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Fully Operational Review – Star Wars Age of Rebellion

April 8, 2018 Comments off

The latest sourcebook for Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Age of Rebellion is Fully Operational. This sourcebook expands the options available for the Engineer career, and adds three new species, three new specialization options, as well as some interesting crafting options to the FFG Star Wars system.

As always, the career sourcebooks follow the familiar format of three sections: player options, gear/vehicles, and finally additional mechanics and systems for GM and PC use. Both Edge and Age have some overlap when it comes to careers and specializations that make sense for PCs in both lines. We’ve seen this show up in the past with FFG repeating certain species and specializations that could apply to careers in either line. One could almost understand if FFG wanted to copy and paste from the excellent Edge sourcebook for technicians Special Modifications. In this case, they resisted that temptation, and this book is a better value for it.

When reviewing this book, I immediately grabbed my copy of Special Modifications to see if there was any overlap, and I had to do a bit of a double-take: in the new Age book one of the new specializations is Droid Specialist, but in the Edge book it is Droid Tech. The trees have some similar skills, but some unique ones as well. This was a refreshing change from seeing careers like Heavy being copied whole-cloth between lines. It could also allow for some interesting multi-classing giving a PC an opportunity to stack lots of ranks of talents like Machine Mender and Hidden Storage, while also providing new talents in this book like Design Flaw (add 1 advantage per rank when attacking droids at personal scale) and Repair Patch Specialization (heal an additional wound per rank when using an emergency repair patch). Similarly, the crafting section focuses on facility and ship/vehicle crafting and doesn’t go over the gear/droid/cybernetics of the other book. What surprised me the most was how much of this book did not retread what had been established by Special Modifications.

Three new species are detailed in this book. The Bith on the cover (made famous as the band members in Mos Eisley cantina), Kaminoans (genetic engineers of the clones from the Clone Wars), and Skakoans, often synonymous with the Techno Union.

The Bith, while cool and recognizable from the original trilogy, don’t seem to make the best choice for an engineer. The have a one in brawn and a three in presence, and a two for everything else including Intellect. They start with a rank in perception and have sensitive hearing, but none of that predisposes them to make great engineers. They seem like a better fit for the Colonist-Performer specialization.

Kaminoans are a natural fit for this book, starting with a three in Intellect, a rank in Medicine, a rank of the Researcher talent, and most humorously trait called Expressionless. This results in a setback die for Charm checks and provides a setback die for others making social skill checks targeting Kaminoans. This really evokes Obi Wan’s experience when meeting them in the prequels, and would be fun to role-play.

Skakoans may be the least recognizable of the three, and as methane-breathers like the Gand, can pose environmental challenges other PCs may not face. Interestingly, this is the first species that start the game with a type of armor. They require a specialized pressure suit that provides +2 soak and 3 hard points. They start with a three in Intellect and a rank in Knowledge (Education) and Mechanics, but with only 80 XP. As an Engineer you were going to train those up anyway, so not a bad trade really.

The three new specializations include Droid Specialist, Sapper, and Shipwright. While the Droid Tech in Special Modifications focuses on building and commanding a droid army, the Droid Specialist can build them up, or break them down. In addition to the core Engineer skills of Athletics, Computers, Knowledge (Education), Mechanics, Perception, Piloting (Space), Ranged (Light) and Vigilance, this spec adds another Computers, Cool, another Mechanics, and Melee. These skills paired with the talents in the tree make this PC brainy, but pretty good in a fight at range or up close and personal.

The Sapper seems like it would be quite close to the saboteur, and much like the droid specs above they have some similarities, but are not identical at all. The Sapper focuses on construction as well as destruction, specifically of facilities and emplacements. In addition to the core skills, Sapper adds another Athletics, Knowledge (Warfare), another Mechanics, and Survival. One interesting new talent on the tree is Improvised Defenses. This allows the PC to make an average Survival check to create cover for up to four characters for the rest of the encounter.

Shipwright is quite the unique specialization. At first blush you would think it would be similar to Rigger in the Ace book or Modder in the Technician book, but it shares very few talents with either. Shipwright adds Gunnery, another Knowledge (Education), another Mechanics and another Piloting (Space) to the Engineer core skills making it the most laser-focused engineer specialization. Some talents you would expect are here like Solid Repairs, but also Dockyard Expertise which reduces time and cost of repairs by 25% per rank. Also Push the Specs which increases the top speed of the ship with an average Knowledge (Education) check. Creative Design allows a PC to apply a number of advantage equal to ranks in the talent to a crafting check, while allowing the GM to apply an equal number of threat.

The signature abilities include The Harder They Fall and Unmatched Ingenuity. The Harder They Fall allows once per session, a PC to spend two destiny points and make a hard mechanics check that if successful, automatically critically hit vehicles, droids or structures whenever they suffer wounds or hull trauma. This seems quite overpowered, but most of the signature abilities are. Unmatched Ingenuity allows once per session a PC to spend two destiny points and make a hard mechanics check to add one item quality to a weapon or item they are holding or operating. They can spend a triumph to add an additional quality, and advantage to increase the value of the quality if applicable.

The weapons section is pretty excellent for what is one of the more brainy and less combat-focused careers, but as one might expect from a career that includes both saboteur and sapper, the explosives are the highlight. Grenade additions include both Incendiary and Cryoban, as well as explosive compounds and devices for taking out structures and emplacements. My favorite is Flex-5 Detonite Tape that consists of a bulky roll of tape for breaching doors or lightly armored objects. This section also includes stats for Bardium charges, Detonite (think c-4), Fuel-Air Bombs, and Shaped charges. Not only are there stats for one charge, but how they stack when using multiple charges.

Gear section highlights include the Model 40 Repulsor Hoist and modular base structures. For a mere 3 encumbrance and 550 credits you can get a set of 6 repulsors to help hoist a disabled vehicle for field repairs or towing up to a silhouette 4 up to two meters high. Modular base structures allow you to build a quick and inexpensive command center, barracks, and hangar/motor pool. This could be a fun adventure session in itself!

The vehicle section has some cool engineer-focused transports and construction vehicles. Among these are stats for a silhouette 7 mobile space dock that would serve as an interesting adventure locale to get ship repairs, or defend from imperial attack. New vehicle weapons include stats for a tow cable launcher, ion torpedoes, and a termite torpedo which would likely be quite the headache for a PC ship targeted by such a weapon.

The last section includes some interesting ideas for using the Mechanics skill, as well as spending advantage, threat, triumph and despairs on engineering-focused checks. There is a fairly substantial section on making repair and construction efforts in different settings and environments like an active battlefield, desert/tundra, high-atmosphere, a firefight, forest/jungle, underwater, etc. Next is a section dedicated to converting civilian vehicles and facilities to military applications. This would certainly inspire at least a session or two of game materials. Finally, the most substantial section is dedicated to crafting ships and vehicles. This follows the same format as droids, weapons, and cybernetics from Special Modifications and goes into quite a bit of detail about different aspects such as frames, engines, and hulls. Each of these have their own template tables and advantage/threat, triumph/despair result suggestions. This may prove challenging to get an entire table of PCs to get excited about during a session unless the adventure or campaign is focused on building out new ships and bases for the rebels.

To wrap up the last section there are a few campaign ideas focused on a shipyard, a battle station, and combat engineering. Yet again FFG Star Wars is proving to be consistently high quality and worth purchasing. Unlike other RPGs that run out of quality material before they run out of supplements, FFG Star Wars seems to be getting even better and more refined the more books they produce. This is one of the better sourcebooks in the Age line, and I imagine using several ideas from it in future adventures.

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Categories: Books, Reviews, RPGs, Star Wars

How NOT to run a kickstarter: the cautionary tale of Top Secret NWO

April 1, 2018 2 comments

Let this be a lesson to those of us who back RPG Kickstarters: If the publisher won’t release a PDF before sending the document to the printers, they have something to hide. For those unfamiliar with Top Secret: New World Order, this was a kickstarter launched last summer to serve as an update to the venerable Top Secret system published by TSR in the 80s. This new version of the system was created by the original administrator himself: Merle Rasmussen, and thanks to a trademark lapse on the part of WotC and Hasbro, was created by the new TSR games. The new TSR also published the now defunct Gygax magazine, which had its own trouble, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

This project started with a lot of promise and a fair amount of polish that inspired confidence. Things started to get shaky once the initial (and overly-ambitious) estimated delivery window lapsed. This in itself, is almost more common than kickstarters delivering on time (or in very rare cases, early) so was not cause for alarm. What disturbed many backers was the reluctance by the publisher to release a PDF before sending it to the printer. As many backers (several superbackers: backers that have supported more than 25 projects with pledges of at least $10 in the past year) pleaded in comments on the project and subsequent updates to allow us a look at the PDF before sending it to the printer. Several of us cited instances in which backers  help proof read the project to make sure the final product was the best it could be, and the benefits of free labor by big fans for a better game.

Sadly, these repeated requests were denied by the publisher. The sole (flimsy) excuse was to preserve the “unboxing experience.” Imagine people who are so passionate about a project you’ve created not only are they willing to throw money at you, but also provide free labor to help make your dream the best it can be. Why would you turn those people down? To add insult to injury, the publisher posted an UNBOXING VIDEO of an advanced copy of the game. So… release the PDF? Pubisher’s response: No. Because… reasons.

Well let me tell you my “unboxing experience” was ruined by discovering several typos and errors in just a passing review of the core rules. First example: ICON, the secret organization of spies the PCs work for – foil stamped on the special edition of the rulebook – International Clandestine Operations Network. Open the book, page 7, just after the table of contents: ICON – International COVERT oprerations network. This is just the first of several examples.

As you can imagine, I cannot recommend purchasing this system or supporting this publisher in any way until these issues are addressed. I hope they learned their painful lesson, I’m just sad to see how much it will likely cost them.

If you would like to see a kickstarter properly run, check out Mutant Crawl Classics. The exact opposite of this story is what Goodman Games has done with MCC. Initially, MCC was developed and edited by people very familiar with Dungeon Crawl Classics. This was advertised as a stand-alone system, not an add-on for DCC and attracted a lot of fans of post-apocalyptic systems like Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha. When Goodman Games released the PDF months before they sent it to the printers, there were issues: missing descriptions, assumptions made from familiarity with DCC, and slight typos and clarifications that were needed. Rather than pressing forward with the print schedule, and likely Gen Con release, Goodman Games implemented changes, updated the PDF, and sent a much better product to print (albeit 6 months later than expected). The result: a much better product received by enthusiastic fans ready to play with clear rules.

If you are ever so lucky to come up with an idea that people want to not only donate money, but proof reading to help make your product the best it can be: take them up on it.

Categories: Books, kickstarter, MCC, News, Reviews, RPGs

Star Wars – Dawn of Rebellion review

March 3, 2018 Comments off

The recently released Dawn of Rebellion is the first Era Sourcebook for the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG line. Unlike previous books, this is the first to bridge all three lines of Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny. This comes out just as the Rebels TV show is coming to an end. For fans of both the Rebels animated series and the Rogue One movie, this book is full of stats for both characters and vehicles seen in each.

This book is a bit thicker than most specialization books, but about on par with Lords of Nal Hutta and Suns of Fortune weighing in at 144 pages. There are four chapters broken down into Worlds in Revolt, Organizations, Player Options and Game Master Support.

Worlds in Revolt features several systems that play an important role in the era including Alderaan, Atollon, Dathomir, The Death Star, Jedha, Lothal, and smaller sections on other places just called Other Worlds. Each system has the familiar fact sheet and picture of the planet featured in other releases, followed by a longer description of points of interest as well as key NPCs and a modular encounter that would work nicely as a mini-session in each system.

Often RPG books can be broken down in a crunch:fluff ratio, meaning how much of the book is stats and numbers compared to flavor text that helps bring the world alive, without providing those numbers that mechanically affect the game. This book leans towards the fluff-heavy, but details a satisfying amount of gear, creatures, NPCs and vehicles to keep the crunch crowd happy. The organizations section in particular features a lot of information on the Empire, Rebellion and Independent Organizations like The Broken Horn Syndicate (Vizago’s smugglers from Rebels), The Free Ryloth Movement, and the Protectors of Concord Dawn. Each has a few key NPCs detailed and some background information. Each main character of the Rebels TV show is statted out, as well as Shore Troopers, Death Troopers, Agent Callus, the Inquisitors, Vader and Thrawn. From the Independent Organizations you get stats for Fenn Rau, Azmorigan, Hondo Ohnaka, Ketsu Onyo and Lando Calrissian (previously statted out in Jewel of Yavin). This section gives you plenty of key characters to interact with if you want to start a party that runs in parallel to the events of Rebels or Rogue One. This seems to fly in the face of the wisdom expressed in previous books about shying away from key figures, since it is a pretty big galaxy after all. I think it is pretty cool to provide the stats for folks, since people try and make them up in the FFG forums anyway, and can add some gravity to your session. Hopefully, Vader won’t cut through your party like he did those rebels at the end of Rogue One.

The Player Options section introduces six new universal specializations that can be purchased for 10x the amount of specializations the PC currently has in XP. The book suggests this can add depth to a PCs past if chosen at the beginning of character creation, or could be a big reveal of a hidden past if chosen later. Either seems like a really compelling option to me, and I hope they come out with more of these in subsequent Era books. Those included in this are: Padawan Survivor (Kanan), Force Adherent (Chirrut), Imperial Academy Cadet (Han, Wedge, Sabine), Pirate (Hondo), Retired Clone Trooper (Rex), and Ship Captain (Hera). These trees include 4 bonus career skills (with the exception of Padawan which grants Force Rating 1 unless your PC already has it) and feature associated talents that can provide depth to your PC.

There are also four new species options from Rogue One: The loud-mouthed amphibian-like Dabatan, the Wookie/Wampa-like Gigorans, heavy-browed simian Iakaru (door gunner in the U-wing), and insecto-mammalian Tognaths (Saw’s lieutenant on Jedha).

The weapons section includes stats for Chirrut’s lightbow, Baze’s repeating cannon, and the Shore Trooper’s E-22 (linked 1 heavy rifle), and Death Trooper variant E-11D and DLT-19D Heavy blaster rifles.

The vehicles detailed include the AT-ACT, Occupier Assault Tank (Jedha), Delta-Class Shuttle (Krennic), TIE Striker and U-Wing. The U-Wing stats I found and used from FFG forums for my Rogue Two adventure were very close to the published stats. Also included are Arquittens-class Imperial cruiser and the hammer-head class corvettes use in Rebels and Rogue One, as well as the Ghost and both Phantom shuttles. There are also stats for the Death Star, which are so huge as to be nearly useless, but it does have a stat block.

The GM Support section includes a really nice idea about crafting a campaign like a season of a TV show, and even provides a roadmap for primary and secondary plots focusing on different characters as well as an overall story arc. We are attempting to do much this same thing with our own gaming group while sharing GMing duties. We’ve each contributed NPCs and planted story seeds that other GMs can choose to advance or go in a different direction. We’re only about 3 sessions in, but so far it has been really rewarding to not only share the GMing duties and responsibilities, but build our own corner of the galaxy together.

This section of the book provides the framework for either one GM to craft an entire season, or perhaps allow for a group to round-robin GM. This system has always provided a wealth of GMing resources and tips but this section of this book in particular goes above and beyond. It also discusses developing antagonists – villains that surpass a typical “big bad” at the end of an adventure and provide a long-lasting true nemesis. It also mentions antagonists don’t have to be evil to oppose the party such as Saw Gerrera, Fenn Rau and Cham Syndulla.The final part of the GM section deals with building a Rebel Cell campaign. This provides several ideas and seeds that can help groups write their own versions of Rebels or Rogue One.

Overall, this book is a great resource for those of us that watch the new movies or TV shows and start statting things we see out in our heads. It provides a ton of background information on this particular era of Star Wars and will be a great book for both players and GMs alike. I hope this is just the beginning and FFG is able to release a Knights of the Old Republic, Clone Wars, and possibly Force Awakens era books as well.

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

Legacy of Dragonholt review

January 30, 2018 Comments off

Legacy of Dragonholt by Fantasy Flight Games is a bit unique in what has become a crowded RPG and board game space. This new boxed-set is part choose-your-own-adventure, part RPG, and part board game.

This game is set in the FFG fantasy world of Terrinoth, for which the first Genesys sourcebook has been announced. It is pretty recognizable as the traditional Tolkien-inspired fantasy world filled with elves, orcs, gnomes, and humans, with a few exceptions like catfolk as a PC race. Their are fairly typical class options: bard, knight, thief, sage, wildlander, apothecary, and brawler.

This game could serve as an excellent introduction to RPGs for younger players and is certainly something an entire family could enjoy. The character creation process is mechanically light, in that you choose associated skills based on your race and class choices. Much like the Tales from the Loop age mechanic, the more skills you choose, the less stamina you have. This allows you to build a character that is skilled but fragile, or oafish but tough.

Beyond that, you’re encourage to add as much background, personality, and description for your character as you like, but those elements just inform your decisions on the choices presented to you. This game is very narrative-heavy, but role-play light. For those more familiar with running traditional RPG adventures, it is essentially endless box text. This kind of structure can be great for new or younger players, but may frustrate experienced gamers if you don’t know what to expect.

Playing this with my wife was quite entertaining, as we took turns reading and making choices. For multiplayer games you each get a token that you flip once you’ve made a choice to make sure every one gets a chance to gain both the risks and rewards of actions taken during the adventure. Some actions only affect the “active” player, while other actions may affect the entire group.

I could see this being quite entertaining as a solitaire game, as it is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure style game book with the best props and maps I’ve ever seen for the genre. I haven’t tried a six player game, but I could see how it could be a bit dull only making a choice every sixth time one is presented. That being said, we only completed the introductory adventure so far, and the map of town has numbered sections that may allow a bit more agency in future adventures.

All in all, this is a really interesting product that appeals to me as I’m a fan of gamebooks, choose-your-own-adventures, RPGs, and board games. It is a great fit for a game night in which everyone feels like a rules-light RPG, but no one wants to (or hasn’t had time to prepare to) GM. If that sounds good to you, I recommend picking this up. There are several adventures included, and depending on the character you build and the choices you make, there is a fair amount of replay value. Still on the fence? Download the PDFs of the rulebook, character creation guide, and sample characters from the product support page. May you choose wisely and have a grand adventure!

Categories: Adventure, Board, Books, Games, Reviews, RPGs

History Check: Gary Gygax High School Yearbook

December 17, 2017 Comments off

A facebook group I frequent auctions numerous gaming items, sometimes common and sometimes very rare.  Several of the members are known gaming industry talents, and others are just collectors like myself.   At the end of November, Garrett Ratini put up an item that was a rare gem from his collection. It wasn’t a game book, but books containing a surprisingly rare set of photos that made up a part of gaming history. And how the auction ended is where the real surprise happened.

The items auctioned were the 1953 and 1954 years of the Geneva Log, the Lake Geneva High School yearbook.  It was during these years that Gary Gygax, Don Kaye and Mary Powell were all in attendance.  A treasure for the gamer who wants to own a piece of history, but especially for the rarity of the photos inside.  To appreciate just how rare, you have to know a little something about the history of these three individuals.

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Gary Gygax, for one, did not finish high school, though did finish his degree years later.  A few months after his father passed, he dropped out of high school in his junior year.  These volumes then contained rare pictures of him as a student.

Secondly, Don Kaye is depicted in the book as well.  Don Kaye, a close childhood friend of Gygax from age 6, co-founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with Gygax and made one of the first Dungeons & Dragons characters, the infamous Murlynd.  While the depiction of these two legends in one book might not appear to be noteworthy in itself, it is one of the few rare pictures of Don Kaye.

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TSR was founded in 1973 by Gygax and Kaye.  Later, Brian Blume bought in and supplied the capital to allow the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.  However, Kaye suffered from a heart condition and needed surgery.  He never disclosed this to his partners, and died of a heart attack before the scheduled surgery could take place, dying at age 36 just as Dungeons and Dragons was beginning to gain momentum.  As a result, few public pictures of Don Kaye exist.

Mary Jo Powell was a friend of Kaye and Gygax, and was wooed by Kaye for some time.  However, Gygax was also smitten, and proposed marriage at 19 years old.  Kaye was upset enough to not attend the wedding, though they later reconciled. Ernie Gygax recently posted a picture of Mary Jo the day after the proposal, shown below:

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Mary Jo once suspected Gary of having an affair while she was pregnant with her second child, but going to confront him in a friend’s basement, found him sitting with friends around a map covered table.  She may have been the first of what my wife calls “Gaming Widows” (being spouses left by the wayside for the husband that games too much).


Garrett Ratini put these items up for auction, and the true collectors of gaming history began to come out to bid.  The buyout price for the books was $1,200.00 and likely that number would have been met, I suspect, knowing the habits of this community of bidders.  But an unexpected bidder placed a bid at somewhere around the $400 mark, and that was Luke Gygax himself, founder of Gary Con and Gary Gygax’s son.

With the permission of all involved, Garrett terminated the auction and gifted the books to Luke.  Now, these books and images of his mother and father are with him, where they truly belong.

Pre-digital history like this is easily lost, and is not on the radar of many historians, with the exception of Michael Witwer and Shannon Appelcline. Hopefully books like this will make it into the archives like the one held at GenCon 50 this past year.  Fortunately, I believe we can anticipate  these books being treasured by the Gygax family, both for themselves and for posterity.

Review: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

November 13, 2017 Comments off

TLDR: You’re going to want to buy this.

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There was a lot of buzz for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything before it was even in print, so I anticipated this was going to be worth a look.  It reminds me a lot of what Unearthed Arcana (the book, not the webcolumn) was like for 1st edition.  Was it optional?  Yes.  Would you be missing out on a lot of content that is considered generally mainstream to play without it?  Heck yeah.

General Details

Xanathar, a secretive beholder crime lord, keeps notes on everything (he believes).  Hence the name of the book (his goldfish is his most prized possession, and that’s what’s on the stylized cover you see above).  As with Volo’s Guide to Monsters, there are little notes that run as commentary throughout the book, usually a sort of joke or snipe about the subject matter.  As the material is largely mechanics and game lore, it’s less relevant than with Volo’s but still fun.

The book is 192 pages, full color, lots of art, slick non-glossy pages (which I like).  You’re going to get this and think it feels kind of thin, however.  While the book feels light, it has a lot of content, and they pack quite a bit in those pages.

The book has three major division: Character Options, Dungeon Master Tools, and Spells, but also has two valuable Appendices.  Here’s the breakdown of the sections.

Character Options

Subclasses

By far one of the most valuable sections of Xanathars is the Character Options chapter.  This opens 31 new subclasses for the primary classes listed in the Player’s Handbook.  That’s right: THIRTY ONE.  Note that’s not 31 new classes, but subclasses (like Bardic Colleges, or Barbarian Primal Paths, etc).  I like this because I think that too many primary classes waters down your base classes and leads to unexpected bloat.  Some of these may be familiar as they have rolled out through playtesting in the Unearthed Arcana column.

A few favorites include the Bardic College of Whispers, the Grave Domain Cleric, the Samurai and Cavalier Fighter archetypes, the rogue Swashbuckler, and the War Magic Wizard. Adding rules to differentiate these classes and giving them a new feel works well, without making a GM learn entirely new modes of play functionality.

Flavor – Charts – This is Your Life

In addition to subclass details, they also offer fluff fans fun and interesting (but very brief) charts for fleshing out details about their characters and their backgrounds.  More experienced players may feel these sorts of things are unnecessary, but it definitely gives some players new ways of looking at details about their characters that will flesh them out in interesting ways.

Some sections are meatier than others. The Druid Section of the the Character Option chapter lists charts, for example, of what beasts you encounter in what environments for the purposes of exposure to allow wildshape.  You could make it up, but this is just damn handy.  Other elements, like how you learned to be a druid, are more storytelling.  Each class has this sort background material.

This culminates with a subsection called “This Is Your Life” which allows your background to be determined by charts, at your option.  This goes through siblings, parents, family history, and motivations based optionally on class or background.  I’ve always been a fan of a certain online character background generator myself (NSFW for language).  I seem to recall something like this in an older volume of D&D (maybe player’s handbook 2???) but can’t remember which book.  If you know, post in the comments.  In the end, it can be fun, and they’re clear not to be pushy about using it.  Do it, or don’t if you don’t want to.

Racial Feats

One thing you won’t hear me complaining about is more feats.  I especially like the idea of Racial Feats that continue to expand the characteristics of the races in game.  These add additional ways for characters to stand out and differentiate themselves from one another given the more simplified options of 5th edition over early incarnations like 3.5 and 4th editions.

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Dungeon Master’s Tools

Rules Clarifications

As a gamer who runs a lot of games, this section is precious to me, as it answers some questions that speaks more to design philosophy on dealing with rules questions. This chapter shotguns out some rules issues right off the bat with little ceremony, including:

  • Simultaneous Effects
  • Falling (over time and large distances)
  • Sleep Details – Involuntary Waking, Sleeping in Armor, Going Without Sleep
  • Adamantine Weapons
  • Tying Knots (both tying and slipping out of them)

There are two larger sections that go into greater detail as well:

  • Tool Proficiencies – This large section rethinks Tool Proficiency, going into specific items included in certain kits, and spelling out what a player can do with skills and tool proficiencies.  A valuable section that will assist GM’s and players alike in seeing how these should be played.
  • Spellcasting – Concealing and identifying spellcasting, measuring ways of determining gridded templates (with illustrations)

 

Challenge Ratings

One of the most important changes listed here is the Encounters Section.  This lists a new way of calculating encounter challenge ratings that seems to more accurately address the threat of solo monsters based on group size, as well as other types of encounters.  This section probably is an admission that prior CR calculations were not correct and did not accurately reflect appropriate difficulty.

Paired with this is a comprehensive list of wandering monster encounters by level and geographic environment.  For those that use such charts, it’s a masterpiece.  Very convenient.    While not previously a fan of wandering monsters, I’ve found it a useful tool when players are lollygagging or doing things in a stubborn and ineffective time-consuming way (i.e. camping after every encounter, spending an hour bonding with items in a dungeon, camping in a dangerous place, etc).  The lists are detailed, and the setting dressing it provides also fleshes out your world and the creatures in.

Other Sections

Traps Revisited — A sizable section deals with how traps should be dealt with to make them interesting, including details about constructing elaborate traps and the rules that tied therein.  This is more interesting in that it seems to suggest that the standard application of a rogue disarm role should be avoided in favor of a more descriptive approach.

Downtime Revisions –  This section elaborates on revised downtime rules, including the development of a rivalry, buying magic items, carousing complications, and so on.  Helpful if you find yourself using these rules.  We never seem to get to them in my groups, however.

Magic Items – A section here on magic items deals with suggestions on awarding magic items as a GM, and a type of common magic item that has magical effect and flavor without game-breaking power.  A new relisting of magic items by type and rarity, with notation as to whether those items require attunement, is a handy reference.

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Spells

With over 90 additional spells for all spell-casting classes, this chapter alone makes this book a must-have. I haven’t combed through these to see if they have been duplicated in other volumes, but there certainly enough new ones to make it a reference for any spell-caster when picking their list.  Some of these are old classics that have been revamped for 5th edition, others are brand new.

Appendices:

Appendix B is a voluminous list of names from different cultures to help players with naming a character.  It’s a great list, as it goes, with real world cultural names as well as fantasy names.  This is going to make one of your players very happy.

but more importantly, Appendix A is about Shared Campaigns.  

Shared Campaigns

Skyland Games originally began as a gaming group that decided to split off from Living Forgotten Realms organized play to start our own shared campaign.  Part of this split was because of frustration with the management of LFR and the various bookkeeping requirements thereof (and scenario quality, truth be told). We started our own round-robin style of gaming allowing everyone to get some play time, as well as build a common story together.  We’re big fans of it.

What’s proposed here contemplates a Living campaign like Adventurer’s Guild, but could be used for a round-robin home game as well.  It makes use of a benchmark system for leveling based on the number of hours a scenario is designed for and its relative challenge level rather than on the XP value of monsters.

Common rewards are determined at levels, including a treasure point system for awarding magic items from a pre-determined list of magic items agreed upon by the collective DM’s of the campaign. Gold can be spent on common items and maybe a small list of alchemical items.  Major magic items require treasure points, earned through play.

This appendix, however, poses a question: Is this the future (or maybe the present) of Adventurer’s League?  I haven’t been to a game in ages, so I couldn’t tell you if they had moved to this system.  If so, does the abstraction make the game less enjoyable?  I think each player might have a different answer to this question, but if everyone can pay their dues and get the items they want in a timely enough fashion, the abstraction may be worth it.  These guidelines won’t make you purchase the book, but are worth a read for any player.

Summary

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything seems largely about utility and fleshing out things that originally were left to player and GM to determine.  Some might see that as an imposition, but I find it incredibly useful.

A complaint I’ve heard about 5th edition is that the lack of specialization makes many characters seem the same.  I’d point out that, as a player for three decades now, we started with a lot less and never really thought to complain about it.  5th edition is a great expansion on what we started with, but doesn’t lend itself to the hyper-specialization that you see in 3.5 Edition D&D or Pathfinder.  These new subclasses, feats, and spells in no way serve to make 5th Edition D&D more like 3.5 or Pathfinder, but they do give a greater degree of options to make a character stand out and build on unique themes.  The content provided in this tome is very significant, and is a should-have if not a must-have moving forward with 5th Edition.

Don’t Look Back returns!

October 27, 2017 Comments off

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Twenty years ago, I read about an amazing new game that was making big waves in the Horror RPG community.  That game was Don’t Look Back: Terror is Never Far Behind (“DLB”).  Enthusiasts of the genre stated that it had clean mechanics, was versatile, and an engaging universe.  I was lucky enough to meet its designer Chuck McGrew, and went on to assist with the Second Edition, and have since spent many great hours with this fun, fast horror RPG.

After two decades lurking in the shadows, using occult Kickstarter magiks, Don’t Look Back is back with a NEW EDITION!   I’m psyched to get back into modern horror with Chuck McGrew again after all these years.

CLICK HERE TO GET IN ON THE KICKSTARTER!

I was not originally the type of guy to seek out a Horror RPG.  DLB had great reviews at the time (this is almost the pre-internet era, so we still looked to publications like Dragon Magazine for what was new and hot at the time, not amazing game blogs like Skyland Games).  The reviews I read were startlingly positive.  While there was Horror role-playing out there at the time, many of them stuck to specific themes that didn’t always appeal to me.

For instance, Call of Cthulhu was great, but I didn’t always want to play a game in the 1920’s, or always inevitably die horribly, or go insane.  Other Horror games existed but the mechanics could be cumbersome, and usually presumed a role that the players would be involved in that was sort of predetermined by the system.

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DLB appealed to me in that it didn’t necessarily tie itself to a specific setting, but was versatile enough to be used in any kind of horror game that the player and game master preferred.  You could play that group of kids that snuck out to see if they could find the missing kid from their school who was last seen entering the abandoned house at the edge of town.  You could also play an FBI agent seeking the truth that was out there.  You could play mobsters that stumbled onto something when the shipment they hijack turned out to be more exotic than anticipated, not to mention alive.  The game had great flex so you could use it how you wanted it.

That said, numerous shadowy organizations, entities and creatures were detailed in its “Keeper” section for the player to incorporate as it suited the group.  Groups such as the Order, the Clean-up Crew, and others created a world that could be played in or tools for a world of the GM’s own design.

We played for hours, usually playing a campier horror-movie style back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, which fits the game perfectly, per their first module “Giant Psychic Insects from Outer Space”.  Games where the possibility of actually fighting the creature and surviving the night wasn’t so far fetched was a little bit different than a lot of the genre at the time.  Best of all, the mechanics were smooth enough to keep the story from getting bogged down.

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Chuck McGrew advises in his Kickstarter video that he plans on utilizing the D6xD6 system in the new edition, which d6xd6.com describes as follows:

In the D6xD6 RPG, players can create literally any type of character, based on a unique dice mechanic and a single attribute—Focus. Character abilities are defined primarily by chosen occupation, which together with a list of secondary skills determine the character’s Focus number. Very focused characters are automatically better at their occupation and the few skills they know; less focused characters are better able to succeed even with skills they’ve never trained in.

I’ve heard great things about the system, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet.  Simple, clear mechanics is always a benefit in Horror RPG’s, as it lets the player focus on actual role-playing and not the technical aspects of how the game itself is played.  It’s difficult to spook a player while looking up rules, and I’m hoping that d6xd6 is able to keep that tradition up in the new version.

While the Kickstarter has already reached the first leg of its goal, stretch goals promise new adventures as well as rules for kids and teens (perfect for that natural hankering you’ll get after watching Stranger Things Season 2).

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The first Stretch goal that has already been unlocked is the details on the Cleanup Crew, permitting one of my favorite versions of the game, where you play the role of expendable operatives, men-in-black, coming to clean up the evidence of the presence of dangerous “Unknowns” that pose a threat to the greater good.  Not exactly good guys, we had some fun running a game where the team tried to solve the mystery, catch the critter and make the world aware that ‘something is out there’.  Then to have a second session where the players play pre-gen Clean-up Crew operatives that take actions showing why, at the last second, the monster disappeared and what became of both it and the Crew itself.

Don’t Look Back has a lot of great elements that helped to open the genre in the 90’s and may serve to do the same today.  This game has a ton of potential and provided me and my gang hours of great gameplay over the years.  Make sure to get in on this kickstarter before it ends on November 12th!