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Dungeons and Donations: Encounter at Barrier Peaks

December 3, 2018 Comments off

Dungeons and Donations starts this Friday at The Wyvern’s Tale in Asheville, NC and on twitch.tv for an amazing fifth year! This year will feature a slightly modified version of the classic adventure Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Judging from the theme on the website and the staff shirts, it looks like an old school Star Trek aesthetic.

For those unfamiliar with previous years, Dungeons and Donations is a 24-hour D&D 5e marathon that benefits Extra Life, the gaming charity for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In the past the graphics for the stream itself had a retro SSi-Gold Box type of feel that added to the nostalgia of playing through such classic adventures as Tomb of Horrors, Keep on the Borderlands, Shrine of Tamoachan, and White Plume Mountain.

If you are anywhere near the Asheville area, you can play and be on the stream! See how long your character can survive the deadly perils that await the party.

If you can’t make the trip, you can still affect the game! Donations can purchase boons (help the party) or banes (hurt the party). A $5 donation will buy a roll on either table. The peril level dictates what options are available based on how many people are in line waiting to play. The longer the player line, the more deadly the banes. If less players are waiting, the more beneficial the boons!

Can the heroes survive the alien ship and save the children? Join us this Friday for another year of incredible fun! For the children!

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Categories: 5e, DnD, Epic, News, Retro, Technology

The Black Hack 2e Review

November 6, 2018 Comments off

 I had heard of the Black Hack in various Old School Renaissance (OSR) communities on the now doomed G+ RPG communities, but hadn’t looked in to it until recently. The publisher had a kickstarter over the summer that flew completely under my radar, but since the 126-page second edition PDF was only $6, I decided to take a gamble.

I am so pleased that I did. I have no experience with the first edition of the Black Hack, but the amazing resources in the second edition provide an easy to learn system for players, and a wealth of creative tools for GMs. This is one of the few systems that I would *not* bring pre-gens for in a convention setting. The entire player section of the game is a scant 30 pages, and character generation is TWO. Each of the included classes (the classics: Warrior, Thief, Cleric, Wizard) has a simple character sheet and just enough options to give your character a few interesting bits of equipment and mechanics. Each of the four classes can be printed on a single sheet, front and back, and the player will have just about everything they need.

This system is a great example of the mechanics aiding creativity and story-telling, and not getting in the way with endless fiddly bits. For example: one of the core mechanics is the attribute test. Your attributes are generated via the classic 3d6 method. Roll under the attribute called for in the test, you pass. Roll over, you fail. Initiative is a great example of this: roll under your Dexterity. Pass? Go before the baddies. Fail? Go after the baddies. Quick. Easy to remember. Fun!

It also makes use of the popular advantage/disadvantage mechanic used in D&D 5e. Since you want to roll under your attribute, you would take the lower result for advantage, and the higher result for disadvantage.

Another nice mechanic it uses for item tracking is the usage die chain. This is used to track anything that has a number of uses like arrows, holy water, oil etc. When you use the thing, roll the associated usage die. If you roll a 1 or a 2 it goes down one step in the chain: D20 > D12 > D10 > D8 > D6 > D4 > expended. For ammo it is only rolled at the end of the encounter. This is a nice way to reflect a limited resource without the dreaded Dungeons & Accounting that can take up so much time or is completely ignored by players and GMs in other systems.

The art is very cool black and white pieces from Karl Stjernberg, David Black, Sean Poppe, and Jeff Call. A lot of the best work is reserved for the monster and opponents section.

But the best part is reserved for the GM. This system has incredible resources to generate just about anything you could need for a game session: NPCs, hex maps, wilderness, dungeons, settlements, taverns, quest hooks, whats on the body etc. Some are straight rolls of a d12 or d8, others use 2d6 on a matrix, others are drop tables that have different results based on where the die lands on the page. This is the most succinct, concentrated creativity toolkit I’ve seen in any system. Even the monsters and opponents section includes tables to make every encounter unique.

If you’re in a creative rut, this is about the best $6 you can spend. If you’d like to pre-order the printed version and missed out on the kickstarter (like I did), check out the pre-order page. See you around the table! I’ve got some adventures to generate!

The Queen of Elfland’s Son Review – DCCRPG

September 30, 2018 Comments off

DCC 97 has been out since June, but somehow I missed it when it came out during Free RPG Day and just picked it up today. This is the first release to offer the awesome PDF code for RPGNOW in the front cover as announced at GEN CON. Any new DCC adventure from 97 on will include a code to redeem on RPGNOW for the PDF version. This is the best physical/digital offer I’ve ever seen since you can support your FLGS, and get a handy digital version for printing out handouts or maps. Kudos to Goodman Games and RPGNOW for putting together this deal. Once again, they are about a decade ahead of Paizo and WotC when it comes to innovation and rewarding their judges/GMs.

This release also features a very cool, very pulpy cover from the artist Sanjulian. I don’t know if it was commissioned for this adventure or was recycled from another work. It is pretty cool looking, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for this particular adventure, unlike the custom Kovacs covers that usually show something from the module like an encounter or iconic creature.

The interior contributions from the usual suspects like Kovacs, Poag, and Cliff Kurowski are excellent as always. The cartography for this one is by Poag and is a nice blend of the heavily-illuminated style of Kovacs and digital clarity of maps from DCC adventures in the D&D 3.5 days.

The adventure itself is inspired by the Appendix N entry The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. This marks the first DCC adventure in which I have read the inspirational material before the release of the adventure. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it! It is by no means required to enjoy this adventure, but there are a few nods to the source material and it is fun to see how Michael Curtis has incorporated some elements from the book in to the adventure.

This is a first level adventure that would work very well as a first foray after a funnel. The village of Eng isn’t really the focus of the adventure, and could either be substituted out for a different starting hamlet or fleshed out to provide a starting base of operations for adventurers. This adventure weighs in at 20 pages, including maps, and would likely work for a typical 4-5 hour convention slot. It has a short introduction, and two main parts. Without getting in to spoiler territory for potential players, there is a nice mix of investigation, combat and social encounters to allow every role a chance to shine.

A sequel to this adventure is alluded to a few times in the text, so it looks like this will at least be a two-part story, but this one stands on it’s own just fine. This would be a great adventure for those new to the DCC system as the adversaries are fairly straight forward, while still providing a few surprises for experienced delvers. Ask your FLGS to order this one, and cash in that PDF code! See you in Elfland!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs

Cyphers and Masks Review – Star Wars Age of Rebellion

September 3, 2018 1 comment

swa53_box_left

The most recent sourcebook for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG is an Age of Rebellion sourcebook expanding on the Spy career. I’ve been looking forward to this book almost as much as the bounty hunter book for Edge of the Empire, and it does not disappoint. It follows the familiar format of other career source books: three sections, the first with new species and specializations, the second with new gear/vehicles/weapons and the third focusing on the GM and integrating spy characters into larger campaigns.

If you are more selective about your sourcebook purchases, I would still suggest giving this one a look. It includes some interesting new species such as the nearly synonymous-with-spy Kubaz, the insect-like Melitto, and mantis-antennae-having near-human Balosars. Those “antennapalps” provide two advantage on vigilance checks, which may prove handy since willpower is not generally a strong stat for spies. Kubaz have enhanced vision which can cancel out two setback dice from perception checks due to environmental factors. The Melitto have sightless vision and never need light. Seeing as it looks like they lack a mouth, Melittos could make cool silent snake-eyes type spies.

swa53_art_specialization-courierThe three new specializations are courier, interrogator and sleeper agent. Thanks to some generous 5 XP skills, courier is a more compelling choice than you might think at first blush. To the base spy skills of Computers, Cool, Coordination, Deception, Knowledge (Warfare), Perception, Skullduggery and Stealth, Courier adds Athletics, another Deception, Streetwise and Vigilance. With 5XP talents Well-Travelled and Pilot Training, this quickly becomes a very well-rounded tree mostly focusing on agility and intellect. Well-traveled makes Knowledge Core Worlds and Outer Rim career skills. Pilot training does the same for Piloting Space and Planetary. There are some parkour talents like Freerunning and Swift for personal movement, as well as some that apply to either personal or vehicles like Shortcut and Lose Them. This makes courier a solid choice for a pilot/analyst in your rebel spy cell. The only glaring omission is any kind of weapons skill, but that can be addressed with a dip into the universal recruit tree from the Age core book.

Interrogator is a surprising choice for a PC specialization, but could be an exciting one the way they have it written here. To the base spy skills add Charm, Coercion, Medicine, and another Perception. This makes the interrogator the de facto “face” spy, relying more on social skills rather than subterfuge. The talent tree has a good cop side and a bad cop side, as well as talents about called Resist Questioning and Made You Talk. One of the most interesting is a 25XP skill called Pressure Point that allows the PC to make a brawl check that does stun damage equal to ranks in medicine ignoring soak. This could be used to judo-chop some minions or knock out a weakened rival or nemesis for questioning. Other than the scout, this is the only other Spy spec with access to medicine, and with access to two ranks in Surgeon may be the best healer of the bunch. Every rebel spy cell could use a doctor/face.

swa53_sleeperagentSleeper Agent has some very cool benefits. To the base skills add Charm, another Cool, Discipline, and Knowledge (Education). The tree has some slicer talents like Codebreaker and Bypass Security. For 5XP you can pick up Well Rounded to pick up any two skills and make them career skills. This is a cheap way to pick up some weapon or piloting skills. Ideally these would match what your roll is in the Empire: Pilot, Soldier, Mechanic etc. The 25XP talents are especially cool: Inside Person and Inside Knowledge provide advantages to checks associated with a certain installation or large ship. You can also use it to find an item previously stashed in a location, which has cool story possibilities.

Just as one would expect from any classic spy movie, the gear and gadget section does not disappoint. Weapons that fire invisible blaster bolts, wrist mounted razor launchers, hidden garrotes, and convertible pistols that can be switched to a sniper rifle with two maneuvers (thanks Cassian!) and some stealthy armor. Gear and tools include a fake tooth with a poison crystal inside, cybernetic implants of tools and lock picks (go-go gadget hydrospanner!), disguises both holographic and implanted, concealed escape kits in the heel of a boot, explosive belts etc. Its just like walking into the lab of a Bond movie, as it should be. There are several droids detailed here, from interrogation, slicers, incredibly strong assault droids, and armored messenger droids. RA-7 stats are included as well. This was the inventory droid from Star Wars Rebels.

swa53_species_2A fair amount of space is dedicated to weapon attachments and enhancements to help conceal or break down weapons so they can be smuggled in to places they shouldn’t be. The vehicle and ship section just has one speeder and one star fighter with a lot of hard points to be used in customization. The vehicle attachments include lots of interesting options for cloaking, retractable weapons, and espionage electronics. You could certainly create something reminiscent of classic Bond cars filled with gadgets.

The third section details campaign ideas and potential rewards for spies. It outlines potential pitfalls GMs could run into with groups that have a lot of direct-action PCs and one Spy that relies on stealth. Given the variety of skills in this career I think you could run a really fun rebel spy cell with PCs made exclusively from spies. This section also provides some really helpful suggestions for spending dice results for computers, deception, skullduggery and stealth checks.

As expected, this was one sourcebook worth waiting for. The team at FFG is not running out of gas for this Star Wars line. I have yet to buy a book in this line that isn’t worth every penny. Even if you don’t collect them all, I highly recommend this one due to how well they stuck to the theme and the surprises along the way.

Categories: Books, Reviews, Star Wars

The pros and cons of sourcebooks and settings

July 23, 2018 Comments off

The Skyland Games crew was a bit divided about the release of the Han Solo movie. Some felt it was unnecessary and was a movie no one was asking for about characters of which we already know the fate. Others felt it expanded both the story and the universe in very cool ways. We can see an analog in RPGs and their respective supplements and expansions.

Today Wizards of the Coast announced two new worlds for 5e D&D: Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravinica. The Eberron update is digital only (at least for now) and the book for Ravinica won’t be released until November and represents the first cross-pollination of Magic: The Gathering lore making an appearance on the D&D side of the WotC fence.

This news comes on the heels of Fantasy Flight Games reprinting a special 30th anniversary of the West End Games Star Wars RPG. Recently I purchased both it, and two Force and Destiny sourcebooks: Knights of Fate and Unlimited Power. Staring at my formidable shelf of FFG Star Wars got me thinking: at what point is a system too diluted by supporting materials?

Fans of RPGs are familiar with the cycle: A core rulebook (or three) comes out for a system. Adventures, supplements and sourcebooks follow. Perhaps errata or an updated print run or seven. Finally the bottom of the barrel is scraped (for D&D often in the form of the Tome of Vile Darkness), and a new edition is released. Most recently we have seen this with Pathfinder and X-wing.

Reading through the old WEG Star Wars is a pretty wild contrast from a recent FFG sourcebook. The bibliography (they included one!) at the back of the WEG sourcebook is most telling: the original trilogy, their novelizations, a Han Solo trilogy of novels, a Lando Trilogy, and some art books for visual reference. In fairness, that was probably everything in print about Star Wars in 1987. Almost impossible to imagine thirty years later.

The player section for the entire system weighs in at 24 pages, and a full one-third of that is dedicated to a solitaire choose-your-own-adventure style introduction to the concept of roleplaying: making decisions and rolling dice to see what happens.

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster. An elegant weapon… for a more civilized age.”   – Obi-wan Kenobi

Is the system perfect? Certainly not. There are awkward combat mechanics, especially when it comes to starship combat. However, it does get you into playing the game quickly, and emphasizes not stressing the details as the GM. Between the two 144-page books included in the 30th anniversary reprint, you have everything you need to evoke the feel of the original trilogy and have a fantastic game.

On the flip side of the coin, I love having a Star Wars sourcebook library that is now the size of an old Encyclopedia Britannica collection. Each book is filled with inspiration from settings, equipment, encounters, and adversaries. However, it can be daunting for new players creating a character. It would be an awesome compromise for FFG to produce not pre-gens, but templates similar to WEG: familiar archetypes to which you can add a few skills, a description, a background and a motivation and get to rolling.

For D&D, each world at the peak of system bloat that was second edition seemed to have its own feel: Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Ravenloft, Dragonlance, and yes, Forgotten Realms. I imagine these new 5e options will provide that same sort of tone-setting characteristics to make each memorable. Maybe that is one way to think of it – not as dilution, but a particular flavor.

Dungeon Crawl Classics has taken a similar approach with setting box sets: The Chained Coffin (Shudder Mountains), The Purple Planet, and very soon Lankhmar. Goodman Games has also recently released a post-apocalyptic version of their system called Mutant Crawl Classics (which is awesome and will get a much more in-depth review later).

Ultimately it comes down to playing the style of game you want to play. There are pretty excellent RPGs that fit on a single sheet of paper. In my years of gaming, it has mattered less what system or edition we were playing and more that we had an excuse to get together every week and have a great time. Nerds tend to desire an encyclopedic knowledge of subjects they enjoy. This works out nicely for publishers. Is it necessary? Maybe not, but it sure is fun.

Countdown to Free RPG day

June 4, 2018 Comments off

Free RPG day is less than two weeks away. Our friendly local gaming shop opened its doors six years ago on Free RPG day, so it is always a double celebration in Asheville. The offerings this year are particularly strong: Starfinder, We be SuperGoblins, Tunnels & Trolls, Kids on Bikes, and both 5th edition D&D and a 2nd level DCC adventures from Goodman Games, amongst others. To reserve a seat at one of the games at The Wyvern’s Tale, check out the warhorn page for the event.

This year I’ll be running the 2nd level DCC adventure included with a revised quickstart rules “Man-bait for the Soul Stealer.” I built some pre-gens I plan on using for the session on purplesorcer.com using the 4d6 power characters and max zero level hit die. Each of these PCs have at least a +1 in their prime stat as well. Call me a soft judge, but it is no fun playing a 6 HP Warrior with a 5 in strength. If you’d like to use these same pre-gens, you can download them here: Thief Cleric Halfling Elf Dwarf Wizard Warrior2 Warrior1

The Sanctum Secorum podcast has put together a list of locations hosting DCC games for Free RPG day as well as a free download of 3rd party DCC sampler that is currently out for approval, but should be available before the event.

A quick search of our site for ‘Free RPG day’ is a fun trip down memory lane. We are extremely fortunate to have a tremendously diverse and vibrant RPG gaming community, especially for the size of this town. In 2012 I ran the DCC offering: The Jeweler who dealt in Stardust. It has been phenomenal to witness the growth of the DCC community in the intervening years. I remember running road crew games for just two or three players, and mostly folks who had never heard of Dungeon Crawl Classics. These days when Mike or I run at the Tale or a convention, we’ve got full tables weeks in advance and can even occasionally sign up for someone else’s table and play a PC!

What an amazing six years it has been for Goodman Games: four printings of the DCC core rulebook, Chained Coffin box set, Purple Planet, 30+ modules, Mutant Crawl Classics, tons of brilliant zines and 3rd party modules, and the forthcoming Lankhmar boxed set. It has been tremendously fun to be a part of the community and help people find the magic of RPGs again through classic mechanics, the weirdest dice, and fantastically creative adventures.

Try and track down a game, or better yet, run one on Saturday, June 16th. If this is your first Free RPG day or your eleventh, have a great time and contribute to this incredible hobby.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes – Review

May 26, 2018 Comments off

The latest 5E D&D book hit Friendly Local Gaming Stores this week: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. I purchased this book thinking it would be essentially a supplementary monster manual along the lines of the classic Fiend Folio. In fact, this book follows the format provided in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

The first section details classic D&D struggles of Demons vs. Devils, Elves vs. Drow, Dwarves vs. Duergar, Githyanki vs. Githzerai, and… Halflings vs. Gnomes?! Not really, but they wanted to include some new material for the little guys so they threw them together at the end. The second section is a more traditional bestiary with monster stat blocks, as well as stats for NPCs that the DM could use to illustrate the struggles detailed in the first half. There are brief sidebars representing personal notes from Mordenkainen about different sections of the book. Unlike the fun disclaimer in Volo’s or the entertaining condescending disdain in Xanathar’s, the sidebars here add little if anything. This is disappointing as a similar format was followed in one of my favorite 4E supplements, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and those side bars added really cool details and perspective.

There is a great deal of background information and flavor text detailing the various struggles illustrated in the first half of the book. This may provide excellent context for classic rivals like demons vs. devils or elves vs. drow and reasons behind these struggles. There is also quite a bit of detail associated with the pantheon of gods for each race including alignment, province (what they are known for) as well as suggested domains and common holy symbols. Each section spends some time on world-specific variants of races (Gully Dwarves in Dragonlance, cannibal Halflings in Dark Sun), but usually without stats to make them anything more than window dressing.

Peppered throughout the first section are a few player options and sub-races with traits and tables to help provide more character details for PCs, especially if you like playing Tieflings or Elves. Tieflings gain 8 optional sub-races to demonstrate allegiance or infernal origins associated with a particular layer of the nine hells (Asmodeus being the default described in the Player’s Handbook). New elven options include four distinct eladrin variants that correspond with the seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter), as well as a Sea Elf and the goth cousins from the Shadowfell, the Shadar-Kai. The Dwarven section provides the Duergar as a playable race. Githzerai and Githyanki traits and tables are provided as PC options as well. While additional halfling personality/ideal/bond/flaw tables are provided, the only new sub-race in the last chapter of the first section are deep gnomes (aka svirfneblin).

The bestiary second half of the book includes some fantastic dual-page artwork, as well as helpful indexes that sort creatures by type, CR, as well as typical environment.

This book is for DMs looking for inspiration using some of the classic D&D struggles detailed over the 40 years of monster manuals of every edition. It is also for players who may be looking for a particular sub-race they miss from a previous edition or more background details and inspiration for new characters. Should you buy it? Maybe. This one isn’t as essential as Xanathar’s as it isn’t as great a value for the money from a player options perspective. As a DM, if you already own the adventure Into the Abyss, there will be a significant amount of repeated stat blocks as all the demon lords are repeated here. If you’ve always wondered what the story was behind why demons and devils fight, or the origins of the elven diaspora, this is the book for you.

Categories: 5e, Books, Characters, DnD, News, Reviews, RPGs, WOTC