Review

Unearthed Arcana, 5e Playtest Material, and Min-Maxing

I have to say that while I enjoy reading the various material that come through Unearthed Arcana, and even approve of most of them – reading people utterly flip out on EnWorld about them is probably more enjoyable. It’s a collection of folks freaking out as they come up with every possible Min-Maxed way that something could be or should be broken, complaints about the flavor text, and just general Internet fan-boy hysteria.

The latest one, with the Hexblade Patron, the Raven Queen Patron, the extra Eldritch Boons, and the then Lore Master Arcane Tradition for Wizards has people’s heads exploding. Personally I don’t find any of them particularly bad and kind of like them, I can certainly see some of the complaints – but when you grew up with quadratic magic-users I’m not exactly intimidated by these.

Part of the issue is the idea of level-dipping, an annoying metagamey artifact of 3E D&D. This is a problem only if the DM is dumb enough (or inexperienced enough) to allow it unchecked. Those of us raised and nourished in the halcyon days of 1E pretty much view any ability to “switch classes” after character creation to be a gift from the gods (aka the DM, often via an actual act of deity). As such, at least in my campaign, it’s should never be viewed as a given (or a “right”) it should be viewed as illustration of character development.

Case in point, if your Fighter character really starts thinking like a Paladin and you wanted to “multiclass” I’d be much more tempted to simply switch the character’s class than have a “Fighter/Paladin” – same thing with Cleric in many cases.  If your Cleric wants to train as a Monk… well, yeah, that takes awhile and you’re probably going to have a Cleric/Monk…

Also, in my campaign, multi-classing is generally going to result in a significant investment of time on the part of the character (months, not days or weeks) – which means that they are going to lag behind in level if the rest of the party has continued adventuring. Let be serious, 5e characters are already amazing overpowered compared to 1E and 2E (and, by accounts, to 3E & 4E as well), multi-classing makes them even more powerful – so yes, I’m going to make players work for it a bit.

Which, as anyone who knows me, doesn’t mean that I particularly care about powerful PC’s – I love players having powerful PC’s and I have yet to meet one that I can’t kill or otherwise deal with if I really wanted to. I threw out CR awhile ago as broken and most creatures in my games are not Monster Manual standard – another artifact of a long-running campaign world. In fact the majority of the “problems” in my current campaign has been from one of two sources, hewing to closely to some of the 5e assumptions regarding game balance, and trying to hard to follow the actual adventure path for the Age of Worms.

I should probably update my page for House Rules to address all of the various articles as to which are allowed and which aren’t.

TTFN!

D.

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Volo’s Guide to Monsters (Review)

Ok, so this came in last Friday and I have to say that I’m pretty favorably inclined to it. I’m not even sure that I care about the extra monsters stat blocks, at this point I seem to be more inclined to grab my 1e books and adapt things on the fly, or I’m using modules and doing the same thing. But, the monster lore and character races are really nicely done – even the bits I will never use.

Beholders – don’t have them in my world, so not a thing for me, but still a nicely done section. I don’t have standard giants or an Ordning in my world so this is probably the least useful section for me. Yaun-Ti are the basis for my Ithians, and it was nicely done.

I don’t have Mind Flayers, so this is less useful to me but like beholders I things it’s well done section. My Ichneumon Vorre are essentially my version of Illithids, so over the years I have ganked some bits and pieces for them. The Goblinoid and Orc sections are similarly iffy, but mostly because my goblins are more Harn-esque than Tolkien in many ways, but I plenty of stuff there than I can use.

Kobolds and Hags are kind of interesting. I have kobolds, but as jungle-dwelling or desert-dwelling creatures (two differently adapted relations, the same with lizard men) but I liked the write-up. Hags as an organized group really gives me some food for thought – not sure if I’ll use it, but it’s well done.

The PC races would all need to be tweaked in the same way that I’ve tweaked the “standard races” but I like them. The new Aaismar is much more evocative than the version from the DMG, and the rest have their interesting aspects that are worth looking at.

Worth it as a GM (though perhaps not if you are a player), especially if you playing in a standard 5e setting.

D.

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Delta Green the RPG

So, I took some time over the last couple of days to look over the new Delta Green RPG (as opposed to the old Delta Green setting for Call of Cthulhu). It is important to note that the rules are backwards compatible with the BRP engine of Call of Cthulhu 6E and previous and probably adaptable to 7E with a minimum of fuss.

(In other news, it looks like at least one of the old Pagan Pubishing campaigns, Coming Full Circle, is going to finally be coming to PDF and POD, good for them! I have my own dead tree copy, but it is a fantastic campaign and well worth picking up. It’s good that they finally convinced Crowe to relax about electronic media, and maybe wel” see some more back catalog content in the future.)

I’ve had the PDF for awhile now, but I have found that reading and digesting rules for me really requires a physical book for me to hold in my hands. I just find it easy to navigate and flip back and forth.

I like the lethality rating for powerful weapons, it seems like an elegant solution. I also like Breakpoints and Sanity rather than old BRP method of having to figure out 20% on a semi-regular basis. I like the idea of Bonds, and suspect that it will work well, but that is something I’ll have to see in practice during play. Similar to CoC 7E I really like the more abstracted method for handling money and equipment.

I really like the rules for experience. Fail a roll, make a check, then at the noted time increase the skill by one. Much, much less fiddly than the classic BRP method. I wonder if it doesn’t lead to inflated skill levels but I expect that it doesn’t – or that characters aren’t meant to survive long enough for it to matter. That particular attitude is one that I wince at, but I understand that the Paganistas have a definitive vision of how DG is supposed to be played.

Honestly, probably my biggest complaint is that the release schedule is such that I really have no idea when I can expect to see the Case Officer’s Handbook – the matching GM’s book to the current Agent’s (aka Investigator) Handbook. Yes, it’s kind of a whiny complaint, but currently I have no idea of how magic has changed, what sort of stats a creature should have (other than some extrapolation forward from 6E and some of that seems iffy), and well, I hate running games without the GM’s guide.

I really hope that this doesn’t hurt sales, but given that most people buying this are probably already DG fans, they can probably make it work. Since I’m running 7E right now it’s less of an issue, but I look forward to running it at some point in the future.

D.

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What is on the bedstand..?

Ok, there is lots of things on my bedstand, but I was thinking of the books. I tend to have a very eclectic collection that I’m reading at any one time, and the current set is somewhat emblematic or representative even if we ignore any professional texts that I might be reading – those can be a bit dry for many people.

The Roman Guide to Slave Management written by Jerry Toner (2014) is semi-ostensibly a management guide, written as 1st-person discussion of slave-owning written by a Roman citizen for his family and friends. Written by a scholar of Roman culture and history, it’s alternately insightful and amusing and worth picking up  if the topic of some interest to you. I picked this book up for a variety of reasons, and it would be a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to replicate a slave-owning society in an RPG – especially one that isn’t obviously “evil.”

Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare edited by Daniel Marston & Carter Malkasian (2010) is a collection of excellent chapters discussing the history and evolution of modern counterinsurgency. I enjoy it because it is written by both civilians and prior- (and current) service military. It is also written by individuals from across Europe as well as the United States. It would have been interesting to get the insight of Asian or Middle-Eastern or African scholars as well, though there are individuals who have served in those theatres. I picked this up on a lark from a used bookstore because I thought it would be a good review for my Traveller game.

Throwing the Bones: How to Foretell the Future with Bones, Shells, and Nuts written by Catherine Yronwrode (2012) is really, really well done. It’s an excellent overview of random and semi-random cast methods divination as opposed to highly structured methods (like the Tarot) or omen (observable natural phenomena like bird flight, weather patterns). It focuses on bones (and shells) and even covers interpretive methods based on personal gnosis and for anyone interested in the topic for any reason this is an excellent text to pick up.

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5E Adventures So Far…

So, given the announcement of the coming Out of the Abyss adventure from the Rage of Demons storyline I thought it was time to look back at the first handful of adventures for 5E. To be clear, I have only played one of the adventures at this point – Lost Mine of Phandelver, and that is where I’m going to start, looking at them in order of release.

Lost Mine of Phandelver was great, to my old 1E senses it actually felt pretty much like a old module. I loved the box set, I love the semi-sandbox feel to the mini-campaign, and all of my players have enjoyed it as well also. Given how the adventure has run we may actually skip the final dungeon and move onto the next adventure instead. Overall I think it was well balanced, and my biggest complaint is not with the module but with two pieces of 5E design philosophy, namely low magic/treasure and creature blocks for characters and NPCs instead of character class stats. Neither of these ruins the module for me as the first is easy enough to fix and the second isn’t that hard to correct ether for these level characters. Four Very Solid Dragons.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is, well, a mess. As many other have pointed out the very first encounter is almost a triumph of poor design. The rest of the module is a similarly poorly design quagmire of assumptions about what groups know about the Forgotten Realms – and DM’s with a “beginners knowledge” would be at a real disadvantage trying to run this adventure. Even DM’s who know a fair amount are stuck with having to reference old material, use wikipages, and just generally depend on far more than they should for a supposedly self-contained adventure. One Wannabe Dragon.

The Rise of Tiamat is better than it’s predecessor, but not by much. The flaws of the previous adventure actually revealed a methodology for handling a “hidden pillar’ of the 5E gaming experience – Factions. The thing I liked about this adventure was the treatment and tracking of various Faction goals and strength. The problem with the adventure is that ultimately it is bland and unexciting and reads like “roll-playing” rather than role-playing. Sad really, because it is clearly the exact opposite of what WOTC was attempting. Two Sad Dragons.

Ultimately I can’t see running either of these adventures, not do I even see stealing much in the way of ideas. I’ve handed these out on permanent loan to a friend of mine merely in return for a PDF of the pages that have the magic items (unfortunately rather lackluster) and Tiamat’s stats – and I’m really not that impressed.

Princes of the Apocalypse was much better than the previous pair of adventures. I really like how WOTC handled the “Players Guide” supplement, and unlike Queen/Tiamat I didn’t feel like I was hosed for money. The set-up of discrete adventure areas reminded me of older modules, rather than the “hardcover campaign.”  While I can’t exactly see running this adventure series, I can see liberally stealing bits and bobs for ideas – I loved the concept art for the elemental temples and immediately incorporated them as iconic concepts for the Kirks of the En Khoda Theos Kirk. The magical items were also interesting, and the stats for the Elemental Princes of Evil were lower powered than I expected, but fun to read and worthwhile. Ultimately I found the NPC’s and monsters much more interesting and worthwhile in Princes – certainly as compared to the other Rise/Queen. I give this a Four Worthy Dragons and a Noble Pseudodragon for the Player’s Handout.

Ultimately I’d really love a return of the old module-style adventures, far more limited in scope but easy to use as drop-in adventures in a larger, DM-generated campaign. Failing that I’d rather see boxed sets with good map sets than hardcovers – and failing that the folios from 4E seem to be ok. I picked one or two up at a used bookstore for dirt cheap and was not unpleased.

Personally I think this could be done in a eZine, PDF format pretty easily and with good quality – basically a return of Dungeon. We’ll see how the Dragon app works and hope for the best.

 

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Went to go see TH: Battle of Five Armies today

I think it was the most faithful to the book of the three movies, but I also think #2 was the strongest of the three movies (I really didn’t care for the first movie, really I didn’t like the portrayal of Radagast and I didn’t like the fight in the mines). They handled the ending as well as they could have I think, and they handled the romance as well as I could have asked for (especially since I didn’t ask for it in the first place).

What this movie does have me thinking of is Wood Elves riding Irish Deer, Dwarves with their War-Boars and Riding Goats, and High Elves and Ringwraiths (and the idea that Galadriel is a Cleric, not a Mage). I’d actually forgotten about Dwarves and Warboars, I think that was a thing with Warhammer Fantasy, but I’ve certainly seen it before someplace. I like the idea of Riding Goats as well, it makes lots of sense. I am so tempted to ad them to my equipment list, but I don’t think either is common enough to make it worth it. I don’t, IIRC, have riding drakes or wardrakes on there either and they are also certainly available if you know where to shop.

The movie also drives home how far afield the Dwarves of my game world have come from the prototypical Tolkienian Dwarf. My Dwimmervolk are based more on High Germanic culture, and my Mountain Dwarves are actually more like “Deep Dwarves” – they dwell and live in vast underground cities. They are not the wandering surface folk portrayed in the movie. Though, now that I think about it, that makes a decent “sub-set” of  dwarf, the wandering outcast who has lost their home to goblins or worse – I suppose that is what “Hill Dwarves” are!

It also reminded me that I had a whole thing written up at one point that every Dwarven city or stronghold had an “Arkenstone” that represented the heart of the mountain and the community. Kind of like the Lia Fáil, or the Stone of Scone, it ratified the Dwarven King as true and served as a source of magical power. I should see if I can dig up those notes to convert to 5e, or just recreate them from memory!

Oh well, it’s late TTFN and I hope everyone had a good holiday!

D.

 

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The 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide

The box from Amazon came, and after a review I can say that overall I like it. Plenty of stuff in there I’ll never use, but there was plenty of stuff in the original 1e DMG that I never used (I, for example, am not a fan of random tables…). It will be fun to do a quick post at some point talking about different base assumptions (and where 5e itself seems to contradict itself already – but all games do that, so no real foul there).

But I like the customization section a great deal and can already see a couple of things that I’ll change in my campaign. It’s also nice to see that I was essentially already following the guidelines for tweaking character classes and even character races – even though mine are definitely higher-powered than the base game’s.

I kind of like magic items, sort of. I’m going to have to chew this section over a bit. There are definitely things that just simply seem nerfed for no good reason, while at the same time I have to ponder the general change from “adds” to “flavor text and traits” when it comes to lots of magical weapons and armor – it’s not bad or wrong, just really different. I do like the section on “Other Rewards” and the “Epic Level” section – the former is already a large part of my game, and the latter gives some nice guidelines and ideas for what folks get at that scale.

The one thing that I was really looking forward to and am severely disappointed in is “Build a Monster” section. First, it’s just as confusing as all hell. Neither option is remotely intuitive, and what I really wanted, which was an easy way to figure out character class levels to CR to figure out XP, is in no way evident. I’m really hoping that someone figures out an easier formula relatively quickly. I really cannot express how much I hate the CR system, especially when calculating it requires that I pick a CR first and then tweak the monster to fit it rather than build a monster and then figure out the XP (I mean CR). Ugh.

TTFN!

D

EDIT: Seriously, I just tried to “follow the rules” and back into the CR for the Archmage in the Monster Manual. I have no clue how they come up with a CR of 12. Nothing matches as near as I can figure… Plus, can I just say that the idea that an archmage is a balanced encounter for four 12th level characters just seems really off anyway?

D.

 

 

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Most Excellent!

My hardcover copy of Adventurer, Conqueror, King from the Kickstarter arrived today. I have to say that it looks better in person than it did as a PDF…

I was never a fan of the D&D “race as class” idea, I do have to say that I really like the way that ACKS has refined that idea a bit. I also like the “cradle to grave” nature of the game as well, Domain-level play is something I’ve always enjoyed and ACKS really manages to capture that for the different classes – or at least it certainly seems to!

I’m looking forward to the Players Guide!

D.

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New (Old) Modules…

I recently used a gift card from Yule to purchase a bunch older modules off the Internet, some of which I’d owned before and some of which I haven’t. I’m still in the process of rebuilding some of my old library, though there are certainly things that I owned that I have no need or desire to own again, and this has been a pretty enjoyable process as they have come in the mail and I’ve had the chance to open them up and look at them again…

But this is what I’ve picked up in this last order, plus some other things I’ve picked up in the last couple of months:

Amusingly, given the recent postings about it, I picked up G1-2-3 Against The Giants because all I still had was an old copy of G2 and the party will be reaching the point where I can start thinking about using these soon.

I also picked up copies of S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojanth and WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, both of which I had somehow gotten rid of. Great modules, but I was actually surprised to see the “Character Levels 5/6-10” on the cover! My memory of these were of modules for more like the GDQ series, but re-reading them I’m not certain why that is my memory. Possibly because when I ran them they were crazy-nasty, but possibly because the rewards within them have the same sort of power-creep that most people OSR decry in “Silver Age” AD&D and ignore everywhere else…

The “Illithid Trilogy” of A Darkness Gathering, Masters of Eternal Night, and Dawn of the Overmind. I remember loving these when they came, really just as I was leaving AD&D behind (or just after I did, now that I think about it). The Illithids were pretty much always the “Big Baddies from the Core” (points for the extremely obscure gaming reference…) in my game, and while they’ve changed a great deal as the Ichneumon Vorre, these modules could actually provide a decent platform to play with them a bit.

City System! I am a sucker for supplements on cities that come with decent maps, let alone sets of multiple poster maps. This is a boxed set with maps for Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms. I actually already owned a copy of this but was able to score another copy really cheap, so I did so. I’ll pretty much buy something like this no matter what the game system is because so little of what goes into running a city adventure is the game stats – it’s the flavor text.

I also recently picked up the OSRIC hardcover, plus a copy of ITA The Andewan Legacy. I’m not so sure about the module, in some ways it’s decent, but I’m never a fan of the sort of “gotcha” ending that there is in the end. Plus, it almost turns into more of a pain in the ass for me as the DM to figure out what to do next. If I’m inspired great, if I’m not I’m setting myself and the players up for a crummy game.

I also broke down and bought some of the Pathfinder modules and products. I was a bit unsure about this, given how strong opinions run about the products and how “railroady” they are…

I found a great price on the Council of Thieves Map Folio and picked that up. I have nothing else for this set of modules and I don’t care. A couple of city maps, and a set of location maps (including many large buildings) and I’m happy – though I have to say that just based on the maps it looks like a kind of cool set of modules.

The Adventurers Armory – because I have no problem with another gear book. It was cheap, and it has a couple a neat ideas in there.

I also picked up three of the stand-alone Pathfinder modules, Realm of the Fellnight Queen, The Ruby Phoenix Tournament, and Carrion Hill. I have to say that nothing in these has me interested in picking Pathfinder the game, but I’d be happy to buy more modules. The weakest module (or perhaps the one that I’ll have to do the most conversion on) is the Tournament, but it actually looks like it could be a fun adventure to drop in with a minimum of fuss when it comes to campaign continuity. Fellnight Queen is also one that might need some work, but I do have an actual realm of Faerie in my setting so this isn’t as hard as it might be. It also looks like it could be fun and could make a nice drop-in with a minimum of fuss. Of the three Carrion Hill is the best, it has a marvelous and explicit Lovecraftian vibe to the whole thing and could be quite creepy to run. I’m really looking forward to running this one as it fits into certain elements of my game world pretty well.

On another front, I managed to score copies of DGP’s Megatraveller Journal issues #1 and #4, both of which I’ve been looking for at a reasonable price pretty much since they came out and I missed them. Issue #1 was sans that poster map, but I’m ok with that – mostly I wanted the content (like the Battledress article!). DGP really put out the best of the Traveller material there for a few years, and I know that I was not the only person who was sorry to see them go.

D.

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My ultra-cool, uber-geeky, gamer-gift from my son this year…

Ok, so I had mentioned awhiel back that I was waiting for a gift from  my son that hadn’t arrived yet. It came a short bit later and I simply forgot to post about it – mostly because it also demands pictures to accompany the post. First here’s a picture of the envelope that it came in:

It’s blurry because it also has the senders name, address, and telephone number on it. Now, for those of you who have used them before, you might be able to recognize the international potage label and the customs declaration.  It needed this because it was shipped in from… Mongolia.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to be specific.

Yes, my Yule present was late because it was literally shipped in from Mongolia.

Central Mongolia rather tha Outer Mongolia, and the capitol of Mongolia at that, but still. That gets some cool points.

So I open up the package and inside I find the following:

The gift bag is a nice touch, we figured that the seller literally walked over to the local tourist gift shop and bought the product and stuck it in the bag to send to us. Even more amusingly, the seller left the reciept in the bag (in case we wanted to return it?) and it is regular old register tape – using rubles. But in any case, I then get to the next layer of the onion:

This is a hand-stitched felt pouch. I have no idea is the flowers (?) or the color is significant, given what came inside, but it is actually pretty nice and has a nice hand to it. But truthfully, it was what was inside that really proved how cool my son (and how helpful my spouse) is:

Yup, those are actual knucklebones. I’ve had an old set of “d6 knucklebones” that he has looked at for years, and I’ve talked for that entire time about how cool it would be to actually have a set of real knuckle bones. So this is what he thought of when it came to gifts.

How is that for a cool son?

They are bigger than I imagined, and there was a small set of divination rules that came inside the felt bag. But they have a great weight in your hand and a nice smooth feel that is a bit odd for bone. I’ve actually handled a fair amount of bone in my life, and these have kind of distinctive texture unlike pretty much anything else I’ve handled.

I’ve warned the group to watch out for Magic Missiles in the future…

Now, the very cool spouse comes from the fact that she was willing to eventually order them from Mongolia when after research she found out that even all of the SCA folks were complaining that nobody was making these any more and it was a real pain to get ahold of some. Know her, if she’d had more time she would have just made some herself!

But these are my ultra-cool, uber-geeky, gamer-gift from my son this year and I love them!

TTFN!

D.

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