest nation in the world, having laid claim by force to more land than any post-cataclysmic realm. It was only hubris that laid low Zam and Poe, and their empire with them.

It began with Tyrea, the first daughter, who was loved by both, until the second daughter, and then the third, and so forth. Tyrea was jealous, and despite her vast knowledge and magic, she still had a child’s sense of emotion and jealousy. She attempted one day to slay her sisters in a fit of anger, and her parents ultimately banished her. She was sent to the far corners of Kasdalan, and locked in a tower protected by demons under Poe’s command. Poe had grown powerful, but feared her daughter, who had taught her so much.

Tyrea eventually grew wise when she realized her prison was too strong for her to escape, and she seduced the demon Mazradache that had been tasked as her jailer. She had a child of mixed demonic and divine blood. The girl she named Tythia, who grew to become a comely beauty. Tythia she raised carefully, grooming the child to insure the ultimate revenge against her parents, and eventually she sent her daughter forth in to the world, to play the role of a witch and lady knight in the service of Zam Redar’s conquering armies.

By this time, Zam Redar had spent forty years ravaging the land, and he had brought Pellucid to its knees. He had taken residence in his father’s now abandoned keep on the edge of Nubirion while he contemplated whether to move north or east with his armies, and it was then that he noticed Tythia, who had served loyally as a shield maiden in his army, and now commanded her own company of conscripts from the region. In turn, Tythia seduced him, and convinced him to journey eastward, toward the Sapphiritic Kingdoms in search of great wealth. In the midst of her seduction she spirited away the orb of Dragonkind, replacing it with a false artifact, as proof of the seduction.

With the betrayal complete, Tythia contacted her mother magically, and let her know that the deception was a success. Tyrea, in turn, arranged for word to get back to her mother, Lady Poe, that Zam Redar had betrayed her love. Though doubtful at first, Poe soon came to believe when Tyrea presented her with the Orb of Dragonkind. Enraged, it is said that Lady Poe banished the prison tower and its captor to the Far Realms.

Lady Poe, so enraged that she could not bear herself, quickly fell upon her old sense of retribution, which she had developed in the old days thanks to her father and brothers. She journeyed ahead of Zam Redar’s position and deep in to the Skeladani Lands, where she negotiated a treaty with the Skeledani in exchange for their loyalty. She then called upon the dragon lords using the orb, and negotiated with them a betrayal as well, and in exchange she promised to free them from the orb’s control. Lady Poe then arranged for an ambush of Zam Redar’s forces, once they were east of the Kyurtain Mountains and deep in to the journey eastward. She chose her three most loyal daughters with the greatest talent for magic, and when the time was right, they struck.

In the end, Zam Redar’s own legions were cast in to disarray, unwilling to fight against their queen, and Zam Redar was left to fend for himself with his most loyal legions and his dragons, who then turned upon him, and though his sorcery was enough to drive them back, it left him depleted and weak. It was then that Lady Poe came upon him, weakened upon the battlefield, and promised him an end to this. She assaulted him, as did her daughters, with powerful magic, until Zam Redar was spent and unconscious. They placed him in an ancient sarcophagus, said to have held the body of a lost god. This container was made of primordial material that resisted magic, and Poe bound it with even stronger chains and spells. As she placed him in the sarcophagus, she reached out and ripped from him the anima which had been with him since childhood, and bundled it in to her womb with dark sorcery.

In to this coffin she cast the Orb of Dragonkind and his other artifacts, to keep her promise to the dragons. She then carried the sarcophagus southward, to the Dreaming Plains, where she called up one of the ancient Great Wyrms of the earth, and used her magic to force the worm to swallow the coffin whole. The ancient earth lord then returned to the bowels of the earth, not to be seen again for several centuries. So ended the first reign of Zam Redar.

When Lady Poe was done with her vengeance, she realized that the mistress of her husband, Tythia, had fled. She looked among her most vile knights and agents, and found the undying elf Orgain, whom she sent to find and destroy the woman, lest she cause more trouble for her grandmother in the future.

Lady Poe went on to rule Kasdalan to the present day, and she gave birth to several more daughters, twelve in all, using the anima of chaotic energy that she stole from Zam Redar. She was so bitter about the experience, that she declared that no males in her kingdom would be allowed to be born who displayed sorcerous talent, and such would be put to death. She made the death cult the state religion, and dispersed the armies of Zam Redar’s reign, caring not to rule so vast an empire, and seeing dissent fomenting in every corner of the empire. In time, Kasdalan’s borders shrunk to what they are today, and new kingdoms arose from the ashes of Old Pellucid.

Next: A Map of Kasdalan

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Miscellany: Diablo III, DDO, Rift, Torchlight and more...

Diablo III
So my wife is playing Diablo III and enjoying it...."mindless fun for when she doesn't want to have to think too hard." It does look kind of fun, but I learned long ago that my track record with hack'n'slash RPGs is deplorable; I am averse to popping pinata monsters while running around looking for quest givers to wax philosophical on the plight their village. Of the many action-RPGs I have tried to get into the only one with real story/RPG elements* is Dungeon Siege III and that still wasn't very satisfactory. I've gotten reasonably far in Torchlight, though....of all these sorts of games, Torchlight is the best (followed by Titan Quest) but I've never finished any of them or even gotten more than 10-12 hours in, in most cases, before the inevitable "why the hell am I doing this???" effect sets in. Usually cured by loading up a Bioware title, mind you....!

Seeing her play Diablo III did motivate me to get back into Dungeons & Dragons Online, which is (imo) the kind of game all action RPGs should have morphed into by now, with real over-the-shoulder camera angles, more effort at plot (well, sort of....), traps, three dimensional environments and actual jump-around-position-matters combat. Hell, Tera got me back into DDO again, as well. Tera's getting kudos for its action-style combat and mixed views on its stripperific lingerie that they like to call armor, but DDO had both long before Tera showed up (to be fair most of the stripperific armor in DDO is purchase-only in the store, though. DDO's armor suits are otherwise notoriously functional, as Eberronian armor standards go).

Dungeons & Dragons Online
But all that aside, Diablo III is doing what it does best and my wife is enjoying it, along with her guildmates from WoW and SWTOR, so her experience, at least, is following the model track Blizzard wants everyone to be on. Me...I may try her account to see what it's like, but honestly just watching her play has given me a pretty good idea of what to expect. I only ever finished Diablo the First, anyway; I never made it past level 3 in Diablo II; I'm not kidding when I say I have a hard time slogging through isometric action RPGs. They are just not my thing. Torchlight is the rare exception. I also liked Sacred and it's sequel, but only long enough for the snappy one-liners of the various characters to wear thin.

I do plan to get Torchlight II when it comes out, though. For some reason that game is the solitary exception in the realm of action RPGs....the one version of it which makes me want to keep playing. I look forward to being able to hit that one co-op (or solo) at my liesure in a month or so.

Torchlight II
If you are among the rare breed of player like myself who find the endless smashing of pinata monsters (because they rain loot when you pop 'em, ya' see) to be painful without some DIM (deep inner meaning) then I would offer a couple alternatives....

First up, Eschalon (book 1 and 2, although I've only played one so far) is a quasi-turn-based isometric RPG in the old school fashion, available at Gamersgate, Steam and elsewhere. It's graphically old school, but it offers up a real story, real exploration, and a fairly steep difficulty curve. It's a lot more fun and develops a much more interesting story than anything you'll find in an action RPG like Diablo III. I'd love to see a game like this created with a budget closer to Diablo's....or even something akin to Legend of Grimrock.

Speaking of Legend of Grimrock, that's one you might find interesting. I don't personally like it. In fact I spent a bit of time with it and then delightfully deleted it from my hard drive, having been reminded of the fact that the reason I didn't play many PC games from 1989 through 1995 wasn't just because I was in college but because those games really did suck, hard. I was never fond of Eye of the Beholder, which I masochistically played long enough to realize one day that I was wasting precious life energy on an endeavour best substituted with either real tabletop gaming, or maybe something more apropo for the time (going out and getting drunk with my philosophy club buddies and picking up women). Gods I hated that game. And Legend of Grimrock reminded me why.

Legend of Grimrock
But I'm not saying its a bad game: I am saying that if you loved that style of game from the 90's and felt that it was exemplary of a lost style and format that didn't deserve to be cast aside, then you should absolutely check out Grimrock. But if you, like me, found those games as hollow, soulless and painful as a great many other games of that time period, then yeah this one's probably not for you.

There is also Avadon, which is on Steam as well. Avadon is closer to Baldur's Gate and other Black Isle games of old, and it evokes a similar feeling but with its own particular style of old school isometric graphics and an elaborate storyline. I have not found myself motivated to play it for long, but the premise is intriguing.

So in the end I'm driven back to resume Dragon Age II. I'm still only a few hours in, but have yet to encounter or "feel" the issues so many people had with the game. Time will tell, I'm sure. There is also Rift, which continues to captivate me as the only MMO that continues to hold my attention. I don't know quite how to explain it: the storyline is just interesting enough, the game's look and feel is interesting, the level/territory design is interesting and encourages exploration, the quests are (while still typically MMOish) still fun to read and pursue, the game's full of options from all sorts of armor and loot to fun crafting, mounts galore and a general sense of "achievability" that looks actually attainable to me (while still managing to have fun in the process). I've even tried the pvp and found it fun. The rogue is an absolute terror to play in pvp, too....I've never been so successful at ganking in MMO-based pvp combat like I have in Rift, it's kind of unnerving, actually. I'm used to being the guy who has no pvp gear getting raked over the coals again and again until I call it quits and move on to more pve focused entertainment....Rift's pvp is actually something I seek out, which is weird.


*I use RPG here in the tabletop/story sense, not the world-of-computer-gaming "level up and acquire loot" sense.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Kasdalan: Where the Dark Queen Won

This week I start a new and updated gazetteer entry from the actual Realms of Chirak, outlining the dark and twisted politics and history of Kasdalan. I will include the material available on Kasdalan from "The Realms of Chirak" as well as additional data sinced revealed. All of this will make it into the RoC revision to eventually be released for Legend and Pathfinder in two separate editions, some day.
Part I: Kasdalan: An Introduction

(From The Realms of Chirak, Chapter V)
Southern kingdom of Old Pellucid ruled by the Necromancer Queen

Cultural Level: steel age-renaissance
Population: Perhaps 2 million of the living, and at least as many undead some suspect
Government: Imperial dynasty
Rulers: Lady Poe is and for as far back as the history books say, always was empress.
Religions: Lady Poe permits no worship save perhaps to Ga’Thon or Shaligon.
Social Titles: thralls, peasants, barons, lesser lords, overlords, necromancer lords, generals.
Coinage: The copper sun, silver moon, gold crown, platinum royal.
Allies: Kasdalan has a loose alliance with Dragos.
Enemies: Kasdalan has been a thorn in the side of all Pellucid lands since the old empire fell. Mercurios and Correnstal are enemies, as is Pelaeus and the Skeledani nomads in the south east.

The Kasdalani Empire in the Deep South is a powerful nation ruled by a Necromantic cult, at the head of which is the ancient Sorceress called Lady Erissa Poe. Poe enforces her rule with her many sorcerously gifted children, and controls her mages though the promise of necromantic immortality. This is a dangerous place to live in, heavily oppressed and ready for war against hostile and fearful neighbors.

Lady Poe is said to have twelve daughters, possibly more, all spawned from strange rites and consummated by lovers both undead and soon to be found dead afterwards. The most legendary of Lady Poe’s ex's is Zam Redar, a Thousandspawn whom she married and manipulated in to leading a vast army many centuries ago to conquer and unite the old Pellucid Empire and beyond. When Zam Redar threatened her power, Lady Poe took the immortal godspawn and cast him down the gullet of an immense desert worm.

Lady Poe herself will tolerate no male suitor to the throne, nor will she allow a son to be birthed; she has used her magic, if necessary, to alter the sex of the child in the womb, or killed it on birth if necessary.

In a feud with the avatar Mardieur Mardieux, Poe lost many of her children in conflict; the minotaur who sought the path of Akquinarios took a certain pleasure in dispatching her agents and her daughters when traveling through her lands, and thwarting her necromantic schemes against Mercurios in the north.

Poe has one known daughter who has recoiled from her mother’s ways and (while still pursuing necromancy) seeks a way to atone for her family. This daughter is named Arvyllia Poe, and she travels with the rough Company of Khorst in the Syrgian lands to the far north. She also has a daughter in exile who is overly ambitious; Ennata Poe has expressed a deep and abiding interest in usurping her mother's power and taking it to the unnatural limit of evil.

Poe rules from Mordren, the capitol of her domain around the black waters of Lake Astrahar. Her chief general, Lord Cervicus, stands ready to engage in conquest or defense in the fabled Bastion of Castle Lost. Other prominent cities along the lake include Polahar, Tursos, and Pitch. South of the lake is the great swamp, in which the dreaded City of Skulls, an ancient college of necromancy, can be found. It is said that the first Dragosian necromancers fled from this city two centuries ago to start their own kingdom, and have feared to look back upon the region ever since, knowing what terrors can be found within. Rumors abound that the legendary Tomb of Horrors can be found deep within the great swamp.

Kasdalan may be so blighted because it rests in a region which was profoundly affected by Shaligon during the apocalypse, and some claim that the throne of the old empire from which Shaligon was most venerated could be found in the region. Beyond Kasdalan in the utter south lies a no man’s land which stretches in to territories feared by all, including the Weeping Lands, the Dreaming Plains, and the Dark Empire of the Seeping God.


Next: The Secret history of Lady Poe and Zam Redar

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I have a new favorite webcomic, Formaldehyde by bogleech. I would liken Bogleech's work to a sort of modern-day Edward Gorey....

If you like your comics a little twisted....bathed in Lovecraft's spinal fluid, if you will, then this is a must-read!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Malfeus Thorne, Hexblade

Just for fun here's a hexblade NPC I worked up for insertion into a game as needed:

Malfeus Thorne

A Hexblade NPC for use with Castles & Crusades

Description: Malfeus Thorne is a devilish looking rogue, a half-elf wanderer who is known for his way with the ladies as well as his love of strong drink. He is about six feet tall, with  dark hair and twinkling eyes. He normally dresses in his leather jerkin and breeches, with a pair of fine drake-skin boots and gloves. In combat he dons his suit of ancient scale mail, handed down to him by his mentor. His hexed weapon is a great scimitar, forged of adamantine two years ago for his use with the assistance of the dwarven smith Gunnerstor, with whom he once adventured. Malfeus is 30 years old and is a ronin hexblade. He attempted to join the Order of the Eldrtich Dawn early in his career after his master perished in a fight with the Ettin Lord Kalamask, but found the methodical code of conduct stifling, and was quickly thrown out.

Malfeus’s Spell Notes:

Malfeus casts his spells at the following levels of intensity:
Arcane Imbuement grants +2 magical bonus for 3 hours
Elemental Blade grants a +1D6 elemental damage bonus for 6 minutes (he usually chooses electricity)
Hexblade’s Defense grants +2 defending bonus for 2 hours

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil: Dragons of Sarvaelen

Dragons of Sarvaelen

Since the dawn of mankind’s rise from the muddy waters of prehistoric times dragons have been present. Though hard to find, some erudite researchers can point to ancient caves filled with thousands upon thousands of years of ancient rock art, depicting a history both venerable and momentous in its imaginative capture of humanity’s efforts to understand the world around it. Dragons, it has been noted, are among the first beasts ever depicted by men.

The first dragons were said to have appeared in the deep wilderness, dragging and clawing their way up to the surface of the world from the chthonic realms below. Indeed, the many cavernous realms beneath the surface of the known world are attributed to the tireless digging and scratching of the dragons, which burrow long and deep into the earth to make their homes.

These first dragons spoke as men, and in some stories (mostly told among the elves) it is claimed that they actually taught the first languages to humanity. This language was to allow for easy instruction on the worship of the chthonic gods of the deep. The dragons, it was said, were the heralds of the Old Gods, born in the deeps of the world specifically to serve and envoys and servitors to these chthonic beings in the claustrophobic darkness at the center of the world.

The fragmentary texts which survived the Final War of the old empire of Camrinal piece together an interesting later history of dragons. It is clear that the more intelligent dragons served as envoys and voices for these old gods, although some might dispute that the dragons actually were such, and weren’t simply leveraging their own great power to set up cults and followings which served their own needs. Dragons regularly demanded tribute…and still do…from the lesser kindred of the world, seeking to promise safety in exchange for gold and sacrifice.

Arcane scholars who have studied dragons note that there are really two distinct breeds of beast in the world, one which is cunningly intelligent and rare, and the more common beasts which are normally found in the wilds, slaying livestock and terrorizing peasants. There is much speculation on how the two relate, as dragons by and large appear to be of normal intelligence, but it is as if some internal social problem or cultural matter has led to younger dragons going feral. Either way, whether speaking with one of the old intelligent dragons or the newer feral ones, a traveler risks losing his life if he enrages the beast.

Amongst dragons there is something of a different consensus. The dragons claim to have come from a breed of ancient beasts that sailed extraplanar realms, transmigrating from one dimension to the next, to populate vast numbers of worlds. The dragons that settled on Sarvaelen, they claim, were enamored with the dark whisperings of the Old Gods, tempted by their power, and so settled in to stay. The mysteries and secrets revealed by the Old Ones to the dragons was intoxicating, and those who embraced it found that they were given powers of prophecy and near immortality.

The embrace of the Old Gods had a terrible impact on the dragons, however, for the power of these chthonic gods warped and twisted the species over time, and as the generations past more and more dragons gave birth to feral children and monsters. Wyverns, serpents, hydrae and other beasts are suspected to have come about from the corrupted eggs of the eldest dragons.

Some dragons sought to purge their bloodline of the corruption, to turn their back on the Old Gods. These dragons migrated to remote regions, usually high in the mountains or in other areas sufficiently remote that the ever-present whispering of the maddening dreams and prophecies of the Old Gods was barely audible to their mind. These dragons have sometimes gone through desperate measures to purge their bodies of the taint, seeking to use exceptional magic, and occasionally engaging in breeding experiments with the lesser mortal races. No one knows if any have been successful at these efforts, but stories of adventurers contracted to scaly-skinned agents who descend from the mountains to pursue exotic tasks such as the acquisition of a phoenix’s eggs from the Seletharin Desert have been spoken of.

In game terms, dragons of Sarvaelen are statistically identical to your preferred game system’s take on them, albeit with a preponderance of ancient priests and mages in the service of the Old Gods. The dragons seem to have avoided much damage to their kind during the Final War of Camrinal, although the stories from that period suggest that a great many feral dragons were captured and trained for war in that time. Such an affront would be impossible now, as all of the great Magi are long dead, snuffed out during the final days of the war when Camrinal was blasted into oblivion. Indeed, it is said that undead dragons and their knights, unable to rest, still haunt the last battlefields before the imperial city of Zaravande, looking to carry on the fight eternally.

In T&T, Legend and BRP you can use your preferred dragon stats as you see fit. Dragons are multi-colored and come in many varieties, so there is no uniformity among their kind, or division by color. If you use dragons in C&C or other similar games, color types are less relevant and dragon breeds are better identified by their use of exotic breath weapons. Nor is alignment an issue for dragons, where a red or gold can both be chaotic evil, or both lawful good, and their color is only what they have a preponderance of, as their chromatic nature leads naturally to a wide mixture of “mutts.”

Next: back to the frontier wilds along Camrinal, and to the remote Watcher outpost near the ruins of dread Zaravande!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hexblades in Castles & Crusades

Hexblades in Castles & Crusades

By request! An adaptation of the Hexblade for C&C. This adaptation takes the original article whole cloth for some portions, but repositions the order as a C&C optional class.

The Order of the Hexblades
The concept of the hexblade is a master of witchcraft, who relies on a special relationship with his uniquely forged weapon to cast and focus magic through. Hexblades gain their power through dark pacts, and seek to learn power from spirits both malevolent and benign. Some hexblades are good natured and seek to help those around them with their unique gifts; others fall quickly to the potential corruption of the power they seek and walk a darker path.

Hexblades have a loose fraternity of association, for the easiest way to become one is through a practice of apprenticeship to a master. Much like shamans, hexblades rely on knowledge of the spirits and the planes to tease out their magical talents. Some civilized lands may have entire knighthoods or magical orders dedicated to the practice of the hexblades, but in most lands they are reclusive fellows who gather in large groups only on rare occasion.

The concept of the Hexblade started with a class which appeared in Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition first, and later as a warlock variant in 4th edition. Literary and game inspiration for this archetype can be found in the fiction of Adrzej Sapkowski’s “The Witcher,” and similar concepts of a man with a special blade can be found in Moorcock’s Elric novels. I also suggest the Kane stories by Karl Edward Wagner.

Prime Attribute: Dexterity
Hit Die: D8
Alignment: any
Optional CKG Advantages: Hexblades advance as wizards, and can take any advantage designed for arcane casters.
Weapons: hexblades are martial warriors and can learn to fight with any weapon, but they must specifically choose a type of sword to serve as their hexblade unless the CK permits otherwise.
Armor: any, but see armored caster, below.
Abilities: spell casting from the Hexblade Spells, Hexblade Bond, Armored Caster, Dextrous Caster

Hexblade Spellcasting: Hexblades are arcane casters and have their own spell lists, from which they can draw their magic. Hexblades begin play with two 0 level and one 1st level spells from the list, and acquire 1 new spell at each level of advancement. Hexblades can otherwise learn new spells as a wizard. At the CK’s discretion a hexblade can attempt to learn a wizard spell not on the hexblade list. Such an attempt can be performed once per copy of the spell (either a scroll or book), requiring an INT check with a CL equal to the spell level + 10. If the hexblade makes the check then he can copy the spell into his own spell book and has learned it; unlike hexblade spells he can’t imbue these in his weapon. In this fashion hexblades are like amateur spell casters, but they never need to make this check on spells specifically on the hexblade list.

Hexblade Bond: An initiate hexblade must procure a unique weapon which he forges or finds on his own. At first level this weapon is a normal blade of his choice forged from cold iron. Later on the hexblade may try to forge a new weapon of more fantastical metals or enchantments. The weapon must be of no common origin, either being made of an exotic metal, being unique in some fashion (i.e. a king’s blade, or the weapon was used in the past to slay a powerful extraplanar opponent) or it must be forged by the initiate himself out of exotic metals and imbued with a sacrifice of 1D6 damage of his own blood during the forging process. If an exotic weapon material is needed, it defaults to cold iron.

Once a hexblade has this weapon, he undergoes an initiation ritual of bonding with the blade. This imbues himself and the weapon with a unique connection; he may now use the blade to channel his magic, and all spells he cast must use the blade as a material component (but he may now substitute his weapon for any normal material component a spell requires, and the blade is never “used up” like normal materials). The hexblade weapon grants a bonus spell slot in which can be memorized an additional spell. The hexblade loses access to those bonus spells so memorized if he loses his blade.

The hexblade also serves as a spell book of sorts; so long as the hexblade has his bonded weapon in hand, he has innate access to all of his learned hexblade spells. He must keep a normal spell book for any regular arcane magic he manages to learn while adventuring (see above).

Does a hexblade need to bond with a sword specifically of some sort? That’s the CK’s call, but the presumption is that the nature of the weapon is highly conducive to channeling magic, and other weapons are not. Alternatively, there could be branches of the order that specialize in hexed axes, pole arms or even hammers and maces.

A hexblade who loses his weapon permanently must restore it with an equally significant weapon. If he fails to do so after one year and one day, he is cast out of the order. For the time he is missing his hexblade he loses his bonus spell slot and is limited to the spells in his spell book. When a new hexblade is forged, however, all of the hexblade’s spells are restored; the idea is that they are still imbued within his own mind and soul, but a hexblade weapon is the key that unlocks them.

Armored Caster: Hexblades learn to cast their spells with armor, and as such are not restricted like wizards in what to wear when they cast spells. However, hexblades who are wearing armor can only use their specific hexblade spells while so encumbered; they are unable to properly evoke any arcane non-hexblade magic while wearing armor.

Dexterous Caster: Whenever a hexblade utilizes a spell which requires INT as a modifier or for an effect, he may substitute DEX if it would give him a better modifier or chance of success. This reflects the fact that hexblades, much more so than wizards, require form, grace and motion to cast their spells.

Hexblade Advancement Charts:

Note: While 200,000 XP/level after 12 may seem generous, this is set lower than the fighter or wizard to reflect the fact that hexblades don't receive many more perks after level 12; they gain level 5 spells at 16th level and level 6 spells at 20th level, so the overall spell casting ability of hexblades has all but plateaued at level 12. Likewise, although hexblades are proficient fighters, they are not nearly as adept at combat as a dedicated warrior, relying instead on their hexblade spells.

Hexblade Spell List:

New spells are in italics.
Zero Level:
Arcane Mark, Dancing Lights, Detect Magic, Endure Elements, Light, Mage Hand, Mending, Minor Imbuement
1st Level:
Arcane Imbuement, Identify, Imbued Alignment, Jump, Read Magic, Shield, Sound Burst, Spider Climb, True Strike
2nd Level:
Elemental Blade, Enhance Attribute, Hexblade’s Defense, Mirror Image, Protection from Arrows, Scare, Shatter
3rd Level:
Bane Weapon, Blink, Dispel Magic, Fly, Haste, Hexblade's Luck, Nondetection, Paralyzing Strike
4th Level:
Dimension Door, Dragon’s Scales, Fear, Fire Shield, Freedom of Movement, Locate Creature, Minor Globe of Invulnerability, Shout, Blood Drinker
5th Level:
Faithful Hound, Holy/Unholy Blade, Passwall, Telekinesis, Teleport, Wounding Blade
6th Level:
Antimagic Shell, Blade Barrier, Guards and Wards, Globe of Invulnerability, Iron Body, Mage’s Sword, Phase Door

Hexblade Apprentices:
A hexblade initiate who reaches 4th level is eligible to attain the rank of apprentice. He must have demonstrated an act of servitude to the credo of his specific order or mentor (which can vary; an evil order may require that he have slain an honest man; a benevolent branch may require that he saved an innocent under threat of harm). Hexblades who eschew titles are considered a form of ronin.

Hexblade Adepts:
After 8th level a hexblade apprentice may elect to become an adept. Adepts may take on apprentices but are not required to do so.

Hexblade Masters:
Hexblades who reach level 12 may graduate from adept rank to master rank. A Hexblade master must have earned a reputation for himself; if his name is known and either feared or respected by a noted ruler or leader of the land, such that the other senior masters of the order feel his reputation is engrained, then he may be entertained for membership at his highest rank. He must then commit one truly great deed, worthy of the skalds to sing about, such as slaying a hydra or dragon, liberating an oppressed kingdom, slaying a corrupt king, or even conquering his own domain. The task may depend on the ethical skew of the hexblade himself. At this level, however, it is his demonstrable proficiency and efficiency, not his ethical leanings, that are most important.

Should the hexblade attain the rank of master, he is required to take on a new apprentice to teach his skills to if he has not done so already.

Hexblade ronin who reach level 12 are unofficially called “silent masters” by other ordered hexblades. Some hexblades seek out these silent masters as they are often known to have spells and secrets unknown to the regular hexblade orders.


Hexblade Artifacts:

Tome of the Fey Courts
Although the Tome of the Hexblade is the grimoire of study for the order, there are rumors of an older tome, written in the lost history of the Fey Court by the elven prince Aritroskis, which contains even more potent secrets. Such a tome is a coveted prize for a dedicated Hexblade, for it contains the secrets of teleportation. This tome include the teleport spell, which any hexblade can learn from studying this tome. It also contains Teleport Without Error and Vanish. The wielder of this tome can cast any combination of these three spells once per day by using the tome.

Adamantine Hexblades:
A weapon crafted of adamantine is impervious to harm, or so it is said. Furthermore, it is said to weigh less and be more nimble in one’s hands. Details on adamantine can be found on page 89 of M&T.

The Hand of Zoromast
There are rumors of this infernal talisman, a mummified hand capped in a gold clasp and chain from the first and most legendary hexblade of a lost era. Rumor has it that a hexblade who wears the Hand of Zoromast around his neck will gain even more impressive fighting talent and a closer bond with his blade. The stories also suggest that Zoromast’s spirit will attempt to possess the wielder, but that a sufficiently strong-willed hexblade can defeat the spirit and tame it to his use.

An ordinary man wearing the Hand will feel nothing, though the spirit may seek to possess him. A hexblade immediately notices that he treats his caster level as 1 higher as a result of wearing the hand. In addition, he discovers that he now innately knows Arcane Imbuement and may cast it once per day for free through the talisman. If he removes the Hand, knowledge of the spell also evaporates.

While worn, the Hand’s spirit will try to possess the bearer. Zoromast’s spirit is equivalent to a malevolent ancestral spirit, a spectre (HP 104, M&T page 75) with one special property: the spectral spirit can seek to possess a target instead of energy draining it; each possession attempt works in place of energy drain, and if it hits the spirit deals 1D6 INT damage. When the target reaches 0 INT the spectre can immediately enter his or her body and take possession. At this point the INT of the character is restored to normal, and the victim is otherwise back to normal, albeit with a permanent +1 attack and damage bonus when wielding any sword, and a keen knowledge of ancient history (any INT check may add level to recall historical events). However, while possessed the bearer develops a very evil and self-serving disposition, and tends to call himself Zoromast a lot.

The artifact will be destroyed should Zoromast’s spirit ever be exorcised or destroyed.

New Hexblade Spells

CT 1, R touch, D 1 hour/2 levels, SV no, SR no, Comp V, S, M
The hexblade imbues his chosen weapon with magical force, making it a +1 magical weapon for the duration of the spell. This weapon gains an additional +1 magical imbuement for every four levels thereafter, so it is a +2 weapon at level 5, +3 at level 9, +4 at level 13, and +5 at level 17.

BANE WEAPON, Hexblade 3
CT 1, R touch, D 1 turn/level, SV no, SR no, Comp V, S, M
The hexblade imbues his weapon with potent energy against one type of target. Choose one enemy type for the duration of the effect (i.e. orcs, humans, elves, dragons). For the duration of the spell the weapon acts as a Bane weapon of +1 against that target, dealing a base of +1 to attack and damage against all foes and an additional 2D6 damage against the chosen bane type. The weapon improves with every three additional levels of the hexblade; at level 11 it is a +2 weapon; at level 14 it is +3, at level 17 it is +4 and at level 20 it is +5.

CT 1, R self, D special, SV yes CON, SR yes, Comp V, S, M
Your weapon is imbued with vampiric qualities. Your next weapon attack deals its usual damage plus 1D4 damage per three hexblade levels. You heal yourself for damage equal to the total damage dealt to your target. If you miss your target you do not lose this spell, and it remains in effect until you make a successful strike. This spell fails against nonliving or animated targets.

CT 1, R touch to weapon, D 1 minute/level, SV no, SR yes, Comp V, S, M
This spell imbues a weapon with elemental force (choose one of fire, cold, acid, electricity) and deals an additional 1D6 damage on a strike of that damage type. For every five additional hexblade levels the damage increases by 1D6 (so at level 9 it deals 2D6, at level 14 3D6, and at level 19 4D6).

CT 1, R personal hexblade, D 1 hour/3 levels, SV no, SR no, Comp V, S, M
The hexblade imbues his weapon with the power of arcane defense. The weapon gains the properties of the Sword of Defending, becoming a +1 magical weapon at 2nd level, and gaining 1 level for every four additional hexblade levels thereafter (so +2 at level 6, +3 at level 10, +4 at level 14 and +5 at level 18). As a defending weapon the hexblade then chooses to apply some or all of the magical bonus to attack and damage or armor class each round it is in use.

CT 1, R personal hexblade, D 10 minutes/level, SV no, SR no, Comp V, S, M
The hexblade imparts a bit of luck into his blade. For the duration of the spell the hexblade may add the weapon’s magical bonus (even one which is imbued by another enhancement spell) to any saving throws he makes.

CT 1, R personal hexblade, D 1 minute/level, SV no, SR yes, Comp V, S, M
This spell imbues the hexblade’s weapon with holy (good) or unholy (evil) force according to the alignment of the caster. The weapon will now deals double damage against foes of opposite alignment for the duration of the effect, and imbues the hexblade with spell resistance of 5+hexblade level against incoming magic (this effect is lost if the hexblade drops the weapon).

IMBUED ALIGNMENT, Cleric 2, Hexblade 2
CT 1, R touch, D 1 turn/level, SV no, SR no, Comp V, S, M
This spell imbues the weapon with the lawful or chaotic alignment of its user. Once aligned, it deals an additional 1D6 damage per strike to targets of opposite alignment. If the weapon is dropped by the user and then grabbed by another character, if that weilder’s alignment is opposite the imbuement then the weapon will deal 1D6 damage to the user per combat round of use until the spell wears off.

IRON BODY, Hexblade 6
CT 1, R personal, D 1 minute/level, SV no, SR no, Comp V, S, M
This spell transforms your body into living iron, which grants you several powerful resistances and abilities.

You gain damage reduction 15 except against adamantine weapons. You are immune to blindness, critical hits, ability score damage, deafness, disease, drowning, electricity, poison, stunning, and all spells or attacks that affect your physiology or respiration, because you have no physiology or respiration while this spell is in effect. You take only half damage from acid and fire of all kinds. However, you also become vulnerable to all special attacks that affect iron golems.

You gain a +6 modifier to STR-based saves and checks, but you take a -6 penalty to DEX as well, and your speed is reduced to half normal. Any efforts as spell cating while in this form have a 50% chance of failure, and abilities to swim and climb are impaired just as if you were clad in full plate armor. You cannot drink (and thus can’t use potions) or play wind instruments.

Your unarmed attacks deal damage equal to a club sized for you (1d4 for Small characters or 1d6 for Medium characters), and you are considered armed when making unarmed attacks.

Your weight increases by a factor of ten, causing you to sink in water like a stone. However, you could survive the crushing pressure and lack of air at the bottom of the ocean—at least until the spell duration expires.

MAGE’S SWORD, Level 6 Hexblade, Level 7 wizard
CT 1, R close 50 ft, D 1 minute/level, SV no, SR special, Comp V, S, M
This spell brings into being a shimmering, swordlike plane of force. The sword strikes at any opponent within its range, as you desire, starting in the round that you cast the spell. The sword attacks its designated target once each round on your turn. Its attack bonus is equal to your caster level + your Int bonus or your Dex bonus (for wizards or hexblades accordingly) with an additional +3 enhancement bonus. As a force effect, it can strike ethereal and incorporeal creatures. It deals 4d6+3 points of force damage.

The sword always strikes from your direction. It does not get a bonus for flanking or help a combatant get one. If the sword goes beyond the spell range from you, if it goes out of your sight, or if you are not directing it, the sword returns to you and hovers.

Each round after the first, you can choose to switch the sword to a new target. If you do not, the sword continues to attack the previous round’s target.

The sword cannot be attacked or harmed by physical attacks, but dispel magic, disintegrate, a sphere of annihilation, or a rod of cancellation affects it. The sword’s AC is 13.

If an attacked creature has spell resistance, the resistance is checked the first time Mage’s sword strikes it. If the sword is successfully resisted, the spell is dispelled. If not, the sword has its normal full effect on that creature for the duration of the spell.

CT 1, R weapon wielded, D see below, SV no, SR no, Comp V, M
You gain a +1 bonus to either damage or attack rolls with your next melee or ranged attack.
CT 1, R weapon wielded, D 1 round/level, SV yes, SR yes, Comp V, S, M
The hexblade imbues his weapon with paralyzing force. The next successful strike against a target imparts paralysis for one round per level of the hexblade.

TRUE STRIKE, Hexblade 1
CT 1, R weapon wielded, D see below, SV no, SR no, Comp V, M
You gain temporary, intuitive insight into the immediate future during your next attack. Your next single attack roll (if it is made before the end of the next round) gains a +20 attack bonus. Additionally, cover drops by two grades when attacking (so full equals ½ cover and ½ cover offers no AC bonus against true strike).

CT 1, R personal hexblade, D 1 minute/level, SV yes, SR yes, Comp V, S, M
For the duration of this spell, the hexblade imbues his weapon with the power to cause unstoppable bleeding in his foes’ wounds. A wounded foe hit with this weapon takes 1D4 CON damage in addition to the usual damage of the weapon. If this reduces the foe’s CON enough to affect its CON modifier to hit points, then hit points will drop accordingly. CON damage is cumulative.

Mage’s Sword, True Strike and Iron Body adapted from the D20 SRD at: