Posted on : 30-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : News



Yes, I now have a tattoo. Yes, it’s a very geeky one.


Posted on : 29-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : News



On Scribblenauts

Posted on : 20-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : Reviews, Video Games


I recently got Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS, and I like it. I feel that it’s a deeply flawed game, but I like it despite its flaws.

So that I might end on a high note, I’ll cover the bad stuff first. The single biggest gripe I have with the game is probably one you’ve heard before, if you’ve read anything resembling a review for this game before now: the controls. Everything except for the camera and the ability to rotate objects is controlled using the stylus, and while this works well enough for positioning and manipulating objects, Maxwell (your character) is just as dumb as dirt. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve tried to move a particularly fiddly object, only to see Maxwell jump merrily to his death in a pit of lava or shark-infested waters. Even when I’m trying to control Maxwell, he often fouls things up through no apparent doing of mine. Controlling Maxwell is a very approximate and imprecise, and often you’ll want him to, say, dig through ice with a pick-axe, and he’ll instead jump in place like a spastic mental patient. Which sort of brings me to the next flaw.

Everything is controlled by a physics system; the problem is, the system doesn’t model relative weight all that well, if at all. Why is it that I can set a car down next to a ledge, but as soon as I attach a rope to it, it gets pulled right off the cliff? Why can’t my helicopter lift a penguin? Similarly inscrutable, at least occasionally, is the game’s internal logic. Why, when I try to break a starite out of a block of ice with a sledge hammer, do I break the starite, too, but when I shoot the same block with a machine gun, the starite survives? Why will my vampire attack just about everyone except for a pesky pair of redcaps?

The camera, too, needs some work. Controlling the camera is mapped to the d-pad, and works just fine; the problem is that it snaps back to Maxwell after about a second and a half of inactivity, which is simply inconvenient in a game in which you’ll often want to be creating things and placing them in areas where Maxwell isn’t (presumably so he doesn’t accidentally jump off a cliff or something).

All that said, I find I simply can’t stop playing the game. I frequently curse it, and it frequently frustrates me, but I can’t stop playing it. It’s simply too original a concept, and the basic concept is simply too well-realized, for me to pass up. And for that reason, if you’ve been at least a little bit interested in this game, or if you like puzzle games, you should go out and buy it. And if my earlier negativity has dissuaded you, you should still buy it. Why? Because every copy that gets bought makes it more likely that a sequel will be released, a sequel with better controls, better physics, a better camera, and better internal logic. And because it’s crazy fun, when it works right.

4th Power

Posted on : 19-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : House Rules


Critical Hits is working on something that I’d really like to see happen, and would really like to be a part of. Go check it out.

Solos, pilfering content, and a session report

Posted on : 13-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, DM's Journal, Session Reports


The first session report of the new adventure (the first adventure for 4th Edition written entirely by me, and not adapted from a published adventure) is up. Also, there are some new NPCs and locations on the main page of the campaign wiki.

The recent session got me thinking about some stuff. One fight in particular, the one where the PCs were attacked by undead creatures, gave me some insight as far as what is and isn’t fun for solo monsters. I used a solo monster in that fight, a zombie abomination from an RPGA adventure (I got it from the Compendium). I used the monster as written, and I ran into some issues. First, it’s probably important to use a solo that is the same level as the party. This solo was a level behind, and its attack bonuses just weren’t up to par. Actually, I’m not sure why its attack bonuses were so low. It had trouble landing any hits on the part, and at one point it was marked by Chance, but in order to hit him it literally had to roll a natural 20. The abomination wound up being a big sack of hit points, but not really much of a credible threat.

Another issue with the abomination is its Rise Again power; basically, when the abomination is killed, it gets back up on the following round with half its max hit points. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this power; the zombie hulk from the monster manual has the same power. In the case of the zombie hulk, I think it’s okay. The hulk is a standard monster, with 88 hit points, meaning it’ll rise again with 44; a group with two strikers (like mine) should be able to take that out in a round or two, so you get some dramatic tension when it gets back up, but it doesn’t drag the combat out too much. With the abomination, though, has 232 hit points, so it gets back up with 116; that’s a lot of extra hit points. What I found is that the power made the combat drag on a little too long, after the party’s victory was already a foregone conclusion. In general, I think it’s a bad idea to give solos, and maybe even elites, abilities that make them harder to hit or give them too many hit points. You want them to last for a while, but you don’t want them to overstay their welcome or make the combat drag. Solos should also have pretty good attack bonuses, so that they actually feel like a big threat. As it was, I think the forsaken shell did more damage than the zombie abomination did.

I’ve also been reading the new Eberron Campaign Guide, and I’m definitely going to be stealing some ideas from it for my campaign. You may already have seen some of that in the newest session report, in my mention of a druidic sect known as the Wardens of the Wood. In that case, it’s basically just a name I liked, but there are other, more significant things that I’ll be borrowing and adapting for the campaign. Just wait and see.

The Shadow Rift

Posted on : 04-09-2009 | By : Brian | In : D&D, DM's Journal, Downloads, House Rules


As, I’m sure, many of you who have run, or are currently running, Keep on the Shadowfell, I modified the adventure as written. I added in a bunch of stuff at the beginning in order to get the PCs to Winterhaven, and I made numerous minor modifications to various encounters throughout the adventure. Mostly it was a monster here and a monster there being replaced with something that I found more interesting, either mechanically or thematically (or both), but nothing too drastic. Even the replacement of a deathjump spider with a more powerful monster, a cave troll, is something I consider a relatively minor modification; it altered the feel of the battle a little bit, but didn’t have implications that were all that far-reaching.

The single greatest modification that I made to the published adventure was in the final battle of the adventure, against Kalarel. In the published adventure, Kalarel is accompanied by some skeletons and a wight, and there’s a trap in the form of the Thing in the Portal, which grabs and draws nearer adventurers who draw too near in the first place. When I first read the adventure, I thought it was a cool encounter, but that was before I had experienced more of the breadth of what 4th Edition had to offer. I do think that, for those who are still undecided about the new edition, taking D&D for a test drive with the adventure as written is perfectly viable, and probably lots of fun. But I wanted to do something different.

So, I completely rejiggered the final encounter. For starters, I created the corpse mound that I talked about before. Then I added a couple of hazards; one represented the darkness emanating from the portal, the other the subtle and seductive call of said darkness. Then I reduced Kalarel’s level a bit and modified some of his abilities so that the encounter’s level was a little more in-line with my party’s level.

It’s a level 7 encounter, all said, but with a lot of potential to be very, very difficult. There are some nasty threats in there, and all of them had at least a couple of levels on the party. So I staggered things a little bit. Initially, Kalarel is involved in completing the ritual, so the party only has to contend with the corpse mound. After a couple of rounds, Kalarel completes the ritual, joining the fray. The following round, the two hazards activate, and every round thereafter the darkness expands, filling more of the room.

Now, I had a way for the PCs to reverse the effects of the ritual built into the encounter, but I’m a firm believer that a big failure should not be a show-stopper, but should rather make things more interesting. Thus, I created a skill challenge that would trigger if the darkness expanded too much. This had the effect of also putting a time limit on the encounter, which prevented it from turning into too much of a slog.

At any rate, here is my writeup of the encounter. The experience per party member assumes a party of 5 characters, and there’s no treasure included in that writeup (I had that in a separate document for some reason). The encounter does use the standard battle map that the original encounter used; Kalarel starts in front of the altar, while the corpse mound appears as a mere pile of corpses in the pool of blood in the center of the room. The darkness, as you’d expect, emanates from the portal once Kalarel has completed the ritual. Enjoy.

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