Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Pathfinder Monster Core is Out - Some Thoughts

 I snagged the new Monster Core for Pathfinder's 2E revised series, and have to say this is a nice, robust tome with a larger page count and content than the original. Like the new ORC licensed editions it expurgates as much OGL styled content as it can, which is to say that you won't find any distinctly D&D-brand level monsters anymore, not even the ones which served some general purpose. Owlbears - gone. Mimics? Gone. Darkmantles and other oddities such as the Chuul? Gone. Some of these monsters may be repurposed or renamed....ones which had already been given a distinct Pathfinder identity (Allgholthu, caligni, and xulgath for example being faceless ones, dark creepers and troglodytes) still lurk in these forms, but if you take a look at the section on demons and devils: whoo boy, this is where the identity of Pathfinder now feels more defined by what is absent than what is present. 

Amidst this are the many monsters out of myth and folklore oddly untouched, even the poor Medusa who deserves to be properly renamed a Gorgon, but oh well. 

I haven't decided yet if this is a good thing or not. Sure, the old Bestiaries work fine with the revised rules and provide those old OGL stats, but I'm a bit of a purist and want to look at the current state of the game for what it is trying to be going forward. Right now it is....interesting. A GM with this book will want to take some extra time to start looking for what will be the new oddities players come to associate with PF style fantasy, and what will be the useful staples for impromptu encounters. They are definitely not going to look like the old D&D stuff.

On the plus side, this actually makes the experience of reading the Monster Core feel a bit novel and different. There's effectively a new and different experience here, and the excision of so many OGL elements makes it feel more distinctly its own thing. On the negative side, it really does feel less like "something new and different" after a while and more like something defined by an absence, probably because ultimately Pathfinder really has always been the "Other D&D" for all practical purposes. What is a fantasy world (or Golarion) like without so many of these monsters that used to define it? What is everything in Pathfinder now, a game which was originally the de facto flagship for the D&D 3rd edition game system, now that it has been rendered neuter by corporate chicanery and a need to brand one's IP more distinctly? It feels a bit.....hollow, almost performative. 

Despite that criticism, I am still keen to explore this book in depth and see what sort of ideas for a campaign it may bring me. We shall see! I have to reconcile my deep dislike of Pathfinder 2E as a player against my deep appreciation for it as a GM. I haven't quite managed to resolve this internal schism in my feelings about the game yet. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

ACKS Has Arrived!

A brief note! My ACKS (Adventurer, Conqueror, King System) core book, Playe's Companion, Heroic Fantasy Companion and Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu tomes have all arrived. I just wanted to point out that I often order from, and for exactly this reason: the books were all rated in EX/NM condition and that is exactly what showed up, in fantastic shape. 

I'll be bringing these along to show off to my game group next Wednesday. We're currently in a D&D 5E campaign in my Pergerron/River Kingdoms of Anansis setting, but it is heading to a finale soon and we will have a good opportunity to break if we want to try out something new. I actually have a campaign setting designed around a very gritty old-world theme, the Lands of Selentar, about which I don't think I've posted much on the blog (come to think of it, I need to get back to posting more on the other setting I ran PF2E adventures in, Oman'Hakat, as well). 

Selentar is a fictional analog to Europe around 60-90 AD if it turns out the Roman Empire analog collapsed abruptly after the totally-not-Nero like Emperor of the Eorma was killed in a vicious civil war driven by germanic-like people who realized that the aristrocracy of the empire was riddled with demon worship. All of the gods and beliefs in this setting are derived, at core, from what is known of the various peoples around the equivalent historical time period, albeit with some extra sword & sorcery twists. might be an excellent fit for the ACKS system, in other words.

As long as I am posting something I just wanted to comment that Mothership Kickstarter just charged me for shipping so it looks like we may finally see the giant boxed set soon! I will in the interim continue our bi-weekly weekend Traveller games, which have been the polar , opposite of Mothership, especially this weekend's session when the group pulled off a Star Trek style rescue of stranded ships captured on an ancient asteroid turned into a relic defense weapon by a lost civilization. Not a shot was fired and yet everyone was gripped with excitement at the mystery and task at hand, followed by success in their rescue. It was a fun turnabout from games involving high levels of death and violence, and does reflect the fact that Traveller is above all else a multifaceted system reflecting the many  concept spaces in science fiction, allowing for a vast swathe of the genre to be represented. In other words....what I am saying is it would be hard to pull off such a pleasant and optimistic (yet still exciting and fun) mission in a system like Mothership. Even if I ran a completely straight mission in Mothership like that the entire party would be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for mayhem and murder to ensue. But in Traveller? They can take it at face value and conclude that there was no need to assume a xenomorph analog around the corner. Next session they get invited to an Aslan wedding of high importance, and may discover a trafficking ring of non-spacefaring species who are being exploited by a local Evil Empire. If you are one of my players forget you read that sentence!  

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Adventurer, Conqueror King System - My PDF experiment failed

Not too long ago I dived in to several systems, one of which was Adventurer, Conqueror King System. ACKS as it is known is an OSR-adjcent RPG from Autarch Publishing which has an interesting fusion of mechanical aspects from B/X D&D, AD&D 1E and AD&D 2E. It uses "class as race" for example but does so by constructing unique classes that are custom focused on the race. You don't play "elf" for example, you pick from elven spellsword or elven nightblade, with each demihuman type having a couple base classes in the core rules and lots more in the expanded companion books. It's a decent happy medium between simpler class choices that are also meaningful in flavor and style. "Spellsword" sounds cooler than elven fighter/mage, after all, or even just "elf!"

Anyway, lots of other things in ACKS appeal to me - proficiency systems, cool subsystems, a distinct sword & sorcery flavor that leans heavily into early pulp fantasy more than later post-Tolkien fantasy, etc. etc. But...ACKS is still ultimately another OSR variant, even if it is dolled up and more original than most. As such, I decided to try an experiment: I snagged all the ACKS books I wanted on PDF through and decided to see if I could engage with the system purely in PDF format. Could I, in fact, read, learn, and plan for a game with a system entirely held in electronic format?

As it turns out, months later, I have decided that the answer is a resounding no. While having the documents in PDF format is handy enough, actually sitting down and working with them on a tablet or big screen is far more utilitarian, and the horrible truth is that, at least for me, the tactile element of a physical rulebook I can flip back and forth through is more useful and honestly quicker than trying to do the same with a PDF. The only true advantage of the PDF is you can search fairly quickly (as long as it is indexed and your search parameter is correct). Beyond that, books hold the decisive advantage in that you can mark and annotate more easily (if you like defacing your books!), you can bookmark more clearly, you can search about as quickly but also with more intuition because you have a measurable quantity in hand and can know roughly where to look. It's just a more visceral, intuitive experience. Some may have adapted well to electronic documents, but for me? Nope. A lot of people I think feel this is evident in my son and his friends (of those who do read or play games) that the physical book is far more valued than a PDF. On the other hand, they are all playing D&D 5E, and there are no searchable PDFs out there, but they do use D&D Beyond for character generation in their middle school group, so whadda I know.

This is all a long way o saying I decided to buy the phsyical ACKS books instead with the idea toward running a campaign soon. I grabbed some decently priced copies on and the rest in POD through Drivethru. I will write more on ACKS as soon as I have the real books in hand! It is a very interesting system, managing to hew close to OSR norms while still innovating and achieving its own distinct flavor, and I like it. I may be able to blend it a bit or at least utilize it for some of the OSE modules I have accrued, too.....there's a lot to like about OSE, which takes a different and equally neat approach to consolidating various early OSR editions of D&D together, but its flavor is incredibly vanilla as a result, and I am really loving the sort of "Howard/de Camp/Carter/Wagner/Lieber" style that ACKS exudes. 

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Dreams & Machines - Some First Thoughts

 This is a very brief post to mull over a couple odd thoughts about Dreams & Machines, the new 2D20 powered RPG from Modiphius. I snagged it yesterday, and am still ploughing through it so this is not a review, but this game evoked some immediate comparisons and observations to me. 

First and most interestingly when I read the back cover text I got this "exploring the unknown, Gamma World style" vibe but the books were sealed in plastic wrap so I bought them sight unseen based on this.

Second, on opening the book I was surprised that the books had a lot less art than I was expecting. Some of the art and the text blurbs are evocative of a kid's observations, and indeed there is some subtext to that effect.....but the game is, unlike its closest obvious influence (Tales from the Loop) not necessarily about rolling up kids in a world of abandoned giant robots. It's about rolling up adults in a world of abandoned giant robots. 

The Tales from the Loop comparison is inescapable. The art is varied in D&M but the best color pieces evoke people (sometimes kids) walking around giant robots. Some of the images look fairly menacing, but mostly its due to the spartan "shadows on shadows at night" style of the artist. The actual text of D&M is a lot more whimsical and youth-friendly; I haven't encountered anything (yet) that would suggest to me you couldn't hand this game to a 12-14 year old and regret it. 

I also felt like there's a slight bit of Numenera evoked in this book, but mostly Tales from the Loop. 

There's a lot of expository text setting up the world, how humans got there, and how and why robots are everywhere. The foes book is not all robots though. All told so far its an interesting read. 

The layout and style of the book is weird, though. It is not nearly as art-heavy or evocative as I thought, and the book barely manages to capture any style of its own; it feels too easy to draw comparisons to other RPGs that already occupy this same niche-within-a-niche genre. It feels to me like maybe an earlier draft of D&M really did focus on kids and robots, and someone midway said, "That's too on the nose, lets make them adults," but a lot of the sample text remained narratively from this kid. 

All that aside, I am still reading and it is quite interesting. A lighter side apocalyptic exploration book is cool enough, and there is ample room in the market for this kind of take. I could not dig the Tales of the Loop "kids on bikes" adventure theme anyway, I spent all my life trying to get away from being a kid, so I am content with D&M focusing on a broader picture. 

I'll post a more proper review soon enough, but wanted to share these initial thoughts!

EDIT: Worth mentioning, the book is starkly white pages with line drawings (meant at times to look simple or childish deliberately, I think), and it is so stark and simple that I feel this is the consequence of Modiphius being overly sensitive to the complaints about prior books (especially Star Trek) having white text on black backgrounds. Now it feels somehow....readable but almost plain and undercooked? Not a real critique, just a comment on how the layout feels to me. It still works for its intent.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Long Time No Blog! Deathbat Updates

 Man I have fallen off the blog wagon this year....even my efforts to do twice a week quickly fell to the wayside. 2024 may be the year I just learn to blog when I feel like it, rather than try to maintain any schedule. It probably doesn't help that I have been generally more relaxed on my RPG focus lately.

Mainly what I've done so far in the first quarter of this year is: reduce the amount of time I spend in VTT gaming, due to developing a general aversion to wanting to run games in the medium. I just burned out, and I am no longer afraid to admit it. VTT GMing is not as fun for me as live gaming, and I now have managed to get my Wednesday night and every other Saturday game into a live environment which is great. I'm running D&D 5E Wednesdays, and Traveller (MGT2E) on Saturdays. 

I am still playing in some VTTs as a player, though. On off Saturdays a friend of mine started Pathfinder 2E. We are all horrendously rusty at it, and for the first time ever I felt like maybe we were all getting a bit too old for the needless complexity of Pathfinder 2E, but really I am just peeved that they nerfed the PF2E skill system so much.....for god's sake, why does Society and Perception cover everything???? If you aren't going to lean in to skill diversity then just cut them. I really dislike it. I think I may be ready at last to cut the cord on Pathfinder 2E, time away from it has not made it age well (and that includes the revamped edition).

Aside from that I am in a very infrequent D&D game, I got an invite to another which I am considering, and we may start another online Call of Cthulhu game tomorrow. I'm a player in each, which is fine with me.....I need a prolonged break from GMing in VTT. Maybe I can pick up the mantle again next time we have a major pandemic. I kid! But not really. 

I am, of course, putting all my eggs in one basket....a Kobold Basket, to be precise: Tales of the Valiant is what I am talking about. Nice to know it will be out before the 50th anniversary D&D totall-not-6th-edition, too! I am looking forward to playing this.

I am also planning to run Dragonbane, which I have grown even more fond of with the new hardcover core rules and Bestiary. This book does for me what I wished Magic World would have done.

So for 2024, I have very few plans to buy in to new books or expand. I have a collection which is quite robust and --honestly?-- probably needs to shrink. I was in talks with a gentleman las year about handing some of my collection off before I lost track with him, need to see if I can find his email. Indeed if you're reading this and still interested drop me an email!

Anyway, maybe I can get more on track with posting, but no promises....who knows!