Archive

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Review: Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box

August 28, 2018 Comments off

aa00_box_left

First, a little history…

Legend of the Five Rings is role playing set in Rokugan, which is similar to Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate, but with fantasy elements.  The setting features noble samurai,  wise monks and mysterious shugenja (priests)  that wield swords, fists, and spiritual powers (respectively) to obtain honor and fame in the honor-bound feudal setting.  Each character derives from a powerful clan (Crane, Crab, Lion, Phoenix, Dragon, Scorpion, and Unicorn) each with  their own motivations and agendas.

The game got its start in 1995 with AEG, which released a role playing game along with a collectible card game that was fairly popular at the time (and which persisted until 2015).   Fantasy Flight has acquired the rights to this rich setting, and launched things last year at Gen Con with an oriental styled parade from the street through Gen Con itself, gathering quite a crowd.

Here’s a fleeting picture I snapped at the time:

IMG_4380

2017 Rokugan Parade

Fantasy Flight is doing some pretty impressive stuff with the property, including kicking off the new card game (which is about a year old, and I’ve heard good things, but haven’t played). But more importantly for Skyland Games readers, they have been working on a new version of the RPG rules which have been in beta testing for some time now.  You can download those beta test rules HERE.  However, smart money might just guide you to pick up the Beginner box which just came out.  I did, and I’d say on the whole it was worth it, unless you’re sure sure sure you want to play and can’t wait for the final rules to be released next year (TBD as of this article).

The Beginner Box: Contents

The L5R Beginner Box is an attractive set, coming with maps of the larger region, maps of a medium sized city / village, and a map of a large castle not actually featured in the boxed set itself (but available for some online content I’ll discuss later).

  l5r01_layout

It also features a full set of Legend of the Rings dice, which are unique to the system. As with FFG’s Star Wars beginner boxes, the dice are about a $13 dollar value, which begins to justify the total MSRP of $39.95

The game includes an adventure that presumes no knowledge of the rules or how to play, and teaches both game master and players how to play as the game continues.  While theoretically that would allow you to start playing almost immediately, in reality the GM is going to need to read through the entire booklet to grasp the concepts before sitting down to run.

Without giving anything away, the adventure “The Topaz Championship” is a coming-of-age ceremony for persons of the samurai caste, which includes in this case a Phoneix clan shugenja, a Dragon clan Monk, a Crane clan Courtier and a Lion clan warrior.  The adventurers find themselves travelling together and form an unlikely bond when strange events occur that unite them in a common purpose.

The adventure itself is not the strongest adventure out there, but does unfold the concepts nicely and provides a way to ease into more and more of the rules as you play.  It starts with introducing setting and role playing concepts, then evolves into skill challenges, then non-lethal combat, then lethal combat.  Each character booklet presented to each player gives a skeletal version of the rules, indications of what the symbols on the dice mean, and what various actions can be taken.  A small more detailed rules-lite version of the full rules is also in the box, which allows for more nuanced play outside of the extra-lite rules in the adventure itself.

The Rules

The Beginner box gives us a good idea, if not a perfect idea, of what the game will look like upon release.  First I should note that, though the system holds similarities to the Genesys game that is the framework for many future releases from FFG, it is not that system, which to me was a bit of a disappointment.  While I have no desire to return the the days of d20 where everything was a d20 system and rules became painfully bland, there is some lack of utility in being similar to but different than a new standard from the same company.  Presumably, the rules presented are tied deeply into the concepts of the whole setting in a way to will prove meaningful enough to justify a new play format.

First, players have stats that derive from the Five Rings, (as set out by Musashi in 1645).  Fire = Passion; Earth = Discipline; Water = Adaptability; Air = Precision; Void = Spirituality

These are your core abilities, rather than agility, strength, etc.  The characters also have skills, ranging from law, to martial arts, to courtesy.  Many of the skills are not what you would call your standard fantasy adventure game skills.

Making a check requires rolling black ring dice, in addition to white skill dice.  One for each point you have in the ring or in the skill.

l5r01_dice

You may keep as many dice as you have values in the ring you are using.  The versatility of the system is that it allows you to often parlay the way you are approaching something to make it something you are good at. For instance, if you want to knock someone down, you needn’t use Fire + Unarmed Combat (charging at them), you could instead nimbly dodge their blows, striking only with precision (Air+Unarmed Combat) or use their own momentum to throw them off balance (Water+Unarmed Combat).  Some approaches are more effective than others.

Dice have four results:

  • Success:  You need enough of these to reach your target number set by the GM
  • Exploding Successes: You count this as a success and then roll the die again, opting to keep this next roll as part of the first, or dropping it.  These subsequent rolls can go on into infinity and aren’t counted against you as part of your ring limit.
  • Opportunity: This works, as far as I can tell, like advantage in Genesys or FFG Star Wars, but perhaps with more restrictions depending on the type of ring you were using.  Rules are skeletal here, and may be expanded on in the main book.
  • Strife: This is emotion or stress that causes you to lose your cool.

Unlike those other systems, there are no difficulty, challenge or setback dice.  Also, strife appears along with positive dice results (like success, exploding success, and opportunity) thereby baiting the player to take those results.

Strife isn’t the end of the world, but if it surpasses your Discipline result, you can become compromised, which precludes the character from using results that have strife on them (which really cuts your opportunities).  That character can try to handle their situation until they regain composure, or they can become “unmasked” and clear their strife, usually with some loss of honor from their unseemly behavior.

Pros & Cons:

The game seems to have some potential, but as a new player to this version of the game, getting used to the idea of justifying your ring choice presented a little bit of a stumbling block.  With some more play, I’m confident that the game will feel more natural. In some ways it encourages roleplaying the type of character you are to fit your actions, and rewards creativity.

Dice in these games are always an issue.  Many of my players immediately splurged on the dice app available on Google Play and Apple.  These apps help to solve the problem of keeping track of what you previously rolled when you get a good run of exploding successes and start to run out of dice.  With a game at this point in development, everyone would have to own a beginner box to have dice of their own, and that’s not going to happen.  So it’s either pass those dice or get an app (for now).

The setting itself is unique, and as a student of Asian culture, I love a lot of the details, though these might be a little cumbersome for the unintitiated.  I’m unaware if any fantasy history has carried forward over the past 23 years.  People have loved this setting for decades and might not want to let that history go… like this guy:

The game is more serious than a lot of other fantasy settings, as it deals primarily with the conflict between desire and duty.  As such, L5R is likely to be a subtle game, and is really going to be the best fit with experienced gamers, or players that are naturally more serious and have a flair for the dramatic and the setting itself.  Beer and pretzel gamers are probably less likely to enjoy the subtlety of the concepts and the balance required in the game play.

In the past, I’ve always found the game a little tricky to prepare.  The characters are almost by definition at odds where their houses are concerned, vying for influence in Rokugan, and that’s going to make things a little tense and maybe a little uncooperative.  For that reason, it’s not going to be the game for everyone and it may be hard to prepare an adventure yourself with a party so divided.  Fortunately, one can usually fall back on duty to guide the party to a common goal, even if they can’t agree on how to get there.

Fantasy flight has released a free downloadable adventure and additional characters, which I have heard good things about.  The map of the castle in the beginner box is for that adventure, and the characters are set to proceed with unifying purpose which originates in the beginner box, making it worth the quick playthrough.

Total beginner box playthrough time is going to take from 4 to 8 hours.  No word on how long the expansion material will take. This play time will be greatly enhanced by the GM reading the optional expansive rules book in the box and understanding those concepts before sitting down to play.

TLDR:  The Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Box teaches a subtle nuanced game to fans of the genre with minimal impact on players and GM alike, and is worth the price of admission for players who can’t wait for the full rules coming out in the months to come.

 

 

Advertisements

HeroForge Delivers

March 23, 2015 3 comments

IMG_1357The HeroForge Kickstarter just delivered two miniatures to my door and out of an arbitrary 10-star system, I would give them a solid six edging up to seven. I have been following and waiting patiently on the entire HeroForge idea since it was first announced. It is a system where you begin with a basic model (of which several are available) and customize it to your heart’s content. Male, female, robotic, halfling, human, dwarven and more… and then hundreds of options for equipment, poses, clothing, and sliding scales for things like musculature, height, curviness, expressions and so on. Hex bases, round bases, square bases. They have thought of everything and it’s really a lot of fun to make up different miniatures, and I highly suggest you go to the site and do so for yourself.

IMG_1359I think I was hoping for more from the miniatures themselves, especially for the price. At $25 a pop, they are expensive. Does the customization justify the cost? I’m really torn. When “acceptable” Bones miniatures are in at $3 and $4 and higher end miniatures from DarkSword are $10… I’m just not 100% sure based upon the quality I have seen so far. I opted for the “high quality” prints and I was impressed with the overall process. You get in hand what you see on-screen. Very fine details abound. The sneery little halfling thief I wanted for my 5e Dungeons & Dragons Adventurer’s League games has his little sneery face and top knot haircut, a murderous little gleam in his eye. My hands-up pacifist cleric for our new Temple of Elemental Evil game has the perfect pose, the chiseled jaw, the lack of weaponry and the open expression I wanted. The customization is not the issue.

IMG_1360I wonder that I personally may have had my bar set too high. While I was in on the Bones Kickstarters both times, I’m an old-fashioned kind of mini-painter. I like the metal. I think you get better overall miniatures and they paint up a lot nicer. In the photos, on the top you can see the HeroForge miniatures as they arrived. Oddly translucent (was not expecting that), they have a very ‘rough’ feel to them. I almost want to sand them all down, but then of course you’d lose all the details. That roughness is made very apparent in the bottom set of photos, where I have primed them. Metal miniatures (and even the Bones) are just plain smoother and seem like they will take paint better. On the HeroForge Facebook page there’s some definite “table-top” quality miniatures that have been painted. They look fine for using in a game… and isn’t that the purpose?

As a new and emerging technology, 3D printing like this is surely going through some growing pains. I can imagine that come two or three years, the quality will skyrocket. I’m also relatively certain most people would give them more stars. I am just honestly worried to put paint to them… it’s not like I can easily and cheaply order another if I muck them up somehow. My Kickstarter pledge comes with one more miniature and a mounted miniature (which are not available yet). Stay tuned and in a couple weeks (after we get back from GaryCon!) I’ll have them painted up and show off the “final” product.

heroforged

Categories: Minis, Reviews, Technology, Tips

Warhorn101

September 7, 2014 3 comments

Warhorn.net is a great site for convention organizers and Friendly Local Gaming Store event planning. For the uninitiated, it can be a bit confusing to sign up, and reserve your seat at the gaming table. Somewhat recently the site went through a significant overhaul, with one main feature being that once you sign up for your free user account, you can use that same account for recurring game days at a FLGS or a yearly convention, like Asheville Comic Expo.

This is going to be a screenshot-heavy article, as I would like to detail the process on how you sign up for an account, and register for tables. Once you sign up, keep your login credentials handy, and you can use them for any events organized through warhorn. You can even add your Pathfinder Society Number and DCI (WotC/D&D organized play) numbers that will follow your login from event to event, but let’s not put the cart before the horse.

First, go to warhorn.net and sign up for a login in the upper right corner of the site:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.03.19 AM

Fill out the form with your email, desired username, and password. You can use either your email or your username when you login to the site:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.05.24 AM

It will now ask you to verify your email address. Clicking on confirm will send another confirmation email (check SPAM filters!):

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.06.26 AM

In your email you should see a message much like this. Click the Confirm my Account link in the email:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 12.25.40 PMOnce your account is confirmed, we can use warhorn Event listings to search for events in the area. They are divided into recurring game days (frequently at FLGS) or Upcoming Conventions:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.09.48 AMUse the search field just above dates to search for events happening in your area, or an area where you will be traveling:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.10.18 AMClick on that event to get more info and register for tables by clicking on the Register for this event button in the upper right. If you have questions you can also email the organizer on the far left:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.10.36 AMOnce you are registered, check out the Event schedule and sign up for tables:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.11.02 AMFor both conventions and recurring game days, games are typically listed by start time, and title. Open tables will list a “Play” if you want to be a PC or “GM” button if you want to run that table. It also gives you the option to join a waitlist if the table is already full. If there is a no-show, you are in!

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.11.38 AM

After clicking “Play” the site will ask you to confirm, just to make sure you got in on the right game:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.12.28 AMOnce you click Save it will reserve your spot at the table, allowing organizers to plan for more GMs if necessary, and allows you a guaranteed seat at your favorite game! If something comes up, or you want to switch tables before the event, you can always click “Withdraw” and sign up for something else:

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.12.52 AMBe sure and check for recurring game days in your area as well, and support your FLGS!

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 9.14.58 AMHope this helps, and remember, once you’ve created your account you can use it for any conventions or game days organized through warhorn. It’s also a great site to see events in your region you may want to travel for! In less than two weeks, the Skyland Games crew will be running the RPG tables for Asheville Comic Expo (ACE). Sign up at the warhorn, and we’ll see you around the table!

 

 

Try before you buy – Board games on iOS

July 21, 2014 Comments off

Recently I’ve picked up a few games for the iPhone that started out as more traditional board or card games. A lot of them are great versions of the originals, with the added bonus of always being in your pocket, and allowing online games with friends who may not be able to make game night. They also tend to be a fraction of the cost of the physical board game.

hive.pngOne of my favorites is Hive. I bought this first as a physical board game at the recommendation of the Wyvern’s Tale. Essentially it is like a game of chess, in which different bugs move in different ways, and the object is to completely surround the opposing player’s bee. This is one of those easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master games, and has won a ton of awards. It quickly became one of my favorite games, and the quality of the physical tiles is fantastic. They have a nice weight and are clearly built to last. Not sure if you’re crazy about the concept? At a list price of $32, that can be a lot for something you may or may not like. Why not try it out first? The $2 iOS version will teach you all the rules through a tutorial, has two player local or online play, as well as play against various difficulties of AI. If it becomes one of your favorites, you can always pick up a copy at your friendly local gaming store!

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 10.25.43 AMAnother one I tried out at a recent board game night was Fluxx. This is another seemingly simple game, that can great pretty crazy pretty quickly. The main goal is to collect “keepers” that match whatever the current goal card has on it. Keepers can be physical things, or concepts such as cookies, pizza, love, dreams, music, the brain, the rocket. The goals combine these like “Hearts and Minds” which requires both the brain and love, or “Dreamland” which requires both dreams and sleep. It’s kind of weird starting out, but you quickly get the hang of it. Other cards allow you to draw or discard more cards, or affect other player’s hands to try and get the keepers you need to win! There are a ton of expansions for Fluxx, The physical deck lists for $16, but if you’re not sure, the iOS version will only set you back $3.

QuarriorsScreen shot 2014-07-21 at 10.26.00 AM is a dice and card game that requires a little more screen real estate than most, so is iPad only. I’ve had my eye on this at the game store for some weeks, but never pulled the trigger. I *do* love dice games, but I didn’t know if I would like this one or, (more importantly) if my wife would like it as she is often my co-player. At a list price of $70, I really wanted to be sure. In Quarriors you start out by rolling dice to give you Quddity, a type of currency you use during your turn to summon your minions or capture other dice that are available on the cards dealt for the game. The cards are either other minion or spells which boost or augment minions, quiddity, or how many dice you draw from your bag. Overall I think it is enjoyable, but not something everyone would be in to. Is it worth $70? I don’t know. Is it worth $4? Absolutely!

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 10.26.20 AMI’ve heard some very good things about the iOS adaptation of Lords of Waterdeep, but haven’t picked that one up as of yet. Next time you are on the fence about a board game, try before you buy! There may be an excellent mobile version out there already!

Categories: Board, Card, Dice, Reviews, Technology, Tips

Reconnecting with Roll20

July 14, 2014 Comments off

Roll20Recently, I started to really miss gaming with a group of friends who I had gamed with for years. We started together playing Living Greyhawk,and that branched out to many games and systems. We would play at different people’s houses, at libraries, one year we all travelled together and played GenCon and when I became “Triad” for the Florida region of Living Greyhawk, they helped me run conventions locally. We would play anywhere and everywhere we could. But then Living Greyhawk dissolved, I took a long break, and the group scattered.

I had moved from Tallahassee, Florida to Asheville, North Carolina. Another couple scored great jobs and had moved to Texas with their family. Another had gone south to Orlando… the band broke up. We’d chat on Facebook, like people do, and one of the gang said “Man, I wish we could play again like we did before!” and a light bulb went off: roll20.net

We had used roll20.net locally when a blizzard struck and we couldn’t get our Reign of Winter campaign folks all together. We had also used it to roll DCC characters and magic items, utilizing the free dice rolling utility in preparation for a week day game. For some odd reason it had never occurred to me to try and corral everyone together for a game until that point, but I’m glad it did.

We’ve used it now a handful of time and now have a weekly game happening every Tuesday night. I sprang for the “Mentor” level of sponsorship so that we can get all the bells and whistles that roll20.net has to offer. They have really upped the bar over tabletop and, as odd as this may sound, I almost prefer it to face-to-face gaming. Almost.

The “Dynamic Lighting” feature alone is worth the very low per-month charge. You can set each player’s “token” to their specific mode and strength of sight, assign someone to carry the torch (or light spell) and if that person moves away…? Well, then the rest of the party can’t see who is lurking in the cave or in the belly of that ship. If you prep beforehand, it takes into account line of sight, shadows, walls blocking the view… they have really thought of most everything. Macros, character sheets and click-to-roll buttons, sound effects, background music… it’s fantastic.

It does take longer to prep for a game, since you have to hunt down tokens or artwork, scan and size maps (which can be a pain) and scan in any handouts, puzzle pieces and so on. We use a Google+ hangout as well, since we found the voice and video to be buggy. Those quibbles and workarounds aside, it’s a great service and one I am happy to promote and support.

There is a large group of people using roll20 to organize on-line Pathfinder games, and the roll20 forums are filled with people looking for more players… so if you find yourself with some time to spare, check it out and give it a try.

Categories: Reviews, RPGs, Technology, Tips

Exercise in Character Creation, Part 3

May 12, 2014 Comments off

We have finally made it to the end of this little journey! If you have not been following along for the past month or so, read up on these two past articles (Part 1 and Part 2). Here are the results from the last round of voting (from 33 responses):

  • Personality – Lady Redfalcon (39%), Adris Redwing (33%), Longfang (27%)
  • Class – Slayer (39%), Urban Ranger (33%), Swashbuckler (27%)

I now present Adrian Redfeather’s alternate persona while adventuring with the Pathfinder Society; Lady Redfalcon. To disguise himself from his father’s peers and keep his identity an upmost secret, Adrian decided to make over himself the most drastic way he could think of; as a woman. Borrowing a pair of fighting fans from his father’s collection of the Far East along with a kimono that was given to his mother and a long, black-haired wig, he is incorporating them into his new persona. Drawing upon skills learned from his father, Adrian is able to combine aspects of rangers and rogues to create the mystique of the shy and demure, yet positively deadly, woman known only as Lady Redfalcon.

I want to thank everyone who voted for voting. I think this was kind of an interesting process that I will definitely have fun with the results. Thank you all again!

Powerful Paper: Cardstock Modelling in Your Game

February 18, 2014 Comments off

Fat Dragon Games’ Depths of the Drow

Today ended a successful Kickstarter campaign for Fat Dragon Games‘ medieval village of Ravenfell.  The village of Ravenfell, and the products of the inevitable stretch goals, are paper modelling products:  You print them, cut them, paste them, and viola! you’ve got as much scenery as you could possibly need (for that particular setting anyway).

I got into this many years ago, and spent a week toiling away cutting out bits and pieces for my planned game of Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords.  That module (30 year old spoiler alert) takes part largely in the Slaver City of Suderham, and several bars come into play.  I printed and prepped several key barroom items and I was able to mix and match my way into the appearance of several unique appearing locations.This is before I sank unmentionable sums on the last Dwarven Forge Kickstarter, (in fact, it predated kickstarter) but I think it added something, and could potentially be quite worthwhile to produce decent scenery on the cheap.

Paper Modelling is in some ways superior to your plaster and plastic backgrounds and scenery, in that they are objectively quite beautiful and not subject to your potentially substandard painting skills.  You also have as much as you care to print, and could potentially manufacture an entire city for the price of the PDF and an ink cartridge (or two).  I’ve been using Posterize to great effect to get the benefit of the beautiful maps from Paizo’s modules, as I stated a few blog posts ago, but this is a higher order entirely: Three dimensional, and now stacked in layers, if Fat Dragon’s Tom Tullis is to be believed.  I clicked in at the “Beggar $1.00” level for a while before finally being sold to jump in at the Knight level at $50.00.  It’s a lot for some PDF’s but I appreciate the effort and support the project.  And what do kids really need with a college education anyway.

There are significant downsides, to be sure.  Paper modelling takes time.  Precise cutting and gluing can be tedious work, and sometimes things don’t seem to come out quite how you expected they would.  Ink isn’t cheap, either, and depending on your printer, you might wonder if you’re really saving money or not.  Traditionally, the items are not as durable as a resin or plaster product (though are infinitely more replaceable) and can be tricky to store without crushing.  Fat Dragon has apparently attempted to address this with collapsible pieces, which I look forward to giving a try.

Should you choose to download a copy of their other products, I believe you’ll be pleased with the quality of the artwork, and you’ll find that your time invested can be richly rewarding.  You’ll want to pick up a few items to complete your ‘kit’ for paper modelling.

1. “Self-healing” cutting mat – these come in various sizes and serve to protect your tabletop while allowing your blade to cut the template cleanly.

2. Exacto knife – You don’t want to try this with scissors…. you might have one of these already from your miniature modelling, which will save you a few bucks.  A must for these sometimes complex templates.

3. Water based glue – a type of craft glue that is tough yet forgiving (you may want some super glue at some point for certain models, however).

4. Markers – You’ll find that darkening the edges of the scores and cuts that compose the corners of your models will drastically improve the quality of their appearance.

5. Metal Ruler – Typically with a cork back, this will avoid slipping while cutting and make sure your cuts are a little more clean.

Consider going out and buying a set or taking a shot with the various free samples out there on the internet.  You may find that you’ve got a new hobby, or at the very least the perfect prop for that encounter makes a particular encounter special.