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March 4th! GMs Day! Mace West Preview!

March 4, 2017 1 comment

drownedHappy GM’s day gamers! RPGnow is having a big sale, and many awesome publishers are participating. Get yourself or your favorite GameMaster something cool! I’m celebrating GM’s day by preparing for the games I’m running at an upcoming convention: MACE West 2017! This will be the third year the event will be held in Asheville, NC just outside the Biltmore at the Doubletree hotel, March 24-26th. The first year I attended I had a great time, and each year it keeps getting better and better! This year there are a staggering number of board games, RPGs, and other events listed this year at the OGRe.

The Skyland Games guys alone will be running Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Crawl Classics, Age of Rebellion, Metamorphosis Alpha, Apes Victorious and Imperial Assault. Games are filling up fast, and we are looking forward to another great year at our “home” convention!

Kevin is running the Frost Fang Expedition, a 3rd party published DCC adventure that is almost purpose-built for cons since there is a ticking-clock element to the adventure. The full review is here, but the short version is this: if the heroes don’t succeed, rocks fall and everyone dies. Not everyone in the party, everyone in the town below the crumbling, floating castle. That old chestnut. He is also running one of the Metamorphosis Alpha adventures from the recent Epsilon City kickstarter, and a homebrewed Star Wars adventure called Rogue Two, in which a small rebel commando team is sent to Mytus VII, star’s end, to break out a group of rebel pilots including Wedge Antilles to aid in the assault on the Death Star.

Mike is running a homebrewed Mutant Crawl Classics adventure he will also be running at GenCon, but MACE West gets it first! Where the drowned god dwells looks to be an exciting post-apocalyptic underwater adventure! Apes Victorious from Goblinoid Games is based around Planet of the Apes and looks to be quite the enjoyable romp if you’ve ever wanted to play the role of a 70s astronaut marooned on future earth. This one is also on sale as part of the GM’s day event. If you haven’t played it yet, you can try out Goodman Games Lankhmar with Mike running Masks of Lankhmar, an adventure he was fortunate enough to playtest with the author Michael Curtis at GaryCon VII.

Scott is running three slots of Imperial Assault, and thanks to the hard work and excellent skill of local mini-painter Galen, they will be some great looking sessions! Minis in the front are some of the bones from recent kickstarters, but the back shelves are all Star Wars! There are more games and events than ever before, these are just the few events we are running. Check out the event pages on facebook and at Justus Productions to find out more. See you there!

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Age of Rebellion – Friends Like These Review

January 29, 2017 Comments off

swa41_book_leftThe latest release for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Age of Rebellion is the adventure Friends Like These. This review will endeavor to be spolier-light, but not spoiler-free so if you have any intention of playing this, and don’t want any information about the plot points, stop reading now.

Just us GMs? Good. This adventure is geared towards experienced rebels with the recommended earned XP at 150. The main mission is to gather what nearby allies and resources you can marshal to defend a foundry and turbolaser factory from impending Imperial attack. It is pretty well structured to provide a good amount of detail for likely approaches PCs will take when faced with the encounters while allowing a fair-amount of sandbox play with page references to various sections based on PC choices.

There is quite a bit of negotiation and social challenges in this adventure as well as personal and mass combat. There are several opportunities for any type of role to shine, but I would say it favors leader/face types of classes. The entire adventure is a race against time as Foundry Four on the planet Xornn has been tipped off that Imperials have discovered they are retrofitting freighters with turbolasers in support of the Rebels. An ambitious Imperial Captain is hoping to capture a navicomputer that holds the coordinates to the main rebel fleet and deliver this vital data to the Emperor. The Rebels are sending a massive fleet to counterattack and save the base, but it will arrive 5 hours after the Imperials. Can the heroes gather enough allies and prepare fortifications to hold out?

Each segment of the adventure has times associated with it, and PCs must weigh what they should spend that time on in order to give them the resources they need to hold out against the Empire. Eventually the PCs will discover the only options who can get there in time are 800 Mandalorian mercenaries and the Zygerrian slave armies of Prince Molec. Most Rebels aren’t too keen on slavery and so the adventure puts the PCs in a position of picking between bad options: collaborate with an empire built on slavery, or attempt to liberate those slaves against very long odds. The book allows for either approach, and highlights one of the strengths of this system: putting PCs in a no-win situation and letting them debate at the table how they want to approach the encounter.

swa41_mandaloriansThis adventure is a bit different from the others as previous books were divided into three acts, and this is divided into four. It isn’t any longer than any of the other adventures, still weighing in at 96 pages, but is structured as fortifying Xornn, dealing with the Mandalorians, choosing how to handle the Zygerrians, and then the climactic battle. Included in the book are stats for creating a Mandalorian human PC. This seems a bit odd, considering PCs should have 150 earned XP going in to this adventure, but I supposed you could create new PCs specifically for this adventure. You would think they would then detail some Mandalorian gear, but other than a few bits in NPC stat blocks, there are no other details in this book. There is a page dedicated to slaver tech and weapons, but not Mandalorian arms and armor. I guess we’ll have to wait for No Disintegrations on that.

Overall, I think this will be an excellent adventure to run. I do wish there were more detailed maps for Foundry Four and the orbital and surface battles for act IV. There are some areas and details mentioned that are not very clear on the maps provided. Beyond that, I would recommend this for AGE GMs looking for a diverse adventure that will allow various types of PCs to shine, but I would discourage novice GMs from running this as there is a lot to keep track of and different paths your PCs can take. Once you’ve run several sessions and have a good feel for the curve balls your group and some wacky dice rolls can throw you, it will be a story your players certainly remember!

Categories: Adventure, News, Reviews, RPGs, Star Wars

Review: Volo’s Guide to Monsters (5E)

November 6, 2016 2 comments

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TLDR: If you’re running 5E, you need to buy this book.

When I heard that the next book in the 5E lineup was Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I was a little disappointed.  I’ve never been much of a Forgotten Realms fan, and Volo’s Guide sounded like it was going to be a fluff piece with articles similar to the old Dragon Magazine “Ecology” pieces.  While that’s great for magazine content, I didn’t get too excited about the prospect of a $45 book with minimal new information.

Fortunately for me, Wizards really outdid themselves in packaging a variety of things in this book that make it a very valuable addition to my growing 5E collection.

Volo’s Guide starts with the following disclaimer in small, easily missed print, under the cover attribution:

Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast does not vouch for, guarantee, or provide any promise regarding the validity of the information provided in this volume by Volothamp Geddarm.  Do not trust Volo. Do not go on quests offered by Volo. Do not listen to Volo. Avoid being seen with him for risk of guilt by association.  If Volo appears in your campaign, your DM is undoubtedly trying to kill your character in a manner that can be blamed on your own actions.  The DM is probably trying to do that anyway, but with Volo’s appearance, you know for sure. We’re not convinced that Elminster’s commentary is all that trustworthy either, but he turned us into flumphs last time we mentioned him in one of these disclaimers.

I enjoy the fact that wizards is having fun with this volume, and it made me enjoy getting into the book a bit more than if I hadn’t noticed it.  I also appreciate Wizards sold a special limited edition FLGS cover for only $5 more (pictured above) to help the local shops get a leg up.

The book is broken into three parts: Monster Lore, Character Races, and a Bestiary.

Monster Lore

Monster Lore, the first 100 pages of the book, is what I had expected, but some crunch where I otherwise expected fluff for lifestyles of Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mindflayers, Orcs and Yuan-Ti.

Examples of neat details that might constitute crunch include beholder charts detailing size, shape, texture, and a great random name generator, with tactics, variant eyestalk abilities, minions, treasure and a lair map.  History, mindset, and biological function is laid out in a depth previously unvisited in text as far as I’m aware, allowing the GM a deeper background on this favorite of monsters.

The Chapters going forth are what I’d call asymmetrical, being that they don’t follow a routine pattern.  Chapters on Giants have more details about origins, their habitat and personality traits. Gnolls have details on tactics, random traits and features, and tables to help build a gnollish warband.  Mind Flayers have some magic items listed that are specific to their culture.  Yuan-ti have a variety of charts detailing their variable physiology.

Each race detailed has a map of their typical lair, which gives some great examples where the trappings of the race might be otherwise somewhat mysterious (Mind-Flayers in particular).

Overall, these chapters are well written and flesh out the background of these common and popular monsters.  Is it essential? No.  Is it helpful? Yes.  My fear had been that for $45.00 I was going to get that, and that be it. Fortunately, it goes on.

Character Races

Now we start to hit things I can work with, and things that people invariably try to do on their own with varying degrees of success.  I happen to currently be playing a kobold priest of Kurtulmak in our Out of the Abyss game, and have been playing a kobold trapper race variant my GM got off the internet somewhere.  I yearned for canon guidance on what a kobold PC should look like.  Fortunately, Volo delivers.

Races detailed are Aasimar, Firbolgs, Goliaths, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, and Tritons with a separate section for “Monstrous Adventurers” giving blocks for the already detailed bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and yuan-ti pureblood.

I’ve always been a guy that likes the idea of playing the monster as a PC, and this opens doors for me.

Bestiary

This, by far, seals the deal for this book being a must-have for the dedicated 5E player.  100 pages of new and classic monsters that were conspicuously absent from the Monster Manual.  A few personal favorites include:

  • Barghest
  • Bodak
  • Catoblepas
  • Darkling
  • Baubau
  • Devourer
  • Flail Snail!
  • Froghemoth!
  • Several new Variant classed giants, very cool
  • Girallion
  • Flind
  • Leucrotta
  • Quickling
  • Shadow mastiff
  • Spawn of Kyuss (Greyhawk?)
  • Trapper
  • Vargouille
  • Vegepygmy!
  • Xvarts (Eric Mona must have been involved in this)
  • Yeth Hound
  • Many more!

Also a number of “Beasts” (including a rot grub swarm) and 21 new stock NPCs which are sure to prove super useful on an ongoing basis (in particular, it appears a mage of each spell casting school, archers, archdruid, war priest and so on).  Not mentioned in my list are also special “classed” versions of various orcs, yuan-ti, hobgoblins, and so on, as well as some subcategories of other races like beholders that will prove useful in putting on games that utilize those species.  This is where the book proves out its crunchiness but give me stat blocks that I can use to have a more interesting game.

Overall

Wizards has done a good job of bringing a little more than just the basics to each book it has published.  Each adventure module has had a few spells and a few more general stat blocks that make each book tempting to pick up.  This book, as a sourcebook, doubles down on that principle making there elements that you just can’t afford to miss.  This book has extended value for the GM of your group, but remains optional for the player short of playing a racial variant.   That said, I think anyone who picks it up is going to find it’s a great addition to their collection.

All Praise Kurtulmak!

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The Sinister Sutures of the Sempstress Review DCC

October 17, 2016 Comments off

sempstressThe 2016 Halloween modules from Goodman Games has arrived and it is awesome! We will get in to some minor spoilers, so this review is geared towards judges looking for something to run either in the coming weeks, or any time you want to run something in the horror genre. This adventure is decidedly creepy with a nice insanity mechanic appropriately termed “unraveling”.

This is your final warning, players look away! You will suffer dire corruption if you don’t close this page now!

Just us judges? OK – Michael Curtis did an amazing job with this adventure. This one starts with a theme about closets/wardrobes/drawers acting as portals between worlds, and has the party (who may be in the same place, or entirely different planes) called to the pocket dimension of the House of Tattered Remnants, home and prison of the Sempstress. It is digest-sized and weighs in at 20 pages, so is perfect for a convention slot, or one-shot for the holiday.

The Sempstress was banished to this pocket dimension ages ago by ancestors of the party. She sent her minions through the various seemly mundane closets or wardrobes to exact revenge on the heroes for her imprisonment. The PCs give chase and emerge in the House of Tattered Remnants. This horror house is filled with creepy challenges and mood-setting details. One of my favorite features of this adventure is the unraveling mechanic. Each PC starts with a stability score equal to their personality stat. If the PCs see something mindbogglingly horrific, they make a DC 10 Will save. On a fail, they lose a point of stability. Once it drops below 10, PCs start manifesting physical signs of unraveling which acts similar to corruption for wizards. Most of them aren’t debilitating, but represent the character losing grip on reality in this twisted pocket dimension.

There are a nice mix of encounters and traps, and the gore level is just right for my tastes: present, but not over-the-top. Another excellent feature in this adventure is a nod to classic haunted houses. Clever PCs will search for an artifact that was discarded in vats of spare body parts the Sempstress uses to create her minions. Prepared judges can blind fold a player and physically have them search in bowls peeled grapes as eyeballs and peeled tomatoes as hearts, etc. to find the representation of the artifact in real life. Such a great idea!

The final battle with the sempstress herself looks to be quite challenging, even for the 6th level PCs recommended for the adventure. She will likely have a pair of Reality Tailor allies that cast spells using set numbers rather than rolling a spell check result. Those numbers descend over subsequent rounds, but between unraveling checks from the Sempstress and her ability to stitch heroes to themselves or stitch her own wounds, this will be a boss battle to remember!

I may just print out a few 6th level pre-gens for ScareFest this weekend. It seems like the perfect venue for this spooky adventure! If you’ve got a seasonally appropriate game night coming up and are looking for a memorable adventure, head to the House of Tattered Remnants. Just don’t become unraveled!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, holiday, Reviews, RPGs

Frost Fang Expedition Review – DCC

October 4, 2016 Comments off

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-00-04-amThe Frost Fang Expedition by Mark Bishop has been released by Purple Sorcerer games for Dungeon Crawl Classics. This beast of a 1st-level adventure weighs in at a digest-sized 72 pages plus a 40-page full-sized digital appendix for printing handouts, maps, minis, and rumors. Also included in the appendix are great tips for judging the adventure in general, as well as ways to fit this into a four-hour convention slot.

The premise is to save the town from a floating earth mote that has been the residence of a reclusive wizard for about 100 years. Recently, lights have started going out in the castle and chunks of earth have fallen into town. The townspeople fear the magic is fading and need brave adventures to summit the peak, cross the rickety bridge, and avert the impending disaster.

This adventure features lots of background information on the town, NPCs, and baddies that inhabit the different locations. Providing this level of detail allows the well-prepared judge to bring the setting and the scenes to life. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this adventure to a novice judge. If you have about a dozen tables under your belt, you can probably handle the amount of juggling required to keep the adventure running smoothly.

Tscreen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-00-42-amhere are two NPCs traveling with the party that want the mission to get to the end goal for very different reasons. This allows a clever judge to use them to drop key hints to the party should they be stuck, but in several scenes will require these NPCs to argue in front of the party about what to do (allowing the PCs to decide the ultimate course of action). This is a really cool device, but may be tough for new judges.

The Frost Fang Expedition also has branching paths within the adventure on the way to the peak. This allows for some replay (and certainly re-run) value as the adventures will have some agency in deciding how they want to approach the summit of the mountain. That being said, the encounters are numbered a bit confusingly. Everything throughout the entire adventure is 1-something, like the typical 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 for denoting sequential encounters in certain areas. I would have liked to see the mountain broken up in to different sections, with the branches named with numbers and letters. For instance, at the end of encounter 1-1, the party must choose the left path or the right path. the left path leads to encounter 1-2A and the right leads to encounter 1-2B. both end up and encounter 1-3. Instead, the lettered encounters represent sub-rooms in a particular location. This makes the order of events and following the path of the adventure for the judge a bit more difficult.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-01-40-amThe overall tone of the adventure is fairly lighthearted despite the impending doom of the town, should the adventurers fail. The illustrations (many by the author himself) are similar in style and tone to the Flaming Deathpits of the Minotaur Mage: Descent into Doomfire (which if you haven’t played, you really should).

The final encounter includes quite a bit of juggling (as mentioned in the included appendix) and may be a lot to handle. While there are some simplified spell-duel rules included, I would leave that out for all but the most experienced judges. There will already be a ritual to perform, plenty of NPCs and baddies to run, and a d6 counting down.

Currently on sale for $9.99 for Print+PDF, this is an awesome gaming value for some very memorable encounters. I would highly encourage experienced judges to take this one on for a con, and for home campaigns, stretch it out to two or three sessions! There is certainly a lot of good times to be had on the Frost Fang Expedition!

Categories: Adventure, Cons, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs

Star Wars for One

July 27, 2016 4 comments

gamblingLast weekend I set up another session of our Bounty Hunter campaign at our awesome FLGS the Wyverns Tale. Most weeks we have about 4-6 people show up, some weeks we have 12, some we have zero, but this week we had one, besides myself. Solitary FFG Star Wars is possible, but… if you’re just making up stories in your own head, maybe write a book? No, this week we had me and one PC. He was understandably nervous going on a solo bounty hunt, but really this seems like it would be a much more common scenario. One hunter means you get the whole bounty, rather than a share.

Given that it is difficult to predict how many PCs will show up in a given week, I built my encounters to be very flexible. Usually if a combat encounter involves minions, I’ll have 3 minions per PC making up the minion groups. One PC table = 3 minions (not the little one-eyed yellow kind, despite how much I would not mind taking a light repeating blaster to those). Rivals are usually a pretty decent challenge for most PCs, so I recommend adding them to encounters on a one to one basis with PCs for a moderately difficult encounter. A nemesis is going to be quite a challenge to solo for one PC. It is not impossible, but it will likely require a bit of luck and some very clever tactics on the part of the PC.

AggressiveNegotiationsBeyond combat, social encounters can be very challenging for a lone PC, unless they have a particularly well-rounded character. Often when playing in large groups, it is very helpful to specialize in just a few skills. You can be the party “face” with a lot of social skills, the muscle, the sniper, the mechanic/slicer, or maybe the driver/gunner. With a smaller party, and especially a party of one, you need a diversified character. Some career specializations lend themselves to this better than others. Dangerous Covenants, the sourcebook for hired guns has great examples off both a specialist, and a generalist. Take the Heavy: nearly all skills and talents are related to making you a walking tank. Good luck with anything outside wielding the heaviest weapons with devastating efficacy. Not very effective during negotiations, unless those negotiations turn aggressive. On the other side of the coin you have the Enforcer: adding Brawl, Coercion, Knowledge (Underworld) and Streetwise. This is the darker side of a “face” character, but when you add those skills to the already diverse base set for hired gun of Athletics, Brawl (again), Discipline, Melee, Piloting (Planetary), Ranged (Light), Resilience, and Vigilance, you get a street tough that knows how to drive, shoot, brawl, and intimidate information out of underworld contacts. Maybe not someone you would send in for delicate political negotiations, but pretty good in most Edge of the Empire situations.

This past week, as really every week of the Bounty Hunter campaign was fantastically entertaining. The player ended up using his most experienced and well-equipped PC, despite having a fairly narrow skill set as a Bounty Hunter Assassin. Sometimes *not* having the appropriate skill led to some hilarious situations. Negotiating with a Drall duchess, investigating a missing person, and attempting to wheedle information from the Drall Wing Guard were not this PC’s strengths, but that added to the adventure as he caused quite a stir around the capital city of Mastogophorus. Most of the combat encounters he breezed through, since that is his wheelhouse, and in the final battle he held his own, despite going against three rivals through some skilled tactics and favorable rolls.

Starting the session we were both a bit anxious as to how one PC would be able to succeed, but by the end we both agreed it was an excellent adventure and all the more memorable thanks to having just one PC! For those of you attempting your own one on one Star Wars game, I would recommend planning a lot more encounters and encounter areas than if you were planning for a larger group. My typical three major act format usually takes a full group about 3-4 hours. With one PC we were done in two.

Crawling Through “The Vertical Halls”

June 27, 2016 Comments off

Coming back from NTRPG Con loaded with goodies, I started going through things I hadn’t read yet and putting stuff in order. Glad I looked, because I discovered a lost treasure! When I was putting stuff into the zine boxes, I found a great level 2 adventure for DCC RPG called “The Vertical Halls” from Phlogiston Books and written by Gabriel García-Soto that for some stupid reason I never got around to reading before this weekend.

Spoiler Alert: It’s pretty damn epic. I loved it from beginning to end. The interior art by Francisco Tebár and Valentí Posa is especially great.

I don’t want to spoil anything too much, but there is a lot to work with here. The adventure can literally fit into any kind of scenario. For your ‘typical’ fantasy campaign, you can place it as is into any mountainous region. It could really work well in a Shudder Mountain campaign for sure. You could crank up the weirdness factor and put it into something like the Purple Planet, too! Make the town a ruin an go Crawling Under A Broken Moon. It could fit almost any setting if you do just a little adjusting, I’m sure.

It starts out simple enough: your adventuring group enters the town of Shadypass where, like they do, the villagers are all acting a little odd. Some investigation leads you to the main event and I’ve yet to see a creepier or more disturbing setting. Excellent throwbacks to some Lovecraftian goodness and the best part is that the author has taken some ‘typical’ monsters and put their own spin onto them. Great stuff! I can’t wait to get a party inside and make them squirm!

The PDF and Softcover combo are available on RPG Now. Definitely one to pick up and I am anxiously awaiting the next product this studio will be releasing!

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