Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Green Ronin and Fantasy AGE Plans in 2017

Well, as news on this year's plans trickle out we have some details on various publishers to consider. This year Green Ronin announced a number of planned releases, although not quite as exciting as last year's announcement....key among the releases is a Ashes of Valkana campaign book which would be more exciting if I was in to Titansgrave. Fantasy AGE will get its own crowd sourced "dmsguild" this year some time, which I imagine will be a way to fill out some of the much-needed absent content from the game as it currently stands. It's a shame that this appears to be the direction RPGs are going now to handle the desire for new content among gamers vs. the skeletal release rates of books these days, but I suppose when in Rome....get used to PDFs.

Blue Rose is also releasing this year, for those who are interested. I'm not really the target demographic, but I did find the original an interesting concept in the under-appreciated romantic fantasy genre.

There's also a hint of Dragon Age content to come, but mired in the license approval requirements.

So......a bit bare this year, unfortunately, and it sounds like instead of an "Advanced" rulebook for Fantasy AGE we will instead get a community content portal instead.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

This is a good week to be a Resident Evil fan. We have a new entry into the game series (RE7) that is genuinely amazing....more on that one later....and also the final movie in the "Alice's adventures in Umbrellaland" series of Resident Evil films starring Milla Jovovich.

I've had a great deal of fun with both the films and games of Resident Evil over the years, and always appreciate that the first RE game marked my foray into "modern" gaming on the Playstation 1. Prior to that, it was a wasteland of suboptimal, graphically terrifying PC games for me, and in fact the PS1 was my first machine that could run anything interesting at all, as well as my first console since my childhood Atari 2600 days. This year in 2017 marks an interesting transition for the franchise, which, like the monsters it portrays, has grown in strange and weird ways. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is no different, offering up a movie that closes out this chapter of the franchise while RE7 opens up an entirely strange and new direction for the games.

Unlike the last several Resident Evil movies, the latest film isn't nearly as campy and stupid, making it hard to poke fun at the film. In fact, if you hadn't seen any of the RE movies since maybe #1, this film could arguably stand on its own....so long as your entire focus is on enjoying a zombie apocalypse film that keeps making allusions to prior events. They give you a decent enough recap at the start, and even fill in some odd holes from the dawn of the series (the kinds of holes this series takes for granted, normally), and then dives in to the current plot. In fact it even eschews the traditional "wrap up the ending of the last film" format by cutting to the chase....we know there was a crazy battle in the ruins of Washington DC but the film starts more or less "the day after" that fight, and moves in to Alice's last trip down the rabbit hole.

I'll get this out of the way real quickly: much like with xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is actually a lot of fun and quite enjoyable, so long as your in to that sort of thing. Which thankfully I happen to be, because otherwise I'd be having a real crisis of confidence in the state of films right now if I didn't. They are both action films predicated on the glory of on-screen excess and madness that is particular to their action-film visions of the universe. They both rely on spectacle over plot, action over story, and the "doing of stuff" over character.

Alice is promised an end in this tale, a conclusion to her story, and we do get that. I am kind of hopeful that this means we might eventually see a series reboot which tries to tell a RE tale closer to the games....but then we get into that tricky gray area where we have to admit that the games have their own special world logic, pacing issues, character development failings and weird plot holes (though none quite so spectacular as the films in aggregate).

The storyline of The Final Chapter wraps up Alice's tale (more or less), brings back Claire, brings back (no surprise) Wesker (and also wraps his tale up), along with gratuitious appearances by all of the Umbrella evil gang....especially the Red Queen and Dr. Isaacs, who's been "dead" for a few movies, actually. It does not clarify what happened to Leon Kennedy or Ada Wong....but I'm not fretting, their arbitrary appearance in this franchise remains one of those "visual nods" to the games without much effort to explain their existence in the weird mirror universe of Alice.

Here are a handful of my spoilerific observations on this movie (yes, SPOILERS AHEAD):

1. For much of the initial scenery this movie looks like they took a tab from Fallout 3's style.

2. As the plot progresses and it is revealed that the entire cabal of Umbrella is cryogenically locked away for awakening after the apocalypse ends, many "motivational" plotholes get nominally filled. This is good! Also, judicious use of clones to explain motivations, appearances, and reappearances was sufficient to help clear up some old (and new) plot detritus. But some of the motivations of prior villains in other films are suddenly cast in to doubt. Why, for example, did Wesker do pretty much any of the stuff he did in prior films? Why was it necessary to wait ten years to release the anti-virus? Why--if near as I can tell that was the goal all along--did anyone left at Umbrella oppose Alice's desire to do so, if it insured they would awaken to their brave new world?

3. Who set the bombs to blow up the cryotubes? I might have not followed this properly, but I was under the impression that no one had a good opportunity to do so.

4. Wesker died like a dog in a trap. Seemed like an oddly fitting end for Movie Wesker, but entirely out of sorts with the vicious mutating Wesker that haunted the video games.

5. I thought the Isaacs clone was motivated to cast down the Umbrella elite, knowing he was a clone. But in the end he seemed genuinely surprised to meet the Real Isaacs. So what, then, was his actual motive for baiting an army of the dead right to the entrance of the installation?

6. They try to clarify that the infection of the world actually started deliberately....but it doesn't quite jive with the first couple movies. I guess it explains how a post-nuked Raccoon City wasn't the source of the infection evident by the time of "Resident Evil: Extinction" but in fact it was Umbrella Corp deliberately infecting the population.....but at the same time, the prior movies held up on their assumptions just fine without this extra layer of Machiavellian scheming.

7. Do you remember the names of anyone else in this movie other than Alice, Claire, Isaacs and Wesker? Me neither. The entire population of survivors were pretty much just there to have a "visual recognition" and then their moment of doom.

8. Wesker still died like a dog. Hah!

9. That anti-virus sure did disperse quickly. Like....insanely quick. But this is RE science so yeah. They kinda clarify it will travel on the winds in the end, but that only lampshades the whole "army of zombies fall over" scene just prior. I guess the army was downwind?

10. I am officially impressed at how many frickin' times that laser trap corridor has made an appearance in the movie now. Officially it is like a character unto itself. The laser corridor is to RE films what the Necronomicon is to Evil Dead movies.

11. Fridge Moment: even if they were evil, I bet a fair number of the Umbrella elite would have been very useful alive to help rebuild society. Then again.....I guess they did cause the apocalypse....

Okay....so this was a fun movie, slightly less stupid than the last three, and slightly more energetic than many zombie survival horror films out there. It was all about the action, the LOUD NOISES as zombies pop out and the monsters. Also, a promise I think from W.S. Anderson to his wife Milla to get her off the film sequel treadmill she's been trapped on. To that end, a solid B+, for a solid B Movie!


Monday, January 23, 2017

xXx-The Return of Xander Cage (a review; also known as "why did I see this, exactly???")

Oh yeah: Vin Diesel.

So Vin Diesel, along with Jason Statham, continues to appeal to me because he is continuing to demonstrate that bald, middle-aged men are still viable action stars. Or at least we like to think we are....!

I grabbed a 3D IMAX showing of this movie on a spare moment while on a work trip. I can't say I was "disappointed," exactly....I mean, I think I knew what I was getting when I went to see this movie. I saw the original xXx when it came out (skipped #2 though....no Vin Diesel, after all) so in one sense this was not unreasonable of me to want to see the sequel with the franchise's original character's return. Right? But on the other hand....I saw that trailer. Oh man, that trailer. The one with the jungle mountain skiing in Cuba:

Yeah, that one.

So instead of trying to comprehensively explain what this movie is, I thought I'd just point out the many, many odd issues I had with the movie. I'll preface with the caveat I did have fun with the movie......but it was kind of the same sort of fun I might have with watching a car derby, or playing a video game like Saint's Row III. You know....the "check your brain at the gates" kinda fun.

Anyway, my gripe list (kinda sorta spoilers ahead):

1. How is it that even as we watch Gibbons explode on screen I am thinking (correctly) "I bet he's not dead and he shows up at the end." This is an awful moment one minute in that I realize the entire plot I am about to see has become so formulaic that I already know the punches before they are thrown. It's a Save The Cat Script.

2. When Marke shows up (Toni Collette) I am also thinking, "I bet she's really behind this." Technically they "almost" foil this expectation by only making her turn on everyone in the end, but we kinda expected it the instant she showed up so....yeah.

3. Why doesn't Xander break his legs after jumping from the tower? Skiis don't make our ankle bones invulnerable to immense falls, and jungle foliage does not work as a perfect or even nominally ideal substitute for snow.

4. Even though it's not really referring to the actual Defcon status, how is it that superspy dude Xander Cage doesn't understand that Defcon 1 is not the one to worry about, Defcon 5 is???

5. Xander's girlfriend is young enough to be his daughter.....granddaughter, even by New Mexico (and probably Cuban) standards. Yaaaay middle-aged man action fantasies. I bet there's more of this as the movie progresses (sure enough, yes).

6. Xander has to sleep with a lot of women to get data that somehow the NSA couldn't just so he could say a funny punchline. Oiiiiiiii

7. It's nice seeing Donnie Yen in this movie. He has some serious martial arts skills, not so evident from his recent Rogue One outing.

8. I'm watching this movie in Austin, Texas, and thinking that it's demographically one of those "movies full of not-white people unless they are the villains" kind of modern trendy films (see: Rogue One) and wondering how it's selling around here. There's like 5 people in the theater on a Sunday. Look, I'm not trying to say Austin is extremely homogenous....but I come from New Mexico, and apparently I've been in NM so long now that being around this many white people in one town is making me kinda nervous. It's like Children of the Corn here. I'm back to being treated as exotic because of my Swedish name.

9.  Queue obligatory lesbian (Ruby Red). Also, obligatory nerdy tech chick (Nina Dobrev). also, since when did being able to conduct a rave turn into a superspy power? And what did the paranoid Torch bring to the table, exactly? I never did figure out what his useful talent was.

10. Hey....they never did explain how Xiang (Donnie Yen) jumped seventy feet down from across a building through three inch thick plate-glass, land, and take out a room full of spies. They even lampshaded this when Xander points exactly the figures I provided above. I was expecting some sort of tech explanation but maybe the "he's XXX" is enough reason for this film's universe?

11. Russians show up then get blown up then never return. So the Russians were savvy enough to identify the hideout of the rogue agents (something NSA could not do and Xander did by sleeping with many women) but not savvy enough to pursue them later on?

12. I don't think freefall in a plane quite works like this movie thinks it does.

13. I don't think crashing satellites will be as destructive as this movie thinks they are. Certainly not the vast majority of them.

14. I don't think computers or the internet or satellites or jamming systems work quite the way this movie thinks they do.

15. So who was on the other end of the phone instructing Marke to turn on Xander and kill him? How was Marke so incompetent as to forget the body armor that they had supplied him? Or...you know,,,,just finish the job by shooting him in the head? Head canon theory: she didn't want to turn on Xander like her boss (Mr. President?) ordered her to, so deliberately didn't shoot him in the head, instead grouping the shot on his armored tank top thingy.

16. When they catch up to the rogue director why doesn't he have a conversation with Xiang, or imply some relationship? It was strongly implied at some point they had worked together....specifically, when the rogue agents attack, it's called out that Torch doesn't react to Xiang's intrusion like he anticipated it. So either Xiang was being played unwittingly (why?) or the director was aware of his plans....and that makes sense I guess since the Pandora's Box Xiang stole was a one-use thing. But....ugh.....so little explained here beyond "director wants to cause havoc, maybe even because he is anarchically determined to destroy civilization in disgust" and "Xiang wants the box to use it, at least until the end when he has a change of heart." Oh god my brain is hurting trying to figure out everyone's actual motives here. Literally the only one who's motives "seem" pure is Serena Unger's (Deepika Padukone) who is at least consistent.

17. Say that gets me back to the early part of the film....who was the dude on the motorcycle? He seemed competent until he was kicked off of it.

18. Come to think of it, can one really fault Marke and her boss for deciding to clean up all the "xXx" agents? These guys basically appear less reliable than using actual enemy spies for your information. They gang up and kill the entire room of directors early on (and miss the one corrupt director), fake their own deaths and hide in Cuba, come back and then change sides or motives on a fickle whim, eventually ganging up en masse to take out the rest of the NSA. Now that I think about it, the only thing that was even less surprising here was that they didn't just quietly drop a satellite on the whole gang without warning. If they'd just let Xander go, instead of trying to shoot him, they could have readily taken the whole crew out.

19. In fact on that last point: if your evil plan is to blow them up with a satellite drop, then why did they send in an angry mob of mercenaries in the first place? To blow up the mercs too?

20. Good thing Xander can pilot a cargo carrier plane that looks a lot like a SHIELD plane (from season one, as far as I've gotten) so efficiently that he can intercept a satellite dropping into orbit. And then outrun it. And also survive that fall on the cargo with the 'chute that deploys like 200 feet before impact.

Oh god my brain is hurting.  I have to stop now.

Okay: without Vin Diesel this was a solid D. With Vin Diesel I make it a C-. I call this movie "watchable fun but you'll like it more if you're drunk." 

Aftermath: I had a chance to rewatch xXx the original on Google Play. Having a chance now to review the original, I have to comment that yes, the sequel is just generally goofier and makes less sense (relatively speaking) than the original. The original xXx came at a time when it was in fact defying conventions in spy genre films, a genre which had been defined by the likes of James Bond, by casting the unusual role of Xander Cage as a sports Xtreme dude turned super-spy. But compared to the latest movie, the original was kind of....tame, really. Only one distinct ankle-breaking moment that I noticed, and even then it was more "believable" than the scenes in the latest film.

Still, the new movie captures the general spirit of it all, even if it's not half as original or inspired. If you liked the original xXx, I think you'll enjoy this one, too. I mean...worst case....watch it for inspiration in your next Tropicana Savage Worlds game!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Savage Space: The Hakatic Union (Savage Worlds and White Star)

The Hakatic Union is founded by a species of intelligent coleoptera, collectively known as the hakatics, a name given to them by a species called the ethrixia, which was very nearly rendered extinct in a brutal galactic conflict with the bugs. In their own language, which is a mix of clicks, whistles and pheromone-like protein chains emitted in a fine particulate mist, the actual name of this species is unpronounceable by most humanoids with conventional speech.

The Hakatics developed primitive space travel early on but did not advance beyond simple vacuum tubes and nuclear power for centuries, as their collective hive seemed to be incapable of anticipating the value of anything more than computational power for basic calculations. This is likely due to the fact that females of the species seemed to have impeccable minds for mathematical calculation....they were, in a manner of speaking....superior to any computers they could devise.

The hive of the hakatics is constructed around a rigid, biologically enforced caste system which places the females in administrative, support and intellect roles, while the male hakatics are reserved exclusively for what outsiders call the "warrior caste," though the actual role seems to encompass leadership, exploration and defense as well as the fundamentals of combat. To most outsiders this is hard to identify, due to the inherently xenophobic nature of the Hakatics, who seem at best able to tolerate the other "caste-clans" of their society as they engage in regular warfare with other hive collectives of their own kind. The appearance of outsiders was beyond their comprehension....abominations beyond their ability to assimilate into their cultural range.

Despite being a hive collective, the hakatics are not a "hive mind." They are comprised of individuals, and can function --within limits-- away from their collective. The problem is that the hakatics are biologically locked into behavioral patterns that give them limited ability to function outside of their birth-station. There is some evidence that hakatics can transmogrify, under the rigth conditions, developing the capacity to fill another role in their hive collective when a need arises, but the phenomenon has only been inferred, not directly observed.

A recent encounter with the Hakatic Union on a intersellar "light ship" owned by a Eidolon of Cenotaph named Susuros led to a revelation that there may be a hive collective which has been influenced...possibly even uplifted....by a rogue ASI* from the center of the galaxy. This rogue ASI seems to have provided the hakatics with advanced technology, including enormously more effective fifth dimensional space slipdrive engines, as well as nanophage tech used as highly destructive weaponry. Despite these specific advancements there is no evidence the hakatics have developed advanced electronic capabilities, or at least nothing close to modern standards in computing. The threat of hakatics being manipulated by an unpredictable rogue ASI remains a troubling issue for Aegis and the Commonwealth, however.

Savage Worlds Stats:

Hakatic Warrior Caste (male)
Attributes: Agility D8, Smarts D4, Spirit D4, Strength D10, Vigor D10
Skills: Climbing D8, Fighting D8, Shooting D8, Tracking D6
Pace 6, Parry 6, Toughness 7 (15)
Racial Traits: Brawny, Claws (STR+D8), natural carapace (armor +4)
Hindrances: Vow (major) to collective; xenophobia (major); nonverbal communication 
Armor: hakatic battle gear (+4); vacuum-ready

Weapons: Typically armed with flak guns (3D6+2) or flechette guns (2D4+1)

Hakatic  Worker Caste (females)
Attributes: Agility D10, Smarts D8, Spirit D4, Strength D4, Vigor D6
Skills: Climbing D8, Knowledge (any one) D8, Repair D8, Stealth D6
Pace 6, Parry 7, Toughness 5 (7)
Racial Traits: Brawny, Claws (STR+D4), natural carapace (armor +2)
Hindrances: Vow (major) to collective; Vow (major) pacifism; nonverbal communication 
Armor: vacuum suits (harness/inflating) (no armor value)
Weapons: female caste workers only fight in last-ditch self-defense. They are also prone to following the orders --even from aliens-- if the method of order delivery is emitted as if a warrior caste member delivered the directive.

*Artificial Super Intelligence; the godlike machine intelligences that manifest, usually with a singularity that annihilates or existentially transforms/assimilates its creators when it appears.

White Star Stats:

Hakatic Warrior Caste (male)
Armor Class: 4 (15)
Hit Dice: 4
Total Hit Bonus: +4
Attacks: 1D6+2 claws; flak gun 2D6; flechette pistol 1D6-1
Saving Throw: 15
Special: hive collective mentality, xenophobic, nonverbal communication

Movement: 15
Armor: vacuum-ready (and pressurized and armored) suits designed for arthropods
HDE/XP: 4/120

Hakatic  Worker Caste (females)
Armor Class: 5 (14)
Hit Dice: 2
Total Hit Bonus: +2
Attacks: 1D6 claws
Saving Throw: 17
Special: hive collective mentality, pacifists, nonverbal communication

Movement: 16
Armor: vacuum suits (harness/inflating) (no armor value)
HDE/XP: 2/30

Notes: female caste workers only fight in last-ditch self-defense. They are also prone to following the orders --even from aliens-- if the method of order delivery is emitted as if a warrior caste member delivered the directive.

Ships of the Hakatic Union that have been seized intact reveal that the hakatics actually have no central "hive leader" in the manner humans might imagine, either. It appears to be a biologically enforced community, and the males will choose from 1-6 females as mates, and entire incubator systems run through their ships where eggs are harvested. It appears that only a handful of any egg clutch comes to fruition....possibly due to poor shielding from cosmic radiation on the ships....but the dozen or so eggs that do insure a healthy species' turnaround.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Revolution D100 Out and in Print

Basic Role Playing RPG fans know Alephtar Games very well for a wide range of excellent historical gaming books (such as Crusaders of the Amber Coast), and a major supporter of BRP before Chaosium pulled all licensing two years ago. Since then Alephtar has produced Revolution D100, which is their own variant percentile based system with a heavy dose of DNA coming from the Runequest OGL.

I'm still wading through it, but there are enough changes in Revolution D100 to qualify it as it's own thing, and while it's definitely very much in the same family as BRP, Runequest and Mythras, it also has its own character and focus on design --in fact, enough design changes that I wouldn't presume to run this book without a thorough read-through...my BRP familiarity does not translate sufficiently to absorb it all. The core rules are designed to be multi-genre, and as such Revolution D100 is very much like the BRP Gold Book, ready for use with a variety of settings right out the gate.

You can find the book in print here, at RPGmeeting. I ordered a copy this week, so I'll let you know what the print quality is like when it arrives


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gateway to the Minimalist Gamer Lifestyle

I've been obsessed with minimalism recently (the lifestyle, not the music...although I am a huge Philip Glass junkie). It's a hard thing to attain if you are married with kids, but the mere concept of a minimalist lifestyle just exudes a sense of weird freedom. But how does one reconcile minimalism with the natural predilection for collecting crap that comes with being an old gamer? I mean....I've got three shelves' full of just D&D 5th edition books! An entire additional three shelves filled with OSR and indie books. I don't even know where to start.

The OSR certainly offers a starting point. If one were hypothetically capable and willing to stick to a set of rules such as White Box you could conceivably eliminate a lot of that clutter. It sounds cool, until I start thinking about how awesome it would be to get my group to play, say, a Razor Coast campaign. Then I realize I'd be using S&W Complete, which means I'd have the Tome of Horrors Complete, and Monstrosities, and all that other stuff....that's a lot of paper. In the course of this exercise I'd start thinking about the warlock I want to stat out and then realize there are no warlocks in White Box, which reminds me of why I play D&D 5E. Suddenly things get complicated.

Savage Worlds is actually well suited to minimalist play, barring the fact that you need to haul at least the poker chips, cards, core rules and up to four or five genre books around for the full experience.

Many other games, such as Pathfinder, GURPS and even D&D 5E now are diametrically opposed to this concept, even if they manage to come fairly close --one can argue that you only really need 3 tomes to run all the D&D you want, even if you would be empirically wrong because gamers always need that one extra tome.

This is not the firstsecond --or even third-- time I've thought about this subject. Clearly I need to find some sort of point of balance between "stuff" and "life." Then again....maybe not all stuff is life, but perhaps all life is stuff. Hmmmm.

So I don't know how to reconcile my existing lifestyle and hobby with the precepts of minimalism.  It seems to come up when I realize I am statistically more likely to die by being buried under an avalanche of books than of natural causes.

Maybe I'll make this my official New Year's resolution (nine days late): set my goal to see how close to the minimalist life goal I can get.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Post-Mortem Steam Winter Sale Reviews Part II

As always: these reviews reflect exactly as much time as I needed to understand what a horrible mistake I had made. I am curious is Steam gets mad at all of my refund requests....

Blood & Bacon

A farmer impaled on the wall of his barn hires a skeleton to take out an army of invading mutant swine. It's notable for being a one-man effort, and I suppose it's also notable for being "one of those Steam games"....which is to say, one of that endless horde of garbage that makes browsing for good stuff on Steam such a laborious chore these days....but with the caveat that a lot of people seem to like this game. In defense of B&B it is playable, and can be fun if you like Serious Sam and classic Duke Nukem type stuff....I guess.....but honestly? I am about 32 years too old to play this crap.
Verdict: I paid 99 cents for this and I want my money back, but I can never recover from the shame of having bought it in the first place.

Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex

Twitchy free to play shooter that no doubt has some insidious buy to win mechanic behind it, but I wouldn't know because the herky-jerky FPS controls and constant brutal sniper shots to the head left me less than interested in pursuing this one. I'm not even sure it's worth investigating for anime fans of Ghost in the Shell.....at best it's what you stick your teenage son on to keep him occupied (just make sure he doesn't have your CC number handy).
Verdict: nothing gained, nothing lost. I now return to the much, much better Warframe.

Shadows Peak

A lot of effort was put into making a spooky island with a weird mystery for you to explore in this combination puzzle/atmospheric horror/walking simulator but somehow it all falls flat and in the end feels neither spooky, nor puzzling nor horrific.....just annoying.
Verdict: the nice graphics don't make up fore the subpar experience. 35MM was actually a better game for contrast.


Of the four games in this round of "What Steam Regurgitated This Sale" Salt is the most palatable, and I am both keeping it and planning to play it more soon. The simple but effective graphics work well, as you play a stranded sailor on an island who must fix a raft and start exploring one island after the next. You find interesting written pieces of the tales of those who came before, implying a more interesting story to be found. It's main fault is that it's a bit slow (to start, so far) but I can see the promise.
Verdict: not bad for yet another permanent Early Release survival game. I plan to continue exploring this one.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

D&D 5E: Tales from the Yawning Portal

Dungeons & Dragons' next 5th Edition release in April will be Tales from the Yawning Portal, which is a break from the super-module format, and provides seven classic modules from various editions revised and retooled for 5th Edition D&D. Here's the list of modules being updated:

Against the Giants
Dead in Thay
Forge of Fury
Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Sunless Citadel
Tomb of Horrors
White Plume Mountain

So: four 1st edition modules, two 3rd edition modules, and one D&D next module that's been available as a stand-alone PDF on dmsguild.com but not available in POD. I believe some of these (like Tomb of Horrors) received some adaptation during the 5E playtest period, too.

The guess seems to be these modules are all going to be revised and set in the Forgotten Realms, which is interesting of course because technically six of them were set in Greyhawk. The reason poor Greyhawk never gets any love anymore is for exactly this reason: most people never actually use the Greyhawk modules in the actual Greyhawk world, instead adapting them to FR or homebrew settings. I've actually run six of the seven modules, but all adapted to one of my own game worlds (Realms of Chirak is the home to Tomb of Horrors, Forge of Fury and Sunless Citadel; Keepers of Lingusia is home to an alternate reality Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and Against the Giants.) Only Dead in Thay is not a classic, but the actual module looks pretty interesting.

The modules are being arranged to allow for a level 1-15 campaign if you run them consecutively. That sounds about right to me.....the level sequence based on the originals works out something like this:

1st: Sunless Citadel (level 1)
2nd: Forge of Fury (level 3)
3rd: Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (level 3-5)
4th: Dead in Thay (level 6-8)
5th: White Plume Mountain (levels 5-10)
6th: Against the Giants (levels 8-12)
7th Tomb of Horrors (level 10-14)

No need for level 15+ adventures, the Tomb of Horrors will see to that.

Anyway, here's what the cover looks like:

Dual-Wielding Weapons in 13th Age

13th Age doesn't really support dual-wielding combat (fighting with a weapon in each hand) unless A: you have a specific power/trait/ability that is designed for it, or B: you roll a 2. This has never quite felt "right" to me, so I worked up a new dual-wield basic attack option as follows:

Melee Basic Attack (two weapons)
Treat this as a normal melee basic attack but with a -2 penalty to hit. If the attacker rolls 16+ and hits, then in addition to the normal damage dealt with his primary weapon (modified by level/tier, of course) s/he may add one damage die of the off-weapon type. So for example: the attacker is wielding a long sword (1D8) and dagger (1D4). If he is level 3 and gets a 16 or better hit in (with the -2 penalty), then he may roll 3D8+1D4 damage. The bonus damage for the off-hand weapon jumps to two dice for Champion Tier and 3 dice for Epic Tier.

This combat attack can only be executed with one-handed weapons, and the off-hand weapon must be light (one damage die less) than the main-hand weapon, or two light weapons.

Adventurer Feat: you no longer take a -2 penalty to the attack.

Champion Feat:  you may now wield two one-handed weapons of light or medium size in any combination (i.e. two long swords, for example).

Epic Tier Feat: you now deal off-hand damage if you roll 11+ and hit the target.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Six Post Steam Sale Micro Reviews Part I

Yes, it's that time of the year again, when the Steam Sale at last ends, proving once and for all that the holidays are over and a new year has begun. I bought more than a few games on this Steam sale, and in fact relished an opportunity to to do thanks to my new snazzy computer lowering the bar of playability for my home rig once more.

Rather than elaborate on any particular game, I thought I'd try.....six micro reviews in one shot. These are of games I've played at least enough of to tell you whether they are worth one's time or not (and whether or not a sale is necessary to make them worth your time). Viciously honest opinions ahead!


35MM is ostensibly a tale of two men who have survived an apocalyptic plague, and now struggle through a beautifully rendered woodland and rural environment on a journey to unknown locales. Unfortunately, the reality is that this is a game about a very slow walking simulator paired with the worst escort quest ever, and after about forty minutes I couldn't take it anymore and requested a refund. Great graphics and ambience, though. An F for gameplay direction (or lack of it) and some poor design decisions but a B+ for the ambiance and environments.


This is actually a big budget production from Ubisoft, so if you have issues with Ubisoft or their Uplay environment then move on. For me, this is a fascinating experience in snowboarding, skiing, paragliding and wing-suiting across a vast snowy mountain landscape with a bewildering array of entertaining challenges and races. It's an open world style game, though trudging through the snow is not that thrilling...but it's otherwise a pretty fun game, especially if you enjoy similar types of games in which you get to control the actions of someone much, much more physically fit and crazy than you. Only thing that would make this game better is if it were an actual open world exploration experience full of wolves, bears and yetis. A solid A for me. I was glad to get this on sale but would have paid full price for it, had I realized how much I would enjoy it. I even found the season pass on sale and picked that up, too.

Dead Effect 2

A game which shocks you by being a port/derivation of a portable shooter designed for the Android and iOS environments, which is actually made enjoyable to play on PC, too. It's hammy and involves Space Marine Dude on a space ship overrun with the undead and other monsters, and is broken up into a series of escalating quests ....but short quests, which is welcome. Handles shockingly well on PC with a keyboard and mouse or controller, and would have looked state of the art about six or seven years ago. A decent B. Worth finding on sale.

Radiation Island

Just like Ark: Evolved except it runs just fine. I kid! It runs better, actually.

Seriously...it's like a $3.50 cent game with a complete survival experience packed in. If you've played even a handful of the seemingly endless Early Access survival titles on Steam, this game will shock you with several features you've never seen before: functional graphics, stable engine, it's complete and a full release title, and it has an actual plot and direction. My wife is much, much more in to these weird survival titles than I am and she finds it a fun diversion when Ark flakes out on her, Graphics are nice, and the worst I can say is that they are "Unity Engine" quality as this was an iOS game originally....but don't let that deter you, for the price it is absolutely a steal. Solid B+. And if you solve the island mystery it apparently unlocks a multiplayer edition, too.


It's kinda like if Dark Souls and Torchlight were grafted together into an amusingly entertaining chimera. You pick one of two stylish adventuring types and dive in to a procedurally generated dungeon, seeing how long you can go before you die. When you die....you are dead, time to start a new adventurer. It's a surprisingly compelling approach, and the only punishment for death in this game is to start over, which paper and pencil RPGers should be quite familiar with. Fun game, especially fun since I found it on sale. Solid B, would be higher if it offered more character types.

Case Animatronics

So, this is a game about a guy in a large building after hours when weird stuff happens. There's a ghost girl and a gruesome but copyright-avoiding animatronic murderbear in the game that is most definitely not, precisely, Freddy Fazzbear, Unlike a similar game series, Case Animatronics is built on the Unreal Engine and looks quite nice. You wander around solving the growing mystery and finding pieces of the puzzle as to why you are frequently subjected to jump scares and being killed by murderbear animatronics. It was sufficiently good at all this that my son was riveted the whole time we played (he, like so many kids, is riveted by the whole Five Nights at Freddys phenomenon), and I was about out of my seat with every horrifying and oddly unexpected jump scare. Not sure I even want to try playing it again (it's too good at the jump scares!) but deinitely an A game and I'd have paid full price for this one, honestly.