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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

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

Forbidden Caverns of Archaia Review

September 11, 2017 2 comments

The latest megadungeon from Dr. Greg Gillespie has been released in PDF: The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. Greg is known for previous indiegogo campaigns for the megadungeon Barrowmaze, which eventually resulted in a 260-page tome called Barrowmaze Complete. This latest kickstarter featured a lot of similar elements from Barrowmaze and for that matter, classic adventures like Keep on the Borderlands and Temple of Elemental Evil.

This review is not going to be entirely spoiler-free, but I’ll try and keep them to a minimum. This latest megadungeon certainly has enough material for years of play and weighs in at 293 pages. Similar to the aforementioned adventures, your PCs start in a well-detailed fair sized village, and are in a sandbox hex-map region called the Prelacy of Middenmark. Like the Duchy of Aerik from Barrowmaze or Verbobonc in Temple of Elemental Evil, there are several features and settlements to explore in the nearby area other than the megadungeon focus of the adventure itself.

While Barrowmaze was focused on a series of underground crypts linked in one massive dungeon, the Forbidden Caverns of the Archaia is mostly a series of caves and tombs in canyon walls that get increasingly difficult the deeper you go in to the canyon. “Oh, so like and the Caves of Chaos?” Yes, but way more than could fit on a two-page map. Also, malevolent forces are uniting disparate tribes of humanoids in a bid to summon a terrible evil and conquer the world. “So, pretty much Temple of Elemental Evil?” Well, yes, but this outlines the hierarchy and provides heraldry for all the groups as well as attitudes between different sects allowing crafty players to turn evil on itself. Furthermore there are keystaffs that need to be assembled from several parts to utilize hengegates to allow the party to quickly get to different areas. “Now you’re just talking about the Rod of Seven Parts.” Keystaffs are actually way cooler, and have different powers based on the different parts used to assemble them, and parts can be interchanged. There are runes, rings, headpieces and a worksheet for players to keep track of their experimentation. It is an awesome part of navigating the adventure. Finally, at the end of the canyon there is a hellmouth that leads into the base of a volcano! This leads to another huge section of delving that can provide a ton of information on the fate of the Archaians. This leads to the actual end game of the adventure, which I won’t go into the details of here, but it is appropriately epic. With a very prepared and motivated GM, this would be a fantastically satisfying ride.

You can see the fingerprints of some of the greatest adventures of all time in this work, but Greg expands and expounds on them in way that keeps them fresh, yet familiar. Recently there was a discussion on the DCC RPG Rocks! facebook group about the opening language for Dungeon Crawl Classics modules that may need an update. DCC modules have evolved beyond what many would consider “classic” and have started delving into the more weird and less traveled paths of Appendix N inspiration. The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia stays more within what many consider classic tropes of dungeons and dragons. Yet compared side by side, this work really represents an excellent evolution of the old school for those looking to remember and honor the classics, without just replaying them.

The art features several of the same artists from DCC book like Stefan Poag, Russ Nicholson and Jim Holloway, as well as several that have a similar style like Cory Hamel, Peter Pagano, Carl McIntyre and more. Some of these same artists have work in Barrowmaze which is what originally drew me to the book at the Goodman Games booth at North Texas RPG Con in 2016.

Overall, I would highly recommend this megadungeon if you are looking for a big campaign with a lot of old school feel, but something that will keep even the hardiest grognard guessing.

Bob Ross: The Unexpected Hero of Gen Con 50

August 22, 2017 5 comments

Gen Con 50 was my first Gen Con, so I was prepared to be overwhelmed by the experience. What I was not prepared for was a Bob Ross board game to steal the show. The publishers of the game, Big G Creative, had a tiny booth. In fact, it was about a quarter of booth 431 rented from Arc Dream publishing. No one said you had to have a lot of floor space to have a hit!

The main idea of this game is to paint different elements of actual licensed Bob Ross paintings, mixing colors on your palette and using various brushes and techniques to gain the most chill points. Happy little trees? Absolutely. The components of this game are fairly simple, thematic, and well designed. The game is easy to learn and plays in about 30-45 minutes depending on how many of the 2-4 players you have gathered around the table.

Each turn involves rolling the custom die which generally provides the player a bonus card or action. If you roll Bob, you flip a chill card which may provide some additional point bonus for painting a feature using a certain color or brush when you complete a feature, and usually advances his token along the painting. This represents Bob’s progress on the current painting. Bonus chill points are also awarded for completing feature before Bob reaches them on the Bob track along the bottom of each painting. In our initial two-player play through we painted about two and a half paintings before my wife reached the end of the chill meter, ending the game. It was very close the entire time, and was a pleasure to play. The paintings sit on a little plastic easel which looks really cool, but may be difficult to position so everyone can see it for a four player game. You could just lay the painting on the table, but where is the fun in that?

The true genius in marketing this game was in some clever guerilla marketing via Bob Ross cosplay, a conspicuous little banner outside the entrance to the exhibitor hall, and only releasing 125 copies a day. This prevented a Thursday sell-out, and created quite a bit of buzz and discussion from attendees. I checked out the game in the board game geek Hot Games room in the Hyatt. I went to the booth on Friday, and was told they were sold out for today, but would have more on Saturday. You can imagine I was among several forming a line waving money for a chance to own this one early. This game is a Target exclusive, and won’t be widely available until October 1st.

Overall, this game is an excellent balance of strategy and randomness for my taste. If you are a cutthroat hardcore strategy gamer, a game with Chill in the title is likely not the game for you. Despite that, it does have plenty of opportunities to form a strategy, and compete against your fellow painters to become more chill than Bob Ross. Quite a lofty goal indeed.

Categories: Board, Gen Con 50, News, Reviews

Free RPG Day Preview – TimeWatch Resources

June 12, 2017 Comments off

Free RPG Day is this Saturday, and it looks to be one of the best in a long time! The Sanctum Secorum podcast has a list of DCC/MCC games happening around the world, and for a more general listing of stores participating check the Free RPG Day locator. Locally in Asheville at The Wyvern’s Tale, Mike will be running Gnole House, a DCC adventure from Goodman Games and Kevin (me) will be running a TimeWatch adventure called Font of Knowledge from Pelgrane Press. It is also the Tale’s 5th anniversary celebration! There will be swag bags to the first 25 people to show up and a ton of games listed on the warhorn. It is going to be an amazing day!

I also wanted to provide some resources for the TimeWatch offering, should you be running it this weekend. They don’t contain any spoilers you wouldn’t know already by just reading the adventure blurb, but I scanned in the pre-gen characters (not great, but better than nothing) which include a brief description of the character and how they relate to the other pre-gens. Without these printed out beforehand it would be extraordinarily difficult to run on the day itself, and they were not present on the TimeWatch resources page. I also did a bit of google prep, as suggested in the module, to find an actual 13th century illuminated manuscript, and created a comic sans version of the latin version of the bible. Having this visual to illustrate the hilarious concept of what a jarring historical change this would make should be an awesome moment at the table.

I’ve never played or run the GUMSHOE investigative system used in TimeWatch, but it seems to be a nice balance of player resource management, stitches (stitch in time saves nine, works like bennies in Savage Worlds or FATE points), and a healthy amount of GM fiat. Check out this article from Pelgrane Press about the system and download the cheat sheets if you want to know more!

Hope you are looking forward to Free RPG Day, and if you’re at the Wyvern’s Tale we’ll see you there!

ComicSansLatinBible

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HEELER

LaMaupin

Quill

Rogo

ColBlood

Ochoa

Disciples of Harmony review

June 7, 2017 Comments off

The fine folks at Fantasy Flight Games are at it again, this time with the Star Wars Force and Destiny sourcebook for the Consular: Disciples of Harmony. This book follows the now tried-and-true format of three sections: new species/specializations, new gear/vehicles, and a GM section about consular-focused encounters. Out of Edge of the Empire, and Age Rebellion, Force & Destiny is the line I have actually played and run the least, but every line in FFG Star Wars has such great stuff it is worth picking up. This book is no exception.

The first section has some interesting and to me, surprising choices for new species. This book adds the Arkanian, Cosian, and the Pau’an.

Arkanians are usually white-haired, white-eyed, 4-fingered near-humans that are known for superior genetic engineering and generally superior attitudes to other beings. Space Aryan would not be my first choice for a Jedi, but the book goes on to explain force-sensitive Arkanians seek a perfect understanding of the force through analytical research, allowing them to transcend they typical scientific perfection their people are known for and attain a more complete perfection though the force. They start with a 3 in Intellect and 1 in Presence. Beyond that, they have Dark Vision which removes two setback, and start with a rank in Medicine. I suppose this could work well for a conceited Healer, and could be a good choice if you are looking to role-play someone with a superiority complex. Alternatively you could go against type, and be the black sheep Arkanian who is actually nice.

Cosians are a reptilian species that have kind of a beak, a tail that ends in a hairy tuft and blink up instead of down. Some may recognize this race from Jedi Master Tera Sinube from Clone Wars. Out of the three, this choice seems to be the most natural for what I think of as the consular role. Hailing from a planet in the deep core, Cosia is a verdant planet and their villages are interconnected in massive trees on the surface. They start with a 3 in Intellect and a 1 in Brawn, as well as a free rank of Knowledge (Lore) and the racial trait Strong Backed, which gives them an Encumbrance of 10 + Brawn.

Pau’ans are the creepy race of (most notably) the Grand Inquisitor from Star Wars rebels. I had no idea what race he was, nor that all of them are that ghoulish in appearance. This makes them somewhat of an odd choice for one of the more diplomatic and “face” careers for Force and Destiny. They originally hail from the planet Utapau, but the various clans have been driven from their home world by the Empire. They start with a 1 in Brawn and a 3 in Willpower, but interestingly start with +12 wound threshold and +8 strain, which makes them a bit more balanced than at first glance. They start with a rank in Negotiation or Coercion, and have sensitive hearing which gives them a boost die on Perception and Vigilance checks as long as they have their protective earpieces. With those removed, they suffer an automatic threat as their ears are overwhelmed. This would certainly make an intimidating character or NPC, but seeing them in a diplomatic role is still a hard sell for me. Still, I’m glad to have the option for other careers/specs.

The new specializations compliment the core consular specs of Healer, Niman Disciple, and Sage quite nicely. The new specs are Arbiter, Ascetic, and Teacher. The challenge with the core consular specs is the career seems to focus on 3 characteristics: Intellect, Willpower, and Presence. While choosing one of the specs will allow you to narrow down to two main characteristics, if you are cross-specing within consular, you’ll want at least a 3 in each.

Arbiter is the classic role of Jedi as mediator or judge to resolve disputes. To the base consular skills of Cool, Discipline, Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership, and Negotiation, Arbiter adds Knowledge (Xenology), Lightsaber, another Negotiation, and Perception. The skill tree is a nice balance of defensive combat talents like parry and reflect, as well as “face” talents like nobody’s fool and a new one called savvy negotiator. My favorite new power on the bottom row of the tree is Aggressive Negotiations. Once per session you can perform a hard lightsaber check to reduce the difficulty of all Negotiation checks for the encounter by 2. Not downgrades… difficulty. That is one impressive lightsaber show!

Ascetics are essentially monks that eschew possessions and have studied the force in hermit-like isolation. To the core skills they add Athletics, Discipline, Resilience and Vigilance. Clearly this build relies more on Brawn than the others. Surprisingly, the only talent with an inherent conflict cost is in this tree: Mind Bleed. This allows a character to reflect physical damage on an attacker by suffering an equal amount of strain. It also requires the PC to have 2 or less encumbrance. The character suffers a number of strain equal to the wounds suffered from the attack. The attacker then suffers wounds equal to the strain suffered. Pretty dark stuff. The tree is also loaded with grit, so between being a brawny and gritty tree, its kind of dark being an Ascetic too.

The Teacher adds another rank of Knowledge (Education), Knowledge (Lore), Leadership and Perception. This would be an interesting choice to take as a first spec, as an inexperienced PC will have much to learn. Mechanically it is pretty nice since Well Rounded is a 5xp buy on the tree which allows you to choose two additional skills of your choice to make career skills. It also allows you to lend your expertise through talents like Skilled Teacher which allows you to suffer strain equal to ranks in Skilled Teacher and provide an equal number of successes to the ally’s next check. This has some very cool role-play opportunities. Teacher is probably my favorite out of the new three. Lots of interesting talents deep in the tree as well.

The weapons/gear/vehicles sections of Force and Destiny books are rarely the highlight, but this has a few really cool additions, including a lot of non-lethal options which can be fun for bounty hunters or those trying to not gain the conflict associated with murdering people. The concussive rifle is like a noise blunderbuss, and there are a few nice new grenades in the Spore Stun grenade, and the Spray Foam grenade. But the really cool addition is the melee Z6 Riot Control Baton, famously from the scene in Force Awakens with Finn and the lightning-baton wielding First Order trooper. This will be fun to arm potential foes of the PCs as it has the Cortosis quality, Disorient 2 and of course, Stun Damage. Armor includes a diving suit for aquatic diplomatic missions, as well as in interesting Reflect Body Glove that provides very low-profile armor, but degrades with each hit. It may be repaired with an average Mechanics check. The book adds some interesting lightsaber crystals in the Cracked Crystal which according to the text is from the debris of the first Death Star’s destruction in Yavin and a Corrupted Crystal, which is essentially a dark side crystal you can “reclaim” once your PC’s morality rises above 70. Seems like some cool role-playing options there. The vehicles are predominantly very low crew/passenger capacity. This would be cool for games with one or two PCs, but would seem to have limited usefulness in larger groups. The capital ship section is pretty cool, with stats for the iconic Consular-class cruiser first seen in the Phantom Menace. Its got a cool sealed conference room pod that servers as an escape pod in a pinch. This book also details stats for the Jedi training cruiser Crucible – which would be an awesome adventure in itself!

The GM section discusses incorporating three types of mentor NPCs to the campaign, each with different styles and examples from the movies and shows. There are some helpful tables that suggest styles and complications to bring your NPCs to life. They also include example stat blocks of each type: Trainer, Consultant, and Challenger. Most interesting to me was some details on alternative force traditons: Baran Do Sages, Dagoyan Masters, Gand Findsmen, and Sith Lords. Provided are benefits and drawbacks to studying with each group, as well as an XP cost to eventually overcome the drawback. The benefits include reduced XP costs to learn certain powers that correspond with the different groups. I hope they have similar stats for the Nightsisters adventure that is coming out soon! One really nice section discusses knowledge checks. It provides two possible approaches to encourage knowledge checks and make them more dynamic, and is illustrated by my favorite illustration in the book: a human consulting a datapad while his Nautolan friend holds off a Stalking Acklay. The final section talks about making diplomatic encounters exciting and provides a table of possible success/failure/advantage/threat/triumph/despair results. I’m still not convinced any amount of political maneuvering will be more fun than a firefight, but at least it gives you more tools to help spice them up a bit.

Overall, this book surprised me with how much great stuff they packed into 96-pages. I would highly recommend this book for those looking to diversify their encounters and include some really intriguing options beyond force-sensitive PCs. Despite the entire shelf I now have dedicated to this system, quality has not gone down. Time to clear another shelf!

Categories: Books, News, Reviews, Star Wars

Tales from the Loop Review

May 7, 2017 Comments off

Tales from the Loop is a fantastic combination of nostalgia, now, and near-future inspired by the evocative art of Simon Stålenhag. The kickstarter benefited from serendipitous timing of the first season of Stranger Things becoming a sensation that taps into these same themes. The RPG book itself provides two full settings (one in the islands outside Stockholm, Sweden, the other a small desert town called Boulder City outside Las Vegas) and adaptations to allow the four included adventures or mysteries to be set in either location. Much like The End of the World series from Fantasy Flight games, the book encourages you to adapt the adventures to your home town.

Players create characters from ages 10-15 that fit classic 80s movie archetypes: Bookworm, Computer Geek, Hick, Jock, Weirdo, Popular Kid, Rocker, and Troublemaker. Each have a few skills that they specialize in, and character creation looks pretty quick. The system uses attributes in combination with skills and items that provide a number of d6s. Success on a check is determined by rolling a 6 on a d6. Additional successes can be used to help out other party members or other beneficial effects.

The system seems to strike a nice balance that caters to the themes of the book, while not being too abstract or too gritty. For instance, when you choose the age of your PC, that is the amount of points you can assign to your attribute scores. for every year younger than 15, add one luck point. This luck point can be spent to re-roll a skill check. While older kids are more experienced and skilled at things, younger kids tend to find a way to weasel out of a tough spot. Elegant.

The included scenarios (or mysteries) deal with a variety of subjects: animal-cybernetics, dream manipulation, time-travel and accidentally letting dinosaurs back through a portal. All of them are structured as investigations with suggestions for how different events and NPCs can connect to each other, ultimately leading up to a showdown with the central conflict, and a brief denouement. In the examples of play, the game master is encouraged to let PCs set the scenes and describe a bit about their daily life. The character creation process helps inform these scenes as players choose their character’s problem, drive, iconic item, and relationships to other kids. These kind of adventures work really well for convention slots, but there are several suggestions on how to weave them together into a “mystery landscape” that could form a satisfying campaign.

The layout and aesthetics of the book are some of the most attractive I’ve seen for an RPG, and the included map of both settings is outstanding. Character sheets and maps are available in the support section of the Free League site. Avoid the bottom section if you are not running the game, as it includes spoiler-laden maps and illustrations that will be great for the GM. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for some weird and fantastic 80s adventures, in the theme of some of the most fun movies and TV shows of all time!

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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