Onslaught at Arda I Review

August 25, 2014 1 comment

SWA04-bookA quick note before the review, Asheville Comic Expo draws nigh! Due to popular demand yet another DCC Funnel table has been added: Nebin’s Perilous Pantry! Back to the review:

Once again, Fantasy Flight has taken the Star Wars ball and run with it! The first module set in the Age of Rebellion chapter of the most recent Star Wars RPG is very well balanced between railroad and sandbox, combat and exploration/investigation, and foot and ship encounters.

I’ll try and avoid spoilers for those who plan on playing this. While it is meant for a band of fresh rebel recruits, it can easily be adapted for rebels with a few missions under their belt, or fringer converts from Edge of the Empire. The book (like Edge predecessors Beyond the Rim and Jewel of Yavin) is divided into three acts.

From just the module’s description and art that accompanies it, things will not go well for the base at Arda I in the first act. Unlike individual adventures released for this system, but identical to previous longer modules, the action does not start in media res. The party is given some time to explore the base and the terrain surrounding the base before the battle.

The battle itself is almost a picture perfect example of a railroad, but necessarily so. It also introduces the mass combat rules featured in the book, which provide a great system to estimate large scale battles happening around the PCs based on troop numbers, experience or skill (i.e. regular rebel infantry or elite rebel commandos), vehicle assets present, and skill of the leaders of each force.

Also provided is a handy chart for using advantage/triumph and threat/despair that result from the mass combat check. It looks like a pretty handy way to simulate a huge battle without rolling a crazy amount of individual checks, and captures the cinematic feel this system strives for.

SWA04-Art01The second act is all about establishing a new rebel base on the swampy planet of Jagomir. This act offers an interesting balance of exploration in scouting the local fauna and points of interest, interspersed with investigating increasing disturbing evidence of a traitor in your midst back at base. I really like this approach, in that in a single session you could do a little of each, allowing both you combat PCs and your more social PCs a time to shine.

The third act is on yet another planet, allowing the PCs to cover more galactic ground than in previous adventure modules, and has a much more sandbox-like feel, allowing the party to explore different districts of a city in their efforts to thwart the traitor from reporting back to his imperial handlers. It offers a lot of different approaches for success to try and anticipate what the party will come up with, or nudge them along if they get stuck.

Throughout the adventure there are several sidebars for rewarding 2 or 3 duty points for especially heroic actions, and there is a suggested 5-10 duty award in addition to the regular XP rewards at the end of every act. Some of the sidebars are pretty vague about the success conditions, not setting a specific difficulty to convince a smuggler to aid in the evacuation for instance. I still need to read up and duty again before we play more than the beginner box so I can get a clearer understanding of the mechanic.

A lot of the scenes, especially the investigation, will require significant GM prep. I would suggest at least running the beginner box to become familiar with the system before running this. Not for novices. My only other gripe is that the big area maps of locations are way too small in the book. You can just barely make out they would be gorgeous in higher resolution, blown up. Hopefully FF will release high-res images on the support page. Those are pretty minor in the scheme of things. Overall, this will provide many sessions of varied, exciting adventure! I would recommend picking it up.

Categories: Adventure, Books, Reviews, Star Wars

Asheville Comic Expo (A.C.E.) 2014 Preview

August 19, 2014 Comments off

ace-14-poster-webJust one month until the 3rd Annual Asheville Comic Expo! Once again, the Skyland Games crew is organizing the RPG gaming, and just like the rest of the show, tabletop RPGs will be bigger and more diverse than previous years! We’ve got a warhorn going so you can reserve your spot at the table. This year we’ll have Star Wars Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, as well as several Dungeon Crawl Classics tables, a 5E starter set table for those eager to try the newest edition of D&D, and of course the ever popular Pathfinder tables.

In addition to the awesome artwork on display in artist alley, a lot of special guests are attending this year. It’s a great opportunity to meet writers and artists from Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, DC, and some really great indie work!

Of course it wouldn’t be ACE without comics and a lot of awesome cosplay. Get some more use out of that awesome get up you made for DragonCon or GenCon and enter the costume contest! It has been a really impressive showing in previous years.

This year the convention will be upstairs in a larger space! Previous years it was held in what can generally be described as the basement of the Civic Center, but no longer! 2014 we are moving out of the basement! Check out the awesome comics, elaborate costumes, gorgeous art, and play some games! Come out and support this awesome endeavor to make ACE 2014 the best yet! See you there!

5E & Me

August 11, 2014 1 comment

HERO_StartBoxLast week, Scott D wrote his ARTICLE about the pleasant surprise he experienced with the D&D 5TH EDITION STARTER SET. Well, I was there! He was the Dungeon Master and I was actually playing; enjoying it all. (Having been unable to consistantly play RPGs for a little while, it was refreshing to be able to play.)

I will say that I purposefully did not partake in the playtest of 5th edition in the last year or so. First off, I was playing other stuff like Pathfinder and Edge of the Empire and Dungeon Crawl Classics. Secondly, I did not want to be one of those guys to be sitting at the table and say, “Oh, that changed from the second revision? Well, that totally screwed up my strategy.” And finally, I just did not know if I believed in Dungeons & Dragons anymore.

While playing the Starter Set I came to the conclusion that I liked the new edition. It fits right in the middle of everything that is out there right now. You do not have to be a calculus professor to crunch the numbers and you do not have to rely on the dice for every single decision that is made about your character. It fits in between all of that, with, from what I could see, the potential to swing in either direction, depending on your group’s play style. It has easy to understand mechanics and more story-telling opportunities over the long term that could easily entice new players to join the fold.

I jumped at the chance to play because it was so new to me. I had only downloaded the BASIC RULES that day to familiarize myself so I would not slow play down and became hooked (Especially when I got to character creation; more on that later.). See when I play Pathfinder and see the problems that so many have with keeping the rules straight from 3.0 to 3.5 to Pathfinder, it is sometimes a turn off. Especially if it takes 10 minutes to find the correct rule. And then there are the arguments about which edition is better. I was not looking for that; I wanted that fresh RPG feeling. And I think I got it.

Honestly, I was not sure that I believed in Dungeons & Dragons any more. My personal RPG journey did not start like most did in Dungeons & Dragons (I actually started with TMNT), so even when I played it, it was always reluctantly. I went through a tiny bit of AD&D, 3.0 quite heavily and then onto 4th Edition. Now do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the vast majority of my experiences with D&D, but I always felt like there was something out there that had to be better and more fulfilling than the current edition. I know I just played one session of 5th Edition, but it has something about it. I just cannot put my finger on it… yet.

phb5eWell, enough of all that sappy, critical thinking mumbo-jumbo. Let us get to the fun stuff! I thought the pre-generated characters in the Starter Set were interesting, but they lacked oomph. They lacked complexity. They lacked… my touch. So I took the bare-bones character creation rules in the free rules set (Those are the only rules available right now; payday cannot come quickly enough for the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK.) and turned them upside down. My first creation attempt was lacking until I decided that there just had to be an entire party created.

I only provided blurbs about each character because I wanted you to get a general sense of who they were but not totally define who they are and how they came together. Every DM and every group would play them differently. And that is why I am liking this 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons; definition without definitions.

For your enjoyment:

  • Sgt. Carse Youngblood is a young, upstart officer in the king’s army charged with investigating arcane threats to the crown.
  • Azure is a somber elf obsessed with exacting revenge on the dark elves; all in the name of Shevarash.
  • Bilgar Hilrock is a studious dwarf bent on reviving a university dedicated to dwarven warfare.
  • Gilygan Hairyfoot is a tender-hearted Yondalla-loving halfling cobbler who once stood up to a greedy tax collector.

Download their character sheets HERE!

Categories: 5e, Adventure, DnD, DnDnext, Pregens, Reviews, RPGs

D&D 5th Edition Beginner Box: A grognard’s surprising review

August 4, 2014 5 comments

There are probably more than a few reviews of the 5th Edition D&D Starter Set out there by now, and the last thing I thought I’d be doing is writing one.  But as I sat in the Wyvern’s Tale last week, someone mentioned that the books in the set were valuable as handouts to other players getting started with the full game, and this marginal additional value was enough to tip me over into buying the set to examine.

 

I was skeptical. Extremely skeptical.  I’ve been playing the game for coming on 30 years now, and I’ve seen editions and changes come and go, but 4th edition really made me sick to my stomach.  We played it, but it hurt, and it didn’t ever take the place in my heart that other editions had.  Further, it made me realize that something I love is in the hands of dubious custodians.  I think others felt that way, hence 4E’s short life. Despite two years of playtesting by the general public, I still doubted the efficacy of a process that may have Hasbro / WotC’s dark masters rubbing their hands and scheming changes that focused more on money than a good product.  I had participated in the playtest, and knew that the game I had played seemed a little goofy, reminding me of 1st edition, or perhaps Basic D&D, and locking gears with my 3.5 / Pathfinder knowledge.

 

So it was with this dubious reluctance I slapped down a $20 and got the beginner box, and scheduled a game with a mix of gamers (it being a bit of an off week). So, what’s the dope from a dubious grognard?  Your mileage may vary, but I was pleasantly surprised, and I don’t know how I feel about that.

 

THE DIFFERENCES In a nutshell:

  • Less emphasis on tactical combat to speed play.
    • Fewer Opportunity attack events
    • Greater mobility (move, attack, move though you could threaten an OppAttack if your target’s still alive)
    • Less articulated modifiers, but GM has flex to give advantage / disadvantage
    • Rogues get sneak attack if ally is engaged with same target, flanking not required
  • Every Stat has its own saving through – So you could make a Strength save, for example.
  • Less general modifiers – you get a progressive general ‘proficiency’ bonus which goes towards most things and changes with level
  • Numbers are all lower – AC, bonus to hit / damage, saving throws and DC’s, all are very low – think 10 being average, 15 being hard and a 20 being incredible.
  • Spells are different – Select a limited number of spells, then pick from that refined list on the fly to fill a caster level slot.  Lower spells used in higher slots are modified to be more powerful.
  • Less Skills – with much more emphasis on Stat based checks
  • Simplified Mechanics – Most modifiers, weird rules, and so on are replaced by Advantage / Disadvantage where you roll two dice and either take the higher (when you have ‘advantage’) or the lower (when you have ‘disadvantage’).
  • All characters can heal up to their hit dice with a short rest, but don’t get those back until a long rest.  Clerics do cast regular healing spells, however, instead of the ‘healing surge’ system that pissed everyone off in 4E. It’s similar, but more tolerable.

While that all seems like a lot, that’s more or less it for the time being.  Armed with that knowledge, you could sit down and play.  Feats appear to have less of a role, but classes do have abilities they unlock with leveling which seems to make some pretty impactful change to the character.  There are a variety of nuances which the beginner box doesn’t fully explore, and the rules themselves (downloadable here) will take some exploring before I could report on them.

So those are the changes, but what’s in this box anyway?

WHAT’S IN THE BOX

Set of dice, Starter rules, and an adventure, plus a lot of cardboard to give the set some girth.  That’s a bit of a cheap trick, but it expected it based on weight. 5 Pregenerated charcters (two fighters, rogue, mage, cleric).  Rules are just enough to play, though we accessed the SRD as we went along for this and that.  The rulebook should remain somewhat useful for reference to a new player who doesn’t want to hunt through the SRD.

PLAYING THE GAME

There are a lot of folks who argue the pro’s and cons of a simplified game.  I like Pathfinder and other more technical games because 1) I know the rules pretty well and 2) it gives me a complex and nuanced simulation level game that sometimes results in a few surprises plus 3) I feel the technical nature of the game brings nuances in character development to the surface and lets those characters/mechanics/players shine.

That said, another argument, perhaps equally valid, is that those mechanics and distinctions are a distraction that can be replaced with good roleplaying.  Further, that when those complexities are stripped away, you can focus on character development, role-playing and story, with GM having more free reign to tell an interesting story rather than be forced to say, “No, that can’t happen” etc.

I could feel the pull of that later argument in playing the Starter Set. The game plays pretty quickly, though I did have to completely improvise as the first thing that happened in combat (a player jabbed a horse to have it run over some adversaries, and there sure as hell were no rules to dictate that).  Still, it was fine, I made up some stuff and the game played on.  Players didn’t have to pour over character sheets or rules, and play continued with people getting more into their characters (pregens, none the less) than I would sometimes see in other games.  Adversaries remained quite dangerous, but death was largely manageable (but present as well with a particular bugbear doing some lovely crit damage to the mage along the way).

The adventure itself, is set in Forgotten Realms.  I’ve never been a fan of the Realms, really (Greyhawk being my cup of tea) but it was familar, and didn’t have the oddities that 4E embraced.  It had a very solid, basic fundamental Tolkenian base, and that was good for what it was.  The first part of the adventure itself is a standard mini-crawl with a brief outdoor encounter.  While nothing special, I was pleased with it, and it hit the fundamentals in a way that spoke to me as a long time player.  Further sections of the story (which we have not played) promise a series of urban non-combat encounters and an overarching story line that plays in the NPC backstories nicely.  It’s a non-fussy non-fancy strong but basic mini-adventure path that most players should enjoy.

The play of the game itself made me remember those years of playing 1st edition and having to make things up, but playing and playing fast.  As with any good group, a lot of fun was had, people threw themselves into their characters, and a great time was had by all.   The reduced tactical nature of the game definitely created a sort of oddness about play, but tactics still remained relevant, and players maneuvered for advantage to to avoid disadvantage, which gave it some teeth it might have lacked without those distinctions.  Players would think outside of the box and add a little gusto their usual play, fishing for advantage.  Sometimes I would give it but most of the time I would not, as the bastard in me dictated.  No one seemed ruffled by that development.

 

AFTERMATH AND ASSESSMENT

Wrapping up, everyone clearly had a good time.  Many of these were old time players, but some were newer, but the reaction was largely the same.  I found myself oddly enthralled by the play of the game, and eager for more.  This, I did not expect.  Not at all.  We’re 4 1/2 modules into Reign of Winter, and I started to feel a little guilty about my pull towards this new system.  New things are often exciting, but the sense I had was really a yearning to revisit in and feel out more of these changes and how effective they could be.

Grognards, I know.  What is wrong with this guy?  Well, it comes down to, at least at this stage, this is a fun game.  The only thing I would say is, it doesn’t necessarily feel like D&D.  Or if it does, it doesn’t feel to me like my primary game.  Time will tell its potential, and it’s going to have a lot to prove when it comes to high level play and warding off power creep. The game is easy going, lite, and fast.  It doesn’t dwell in detail, and is streamlined for a more casual gaming experience.  And I think that’s what it comes down to.  This may be just a game that you play sometimes; a game you play when you want to drink a beer and kick back, rather than crunch numbers.  You could play with a larger group, jump in and have a great time with it.  You could play at a drop of a hat, and not have to weigh spell selections or use a program to put a character or NPC together.

That said, there are a number of cons to keep in mind.  I don’t feel like it is going to have the same ability to sustain interest as higher levels are obtained.  I think that the simplicities may begin to show wear at the higher levels, but to be honest, t’s too early to tell just yet.  It doesn’t feel like it has the gravitas to support a major campaign.  That said, we played bigger campaigns in the old days in a system not too dissimilar from this, so really it comes down to the player and the GM.

And perhaps that’s the major thrust of all of this:  You can simplify or complicate any game to any degree, but the quality of the game and the experience is going to rely on the GM more than any other factor.  You could have a great complex game that ran smoothly, or may be a confusing mess depending on your GM.  D&D 5E is more simple, but the quality of your experience is going to rely on who is running your game, and their ability to react to the more rules-free environment.

In the age of the internet, there is going to be some nerd rage out there.  I would temper that.  The Starter box is totally optional, but good for dipping your toes in the water early on with minimal investment of time and resources. Give it a shot, and don’t get wound up as to whether it’s going to replace anything or not… the system is different, and should be treated like a different fantasy game than your 3.5 / Pathfinder game (just like Tunnels & Trolls, GURPS, and DCC).  Take it at face value, and who knows, you may be just as surprised as I was.

The Con Game: a guide on how to do the big cons

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Con season is ramping up, and for veterans of big cons, small cons or for gamers new to the experience, there are some things that you should keep in mind as you gear up for three to four days of solid gaming:

1) Pre-register – many conventions require you to preregister for special events. There’s nothing worse than getting to the convention specifically for some type of battle interactive or convention-only season special, only to find out that you needed to buy a ticket or sign up three weeks ago. Take a few minutes right now to make sure that there is nothing that you need to do in order to play the games you NEED to play. GenCon, for example, usually offers earlybird registration. It may cost a few bucks more but it’s worth it if you feel there’s something that you feel you MUST play to be a success. that said…

2) Don’t Plan Everything – it’s a common mistake to only try things that you are very familiar with at a convention. Cons are a great opportunity to try things that you cannot play at home. If someone is running Teenagers From Outer Space at a big con, chances are they love it and they are going to share their love for that game with you in an impressive way. Try things that you can’t play at home, and who knows, maybe you’ll discover your new favorite game.

3) Meet People – several times, my friends and I have traveled four hours and spent money on hotel and food only to play the game that we could’ve played the following week in my basement. People go to cons, then play games side-by-side with the regular gaming group, also sometimes playing games that are available anywhere and anytime. Granted, it can be hard to get the number of tables at home that you can get an icon, but with such a unique opportunity to play a variety of games, don’t waste it by simply duplicating your home game somewhere else.

4) Food planning – some cons will not provide for breaks between slots. This can lead to you either gorging on junk food all day (DC 15 Fort Save vs. Garbage Gut ) or starving all day until you finally get a decent break. Protein shakes, nuts, dried fruit are all healthier alternatives that travel well and will fill you up until you can get to that extended break.

5) Pack Light – For some reason, a lot of gamers feel compelled to bring a lot of books to a con. Some games require you have the book for your class/race/etc with you. If that’s really a must, bring it but otherwise a PDF is just the thing for ‘must have’ data. You’ll want to have the flexibility in case you hit the dealers room.

6) Plan on Splurging – You will be seeing at least one thing you can’t live without. I’d recommend $200 for spontaneous purchases if you can swing it. There are things at convention dealers rooms you’re never going to see again (internet be damned).

7) Don’t overdo it – Don’t let yourself become a slave to the con schedule. If you want to sleep in, to hell with it, sleep in. Being rested is a good way to ensure you enjoy yourself. I just about died last year at SCARAB when I showed up with a cold and then proceeded to avoid sleep for three days. You will not regret this decision.

8). Plan for next year now – Remember that con hotel registration starts to get lined up not long after the con ends. If you had a good time, start planning for the next year while everything is fresh in your mind.

Everyone has a few tips for cons that they live by. Share yours with us!

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Categories: Uncategorized

Try before you buy – Board games on iOS

July 21, 2014 Comments off

Recently I’ve picked up a few games for the iPhone that started out as more traditional board or card games. A lot of them are great versions of the originals, with the added bonus of always being in your pocket, and allowing online games with friends who may not be able to make game night. They also tend to be a fraction of the cost of the physical board game.

hive.pngOne of my favorites is Hive. I bought this first as a physical board game at the recommendation of the Wyvern’s Tale. Essentially it is like a game of chess, in which different bugs move in different ways, and the object is to completely surround the opposing player’s bee. This is one of those easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master games, and has won a ton of awards. It quickly became one of my favorite games, and the quality of the physical tiles is fantastic. They have a nice weight and are clearly built to last. Not sure if you’re crazy about the concept? At a list price of $32, that can be a lot for something you may or may not like. Why not try it out first? The $2 iOS version will teach you all the rules through a tutorial, has two player local or online play, as well as play against various difficulties of AI. If it becomes one of your favorites, you can always pick up a copy at your friendly local gaming store!

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 10.25.43 AMAnother one I tried out at a recent board game night was Fluxx. This is another seemingly simple game, that can great pretty crazy pretty quickly. The main goal is to collect “keepers” that match whatever the current goal card has on it. Keepers can be physical things, or concepts such as cookies, pizza, love, dreams, music, the brain, the rocket. The goals combine these like “Hearts and Minds” which requires both the brain and love, or “Dreamland” which requires both dreams and sleep. It’s kind of weird starting out, but you quickly get the hang of it. Other cards allow you to draw or discard more cards, or affect other player’s hands to try and get the keepers you need to win! There are a ton of expansions for Fluxx, The physical deck lists for $16, but if you’re not sure, the iOS version will only set you back $3.

QuarriorsScreen shot 2014-07-21 at 10.26.00 AM is a dice and card game that requires a little more screen real estate than most, so is iPad only. I’ve had my eye on this at the game store for some weeks, but never pulled the trigger. I *do* love dice games, but I didn’t know if I would like this one or, (more importantly) if my wife would like it as she is often my co-player. At a list price of $70, I really wanted to be sure. In Quarriors you start out by rolling dice to give you Quddity, a type of currency you use during your turn to summon your minions or capture other dice that are available on the cards dealt for the game. The cards are either other minion or spells which boost or augment minions, quiddity, or how many dice you draw from your bag. Overall I think it is enjoyable, but not something everyone would be in to. Is it worth $70? I don’t know. Is it worth $4? Absolutely!

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 10.26.20 AMI’ve heard some very good things about the iOS adaptation of Lords of Waterdeep, but haven’t picked that one up as of yet. Next time you are on the fence about a board game, try before you buy! There may be an excellent mobile version out there already!

Categories: Board, Card, Dice, Reviews, Technology, Tips

Reconnecting with Roll20

July 14, 2014 Comments off

Roll20Recently, I started to really miss gaming with a group of friends who I had gamed with for years. We started together playing Living Greyhawk,and that branched out to many games and systems. We would play at different people’s houses, at libraries, one year we all travelled together and played GenCon and when I became “Triad” for the Florida region of Living Greyhawk, they helped me run conventions locally. We would play anywhere and everywhere we could. But then Living Greyhawk dissolved, I took a long break, and the group scattered.

I had moved from Tallahassee, Florida to Asheville, North Carolina. Another couple scored great jobs and had moved to Texas with their family. Another had gone south to Orlando… the band broke up. We’d chat on Facebook, like people do, and one of the gang said “Man, I wish we could play again like we did before!” and a light bulb went off: roll20.net

We had used roll20.net locally when a blizzard struck and we couldn’t get our Reign of Winter campaign folks all together. We had also used it to roll DCC characters and magic items, utilizing the free dice rolling utility in preparation for a week day game. For some odd reason it had never occurred to me to try and corral everyone together for a game until that point, but I’m glad it did.

We’ve used it now a handful of time and now have a weekly game happening every Tuesday night. I sprang for the “Mentor” level of sponsorship so that we can get all the bells and whistles that roll20.net has to offer. They have really upped the bar over tabletop and, as odd as this may sound, I almost prefer it to face-to-face gaming. Almost.

The “Dynamic Lighting” feature alone is worth the very low per-month charge. You can set each player’s “token” to their specific mode and strength of sight, assign someone to carry the torch (or light spell) and if that person moves away…? Well, then the rest of the party can’t see who is lurking in the cave or in the belly of that ship. If you prep beforehand, it takes into account line of sight, shadows, walls blocking the view… they have really thought of most everything. Macros, character sheets and click-to-roll buttons, sound effects, background music… it’s fantastic.

It does take longer to prep for a game, since you have to hunt down tokens or artwork, scan and size maps (which can be a pain) and scan in any handouts, puzzle pieces and so on. We use a Google+ hangout as well, since we found the voice and video to be buggy. Those quibbles and workarounds aside, it’s a great service and one I am happy to promote and support.

There is a large group of people using roll20 to organize on-line Pathfinder games, and the roll20 forums are filled with people looking for more players… so if you find yourself with some time to spare, check it out and give it a try.

Categories: Reviews, RPGs, Technology, Tips
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