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Review: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

November 13, 2017 Leave a comment

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.

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The Value of Unplugging

October 10, 2016 Comments off

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So after observing that our kids fight constantly when exposed to a lot of TV and Video games, we decided (okay, my wife decided) there’d be no electronics during the week (with a few very specific exceptions) during the regular school year.

Harsh.

I was waiting for the kids to drive her nuts, and for everyone to then drive me nuts, and for that rule to be abolished and things to go back to normal.  To my surprise, after a day or two there were few complaints. The kids starting fighting less, and started actually “doing” more.  They slept better, got more exercise, and generally seemed less cranky. And best of all, we started spending more time together, with them taking an interest in RPG’s and Board games.

If you’re reading this and you’re a millennial tabletop gamer, I salute you.  The discretion to play role-playing games or board games when you’ve grown up with a plethora of media options was an unlikely one; streaming video, various video game platforms with multiplayer functionality, not to mention cell phone games and apps… it took a lot for you to even care enough to try to play a role-playing or board game where humans had to assemble in person around a table after learning rather complex rules.  If you’re older, you may understand that in the 80’s, when G.I. Joe went off the air for the day at 4:30, there was only the news and later Miami Vice or the A-Team to look forward to.  That downtime needed to be filled with something that wasn’t TV, and there was a limit to how much ATARI you could play before ragequitting.

Hence, in my day, tabletop role-playing games, board games , and war games were what we turned to.  And of course, books, sports, etc.  But on your basic rainy day or evening, we poured over the books and made characters or pulled out Talisman or O.G.R.E and had at it. Unwittingly, my wife has re-created that experience for my kids, and now they’re looking with renewed interest at my hobbies as a way to pass some enjoyable time.

I previously blogged about how my son showed some enjoyment from playing Dungeons & Dragons, but since he’s not quite old enough to be literate, he’s not catapulted into it like I had hoped.  My older daughter is a voracious reader, however, and after finishing Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle books, she’s showing a lot more appreciation for the concepts in fantasy RPG gaming than she ever has previously.

Both, as it turns out, love painting miniatures.

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I’ve had to set some restrictions to make sure they don’t paint things I have plans for, and not everything is a gem, but some are actually quite good, from both the younger one and the older.

Moreover, they’ve both become eager players of board games.  We’ve finally been able to start working through my massive collection of board games, half of which have stayed in the shrink-wrap due to the difficulty finding time with other gamers when we’ve got an RPG schedule that doesn’t allow the time.  Exposure to some of the board games like Wizards of the Coast’s Temple of Elemental Evil has got her interested in a more RPG-like experience.  It’s helpful her friends have read the same books and also enjoy painting miniatures as well (enough to shop for their own figures on reapermini.com).  For better or worse, we may just have a tween girls gaming group in the making.  You can bet I’ll blog about that, should it happen.

The time we’ve spent together has been fun for all of us, and we’re talking and sharing and growing closer as a family when this is going on, which is contrary to the quietude of zoning out in a show or game that doesn’t invite the distraction of conversation.  Of course, you don’t have to unplug to share this time, but you may just find that there’s peace that comes with cutting out those unhealthy distractions and getting back to a simpler time before Netflix.

I got on today to write board game reviews from the new games we have been playing, but realized this was maybe the more important part of the story.  Next week and for hopefully weeks to come, I’ll be sharing more of what we’re playing and how it works with younger players as well.

Campaign Websites – Are they right for you?

November 2, 2015 Comments off

While not new to the gaming scene, Campaign Websites, commonly called Campaign Wikis, are electronic resources used to organize and record the details of your tabletop RPG.  These aren’t sites you use to play a game, necessarily, but are used to enhance and inform your tabletop game.  This is regardless of whether you play that game on a virtual table or a physical one.

Some of these are well known, and have been around for years, while other tools are new to the scene.

Back in 2001, we commonly used Yahoo Groups as a searchable forum for posts, with file storage space and other handy utilities for running a campaign.  Since then, more and more specialized tools and sites have emerged to assist the player with their campaign.  I recall hearing about Obsidian Portal years ago, and thanks to it’s kickstarter success, has kicked off with a new a professional look and added functionality and features.  Also out there are sites like Epic Words, and Google Sites, with templates specific to certain types of campaigns.

Last year I ran a game off of a Google Sites page (Paizo’s Reign of Winter), with positives and negatives.  I’ll get into some of those, but also list some functions that you should be aware exist in these sorts of pages and services, as well as a few pitfalls.

COMMON FEATURES:

GAME JOURNAL –  Every Site has a forum or system where posts can be made documenting the history of the game.  Not all sites have a system that is easily searchable.  Games, especially long running and high level games, tend to have a lot of data.  Longer games can have numerous characters and epic stories.  Locations, NPC’s, items of note, and other facts can be lost with the passing of time.  While summaries are helpful, unless they are easily searchable, they be useless for rebuilding stories or facts related to specific items or individuals.  Obsidian Portal allows for these to be listed prominently, with pages capable of being rearranged by the play date.  Added functionality includes allowing for only certain players to view certain posts, adding GM notes regarding the session that only the GM can see, and selecting who is notified of updates to the page.  Google sites allows for pages and posts to be made freely, but are not as fine tuned as to how these appear, requiring more fiddling to get things to appear as you’d like them to.

Obsidian Portal, and perhaps other sites as well, allow linking from one page to another Wiki that can be repeatedly updated.  Accordingly, a diligent GM or poster can continue to update either their character or the NPC entry or item entry for a page, linking that data and consolidating the narrative.  Embedding of images and other media files is an added feature.

INVENTORY LOG – Inventory management, shared resource tracking, and other minutia can be important for a story, especially if you like that type of a game where the details matter.  Shared ability to access those details and perhaps modify them can be important.  Google Sites has a nice feature for tracking items, but it can definitely be tedious to enter it all.  Obsidian allows a character sheet to be updated, and of course any page could have any listed data you wanted to, but nothing special seems to exist to allow for detailed tracking.

Anecdotally, I recall the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth requiring a trek through icy mountains.  An avalanche forced us to lose several mules, and our detail oriented rogue had our survival gear written on individual notecards for each mule. While this level of detail can be irritating to some, the player loved the nitty-gritty and was delighted to have it pan out as relevant and somewhat helpful (as the DM was ready to totally screw us over).

CALENDAR – This is really a must-have for many groups, especially mine.  I’m not sure if your situation is different, but I don’t know anyone who has a 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday anymore.  Accordingly, our weekly game alternates between a group of regulars and a steady group of one shot or two shot players that jump in and out as necessary.  A well-kept calendar is a treat.  Google Calendar is used by many, though I believe it does require a google account, which pretty much includes everyone anywhere.  Obsidian Portal has a calendar as well, and sends emails at the direction of the event lister, with confirmation buttons sent for attendees at intervals directed upon creation.  Note that this a pay-only feature for Obsidian Portal users.

CHARACTER PAGES – While these are available on all sites, I would say that they are important, but manage to universally be difficult to use.  Ideally, a player would track his own character, take a picture of the sheet, and post it to the site, which is theoretically possible with most sites out there.  More often, there is an artificial character sheet generator that is not used outside of the page itself, that requires meticulous data entry.  Obsidian Portal’s character sheet is fan-created, and is a bit buggy.  Save early and save often as you enter data into the odd fields available to you.  Google sites uses a spreadsheet, which has its own pros and cons.  No less than awkward method of entry really exists.  Character pages are important, however.  Many times NPC or PC stat’s need to be checked, or a player leaves a sheet behind.  It gives the GM a chance to see how players are developing without obviously or surreptitiously looking over character sheets, and gauge challenges accordingly.  At its most cynical, it allows transparency that discourages cheating and catches faulty or erroneous builds that might misinterpret or improperly exploit rules.

FORUMS – Good in-character and out of character forums are important.  This was perhaps Google Site’s biggest failing and not because they didn’t allow the ability to create as many forums as you wanted.  The problem commonly encountered here was the ‘most recent post first’ posting style that was, inexplicably, unchangeable.   Accordingly, if you wanted to read the flow of events, you had to read from the bottom to the top. While threaded, it seemed that frustration and cross talk was constant, and I could never really get over it.

Back in the Living Greyhawk days, a player created a fictional Tavern called “The Goose Nest” located in the Gran March, in which we posted our various living campaign PC’s.  The characters were able to interact in a way that could never have consistently happened in face-to-face gaming due to the way we interacted with different folks from different locations, as well as characters being separated by level to such a degree they could never adventure together.   The original player occasionally would put a plot device in to facilitate conversation.

Of course, out-of-character play is just as important for planning purposes, discussion of facts that might just take too long or be too convoluted to be carried out in character, and also for just sharing information like cat videos and recipes. Logistics, who’s bringing soda, and other critical issues of gaming life need a common forum.

IMAGES & MAPS – All systems appear to have a raw upload capacity for images, though an image bank is not exactly what is contemplated by any system. Having access to town an area maps, however, can cut down on a lot of confusion, and images (especially embedded images within, say, an NPC’s character stat block) can really bring together the way a PC or NPC is perceived.

COSTS – Google Sites – Free;  Obsidian Portal – Basic = Free, Premium $39.99/yr. (GM only req’d).  Epic Words = $12/yr

SUMMARY

Lots of the functions for these three sites are the same.  The key difference is one of quality, and as with most discussions of quality, the value is in the eye of the beholder.  I will say that Google Sites is free, and so you can’t complain about the amazing value they convey there.  They have all the key areas covered, many in a way that you probably already have the systems at work in your day-to-day.  The downside there is that the programming, navigation, and functionality can be frustrating and difficult, with weird glitches occurring somewhat regularly.  The database is largely very flexible, but all images and information will have to be entered by the user and managed at their peril.

I, admittedly, do not have an Epic Words account.  My tinkering with it have shown it to be less finished than Obsidian Portal, but at an understandably lower price. From what I’ve seen, the quality of what’s available wouldn’t create a strong urge to forego the free service of Google.

Obsidian Portal is pricey. I can swing $40/year, and have done so as an experiment, but that price may make many GM’s eyes water a bit for something they can duplicate or just do without.  For those willing to send $4/month, it’s by far the most user friendly.  WIth an image bank of backgrounds, ability to change names, headings, colors and images, it doesn’t get much easier.  People with the time, knowledge and inclination may find other sites bend to their will easier, but for those who want to get it done, OP is pretty hard to beat.   I remain unimpressed with the character sheet options, which is a universal failing for these types of sites, but have enjoyed being able to easily surf the site without multiple glitches or misplacements of my data.

THE UNIVERSAL CATCH

As with all things in gaming, it all comes down to time. These sites are handy, but only if you keep them up to date, and only if they are used.  In a longer campaign, players and the GM themselves may wish to access the wiki to see what a certain NPC’s name was, or what the story was in regard to a particular event.  But someone has to enter that data, and one would hope that at some point the players or others would read it.

Many hands make the work light.  In my Reign of Winter campaign, a player took on the inventory management, which was detailed and voluminous.  He later undertook a series of published journals, written in character, which was truly magnificent.  Eventually, the toll of such work caused him to get behind, then to stop entirely, leaving the final ten entries unfinished.

In my current campaign, playing catch-up has eaten up many hours of my time, but occasionally has been worth it for the sheer volume of information management.  Some players have been reluctant to participate, but I think those who have appreciate the information that’s posted there, and certainly enjoy the development of plot and story during longer breaks in the campaign where scheduling becomes a problem.

It’s something that a GM has to own, and to evaluate whether they have the time (and indeed the need) to follow-up with it.  Further, the GM and his players should discuss whether it is in fact desirable or necessary to pursue, either in whole or in part.  I, however, think that for longer games, the necessity of such a bookkeeping device is increasingly required to maintain the quality of game I like to play, that being one with numerous rich NPC personages, mysterious items, places, maps, handouts, logs, journal entries, and locales that are best understood when capable of being reviewed at the player’s leisure.

All of these are either free, or have a temporary free option. Try one on for size and see if it might not help your next campaign.

Gaming: The Next Generation

July 6, 2015 3 comments

First, let me say that unlike a lot of the blogs I post, this is not informative, but cathartic.  You’re not going to become a better gamer from reading this post.  It’s not a review of something cool coming out.  This is something I need to write down, and I want to see what other people have to say about it.

I’m going to be real here, for a minute.  Gaming as a kid was a source of fun, certainly, but also a source of great stress for me growing up.

I started gaming with some neighborhood friend’s when I was eight years old.  I was hooked when my assassin won the friendship of a pet cat that changed into a panther three times a day (from Palace of the Silver Princess). I was excited to climb into my parent’s car to tell them about it.  I was shocked when they frowned and said, “That game is satanic.”

It was 1985.  This was both the height of gaming’s popularity, but also the height of the  various Dungeons and Dragons Controversies which centered largely around the belief that it was intrinsically involved with devil-worship.  Jack Chick published “Dark Dungeons” (viewable here,) which captures what many people though at the time.  Most probably didn’t give it any thought at all, but just accepted it because their neighbor or minister said it was satanic, or they saw something on 60 Minutes about it.

Really, why or how that came to be perceived that way is irrelevant.  The fact was, my folks seemed to believe, even if halfheartedly, that it was true.  Strangely, they didn’t entirely keep me from pursuing it.  They just didn’t like it.  I struggled with that as a kid.  Being really into something, and knowing that my parents, who I loved very much, thoroughly disapproved of it left me with a bit of a pit in my stomach sometimes.  I’m almost certain they thought it was just another phase; a passing interest that would come and go just like other interests had in the past. They investigated it a little bit, and nothing obviously harmful seemed to come from it.  But even into college, they discouraged me.  To this day, I hesitate mentioning gaming to them, despite the 30 years that have passed since that first game.

I have children of my own now.  While I showed my daughter the game when she was younger, she didn’t embrace it, and I didn’t push her to.  My son, however, asked about it and pursued it, and recently asked to play “my game” and so,  a few weeks ago, I decided to let him give it a try.

Perhaps because of my history, I’ve felt strange about children playing games… Felt strange in a way that shocked me… gnawed at me.  I went to SCARAB a few years ago, and saw a group of children (ages 8-11) playing a ‘kids track’ series of games based on the Warriors by Erin Hunter.  I’m not sure if it was the time of the day (the kids would have been playing for probably 4-6 hours by then) or the windowless room they played in, or just my history, but I felt bad for them.  Sick almost.  It felt wrong to have kids inside rolling dice and imagining adventures rather than outside and acting them out, if not living them.  I recalled, however, that as a kid, I would have killed to have the chance to go to a gaming convention, and probably would have loved something that spoke to fiction that I loved and was familiar with. I went again to SCARAB earlier this year, saw a similar table with similar kids, and despite the obvious joy I saw on their faces, I felt uneasy.

With that as a backdrop, I began making a character with you 5 year-old son, using pictures from the book and summaries of character roles to allow him to make his choices.  We used 5th Edition D&D which is classic and streamlined enough not to overwhelm him with choices. He went with a rogue, based on a picture of strong but secretive agent of some sort in a tavern early in the book.  I ran through some feats, summarizing them and he picked one I wouldn’t have, but which turned out to actually be very good.  I pulled something out of my head and we started playing.

I put a single ally, a priest, in his party and described them as old friends that had grown up together in their small town, and had decided to go off to check the ruins of a castle nearby, chasing rumors of gold and jewels said to have been lost beneath the old keep.

We fought some goblins, which he was a little timid about, but when he saw he could gain the upper hand, attacked with gusto.  He tended to enjoy the idea of being unseen more than anything else, and greedily captured as much gold as he could before a mob of goblins chased him and his friend out of the dungeon.

First Game

I have a vast collection of Dwarven Forge, and so we were able to do this right.  The encounters were three dimensional and all details were present, including a swiveling secret door.  When we wrapped up, he begged me to continue, obviously having fun.

As a young boy who grew up into a man with reservations about D&D, especially as it related to his children, I felt mixed emotions as he pressed me to continue.  In many ways, when I first became a father, I hoped to create my own little gaming group and share with my children all the things I had done and still hope to do.  This moment was a realization of something I had contemplated for decades. It was an indescribable feeling (I can’t put it into writing… but numerous emotions, not all positive, tugged at me).

We played on.  I finally crafted a final confrontation with the evil wizard commanding the goblins, adding an NPC fighter to balance out the small party my son was guiding.  As the wizard stood to challenge the party and call forth zombies to march against them, my son surprised me.

“No.  Wait.”

“What do you want, thief?  Say, before I destroy you.”

“I’m here to join you.”

“Hubba-wha?! You want to join me?”

“Yeah”

“Well, then your first task is to slay your friends! HAHAHAHA!”

“Okay, I kill them.”

“…..Wut?”

“Yeah, I kill them.”

“Uh…. okay, you chase after them, and they curse you as they flee the dungeon.”

He laughs.

“And, uh… you become a menace to the surrounding countryside, raiding and pillaging with your goblin companions, building the power and influence of the wizard you now serve.”

“Cool!”

So… My son appears to either be a sociopath, or has the makings of a great game master some day.

He has pressed to play again, and we have revisited it but sometimes it becomes more about the setting and figures than about the game itself.  He remains young for the game. But I still feel that hesitation, and want to hear what other parents have felt or how they have acted in introducing their children to games.

Monte Cook has kickstarted No Thank You, Evil as a starter RPG for families, and maybe something like that would be better suited (though it sounds like my boy needs a game called, “More Evil, Please” from his last game). There are a variety of second and third generation gamers that are introducing the next generation to the hobby, and various products that support that goal.  Maybe I need to just get over it and let him play.

In the end, I think that exposure is good, but moderation is essential.  This will start as an occasional thing and we’ll see where it goes as he gets a little older.  The only thing I know is that I won’t be passing on to him condemnation of his interests, whether they be this or something else that I don’t fully understand, but instead will seek understanding myself and encourage him to be who he wants to be.

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More Miniatures!

July 22, 2013 Comments off

As if we didn’t have enough already with our delivery of our Bones, right? An awesome Kickstarter has just under two weeks left:  Iron Mask Miniatures Dwarf Musketeers. We Skyland fellas are fond of dwarves, having our first home game be an all-dwarven (and one gnome bard who was raised by dwarves) adventuring party. If these miniatures had been available, I have no doubt we’d have one (or two) dwarfeteers shouting “One for all and all for one!”

If you missed out on the Dark Sword Miniatures Elmore Dragon diorama, you will be kicking yourself like I am. You could have gotten a good dozen quality Dark Sword Miniatures for your pledge with the diorama of Elmore’s famous dragon painting come to life. With the unlocked add-ons, another 20 or so miniatures. When it comes out for retail sales after GenCon, I’ll be first in line.

I got in at the last minute on the newest Bombshell Babes diorama, a special edition of their iconic Maelee fighting robots. Since my tastes run more towards fantasy, I passed on the diorama itself, but picked up some of the robots… because robots are cool! These have a “Robby the Robot gone amok” feel to them and I can’t wait to paint them… in a couple years after I am done with the Bones.  Patrick Keith is a fantastic sculptor and the Bombshell line is a fantastic idea. I can’t wait to see what comes next from his studio.

A plan for the future

November 26, 2012 2 comments

Don’t bother the kids while the GM is narrating!

It’s been over a year since we started this blog, and frankly I was running out of steam. We have a new plan in which we will be updating the site on Mondays, with a different guy from our group posting every week! It’s not like the gaming world has stood still since my last post, so let me bring you up to date with Skyland Games happenings.

First off, ACE was a really great time! There were tons of comic vendors, people dressed up in costumes, and bunch of people having a great time gaming! I think the best thing in the gaming corner was the 12 and under kids table, featuring the Pathfinder Beginner Box run by Venture Captain Paul Trani! The fantastic guys at The Wyvern’s Tale gave each kid a set of RPG dice just for participating! I sincerely hope we created some life-long gamers at the event. It is great to have the veteran grey-beard gamers with all the years of gaming experience and wisdom that comes with them, but in the age of pervasive video games and a million other distractions, it is increasingly important for us to recruit the next generation of gamers. According to RPG Research, things seem to be moving in the right direction.

Next, the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge is flourishing! We have an awesome one year anniversary event planned. The lodge will be running several different tiers of Blood Under Absalom, a special Pathfinder Society module that can usually only be run at big cons, since it requires five simultaneous tables of players all running through the same encounters at the same time! I played through it at SCARAB last year, and it was one of the coolest RPG events I’ve ever been a part of. If you are anywhere near western North Carolina, be sure and sign up at the warhorn to reserve your seat at the table!

Also, some of the guys from our group attended MACE down in Charlotte and had an excellent time playing Pathfinder Society scenarios and checking out the vendor area. More details to follow in a later post.

I recently ran a DCCRPG game, in which we modified the character creation rules significantly. One of the chief complaints from my players about Dungeon Crawl Classics is that due to the strict character creation process (3d6 for stats in order, 1d4 hit points) the PCs in the game feel very fragile, and aren’t generally very good at any particular skill or stat. To make our heroes more, err, heroic we made the follow adjustments dubbing it the DCC Champion character creation rules: Roll 5d6 for stats, take the highest 3 numbers showing for each attribute. Choose a race/class rather than rolling. Rearrange your stats so your high rolls can be in key attributes for your race/class. Start at level 1 with maximum hit points based on the hit die for your class (4+HD). We played through about half of People of the Pit and while it was less lethal than the Rules As Written, it was still very challenging, but the PCs seemed more effective at their chosen professions. No more 12 Intelligence wizards! That being said, I’m still on the fence about whether it is better to have a PC with very average stats, that survives by wit, cunning, and that fickle mistress luck, or in the interest of heroes being heroic, its more fun to nudge the bell-curve in the players favor. I think to each there own, and as long as you have fun, everybody wins.

In D&D news, the latest edition of encounters looks like they are transitioning away from 4e and allowing players to try D&Dnext as part of a public playtest. Players and DMs still need to sign up for the playtest to participate, but players who want to try it out and haven’t signed up yet can play one of the pre-gens. I met the guys that make up Skyland Games at a D&D encounters game several years ago, and the program has its merits, but just doesn’t fit my schedule right now. I am thrilled to see WotC break open the TSR vaults and reprint some old classics, but with DCCRPG being very compatible with old modules with very little conversion, I’m much more likely to run them with DCC than with 1e or DnDnext.

On the magazine front, there is some sad news, as well as hope that the torch has been passed to a worthy successor. The magazine Kobold Quarterly is no more. This will allow the staff to focus on producing awesome game supplements and adventures, but it is a sad day to see the scion of the print versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazines end. As one door closes, another opens: Gygax Magazine looks to carry the banner as a print RPG magazine. Clash of Echoes has an excellent interview with Luke Gygax, one of the creators of the magazine and son of the late E. Gary Gygax. With the new magazine comes the resurrection of the TSR name, but not THAT TSR. This is a totally different TSR. It appears as though the magazine is starting under a bit of controversy as Grognardia points out, the magazine is starting without the blessing from the Gygax estate. We’ll see how it all pans out.

GeekOut 2012 Report – The Start of Something Big

May 18, 2012 1 comment

The gameroom stayed busy with most of the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge regulars in attendance. Much thanks to Dell from SCARAB, our illustrious Venture Captain and 5-star GM.

GeekOut 2012 was a blast, both in the tabletop game room and in the exhibition hall. I wish I would have had time to catch a panel, but I was too busy perfecting my goblin voice for Paizo’s We Be Goblins! There were a ton of artists there (many from the very geek-chic Asheville gallery Za-POW), some toy vendors and lots of people in costume. It certainly wasn’t a huge convention, but it was a great start. Not to mention it was completely free! There are a ton of pictures from the event on MultiverseAVL’s facebook page. It was certainly a great day of gaming, and we saw a lot of new faces around the Pathfinder tables.

After speaking with a few friends who also attended, the one thing that was missing from GeekOut that used to be at fanaticon was a strong showing from comic book shops. There were a few comics to be had, but at fanaticon there was booth after booth and box after box. I’m not as big into comics as I used to be, but that drew a lot of people in, and also brought a lot of costumed cosplayers out. There were plenty of people in costume at GeekOut, but not as many comics. All and all it’s a minor complaint in what otherwise was a very fun event!

In other Skyland Games news, we’ve set sail for the archipelago known as the Shackles! Last night we kicked off our second attempt at a pirates campaign, and if last night was any indication, this is going to be a very memorable run. Last night, our characters were press-ganged in to joining the crew of the Wormwood. Our party is made up of a huge Mwangi Barbarian (Mighty Hoku), a Human Cleric of Besmara (Vernon Blueskye), an Elven Ranger (Falconer, with a parrot as his “falcon,” Yandro Bowfisher), a Varisian/Taldan Rogue (Pirate archetype, you gotta have one in a pirate campaign, right? Tiberius the Brown), and a Druid of the Sea (Jhang Kel-Ket, constrictor animal companion). After working a few days on the ship and sneaking around trying to find some allies and some information, there seems to be two groups on the ship making alliances. Methinks a mutiny is afoot! The captain and his officers are cruel bastards, and I have a feeling if the party rose up against them, we wouldn’t be alone.

So far it’s a really cool story, and we aren’t even through the first module yet. In fact, we only made it through 5 days, of what is supposed to be a 45 day journey! That is, if we can prevent mighty Hoku from eating all the ship’s stores before then. If you like Pathfinder and you haven’t tried an adventure path before, I highly recommend it. The amount of detail and effort that went in to Skull and Shackles is pretty amazing. Our intrepid GM, Michael Jones, has already prepared two binders full of stuff, and that was before we even got together for the first session!

On our weeks when we aren’t sailing the seas, we’ll likely be continuing our exploration of the awesomeness that is Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Included with my Gold-Foil Special Edition of the Core Rules was a bonus adventure 66.5 Doom of the Savage Kings. It is crazy awesome and makes me want to buy all of the other modules they have slated to come out this year. Well played Goodman Games, well played.