Friday, August 30, 2013

September 30 Day D&D Challenge

Anthony Emmel of Polar Bear Dreams and Stranger Things proposed a "30 Days of D&D" idea for the month of September. The lineup looks like this:

Seems like it would be a fun list to run through, and I could use a theme to work from (until October when I may just do a new 31 days of horror series), so I shall make it so!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Amazing Blog Thursday: The Daily Bestiary

Continuing my occasional promos for blog sites I really like I give you The Daily Bestiary, where every week (and it does seem like almost daily!) Patch presents us with a monster taken from the Pathfinder Bestiaries (and occasionally a 3.5 source) with a discussion of what it does, why it is cool and interesting, and a plethora of ideas on how to turn a story around the beastie. It's easy to get addicted to his posts, and I imagine any D&Der could get something out of them, as well as any Pathfinder GM. Check out the latest entry on the amphibious Skum!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

...and one more reason....

Tonight's session of Pathfinder consisted of about two hours of great role playing (in which the players befriended a slightly mad volcanic dragon while scouting the base of an active volcanic range in search of a mysterious temple) and two and a half hours of a single combat session involving a platoon of fire salamanders (30 fighters and 10 clerics) who intended to ambush them and enslave or otherwise do great harm to the party. The party consists of 9 13th-14th level adventurers with a heavy weight toward combat. It was a long but nearly sure massacre, though the gnome cleric perished during the fight only to be brought back later through the miracle of raising the dead (or something along those lines).

Still....when campaigns hit high level in D20 era 3.5/PF games, combats can often drag on excruciatingly. This was an issue with 4th edition, too....combats at any level could suck up time unexpectedly.

Now, in all fairness high level games I ran back in 1st and 2nd edition could be lengthy affairs, too...but not like this. And more over, I remember running games in which a half dozen level 12+ characters could face down 80 slaad and the combat still took maybe an hour.

I may need to run a test game o high level D&D 5E and see how it handles play at level 14+. Should be an interesting experiment on whether the system's bounded accuracy can smooth out the math madness of high level play from the last two editions.

Shifting from Pathfinder to D&D 5th Edition in 2014? Maybe...

As the D&D 5th edition public play test winds down (I'm going to start shying away from the whole "Next" reference since even WotC plans on removing it soon) I think I'll be spending more time messing with whatever the final September rules update looks like. I've been thinking about my choice of game going into the future, and while Pathfinder looms large, I concede that it's still a game which doesn't meet all of my own personal needs in a system.

What Pathfinder offers that I like is the following:

Established Player Base - I have more than twenty regular players and every Pathfinder group I run for averages 8-10 players in attendance. It's crazy popular (among players). Can D&D 5E win them over? This is really the main issue, as I see it.....if no one buys into the next D&D, then Pathfinder will stay whether I like it or not.

Metric Ton of Support Material - I can run any game I want within the limits of the D&D/D20 framework and Pathfinder provides the support. Pathfinder is well supported both by Paizo and OGL publishers. I sincerely hope the WotC guys realize that they need to have a decent product lineup next year.

Versatile and full of Verisimilitude - I have accepted long ago that I'm one of those guys who likes a little verisimilitude in my games. I also like a game system which can flex to my needs, and can handle all the kitchen sink nonsense I like to stick in my home grown campaigns. I shy away from game systems which are tethered too closely to one vision of fantasy, or one setting....I don't do published setting, I write them myself. Pathfinder is built for people like me, despite it's Golarion focus in the supplemental material...and Golarion itself is built to be pillaged for content in other settings, to be honest. For D&D 5E, it looks like Forgotten Realms will once again be the primary focus of campaign content, but I am confident the core rules will support my settings. I hope.

Tries to make the GM's life Easier in a 3.X edition - Pathfinder provides quick monster templates, quick NPC generators, loads of pre-crafted NPC stat blocks, and for people who are into it all the adventure paths and such. I personally find the effort to read and prep a published module to be worse than writing my own, but that's only because I try to scrape up premade stat blocks or use services like to help make the process easier. More below on the weaknesses of far, though, this is looking like an easier process across the board with 5E over Pathfinder and 3E combined. 5th is at least taking this hint from 4E in terms of "ease of access for DMs."

Pathfinder Mitigated Nit-Picky Rules - D&D 3E was notorious for (imo) things which were excessive in terms of a "rule for everything." I do not need to know what the alignment of a town is....though I might like to know what the town's actual rulership is like. I do not need seven hundred prestige classes; I have only seen maybe 20 prestige classes in action EVER, since 2000. A lot of 3.5 had nit-picky rules which could freeze up play quickly as people scrambled to remember how to do something right, or debate who's interpretation was correct. Pathfinder got rid of a lot of the really annoying little bits, or tried to consolidate them when possible....from synergies to skill rank calculation to grappling to stacking rules, PF tried to clear some of the clutter up and if not streamline it, at least make some of the outliers less problematic.

For 5E, I see far, far fewer nit-picky bits and this edition if anything seems to be trying hard to avoid that problem.

There are things Pathfinder does not do well for me. These aren't necessarily bad things, they just don't jive well with the restrictions of my time and energy:

Still Too Much Prep Time to Do It Right - D&D 4E did right for DMs. You could build monsters, NPCs and scenarios with some excellent guidelines and some very easy to understand procedures that were not tied to the same processes characters were designed by. This was a throwback to the old 1st and 2nd edition days, except with more structure. Pathfinder tries to do this, but it still pales in comparison; writing an adventure for Pathfinder takes no more or less time than any other edition, but properly statting it out is still excessive in the extreme if you don't try to find shortcuts...and in fact I hardly every bother to do so anymore. I mean....I helped my wife update her old swordmage from 4E to Pathfinder (making him an 11th level magus) and it still took about 3 hours to do this. Yikes.

5E so far shows no signs of this being a problem at all, with the caveat that we haven't really seen any details on customizing monsters or how to make NPCs (outside of making a PC and adding an N to the front).

Not Enough Iconic D&D - Pathfinder is mostly "D&D with a different name," but let's be honest, I like my beholders, mind flayers, displacer beasts, hook horrors, githyanki and grell. D&D 5th will obviously fix this matter, no questions asked. Yeah, yeah...I do use the unofficial Pathfinder conversions of those IP iconics....but I really like the simpler monster stat blocks of 5th.

Only Golarion - I actually do like reading about other campaign settings, even if I don't use them. Golarion is interesting, but it's the only supported setting now for Pathfinder and looks to remain such for the forseeable future. I like that D&D 5th will inevitably bring with it at least two or three additional settings that get supported, especially Ravenloft (I hope), Eberron or even Greyhawk.

Streamlined Rules - Pathfinder did try to consolidate and streamline some mechanics to 3rd edition, and did a great job of it by my accounting. However, it's still hampered by being 3rd edition, and that's a very demanding beast of a system. I am very proficient in running 3.X these days...or at least the PF version of such....but freely admit to wanting something simpler and a little less demanding of my mental fortitude. If I can avoid ever having another debate involving precise shot, or vital strike, or any other number of fiddly feats again...or combat maneuvers, or even whether or not a 12th level monk can wrestle a kraken down....ah, yeah that would be nice.

D&D 5th edition will fail miserably for me if it fails to do the following, though:

No Support Material Out the Gate - they need some modules, and they need enough content out soon to support all the campaigns that contain more than just the core iconic races. I've moved on long, long ago past the point where dwarves, elves and halflings are anything more than three out of many interesting potential choices for players and DMs.

No Skill System - Absence of a robust skill system, something which D&D has had since the mid-eighties, will make me a sad panda. I know there's a division between people on this....a surprising number of the new-school indie-drenched hip gamers frown on skills as limiting, just as much of the OSR community sees skill mechanics as counter-intuitive to Matt Finch's definition of what old school is. Somewhere in the middle of all this is myself and my players, who like skills and feel it adds to the depth of their characters.

So...a few thoughts on this. I think it mostly means that I may take some time to do some actual builds and discussions on what 5E's current playtest offers and how it compares and contrasts to what has come before. Time will tell!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cool Blog Day: Dreams in the Lich House

I have on occasion stumbled across a great blog that I found very inspiring and want to point it out. Today's example is Dreams in the Lich House, in which Beedo discusses the ways and means of the apocalypse, with a dose of Cthulhu and something more, suitable for Gamma World, Mutant Future or hell, even Mutant Epoch (although he doesn't mention it specifically).

I'd love to run one of these games again someday, actually...what with post-apocalypse being my favorite genre and all. I really need to figure out an "alt game day" that I can run non-Pathfinder/D&D games on a semi-weekly basis. Hell....I need to stop complaining about my lack of variety in gaming these days and make it happen....hmmm.....maybe the wife would be up for a home-hosted weeknight of gaming....(she'd probably want to break out her copies Swords & Wizardry or BRP to run, too!)

Monday, August 26, 2013

After Action Report - Resident Evil: Revelations

I completed Resident Evil: Revelations unexpectedly last week. I don't know quite how that happened, I'm usually much better about pacing myself and dragging out games I enjoy for months, sometimes even years! Suddenly I'm done with RE:R, I'm almost done with the Ada campaign in RE6, and I'm slowly completing the DLC content in RE: Operation Raccoon City, at least when I can stomach the insane default difficulty level of the DLC. Yikes....I wonder when the next installment of the franchise will show up...probably around 2015-2016 on the next generation of consoles. Sigh.

Resident Evil: Revelations was unarguably closer in design, feel and intent to the classic RE titles (1 through 3 plus Code Veronica), although it's engine is clearly a build from RE 4 and 5. The PC version added in high res graphics and decent model designs, but the mere fact that this started as a 3DS title impresses me. This alone says volumes about what the 3DS can handle, and I'd pick one up, except no one seems to make mature games for the handheld. Likewise, the fact that RE:R was designed for a handheld means that it had a smaller design budget and specific considerations about how it would play, and as a consequence of this it's PC port is actually really damn good.

Seriously...because the game had to consider players holding a handheld title for short play sessions, it made the game's structure built around a digestible series of episodes, each of which doesn't take too long to complete, has (mostly) decent auto save points, and starts off each episode and session with a fun recap on the plot up to that point. This structure of convenience aimed at the handheld market actually makes the game equally accessible and friendly to the desktop PC (and console) gamer who maybe just wants to play a game for thirty minutes and feel like he accomplished something.

There are some games (especially some MMOs) where I don't even bother to log in because I only have 30 minutes and don't want to spend it traveling, on inventory management, or just trying to remember where I left off and why. RE:R has none of those issues, and is incredibly friendly to short-burst gaming.

RE:R is also built around a more traditional design and structure, one familiar to fans of the original games. There's a lot of locations and art assets that get re-used, although what's really going on is you're having most of your adventures on a spooky cruise liner, a remote mountain installation, and occasionally in flashbacks to a man-made floating wonder city called Terragrigia shortly before its about to be destroyed. You'll grow quite familiar with the weaving maze of corridors in the haunted ghost ship which Jill and her BSAA partner Parker must explore, even as Chris and his femme fatale buddy Jessica crawl around in the snowy mountains looking for other clues.

The game introduces a bunch of new characters to the RE storyline, and most of them live to the end. In fact I have to say this game did a great job of adding new and interesting faces to the RE canon; we get more of that in RE6, of course, but for whatever reason the characters introduced here in RE:R get more story time, more attention, more fun and cheesy lines and are just plain old more interesting because of this. If there's a RE7 in the near future, I would really like to see Parker Luciani, Jessica Sherawat and Clive O'Brien show up again (although admittedly, some are more likely to return than others, based on RE:R's ending sequence, which is fairly comprehensive in establishing where everyone ends up).

There's really only one character that I didn't see enough of, and she's mostly there as a unique and very persistent foe: Rachel, or more accurately Rachel Ooze. Rachel is pretty much spoken of only posthumously, and her real legacy lies with the Raid Mode events, but her persistent resurrected form haunts your protagonists throughout the game, and it would have been nice to have learned a bit more about her prior to her death and rebirth.

Rachel before...
...and after. FYI she's available in Raid Mode as a DLC pack,
and is my second favorite Raid Mode character after Jill

Not only does RE:R offer up a twelve chapter tale in the classic RE:R vein, filled to the brim with things you can click on to learn more cool story bits, find keys and otherwise deal with various puzzles and mysteries, but it also provides a robust after-game solo and multiplayer co-op feature called Raid Mode. The Raid Mode lets you revisit the many areas of the game (it's broken up into roughly eighteen maps), bringing in an array of different characters and costume options (many of which require unlocking over time.). You equip them with tricked out weaponry and proceed to tackle each level in Raid Mode like a mini-adventure, complete with an end goal to reach and an array of threats between you and that goal. This mode was originally conceived in brief way back in the bonus hidden level for Resident Evil 2, where you could play the curiously named Umbrella agent Hunk as he blasted his way through Raccoon City, and over the years this got revisited in various forms including Mercenary Mode from RE5 (and other titles). Raid Mode is similar, but with an emphasis on solo and co-op play it allows you to essentially play through the levels and maps of the original game in an endless array of mini missions, which turns out to be strangely compelling, and a lot of fun. With level up mechanics, weapon upgrading and collecting, alternate skins and characters and a large number of escalating maps, it's a really cool way to extend the life of RE:R beyond the single player campaign. I'll be playing Raid Mode for a long time to come; it's actually more fun than the Mercenaries Modes in RE6 (though to be fair I quite enjoy those as well).

So, long story short, here's RE:R in a nutshell:

Single Player Campaign takes about 10-14 hours, is very fun and feels very much like original-style RE

Raid Mode is a fun extra feature that actually plays out like an endless array of cool mini missions, and allows co-op gaming

RE:R's budget design aimed at handhelds translates into a very easy-in and easy-out style of gaming that prompted it to make good use of its resources to tell a fun, sometimes camp, other times tense and exciting survival horror tale that treats the Resident Evil universe right. I want future titles in the franchise that are more like Resident Evil: Revelations.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Magic World Survey

Zomben (alias the author behind Magic World) has a survey going to find out what people are interested in for future MW products. You can find the survey link here over at Make your voice heard! I of course am keen on a bestiary, GM book, player's guide, some more exotic PC race options, Gm screen and the books already announced.

Magic World....if I could ever break away from Pathfinder for a few minutes, I'd make MW and Runequest 6 in some combination my go-to games for the foreseeable future. The problem I have is moving from "active 8-10 player weekly Pathfinder groups" to regular MW or RQ6 sessions of similar size and interest. Some day....some day...!

One of the cooler pics that pops up on an image search for Magic World

The Bureau: X-COM Declassified

Despite Wally McChestyhigh's frequent appearances, I am enjoying The Bureau

The Bureau: X-COM Declassified

As this game got closer and closer to release, the general consensus in various game journalism circles moved from one of contempt, due to concerns that the franchise in returning was going to jump the shark, to hopeful curiosity. Thanks mainly to X-COM: Enemy Unknown defusing the concern about another X-COM title that was yet  another shooter instead of a tactical turn-based strategy game, interest in The Bureau turned to curiosity and interest at what it was actually trying to accomplish. More recent discussions actually made the game sound like it was actually offering something worth investigation. Green Man had a decent promotion going for it, so I bit.

Here's the deal about The Bureau: it's a cover-based third person perspective shooter. It's literally and definitively part of the game play style characterized by Gears of War. It also happens to be taking a remarkably heavy hint from Mass Effect and contains dialogue wheels, lengthy interludes of discussion, exposition and exploration, stuff you click on to get pieces of the story and clues, and even requires you to use a tiny portion of your brain on occasion to solve some story puzzles (albeit of minor nature so far, but that's way more effort than any other game of this generation usually commands).

When I started playing The Bureau the introductory level was basically non-stop gung ho action and despite the fact that I was enjoying it I was also getting a bit concern being that I would be once again facing a game where all talking is done with the guns, and the slow, quiet moments in between are all chopped out because teenagers can't stay focused, apparently. As it turns out, the introductory level concluded and the game then moved to the hub of the Bureau....and I suddenly spent twice as much time just talking to people and walking around checking things out as I previously had doing the old run and gun. It was refreshing...very refreshing.

Other details worth mentioning so far:

There is a tactical element. You have an easy-to-use combat wheel that lets you direct your squad mates, and you can set the game's difficulty to make this feature more or less important. I am not a big fan of tactical direction anymore (that interest burned out in the '90s) and so I have set the play level to "rookie" so I don't have to worry too much about what my cohorts are doing--most of the time, anyway.

The game's graphics are really impressive. Not in a "wow this is realistic" sort of way, although it does go for a distinctly appropriate celluloid-film grainy photorealism style with real-looking humans instead of cartoony people. Rather, the entire aesthetic of The Bureau is meant to invoke the look and feel of the early 60's, from the tech to architecture to dress styles. You can search hard to find anachronistic elements, or lazy art design, but you will search in vain. The graphic designers did a fantastic job here. Not only that, but the story writers (for there is a lot of story buried in the game waiting to be found) did an equally good job. It's a level of attention to detail that I haven't seen in a period title like this before, and it adds immensely to the sense of immersion the game offers.

The immersion is so good that I only spotted two bits so far that annoyed me: you can occasionally find tape reels which, when clicked, will play a recording, despite no tape player being present on which to spool the reels. With so much other attention to detail this seemed kind of odd. Second, the woman manning the Bureau's radio room has what seems to be an unusually hip, modern haircut. That's it so far after about four hours in. (EDIT: on second thought, her hair style looks a lot like the style Liz Taylor and other women of the time sometimes favored...I think it's the coloring that makes it look modern).

Finally, your character, Agent Carter, is clearly modeled after Robert Patrick's John Doggett from the last couple seasons of the X-Files. The character, conceptually, works really well here. Carter is a tough, no-nonsense former CIA agent with a past who gets recruited into the spanky new Bureau just in time for the Mosaic to come knocking at Earth's door. He's got just a tad more character then the usual protagonist we see fighting space aliens (the crew cut space marine dude), and between Carter and the President from SRIV it's this refreshing change in Who I Get to Play that makes these games more interesting despite the cliched alien infestation problem.

Obviously I've got a long way to go with the Bureau; I'm a father, and fully employed, so games take me weeks or even months to finish at times, waiting for that golden conjunction where interest, opportunity and free time converge simultaneously to allow me a chance to plow through this stuff. I suspect I'll keep the Bureau high on my list of "must finish" titles though, it's got all the bells and whistles in a game that I like (short of being a pure open sandbox title).

I reckon he were an alien, ayup

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Saint's Row IV: When Sociopaths Rule

The last week or so has been a busy one for PC gaming. A slow summer punctuated by occasional gonzo sales from the online digital retailers has ended, more or less, and we're getting the early arrivals for the looming holiday season. I'll start talking about the big daddy of mayhem and madness, and then the rest over the next few days...

Saint's Row IV

First up is Saint's Row IV, the game in which almost anything goes, and which is also the culmination of a four-game cycle as well as a demonstration on how to start off as a clone of another game and end up as your own unique subgenre before the ride is over. Saint's Row IV is the epic-level content for the series, a game where you start off as president of the United States (after having spent the prior three games having your sociopathic character crawl up the ladder from guttersnipe ganger to gang lord, to criminal mastermind of a very successful marketing empire), and almost immediately aliens invade. You, naturally, proceed to kick serious the Saint's Row universe is one in which video game physics and realities are implicit, the default norm for SR protagonists is "nearly god like," but before SRIV is over you will have propelled yourself into the realm of super heroics, too.

I've plowed through the first several missions and a bunch of side quests in SRIV so far and the game is up to true form. About the only disappointment is that the core play area of the game is a virtual-reality simulation of Steelport, the city from SR3, which means the sandbox will look quite familiar (though the city has undergone some alien revisions). Despite this, the game is pure gold, and is loaded with new and classic SR-style content.

I figure the gonzo balls-to-the-wall madness of SRIV should be quite satisfying, and hold everyone over who's also waiting for GTAV. I can't decide if I care about GTAV or not. On the one hand it looks like it will tell not one but three interweaving tales of decadent and vile criminals, a subgenre I have been slowly growing to appreciate. On the other hand I disliked most prior GTA titles (except for Vice City). I don't know....SRIV is hard to beat in the realm of "open city crime sandbox games."

Do  the mascots get revenge for the endless abuse they have suffered at long last? I doubt it! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls announced

Blizzard formally unveiled the next Diablo III expansion, Reaper of Souls. I guess this puts the nail in the coffin on The Dark Below being anything other than a World of Warcraft expansion. The announcement was made at Gamescon in Germany. Press release is here.

The expansion adds in a lot of content that honestly should have been in the original game, such as longevity-adding features like a "loot run" mode and something called Nephalem Trials, which I anticipate will be ways the system can make procedurally generated content that exists apart from the main storylines and allows for fun dungeon runs without repeating the story ad nauseum. Also, a new class in the form of the Crusader, which I predict will be very paladin-like.

I look forward to playing this in 3-4 years! Unless Bobby Kotick  starts cracking the whip...

Omni is Back

Greyhawk Grognard tipped me off to this first, but apparently someone has at last taken the time to properly reboot Omni, the distinct SF/science/oddities magazine from the eighties that filled a very important niche back in the day. Omni was a great interesting and informative read, really....and was a significant pre-internet voice on the strange and interesting in its time. If the new Omni can do the same, and keep up the level of quality that it was known for back then, this will be a good thing. In today's interesting wasteland of cheap attention-grabbing thrills, something like Omni could be a nice change of pace.

The State of D&D Next: Final Open Playtest Packet in September

Mike Mearls provides the latest update, and indicates that the last play test packet will go out next month. After that, it's all going to be R&D and closed play testing as they presumably tighten up the numbers, clean up the bits and pieces and write up the traditional metric ton of necessary exposition and fluff. I'm looking forward to it.

The open play test has had an overarching theme that has been consistent from start to finish, but the way its been presented and the different approaches have varied, sometimes quite a bit, from packet to packet. I've taken this as a good sign; a real play test shows change, testing, sometimes progress, and lots of experimentation. If the packet had varied  little from one month to the next that would have been a bad sign. Some stuff disappeared entirely (and who knows what it will look like in the final product)--sorcerer and wizard builds early on, for example (not to mention the blackguard and warden paladins); skill dice for another. Other things have gone missing that I expect will return: some sort of real skill system, for example. The playtest never did look into whether or not to expect more detailed, tactical combat options (and if they do appear, it will probably be some add-on supplement).

Of all the stuff that has shaped and molded I think the bumpiest rides have been in the area of the fighter class and the way feats are presented. As they stand with the latest packet I like what feats are becoming...also, the fact that the notion of feats as presented in 3.5 may at last have loosed its iron tight grip on R&D; I like the concept of feats, mind you....but the execution throughout the 3rd edition days is directly responsible for the vast majority of rules confusion, micromanagement issues and needless monster/NPC stat-block clutter. Anything which reduces those issues is ace in my book. I'll sacrifice a touch of nuanced content in exchange for ease of access any time.

Mearls outlines several bullet points about what the R&D team has learned about overall player preferences in the play test. By now everyone has either read the list or reprinted it ad nauseum, so I won't repeat it (just click the link above) but I do think they've caught the gist of what the larger gaming crowd are interested in, to a certain degree. One thing this list definitely isn't is representative of your average gaming forum-goer's opinions and attitudes. There's a pretty tight group of gamers online who are rife with opinions and game theory, who have their favorite editions and opinions about what constitutes the one true D&D...and those people are important to the process, as we all are, but lack a certain measure of self-awareness about just what their opinions are actually worth. In my own gaming circle, for example, I know of at least 20 other gamers locally who I GM for (and occasionally get to be a player with) and of them only two are regular purveyors of forums who also fill out the WotC play test surveys. So three gamers out of twenty-one (counting myself in there) are actually getting their voices heard (and for the record, two of us are excited about DDN and the third gave up on WotC in 2000).

Anyway....for me personally I rather like the intention and much of the design in DDN's latest play test edition. It's got some neat ideas, it has some core conceits that I have grown to accept (bounded accuracy being chief among them) despite reservations, and a few warts as well (the absence of a skill system in lieu of simply fixing the skill dice problem). The next D&D is going to be closer to its AD&D roots than the last two editions by far, which is not a bad thing by my estimation. And if people don't like it? Well, WotC has done an impressive job keeping all prior editions in print or PDF, which is kind of unbelievable, actually. No matter how you cut it, I'm looking forward to what 2014 has to offer for D&D.

Still not sure Pathfinder has anything to worry about, though...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lovecraft Birthday Sale at rpgnow

One Book Shelf is having a Birthday Sale for H.P. Lovecraft at DrivethruRPG and its other affiliate sites. Lots of good stuff over there (gaming, music, fiction and audio books) on sale. Check it out!

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Latest RPG Buying Frenzy

I ordered quite a haul this last week...maybe once I have these books in hand, in the far future I will get a chance to read them...even --gasp!--- play them!

First up I put an order in for Numenera, which from all I have read is sounding increasingly interesting and fresh. There's a serious glut on the market right now for "games that look and feel a lot like D&D," and it's nice to see an RPG out there that might be fantasy yet not a D&D-like.

I attached to that order Fear Itself, a Gumshoe-powered game system with an emphasis on one-shot horror gaming with a high body count. The retailer also had copies of Advanced Recon and I've always wanted to check that game out so I threw it into the basket, too.

Over at I caved in and picked up Void Core and it's first two expansions. Made by the people behind Cthulhutech, Void Core looks to me like the game I wanted Cthulhutech to be--a quasi hard SF Cthulhu Mythos experience. It also looks more robust in terms of game mechanics and design than the last game I picked up with a similar thematic (Maschine Zeit), and since the core rules are entirely free (i.e. pay what you want) it was all I needed to explore the game and decide a physical copy was destined for my collection.

Lastly I have Mythic Adventures for Pathfinder waiting for pick-up, will be checking that out later today. I am uncertain as to whether it's going to be an amazing book full of new larger than life campaign ideas or a gimmick that gets ignored. I'll let you know more once I have it.

All of this is to compensate for not being able to attend GenCon, although a friend and his wife did indeed go there and even picked up two copies of the Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, one of which they will be sending me. Joy!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Best of Amazon Fake Reviews

I admit, I'm trying not to spit up my coffee on my workstation while looking at these. The whole thing was assembled by Amazon in honor of the best of the Fake Reviews, right here. Check it out, but point your lips toward your spittoon when you do!

A few favorites:

For the Three Wolf Moon Tee:

"Unfortunately I already had this exact picture tattooed on my chest, but this shirt is very useful in colder weather."

And for the Avery Durable View Binder:

"My women… keep sticking out over the edges, even getting away in some cases. I thought using clear, glass-ceiling page protectors would help, but it doesn't seem to slow them down anymore."

Cities of Thieves: Arenjun, Jewel of Shaddizhar

Continuing with the overview of cities rife with thieves, I present Arenjun, one of the more Machiavellian cities of the Realms of Chirak:

Arenjun: an Overview
Ruler: Caliph Aman Zarad
Government: benevolent monarchy
Religion: numerous, including the Temple of Laddaskar, Cult of the Lost Gods, Kalie’yana, Piscrael, the Desert Cult of Onoar, and more.

Key Organizations:

The Magi of Ranadas

This is the most venerable order of sorcerers in the desertlands of the south. The Magi are a neutral faction that eschews the dogma of both the Preservationists and the Arcanists. They have several members (including Para’kathain) who belong to the Tower of Kaledon and/or the Chronomancers. The Magi still prefer to consider themselves independent (and superior) to the other orders of magic in the world, and regard the mystical history of the Indastrei as the source of their own power.

The White Brotherhood

This order of assassins is dedicated to an enigmatic higher cause, sponsored by the legendary White prophet, a half-elven man of venerable years whose name is unknown to the public. His legend is such that the White Brotherhood is regarded with fear and respect by most citizens of Arenjun and the greater expanse of Shaddizhar. The order is dedicated to preserving the peace in the land, and while some nominally believe them to be a secret police force of the Caliph, they are in fact totally independent and would act against the caliph if he enacted policies or actions that jeopardized the safety of Shaddizhar. The White Brotherhood tracks foreigners of note carefully in their land. They are strongly opposed to Nithiadian influence in the desert kingdom, and are especially discontent with the recent civil strife from the neighbor kingdoms that have spilled over.

The Desert Cult of Onoar

This cult began as a nomadic belief that spread rapidly. In the last century the Cult of Onoar has become popular in civilized regions of Shaddizhar such as Arenjun, and temples have sprung up, built and funded by dedicates of the mysterious Onoar.

Onoar is self-described as a “Lord of Wisdom,” but does not portend to godhood. He is believed to be unnaturally long-lived, being over two and a half centuries old. His followers believe that he teaches the way to perfection in harmony, and that following his teachings will lead to the complacency of the soul, and in turn to the final ascencion of the soul to the heavens. Like the Cult of the Lost Gods, the desert cult believes that the mortal world is a shadow of the splendor to be found in “The Beyond,” and that it must be attained, the gods must be followed, to this mystical destination.
The problem with the Desert Cult, which is otherwise very passive, is that it is militantly aggressive against all other cults and religions. They will actively seek to destroy supporters of other faiths, burn the temples of the Forgotten Gods or the Lost Gods, and despise all such teachings. The prophet Onoar is surrounded by yes-men and a secret cabal of divine practitioners who feel that they are close to ascencion, and that the closer to ascencion they get the more powerful they become (they are usually invokers). The belief that all beings are entitled to, even required to believe as they do is part of this cult’s philosophy. Luckily only for the rest of the region their general disagreeability makes them difficult to grow and expand; the proselytizers of Onoar lack subtlety or guile, and often resort to the ancient tradition of “theologians with clubs” instead.

Locations in Arenjun:

The Grand Bazaar

This open-air tent market runs all day and in to the night, weather permitting. Arenjun’s bazaar is regarded as the finest market on the Southern Coast, and rivals or exceeds It is open to all, and daily fee collectors move about collecting a nominal charge for use of the markets. Sales outside of the market are banned to foreigners. The fee will vary according to the perceived wealth of the merchant. Locals and long-time foreigners can pay a monthly cost if desired.

Currently, due to the strife and bloackade from the Nithiadian city-state of Polides, the bazaar has been suffering somewhat, as the Caliph refuses to agree to cut off trade relations between Arenjun and Eterna in the north, one of the few Nithiadian allies with Arenjun. Still, traders and caravans from Eredor, Westgate, Grelmaine, Mercurios, Espanea and beyond regularly find their way here, despite the blockade attempt.

The Palace of the Caliphate

The center of Shaddizhar’s power, the palace is a vast complex, larger than almost any other complex in the Sea of Chirak region, said to be home to more than 10,000 officials and twice as many slaves. It is a veritable city unto itself, and is regarded by the scholar and explorer Zemaxas of Masiria as one of the Nine Wonders of the World.

The Temple District

Like most cities, Arenjun has a temple district. Unlike most cities, this one is surprisingly expansive and liberal, with temples or monuments to many entities, including avatars, dead gods, both the cults of the Lost Gods and the Forgotten Gods, and temples, monasteries and institutes to more than two dozen philosophical cults and followings to various known prophets.

Some of the temples of note here include the vast Temple of the Forgotten Gods, in which the lost Twelve are presented in iconography and monuments for all to worship in memory and blessing. There are a dozen temples to avatars, including Kalie’yana, Phylos, Obohon, Mardieur Mardieux, Piscrael, Laddaskar, The Lost One, some entity called Scorius, Pallath Enarias, and more. Temples to “mystery gods” such as Hun’hunal can be found here, and a vast monument to the enigmatic Adeas Immortas caps the end of the Temple District, where the elite of the city travel to pay homage to a statue of the ancient “Thirteenth God.” His statue is said to have been here before the founding of the city, and to have been here since the time of the Indastrei, indestructible against all forces. More pragmatic antiquarians date the creation of the statue to the reign of the Caliph Hasrahad, who five centuries ago was said to have unearthed the statue with the aid of the adventurer Nosaj and his crew, and to have hauled it from the Zettaram Mountains to the hub of the city as a monument to the “first king” of Shaddizhar. The temple has but one keeper, a genasai named Kalimas, who is an authority on the lost cultures of the desert.

The Iron Keep of Nasaram Pakor

This massive structure is located along the outskirts of the northern quarter, just north of the palace district. The keep overlooks the sea as well as the southern deserts from atop its plateau, and allows for first sighting of threats from any direction against the city. The keep itself is garrisoned by a battalion of soldiers, and serves as the principle military compound, protecting Arenjun against all threats.

In times of peace the Iron Keep is a fortress and a prison, where the most heinous of the criminals of the city are interred in the near-legendary deep dungeons beneath the fortress. The dungeons are said to descend ten levels below, and are considered impregnable by most, though rumors and secrets abound that the lowest levels open up into the subterranean expanses of the Lower Dark, and that an especially brave and foolish soul can escape the prisons only to become a victim of the vile denizens of the underworld.

The Iron Keep is named for its builder, the caliph Pakor. Pakor founded the keep seven centuries ago, so the stories go, although the reasons for its construction are lost to memory. Ostensibly it was to defend the young city of Arenjun, but in truth there are hidden references to the keep that refer to it as a sort of “cap stone,” and that it was built atop a vast network of underground tunnels that were only later converted in to dungeons. This particular fable suggests that there was once a very ancient and evil entity, a Thousandspawn of unknown name, that lurked in the deepest levels of the Lower Dark beneath the keep, and that at one time this being’s hellish spawn threatened to erupt from the earth and engulf the land in destruction. The caliph and magi Nasaram Pakor held fast against the evil, fighting it back and ultimately constructing a great ward upon the earth of the plateau, then building the Iron Keep around it to protect the ward from erosion or destruction. This story is substantiated by the fact that the center hall of the keep is, in fact, a great chamber with a vast iron pentagram laid in to the stone floor; mages who visit this chamber sense a potent binding magic emanating from the pentagram, which encompasses the whole plateau and sinks deep in to the earth.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shaddizhar - Kingdom of Nomads

Before I present the Jewel of Shaddizhar, the city of Arenjun it's worth printing some details on this kingdom in the Realms of Chirak for background reference. This is the original overview as seen in the RoC campaign book:

Iron Age desert kingdoms struggling under Nithiadian oppression
Cultural Level: steel age
Population: approximately 1-2 million
Government: desert chiefdoms
Rulers: various sheiks, especially Azmahur Jhayan
Religions: animism, worship of Gathas and the Lost One.
Social Titles: commoner, warrior, lord, sheik
Coinage: copper dinari, silver dinari, gold dinari
Allies: Huron, Adenach
Enemies: Nithiad

The Shaddizhari are a nomadic culture of desert tribesmen who resent the Nithiadians' incursions, and like the Huron minotaurs are treated by the Nithiadians are a source of slaves. Though culturally limited, the Shaddizhari have storytellers who recall tales of their ancient greatness, and they respect learned men. The lands of these people are harsh, however, and they have little time to do more than struggle day to day against the elements and beasts of the land.

   The region of Shaddizhar is laden with ruins of ancient glory. Few of the ruins in this region are more than 1,500 years old, but it is clear that sometime in the past the people of the land were united and strong. No one has yet solved the mystery of what the tale of the Shaddizhar empire was, or why it crumbled.

   Besides the Shaddizhari, there are large and well-organized hordes of centaurs that dwell in the region, mostly peaceful but on occasion prone to violence, especially against Nithiadians and slave hunters. Other nonhuman factions in the region include the Riverblood Dragonborn, the Ulingar orcs, western Kulaidoriin elves, Redfoot halfling tribes, Spindlefire Gnomes and Gromoshti goblins, the Nomarakki Tieflings of the eastern Everdread Desert, and the Masharanza shifters. Indeed, humans are in a minority in this region of the world.

   While there are a great many nonhuman groups in the region, the Shaddizhari nomads and city folk still make do. They regularly war with Nithiadian incursionists and slavers, while tentatively trading with mysterious southern traders from various strange lands as well as Adenite traders.

Among those Shaddizhari who have settled down and no longer roam as nomads there can be found two distinct cultural groups, including the Zettaram culture and the Krytian subculture of the west, which is also heavily influenced by Nithiadian beliefs and ways.

   The remaining Shaddizhari who live as nomads divide themselves in to five distinct tribes. The five tribes are called the Khulinar, Rezhaman, Jhayani, Aradesh and Nethromal. Each of the five tribes lives simple but determined lives, and try to use diplomacy and tact before resorting to violence whenever possible, except against obvious threats.

Among the inland Zettaram culture are several cities along the Shimharan River, including Imhan, Arunjen and the rough trade center Bordertown. Bordertown is a place where most of the nomadic and nonhuman groups can gather to trade and interact with one another in safety.

   The coastal cities of Shaddizhar are dominated by the Nithiadian-influenced Krytian subculture, and include Valdenar and the Freeport of Krytia, although many Arunjenians consider themselves Krytians as well. Due to the Nithiadian influence in these cities, many Shaddizhari-born natives are accorded a measure of respect by their peninsular rivals and sometime allies. This makes the Krytians less trusted in the eyes of their nomadic and inland kin.

   The Firemane Lands of the Centaur Plains are one of the more dangerous regions to travel to, and only the diehard centaurs enjoy ruling the region, which is pocked with old volcanic spills from the Apocalypse. Elsewhere, Zettaram and the Southern Passage are a major center of human activity and trade, as well as a center for many other local nonhuman communities. The Southern Passage is the safest trade route to the mysterious River folk of the south.

   There are many monsters in Shaddizhar, including an infamous Thousandspawn known as Echidnae, the Mother of all Monsters, said to dwell somewhere beneath the flood plains of the river, birthing new monsters every year when the river overflows. Indeed, many hideous beasts rise up from the muck during this time, and brave warriors are tasked with the job of putting them down while protecting those who farm the region.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Saving Fang from the Pits of Morgul for Tunnels & Trolls

Saving Fang from the Pits of Morgul is a new Tunnels & Trolls adventure that Ken St. Andre just released, and which backers to the Deluxe T&T Kickstarter received PDFs of. The solitaire is actually intended for use with the original 1st edition T&T rules (which are in print somewhere through Ken, I believe) and is officially the first solo ever released for that particular edition, since Buffalo Castle came out with the 2nd edition of T&T.

The book is's got Simon Tranter cover and interiors (Simon did the cover for my Chirak book, too) and Steve Crompton layout and design so in terms of overall look and quality it's way above the average non-D&D OSR product (or regular D&D-derived OSR product, for that matter). With Saving Fang out that adds this one to Buffalo Castle's revision and the new City of Terrors. From Rick Loomis's latest update it sounds like we may at last be seeing the Deluxe game and mail-outs maybe a month or two late (just guessing) past August....we shall see!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Giving Neverwinter Online a Second Chance

In a series of amusing steps I went from being a little incensed at Perfect World's severely limited "why did you stop playing?" survey to curious about the game and suddenly I'm back to playing. The process worked sort of like this, and suggests some important reasons to consider why NWO is actually a decent game, despite some oddities that may or may not be deal breakers:

Step 1-get back into FR lore/books: I resumed reading Salvatore's Forgotten Realms novels again. Also started reading some other D&D novels that are now accessible on ebook. In this process I discovered that books which once offended my literary sensibilities when they were new (i.e. Avatars Trilogy) are suddenly kind of fun to read. So my reading tastes have shifted with age, apparently. 

Step 2-grow annoyed at useless survey: Got that survey, which prompted me to think about key issues I had with NWO. Truth is, I deleted NWO because I didn't have time to focus on it and didn't want to take the time to figure out if it was going to be a costly venture or not....a legitimate issue with all F2P model MMOs.

Step 3-play a medley of MMOs and go "waitasec...": Wife got back into Everquest II with some of her online cohorts this weekend. This prompted me to download EQII to try it out with them. End result: although I sense a really interesting story and background in EQII, it left me wondering why I was doing this when I had other games under my belt that still had lots of time, investment and life left in them (i.e. D&D Online, Rift, Guild Wars 2). So I stopped EQII and skipped over to some of the old mainstays to see if they would pique my interest again.

Step 4-go back to DDO and remember it's got problems: Quickly eliminated D&D Online after a few hours playing through only to lose all the XP again with a party wipe at the end of a dungeon, reminding me of why I never got very far in the game (highest PC I have through normal progression is level 13) and also why I found it so frustrating. Annoyed at beholders I met, wishing another game would let me engage with some iconic D&D critters and environments. Hey...waitasec....

Step 5-Acceptance that tabletop space and MMO space are different beasts (also, bribes): Realized that I ought to just get over the lack of "D&D-like design" in the char gen and just try NWO again. Accidentally discovered I had 200,000 astral diamonds and that these could be exchanged to purchase in-game zen. This got me enough zen to get four characters slots and an extra companion slot. Also discovered I had a code to redeem for an orc wolf buddy (mount?) at level 20. Cool.

Step 6-Scrub brain of expectations, resume game with fresh slate (also, drow!): With a fresh mind I approached NWO once again taking my own advice from my first overview of the game: to treat it as an experience in its own right and not as a D&D-simulator for the MMO-verse. Noticed drow had at last unlocked for everyone, made a rogue. Discovered the rogue is far more fun to play than either warrior class. Why, NWO devs, do you guys hate warriors so much?!?!? So drow rogue for me!

So long story short, here's four tips to properly enjoying NWO:

1. treat it as a lore-rich experience in the Forgotten Realms. Ignore the D&D part and get it out of your head that the game should be a simulation of the D&D tabletop experience in terms of rules and processes. If this is hard, go play DDO for a while; you'll either stay there or realize, "Yes, NWO is a better and more rounded experience, even if DDO has a lot of cool also has a lot more frustrating stuff, too."

2. Make anything other than a warrior type character. I can say rogue is good, and have been told clerics kick butt. Will try a wizard soon.

3. Remember, even though NWO is ostensibly based on 4E mechanics, it's only superficially so. The similarities are enough for me to really miss my 4E gaming days, but should not be problematic for anyone who had issues with 4E.

4. Finally, and most importantly: don't let veteran MMO gamer jadedness dissuade you! It gets me all the time when I try new MMOs, and it's a real bummer when it does. NWO is better than I give it credit for, but MMO fans are suffering from a serious level of overload and choice these days. I think NWO deserves a bit more consideration than I was giving it previously....although they still need to get more classes in (warlock, ranger, paladin and warlord would be fantastic) and at least one more race (dragonborn).

Investing in NWO probably means less time with Guild Wars 2 for me....which is okay; GW2 is a game which commands time in a slower and more methodical way for me. I'm still keeping up with Rift when the mood arises, though. I will soon have my first level 50 defiant rogue over there, and look forward to someday getting her or my guardian warrior to level cap (60) in the laborious albeit interesting Storm Legion content.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tyler Jacobson

There's an interview and showcase of art on Tyler Jacobson over at the WotC site. I really like Tyler's work, and hope he's a key force in iconic imagery for D&D Next. Check it out!

Here are some of his works I really like:

Friday, August 9, 2013

The City of Octzel in the Warlords Era

Octzel started as one of the first cities I detailed in depth back in the 80's, and it has continued to be an important location across eras of play spanning nearly twenty centuries. Like many historic European cities, Octzel has a venerable legacy which outlives empires and kingdoms, morphing and adapting over the ages to survive as the capitol of the region and the center of power for the throne of the kingdom. Octzel is also where my original Lingusia campaign evolved rapidly into a thieve's guild campaign, in which my sister's original thief character fought his way up the guild ladder of the Black Lotus Guild to eventually gain respect and then at last seize control of the underworld. For centuries the Black Lotus Gang was the principle thieve's guild in the city, serving both as ally and enemy to other later characters in future campaigns. 

The write-up below was my initial foray into updating the capitol for the era of the Warlords of Lingusia (a.w. 3,500) and will be the springboard from which I evolve the city into a new era of skulduggery and mischief!

Capitol Octzel

   Octzel’s capitol, first founded as a penal colony for Hyrkania nearly two thousand years ago, is one of the oldest cities in the Middle Kingdoms, and despite the centuries of turmoil and the lengthy dark age that descended on the land after the Cataclysm, it remains the third largest city in the Middle Kingdoms (right after Hyrkadin; Yllmar is the largest) despite the fact that the focus of trade between the east and west has shifted to the routes through the Sea of Amech. Octzel remains strong as the center of trade with the north, and especially with is alliances in distant Il’Dranir. The mysterious region of north-western Il’Dranir first opened up to trade and exploration about two centuries ago after it was formally discovered by the Octzellan explorer Targas dann Malik, and the many wonders and mysteries of that distant continent are only now becoming available to the Middle Kingdoms.

   Octzel’s landscape has changed over the centuries, for much of its area was located in a shallow bay along the coast, with a larger percentage of the city entrenched along the high cliffs of the bay. As a result, much of Octzel’s old city is now located beneath the lengthy shallow, bay, and it’s palace and old city is now an island in the center of this bay. Beyond, the new city of the land stretches out, and is protected by a wall even greater in size than Octzel’s old wall, which ran along the circumference of the old bay, and is still visible in portions of the city where it was constructed on the highland areas. This is not unusual for many coastal cities; virtually any region of land along the old coast within 150 feet of sea level was immersed during the post-cataclysmic “greenhouse event” in which the great polar masses along the periphery of the world were melted as a side-effect of the cataclysm. Octzel was fortunate that it was built along and around a shallow bay with such high cliffs in the region, and is indeed the only accessible point along the rocky cliffs of the northern peninsula to hold such a position for ships to dock.

   In its heyday Octzel was believed to have a population of one hundred thousand or more, if you counted the farmlands and countless villages that dotted the landscape to provide agricultural support for the city. These days the population is believed to be slightly less, perhaps as few as 80,000 strong, but the region has developed several townships. Even the Veraggen Mountains have become a populace location, with half a dozen communities thriving in the region.

   The city of Octzel is now divided in to the following regions:

The Old City and Palace

   Located on an island in the heart of the bay, Old City (once known as the Inner City) is where the bulk of the most ancient architecture can be found, surrounding the Royal Palace, the same building which was originally constructed by the mad king Donn-Dadera. Those few who are still privy to the many hidden byways and secret passages of the palace know that much of it is now below sea level, and while some passages are now flooded, a large percentage of it remains intact, and seemingly water-proof.

   The Old City still includes many famous features that have been with the legendary city since its early inception, including the Wall of Dreams, the legendary Urian Row, and the Royal Gardens, where the ancient remnants of Quirak’s lost tower can still be seen, long ago used for decorative reconstructions by the druids of the sacred grove within the gardens proper.

    The largest mansions are located in Old City, stretching high, sometimes to five or more stories, to take advantage of the limited space on the small isle. The streets are narrow, and sometimes not even accessible by cart or wagon, and palanquins are very popular among the decadent rich. The north east corner of the isle, adjacent to the palace, holds the new Watchtower, where the Royal Guard stands strong in protection of the king. It is here, along with large store houses within and beneath the palace, that supplies are stockpiled should the Old City ever come under siege. Such provisions were first begun during the years of the Plague of Unarak, when ships full of undead crew were striking, like northern raiders, along the coast in random fashion. There is a great warship, the galleon called Enki’s Might, still resting along the docks of Old City for display, magically preserved as a relic of the ancient war, as it was the ship that the great admiral Sageros gonn Aleric used to lead the Octzellan fleet against the ragtag undead navy that sailed from unknown parts of the east, to be destroyed not far from the coast of Picadore Isle. This ship, and the legacy of gonn Aleric, who rose up to cast off the sour yoke of his grandmother Catea’s legacy of necromancy to become one of the land’s legendary heroes is a very popular tavern tale in the city these days.

   Another popular location in Old City, one known to many for countless years yet now displaced, is the Tavern over the Inn. This tavern was located squarely in the middle of the lowland region of the city, and when the dike-lands were flooded during the early years of the deluge, its owners picked up and moved to a property in the Inner City region of the time, owned by the legendary Black Lotus guild of old times (not that anyone knew of that, officially.) It has since become a famous respite along the Old City docks that eventually sprang up nearby, after the deluge concluded. The tavern continues to earn its name, as the vast and regular levels of construction atop the remnants of older buildings have guaranteed that the tavern has numerous sub-levels, and indeed it even connects to the Under City region, as well. Historically the tavern has served as a safe haven for thieves and other criminals to meet and conspire, and even today it's reputation and legacy continue. 

The Under city

   The Under City is a region of underground city streets and shops that were buried beneath newer levels of construction on the island, and served for many decades as a place of respite for the beggars and underclass of the city, until the various thieves and merchants guilds organized to excise the local squatters and turn the Under City in to a place of profit. Over the last few centuries Under City has prospered, but become a notorious place for seedy activities and criminal dealings. Today, the Under City is where smugglers, sailors, thieves and other unsavory types go to conduct business, as well as being a center of trade and commerce for gambling, prostitution and even slavery.

The Main City

   The main city of Octzel is stretched out along the coast, nestled protectively behind the Great Wall, which was built during the dangerous years after the flood during the threat of the Plague of Unarak. The full city proper stretches along seventeen miles of coast, like a great band, and there is a brisk trade among ferrymen to carry passengers from one stretch of the coastal city to the next. To the average visitor of Octzel, the city feels like one long stretch of pleasant townships and burroughs along the coast, all united under one rule. The largest portion of the city is concentrated along the region closest to the isle of the Old City, and here the main city is bulked out somewhat, and includes the main body of the merchant quarters, the dockyards, the fairgrounds and Fort Agaskar, which stands as the center of the Octzellan military, and is the staging ground for all activities that require the king’s army.

   Octzel has always been a center of trade and commerce, and the modern city is no exception. It harbors the largest trade center in the Middle Kingdoms for commerce with the northlands of Autrengard, as well as the frontier kingdoms of Chasiere and Hytaskos. It is the only current city in the Middle Kingdoms to engage in brisk commerce with Il’Dranir, specifically the kingdoms of Chaladea, Suri-Varkos and Shemvata

Next up: I'm actually going to provide some additional overviews of other equally appropriate cities for a "medieval bastards" campaign before I decide which one to elaborate on. I may even provide the original (far more detailed) overview of Octzel from a thousand years earlier. We'll see...