A Hero Twice a Month

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Role Playing Games, Comic Books, and other nerdy pursuits.
Updated: 1 hour 24 min ago

Forgotten Realms and other D&D comics are available now as part of a Humble Bundle

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 01:18

Sorry for the delay in posting, but things have been crazy at work recently.  However, considering how much time on this blog I have spent recapping the old DC/TSR Forgotten Realms comic book series, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the entire series is now available as part of a Humble (Book) Bundle.

And it is not just the old Forgotten Realms series either.  The old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series is also part of the bundle, not to mention several of the newer Dungeons & Dragons series produced by IDW.

This is a seriously good deal and at the time of this post it is still available for five days or so.  So if you have enjoyed my postings on the old comic series and want to check it out for yourself, now is the perfect time to do so.

A quick programming note and Gen Con quick hits

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 10:00

This weekend I had some issues with the Windows 10 upgrade to my study PC that ultimately took the better part of Saturday to resolve.  Since that is when I was planning on finishing up my Monday blog post, it will be postponed to my normal Thursday post.

In lieu of a full post, here are a few quick Gen Con news items:

Tribality  posted the demon lord write ups from the upcoming D&D Adventure League storyline Rage of Demons.

Wizards of the Coast and D&D 5e did really well at the ENnies, winning the gold in thirteen catagories.  The full list of ENnie Award winners can be found here.

Onyx Path Publishing has announced Vampire: The Masquerade 4th Edition.  I find this a bit odd as they are already publishing both twentieth anniversary versions of their classic World of Darkness material and a second edition of their new World of Darkness material.

Random Reviews: Ant-Man

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 10:00

The first thing any good burgler does is show his face to the people he is burgling.

My feelings about the Ant-Man movie are complicated.  I was really excited about Ant-Man when it was first announced that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) was going to be directing it.   Needless to say I was disappointed when he left due to creative differences with Marvel Studios.  So for me Ant-Man will always have to compete with the pure Edgar Wright version of the movie that only exists in my head, and like anytime when reality has to compete with fantasy it is tough for reality to compete.

That said, Ant-Man is a fun movie.  Marvel Studios seems to have making superhero movies down to a science now, even when translating their lesser known properties to the screen.  Also, with the sheer number of movies Marvel Studios has produced in recent years they have smartly started to play with the genre a bit.  The Captain America: The First Avenger was naturally a superhero film mixed with a period piece, but the Captain America: The Winter Soldier was also a mix, this time of superhero film and a spy thriller.  Ant-Man is a superhero film mixed with a heist movie.

Like any heist movie, Ant-Man establishes what needs to be stolen, then establishes all the reasons why it is impossible to steal the item.  It then has the ringleader establish a crew with specialized skills that can overcome the security around the item to be stolen.  Of course, the heist has complications which are only overcome by quick thinking on the part of the crewmembers during the heist.  In the end, despite these complications the heist is successful.

Of course, since it is not a pure heist movie Ant-Man also has to fit in time for a traditional superhero origin story and a big supervillain battle before the movie is over.  Like Avengers: Age of Ultron it also takes some time away from the main plot to establish ties to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe by having Ant-Man fight an Avenger to get a MacGuffin “needed” for the main heist.  Personally, I wish they had kept it closer to the traditional heist film structure and eliminated the battle at the end, merely leaving Darren Cross raging at how Hank Pym had pulled one over on him.  I am guessing my opinion is in the minority on this though.

As someone of Latino descent, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about Luis.  Played by Michael Peña, Luis is one of the first* Latino characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I wish he was more then a comedy sidekick, he is genuinely funny and gets the most to do of any of the secondary characters.  Welcome to the MCU Luis, hopefully we will see you in the sequel.

All and all I enjoyed Ant-Man.  It had a good mixture of action and humor.  I don’t feel it was quite as enjoyable as last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy but I would definitely recommend it to superhero movie fans.

 

3.5 carpenter ants out of 5 

 

*Maria Hill is Latina in the comics, but in the MCU she is played by a white actress (Cobie Smulders).  Conversely, Agent Sitwell is white in the comics, but is played by a Latino actor (Maximiliano Hernández) in the MCU.

Game Recap: Princes of the Apocalypse Session 3–The Temple of Sacred Stone

Mon, 07/27/2015 - 10:00

Looks Peaceful Enough

Dramatis Personae

Glidion: High Elf Wizard (Enchanter) who exaggerates stories of his past triumphs. Unwitting pawn of the Zhentarim.

Gracealyn “Darkeyes” Droverson: Tethyarian Human Noble Fighter (Champion) who seeks to restore her lost family fortunes.  Member of the Lords Alliance.

Milo Miller: Lightfoot Halfling Cleric of Pelor (Life Domain). Seeks to spread worship of his god to Faerun.  Watcher of the Harpers.

Salazar Tomoki: Shou Human Monk (Way of the Open Hand).  Hermit who walks Faerun seeking enlightenment like Caine from Kung Fu.

Wrenna: Forest Gnome Rogue (Thief).  Little is known of Wrenna’s past other then that she has been on the wrong side of the law from a young age.

Recap

Having defeated the gargoyles and deciding that their suspicions about the monastery being a haven for evil were correct, the party decided to throw caution to the wind.  Well, not entirely to the wind as Wrenna snuck a peak into the central temple area prior to the group kicking open the doors.  Wrenna reported that there were a priest and two guards inside gathered around an altar at the far end, with four large columns of natural stone dominating the room and a large set of stairs heading down in the center.

The party seized the initiative and attacked.  Glidion lead the attack with a fireball to “soften them up”, followed quickly by the a fleet-footed and stealthy Salazar armed with shurikens.  Wrenna used her bow to great effect while Darkeyes was less effective with her javelin as she tried to close the gap.  Milo used a guiding bolt of magic to both attack and assist his comrades.  Glidion was able to take down the weakened priest and guards using magic to put them to sleep.

Tying the three up, they proceeded to wake the priest and interrogate him.  The priest, a man named Qarbo, was quite talkative if openly contemptuous of his captors.  He told the group that no matter what they did, they could not stop the rise of the Cult of the Black Earth.  When asked if the Cult of Black Earth was behind the attack on the party by monks wearing wingwear, he spat and said those “vulture riding fools from the Cult of Howling Hatred” were weak and would be “the first to fall when the Black Earth ascended”.  When asked what was below, Qarbo told the party to “go down and find out, but do not be surprised if the Black Earth devours you.” Having enough of his attitude, Darkeyes literally picked him up by the ankles and shook him, and was gratified when a pair of keys on a chain around his neck fell to the ground.

Meanwhile the group discovered a bronze lever close to the altar.  Wrenna could not determine its purpose, but Glidion had a hypotheses it might have to do with the stairs.  Deciding to test this, the party placed the three tied up cultists on the edge of the stairs.  Qarbo was asked if he had anything to say before the lever was pulled.  While he looked nervous, he did not give the party any more information.  The lever was pulled, the stairs collapsed, and the three cultists slid into the darkness below.  More mechanical noises were heard in the distance, followed by screams, followed by a clacking, scrabbling noise as the umber hulk below tried to make it up the ramp.  The party decided it was best to explore elsewhere.

Leaving out the small doors to the west, the party entered a hallway with Wrenna in the lead.  Her sensitive gnomish nose detected the smell of baking bread.  Making their way through the empty dining area, the group entered the kitchen where four monks in dun colored robes were preparing food.  Seeing the party they hastily donned gargoyle masks and attacked.  The monks proved no match for the party however, and once they were vanquished the party use the opportunity to restock their provisions.  The deceased monks were also liberated of their robes and masks.

Heading back out the way they came and travelling south, Wrenna listened at a door and heard some people speaking in what she thought was a dialect of dwarvish.  Darkeyes decided to have a little fun, donned a gargoyle mask, put a (poorly fitting) robe over her armor, and charged into the room to attack.  The dwarves, actually duergar, were taken off guard by this unorthodox attack. Only three of the six duergar in the room were awake and the group worked to push their advantage while they could.  Two of the duergar used the strange powers innate to their race to grow to gigantic proportions.  Regardless, the party took the day and defeated the evil dwarves.

Continuing their explorations, the party found another dormitory with four sleeping monks who were slaughtered before they were even fully awake.  The group then discovered the sleeping quarters of the priest and his guards they encountered earlier.  One of the keys they had liberated from the priest opened an iron coffer containing priestly vestments, gold bracelets, and several magical scrolls which were claimed by Glidion.

To be continued…

Why PDFs of Fifth Edition D&D still matter

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 10:00

In some ways Wizards of the Coast has made great strides in supporting electronic gaming.  They have been steadily releasing their impressive back catalog in PDF through the D&D Classics website.  The D&D Basic rules are available as a free download from the Wizards of the Coast website.  They provide officially licensed content for the Fantasy Grounds which gives them a virtual table top, a character creation tool, and even a digital distribution tool for their books.  Despite these strides though, there is currently no way to legally buy the D&D 5e Core Rule Books in a PDF format.  This is frankly unbelievable in the year 2015.

PDFs are important.  While there may be some issues with PDFs, the format has been around since 1993 (22years) at this point.  It is an open format, which means there are a plethora of PDF readers available, and they are available for any OS on the market.  PDF is the standard for RPG books, and indeed most reference style books.

No offense to the Fantasy Grounds guys, but I will be extremely impressed if it is still available in 22 years to read the content Wizards of the Coast has made available through their license.  Also, launching Fantasy Grounds just to read the core rule books is frankly overkill.  While it is a competent virtual table top, it would be crazy to invest the money in Fantasy Grounds if all you want is the books in an electronic format. 

So what is wrong with just reading the physical books that Wizards of the Coast is publishing?  It is not that there is anything wrong with them, but PDFs have advantages that make them more practical for many people.  For starters, they don’t take up as much space.  It is easy to bring your entire library of game books over to someone’s house in digital format, obviously not if they are physical books.  It is amazing how much space these books take up.  When I moved to Arizona, my gaming books filled more than twenty banker boxes, most of which are still stacked up in my garage!  For many people, storing this many books is simply not practical.

PDFs are also easily searchable, which helps both with game prep and when looking up a rule during the game.  Can’t remember how grappling works in D&D 5e?  Just type in “grappling” into the search box and you will have the answer in seconds.  Lets say you are entering your character into Roll20. While you can retype all your spells by hand, cutting and pasting them from a PDF is a real time saver.  Believe it or not, PDFs are a competitive advantage in today’s market place, and are one of the primary reasons why the Lords of Tyr switched to Pathfinder for one of our two regular games.

What about piracy?  Well, not making legal PDFs has not stopped that from happening.  Illegal copies of all the current D&D 5e books are readily available online if you want them.  The only people prevented from getting PDF versions of D&D 5e books right now are those who want to pay for them.

Look, I like the beautiful, high quality physical books Wizards of the Coast produces as much the next guy.  Even if PDF versions of the core rulebooks were available, I am sure I would have bought both the physical and PDF versions of these books, especially if Wizards of the Coast offered a physical and PDF bundle like most RPG companies do nowadays.  PDFs would also make me much more likely to try out books that I am not certain I would want to take up room on my ever more precious shelf space.

So come on Wizards of the Coast…

Listen to Fry WOTC!

Virtual Table Top Review: Roll20

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 10:00

Roll20The Lords of Tyr have been using virtual table tops (VTT) in our games from pretty much the creation of the category.  Early on we used kLoOge.Werks, but ended up switching to MapTools pretty quickly.   MapTools was our mainstay until recently, but as support for that tool seems to be winding down, we have been looking elsewhere for our virtual table top needs.

Roll20 was one of the first alternatives we checked out, and honestly one of the best.  So I thought it might be good to give it an thorough review for anyone out there who is thinking of using it.

OS Support

Roll20 is a web hosted Virtual Table Top.  That means that if you have a computer with a modern browser, you can use it regardless of whether you have Windows, Mac, or Linux.  This is great for a group like the Lords of Tyr where all three of the aforementioned operating systems are represented at the table. There are also apps for iOS and Android, although I haven’t really used them enough to give a decent review of them.

Game System Support

By default, Roll20 is system agnostic.  It provides you with the basics of a VTT (map, grid, tokens) and character sheets to which you can assign various attributes and abilities.  These can then be referenced in macros which you create, allowing you to simplify your game play.

This only tells half the story though because there are a large number of community created character sheet templates which can be applied to a campaign and that will do most of this work for you.  Since they are created by the community, generally the more popular the game the better the character sheet.  The character sheet templates we have used for our D&D 5e and Pathfinder games are very robust and professional looking.  However, the template we used for the Dragon Age RPG was a bit less polished (e.g., strength was misspelled, poor font choice), although in all fairness it did do the job.

Play Experience

Since Roll20 is web hosted, there is minimal setup.  The GM and the players need only create accounts on the Roll20 website and login.  Unlike traditional client/server VTT setups, there is no need to worry about opening ports on your router for NAT traversal, something that can trip up less tech savvy GMs.  However, this does mean that if the website is down, you aren’t playing.  We also would occasionally have issues where a specific player’s screen would not update and we had to have them hit refresh on the browser.

Game play is generally pretty smooth.  The GM controls what maps the players can see. Die rolls can either be made through the GUI or by a simple chat command (e.g., “/roll 1d20+5”).  The turn counter is pretty generic in order to keep it as system agnostic as possible, but works really well with the initiative based games I have played on Roll20.  It even allows you to keep track of durations by adding an item with an incrementing counter (e.g., “Flaming Sphere 1).

The Roll20 team prides itself on using a high entropy random number generator.  They even provide statistics on the website of every roll made just to show how perfectly random everything is, which is handy to show players who have had one too many fumbles in a game session.

Roll20 also has built in chat, video, and audio (using WebRTC).  You can also run Roll20 inside of a Google Hangout, but personally I found I had too much lag when I did that.

GM Preparation

The GM creates an account on the Roll20 website and starts a campaign.  Maps, tokens, and other bits of virtual set dressing can be uploaded to the site or acquired from the Roll20 Marketplace (both free and for a nominal charge).

Maps you have created are shown across the top of the screen.  These maps have three layers: a map layer, a GM layer, and a token layer.  The map layer is where you put everything that you want the players to see but not interact with.  The GM layer is where you put things that only the GM should see.  These can be things like monster tokens, pit traps, or room numbers.  When it becomes appropriate to reveal these things they can be moved to either the map layer or the token layer.  The token layer has objects that can be interacted with, although who can manipulate a token is still limited by who owns it.

There is also a dynamic lighting layer available to people who have either a supporter or mentor level subscription.  Dynamic lighting is an advanced feature which limits what the players can see of the map based on their light sources and line of sight.  This layer where you define light sources and objects that block the players line of sight like walls.

When players are logged in you can either present all players a map by moving a virtual bookmark called ‘Players’ to the appropriate map, or drag individual players to a screen if the party decides to split up.  I have found it useful to have a generic page to park the player bookmark on when I am not using a map.

Players, NPCs, and Handouts all reside on the right hand side.  Like tokens, who can see or edit these items are controlled by access control lists (ACLs).  So if I want anyone to see a handout I set ‘all players’ as being able to see, but leave able to edit blank (the GM always has access).  All of these items can be organized by folders, but are also searchable by name or by tag (you define both).  Tagging monsters can be very useful if you want to bring up a specific category of creature (e.g., undead, goblinoid, etc).

Maps, players, NPCs, and handouts can all be archived if you want to get them out of the way but don’t want to delete them.  I find I archive pretty much everything except what I think I will need in a given session, since bringing items back is just a couple of mouse clicks.

Cost

You can sign up and use Roll20 for free.  While not every feature is available at the free level, it is surprisingly usable without paying a dime.  The main limitations are you only have 100 MB of storage and no access to advanced features like dynamic lighting or tablet support.

You can upgrade to the Supporter ($4.99/month or $49.99 /year) level or Mentor($9.99/month or $99/year) level if you choose.  Supporter basically gives you 1 GB of storage, dynamic lighting, and tablet support.  Mentor gives you 2 GB of storage plus features like access to the Roll20 API and the ability to get support from the development team.

One nice feature is that if you have access to a feature, anyone joining your campaign has access to that feature.  For example, if I have access to dynamic lighting and use it in my campaign, none of my players need anything but the free level to use the feature.

There is also the Roll20 market place where you can purchase community created tokens, maps, and modules for a nominal fee.  Alternatively, if you are a content creator, you can sell your wares here.

Personally, I joined up at the Supporter level and found it more then met my needs.  My fellow GM Chad joined at the Mentor level.  None of the other players used anything but the free level of Roll20.

Customer Support

Roll20 has a wiki and a robust community supporting it.  I was able to learn how to use the interface via YouTube tutorials and how to create all the macros I needed by reading up on them in the wiki.  Users who have Mentor status are able to get support via email from the developers, but since I am only Supporter level I cannot comment on it.

Community

Roll20 has a great community.  It also provides excellent tools for finding players or games built right into the website.  Since I have a group I play with regularly I haven’t really taken advantage of these myself, but from what I have heard the ease with which you can find players or games is one of the big selling points of Roll20.

Final Thoughts

I love Roll20.  I think a web based VTT is the way to go and it continues to get better.  The interface is also more modern feeling then pretty much any other VTT on the market.  That said, I am not currently using Roll20 for my ongoing Princes of the Apocalypse game.  Why not?  Well, that will be the topic of a future Virtual Table Top review.

A quick programming note

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 10:25

To get back in the habit of blogging, I have been trying to post every Tuesday and Thursday.  I am going to modify this to a Monday and Thursday schedule as it probably doesn’t make much sense to only have one day in-between posts, then four days until the next post.

This doesn’t mean that I will never post on other days, just that I am going to try to keep to a minimum of posts on these two days each week.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

Game Recap: Princes of the Apocalypse Session 2-Manticore Hunt

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 10:00

Vultures are not especially knightly

Dramatis Personae

Glidion: High Elf Wizard (Enchanter) who exaggerates stories of his past triumphs. Unwitting pawn of the Zhentarim.

Gracealyn “Darkeyes” Droverson: Tethyarian Human Noble Fighter (Champion) who seeks to restore her lost family fortunes.  Member of the Lords Alliance.

Milo Miller: Lightfoot Halfling Cleric of Pelor (Life Domain). Seeks to spread worship of his god to Faerun.  Watcher of the Harpers.

Salazar Tomoki: Shou Human Monk (Way of the Open Hand).  Hermit who walks Faerun seeking enlightenment like Caine from Kung Fu.

Wrenna: Forest Gnome Rogue (Thief).  Little is known of Wrenna’s past other then that she has been on the wrong side of the law from a young age.

Recap

Arriving in Red Larch, the group traveled through the village, taking note of the various shops.  Salazar made a quick trip into Lorren’s Bakery to pick up a mushroom cheese-topped bun for Wrenna.  These smelled so good that the weary travelers soon all stopped at the bakery to indulge in this savory treat.

Continuing to the Allfaiths shrine, the party met the two intendant priests: Imdarr Relvaunder a stout follower of Tempus (god of war) and Lymmura Auldarhk a follower of Sune (goddess of beauty and love).  Imdarr seemed a little put off by Sister Garaele’s decision to become a third intendant at the shrine since traditionally only two priests act as intendants at any given time.  Lymmura however welcomed Sister Garaele with open arms and offered to share her cell with the young acolyte of Tymora for the duration of her stay.

The group then pressed on to Bethendur’s Storage to drop off Gundren Rockseeker’s platinum ingots for eventual pickup by a caravan headed to Secomber.  There they met Aerego Bethendur who was quick to tell them that his storage offered absolute privacy and that anything stored here would not be disturbed unless it started to rot; even then the contents would be disposed of discretely.  When Glidion asked if that happen often Aerego simply said, “Not often”.

At this point the group sought out a tavern and ended up at the Helm at Highsun.  Once again the group heard rumors of missing people, in this case a well armed delegation from Mirabar.  A half-orc named Zomith invited herself to the party’s table and immediately displayed an interest in Glidion.  The noble elf was more intimidated by her advances then aroused, but he did learn that the caravan Zomith had been travelling with had encountered the Mirabaran delegation about fifteen days ago somewhere between Beliard and Westbridge, and that she had brawled with the Mirabaran guards during the encounter.  When she offered to discuss things in more detail with Glidion “in private”, the elf beat a hasty retreat.

Late in the evening the party bought rooms at the Swinging Sword across the street.  The proprietor of the inn, an Illuskan woman in her forties named Kaylessa Irkell, was grateful to see a well-armed party of adventures in town and expressed her hope that they would put an end to the “fell magic” that was sweeping through the Slumber Hills.  When they mentioned the missing Mirabaran delegation, she introduced them to Brother Eardon a half-elf acolyte of Lathandar (god of the dawn).  Brother Eardon had recently came from Beliard by way of Westbridge, and confirmed that the delegation was in Beliard two tendays ago.  The group resolved to travel the Larch Path to Beliard in search of the missing delegation in the morning.

Heading down the Larch Path, the group was distracted from this quest when they realized they were getting close to Feathergale Spire.  Intrigued by the wingwear they found on the monks who attacked them earlier and curious about the Feathergale Society they left the path and travelled into the Slumber Hills.  They arrived at Feathergale Spire in the evening. 

The spire was separated from the road by a cliff with a shear drop of hundreds of feet.  A brass bell hung from a wooden post near the ledge, and when they rang the bell a knight of the Feathergale Society named Savra Belabranta opened a small window near the gate and asked the adventurers what their purpose was at the spire.  Convinced that their intentions were peaceful, she invited them in and brought them up to the pinnacle of the Spire to meet the Feathergale Society’s leader Thurl Merosska.

Thurl greeted the party and asked them their business.  The party described their encounter with the wingwear wearing monks and asked if it was possible if any suits of wingwear had been stolen from them recently.  Thurl declined to answer, but since the party seemed to be men and women of valor he invited them to join in the feast that below.

The party partook in the grand feast and traded stories of valor.  As the feast was winding down, a knight burst into the room stating that a manticore had been sighted over the valley.  Thurl believed this to be an opportunity to slay the beast and offered his ring to the man or woman who brought back its head.  He asked the party if they wished to partake in the hunt, offering them hippogriffs to use.  The party agreed to join the hunt and mounted on three hippogriffs with Wrenna and Milo doubling up with larger party members.  The Feathergale Society knights mounted on giant vultures.

The beast was quickly spotted and the knights and the party took chase.  Glidion caused a great deal of damage by loosing fireballs on the manticore from afar and Darkeyes proved a dead shot with her javelins.  Salazar found himself frustrated by his lack of ability to engage at range, but Wrenna’s shortbow found its mark.  The beast was brought down by Darkeyes’ final javelin, falling to the ground below.  The party followed it down and Darkeyes used her axe to remove the dead beast’s head.

Returning to the Spire, Darkeyes was awarded Thurl’s ring.  After the feast, Thurl confided to the party that he believed the monks of the Sacred Stone Monastery were a source of the evil in the valley. The party choose to spend the night in Feathergale Spire and resolved to check out the monastery in the morning. 

During the night, Salazar was awakened by Savra.  Salazar explained that because of his vows he was not interested in an assignation, but Savra patiently explained that was not why she was there.  She was impressed by the valor of the group and wanted to confide the true purpose of the Feathergale Society: that they are on a secret mission to master elemental air to annihilate the enemies of Waterdeep.  She was telling Salazar this because she was going to approach Thurl about allowing Salazar, and possibly his companions, to join the Feathergale Society.  Salazar, and the rest of the group when he told them the next morning, said they would think about it.

The next morning the group headed off to find the Sacred Stone Monastery.  While travelling through the Slumber Hills, they came upon a number of shallow graves with vultures circling overhead.  After some debate, the party decided to exhume the bodies to see if they could be identified as any of the missing people they had heard about.  They found one dwarf in artisan’s robes and one female human dressed as a member of Mirabar’s army.  They also found one human male dressed in a black cloak with strange stony armor and one human male in white robes with black feathers at the shoulders.  All were dead from arrow wounds or crushing blows.  Convinced that at least two of the bodies were from the Mirabar delegation, they reburied the bodies and Milo performed funerary rites.

Continuing down the path described by Thurl, the party came upon the Sacred Stone Monastery around noon the next day.  An impressive stone edifice, the group decided rather than knock on the front door they would look for a secondary entrance.  Locating one on the southeast portion of the building, Wrenna examined the door and picked the lock.

Wrenna scouted ahead of the main group, who are not well known for their stealth.  At the first interior door she heard the sounds of people sparring, similar to the katas that Salazar would do in the morning.  She decided to leave this door alone for the moment and motioned for the group to move forward. 

The next door was sealed by an arcane lock.  Having no way to bypass the mystical protections, the group moved past this door as well. Wrenna then discovered stairs going down, but the party decided to continue exploring the upper level before braving the depths below. 

Continuing forward they group entered a long narrow open air courtyard paved in red sandstone.  To the north of them was the main temple area with large copper-sheathed doors and as well as another set of doors to the west.  Gargoyle statues guarded each set of doors.  Glidion expressed his concern, noting that “gargoyle statues always seem to come to life”.  Giving the statues as wide a berth as possible the party approached the copper-sheathed doors.

Of course the gargoyles came to life and attacked, although contrary to Glidion’s expectations only two of them became animate.  Showing uncharacteristic bravery, Glidion moved forward an loosed a lighting bolt on the two gargoyles.   Salazar was able to use his newly acquired magical Yari to good effect against the creatures stone-like skin, while Darkeyes’ reliable magic axe Hew caused similar grievous wounds. The gargoyles were quickly dispatched.

The party then prepared to check out the copper-sheathed doors to the temple.

To be continued…

A little side project

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 11:00

It may be a bit until this looks like the Millenium Falcon

So the insanity begins. I have a friend named Rob (not me)​ who is a member of the 501st Legion.  He has made a number of Star Wars related costumes (Commander Cody, a rebel pilot, a tusken raider, etc) as well as a BB-8 droid (which seems to be his newest specialty).  He has a Facebook group called Rob’s Armor Diary where he chronicles his builds

Maybe I will finally figure out how these quad lasers work!His armor diary has inspired me to start a project of my own and chronicle it.  I have never been into cosplay myself (although I respect the dedication and attention to detail making those amazing costumes entails), so instead I am going to build and paint the DeAgostini Millennium Falcon.  It is an incredibly accurate 1:1 copy of the shooting model of the Millennium Falcon from The Empire Strikes Back. This is a subscription model kit, so I will receive four magazine issues and four packets of parts each month for the next 25 months.  Each issue is chock full of information about the Millennium Falcon, as well as instructions for how to assemble the parts that came with the issue.

I plan on taking pictures and keeping a journal of the build along the way similar to my friend Rob's Armor Diary.  I may create a Facebook group of my own and/or a Google+ group, but since I have this blog I figure I may as well use it as the central repository for all of this.

I don’t have a lot of experience making models.  I would build the occasional model when I was a kid, but really haven’t done any model-making since then.  I have a little more experience with painting, as I used to paint miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons.  I have no experience using an air brush, although I imagine I will get some before this is all over.

I can’t really explain why I decided to jump back into model-making with this project.  Part of it is I simply love the Millennium Falcon.  When I was a kid I owned the old Kenner Millennium Falcon toy and I would be lying if I didn’t say that the removable hull and interior details of this model didn’t remind me of it.  Nostalgia is a powerful motivator.

Also, it will be an amazing display piece when it is finished.  The blueprint below is 1:1 with the finished model (Xbox controller included for scale).

I may have to get a bigger place just to display it.

Hopefully you will enjoy following this build as it progresses over the next two years.  I know this is will be an interesting journey for me.

Thoughts on Unearthed Arcana’s new Psionics rules for D&D 5e

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 11:00

I am guessing only the halfling made his save.

I think psionics is the scab that D&D can’t stop picking at.  What began as a set of optional rules from the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide has been revisited in every edition since with varying degrees of success.  They tend to be either poorly integrated into the core mechanics, the worst offender being second edition’s Complete Psionics Handbook, or presented as simply an non-Vancian alternative magic system.  Neither approach has been very satisfying.  As magic in D&D has become more diverse with the addition of core classes like sorcerers and warlocks, psionics has had to work harder and harder to justify its existence.  Still, I am always interested in new psionics systems when they come out, so I made sure to check out the PDF.

The first thing that stuck out to me at this most recent attempt had nothing to do with the mechanics.  Rather it was tying psionics so closely to the Far Realm.  To some extent this makes sense, after all the monsters that are most likely to be psionic have always been aberrations.  Less successful to me was their attempt to explain why psionics are more common on some campaign worlds than others, which boils down to the “weirder” your campaign world is (Dark Sun, Eberron), the more influence the Far Realm will have and the more common psionics will be.  If anything this simply seemed to highlight how out of place psionics tend to be in a normal D&D fantasy setting.

As for the crunch,  these rules present the Mystic class and two orders: The Order of the Awakened and the Order of the Immortal.  These are roughly analogous to Psions and Psychic Warriors from previous editions.  The core mechanic is that a mystic has a certain number of psi points that can be spent on certain class abilities or to activate disciplines.  Your Psi points completely regenerate after a long rest, which makes book keeping easier but does little to differentiate it the way magic works in D&D 5e.  Disciplines don’t have levels but can often be manifested to greater effect by spending more points.  This used to be a mechanic that set psionic characters apart, but nowadays most spell casters use the similar mechanic of getting more bang out of their spells by casting them with higher level slots.

Of the two orders presented, I think the Order of the Immortal has more to distinguish it from the other base classes.  The class it reminds me most of is actually the magus from Pathfinder.  Both have a full range of weaponry, midrange armor, midrange hit points, and a pool of points they can spend to boost their martial prowess and enhance their weaponry.  Neither is ideal as the main fighter in a party, but both can function as an off-tank with a little extra versatility to make up for some squishiness.

Personally, I didn’t quite find enough to differentiate psionics in these rules to convince me that they are a necessary addition to the game.  It is important to note though that these are presented as an early playtest of the psionics rules, not as a finished product.  One of the things that helped make D&D 5e such a strong version of the game was the extremely open nature of the D&D Next playtest and the willingness of Wizards of the Coast to listen to player feedback.  If they follow the same template with these rules, maybe there is hope for psionics yet!

Game Recap: Princes of the Apocalypse Session 1–The Road to Red Larch

Tue, 07/07/2015 - 11:00

 They do look a bit like flying squirrels

Dramatis Personae

Glidion: High Elf Wizard (Enchanter) who exaggerates stories of his past triumphs. Unwitting pawn of the Zhentarim.

Gracealyn “Darkeyes” Droverson: Tethyarian Human Noble Fighter (Champion) who seeks to restore her lost family fortunes.  Member of the Lords Alliance.

Milo Miller: Lightfoot Halfling Cleric of Pelor (Life Domain). Seeks to spread worship of his god to Faerun.  Watcher of the Harpers.

Salazar Tomoki: Shou Human Monk (Way of the Open Hand).  Hermit who walks Faerun seeking enlightenment like Caine from Kung Fu.

Wrenna: Forest Gnome Rogue (Thief).  Little is known of Wrenna’s past other then that she has been on the wrong side of the law from a young age.

Recap

The group was enjoying some well deserved rest after successfully locating the Lost Mine of Phandelver.  Well everyone was resting except for Salazar.  During meditation, he was troubled by reoccurring visions of a large unblinking eye.

The party was approached by their friend and occasional employer Gundren Rockseeker.  Since reopening the Wave Echo Mine, he had one major problem: Phandalin was simply not large enough to provide a suitable market place for the raw platinum ore him and his two (remaining) brothers were extracting.  Gundren asked it the group would be willing to escort a shipment of ore to Bethendur’s Storage in Red Larch, where it will be picked up by a caravan bound for Secomber.  The market for platinum ingots is quite good in more easterly lands and Gundren anticipates he will make a tidy profit.

Before they leave, Milo is approached by Sister Garaele.  She has been having visions of her own, and has decided that they are directing her to become an intendant at the Allfaiths Shrine in Red Larch.  She wishes to travel with the group to Red Larch for mutual protection.  She also implores the group to make a stop along the way at the ruined village of Conyberry in hopes of questioning the reputedly prophetic but twisted groaning spirit Agatha.

Heading west down the Triboar Trail, the group reaches the ruins of Conyberry.  The group follows the northwest trail to a strange hut made from the warped branches of nearby trees.  The party could hear sobbing emanating from the hut and cautiously approached.

The sobbing was coming from a ghostly child, sitting among the ruined remains of a bed inside. Sister Garaele, Milo, and Salazar approached while Wrenna, Glidion, and Darkeyes remained outside the hut.  The sobbing girl was incoherent, babbling “you shouldn’t be here” and “she won’t like it that you are here”.  The party tried to comfort her, but the spirit became angry before screaming “she’s here!” and transforming into the banshee Agatha.

Agatha admonished the party for bothering the child and told them that they would pay for their insolence.  She called forth the child’s “brothers and sisters”, four will-o’-wisps which rose from the swamp. Initially, the party was loathe to engage the spirit, still hoping to calm it down and reason with it.  The creature then let out a horrifying wail which scarred their very souls and left Sister Garaele and Milo hovering on death’s door.

Salazar focused on the banshee, although his blows were somewhat less effective against the incorporeal creature.  The rest of the party engaged the fast moving will-o’-wisps.  Things were looking grim as both healers were down and the undead inflicted grievous injuries on their living foes.  The tide turned when Glidion managed to make his way to the Milo, and forced a potion of healing down the throat of the fallen cleric.  With Milo’s divine magic to revitalize them, the party was quickly able to turn the tide and dispatch the unclean spirits.

After Agatha and the wisps were vanquished, the ghost child reappeared.  The child claimed to have been born with the gift of prophesy and that Agatha had been charged with keeping her safe.  However, the elf eventually grew obsessive and her extreme methods led to the child’s death.  Unhinged, Agatha began finding other “special children” to protect, who’s spirits became the will-o’-wisps when the tragic cycle inevitably repeated.  Because of her evil deeds, when Agatha was killed by the same Elk Tribe barbarians that destroyed Conyberry, she rose as a banshee.  Over the years Agatha’s grip on sanity became even more tenuous and eventually she became convinced she was the same child she had killed all those years ago.

The ghost child, or maybe the innocence left in Agatha, thanked the party for allowing her to “move on”.  She offered to answer any one question posed to her utilizing her second sight.  The party decided to allow Garaele to speak.  The young acolyte asked about her dreams and how she could stop the rise of the unblinking eye.  The spirit somewhat sadly said that the only slim hope was in the hands of her current companions—either they would stop the rise of the eye or no one would.

Uncertain what to make of this, the party searched the hut.  They eventually found the skeletal remains of Agatha and of several small children which they buried.  They also found a small chest which contained a diamond ring and a philter of love.

The party continued down the Triboar trail, eventually reaching Triboar itself.  Sister Garaele and Milo’s Harper contacts allowed them to stay at the Home of the Boars, a lodge slightly outside of Triboar proper.  There they met Darathara Shendrel and her companions ‘the Twelve’.  Darathara takes Milo and Garaele aside to tell them her concerns that people have gone missing.  A half-elf adventurer named Grevor and his companions are over a tenday overdue.  Additionally, two important merchants from Waterdeep, Kharloss and Jarlee, have been missing even longer.

After a well deserved night of rest, the party turned off the Triboar trail and headed south down the Long Road.  While traveling through a ravine, the party was set ambushed by a group of strangely garbed monks.  Their outfits had leathery flaps which stretched between their arms, waist, and legs that allowed them to glide from the top of the ravine to surround the party.  The outfits caused Glidion to derisively refer them as “squirrel monks” due to their resemblance to flying squirrels.

The leader, a cold-eyed woman wielding a strange looking spear that Salazar identified as a yari, demanded that the group throw down their weapons and surrender.  Unfortunately for the monks they had underestimated their opponents. Despite the fact that they were escorting a pair of oxen pulling a cart, these were not paid caravan guards but battle-hardened adventurers.  The battle was brief and violent, and the party ultimately captured one of the monks alive.

The monk was not very forthcoming, but did answer some questions.  When asked about Grevor, Kharloss, and Jarlee he stated he did not know the names but that perhaps “they now serve”.  He called the adventures fools who had no idea what was going on and that they would end up dying or serving the new order.  Eventually he would speak no more and simply said the group should either kill him and be done with it or let him go.  Darkeyes meted out grim justice to the monk with her enchanted axe.

Salazar claimed the yari by right of battle.  It was enchanted and had “Zephyr” engraved on the blade in the Shou language.  Wrenna had ‘liberated’ a scroll case from the leader in battle.  It seemed to contain many of the teachings of this monastic order.  They learned to pattern their movements after the cycling motion of the hurricane, which is how they refer to themselves.  Although he found many of their teachings perverse, Salazar did gain inspiration from some of their techniques.  Glidion gathered the strange leather outfits from the deceased “squirrel monks” and took note of the symbol on them, an inverted triangle with three branching lines above it.

The party continued south down the Long Road, eventually reaching Westbridge, staying at the Harvest Inn.  While there, the group was disturbed to hear of more recent disappearances.  The whole town was abuzz about the Oric and Lathna, siblings who were abducted by raiders from a homestead a short distance outside town.  The proprietor of the Harvest Inn, an affable halfling named Herivin Dardragon, also expressed concern about one of his regulars, a shield dwarf prospector named Wulgreda.  While he could not prove she was missing, she had not stopped by in a very long time.

After leaving Westbridge, the group encountered a group of mounted knights on the road led by a knight named Sir Gerald.  Darkeyes identified them by their heraldry as the Knights of Samular, an order dedicated to Tyr, god of justice.  After establishing their good intentions, the two groups spoke about the rash of missing people.  Glidion told them to watch out for anyone wearing the strange leather suits they found the monks in.  Sir Gerald identified the outfits as wingwear, which he was only familiar with because the Knights of the Feathergale Society used similar outfits.  As far as Sir Gerald knows, the Feathergale group is an honorable one, if somewhat pampered and rich.  Sir Gerald could not identify the symbol on the wingwear, but he had seen it before at the sites of some of the kidnappings.  Sir Gerald also took the opportunity to sketch out three other symbols he had encountered during his investigations.

Sir Gerald and his men bid the party adieu.  He did invite them to come to Summit Hall in the future and recommended they speak to the Feathergale Society about the wingwear.  The party continued down the Long Road, knowing that Red Larch was less then a day away.  

Random Reviews: The Martian

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 10:00

“I'm pretty much fucked”

I am not normally someone who gets bent out of shape by movie adaptions.  I understand that movies and novels are different mediums and that sometime changes need to be made to the way the story gets told.  I also don’t sweat it too much if the movie sucks.  After all, the book will always be there regardless of what sins against cinema the movie commits. So the fact that the first thing I though when I heard that they were making a movie out of Andy Weir’s The Martian was, “I hope they don’t screw this up”, is a sign of how much I love this book.

The Martian has an incredibly simple premise.  Astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left behind on Mars when he is injured and believed killed during a dust storm that causes the Ares 3 mission to be scrubbed.  With no way to contact Earth, and no hope of rescue before his supplies run out, Mark Watney must find a way to survive on a planet that cannot support human life.  It is basically Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

So if the premise is so simple, why do I like it so much?  Well, first off the science is exceptionally good.  No work of fiction will every be 100% scientifically accurate, but Andy Weir obviously worked very hard to make everything as plausible as possible.  In an interview he had with Adam Savage (worth a view BTW), he talked about how he had even worked out the launch date where the distance between Mars and Earth would be favorable for a mission where the astronauts would be on Mars over the Thanksgiving holiday for plot reasons.  Please note that Andy Weir never actually mentions the launch date in the novel, he just wanted the novel to be as accurate as possible.

When you are calculating orbital mechanics and trajectories for interplanetary travel just to make your novel more accurate, well you sir are a steely-eyed missile man.

With all of this focus on scientific accuracy, you might figure that it is a dry read.  That is where you are wrong.  Knowing that we would be alone with our protagonist for the majority of the novel, Andy Weir makes sure Mark Watney is an enjoyable person to spend time with.  Smart, inventive, and possessing a sarcastic wit, there would be no one I would rather be trapped on Mars with.  OK, maybe a sexy starlet, but I am sure I would survive longer with Watney to work through problems as they arose.

As for the challenges Watney has to overcome, Andy Weir does a great job of making them appear insurmountable before showing us how the protagonist overcomes them.  In the interview with Adam Savage linked to above, he mentions how he wanted all of Watney’s problems to be a “cascade failure”.  In other words, almost every issue Watney faces is either a result of the initial dust storm that stranded him there or the result of something he had to do since then to survive.  This is not the story of someone with incredibly bad luck; it is the story of someone forced to overcome incredible odds.

I know this review is a bit of a love fest, but I can’t help it.  The Martian is easily my favorite book of the century so far.

Now I just hope they don’t screw up the movie.

So the Lords of Tyr tried out the Dragon Age RPG…

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:00

Ah Solas, you old heartbreaker.

While I am not the video game fanatic that my wife is (few people are), I do enjoy playing them from time to time.  One of my favorite video game franchises at the moment is the Dragon Age series.  So I have been curious about the pen and paper incarnation of the franchise for awhile, but only bit the bullet with the recently released Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook, which combines and expands the rules from the previous three sets that Green Ronin has produced.

The basic mechanic of the system will be familiar to anyone who plays RPGs.  Roll some dice (in this case 3d6 instead of a d20), add the appropriate ability modifier, and then compare it to a target number.  Nothing out of the ordinary there.

The most innovative concept introduced in the Dragon Age RPG is the stunt system.  You are rolling 3d6 for most rolls in this system, and whenever you roll doubles, you generate stunt points.  How many stunt points depends on your dragon die (one die of a different color).  You can then use those stunt points immediately to do something cool, like get an extra attack, push an opponent back, or even perform multiple stunts together if you have enough points.

I was intrigued by the stunt system and was curious how it would function in actual play.  I also wondered what gamers who were unfamiliar with the Dragon Age video games would think of the system and the world.

So I gathered together some of my fellow Lords of Tyr and decided to run Duty Unto Death, the introductory adventure featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop.  Only one of my players was at all familiar with the Dragon Age video games, so I figured they would be a good group to evaluate the game on its merits without affection for the franchise seeping in.

The group quickly divvyed up the pregens, a Ferelden Freeman warrior, a Dalish Elf rogue, and a Human Circle Mage.  Because they were new to Dragon Age, I spent some time discussing the world and how they fit into it.  Luckily, the introductory adventure made this easy, as the characters were all new recruits to the Grey Wardens, and it begins with Duncan explaining key concepts like darkspawn and the Blight to the characters.

The first combat was very interesting.  Stunts came up a lot more frequently then I expected and really added a bit of variety to the “I hit it with my axe” rut that fighter heavy games can fall into.  It also forced the group to think tactically, especially as it was discovered how squishy the non-armored circle mage could be when darkspawn closed in on him.

(The circle mage also learned the importance of the rock armor spell from this combat, and he became a bit obsessed about keeping it up as much as possible since it is not a spell that can really be cast once combat has begun because of its long casting time.)

Because the game started a bit late, we only were able to fit in one more combat encounter in the session. By this time the group was pretty acclimated to the rules, and were really looking forward to stunts when they came up.

After the session, feedback was pretty positive.  Stephanie, still the newest gamer in this particular group despite having years of experience at this point, gave the most positive review.  She liked the stunt system, but seemed even more intrigued by the setting, which she thought had a lot of depth.  So I guess that is more of a thumbs up to Bioware, which created the Dragon Age setting for their video games.

All and all, it proved to be a very fun session.  It probably won’t become our regular game, as the group is pretty invested in the two long-term campaigns we currently are running, but I can definitely see us returning to it as time permits.

A quick update

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 13:21
I normally try to keep my posts here strictly geek related.  It has been long enough since I posted last though that I thought a quick update was warranted before I (hopefully) begin posting regularly again.
So a lot has been going on in my personal life.  Most significantly, my wife and I have moved halfway across the country from the Windy City to the Valley of the Sun.  We moved because of my work, which has been pretty hectic since I arrived here.  Things have calmed down a bit now though, which is why I am going to try my hand at blogging again.
I am still gaming with the Lords of Tyr using the various amazing digital tools which are available nowadays.  Currently I am running Princes of the Apocalypse (Dungeons & Dragons 5e) and playing through Rise of the Runelords (Pathfinder).  I also recently ran Duty Unto Death (Dragon Age) for my old group when a few of them were in town visiting.
Over the next few weeks I plan to post about virtual table tops, my experience running the Dragon Age RPG, a couple of book and TV show reviews, and possibly a major model building project I am thinking of undertaking.
So if you have been waiting for my triumphant return, here I am!  If you have stumbled across this page by accident (more likely), then I hope you like what you see.