Sunday, August 25, 2019

R.I.P. Rick Loomis

I just saw this, and am very sorry to hear Rick Loomis passed away. Rick will be missed.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Eberron Returns!

I'm excited for this announcement...details here.

Check this alternate cover out:

The thing about Eberron is: it's the best "modern" iteration of a D&D setting that WotC has tackled, and offers enough of the "different" from Forgotten Realms to stand out. With any luck, this portends more cool sourcebooks bringing back other key setting in the future, or alternatively it sells well enough we see some Eberron-focused adventure books in the future.

Either way....this is good! It's the first D&D book to tear me away from my Pathfinder 2nd edition obsession that has gripped me this August.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

First Impressions of Remnant: From the Ashes

I'm only a few hours in to the weekend pre-access of this title, so my rating is subject to change, but for those interested, here's some initial impressions of Gunfire Games' and Perfect World's Remnant: From the Ashes, a third-person perspective co-op action RPG game:

1. RftA is 25% Dark Souls, 25% Diablo III, 25% Fallout (thematics mainly) and 25% PvE standard co-op shooter style (like Borderlands 2 or Destiny). It seems (so far) to have captured all the good parts of those games with none (so far) of the bad.

2. It's Perfect World, so I keep waiting for the monetization scheme, but nothing yet.

3. This is kind of addictive so far. I haven't enjoyed a game this much since Resident Evil 2 Remake. What is going on??? I am not used to a $40 title which feels like a solid experience, isn't trying to gouge me with microtransactions (I am wondering if those will come after full release?) and is actually a nice product with tight game play. This is very confusing.

Anyway, when I compare it to other titles, this is what I mean:

RftA has a structural similarity to Dark Souls (tough bosses, dungeons which reset if you rest at a checkpoint, an artifact with limited health restoration that replenishes, and a methodical timing-based combat mechanic). It is missing bad parts, such as corpse running to recover lost stuff, repetitive experiences when areas reset, and janky, pointless accicental deaths due to losing patience with the game's rigorous, almost fetishistic focus on forcing the player to repeat actions until they get it exactly right or figure out what they are doing wrong. RftA does not do this, not like Dark Souls. It is faster paced and so far I've only run into one baffling encounter which left me wondering what the hell the correct tactic was.

It's like Diablo III in that there are intermediary checkpoints where you can clear a boss or location, you can get zerged by hordes of monsters, and you can group with other players for a good co-op experience. You have a similar approach to finding loot, or in RftA's case lots of scrap and iron to develop your loot.

It's like Fallout in that the game feels thematically --almost suspiciously-- like a spiritual relative. The grim remnants of the apocalypse have a Fallout-ish vibe, although the monsters are more alien. The RPG bits you run in to and the music are very evocative of the Fallout vibe at times.

It's "standard PvE" co-op shooter in that you can get together in a team of three to tackle these tasks. It's perfectly fun solo, too....but the co-op will appeal greatly to those who have friends with like interests. Given the low cost of the game ($40) I am tempted to grab copies for the whole family so we can play it, although I don't know if the souls-like elements will frustrate them or not.

The souls-like portion is sufficiently absent serious aggravation to me for two reasons: you don't lose progress, and when you re-enter the area you died it seems to mix up the threat a bit, so you can't reliably predict what you will run in to, but you could also get lucky and find a lesser threat waiting. However, most importantly for it is it isn't as painfully slow paced as Dark Souls and I like this fact a lot. Also, just as important, I've only encountered one mystifying bad guy encounter. I'm at the first major boss right now, and while I haven't defeated it (yet) I can see the path to victory, just need to find the time to do it.

Anyway....Remnant: from the Ashes officially releases on Steam Tuesday, but if this sounds like your cup of tea I suggest you check it out!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pathfinder 2E Progress Report - Two Games In

Last week was insanely busy so I didn't end up getting to post anything about the ongoing Pathfinder 2nd Edition experiment, but I at last have a few minutes so I figure a follow-up is in order.

We've had two Saturday sessions now, and I am pleased to say that the experience is going well so far. Except for one moment where I spent a fair amount of time trying to establish that the Monk's Wolf Stance trip trait worked as I thought it did (which required looking in the index, the section on a trip action, the wolf stance feat and the weapons section on what it meant for a weapon (e.g. teeth) to have this trait), it was otherwise fairly smooth.

Here, so far, are the top three "things to look up" as we've been playing:

1. Spells (make sure we're doing it right) are the easiest surprisingly....the spell descriptions are very straight forward and sometimes lead to questions but the interpretation has so far proven consistent; the devil is in the wording, but no wording has tripped us up yet.

2. Feats, those devilish things, have sometimes required look up and adjudication. This is mainly for player benefit, and happens less than it should, which any GM knows means one of two things: the players either know their stuff well and are already indexing the stat blocks, or they do not know their stuff at all and are overlooking useful feats.

3. Skills. Yes, skills are where I spend most of my time studying the rules right now, believe it or not. The reason is simple: the skill list, while consolidated, still contains a plethora of specific trained and unique actions tied to different skills. Some of what is going on here is also learning about the subtle nuances of the system.

Have you heard about the idea of reading an RPG for its "implied setting," the concept of the world the system described through its rules? Well, Pathfinder 2E has a lot of that, stuff which you don't necessarily see spelled out in any singe spot but when taken as a whole paint an interesting picture. For two good examples of this, read up on Crafting and Alchemy skills, and look in to the magic items rules with the idea of crafting in mind. You'll quickly realize as GM that you cannot apply your experience from prior editions of D&D or pathfinder 1E to the new has different expectations.

The other one I noticed is in magic detections. Go read up on how the skills affect this, the spells that relate to this, and the feats which modify this information. It's consistent, but the different parts contain a compelling new picture of how this information should be doled out by the GM based on what method and level of expertise is at's very different from prior iterations in my experience.

So far, Pathfinder 2E is full of lots of little "surprises" like this, interesting synergies and rules mechanics which reveal a different approach or way of thinking about the fantasy RPG genre. I like it. It leads to a new way of envisioning the game.

Here's another one: the new XP mechanics are surprisingly straight forward; you earn XP, and when you get 1,000 you spend it to get a new level. That's it for the player's side. For the GM, you have a base range of XP by party composition relative to creature level, and you award it as a flat package to the PCs (so if the encounter is worth 120 XP, each PC gets 120 apiece, you don't divide it out). Simple math. In addition any encounter or progression can be worth a decent reward....usually a better reward than many fighting encounters, in fact.

Though the game isn't overt in this statement, the net result is that you can have meaningful XP-based progression without ever feeling the need to lace encounters with fights just to boost XP. This is "normal think" for non D&D RPGs, but is a fairly innovative take for D&D-likes. Yes, 5E introduced milestones (as did 13th Age) but this is slightly different; XP is a reward system, and useful for that any computer gamer knows, having a point system to track success and achievements is a nice addition to player mechanics; you feel like your progress is tied to your actions. So having such an elegantly simplified mechanic in place which still feels D&D while breaking from the tradition of murdering monsters for maximum advancement is very, very welcome.

A final note so far: I've been running without maps and minis, and using "theater of the mind" with the small but important sidebar in the book on how it advises doing this....which basically boils down to "state what you want to do, decide if it makes sense, and do it," sort of no-nonsense approach to TotM combat. It's nothing "new" but I cannot stress enough how useful it is to have it defined this way in the book, for the following reasons: first, if the rules say it's okay to do it this way and not fret as much about exact distances then it helps alleviate the unease of the rules lawyers at the table; second, by codifying the concept, however simple the approach is in the rulebook, it makes it a perfectly viable option and immediately allows for the GM to choose his flavor of the moment without feeling like something is being missed.

I have also noticed that in the combats I have run so far the various mechanics seem to play well with TotM combats. Though written so they can work on a map fine, the language translates equally well so far for most stat blocks to an equivalent effect in TotM encounters.

One thing which is puzzling me: the medicine skill allows for first aid, and goes in to length on using it and waiting an hour (with specific rules on what that means so you can tell it must have been contentious in the playtest). But can the skill be repeatedly used once it is successful? I need to read up on this, but to me it's noticeably effective at wiping out both hit points and wounds. The first aid element of medicine effectively makes most groups fine without a cleric as long as they don't mind not having access to immediate healing....but it also negates the value of gaining wounds over time. Must study more for answers.

A final item of note: lots of rules are actually now "case exceptions" tied to feats. GMs can now, for example, assume that a withdrawing foe is not going to get opportunity attacked....unless he's withdrawing from a fighter, for example. Many feats for different classes ave specific exceptions baked in. Skill feats are particularly interesting in this manner. So the next time a cleric fails a religion check, the GM should be ready in case she comes back with a "Ah, I am a Cleric of the Canon by my feat and so my failure is now a success!" moment. This "exceptions are baked in to the feats" concept is an important one for GMs to remember, and ultimately makes getting very familiar with this book a good idea. Players, meanwhile, do themselves an injustice if they aren't taking notes on what their various special feats let them do.....and you can do quite a lot.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Pathfinder 2nd Edition Here At Last!

I picked up my books this morning but didn't get to dive in until after work. I also snagged a second set of books at a convenient sale price with discount through Barnes & Noble.

So! How is it?

Well, the core rules are 638 pages long. Thankfully knowing how to read a RPG means knowing where to skim and where to dive deep....and I've spent the evening designing characters and exploring the action/combat mechanics. A few observations so far:

Most characters look and feel a lot like 1st edition PCs, but there are twists along the way. Ancestries make the racial component of characters more significant. Because of how ancestries work there are no optional character races in the Bestiary, unfortunately....they need several pages to flesh out the core traits plus ancestry feats. I predict a big, fat Advanced Race Guide 2nd Edition in the near future.

I've made a few characters so can design a level 1 character more quickly (once you do it a couple times) than in PF1.

Multiclassing is using the feat mechanics touched upon in the playtest. They work, and they make multiclassing as a concept a more focused and easy to do thing.

Literally everything in the game is now dominated by the proficiency mechanic. It's not entirely unlike D&D 5E's proficiency system, but with the Pathfinder twist: you have a ranking of 0/2/4/6/8 based on being untrained, trained, expert, master or legendary. This mechanic impacts your weapon skills, armor skills, plain old skills, saving throws and even class mastery. It is the most unifying mechanic I have seen tackled in a 3rd edition variant; it makes Pathfinder 2.0's design distinct and I am very intrigued to see how this mechanic affects play over time.

The equipment section is comprehensive and well organized.

The proliferation of feats in the game is heavily cataloged and codified by when and what sort of feat you can take. The entire book is, at its core, extremely tight in how it organizes the data and this makes PF 2.0 feel much more accessible than its predecessor. Attention to "finding that thing you need" was clearly a priority.

The concept of the Class DC is cool and intuitive. It's basically the DC set by your class and key trait that applies to relevant class abilities. Smart design.

The action point economy and its symbol system is the first thing you are introduced to. It is easy to understand and follow their intent. I am plowing through the mechanics/actions/combat content right now and this feels, again, like taking and codifying prior edition rules into a coherent and consistent whole. This appears to be PF2.0's major theme: organize, categorize, and make it easy to follow.

A downside: so far it is clearly framed as "Adventures in the Age of Lost Omens" which is the next chapter in Golarion I guess. There's a chapter on the setting in the book. My issue is not with this element, but the utter lack of interest in providing discussion or direction to GMs who want to do their own thing....maybe they will reserve this content for the Gamemastery Guide 2nd edition coming out in January, but it's hard to say.....I think they are aiming for stronger brand awareness of their IP, but at the expense of the many gamers who prefer to do their own thing. Not a big issue; 99% of this book is usable just as PF 1.0 was for whatever you want, but even just a nod to the kind of gamer who doesn't follow the published setting material would have been nice. Starfinder has this same problem.

So far this has proven to be a familiar game with a face lift....and that's a good thing. It looks like I should be able to prep for a game on Saturday to test it out, see how PF2 feels now that its out in the wild. I'll have a "first game" analysis up after Saturday!