A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Tribute to Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land

One of my favorite PS2 games, my favorite Wizardry, and my favorite 1st person party based dungeon crawling RPG.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More Evidence I am Odd..

Ok, I won't be winning any decorating awards, but my first experience at ever making cupcakes turned out pretty well I think.

This is the sort of wacky things I do for gamegroups I play in.  I should get bonus XP, right?

And for the record the cakes are REALLY good.  Why do you think there is only 11 of them?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paranormal Activity 1 and 2: Changeling Movies?

Last year I reviewed Paranormal Activity which is a really great horror movie using the "Found Video Footage" thing other movies I really liked (Cloverfield, Blair Witch Project) have done.

Well this year its back, as a form of prequel/sequel.

And thinking about it (while naming the entity "Nigel" as if he was a car from Top Gear) I came up with this SPOILERIFFIC TO BOTH MOVIES WARNING DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON explanation of how its really a Changeling backstory/scenario.

So in the interests of any Changeling fans or folks who like tales of the Faerie I present to you this incredibly DORKY analysis of the events of the (rather quite good) Paranormal Activity movies, mostly focusing on part 2.

There is also gonna be some "South Park" level foul language here and there.  I try to avoid it on this blog, but one can't discuss the Adventures of Nigel without it.

Hopefully the below will give some of you ideas for your own Changeling games!


While trying to get to sleep this morning I had a thought.

Maybe its not a demon but a Fae. 

With a couple tweaks these two movies could pretty much be a Changeling: The Lost game/prequel.

We have Nigel (as I am calling him) who made a deal in exchange for a family's firstborn son. That's such a trope of the mythological Fae it isn't even funny.

Well there have been no firstborn sons for Nigel to take through the Hedge (The land between Arcadia and the Real World) back to Arcadia. Perhaps higher up Fae or someone had made a deal with him for the son and are equally pissed at him.

Thus no physical body for Nigel. Maybe its hidden somewhere or something similar. So he needs power to manifest at all in our mundane world. He needs his Glamour if he is gonna get the deal sealed. Or at least a little payback on them uppity humans...

Big Hooter Sisters' mom was one of Nigel's earlier targets since it was her mom or grandmom who hadn't fulfilled her end of the bargain and Nigel's bosses are kind of pissed. Fae just LOOOVE swiping human babies, and this is one they wouldn't even need to have a Fetch to replace.

(Fetches being the simulacrums the Fae leave in place of the actual humans they abduct.)

His messing with her caused the twins before they had their own twins hur hurr to mess with occult stuff thus giving him more Glamour (spiritual magic Fae type energy) so he could cause more havoc.

Which causes the STUFF THEY DON'T TALK ABOUT. (Coming to you Halloween 2011 or 2012 depending on whichever idea Paramount's beancounters have to milk this action for all its worth. We all know PA3 is coming next year. And its either gonna be a prequel or the Hunt for.. Hunter while Katie F. still looks about the same age.)

Then for whatever reason it stops. Nigel probably used up too much of his Glamour and now he can't do much. Its gonna take a little time and a lot of bad vibes before he can do any manifestations again.

So he is saving up, waiting and watching. Then here comes Hunter. WHAM!! Nigel uses up a big hunk of Glamour and goes apespit on the house. Its time to pay up. Except as we have seen, Nigel is a DICK. He used up too much, which is why shit slows down for a few weeks. He can't do as much, but can cause just enough trouble to get more power than he is using.

Even if that stupid housekeeper and dog keep harshing his mellow. They are gonna get theirs. Oh YES.

He finally gets rid of the housekeeper and has enough power to mess with the dog, taking it out. All those bad vibes and the fear he is causing (plus handy use of Ouija board to give him a stronger grip on the living world) have BK Franchise dad and Allie leave, giving him free reign on Mom and Hunter.


He tries to grab mom and her fear, while Glamour creating, isn't quite enough for him to grab her first time. (Plus Nigel is only slightly brighter than his victims and doesn't always do the smartest things. If they did, mom and Hunter would have gone with the other two. And Nigel would already have Hunter. Unless he wants to be a complete dickhead. And Nigel is quite the dickhead.)

But he has enough Glamour now to pop his spirit back in the Hedge and get to Hunter's room before Mom gets back in, and this time she is going in the basement.

Now is when Changeling or "traditional" Fae folklore gets sort of dicey. Does Nigel possess mom which is something Fae don't really DO, or does he pull her ass into the Hedge sending her to a near eternity of madness in Arcadia and replacing her with a Fetch?

Maybe with his currently low status in the Fae he can't produce a Fetch, and just drags her into the Hedge which probably causes her to go completely crazy. (He has been priming the women of this family for that. And they DO have a history of it in the bloodline..) She is weak enough for him to spiritually possess, but not completely. 

Its not a Fae thing to do normally, and he has been using up that Glamour like its Magic Happy Hour at the Fae Bar of Terror and Payback. So he only sort of has a grip on her. Which leads to her being sick and weak, not totally under his control. 

Otherwise he would have already collected Hunter, and been on his way, and with a nice extra Human as an example of why YOU DO NOT HOSE THE FAE OVER IN A DEAL. 

Marcelus does not look like a bitch. And Nigel REALLY doesn't look like a bitch. (Ok, he doesn't look like ANYTHING right now. Which is kind of his point.)

Dad is stupid AGAIN and leaves Allie home while Nigel is completing his grip on Mommy. And he can really only threaten at this point while he gets things settled in there.

(But man is her screaming ever satisfying. She KNOWS what he is doing and she can't stop it. She is trying to fight, but between her grip on reality and sanity being greased with WD-40 and his power she is DOOMED. Enjoy the show bitch. Nigel is gonna take this monkeyshow on the road Frankenstein!)

Sadly for Nigel his attempt to take out Dad fails and that stupid housekeeper gets involved. Maybe the basement is worth another shot? 


Oh wait...

Dumb spits didn't stop him.. they just knocked him out of Mom but towards her nearest relative.

One with a bigger set of sweater puppies. And a FAR douchier mate. And no smarty pants dogs or maids or teenaged girls to get in his way.

Micah's Alpha Male routine helps Nigel QUICKLY get his Glamour Groove back and he is getting a handle on this possession thing. Not as effective as a Fetch, but beggars cannot be choosers.

Nigel has a baby to collect.

He takes over Katie a bit slower and safer, and that dumbass helps him lock the deal by throwing away that Crucifix in a fire.

A little more time to make sure Katie is HIS and its time to thank Micah. And show whoever looks at that camera how they do things in Downtown Arcadia. 

(Stupid mortals just don't listen to their own tales. Learn the rules or pay the price.)

That damned psychic almost caused trouble but people with such open minds are easily taught who the boss is.

Now Nigel still isn't completely locked into Katie and he sort of feels bad for his little ego stunt with the camera (Nigel IS an egotistical dick after all!) so he forgets to change clothes and just takes his new form of transportation into the Hedge.

Time is funny in the Hedge so he pops out in his recently forced out of terror grounds and takes out Dad quick like. Katie could never do this, but Nigel has Glamour enhanced Fae power on his side. (And its just HILARIOUS feeling Katie screaming at the murders she is committing. Even if it is causing a mild migraine.)

Nigel wants this action done QUICK in case things go pear shaped. No playing around. Up those stairs and off to collect Hunter do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars. 

One quick slam of his fist takes the confused Mom out and its time to bring Hunter back to Arcadia.

The debt has been collected.


Yes the above IS incredibly dorky, but it really does fit the movies well.

(Not counting the alternate endings which basically poop all over any connection to Fae and Changelings.)

I sort of thought of the above as Nigel doesn't just possess the women but pulls them into another room. I wondered why he would bother unless it was to switch the women for a Fetch under his control. Which kind of works outside of the exorcism transferral towards the end of 2. (I don't think Fetches work like that. Its POSSIBLE both Katie and Mom were Fetches. Which means they are pretty much stuck in Arcadia for an eternity. But its doubtful. Why kill the Mom Fetch even if she has been purged of Nigel's direct control? Maybe in his state he HAS to possess.)

Thus we have the above highly dorky missive of me No Prizing 2 movies that have made tens of millions of dollars.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

[Review Corner] Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Dungeon Master's Kit First Look

Yep.  Got the DM's kit hot off the presses and I shall share the contents with you fine folks so you can see if its something you need at least at first glance.

Well gang, now you know what your 40 bones gets you.  If you consider each adventure book worth 10 and including a map, the 3 sheets of monster tokens worth another 5, the screen worth 10, and the book being 20 bucks it adds up to a damn fair deal.  The problem is I don't quite think the DM's book stands alone, which is why they bundled it like this.  But for someone who just would want the DM book and not the adventure or screen its kind of a raw deal too.

Honestly if the DM book just didn't have so much repeated from the 2 other existing Essentials books it would be better.

All things said and done I am estimating around 150-200 pages between the 5 Essentials core books is repeated material.  If Combat is covered in the Rules Compendium why cover it in slightly less detail in the DM and Heroes books?  The section on the gods is in every book so far.  Nentir Vale is covered to some degree in most of them.  (The DM book having the biggest coverage.)

Its as if WOTC had a pricepoint to hit per book and to make the value seem better they did a lot of cut and paste.

Still good deals, but it makes for some space being wasted, and just reducing the convenience/look up fast factor of the books...

Endless Wars: A Retrofuture RPG Setting for X-Plorers

Ok kids, here is the deal.  I have been desperately searching for some sort of game to run.  Many people on  the IRC channel I frequent ( #tinypewtermen on irc.synirc.net ) have lamented not being able to get into some sort of game.

Well I figured why think about it and just DO IT?  I made an offer to run a game, and gave a basic idea of a campaign using a freely available rules light ruleset.  As my reviews have mentioned I quite like X-Plorers, which is basically Swords and Wizardry meets Tunnels & Trolls in a Sci Fi setting.

And this lead to my ideas of a campaign using one of the settings in my head getting suggested.  Almost everyone liked the idea of it, and lots of really good questions were asked, filling in some holes this setting never had filled.

So this blogpost will be an evolving setting background document since it does take place on an alternate history Earth where World War 2 ran for almost another 30 years.

Yes I could postcount ++ this with ever new posts, but it will be much easier if I use one singular posting for the general world setting and background.  Other posts may cover house rules and the required background rules for the specific adventure I have in mind.

If there are historical inaccuracies feel free to tell me so I can fix it, or just apologize for the error.

An Age of Endless War

It was World War 2.  One of the bloodiest conflicts known to man.  Plans were afoot to bring an end to what was approaching a decade of war for some nations.

These plans were stopped.  In Europe the German army took far longer to be pushed out of Russia, Stalingrad becoming a nearly yearlong fight.  D-Day wasn't half as successful as planned, with Rommel himself being in active and direct command.  The Allies gained a beachead but it was a bloody and horrific one, almost not worth the cost.

On the Pacific front, Japan's miniature submarines launched sneak attacks on the west coast, even inflicting bioweapons on major cities.  These attacks were merely cover for deep insertion teams to disable US nuclear research.  The Atom bomb was prevented from being birthed, but the teams never made it out alive.

It wouldn't be until 1947 that Germany would fall, as a Zhukov lead coalition in the USSR finally tired of Stalin's madness against even his own people and soldiers, putting him to hang for his crimes, and a more idealistic form of Communism taking its place.  The now renewed in spirit Russian armies pushed hard in the east, and this gave the western Allies the break they needed to finally break out of France and fight their way to end the Third Reich.

Yet the victory only lead to Germany becoming a wasteland.  The western and eastern allies could not agree on what to do there, and by Spring 1948 the newly formed Collectivist Bloc declared official war against the western allies yet still fought against Japan in the east, sometimes leading to battles where the United States, the Collectivist Bloc, and the Imperial Japanese were all fighting for the same land, a whirlwind of madness in the name of "liberating" nations.

To hold shattered nations together against the Bloc, the western European nations combined into one singular country, the previous counties becoming member states to fight as one united force.

Over the nearly 3 decades the nearly endless war exhausted both economies and the people, with most teenagers forgoing a high school education for a military one, the average age of most combatants being 18 by the mid 1960s.

Anyone attempting to pursue nuclear technology found their efforts stymied by both enemy nations, and another mysterious group.

This group, the "Children of the New Age" would be formed from the disgust with endless war and suffering.  While many nations and their war weary citizens wanted the war to end, bitter hatreds and never healed wounds for entire generations  just wouldn't let anyone make the first gestures, even if each new battle slowly strangled each country to death.

These Children were founded by a secretive wealthy foundation made up of the best scientific and philosophical minds the world had to offer, not caring about what nationality they came from.  Enlisting idealistic soldiers from many countries, this group engaged in both combat and other means to finally bring the war to an end.

In 1975, World War 2 officially came to the end, with the 4 major political warring powers (The North American Alliance, the Western European Republic, the Collectivist Bloc, and the Imperial Asian Prosperity Sphere) signing peace treaties.

But 3 generations fighting war just don't end things overnight.  Politicians still have power to gain from old hates.  Entire generations even though they were socially still decades behind where they might have been otherwise had memories that couldn't just be erased.  Scientists still continue to develop weapons of war, and research the constantly derailed nuclear option.

It is 1982.  The world economy is slowly coming back on track, civilian technologies are coming into play.  But the world is on a razor's edge, easily capable of sliding back into war.

(Coming soon: The nations of the world)

Monday, October 18, 2010

[Review Corner] Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon

Yes.  That's right.  For all of you fine folks here is a review of the first of 3 D&D Essentials Dungeon Tiles box sets.  This Dungeon Tile set is: THE DUNGEON.

This Dungeon Tile set... CAN MAKE DUNGEONS.

I was worried it would make like, a level for videogame SHMUPS or something.

(Hey, Milton Bradley made a Zaxxon boardgame back in the day!  The cover art OWNED and it was my first experience with hexagons.  I wished I still had it.)

Let's get this party started!

The all new Dracula score is for the best of the best, inspired by a Destructoid podcast who wants to spread the term around.  And as I love me some good Dracula (the 75th Anniversary Edition DVD of the Universal movie RULES outside of the useless secondary commentary track by the doofus responsible for the Mel Brooks Dracula spoof.  Guy wrote a BAD movie and he is basically repeating information that sometimes CONTRADICTS the trivia subtitle track and bashes the superior Spanish cast Dracula?  AW HELL NO.  <3 Lupita Tovar <3 and the awesome chubby Sanitarium guy.) I can get behind this rating for stuff that goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Don't expect to see that rating used very often.  Or what may be its counterpart "Tea Party" which would be used for the suckiest of the suck.  (Destructoid's crazy kids came up with Dracula.  I might as well come up with its goatee wearing counterpart.)

As much as I have ragged on normal 4e on this blog, its really an Ok to Bad game, and certainly not deserving of such a bad score.  The film "Urotsudoji: Legend of the Overfiend" would be a Tea Party level movie, being not only bad, but so offensive to me on nearly every level to make me regret ever having heard of it, much less having such SAN blasting horrors inflicted on me.  On the other side, a game like D6 System Star Wars or the Chaosium version of Call of Cthulhu would be Dracula rated titles.

So its still my core 3 point scale with 2 levels for "Special" recognition.

Hopefully everyone will enjoy this review and as mentioned, I may turn my example map into a full adventure, or close enough of one for you to fit it into the game of your choice!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

[Review Corner] Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Red Box Starter Set Part 6

Not a comic post this time.  As I am covering the Dungeon Master's book.  With luck I won't confuse some things said in this book with the Rules Compendium I have been reading through.  (Which is a 320 or so page book of nearly pure rules.  Obviously I am reading it very slowly when I have the desire.)

(Also I have had a busy work schedule as of late so its best to knock this one out.  Don't worry, comics covering more of Essentials are in my future.  Its too fun not to!)

We already know what the DM's book is size and looks wise, so let's hop in to that content.  I will probably add a few mentions about the Rules Compendium for comparison though.

We start off with some basic information about the book's contents, some basic rules of good Dungeon Mastering, and more mentions about what Essentials products you can buy next.  WOTC needs the money I guess.

Then its your FIRST ENCOUNTER AS A DM, getting your players together for a little woodland skirmish against some monsters with basic information on monster statistics, some of the terrain elements, and that "Combat Advantage" thing I mentioned in an earlier installment of the review.  Compared to 3.x editions the monster information is much shorter, or at least it feels that way, though it is much more readable and organized.

I am sort of ambivalent on the monster stat blocks.  On one hand its everything you NEED to know to properly run the monster in combat.  On the other its almost TOO defined and hard coded.  Again with the videogame similarities.   The level 1 monster type in this scenario has 30 HP each, +6 to hit, and does a d6 +5 damage.

As I mentioned this edition of D&D REALLY has shot all the numbers up.

Now its back to more rules, which is sort of odd.  Its like the game wants you to get playing quickly, but then its back to book reading time.  In this case 14 pages worth of somewhat dense rules with more DM advice here and there.  I am honestly unsure why they just didn't either spread the rules out with the rest of the adventure as needed, or even put the introductory skirmish in the front instead of with the rest of the module.

To be fair most of the advice is pretty good, though is nothing you haven't heard before.  They then get into "Skill Checks" where you take a Skill, add in modifiers like training and stat mods, and beat one of three target numbers.  They start at 8, 12, and 19 but in Rules Compendium go up as the PC's level does, roughly keeping the odds about the same.

I am really torn on this.  It basically means skills never REALLY get better as your odds roughly stay the same throughout the 1-30 levels Essentials itself allows.  Personally I would just call a target number based on difficulty and not particularly worry about PC level.  Maybe some things are just plain IMPOSSIBLE for a low level PC to do.  A cheap lock on a peasant's door?  Probably a 10.  The adamantine lock on Azalin's phylactery?  35.  Maybe even 40.

Then its on to how to run combat, going over the information from the Player's Book and then into Opportunity and Immediate actions.  Opportunity Attacks basically work like Blood Bowl or 3.x D&D though MUCH simpler than 3.x.  If you do certain actions while adjacent to an enemy they get to take a free swing at you.  I will possibly go into further detail if I decide to cover Rules Compendium in full, but from my current reading and D&D Encounters experience I can say they work MUCH better and are easier to understand than in 3.x.  Immediate Actions are pretty much like Instant spells in Magic the Gathering.  If X happens you may do Y.  You may only do 1 per round of combat, and never on your actual turn.  Immediate happen in response AFTER X happens, and Interrupts go before X is resolved.

It works its simple I have no problem with it overall.  Its adding a lot of IF THEN actions to a round of combat though.

Next up are "Action Points".  PCs get one per period of time (pretty much one per game session though not doing a full rest for multiple encounters can net you an extra one) and if they choose to use it they get one free action, either Standard, Move, or Minor.

I don't much like them honestly.  Some monsters can have em too, but its rare.  Its just..  I don't see the point at ALL of them.  "Hey for no reason whatsoever once a day or so you can do something twice.  No explanation."  Uhh...

Then its movement, covering falling damage, forced movement and whatnot, ending with basic exploration movement speeds made simple.  Your average well armed and armored PC party is moving 25 miles per day.  (Or 2 1/2 miles an hour.  Or 250 feet per minute.  This is a speed 5 party.  It goes up if everyone is somehow speed 6 or 7.)  The Rules Compendium says this is for 10 hours of normal walking travel and adds in options for some faster movement and such.   Its grid based movement mostly.  Yay.

Now we get on to your attacks, starting with the generic Melee Basic and Ranged, then some Close attacks, and area of effects, either "Burst" or "Blast".  Mostly simple and as you would expect.  There is some penalties for long range attacks with certain weapons, but not a whole lot and they don't seem to come up much.

It continues on with attack modifiers and the stuff I have generally mentioned in earlier installments.  Its all basic stuff most of you out there reading this probably know already.  Charging now is part of attacking and not a move with bonus (you can get extra movement squares with penalties for what a "Run" is considered now though!) but a certain set of requirements for a NORMAL move that gives you a minor bonus to hit.  Critical hits now generally just do maximum damage for weapons, though it mentions certain weapons and spells and items do extra dice in damage or whatnot instead.

It then goes into various status effects like continuing damage, dying, being slowed, and Saving Throws to try to avoid or shake off such effects.  Which is usually just a 55% chance to shake it off at the end of a character's turn.

I don't have much issue with this stuff either.

Hit Points get covered in detail next, and now death happens at a negative value equal to a character's "Bloodied" value.  (So Rufus in our example comics can survive up to -14 before kicking the bucket.)  Making a 1-9 on the DON'T DIE roll 3 times before brought out of negative HP equals death, 10-19 is no change, and if a 20 or better (they don't much explain HOW one would get a higher roll though) a Healing Surge can be spent, waking up the knocked out character with whatever the Surge or other healing effect used on the PC gives them.  Or 1 HP if no surges remain.

Its a bit simpler than the 3.x or even 1-2nd ed AD&D dying and death rules.  I kind of like the change.

Before a really cool sidebar picture on page 19 we are told about the "Short Rest" which is roughly 5 minutes and regains Encounter Powers plus allows the use of multiple Healing Surges.  The "Extended Rest" which is about 6 hours of nap time (with 12 hours of non ER time before it can be done again) and gives back all the Healing Surges, Daily Powers, and 1 fresh Action Point.  (You might have had more AP but if you hadn't used it it resets to 1.  A nice little way to egg players to not camp after EVERY SINGLE FIGHT they can.)  The Rules Compendium goes into more detail, but its simple, basic, and works.

Again, I have no beef with this.

Next up is the 2 page overview (with more basic DMing tips) of the adventure.  Overall its a simple dungeon with lots of monsters to fight over 7 2 page encounters.  A 2 page section in the middle of this explains "Skill Challenges" which are utterly silly things where PCs pick applicable skills to get through some task and if they can pass X number of checks before accumulating 3 failures which then usually leads to having to find some other way to complete the task at hand.  (Protip: Usually combat.  Again, the Rules Compendium goes into more detail, encouraging failure to just make things rougher on the players but not roadblock them.  Which isn't a BAD way to do things really. )

This is sort of like dialogue or event trees in computer RPGs where if you get X rolls correctly or select the right choices you can get neat in game effects like sex with the hot redheaded bisexual bardess in your party or get King Bob to give you more loot for killing the dragon.

In a tabletop RPG ITS OVERCOMPLICATED AND DUMB.  Just.. just let PCs use skill checks as needed and don't quantify needing X many successes to do something.  It just doesn't make any sense to me in a tabletop format.

I haven't read the adventure in full detail, but its basically a sequence of fights with the odd element to make things interesting.  Like the potential to use those Skill Challenge things to talk a mildly disinterested dragon from fighting you, and various room elements to make the fights more than basic JRPG whackamoles.   Here and there a few other rules elements (like moving a multi square monster in smaller areas and such) come up as needed.

Its an introductory adventure and it does complete the basic setup from the PC book.

It concludes with the basics of leveling up to the big deuce (most of your non stat abilities and damage goes up a point every other level, plus some preset HP per class and possibly new powers and a feat.), and is nice enough to give you as the DM options as to where to take the story next.

(Of course the Dungeon Master's Kit has a BIG 2 booklet adventure meant to be run next, and I keep hearing conflicting information if the Monster Vault contains one to take place after that.  But you don't HAVE to use them if you don't want.)

The next few pages talk about making your own adventures including chopping up the map to be used in a geomorphic manner, awarding XP, and the roles various monsters have in encounters.

Just like they give for PC classes, monsters have specific roles they are sort of designed for.  I never liked this KNOW YOUR ROLE thing in MMORPGs and I don't much like it here.  I guess for monsters it makes it easy to know what the critter should be doing in a fight but.. eh.  Like 3.x, there is a chart listing basic recommended encounter sizes for various PC parties as to not overwhelm them which I don't much have issue with.

34 monster stats are provided next, with a bit of fluff and art to tell you about them.  Sadly, most are just repeated from the adventure itself WHICH IS TOTALLY LAME.  Its wasted space really.

We close out the rules in the book with some explanation of rewards aka EXP and PHAT LEWTS, with the magic goodies in this box being listed on those thin cards I showed yall in the 2nd installment.   They give you recommended treasure amounts too.  (Again with the hard guidelines guys?)  But like most of these recommendations its good for newbies to know roughly what kinds of challenges and prizes they should be dishing out as new DMs though I would just give out what I damned well wanted to.

A quick 2 page setting known as the Nentir Vale is next, providing you a nice starter setting for adventures.  Even if I would MUCH rather they just use the Grand Duchy of Karameikos from Mystara instead of reinventing the wheel.  It does seem nice enough, and easily plugged into a setting of your choice or the start of your own campaign world.  Its a roughly 100 by 150 mile rectangle of bog standard fantasy area.

The back cover is a quickie reference for those status effects, attack modifiers, overland speed, and skill check difficulties.

The book overall does what it NEEDS to and is fairly packed with content and is a good rock solid overview to most of the rules you need to play D&D 4e Essentials, though as I mentioned, the Rules Compendium goes into greater detail and covers a few more things one would need for 30 levels of adventuring.

Look forward to part 7 of this review series where I bring my conclusions and give a final score rating.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

[Review Corner] Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Red Box Starter Set Part 4b: D&D Encounters part 2

As I mentioned last week, I gave D&D Encounters a shot, recreating Rufus using the proper Essentials rules in about 10 minutes and then running him with the folks in The Keep on the Borderlands remake.

I returned this week with about 8 of us playing in one group.

This week we found a bank on fire.  Upon entering it we found multiple Fire and Water Elementals causing trouble, the Fire ones leaving little bits of the place burning.

We went in to fight, getting to experience continuous damage effects via fire that caused damage per turn, with a 50% chance to "save" against the effect at our actions' end each round.  A nifty puzzle element was added, plus clues as to where we were going next.

My continued reading of the rules kept me being the de facto helper player, showing folks how to Charge and Run, plus having the Essentials rulesbooks let me help flesh out PC abilities which were only summarized on the pregenerated sheets everyone else was using.  (One of the Clerics had an error on their card, it not listing that his "Smite Undead" power only worked on Undead while the other Cleric's and the Essentials Heroes book said it was UNDEAD ONLY.)

I discovered more effective uses for my Knight.  See Rufus has an "Aura" you can activate as a minor action.  Anyone adjacent to him targeting anyone but him or another character with that same aura activated take a -2 to hit anyone else.  Having this activated also allows for attacks on anyone attacking or shifting.  Which looks to include Opportunity Attacks.  So when my teammates moved past me to get in (and try to avoid taking damage from the fires spouting up everywhere) the monsters got an Attack of Opportunity.  With a -2 because of my aura.  And I got a free attack on the monster, that even if I miss, I do my Strength Bonus in damage to it!  (Which is +4 as Rufus is 18 STR.  But remember "Minion" monsters don't take Miss Effect damage.)

Now a vindictive DM is eventually just going to target us Knights with this active, though as we have 11 Healing Surges and normally the best Armor Class and highest Hit Points, this sort of works.  Like in an MMO, we become the "Tanks" the monsters go for, leaving our buddies alone.

Which lets them do COOL STUFF.

Like our Rogue.  As in my reviews, I have mentioned "Combat Advantage" which you get for various situations.  A main way to get it is to have 2 characters/monsters directly opposite of each other surrounding an opponent.  This provides a +2 bonus to hit.  Now Rogues gain an extra 2D6!!!  damage against something they have Combat Advantage on.  And once per encounter a Rogue has an Encounter Power adding an additional +3 to hit and an extra 1d6 damage.   Our Rogue hit one Elemental for 1d4+6 (Rogues using light weapons use their Dex bonus to hit and damage, with an extra +2 to damage on top.  I assume he was Dex 18) +3D6.  Now at 30th level the bonus dice would be 9D6 not even counting improved stat bonuses and magic gear!

Yes kids, there is MASSIVE numbers inflation in Essentials as compared to pre 4e D&D.

Then after we won we found a Level X Magic Item.  Instead of it being preset and secret, in 4e you KNOW what they are without needing to Identify them, and in Encounters' case whoever got the item gets to decide what it is based on an "Appropriate to Your Level" chart.  I voted the Rogue should have gotten it for that Billy Bad Ass attack (That I helped him with both in giving the Combat Advantage AND explaining how it all worked), but we ended up rolling off and the long term 4e player (running a Wizard who did some nifty stuff too really) got it, meaning he is upped first, but is now out of the running for the loot for a while.

I am still enjoying the game.  Its still not much RP, but it is very fun as a Braunstein.  And it doesn't take all too much time to play out each week, giving me at least a LIGHT RPG fix.

(One week will be tricky though.  Game starts at 6 where I play it, and a friend gets out at 6 and we should be going to The Dark Manor Haunted House in Norwich CT on a Wednesday so one day I will be engaging foul monsters then driving 20 minutes quickly after the game to go through a more fancy setup of spooks and ghouls.)

I am going to attempt to make it each and every Wednesday that I can at least for the Keep adventure and will keep y'all updated with rules I discover, filling in the gaps from my series of review comics.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

[Review Corner] Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Red Box Starter Set Part 5

Rufus has his final adventure in the Player's Book!  Are you excited?  I'm excited.  Or worried this is now 5 (ok 6 if we count the Encounters coverage) installments and we are just now finishing with one class going through it.

This is another wordy one since we have some mechanics to cover.  On the upside this will reduce some of the rules stuff I will have to cover when we hit the Dungeon Master book.

Yes I even put my mug in there no less.  See?  I'm not some horrible, evil, in print D&D hating monster.  
I say I am pretty fair in my reviews, which of course just angers fanboys and anti fanboys.  (Aka: The foolish.)

But in case you want to see the commercial I mentioned: Get your feathered hair and black tee shirts out!

Friday, October 1, 2010

[Review Corner] Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Red Box Starter Set Part 4a: D&D Encounters

Call this a non comic like subreview.

For those not in the know, WOTC provides many game shops with a Wednesday afternoon game series called Dungeons & Dragons Encounters that they have been running for a good year or so now.

Unlike my attempts to recruit gamers, both the stores I have been to that run this program have 4-12 people show up every week to play.

Encounters is a "season" adventure suite using the 4e ruleset with an adventure for stores to run with DCI (WOTC's DM/Magic Tourney sanctioning thingie) qualified DMs.  Basically you show up with no RPG experience needed and play a D&D 4e encounter and over the course of a quarter of a year or so you play an adventure, with no real requirements to be there each week.

Each encounter takes about an hour or two to play with pregenerated characters available.  Depending on your actions throughout the series of encounters you collect Renown Points which do.. something and your character gains normal XPs and the like to level up.  (For example, I made my own character and gained a number of RP for doing so while the other 3 players did not.  However they had been there the week before when this season began and gained some RP for hitting a "Milestone", something I will get to further on in my Essentials review series.)

This season is D&D Essentials, and is a remake of "Keep on the Borderlands", one of the most fondly remembered D&D modules.  I have run the Basic D&D version of it myself, though we never finished it sadly.  (Players not showing up and all.)

So... what is it like?  Well, there was almost ZERO roleplaying.  There was some opportunity for it, but no serious need.  There was enough people to split into two groups, and I joined the one with less 4e experience.  Due to my reading of the Red Box Player's Book and my skimming of the DM's book and the first 2 Essentials books (Heroes 1 and Compendium as I will call them) I was helping the experienced in 4e DM teach the rules to the new and returning to D&D players.  Much like a long ago 3.0 campaign I became the "Rules Bitch" because I am rather good at either retaining basic rules knowledge, or being able to find said rules QUICKLY.

In this regard we can safely say the Red Box teaches what you REALLY need to know for D&D 4e Essentials quite well.  In fact I could say you could all but pass on Rules Compendium and just buy one of the Heroes book and get along fine if you have Red Box.  (Much information is repeated in my two books, and I am sure the next Heroes book will continue this.  Its understandable WHY they do this, but its also sort of wasteful IMHO.)

The encounter itself was a fight against a couple bandits and their Halfling boss.  Sadly I learned at least at low levels there is no "Guard" ability that gives you a free swing at guys moving into base contact.  I was able to QUICKLY rebuild Rufus for Encounters using the Heroes book.  It took me like 10 minutes or so, and that was just because I was being careful to do things properly and doublecheck my work.  (He isn't TOO different from his Red Box version, though he only has 2 of those combat stance things, and I chose different armor and feats.  For you 3.x fans know that Cleave is no longer ridiculous, but is BRUTALLY useful against those 1hp "Minion" type monsters.)

I probably took the least damage of anyone, due to a bit of luck and decent tactics which I helped the rest of the players with, also reminding them of racial powers and their other neat abilities.  (Humans have a gloriously cheesy Racial Encounter Power that lets them add +4 to any D20 type roll they don't like.  Pretty much giving you a single +4 roll per encounter.  That's BAD ASS.)

But was it all fun?

Yeah.  It was.  Now this is Essentials 4e and still Level 1 play where things are simpler and there isn't a ridiculous laundry list of powers and abilities to keep track of so things may change further on.  (Not to mention monster HPs can get into the THOUSANDS at high level play.  Seriously.)

Will I go back and play some more?


I do recommend that if you want to try 4e the Encounters program is a great way to do it.  It doesn't take a long period of time per week, and its currently using the Essentials stuff as opposed to the ridiculous amount of options and powers full on 4e has.

If you want a Braunstein game you could do worse than to give it a shot.

Just... don't expect D&D as it was for the first 30 odd years.

Because it isn't.

I'll continue to explain WHY as this series continues.


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