Monday, November 30, 2015

D&D 5E: The Argos from Spelljammer

Check out this awesome write-up of the Argos from the Monstrous Manual (which in turn was an entry taken from the Spelljammer MC Appendix). In fact, hang out at Tribality and enjoy, they have some great stuff over there!

Rebels or Storm Troopers? Endless Havoc continues in Star Wars Battlefront...

I posted this updated information on the original review page, too, but here's the Star Wars: Battlefront ongoing update I never thought I'd post:

1st, a minor bit....there are ewoks and jawas in the game, but only in multiplayer levels. And I can't shoot them (they appear to be too fast, but are just immune to bullets I suppose).

2nd: I'm upgrading this to a A- because since I wrote this I've logged at least 1 or 2 hours a night (every night, plus overtime Thanksgiving; about 20-25 additional play hours I'd say) on the game, sometimes with my son, sometimes with multiplayer, and it not only hasn't gotten old but I'm pretty well addicted to it....neglecting the other multiplayer shooter fare on my plate pretty much entirely in favor of Star Wars: Battlefront. At least part of the reason is because it turns out the formula has more staying power than I thought; I have been mostly playing blast (deathmatch) and dogfight in multiplayer...I haven't even begun to explore the other modes yet.

The other reason really is because--believe it or not--SWB manages to make for a very clean and friendly play environment; you do not see the weirdos* and griefers, at least not right now, and I think it will be hard to see them in the future as the game is very carefully designed to mitigate opportunities for people to be jerks. You can't teabag, spawn points rotate with great efficiency making camping hard to do, if there's chat I haven't been impacted by it, and the game's underlying design is incredibly balanced and efficient. Most importantly: nothing within the game encourages asshattery, either; you do not have characters cursing at you for "not stepping up your effin' game" like they do in Black Ops 3, for example. This is the cleanest and most enjoyable, relaxing yet fun shooter I've played in years.

Anyway, I'm Tyranosaur on the Xbox One if you're interested.....and yes, I'm actually still pretty good at this game; I've even placed top three on occasion, or hit one of the mentionable milstones. This NEVER happens to me. I'm usually my team's handicap.

The game still needs more single-player modes. My son seems delighted with it, but by all the gods please get more single player and local co-op options going so my son and I don't keep playing the same modes over and over!!!!!

*Weird name still there. Buttmuncher253 has pwnd me a few times, as has bluntbutts and so forth. And yet ironically I have been able to turn the tide on these guys in the game, something I'd never have been able to do in a Call of Duty title.....

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Observations in the Wee Hours

I haven't played much Fallout 4. I fully intend looks great....but I want to wait for the furor over this game to die down. I have never seen a game so over-saturated in the media as this. Seriously....this used to be a franchise for the dedicated, now it's for the masses. I'm glad....I guess....but what the hell happened? The game's sold triple the copies in one week that the original did.

...Of course I said the same thing about Dragon Age: Inquisition and I still haven't gotten to that one, either. Is it possible I'm saturated on AAA action RPGs right now?

As tabletop a player I continue to find the fun elusive. I think my problem (and it caught me in last night's game) is that I'm so used to deferring to the focusing on them....that I have got no idea how to focus on one character and make it my "thing." Nor how that process works in conjunction with the DM....especially if the DM seems to have a specific plot direction and goal that I can see, regardless of whether it's tethered to any semblance of evident plot or direction. Damn...I did it again! I need to try a few different GMs and games, see if I can figure out my player style, and also figure out if it's really me, or really my relationship to a given DM's style. Hmmm.

I did have a lot of fun rolling up some weird characters for the game though, even if in the end I played the wretched fighter instead of my Awakened Gorilla or my deep one hybrid cleric of Moander.

Oh, if you haven't heard Runequest 2 did go full Kickstarter on us and blew through its goal in hours. Back it! Only $30 for the hardcover.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The DM role vs. the Player Role

An interesting inversion hit me this week. Due to trouble keeping a crowd, one of my cohorts who runs every other Saturday (the off-night from my bi-weekly Pathfinder game) is converting his ongoing AD&D 2nd edition Forgotten Realms game to Pathfinder. I've been told I'm invited (I was invited to the AD&D 2E game, too, but it's been hard to make the commitment, as I've been using the off-Saturday night for family weekend time). My thought initially was....sure, yeah, I could see playing Pathfinder, I'll give it a try. But....turns out, maybe not.

I want to imagine it's got a lot to do with the system*, or style of game, or pretty much anything....I think it is human nature to assume an exterior cause to one's problem, the idea that Something Else is wrong, and not us. Anytime I read a blog with strong dissenting opinions about Game X or playstyle Y it is safe to assume that there is nothing actually wrong with said game or play style...rather, the blogger is indirectly revealing more about his own preferences than he is about the merits of the products in question.

So when I start thinking "I can't stand playing 3.5/3.0/Pathfinder" I am not really identifying the issue at hand....after all, I didn't find much enjoyment in the last Savage Worlds game I got to play, right? And if I'd really been enjoying AD&D 2E I'd have stuck with it, right? I have in the past often told people my "player level" of development is arrested circa 1991**, and that's not entirely untrue.

So I'm starting to think that maybe I've run games as the GM for so long that maybe...just maybe...I've ruined my ability to be a player. Maybe I never really had it in me; for ever game I've been a player in, I think I've probably run 200 scenarios as a GM. It's that extreme. I figure this has had a series of possible consequences:

First, I might be a harsh critic. Bad GMing is more evident to me. GMs using their tricks are more obvious. The moments where I think of better ways to do what is being done stick out like a sore thumb.

Second, as a player I have to restrict my freedoms...severely. I am used to running the world, the NPCs, pretty much everything. My schitck is world-building and tale-telling, not playing one guy. Playing one guy feels really boring.

Third, and most significant, I don't know how to be a "group player." I have learned how to entertain as a DM...I make memorable NPCs when possible, and can build up personalities of note, for characters who are designed to step in, provide a service, information or to fight the PCs, and then they are gone. I can make briefly memorable player characters, but their long term prospects are not there....I have fully embraced the art of making other people's long-term character plans come to fruition, but at the expense of being able to do this for myself.

I feel like I need to give it a shot. My wife and son might be along....this would be cool; she and I don't get to play often (well, ever) anymore, and it keeps it a kind of family night. Maybe, having possibly identified the real reason I am a terrible player, I can try to work on subverting my behavior/expectations and actually learn to play again....some solutions:

Harsh Critic solution: try to go in as neutral as possible. Do not think like a DM, or look at the DM and pick apart his style. Take it at face-value....see if I can learn how to suspend disbelief from the other side of the screen once more.

Freedom Restrictions Solution: learn to love the limited engagement of playing one dude. Maybe spend time working on his successor (assuming death is always imminent) or really get in to exploring his family, history, motives and general background as a way of maximizing my focus on the corner of the game I have control over.

Group Player Solution: see if I can remember how to enjoy the moment, and also the prospect of attempting to fulfill my greedy little adventurer's career. Do not ham it up too much, although if I do, try not to do so in a way that impairs my ability to make the character grow.

I suppose, having written all of that, I really should try to give this new opportunity to be a player a shot.....

*In fact the thing that started all of this was me trying to read up on my recent Pathfinder books: while Bestiary 5 is a lot of fun, the Advanced Class Compendium and Occult Adventures were making my head hurt. EDIT: And in the end I remain appreciative of the Pathfinder Core Book (rolled my level 4 fighter). Maybe I should just pretend/declare that there are no other books after Core (+bestiaries and GMG)....

**I literally remember that session with excellent clarity: my buddy in Tucson was running his first AD&D 2E game as DM, loosely set in the Forgotten Realms and involving my paladin against a dungeon managed by a lich. It was an awesome game.....the next time I played a game I enjoyed as much was when my wife ran Swords & Wizardry Complete in 2010. Hmmm....maybe as DM I love complex world building/exploration, but as a player I just want to kick down doors and kill shit? Or maybe it was because in both cases I had a lot of agency....the DMs in both cases pretty much letting the players pick their course of direction, and doing nothing to hinder that. Hmmm.

If I could throw all these books in an arena full of knives...

I think I've narrowed it down to a toss-up between For Gold & Glory, which captures everything I ever loved about AD&D 2nd edition and then makes it somehow better...vs. Dungeon Crawl Classics, which encapsulates everything weird about sword & sorcery in the seventies....vs. Basic Fantasy, which as Chris reminded me is actually the sort of game I like playing.

Beyond the Wall is still a possibility. I ordered the two books out for it the other day....we'll see what happens when they arrive. I love the elegant playbook design, which superficially reminds me of Dungeon World without also having all the problems inherent in Dungeon World design. Really though the playbooks are like the old lifepaths from RTG's Mekton and Cyberpunk 2020. Except you also have them for modules, which remind me a bit of more focused versions of what Sine Nomine does.

But....yeah. It's going to be one of the above.

EDIT: Still...Castles & Crusades is cooler than For Gold & Glory, insofar as it manages to encapsulate what I liked about AD&D while still making it more flexy in a D20 System way, and still giving you all the classes and races you could want. Gaaaaah. Problem......not.....resolved..... Plus, as much as I love C&C two problems arise: first is that I can't be certain I'm not just overly enamored with Peter Bradley's art, which I love. Second, of course, is that C&C starts to get too close to D&D 5E, which gets me back to begging the question of: why not just continue to run that and stop this madness??? (The answer, of course, is because D&D doesn't have Peter Bradley...)

Yes, it's been a relaxing thanksgiving! Time to actually read game books and think about this stuff. Love it!

EDIT #2: If you're wondering about how serious I am on this, it's "pretty serious, but any solution that leaves me thinking D&D 5E is the answer is ruled out."

For example: C&C, FG&G and most others leave me thinking "D&D 5E is the answer." But there are the three exceptions. Beyond the Wall actually looks very functional as a support module for other it could end up being something I run with something else. Then there's Dungeon Crawl Classics, which I really do feel is the only OSR product out there which defies convention and captures the spiritual intent of 70's gaming but in a way that is not properly a clone. That's pretty cool...and means that trying to adapt its modules to another system would be missing the point; DCC plays best with itself, basically. Basic Fantasy, on the other hand, might be the best medium compromise: it has the old school vibe, and is minimalist, such that it necessitates taking it at face value; it's pure classic fantasy gaming without any of the tedium of emulation (so, ascending AC is in, for example). I'm keen to try DCC at some point....but for a conventional classic fantasy game, Basic Fantasy is looking like top dog.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

OSR Problems; on finding a way to run OSR games, and settling on a system...

...and one day I looked up and realized three sections of my shelf were entirely OSR. The biggest chunk by far was for Swords & Wizardry Complete, which is of course supported by the Frog Gods with gigantic tomes of various and sundry....but there's a lot more:

Swords & Wizardry Complete
Dungeon Crawl Classics
Labyrinth Lord
For Gold & Glory
Beyond the wall and Other Tales (my new favorite darling of the moment)
Spears of the Dawn
Castles & Crusades
Iron Falcon
...other stuff I have no doubt forgotten about. Let's not even bother mentioning the actual original B/X D&D, 1E AD&D or 2E AD&D tomes.

And for each of those I have a big fat mess of modules and support, and some of the support is ephemeral and easily transits from one system to the next, such as Yoon-Suin, Deep Carbon Observatory and the D30 Sandbox Companion which are all easily utilized with any of the above titles.

I have a real desire to actually run one of these, not merely convert content over to D&D 5E like I've been doing lately. My thought is that my local gang of players might put up with a couple nights of one, but it's not going to have legs for the long haul....and I do love D&D 5E, so not interested in forcing that system into competition, anyway.

My Saturday group is pretty much dedicated to Pathfinder and I know them well enough to know that that boat must not be rocked any longer; delving into 13th Age and D&D 5E was enough for them. My Wednsesday group is more flexible, but I have some players who, when I break from established D&D, will simply vanish in a puff of smoke and I'd rather not make that happen just because I happen to want to play some OSR stuff.

My thought then is to delve into online gaming again...Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds. I ran Fantasy Grounds for my old players in Seattle a lllloooong time ago when I first moved to Albuquerque....surely it's gotten even easier to work with since those hallowed days of yore. Plus, Roll20 seems pretty cool. Maybe what I need to do is find some games to get in to as a player first, see how it works....I'm thinking Mondays and Sunday nights are good for me. Hmmmm.

But when I's definitely going to be one of the above titles. Probably DCC or S&WC but For Gold & Glory is damned tempting. Labyrinth Lord would be more tempting, but to try it out only begs the question of why I don't just run the original.....and ironically, I know I will find the race-as-class element distasteful once I'm actually dealing with it. This doesn't bother me with DCC strangely, because my sense is that the Tolkienesque races have no real place in DCC anyway and can be ignored.

But then there's Beyond the Wall....have you seen this book? It's pretty amazing. I'll have to talk more about it and its supplement later.

There's other stuff, too: Perils of the Purple Planet. The Chained Coffin. The Haunted Highlands. Tranzar's Redoubt. A Red and Pleasant Land. Razor Coast.....these are all begging me to run them. And yet I'll probably ignore them all and do my own thing anyway. I always do.

Monday, November 23, 2015

D&D 5E: Tattoo Magic

I'm still working on my 5E update for Realms of Chirak....hope to have something publishable by the end of February. For now, here's some tattoo magic rules in the form of a feat for you to critique:

Tattoo Magic
Prerequisite: any spell caster; Eradariin elves gain this feat as part of their Mark of Shaligon trait

Benefit: Called tattoo mages, the practitioners of this art stand out due to the garish spell tattoos which cover their bodies. The character may brand ritual spells upon his or her body in lieu of a spell book, gaining unique special effects for those spells. In Chirak there are several cultures which engage in this form of ritual magic: most notable are the eradariin elves, who engage in a form of ritual scarring that imbues their flesh with spells. In the west, the Sabiri use elaborate forms of artistry and sharply contrasting pigments to imbue spell magic on their skin. Among these cultures heavily decorated skin is a sign of great power.

   Each time this is done the caster must choose one spell with which to tie or imbue power via a ritual tattoo. This requires an Arcana check to inscribe with a skill DC of 10+the level of the desired spell imbuement, and an expenditure material components (ink, needle, ritual components) equal to 100 gold pieces per level of the imbued spell. If both of these requirements are not met, the tattoo imbuement fails and must be tried again when the character gains a new level of experience (though different spell imbuements may be tried immediately).

   A tattoo mage may have a number of spell tattoo “slots” equal to his or her caster ability modifier plus level (use the relevant caster ability modifier if multiclassed). Thus, a Wisdom 18 level 3 cleric could have 7 imbued spell tattoos, while a level 8 Intelligence 16 eldritch knight could have up to 11. Each imbuement below takes up a certain number of slots.

   Upon imbuement, the tattoo mage chooses one of the following effects that will benefit the spell:

Difficulty Enhancement (one slot): when cast, the spell gains a +2 to any relevant casting DC
Slot Enhancement (two slots): the spell may be cast as if it were one spell level higher in effect (i.e. you can expend a level 2 spell slot to cast but gain the benefit of a level 3 slot expenditure)
Mnemonic Permanence (one slot): if you must inscribe and memorize a spell as a wizard, the spell is now considered permanently in memory

Faster Casting (three slots): imbuement of the spell in the tattoo makes it possible to cast the spell as a bonus action instead of a regular action, provided the spell is level 3 or lower. A spell tattoo of this type takes up twice as many imbuement slots.

Special: Eradariin elves are high elves which may receive this feat in place of the high elf cantrip. They may elect to start with one spell already imbued (provided they can cast magic). 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dungeon Crawl Classics 4th printing: The Stretch Goals Are Making Me Nervous....

UPDATE: I'm sticking with it....merry XMas to me! They've hit over $200K now. Dang!

I'm still backing the Dungeon Crawl Classics 4th printing. I really, really do want an additional copy with that awesome Peter Mullen cover. I was completely satisfied at that point. I was also happy when DCC module #75 was added as a stretch goal because it's the only DCC module I don't own. But...well...go check out the stretch goals that have been hit since (I'll wait):

...satin bookmarks, dust jacket, built-in 4 panel screen, gilded pages, thumb tabs, pocket folder, bookmarks and custom pencils. Also, six module reprints. Plus some add-ons like DCC compilation that I'm snagging.

Now, I am actually very eager to get all of this...even though it sounds like there are so many features in this book it will possibly achieve sentience and join Skynet in a war against us. But these stretch goals make me nervous....I normally DO NOT back Kickstarters with too many stretch goals, as they have a reputation for being problematic, and I feel that the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Kickstarter was a great example of how too many stretch goals tainted the actual goal of getting an anniversary edition rulebook out.

Have any of you backed a Goodman Games Kickstarter before? Has it been a good experience? I need some looking at the Goodman Games Kickstarter list it looks like the only as-yet unfulfilled KS is the Grimtooth Compilation, which I assume is looking to be about five months overdue right now.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Nonhumans of Sarvaelen in Fantasy AGE

In working out details on the nonhumans of Sarvaelen I decided to skew as closely as possible to the core book, both for ease of access for my players and to avoid spending a lot of time on specialized race details that are at best minor in difference compared to the core. The only exception is the Abashan, the dark elves of Sarvaelen. 

Nonhuman Races of Sarvaelen

There are a handful of deminhuman races in Sarvaelen, and their numbers have been growing in the two centuries since Camrinal’s fall. Among these demihumans are:

The Ilmarain Elves

The elves of Ilmarain are a secretive, suspicious race. The Ilmarain herald from their dominion in the Realm of the Faerie where they claim to belong to the Summer Court. Their disdain for men and love of cruelty is only slightly less than that of the Abashan, the dark elves. Their Queen of Air and Water is the ruler of the Summer Court. The term Ilmarain apparently is also the name of the elven city from which most elves enter the mortal world.

Unlike elves of other realms, Ilmarain are strongly affiliated with their realm of the fey, the Faerie Court. This tether makes it possible for them to slip between worlds into the beautiful but deadly and maddening fairie lands when they sense a weakening of the veil that separates their realm from the mortal world.

Ilmarain Characters: use the elf template in Fantasy AGE, with one additional special trait:
·         Ilmarain elves receive a unique focus: perception (weave). Like all elvenkind, the Ilmarain are indelibly tied to the Faerie Realm, sometimes known as the Weave. Any elf has a natural affinity for the places in the world where this region is weak, and a perception (weave) check will help pierce the veil between worlds and allow them to move between the two realms. The strength of the opening in the veil determines whether they can bring people with them, and how difficult it can be to detect.

The Abashan Dark Elves

The elves of Abashan are counter to the Ilmarain. They are dark of skin, seeped in shadow and darkness, and servants to the Winter Court. Their ruler is Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, a destructive immortal of pure power. The Abashan are most comfortable in shadow and seek out the darkest corners and depths of the earth in which to manifest. They are inimical to mortals, and treat them as playthings at best, cattle at worst.

Like their fair kin, the Abashan have a profound connection to the land of shadow where the Winter Court presides, and can innately sense and manipulate weak spots in the veil to traverse into the realm of shadow.

Abashan Characters:
·         Dark elves gain +1 to dexterity
·         Choose one focus from dexterity (stealth), communication (deception) or strength (intimidation)
·         The dark elves have darksight out to 40 yards instead of 20
·         Dark elves start knowing only Abashan Elvish; dark elves disdain the languages of other races.
·         Dark elves start with a speed of 12+dexterity (minus any armor penalties)
·         Abashan dark elves gain a unique focus similar to Ilmarain: perception (shadow), which allows them to pierce the veil to the realm of shadow, tethered to the dominion of the Winter Court. The ability to bring others along as well as spot the veil of shadow depends on the strength of the veil in that area.
·         Abashan get two rolls on the following benefits:

Abashan Dark Elf Benefits
2D6      Benefit
2          +1 Communication
3-4       Focus: intelligence (arcane lore)
5          Focus: perception (hearing)
6          Weapon group: light blades
7-8       +1 fighting
9          Weapon Group (bows)
10-11   Focus: Dexterity (initiative)
12        +1 Accuracy

The Orcs of Sugante and Aphoros

The orcs of the Lower Kingdoms are an ancient force unmeasured, for their presence in the world is new. It is not known if they are a recent manifestation, perhaps born out of the incalculable destruction of Camrinal or something more ancient, waiting for the wane of human rule to allow their species passage to conquest. Their rise in numbers has forced many dwarven enclaves to escape closer to the surface realms to avoid destruction.
Sugante and Aphoros Characters: both orcish groups can use the standard Fantasy AGE orc stats for character creation. Orcs of aphoros have a strange connection to the Weave, and may opt to learn the Focus: perception (shadow) because of this mysterious connection as a racial focus instead of the standard choices.

The Dwarves of the Lower Kingdoms

The stout dwarves are elemental sons of the earth, and they revere the Old God Satarnas as their creator, from whom they rose out of the earth in the wake of his steps in the caverns of the deeps. The dwarves dislike surface dwellers and rarely come out of their caverns save out of necessity. In the last century the rise of the orcs and other monsters in the darkness have forced the dwarves to seek passage out of their dark lands and to even call upon the aid of humans.
Dwarven Characters: the dwarf in the core rules can model dwarves of the Lower Kingdoms.

The Gnomes of Rekaras

The gnomes are a race similar to the dwarves and some claim a similar origin, created by the Old Gods though the gnomes insist that they are something different. They have some cities, such as Rekaras, on the surface world but many gnome tribes still dwell hidden in deep caverns and dark forests. The gnomes are a pernicious lot, inventors and madmen who have the logic of the fey, suggesting a connection to the Other World.
Rekaras Gnome Characters: use the standard gnome template in the core rules.

The Halflings of the Western Shores

Remote communities of halflings thrive north west of Emon. The haflings call themselves the True Folk, and claim to have been around when men were a new race in the world. Haflings are rare but for their lack of adventuresome spirit, and keep to themselves mostly. Halflings can and do disappear in times of war, and their ability to burrow into the earth and hide in the depths of the forests and mountains serve them well in dark times.

Halfling Characters: Western Shore Halflings can be made using the core rule Halfling as default.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A review of Star Wars Battlefront: best casual shooter you'll find out there

When I heard the female stormtrooper talking* I knew Star Wars had just been yanked in to the 21st century, and in a good way. It almost immediately seems weird to me now that there were no female stormtroopers in the original Star Wars films. Gender equality with galactic opression FTW!

Star Wars: Battlefront Preliminary Review (Xbox One Edition)

I've logged a few hours on Star Wars: Battlefront now, both with myself and playing co-op with my son (who will be 4 as of next week, so keep that in mind as I continue). It's a very fun, polished game that provides not just a really faithful rendering of Star Wars in a shooter format, but honestly one of the most polished, bug-free and nicest looking experiences this year. It's very pretty, and for Star Wars fans its a ton of eye candy.

However, the game is essentially four arenas (worlds) with a mix of ground pounding and aerial dog fighting. The ship combat is AMAZING and I am shocked to find that not only is it intuitive but I'm damned good at it. I've never been good at something like this before, so I assume I'm not actually that good, just better than everyone else who sucks more. Or something. My son so far is very, very good as slamming his fighter into the Tatooine desertscape, but eventually even he was able to take on a medley of TIE fighters and win a couple times.

The solo and co-op play modes consist of five training missions (that are actually quite fun and don't have that hideous on-rails training approach), eight combat arenas where you fight enemy AI or a buddy (mixed between normal troops and "hero" modes), and four survival arenas where you can solo or co-op against fifteen waves of enemies. Most importantly, it offers co-op split-screen multiplayer, something Halo 5 ditched which was a huge mistake for that franchise.

The solo and co-op modes suffer from one problem: you can pretty much play each one on the three modes of play to get extra unlocks, but after you've beaten each on the three levels of difficulty you probably won't care to keep replaying them. Even my son (he's almost 4, remember) was getting a little tired of replaying the same mode over and over after a couple hours. He's used to things like Star Wars Lego and Batman Lego, which have a lot of "busy work" in the game....he loves Star Wars" Battlefront but after you've used all your abilities and blown away a ton of storm troopers or rebel soldiers the game doesn't offer much more unless you move to multiplayer.

Multiplayer is more layered and I am still exploring it. I was shocked as I mentioned earlier to discover that not only do I find the starfighter controls really intuitive, but I'm apparently pretty good at it, averaging top three ratings in most of my play-throughs. That's just weird, as 3D dogfighting has been a video game element I've never been good at in the past (I think the PS1 Colony Wars was the last series I was able to play with any reasonable success, to give you an idea).

There are more multiplayer modes, but without exploring all of them yet I'll comment on the following: the game uses a card system to load special abilities and equipment. You have to earn these cards, and although I haven't poked around yet I am sure you'll have some game currency you can purchase in a RMT that lets you buy more cards (I think this was true in Battlefield 4 as well). I never spend money on this stuff, but apparently someone does.

Beyond that, so far I think it's safe to say that Star Wars: Battlefront is an excellent but very casual shooter experience. If you're looking for a hardcore multiplayer game to get you through the next year, this one's only going to work if you're like me, and will be lucky to get more than 5 hours a week in playing it. That said, I've found the feel and style of SWB to be possibly the best multiplayer experience yet, against the recent competition, and only CoD: Black Ops 3 wins out in the end because BO3 managed to both get the formula right and make for a very compeling, strategic new sort of gameplay experience. If you want hardcore multiplayer? Go to Black Ops 3. If you want a more casual experience that also won't teach your kid how to swear or make you wince at the gory death animations? Star Wars: Battelfront is your friend.

Here's a Pro and Con list:

  • It's got a smooth first-person and third-person mode.
  • Amazing, crisp graphics
  • Easy to figure out, even a 4 year old can play
  • Very family friendly; in fact possibly the only family-friendly game I've bought this season that didn't have "Lego" in the title
  • Has some single-player and co-op options, unlike say prior Battlefront games
  • Split-screen mode!!!!
  • Very easy to pick up and play; low complexity in design means long-term bar of entry is not set too high for the filthy casuals like myself
  • starship dogfighting is amazingly well done
  • Hardcore gamers will find the long-term complexity wanting
  • It looks like only 6 playable heroes at start (presumably more added with the DLC): Darth Vader, the Emperor, Boba Fett, Leia, Han and Luke
  • Why am I not seeing Ewoks on the Endor level, or are we just missing them? Why are there no Jawas on Tatooine I can shoot? (EDIT: They're lurking in certain multiplayer levels. But you can't shoot them...or at least, I can't successfully do so. Sigh)
  • Card-based power-ups might annoy people; if RMTs are tied in will annoy even more
  • So is there any arena in space for starships? Probably in DLC?
  • The solo and co-op modes are too brief; should have had more options and game modes available
  • Only four world arenas to start; they should have had double this number IMO but it looks like future modes are all end-loaded into the DLC
  • Battlefront's "you are leaving the combat zone" red warnings return.....GAAAAHHHHHH
Being a Filthy Casual Star Wars fan who's going to milk this for a lot of play time with his family, I'd giving it a solid A. But if you're child-free and hardcore, I think you'll rank this game a C at best and I would advise you to look to Black Ops 3 for the serious multiplayer (I'll see you there after my son goes to sleep). But.....

Should you buy it? I think anyone who's got a situation like I do (both young and old Star Wars fans in the house) and doesn't mind spending $60 will be okay.....but honestly, if money is a factor then it would make a lot of sense to wait until sometime next year when you could get the base game plus all DLC for $60 or less; the game as presented, with so much content planned for future release (I assume and hope) just feels too incomplete. That is both the hardcore gamer in me and the Reasonable Consumer in me speaking out....and because of that dearth of content I'd have to rank SWB a B- right now; it really does need more "stuff" to do.

(EDIT: I'm upgrading this to a A- because since I wrote this I've logged at least 1 or 2 hours a night in on the game, sometimes with my son, sometimes with multiplayer, and it not only hasn't gotten old but I'm pretty well addicted to it....neglecting the other multiplayer shooter fare on my plate pretty much entirely in favor of Star Wars: Battlefront. At least part of the reason is because it turns out the formula has more staying power than I thought. The other reason really is because--believe it or not--SWB manages to make for a very clean and friendly play environment; you do not see the weirdos and griefers, at least not right now, and I think it will be hard to see them in the future as the game is very carefully designed to mitigate opportunities for people to be jerks. You can't teabag, spawn points rotate with great efficiency making camping hard to do, if there's chat I haven't been impacted by it, and the game's underlying design is incredibly balanced and efficient. Most importantly: nothing within the game encourages asshattery, either; you do not have characters cursing at you for not stepping up your effin game like they do in Black Ops 3, for example. This is the cleanest and most enjoyable, relaxing yet fun shooter I've played in years.)

*The female stormtroopers in Star Wars don't just "fill a gap" in gender equality in Star Wars canon, they are a fundamental paradigm shift in Star Wars that retroactively changes how the original three movies feel: prior to this game, the original films depicted a monolithic empire that suppressed aliens and women from their ranks (if there was a female imperial anywhere in the original trilogy, I couldn't find her). Now, the Empire is oppressive to aliens alone, and both genders are equally involved in the inherent evil of the Empire....presumably in time for us to appreciate the cool female Chrometrooper Commander in The Force Awakens.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I'm not neglecting Tunnels & Trolls, but as it happens in my rotation I've built up a lot of Fantasy AGE content for the blog. More content for T&T and my new Altavir setting to come soon!

Sarvaelen in Fantasy AGE: The Emoniae as a PC race

I've been working on lots of Sarvaelen conversions for Fantasy AGE. Here's the Emoniae, the human race with elemental taint that dwells in the far west, and once comprised one of the larger forces in revolt in the old civil war against the Empire of Camrinal which also survived the devastating purge of the emperor that destroyed everything....

This race has a bloodline taint which I have left as an optional aberration, although I considered modeling it as a specialization...problem with that is if I do, then emon can't also choose from a specialization. Ultimately the taint is a powerful trait which eventually corrupts the emon's humanity, swallowing it whole....enough, perhaps, to weigh out the advantages knowing that too many elemental traits will turn the PC into a dangerous NPC.

The People of Emon

Also known as the Emoniae, the people of this distant land exist far in the west, beyond the ruined expanse of the wastelands of Camrinal. Emon was the greatest independent threat to Camrinal in its era of rule, and the Emoniae were a culture of sorcerers much like the Empire. When the Final War erupted, their lands were devastated, and the Empire sought to exterminate their greatest rivals as quickly as possible. When the conflict ended with the destruction of Camrinal, most of Emon’s warriors were caught in the destruction, and destroyed. Still, there were plenty of survivors back home, now mostly dwelling in ancient, deep enclaves within the vast Adasatrak Mountains where they stood guard against the outside world.

Today the Emoniae are still driven by magic as a way of life and such arts find a greater acceptance within their mountain fortresses than anywhere else. The Emoniae remain isolated and tend to mistrust the young eastern kingdoms that have arisen from the ashes of the Final War. It is also the only land where the study and worship of the Old Gods is still permitted.

Elemental Taint: Emoniae revere the elemental old gods, and still worship them. There is a chance that any emoniae has some elemental heritage in his or her bloodline. The immediate effect is an innate basic understanding of the elemental tongue and an affinity for that element, which means that they tend to be regarded favorably by elementals of like type that they meet (at GM's discretion a +2 reaction modifier; see below for other features this taint induces).

The Emoniae As a PC
Many emoniae have a talent for magic, and are most commonly mages by class. Emoniae are, like pureblooded of Camrinal, prone to attracting the attention and interest of demons, spirits, elementals, old gods and other beings from the Elemental Realms. Elves have an abnormal fascination for them, and as a result it is more common to run into half-elves of mixed elvish and emoniae blood than any other combination. Emoniae are a special type of human, with the following racial traits:
·         Emoniae gain +1 in intelligence or +1 in Fighting.
·         Emoniae may choose Focus: intelligence (arcane lore) or Focus: intelligence (natural lore) to start.
·         Emoniae move at a speed of 10+dexterity like other men.
·         Emoniae learn the common (Aeronostic) tongue as well as Emonish, their cultural language.
·         Emoniae roll on the following benefits table:

Emoniae Benefits
2D6      Benefit
2          +1 Intelligence
3-4       Focus: intelligence (writing)
5          Focus: communication (persuasion)
6          Weapon group: staves or light blades
7-8       +1 communication
9          Focus: intelligence (elemental affinity)
10-11   Focus: willpower (self-discipline)
12        +1 Willpower

Emoniae Focus: elemental affinity (choose one elemental type)
This focus lets the emon mage add his focus bonus to elemental attacks of the same type (i.e. fire, air, water, earth, shadow). Gaining this focus also means that the emon has elemental taint (see next), can speak the elemental language of choice, and may gain the focus bonus on positive reaction rolls with elementals.

Elemental Taint
An emon who chooses to be a mage and also gains the elemental affinity focus gains elemental taint. The first time this happens, usually at level 1-3 (the GM can roll randomly to determine when),
he or she begins to manifest a sign of elemental corruption, usually in the form of a glow or emission from the skin, and a slow but certain "change" on the skin that seems to be a manifestation of that emon's elemental taint (stone-like skin, persistent water running from pores, smoke, or a misty fog following the emon). This first manifestation is cosmetic and can be suppressed with concentration (a TN 11 vs. willpower (self-discipline) check).  Once the emoniae reaches level 4 and chooses a specialist discipline, each rank of proficiency thereafter the emoniae must make a check against willpower (self-discipline) at TN 12 (novice), TN 16 (expert), and TN 21 (master) to avoid manifesting new taint effects. This roll becomes harder (-2 penalty) if the elementalist specialization is taken.
Roll each time to see what manifests:

Emoniae Elemental Corruption Chart
1D6      Elemental Corruption Type
1-3       Elemental resistance: take half damage from the elemental type you are tainted by; if you roll this a second time gain immunity to that elemental type damage.
4-5       Gain power to summon an elemental of your corruption type for 1 hour. Requires 5 minutes of concentration to summon and 5 MP to cast. The second time you roll this you learn to summon a larger elemental for 8 MP, and the third time a huge elemental for 12 MP.
6          gain permanent emission of elemental type: stone skin (gain 5 AR), fire erupts from flesh (immune to damage from it but deals 1D6 to all on touch), air (gains levitate at will at your speed), or water (emits water permanently, gains water breathing). These traits are very difficult to disguise and require a willpower (self-discipline) check of TN 18 to supress for 1 hour. The second time you roll this effect you become a true elemental being. The form changes noticeably to be "more" of the elemental type and the emon's humanity becomes suppressed. Breathing is no longer necessary. The third time you roll a 6 the emon gains the ability to plane shift to his elemental plane of appropriate type at will for 6 MP. The fourth time the emon rolls 6 on this chart he becomes a true elemental and departs the material plane, becoming an NPC at the GM's discretion.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Selutar Lizard Men of Sarvaelen in Fantasy AGE

The Selutar: Lizard Men of Sarvaelen

The rapacious and violent Selutar are raiders, marauders and destroyers who seek to destroy humanity and indeed all life itself. They are subterranean dwellers in the dark, sometimes labeled troglodytes and beast men, but in fact unrelated to either of those equally dangerous kindred. The Selutar are driven by the worship of the Dark Mother Eshraggol, an immense, bloated dragon goddess, an Old One from before the Fall of Camrinal that is said to have given birth to their fouls species at the dawn of time, and to have forged her children into an army of shadow destined to seek the extermination of man ever since. As with all such chaoskin, the Selutar are defeated only by their own lack of organization and inability to focus on meaningful military structure, preferring instead overwhelming horde tactics.

Because Selutar are most dangerous when their population goes unchecked, regions like Aeronost employ mercenary companies and some dedicated knighthoods (such as the Vigilant Order of the Dragon) to seek out and slaughter Selutar in their subterranean homes whenever possible.

There are rumors of Selutar dwelling in the deep woods and mountains of some regions who have cast off the religious fanaticism of their underground kin. These remote colonies are usually far removed from men, and when found by their zealous kin are usually hunted to destruction. There is a legend about a pious Saint Erasma, a servant of Nevereth who converted the first Selutar to the worship of the goddess and thus explaining the appearance of rare but nonviolent lizard men.

Despite their religious fervor, there are few sorcerers among the Selutar. Most priest do not cast magic, though they still engage in ancient rituals, often at profane sacrificial sites that contain inherent magic which they call upon through grim sacrifice. The occasional true sorcerer among the Selutar usually seeks to follow the goddess as a shaman or cultist, but occasionally such enlightened lizard men break away entirely to pursue greater mysteries, as the acquisition of such power tends to open their minds to a broader perspective on the nature of arcane power in the world.

Selutar Statistics
1 Accuracy
-2 Communication
0 Constitution
2 Dexterity (stealth)
3 Fighting (bludgeoning, bite, spears)
-1 Intelligence
2 Perception (searching, smelling)
2 Strength (swimming)
0 Willpower
Speed  10        Health 30        Defense           12        AR 4 (natural scales)

Weapon (attack/damage)

Spear +5 to hit, 1D6+6 damage

Bite +5 to hit, 1D4+3 damage and target must make a contested Constitution check vs. TN 13 or suffer a painful bacterial infection (see diseased bite, below).

Special Qualities:

Favored stunts: skirmish (1 SP for first 4 yards of movement), lighting attack (2 SPs)

Scaly Hide: selutar lizard men have natural hide armor (4 AR).
Uncanny Sense of Smell: Selutar have an unusually keen sense of smell.

Darkvision: selutar are adapted for total darkness, able to see with low-light vision in pitch black conditions as if it were an overcast day.

Diseased Bite: Selutar have bacteria-filled saliva that is dangerous to those they bite. A bitten target must make a contested Constitution check vs. TN 13 or suffer a painful bacterial infection that stops any regeneration and impairs the sickened individual with a -1 penalty on all ability checks due to fever; effect takes within 1D6 hours of the bite. Each day a new check may be made to recover; each failure increases the penalty by 1. If the penalty reaches -6 the victim dies. Each success reduces the penalty by 1 for every 3 points over the TN rolled. If the target reaches a zero penalty they recover.

Selutar Mages: Selutar who become priests and cultists of Eshraggol are usually female or strong males, and have a 50% chance of developing a chaotic feature (see chart below). Selutar mages usually have an intelligence and willpower of 1 or more, and are trained in the Earth and Water Arcana.

Suggested Chaotic Features of Selutar Mages (2D6): 2-3 regeneration; 4 armored; 5-6 Shadow; 7-8 winged; 9 mighty, 10 multiple limbs, 11 blending 12 roll twice. See FAGE Bestiary for how these qualities work. Multiple limbs may allow more than one attack at GM's discretion. All chaotically marked selutar mages are mutated in unique and often disturbing ways.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Chaosium: smart move on Runequest 2

I posted about this a few days ago (as did many others). I don't really do much to promote my site nor do I spend a lot of time on news bits outside of what interests me, so presumably my blog is not a key news spot for gamers. But in only a few days I've gotten 744 hits on that Runequest 2 announcement.

Chaosium might want to see what else is in the back catalog people would like.

State of Holiday Gaming So Far (video games, that is) - Ranking AAA games by the Busy Dad Rating

I haven't had as much time as I'd like to assimilate them all, but here's my "busy dad ongoing review status" for the Holiday games I've been in to:

Fallout 4 (PS4 edition)

I finally found time to play. It's good, and a refined, cleaner version of the Bethesda engine we all know and love (or loathe). It's got a great intro....brief, but it sets an interesting precedent for your character that I haven't seen in prior Fallout titles. The game is quick to reward you with power armor (that requires a lot of upkeep) and your pet dog, Dogmeat (because in the Fallout universe no one names dogs Spot anymore). This was a bit disconcerting....I'm not used to having some of the cooler elements from Fallout 3 handed to me on a silver platter like this; it feels....pandering? I don't know. But the upkeep requirements on the armor are interesting, and make for a more engaging sense of ownership.

Fallout 4 also introduces some more elaborate crafting (mildly so, but easy to understand). It introduces settlement building, too....I'm not a fan, but maybe I'll warm up to it. If you've been reading about game glitches, take note I am playing the PS4 version (still need to upgrade my PC to run stuff like this) and have encountered no glitches whatsoever. If people complain it looks bad, I can only point out that you're only hearing that complaint from hardcore PC Master Race Dudes; the game looks fine to me.

Busy Dad Rating: A+ as it's purely single player, plays at your pace, seems to be much save friendlier than the old days, and while it's long, it is not the kind of game you'll get tired of any time soon if you're into this sort of RPG/action hybrid.

Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One Exclusive)

I'm almost done with the campaign (I think) and the story remains crazy and interesting. I realized I still hadn't tried multiplayer so popped over to the Xbox One to give it a spin before finishing this article. Short version: it feels very good, and feels much better to me than the old Halo 3 MP I spent a lot of time with. I couldn't say how it compares to Halo 4 MP, the time Halo 4 was out I was pretty much focused on PC stuff, no time for console MP. Anyway....I like the feel of it, but it is still a frenetic mayhem-riddled experience where you are certain you are sucking because you don't have time to practice like the 13 year old tea-bagging nutjobs on the other side do. Also, unlike Black Ops 3, Halo still offers zero offline bot-based MP gaming, so no practice opportunities at all.

Busy Dad Rating: A+ for the campaign so far, C+ for the multiplayer; would rank higher if it had any offline ways to enjoy the MP (even Spartan Ops missions like Halo 4 did).

Black Ops 3 (PS4 edition)

Well, I initially thought this would be the Call of Duty title that broke the camel's back.....but nope, this may actually be the first CoD title in the franchise to really energize it. Black Ops 3's campaign is interesting but not nearly as thrilling as the multiplayer, which returns to an engaging level of addiction I haven't experienced since the original Black Ops (the CoD title which got me hooked on the series, actually). My advice? If you've been itching for good multiplayer gaming, or even bot-based gaming (bots are fully supported in BO3) grab this one, it's worth it. The zombie stuff is fun, too. Treyarch remains my favorite CoD studio, and their latest entry has shown up the last two years of sub par or average CoD games.

Busy Dad Rating: A+ because the CoD people know they have an aging demographic that also doesn't want to piss off fellow players by dropping off in the middle of an event because of all that family stuff. You can play the entire game, all features, offline if you want. The online matches are mostly short, too (except for zombies mode). Fair warning though: the game has a lot of swearing, and if you don't want to explain where your son learned to curse like a grizzled veteran of the cybernetic wars to his teacher, some headphones may be in order.

Destiny: The Taken King (PS4 edition)

As is traditional with Destiny storylines you find you've murdered the Taken King halfway through the actual content, leaving lots of strike missions to do mop-up and foreshadowing for future plotlines. The changes to Destiny are overall quite good, and I have since gotten very used to the new Ghost voice from Nolan North....I still miss Dinklebot, but not even fractionally as much as I did before. Honestly, the best voice acting is now between North's Cade and the gothiest girl in the house, Eris Morn.

I'll say this much for Destiny over the other titles discussed: it's where you'll find the best pick-up-and-play co-op so far, and the boss levels are Absolutely Amazing. The arenas for each major fight are full of interesting tactics, shifts, environmental hazards and other surprises, keeping everyone on their feet and thinking through every fight. I've never had so much fun with boss battles as Destiny offers. This is all thanks to The Taken King; it wasn't this good before.

Busy Dad Rating: I've played more Destiny now than any other title on this list. I have to say it's definitely an A game, and would give it a + if the game would let me run any strike I wanted solo on demand.

Upcoming: Star Wars Battlefront (Xbox One edition....because I'm out of PS4 space)

It's out this week. I'll post more, but I did play through the Open Beta and was most impressed at what was on offer (even if Hoth remained a clear bloodbath for the Rebels). My son is also entranced by the game, so he and I will probably be playing a lot of offline co-op to teach him the basics on the FPS genre, which admittedly he's pretty good at these days. No rating yet, but I'll be curious to see if they offer more (rather than less) solo/offline options given the Battlefield series is not known for being solo friendly at all.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bundle of Holding offers two flavors of OSR: crazy weird and conventional classic (mostly)

This book deserves all the praise it's gotten. 

Just got word on this, and had to get the new OSR+3 Bundle of Holding. The notice also mentions that the original OSR bundle is also back up and live. Here's what they offer:

OSR+3 Bundle of Holding:
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
Gnomes of Levnec
Strange Stars
Weird Adventures and Strange Trails
Hit the level up goal and you get:
A Red and Pleasant Land (yes, that's right)
Owl-Hoot Trail
Fever-Dreaming Marlinko
Beyond the Wall
...I own none of those.

The list above is some interesting stuff, and I own none of them. In thinking about this I had an epiphany: OSR is indeed about reviving the Old School in RPGs and D&D specifically (see the original OSR below for an example) but a lot of the OSR today is about something else entirely, a new beast which reflects not quite the OSR as it was, but the OSR as it has changed, it's legend growing with 40 years of fans to contribute to it.

Let's face it: none of us in our middle and elder years today are the same people we were in the 70's and 80's. My game tastes and style are considerably different even if you can see the budding core of my being back in 1980 manifesting; the trail leads on a long and wild ride to the sort of gaming I do today. Much of the OSR is about this sort of experience....not a precise duplication of what we were but what we have become. It's one of the reasons I've always looked with interest on books such as the mess above, but never dived in*....what we as gamers are today is often tightly defined by our own path of experience, and it's often difficult to reconcile what one guy does at his own table with what I do at mine, so something like Red and Pleasant Land comes off more as a piece of art to be admired than an actual utility to be deployed** least among the old guard.

I suspect the young OSR crowd is just generally fascinated by all of it and takes for granted that we're all freaky old madmen who have been like this all along. I contend that we were never as crazy back then as we are now, no matter how much we wish it were so. When I used to have raunchy adventures in the mid-eighties full of demons and rogues and lusty women and barbarians and was because that stuff was very cool in my teens. When I do it now? There's weird and sometimes disturbing subtext, a constant challenge from moral gray areas and a general sense that the scope of any adventure is deep and wide, waiting for it's depths to be plumbed. I think it's like that for a lot of current older GMs, too.

Maybe there was some crazy back then (I mean, sure there was), but it's never been as prolifically documented nor as seriously regarded as it is now. I really can't say any of today's coolest OSR content would ever have seriously emerged in the golden age as it has today--but if it did, it would have at best been mimeographed in to an issue of Alarums & Excursions or some fanzine, and would have probably bordered on the unplayable by today's standards. And yes, we'd have loved it.

There's also the classic OSR Bundle. it's a much safer beast.
Swords & Wizardry
Tomb of the Iron God
Cyclopean Deeps I
OSR Toolkit
And level up to get:
The God that Crawls
The Monolith Beyond Space and Time

...barring the last three items, it's a lot more timid and conventional. Also, I think I own all of that in some format (not sure about the last two modules, though....LotFP books, I think). Vornheim might fit in the prior category I discuss....but ACKS and the S&W offerings are firmly rooted in a modern return to classic form. Great stuff, but not quite the "risk taking, shit-kicking" madness something like Red and Pleasant Land exudes.

Both of them have about 10 days left on the clock....check it out if you don't already have all of it.

*price for PDFs being the top reason, though. So thank you, Bundle of Holding!

**That said, now that I have the PDF, I immediately bought a physical copy at because this book is amazing. It lived up to the hype....I am impressed.