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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.

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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

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

DnDonations 4 – White Plume Mountain

December 6, 2017 Comments off

It is that most special time of year again: Dungeons & Donations! Our intrepid FLGS The Wyvern’s Tale is hosting a 24-hour marathon D&D session as a benefit for Extra Life that supports Children’s Miracle Network hospitals that will stream live on Twitch starting this Friday at 6pm EST! Just like in years past audience members can make donations that affect the game either to the players benefit (boons) or detriment (banes). The more you donate, the more dramatic the boon or bane!

New this year will be an assortment of raffles, prizes and auctions including a mini figure painting commission, the 2017 Gongfarmers Almanac, a hand-painted wooden shield, and some particularly weird items like a CD by David Hasselhoff, signed by David Hasselhoff. It is going to be a fantastically entertaining time!

Players will be adventuring through the classic White Plume Mountain converted to fifth edition from the awesome Tales from the Yawning Portal. Organizers are hoping to surpass last year’s awesome total of $3,275 raised, with every cent going to benefit Children’s Miracle Network. Be sure and tune in to twitch.tv this Friday, and watch your donations help or hinder the party. If you want to make the journey to the store and play in the game, details are here. Either way you’ll be helping out an awesome cause. Donate here. For the children!

Categories: 5e, holiday, Kids, News

Scarefest 2017 Preview – One month away!

September 21, 2017 Comments off

It is that time of year again: The air starts to get a bit cooler, the trees on the mountaintops begin to turn crimson, gold, and umber. Scarefest is upon us! This year looks bigger and more awesome than ever with an appropriately excellent theme of a Spooky Carnival. I’m sure given the box office success of IT there won’t be any creepy clowns there, right? Right?! The line up of RPGs and sponsors is better than ever too!

It is great to see the incredible Pathfinder Society schedule of games still going strong as well as more deep and diverse selection of other RPGs: D&D, Dread, Dungeon Crawl Classics, WEG Ghostbusters, Savage Worlds, Star Wars, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Savage Kingdoms, Call of Cthulhu and more! Most of the game sessions feature spooky/scary scenarios that are on theme for the event.

Just announced today: Well Played Board Game Café is hosting the board game area! It will be great to have the newcomer to the Asheville gaming scene providing their expertise for all things board games!

This year there are custom dice celebrating not only this year, but years one and two as well. We all know you can never have enough dice. Tickets are still available, but lodging might be hard to come by on the Montreat conference center campus itself. If you are planning on attending, but haven’t secured your accommodations, be sure and reach out to the event staff.

I’ve got adventures to write and pre-gens to … generate. See you in mountains!

Scarefest 2015 – no filter

Categories: Board, Cons, Dice, News, Roleplaying, RPGs