Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review - Godzilla (2014)

I can't believe I didn't review this yet....I was sure I had! Scanning through my blog posts however makes it look like I started something and then got distracted. I actually got a chance to see it about three weeks ago, even before X-Men IV. Here goes....

Anyway, since I reviewed Pacific Rim at long last I thought I'd also throw in the 2014 Godzilla remake as well for good measure. For one thing it's a more generally enjoyable film if only because it doesn't give us a ton of caricatures that we're supposed to somehow grow to like despite the fact that they are hollow puppets reflecting other characters in better movies. Godzilla goes straight for the "grrrr" and makes the movie about the main character: Godzilla himself.

Now mind you, they can't just make a film about an over-the-shoulder camera following Godzilla everywhere, as cool as that might there are human characters in this film. For the first thirty minutes or so you are graced with an elder Joe Brody played to the hilt by Brian Cranston as a man obsessed with his dead wife, who died in a mysterious nuclear meltdown in a reactor in Japan (oooh topical). Meanwile Ken Watanabe is the equally obsessed Dr. Serizawa who is part of a team that finds evidence of these ancient monsters within the earth and studies them. It turns out Godzilla showed up in the 1950's, and the Bikini Atol explosion was actually one of a number of cover-ups to nuke the monsters out of existence....

Note that I have taken the time to mention character names in Godzilla. The lead character isn't even human but the human characters in this movie are still at least nominally more memorable than Pacific Rim's highly derivative archetypes. Of course, there's Dr. Brody's son, Ford Brody....he sort of messes the "this movie has better characters despite them still being just shills for Godzilla's travelogue" thing up. Ford is a generic crew-cut all-American marine who just happens to be at all the right places at the right time for monster attacks. He's also grieving for the loss of his mother by not believing his father's crazy stories.

The rest of the movie is basically a big combination showdown between kaiju and a Godzilla travelogue. Here's Godzilla in Asia. Here's Godzilla in Hawaii. Here's Godzilla in the Pacific Ocean. Here's Godzilla visiting San Francisco. It's actually a great tale of one giant irradiated lizard's attempts to see the sights while hunting down two immense bug monsters.

There's some plot involving Ford and his wife and son that's mostly there to make sure we have a familiar eye on the ground for all the action and to confuse less genre-devoted family members into thinking there's some element of humanity to worry about in the movie. There's a great sequence with his father that is cut short unfortunately early in the film as Dr. Brody perishes, leaving the less than emotional Dr. Serizawa to serve as a pale substitution for a meaningful character. There's a vague hand-wavy reason they keep Ford around long enough for him to figure out some of the big picture, but it's awfully "convenient" so long as we remember that Ford is a vacuous action hero nice guy and audience cipher that makes sure we are filled in in the least clinically scientific way possible. Which is good, because science is usually out the door when kaiju are around.

The movie carries on through one spectacular event after another until a grand climax in San Francisco. We learn that Dr. Serizawa thinks that Godzilla is a earth-protector of some sort, and the kaiju bugs are why he woke up. Godzilla ends up saving the day, and then moves off into the Pacific for the inevitable sequel. And there will be a sequel. This movie got the one character right it needed to: Godzilla. The rest was just a way to frame the cameras around him. I look forward to seeing which new or classic kaiju Godzilla gets to beat up next.

Count me in for a solid A for the 2014 Godzilla!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Very Late Reviews: Pacific Rim

Did this come out last year? I've had it on blu-ray for a while now, but as is common for those with small children finding the time to actually watch a movie is a monumental feat.

You probably know all about this one, so I'm going to cut to the chase: this is a movie about giant robots fighting to defend humanity from giant monsters (kaiju) emerging from a dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. It is actually a sort of "actualization" of the mecha anime genre, and even tries to skew fairly close to its tropes and thematics, or at least as closely as it can while still going for modern CGI realism. This is both a strength and weakness of the lacks a certain sense of "real world" feel to it while simultaneously portraying an amazingly detailed, fully realized giant robot and giant monster universe.

Rather than discuss the film in any general sense, I thought I'd raise a few bullet points of interest....a sort of list of things I liked ...and didn't like....about Pacific Rim. It was definitely a fun movie, no doubt about that. However, it was also very by-the-numbers. You've probably heard of the horrible, horrible secret that Hollywood's screenplays are pretty much all following one script these days (and they's almost drinking game worthy). The screenwriter for Pacific Rim appears to have a general sense along these lines, too, it turns this discussion of his process suggests. Watching the movie only provides further evidence of least, I imagine, to veteran film aficionados, critics and avid film-goers.

Pacific Rim offers pretty much no is so by the book that even when you barely have a frame of reference for why things are happening (as opposed to why they should be happening in a more sensible fashion) you still know exactly what is going to happen, who is going to live, who is going to die, and more or less why. The plot points in this movie are so derivative, so effortlessly paced without any effort to confuse or obfuscate the viewer into even suspecting they might go for an unusual twist or two, that even at its most exciting I was left with a sort of emotionless fascination. The sort of thing you might experience when you head downtown to a major metropolis, and gawk at the neon lights illuinating the skyscrapers (a common visual theme in Pacific Rim, I might add). Cool, amazing, even evocative, but ultimately just "there," existing without point of purpose.

Anyway, here's the list of things I noticed about this film:

1. All the robots seemed to have better attacks that they couldn't bother to execute right off the bat. Also, none of the robots struck me as being as effective as a hefty long-range military barrage. I suppose that you could argue that bombarding a kaiju while its beating up a city is a bad idea, but these jaeger robots do as much, perhaps even more damage than a aerial bomb drop would do.

2. The movie revels in larger than life characters...well, not quite. It revels in caricatures. There's nothing wrong with caricatures in a film, you often need a lot of them, and sometimes you need them to set the tone, which Pacific Rim definitely does. But the movie is all about intense levels of property damage and loss of life at the hands of immense invading extra-dimensional monsters while the world's defenses pour money into gloriously ineffective giant robots to combat them. This was hard for me to really soak....and that's weird. In a movie about all this awesomeness, I was having a hard time buying it. Hell....even the cities seemed to have marvelously intact infrastructure, despite the fact that one gets the impression that giant kaiju have been pounding away for decades now in battle. Sure, I could (sort of) accept that they had been more effective in battling the kaiju and protecting the cities, but the film's precedent at the start is that this is turning south. No one even bothers to call for a general evacuation in a world where they've known about kaiju attacks....almost like clockwork....for decades. Hell, no one even thinks, "Let's move the cities inland." There's just so much that depends on that special anime mecha sort of logic to keep it all together....and when it's made just realistic enough it fails for me, apparently.

3. Last thing: nuclear reactors do not melt down by exploding. Oh gods Hollywood I can't be the only one bugged by this.....PLEASE stop doing this. It makes no sense. Hell, call it an anti-matter reactor and I'd buy it more than yet another nuclear reactor going critical and then "blowing up." Arrgh. I know this shouldn't bother me in a film where mad scientists can interface with alien brains and a 100 foot tall robot can re-enter orbit after a even bigger kaiju flies up there to drop them off (as it dies messily).....only to apparently have enough force to slow its descent to something that doesn't leave half the city a smoking crater. It's not a movie that even pretends to give a rat's ass about the physics of it all, as most summer blockbusters these days tend toward. But "reactors overloading" and then blowing up in a nuclear firestorm still annoy me.

Maybe the jaeger reactors are like tiny perpetual exploding nuclear bombs, and the "reactor" harnesses the raw energy of each explosion. That makes about as much sense as any of the other fantasy future tech in this movie, I suppose. I guess I should just relax and assume it's a fantasy physics world, and not an effort at any sort of real SF.

4. Some reviewers liked the simple charm of the movie.....but there's a difference between simple charm and "tired and hackneyed." The reason the characters and plot didn't really work was because it was tired and hackneyed. The most interesting character in this movie was........hmmm. You know, I really don't think there was a single interesting character in this movie. Maybe the female pilot, if only because she was a fine choice for female lead, possibly one of the only interesting breaks from convention (i.e. she wasn't Megan Fox).

Okay, 'nuff of my ranting about Pacific Rim, part of the "reviews for parents who don't get out often" series. I give it a C+ for some great FX, and a competent but painfully by-the-numbers plot which desperately wanted to do more than it was allowed. Go watch Godzilla at least dispensed for the most part with the silly humans, using the "protagonist" entirely as a vessel for letting us bask in Godzilla's glory instead.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Animate Collectors - converting living constructs to D&D 5E from Realms of Chirak

The stats for this creature will almost certainly change a bit when we get some official monster building guidelines, but based on what’s been floating around I thought I’d try converting some Realms of Chirak monsters to D&D 5th edition…’s a big tip: converting from 3rd edition/Pathfinder isn’t that hard, and it’s actually a lot easier than actually designing the same creature for that edition (no big surprise there!). So here we have….the lowly animate collector of Chirak.

Animate Collector
Medium construct, Lawful Neutral
Armor Class 16 (natural armor)       
Hit Points 16 (2D10+4)      
Speed 30 ft
STR 13 (+1); DEX 12 (+1); CON 16 (+3); INT 16 (+3); WIS 10 (+0); CH 6 (-2)          
Damage Resistances fire
Damage Immunity poison
Senses dark vision 60 ft., passive perception 10
Languages Espanean, Old Mythric, Logos, Tradespeak (Generic D&D: common, three others)
Challenge 1 (200 XP)

Living Construct. The animate collector is a living construct, and does not need to eat, breathe or sleep, though an animate with spell casting ability will need to meditate. Animates are immune to poison. Living contructs do have a animating spirit, however, and intelligence. As such they are not resistant to mind altering effects,
Lightning Slowness. Animates are reduced to half moving speed for one round when struck by lightning, and in that round they cannot take bonus actions or reactions.
Elemental Imbuement (fire): animates may imbue themselves with resistance to one elemental type. The sample worker drone is imbued with fire.

Fist melee weapon attack; +3 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target, hit 5 (1D6+1) bludgeoning damage
Fire Spray ranged area attack; +3 to hit, reach 15 ft cone, three targets in cone range, hit 8 (1D8+3) fire damage.

Armor Up. Animate collectors can “seal” their armor in reaction to an attack that they are aware of. The target gains disadvantage on the attack. This attack can be performed against any incoming strike until the animate actually takes damage, at which time it is no longer able to effectively armor up until it repairs itself.

   Animate collectors are the most human looking of the sentient golems, usually appearing as lavishly decorated humanoids with etched skin made of bronze, gold, wood and ceramic plates. Their bodies are composed of a curious mixture of clay, Plasticine substances, woolen material and these black strands of an unknown carbon-like substance that radiates elemental heat.

   Collectors really don’t like to fight, although they are equipped for it if necessary. Their primary function is to observe, record, and learn about the many cultures of Chirak, and if forced to confrontation the animate will seek only to defend and avoid hurting others. Not all animates are like this, however. Some rogue collectors, or animates from the Black Dome seem to look down on organic biological beings as less than worthy, and show an utter disdain for the lives of others. Such collectors are often found in league with the Arcanists, seeking out lost and forbidden secrets for exploitation.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mad Max Fury Road Trailer

This trailer was released at Comic Con in San Diego....I think this is probably the top movie I am looking forward to in 2015, slightly ahead even of Avengers II and Star Wars......yes, my apocalyptiphilia is showing....

Friday, July 25, 2014

One Thousand Pregenerated Basic D&D Characters

This madman wrote up 1,000 pregenerated basic D&D characters with enough details to use them as NPCs or PCs straight up. Let us all thank him for his madness!

Son's first RP session with Dad

First off last night was a special night for ol' dad as my 2 1/2 year old son, whose really been in to the Power Rangers lately, did something new: he started play acting with me. He was the "red samurai ranger" and I got to be the "blue samurai ranger" although later I changed to the black ranger apparently because I had a black t-shirt on. He grabbed up a couple plastic bamboo swords from his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys and we had to duel and pretend to fight nylocks (demons?) from the show. This was the first time he'd done this. I've sometimes asked him things like, "Are you going to be a power ranger?" in the past and he'd strongly answer, "No! I'm Marcus!" which cracked me up.....but tonight he migrated to a realm of pretend role play. Nice! Dad is pleased....albeit amused that it turns out the first form of RP we ever experience in life will inevitably be ad-hoc LARP.

It also amuses me that my son already can pronounce "samurai" perfectly at 2 1/2. I think I was all about army men and nazis at that age....didn't have Netflix, color TV, touch screens or any of the cool stuff my son does when I was growing up!!!! Woot I get to play "when I was your age" in real life now.
This version of the Power Rangers, because it turns out there are a lot of different versions

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Magic World and the Teacher/Student Dynamic in Campaigns

My Saturday Magic World game continues in all its eldritch glory, but the campaign is taking a darker turn as the group at last has met the liche Aruman, and instead of taking the guy out (which the two lone human barbarian types in the group would like to do) everyone is instead bartering with him, offering to work for the liche in exchange for magical training. This is not unexpected, as there are six opportunistic spell-casters (or wannabe casters) in this group. It demonstrates a fundamental divide between D&D style storytelling and other types of fantasy Magic World, as with other BRP/Runequest systems you gain power, spells and skill through experience and training. As a result, it's important as the GM to account for the fact that players will need time in the campaign for their PCs to find growth opportunities. Now, the idea that they will happily aid the local evil liche in exchange for power is a clear sign that my campaign is rapidly moving toward an "all shadow, all the time" sort of campaign, but hey, that's seems to be what the players want.

What's interesting of course, is that D&D games will never, RAW, offer the players a direct incentive to negotiate a working relationsghip with the evil wizard in this manner, because D&D's leveling process has been largely divorced from its environment (at least since 1E, which had training costs, but not much else). Now yes, you could probably have the lich (for there is no e in the D&D analog) offer up spell scrolls in exchange for deeds, sure....but the PCs still gain more by just killing the lich, taking the scrolls and gaining the XP. In Magic World, killing the lich kills the mentor, and he's the one you need to train you...

Anyway, this did get me to thinking a bit about how the need to advance being an integral part of your course of action in a BRP/MW style game can have a decidedly significant impact on player character behavior, one which is rarely seen in D&D.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Basic D&D: The WIzard from Level 1 to 20, plus the Wizard vs. the Fighter at Level 20

Wizards in D&D Basic are Evokers, one of multiple schools of magic, the rest of which will be in the full game. The evoker is a damage dealer, so it’s a good way to see how the spell combat versatility of the wizard stacks up to the cleaving might of the champion fighter.

The Beginning: I offer up Tarvena Ozandras, a human (for ease of comparison) wizard at level 1. Like Davin the fighter I’m making Tarvena using the point-buy method, but I’m going to play her to wizard strength’s exclusively, which means great INT and WIS.

Tarvena Ozandras
Race:     Human female Class:    Wizard           Level :   1
Alignment:         chaotic good    Background:       Sage (discredited academic)
STR 11 (+0); DEX 12 (+1); CON 10 (0); INT 16 (+3); WIS 16 (+3); CHA 12 (+1)
HD D6; HPs 6; Saves INT, WIS; Proficiency +2; AC 11   

Languages: Middle Tongue (common), Elvish
Skills: Arcana, History, Religion, Investigation
Tool Proficiencies: none
Wizard Traits:                                  
Spellcasting (ritual casting, Save DC 13; Spell Attack Modifier +5)
Spell Slots: 1st level: 3
Arcane Recovery (regain 1 spell slot = to ½ level rounded up once between rests)
Three Cantrips: light, mage hand, shocking grasp
1st Level Spells (2 slots):  burning hands, charm person, comprehend languages, detect magic, shield, sleep

Sage Feature: Researcher           
Armor:  a comfy cloak
Melee Weapons: Quarterstaff (+2 attack; 1D6 bludgeoning; versatile 1D8)
Equipment: one component pouch, scholar’s pack, spellbook, black ink, quill,
 small knife, letter from a dead colleague, clothes, belt pouch, 10 GP
Trinket: a set of bone pipes
Personality Trait: Convinced people are always trying to steal my secrets
Ideal: No Limits
Bond: Sold soul for knowledge, seek to regain it through great deeds
Flaw: unlocking an ancient mystery is worth the price of a civilization

Tarvena at level 1
Tarvena Ozandras is ready for adventuring now. After many years of exciting debacles, turmoil and trouble she reaches level 20. While she likely would have acquired a variety of magic items, since we’re still lacking detailed rules for them her new assessment will stand on its own, with learned class magic only. Here then is Tarvena at level 20:

Tarvena Ozandras
Race:     Human female Class:    Wizard        Level :   1
Alignment:         chaotic good     Background:       Sage (discredited academic)
STR 11 (+0); DEX 14 (+2); CON 10 (0); INT 20 (+5/+11 saves); WIS 20 (+5/+11 saves); CHA 12 (+1)
HD 20D6; HPs 74; Saves INT, WIS; Proficiency +6; AC 12   

Languages: Middle Tongue (common), Elvish
Skills: Arcana, History, Religion, Investigation
Tool Proficiencies: none
Wizard Traits:                                  
Spellcasting (ritual casting, Save DC 19; Spell Attack Modifier +11)
Arcane Recovery (regain 1 spell slot = to ½ level rounded up once between rests)
Spell Mastery (declare one 1st and one 2nd level spell to be at-will after 8 hours of study)
Arcane Tradition – Evocation:
Evocation Spell (cost in gold and time for evocation spell transcription is ½)
Sculpt Spells (allow 1+spell level targets in spell effect to make saves/take no damage)
Potent Cantrip (cantrip attacks that miss still deal ½ damage)
Empowered Evocation (add INT mod (+5) to evocation spell damage)
Overchannel (deal max damage with spell of 5th level or less; if done a 2nd time take 2D12 necrotic damage for each level of spell if you cast it a 2nd and this goes up 1D12 per level for 3rd time, etc.)
Five Cantrips: light, mage hand, shocking grasp, prestidigitation, fire bolt
1st Level Spells (4 slots):  burning hands, charm person, comprehend languages, detect magic, shield, sleep, magic armor, magic missile
2nd Level Spells (3 slots):  blur, hold person, invisibility, magic weapon, spider climb, suggestion
3rd Level Spells (3 slots): fireball, dispel magic, haste, fly, major image
4th Level Spells (3 slots): arcane eye, dimension door, greater invisibility, stoneskin
5th Level Spells (3 slots): dominate person, dream, cone of cold, passwall
6th Level Spells (2 slots): disintegrate, globe of invulnerability, mass suggestion, true seeing
7th Level Spells (2 slots): delayed blast fireball, finger of death, modenkainen’s sword, teleport
8th Level Spells (1 slot): dominate monster, maze, power word stun, sunburst
9th Level Spells (1 slot): foresight, imprisonment, meteor swarm, power word kill, time stop

Sage Feature: Researcher           
Armor:  a comfy cloak, or mage armor when cast (AC 15 for 8 hours)
Melee Weapons: Quarterstaff (+2 attack; 1D6 bludgeoning; versatile 1D8) – can power it up to be a +3 enchanted weapon for up to 1 hour with Magic Weapon using a 6th level slot
Equipment: one component pouch, scholar’s pack, spellbook, black ink, quill, 
small knife, letter from a dead colleague, clothes, belt pouch, 10 GP
Trinket: a set of bone pipes
Personality Trait: Convinced people are always trying to steal my secrets
Ideal: No Limits
Bond: Sold soul for knowledge, seek to regain it through great deeds
Flaw: unlocking an ancient mystery is worth the price of a civilization

Tarvena at Level 20
Pretty nice….and also eerily similar to the way a 2nd edition spellcaster might look (or 3rd edition, too, but with fewer slots).  I’ve not made any decisions about what spells Tarvena would have encountered in the wilds, but you can safely assume she might know all of the spells in the Basic rules….these spells above are what she learned from her own leveling experience, though.

In combat, Tarvena’s deadliest spell against a single target is disintegration, which can deal an average of 75 points against a foe which fails its saving roll. To look at Davin Kormak the level 20 warrior as an example, that means he needs to beat Tarvena’s DC of  19. He’s got a Dex save of +5, so he’ll succeed 35% of the time. Even if he fails, he can take two or possibly three disintegration blasts to the face before he keels over. In the same amount of time…..assuming Tarvena is not flying….he should be able to take her out in one or two rounds with a little luck, maybe three rounds if he’s firing a long bow to pick her off at a distance. Tarvena, for the record, can cast disintegration up to 6 times: twice at normal damage, twice with +3D6 damage for a level 7 slot, two more times for +6D6 damage using a level 8 slot, and finally once at level 9 for an additional +9D6 damage. Yowza!!!!

So does this make Tarvena an impossible foe? Since wizards can only keep one active concentration effect going at a time she could be invisible and attacking with disintegration….but that exposes her after the first spell. Flying is a better bet, especially if you know your foe can’t reach you. Or, just forget disintegration for a moment and slam something with meteor swarm, dealing and average of 145 points of damage….then polish him off with one well-placed disintegration shot if he doesn’t reach you first. In our prior example, assuming Tarvena is flying when she unleashes a meteor attack on the first shot, even if Davin is using a long bow (and not a crossbow) to strike back he can pop his action surge and fire eight arrow attacks at her. If he hits, he will deal 1D8+4 per attack, and since his chance of hitting her with Mage Armor active (it doesn’t require concentration) and assuming she also pops a shield as a reaction, then he hits her 55% of the time. With 8 arrows that means he hits her roughly 4 times for 36 points of damage.

Can the level 20 fighter have any hope of defeating the level 20 wizard at this stage?  Circumstances will likely suggest it’s possible, but only because there’s a very important element missing from these hypothetical examples: the actual game story elements that are going on. In a spherical cow scenario as I am presenting here we are assuming the wizard has come in with flight and mage armor on, ready to bombard the fighter into oblivion. Fair enough, right? He’s walking along out in the open, minding his own business when….bam, wizard has him on the defensive and not enough arrows in the world can take her down.

The smart fighter, of course, may be traveling to avoid an ambush. He may be planning to kill the wizard….if he gets even one round’s initiative on her, and catches her in melee range when he does then she’s got a decent chance of dying on the spot. If the fighter knows he’s going to fight a wizard then he might come a bit better prepared, too….but this could be construed as cheating, if we assume the fighter needs some gear or allies to back him against the wizard, no?

So....what do you think? If we're assuming class balance is a requirement, is the fighter hosed? The scenario I'm proposing above is frankly a fairer fight than anything the fighter might have gotten in 3rd or 2nd edition.....and while it might have been a fair fight in 4E it frankly would have been rather boring watching the two trade blows for a few hours to get to the conclusion (I say this with unpleasant experience backing my contention).

Here's my take: the fighter is actually a "hard mode" class. It's what you play when you know the odds aren't always in your favor because you're the guy who kills the wizards that summon bad stuff and make life miserable for everyone else. You have a combat advantage, yes....but to counter the magic the wizard brings to the table you also need brains to go with the brawn, tactics and strategies that take advantage of your foe.

Conan never stood out in the open while a flying mage armored wizard hosed him down with meteor fire, is what I'm saying......he would run for cover and get the hell out of sight, then wait until the wizard's back was turned and hit that sucker for all his might! That's why the fighter is a more rewarding's the Blood and Guts level of play.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Exploring the Basic D&D Fighter at Level 1 and Level 20

So a fighter in Basic D&D can go from levels 1 to 20 under the Champion build. What does that look like, and what does it mean? Let’s walk through character creation and see what the fighter can do at the end of his career.
The Beginning: A level 1 warrior worthy of consideration. Here we present Davin Kormak, an entrepid adventurer who has previously appeared on the blog as my first fighter PC:

Davin Kormak
Race:     Human male      Class:    Fighter                  Level :   1
Alignment:         neutral good      Background:       Soldier (officer)
STR 16 (+3); DEX 13 (+1); CON 15 (+2); INT 11 (0); WIS 11 (0); CHA 12 (+1)
HD D10; HPs 12; Saves STR, CON; Proficiency +2; AC 16   

Languages: Middle Tongue (common), Orcish
Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: cards, vehicles (land)
Fighter Traits:
Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting (reroll 1-2s on damage dice with 2-H or versatile weapons)
Second Wind (use bonus action on my turn to regain 1D10+level in HPs)
Soldier Feature: Military Rank   
Armor:  Chain mail (AC 16; stealth disadvantage)
Melee Weapons: Greatsword (+5 attack; 2D6+3 slashing; heavy, two handed) or Warhammer (+5 attack; 1D8+3 bludgeoning; versatile (1d10))
Ranged Weapon: Light crossbow and 20 bolts (+3 attack; 1D8+1 piercing; loading, two handed)
Equipment: Explorer’s pack, Insignia of rank (house Kormak ring), Trophy from battle (dagger), Deck of
cards, Common clothes,  Belt pouch,  10 GP
Trinket: A silver skull the size of a coin
Personality Trait: I can stare down a hellhound without flinching
Ideal: Live and Let Live
Bond: Those who fight beside me are those worth dying for
Flaw: the monstrous demon we faced in battle still leaves me quivering with fear

Davin at Level 1
Because we don’t have any detailed magic item rules (yet) this will be a fighter who advances through 20 levels with no enchanted weapons or armor to speak of, a lone warrior in a land free of magic items, apparently. Davin Kormak is a former soldier with a rough past who has now entered his trade as a free mercenary adventurer. Over the years he becomes a hardened, brutal warrior of no small skill at arms.
Here’s what Davin Kormak looks like at level 20:

Davin Kormak
Race:     Human male      Class:    Fighter                  Level :   20
Alignment:         neutral good      Background:       Soldier (officer)
STR 20 (+5, Saves +11); DEX 18 (+4/+7 remarkable athlete); CON 20 (+5; Saves +11); INT 11 (0); WIS 11 (0); CHA 12 (+1)
HD D10; HPs 193; Saves STR, CON; Proficiency +6; AC 17 (with dodge style bonus)   
Languages: Middle Tongue (common), Orcish
Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: cards, vehicles (land)
Fighter Traits:
Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting (reroll 1-2s on damage dice with 2-H or versatile weapons)
Second Wind (use a bonus action on my turn to regain 1D10+20 HPs once between rests)
Action Surge (use twice between rests)
Extra Attacks (four total per action)
Martial Archetype-Champion:
Superior Improved Critical 18-20
Remarkable Athlete (+3 prof. to DEX/STR/CON checks that don’t already use Prof bonus)
Defense Fighting Style (+1 AC when armored)
Survivor (regain 10 hit points/round when ½ HP or below)
Indomitable (reroll failed save; use 3 times between long rests)
Soldier Feature: Military Rank   
Armor:  Chain mail (AC 16; stealth disadvantage)
Melee Weapons: Greatsword (+11 attack, 4 per action; 2D6+5 slashing; heavy, two handed) or Warhammer (+11 attack, 4 per action; 1D8+5 bludgeoning; versatile (1d10))
Ranged Weapon: Light crossbow and 20 bolts (+10 attack, 4 per action; 1D8+4 piercing; loading, two handed)
Equipment: Explorer’s pack, Insignia of rank (house Kormak ring), Trophy from battle (dagger), Deck of
cards, Common clothes,  Belt pouch,  10 GP
Trinket: A silver skull the size of a coin
Personality Trait: I can stare down a hellhound without flinching
Ideal: Live and Let Live
Bond: Those who fight beside me are those worth dying for
Flaw: the monstrous demon we faced in battle still leaves me quivering with fear

Davin at Level 20
So Davin, at the peak of his career, can go into battle with his trusty old greatsword and in a typical fight he can do the following:

1     Each round he can move 30 feet and hit someone four times on one action, with a 15% chance of a critical strike each time, dealing an average of 12 damage per blow. Assuming he lands all four blows he’s doing 48 points of damage per round, and once every few rounds he’ll get additional critical damage in. Whenever he attacks he’s also getting to re-roll 1’s and 2’s on his 2-H sword attack damage, too.

   Up to twice per battle (provided he’s rested a bit beforehand) Davin gets 2 extra attack actions, which means he can get one or two rounds in where he deals 8 attacks instead of 4, for 96 damage instead of 48 average, barring any crits or damage-re-rolls.

       In addition, he’s very tough. He can dodge better in armor (+1 modifier), he can take a second wind to recover an average of 25-26 hit points as a bonus action once per battle, and he has amazing survivor instincts that kick in when he is reduced to half of his hit points (97 or less), in which he starts regaining 10 HPs per round until he goes back over half his hit points. This kicks in every time he drops below half….nice doesn’t even touch how handy this appears to be!

      So that’s a 20th level fighter in the raw with no magical enhancement due to items whatsoever. We have a fellow who can deal an average of 48 points of damage per round with two built-in conditional healing actions that will keep him up and fighting under most circumstances. Next up….the Wizard! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

13th Age SRD at RPGNOW

Pelgrane Press has gathered the complete 13th Age System Reference Document (SRD) in one place for easy download at rpgnow here. If you've been on the fence about 13th Age as to whether or not its your cup of tea, the free SRD in one easy to use PDF will tell you all you need to know about the game.

It's a good sign that even as I am all excited about D&D 5E that I am still keen to continue playing and writing about 13th Age, and I can't wait for my next foray into 13th Age territory....although I plan to do to 13th Age what I did with Magic World, and devise a setting specifically for the game, one which takes advantage of all the implied tropes and expectations of the 13th Age (icons, Big Damn Fantasy Super Heroes, etc.)

13th Age just exudes "larger than life." Stuff like these illustrations are what I want to aim for in my next game:

Friday, July 18, 2014

A review: the 13th Age Bestiary

Although it feels like 13 ages have passed since this book was first announced, the Bestiary is finally here. If you had pre-ordered as I did then you've had the PDF for a while now, but if you're like me you probably don't think of these things as existing in any real fashion until a physical copy appears in meat space to taunt you with how glorious it looks.

The Bestiary is 240 a page hard cover with a gorgeous cover painting by Pasqual Quidalt (see Runequest 6 for more of his awesome covers) of an ogre mage woman (I think) acting very threatening to a dragon and some goblins who are all looking out toward the viewer with a look that suggests, "back off, we've got this," all while an ominous structure lurks in the background over a mountainous expanse. The interior art is great, too. It's a more comic-like look (stark lines and color, not "realistic" in the literal sense but very clear and evocative) by Rich Longmore. For example, a couatl:

The book itself is slick, heavy paper and full color: so beautiful book, got that out of the way.

The interior consists of an expository chapter with a breakdown of monster types by useful behaviors (i.e. monsters more likely to talk to you, monsters more likely to kidnap people, etc.) and 52 monster entries, each providing extensive detail on a monster, or more accurately a cluster of monsters that have relationships, be they cultural, physical, or the just occupy the same ugly zone in the 13th Age. The monster entries are a great read, and provide a wealth of ideas on how to use each creature in play, with story and plot ideas liberally strewn everywhere beside a vast array of much needed stat blocks. Sections on icons and how they care (or don't) about the creatures can be found as well.

The book ends with an index on how to re-skin monsters and take basic stat blocks and spruce them up, along with an index of all monsters in both this book and the core rules. It shows how you can take a drider and wolves to create flaming winged fire-poo flinging monkeys (yes, they went there) and how to fancy up a generic wizard using the basic rules guidelines. 13th Age is ridiculously easy to construct monster stats on the fly, but these rules offer up extra insight on how to make your ad hoc encounters just a bit more classy.

So who's in this book? Here's a listing by entry, followed by the specific subtypes therein:

Basilisk - we get a classic basilisk, though the text hints at other more exotic colors.

Bats - swarms, dire bats, bat cavalry (for when you really gotta fly), goblin bat mages, thunder bats, wraith bats....all bats all the time!

Black Dragons - various distinct types including catacomb, gorge, void, and empyrean dragons.

Blue Sorcerer - what happens to lizardmen and other draconics who dedicate themselves to the blue (a complex tough lower level fight).

Bugbears - including scouts, schemers, and barbarous bugbears.

Bulette - the legendary plastic toys turned land sharks appear with green, lumberland dirt-fisher, ravenous bumoorah, and deep bulettes.

Cambion Assassins - the half demons get a decent write up with dirk, sickle, katar and hellblade versions.

Centaurs - including the lancers, raiders, rangers, and champions.

Chaos Beasts - chaos glorp, chaos beasts, chaos brutes and the ever loving chaos behemoth provide all the lurking chaos piles you can stomach.

Chimera - the chimera gets a strange treatment with the iconic chimera, which shifts and changes with the nature of the icons. Neat idea.

Chuul - the chuul appear as regular chuul and swarms, as well as massive mutant versions. In 13th Age chuul are cunningly intelligent and they hate all humanoids, turning those they harvest into chuulish slaves.

Couatl - overworld beings that have deep and weird relationships with the icons, coming in flasvors of classic and elder couatl.

Drow - because we can never have enough dark elves floating around, we now get spider-mages, sword maidens, soldiers, spider-sorceresses (yes they seem to worship the copyright-free version of Lolth in 13th Age), drow darkbolts, and cavalry. Spider mounts, Lokris and weaver swarms provide arachnid backup.

Dybbuk - possessing ghosts from beyond including corpse dybbuk, parasitic dybbuk, and ethereal dybbuk.

Elder Beasts - If you were looking to fight hideous elder beings here they are: the umluppuk and hagunemnon provide terrfying high level encounters while warped beasts provide a taste of things to come. Fans of the Far Realm from D&D will like this.

Ettercap - various editions of D&D have tried to make something of the they are primitive arachnoid-like humanoids who worship "She Who Spins in Darkness," with flavors in hunter, acolyte, supplicant, warrior and keeper.
Frost Giants - enough frost giant stuff to make a campaign right here, with stats for bergship raiders, ice sorceresses, frost giant adventurers, jotun aurochs, winter beasts, and ice zombies.

Fungaloid - everyone needs fungus men. Creepers, aerial spores, sporriors, drudges, braincaps, monarchs, elder spores and the fungaloid empress herself provide loads of humanoid fungus fun. Buried here is a playable race: the mycotic twygzog, humanoid sentient fungaloids that are more "human" in their appearance and behavior and can sprout a little fungaloid buddy.

Gelahedron - if you've ever wondered where gelatinous cubes fit into the ecology here it is. Gelatinous tetrahedrons, the gelatinous cube, gelatinous octahedron and gelatinous dodecahedron will leave you eager to try out these enormously complex boss monsters on your pitiful players.

Genies - The iconic genies take a weird twist here, bound to icons and granting wishes when slain, they include djinn and efreet.

Ghouls - lots and lots of ghoulishness here with gravemeats, fleshrippers, licklashes, pusbusters,   and ghasts.

Golems - including bronze and marble.

Hags - presented here as rather complex entities, the hag has one entry with loads of specific customization to create various distinct types. Hags, as you might imagine, have a lot of animosity toward icons and the world.

Haunted Skulls - creepy ghost anchors that include watch skulls, slime skulls, jest bones, screaming skulls, flaming skulls, black skulls and the skull of the beast which reminded me of the horned demons at the end of Time Bandits for some reason.

Hellbugs - not quite the beasties from Defiance but close enough, with boombugs, hellwasps, hook scuttlers and swarming maws. I've already killed a hapless paladin with a mass of hook scuttlers a few games back.

Intellect Devourers - hideous brains with legs created by the Wizard King during his descent into madness.

Jorogumo - imagine the chinese Fox Woman tales, in which the tempress lures you through lies and deceit, but she is ultimately a hideous spider in disguise. Includes the spinneret doxy, lethal lothario, binding bride, swarm prince, and the woven.

Kobold - including the grand wizard, skyclaw, engineer, dog rider, bravescale, dungeon shaman, shadow warrior, and dragon soul. Includes a nice discussion on kobold trap making.

Lammasu - another monster which is often neglected in D&D, the lammasu stands out here in flavors of warrior , wizard, priest and fallen.

Lich - hard not to imagine more on this one here, with the baroness, count and prince versions.

Manticores - includes the dubious singer in the form of the manticore bard, the extra tough mantikumhar, and the stealthy flying coursing manticore.

Naga - loads of various types including swaysong, sparkscale, manafang, and elder versions of all three.

Ogres - learn more about the ogres of the 13th Age then you thought possible with the ogre penitent, demonic ogre, berserker, crusader, champion and minion.

Ogre Mages - left as mysterious super baddies, the ogre mages come in flavors of knights, lightning mages, and prismatic ogre mages.

Orcs - the default 13th Age orcs pull themselves up from the muck of creation and are nasty, brutish and short-lived. We get additional orc types including pit-spawn, archers, cave orcs, death plague orcs, battle screamers, and tuskers, with additional rules on disease carrying orcs.

Predatory Plants - ubiquitous in all D&D style games, we get a menagerie here including claw flowers, pixie pods, and podlings.

Purple Worms - I used one as a sort of "environmental trap" early on in my first 13th Age campaign, could have used this one sooner! Includes the classic purple worm along with the parasitic lightning beetle,, purple larva, and ancient purple worms.

Red Dragons - including flavors of volcano dragon, hoardsong dragon, hoard spirit, greathoard elder, flamewreathed dragon, and smoke minions.

Redcap - sort of like Pathfinder goblins in "Saw" mode. Include the splotchcap, redcap, crimsoncap and crustycap.

Remorhaz - eating adventurers since the 1920's we get the squib swarm, barbellite, frost-wurm, adult remorhaz and queen remorhaz.

Rust Monster - including classic and "obliterator" the rust monster gets lots of fun treatment here as the monster which everyone loves to hate. If you remember the 4E rust monster and its weird "don't take the toys from the players" approach, you'll like this one, which basically rusts your armor and weapons away in a hit or two.

Sahuagin - these undersea guys get around. Here we get stats for the raider, razor shark, classic sahuagin, glow priests, iron sea sharks, and mutants.

Shadow Dragons - our first delve into non chromatic dragonkind with 13th Age, we get the classic shadow dragon, shadow thief, and a discussion on the curses and hexes shadow dragons like to deploy to mess with adventurers...items which include the Deck of Many Cards and Procastination Tome, for example ( 15 new cursed items in all!)

Stirge - classic stirges next to archer stirges (fires barbed stingers), cobbler stirges (hive makers), and stirgelings (babies).

Tarrasque - presented here as one of the few monsters to have slain an icon, a huge level 15th wrecker with 2130 hit points and a huge stat block by 13th Age standards.

The Saved - followers of the Crusader who are dragged back from death to wear haunted armor and gear as they are forced to continue in his service. Includes the avenging orb, destroying sword, and enduring shield.

Warbanner - weird sentient magical telepathic objects, the warbanners get planted and do their damage. Feral warbanners, crusader warbanners, orc lord warbanners, and lich king warbanners all serve the forces of their dire icons.

Wendigo - spirit cannibals brought about as a byproduct of a turf war among icons these include the classic wendigo spirit, ravenous cannibals, and elder wendigo.

Whispering Prophet - a hideous aberration bartering in secrets for power and madness.

White Dragons - We get the hatchlings, cenotaph dragon, mausoleum dragon, blizzard dragon, and moon dragon.

Wibble - accidents of sorcery, these dirty brown bubbles appear to be something to torture the wizard with.

Zorigami - clockwork monsters which are the keepers of time, we get the dawn, apex, and dusk versions.

All told over 52 primary entries and 200 stat blocks, with a ton of scenario and encounter ideas, loot details, icon relations, battle tactics and ecologies. It is a lot, and as monster books go this is one of the best I've read, providing a ton of useful content and doing something I generally feel a lot of RPGs fail at: being an entertaining read as well as a useful sourcebook.

All in all the 13th Age Bestiary is a A+++ product. If you're even remotely into 13th Age you should get it. If you want a great read and don't mind extrapolating from the stat blocks for your preferred edition it might actually be worthwhile, although the Iconic elements of the 13th Age may require some consideration in other games.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Index of Pergerron Articles

I've added a new index on Pergerron and the River Kingdoms of Anansis for those looking to see all articles in one spot. This setting is a hybrid monster with Basic D&D elements that eventually morphed into a Magic World setting which I currently use for my MW games.

I've also updated the Magic World portion of the index and the 13th Age article index.

13th Age Bestiary is Now Out

My copy arrived today: beautiful book. I will blog more on it with a review/overview soon!

Backgrounds in 13th Age

I like 13th Age's backgrounds, but after 2 1/2 campaigns over the last eight months I've realized the following problems crop up:

1. Players who are savvy try to pick very broad backgrounds. A lot of mileage comes out of "thievery," "burglary" and "assassination" that you don't get out of "lock picking" and "tracking," for example. Picking a background with an enormous potential range of subskills in its description is the smartest thing to do, although it's also something you really shouldn't, to go by the book's discussion on this.

2. A lot of players at least initially get too excited about the freedom and the next thing you know you've go someone with "tapestry design" or "herpetology" as skill for flavor but they will probably roll on them once in a blue moon. In fact I noticed after my two campaigns that in both groups one or two players with broad skills were constantly finding a way to suggest a benefit, and almost everyone else, who went for cool but obscure, found that they had almost no opportunities to justify using their backgrounds.

For reason #2 above my suggestion would be to hand out a suggested "idea list" of skills to people. This defeats the purpose of the whole exercise in one sense, but the real goal as I see it is to get people to think about decent middle-of-the-road skills that fit a decent range without being too broad or too narrow. The book itself already includes some decent ideas in each class description, FYI. Referring players to those lists may be sufficient.....but we did that in both campaigns I've run so far as well as the one-shots and players still picked far too many narrow skills.

I think, though, in the end it's okay to just accept that if someone wants to be a Seamstress who specialized in obscure poetry and studies the history of Cullinary Quisine for royalty --and it fits their vision of the character-- then more power to 'em. But be ready to try and think creatively about how those backgrounds will help in actual play (or as GM try to find a spot where the player can engage in some sewing, demonstrate some amazing royal cooking skills and recite poetry!)

Read more:

(Originally from a post I did on ENWorld)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gaming Synergy - Savage Worlds, Magic World, D&D 5E

I've hit a weird gaming synergy lately. The current mix of D&D 5E (only just begun) with Savage Worlds and Magic World is having a rejvenating effect on my overall interest in RPGs. This is a good thing for someone like me, who has averaged two game nights a week for fifteen years now.

I have to say, Savage Worlds has proven to be a big boon. The system is quirky, and I worried about whether coming back to it in actual play would be problematic, but the mechanics held up very well and made for some exciting, fast-paced sci fi adventuring. Whenever the SF campaign closes I am going to propose we just keep doing Savage Worlds every other week, rotating to different settings. Next up would be Broken Earth, Zombpacalypse, Pirates of the Spanish Main or maybe a healthy dose of some straight up Supers with the new 2nd edition Super Powers Companion.

Meanwhile the decidedly non-D&D-like Magic World night continues to kick ass. I'm experimenting heavily in that setting, taking advantage of the copious resources for Basic Roleplaying to add in more than a little Dark Ages Cthulhu to my weird sword & sorcery setting. Magic World is proving even more enticing than Runequest 6, if only because it's level of accessibility is just right for my group.

And of course D&D 5E.....really though the Basic and Starter material is just a place holder. We need the real thing, all three core manuals ASAP. D&D as it used to be...the D&D I remember from back before it felt like a chore to run, is back. It's honestly hard to believe.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monster Manual will be 352 pages long and Modrons are Back

It really is starting to feel like 1989-1995 again to me (but that was my heyday of the best gaming ever in college so I'm cool with that). Mike Mearls posted this morning that the Monster Manual is weighing in at 352 pages as they hopefully send that sucker off to the printers, and also mentioned that Modrons are back. I love Modrons....its starting to sound like Planescape's iconics are all returning. Good stuff!

I guess they're back from the Great March, then....

The PHB will have Tieflings!

I was curious if they'd be in the PHB or an optional "Planescape" race in the DMG (which apparently will include things like Warforged or Kender as setting-specific race options). This is wonderful new to those who, like me, find tieflings to be integral to their campaigns now. Tielfings occupy an interesting space in D&D's venerable cosmology....they appeared in Planescape first and wormed their way in as a meaningful AD&D 2nd edition player option around 1992ish, so while they're not exactly Old School in the pre 1989 sense, they have definitely been a thing in D&D for at least 22 years now, and quickly became more popular than many other interesting race options introduced around that time (poor Bariaur!)

Anyway, here's the page samples from the PHB released today on ENWorld:

This just keeps getting better and for the next big bugaboo: will they dare to put dragonborn in the 5E core PHB? Dragonborn are a great race, but they got an excessive amount of grief from some quarters, mostly those who could not abide the mammalian/dragon mix as presented in the art, and old schoolers who (for whatever reason) decided to draw their line in the ground at draconian beasts.....the y don't bother me in the least, though; I was adding dragonmen into my game as early as 1984, and worked out playable stats for them by 1989, so dragonborn have a comfy place in my game worlds.

Saturday After Action Report: D&D 5E

My Saturday group, which only has two overlapping players from Wednesday right now (plus a returning former player who's pretty much been biding his time until D&D 5E was officially out) met for a healthy session with 8 players and a decent character generation experience plus scenario. Unlike Wednesday I didn't drop a hobgoblin army on everyone....this session, while still somewhat limited to the monsters I have in the Starter Set plus Dead in Thay and the Crystal Shard resource that's floating around...was about a mission into the deep mountains where an ancient wizard (who may or may not be a Lich) appears to have pulled up and left.....leaving a power gap that a local magus wishes to explore.

The encounters for the evening included a orc scout and his ogre buddy who were looking for employment as guides (players accepted after a wee misunderstanding), a rampaging owlbear that almost escaped with the party's lead wizard, and later the following day the group found a green dragon's den....and a couple of the naughtier PCs decided to poke around and see what happened. The end result was a fleeing party, a dead wizard, and an assertion that maybe...just maybe....poking around the green dragon's lair (which was most obviously such) was maybe not the smartest idea.

Still....the PCs murdered the dragon's quasit lackey and also looted some loose treasure lying around in the debris, along with three green/gold speckled dragon eggs. So yeah, dragon's gonna be back.

All in all everyone had fun. Still too early to see if everyone enjoys the game for the long with Wednesday the Basic Set options really do feel just like a placeholder before the main course manifests in August. We need the core manuals, stat!

Some observations about the game from this session:

1. Most of the players at this session rolled characters that evening. Despite having at least two of every class no one felt like they were "occupying" the same turf as another player. There's still enough general customization thanks to the races, backgrounds and personality traits to help out in this regard....and some choices, like with the fighter, let you further add a twist to your general "style" to make you distinct.

2. A couple of my players weren't keen on the lack of "stacking" mechanics, and would have liked the idea that you could pick a skill twice to get extra benefit. I think this subsided a bit by end of session when they were more familiar with the way things worked.

3. Once again we ran the game sans board and minis and it worked was very fluid, and at no point did I feel the need to drag the stuff out. This remains as always a huge plus.

4. Wizards may have some impressive spells but they still need to beat your AC. Plus, they;re squishy. Also....the group figured out really quick that we were back to old school "don't be afraid to run, not all encounters are meant to be beaten" methodology.