A Session Report, and some musings

Posted on : 13-08-2009 | By : Brian | In : D&D, Downloads, House Rules, Reviews

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Hello, all. Apropos of the quickly approaching D&D Day, I thought I’d post a session report from the last D&D Day. The party is almost done with Keep on the Shadowfell; this next session should finish it off. I have, however modified the end of the adventure pretty heavily.

Other things. Dungeon Delve, it turns out, is a fantastic resource, not just for the obvious reason of having 30 pre-made delves at your fingertips. If you pay attention, you can glean a lot about what makes a good encounter, not just in terms of what monsters to use together, but also how to use traps and terrain to make things interesting. Even less obvious but, I think, more interesting, the book shows you how to use your Dungeon Tiles in creative ways, using features on specific tiles to represent interesting and important terrain.

Also, as you may have discerned from previous session reports, an NPC has joined the group: Splug the fey goblin. I’m using homebrewed follower rules to represent him in the battles (I’m aware that the Dungeon Master’s Guide II includes official rules for this, and I’m eager to see how close I am to the mark). For those who are interested, here is a PDF of Splug’s statistics as well as the rules for using followers.

You may have noticed that the stats for Splug were made using Wizards’ own beta version of the Monster Builder. I absolutely love this tool. For a beta, it’s extremely functional and remarkably free of show-stopping bugs (not to say that there aren’t any, just to say that I haven’t run into anything too inconvenient). There’s clearly some work left to be done on it, but there’s a lot of potential there. More than that, there’s a lot of functionality and ease of use already built into it, which is a great boon to me, and to other DMs that like to make stuff up for their campaigns. Now I just need something like this for traps.

Nipping at your nose

Posted on : 21-12-2008 | By : Brian | In : D&D, Downloads, House Rules

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Here’s some holiday fun for all you 4th Edition fans out there. This was made using Asmor’s Monster Maker, which is a cool little program. Enjoy.

D&D Stuff

Posted on : 30-11-2008 | By : Brian | In : D&D, Downloads, Reviews, Session Reports

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First of all, the most recent session report is up.

Second, I recently downloaded the beta version of the D&D Character Builder. I have to say, it’s very impressive. The program makes it really easy to make D&D characters, and it’s fantastic how they’ve got content from Dragon and other published products, like the Adventurer’s Vault right in there for you to use, even if you don’t own the physical product. It’ll automatically generate a character sheet for your character, which you can customize to a pretty great degree, and it’ll generate power cards, magic item cards, and reference cards for you, too. It’s pretty sweet.

It isn’t perfect, though; there are a few things it could use. The ability to create your own items would be really nice, since most DMs are going to be giving their PCs various things that aren’t in any published product. I’m not even talking about new weapons or magic items here; the ability to give a PC an item like “an old, tattered journal” or “a necklace depicting a skull with ram’s horns” would be fantastic. Similarly, it would be nice if you could edit the text in the character sheet and power cards. Most of it is pretty good, and there’s a lot of auto-calculation (though there could be more), but I would like to be able to type in my own notes in various places. There are also some issues with the personalized information that it puts on your power cards. The ranger’s Twin Strike, for example, allows you to attack with both your primary weapon and your off-hand weapon, but the power card only includes an attack bonus and damage for your primary weapon. It would be nice if your off-hand weapon were included, or if you could type that in yourself. Since many of the ranger’s powers allow you to attack with two weapons, this seems like a glaring omission.

It is, however, still in beta, and there’s time for it to be tweaked still. As it stands, even with a few things missing, it is a fantastic product, and when the full version comes out, I’ll be really happy to be a D&D Insider subscriber.

The Thrifty DM: Resources for DMs

Posted on : 10-08-2008 | By : Brian | In : Advice, Downloads

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As a long-time DM, I’m always on the lookout for tools and such that make my job a little bit easier. Since I really haven’t shared all this stuff with you guys yet, I figured I would. Most of this stuff is relatively inexpensive, if not downright free. Some of it is designed for RPGs some of it is not, but can be used for such. Anyway, in no particular order:

  • Wizards of the Coast actually puts out some quality products that I use, and I would be remiss if I didn’t at least give them a mention on this post. First is their line of Dungeon Tiles, which are excellent. They feature good artwork, clean, easy to see and use, 1-inch grids, they’re modular, and they’re somewhat dry-erasable. Also, they’re only $10 a pop, which is nice. One caveat: I say they’re somewhat dry-erasable because I’ve got a few tiles with what seem like permanent marks from dry-erase ink that sat on the tile too long. So be careful. That said, if you find yourself having to replace some tiles, they’re not that expensive. Also useful if you use Dungeon Tiles is Jai’s Dungeon Tile Mapper, a free program for creating DT-based maps on your computer. It’s basically the same program that Wizards hosts, except that it’s actually been updated since the third DT set came out; the only one currently missing is the newest one, Hall of the Giant Kings, which may be added soon.
  • Also by Wizards is their line of D&D Miniatures, which I am a recent enthusiast and collector of. Booster packs are reasonably priced, and are even more so if you shop around a little bit, but are randomized. If you want specific, individual minis, Paizo.com is a good resource, as is ebay.
  • But what if you don’t want to drop all that money on minis? What if you need a mini that doesn’t exist, is hard to get, or you can’t wait for it to ship because you’re playing tomorrow? Cardboard counters are a good way to go. I usually make my own, printed on card stock, which is pretty cheap at Staples and other office stores. As far as images for said counters, there are a number of good resources available. Wizards hosts a number of character portraits, as well as a multitude of images from their catalog of products that can be chopped up in your favorite image editing software. You could also check out these D&D counters. Finally, the art forum on EN World is a fantastic resource for all kinds of RPG-related artwork; of particular note is Storn’s thread, not only because his artwork is excellent but because it’s all released under a Creative Commons license. Beware, though; EN World can sometimes run a little slow due to their massive server load.
  • Another thing that’s often required for D&D (especially under 4th Edition) is small counters and beads of various descriptions to keep track of conditions like marked, cursed, bloodied, and others. You could go to a gaming store, but you could also go someplace like AC Moore or Jo-Ann Fabrics. They have lots of beads, as well as bead boxes that can be used to store and organize your beads or other things. I use bead boxes to store my Dungeon Tiles, for example.
  • Finally, I recently found a website that has all sorts of great stuff, including a nice landscape character sheet, some cards for tracking conditions, and some very nice power and magic item cards (I use the Magic Set Editor, but these are nice too).

I hope this has been helpful to people out there who want to DM, or already do DM. Maybe I saved you some time.

Keep on the Shadowfell initial impressions

Posted on : 22-05-2008 | By : Brian | In : Downloads, News, Reviews

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Yeah, I just got my copy from Amazon. I’ve glanced through it briefly (and red through the entire quick-start guide), and I like what I see so far. The product comes in a very nice pocketed folder. The books themselves have paper similar to what you’d find in a magazine; not terribly sturdy, but if you’re careful they should hold up fine. It’s a little odd that the books have no back cover. They are in full color, though, with plenty of artwork. So far, I’m really digging 4E’s art style, as well as the new cover designs. Very nice. I also like that the adventure comes with three double-sided poster-sized battle maps, for a total of six encounter maps usable with standard 1″ minis or counters. I think I would have preferred it if Wizards had included counters for all of the creatures instead, but I’m hardly going to complain since Fiery Dragon already did that for us.

Also, while there are three pregens in the quick-start book, Wizards has released a sixth on D&D Insider. Nice.

[Edit: Five pregens. There are five pregens in the quick-start booklet.]

Random Junk

Posted on : 19-05-2008 | By : Brian | In : Downloads, Reviews

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May 10th?! Sheesh, it sure has been a long time since I’ve posted. Bad blogger, bad! At any rate, I thought I’d post with some random stuff that’s been on my mind lately, some of it 4E-related, some not. We’ll start with the not.

Zombies. Who the hell doesn’t love zombies? Besides the unfortunate people who can’t outrun them and get their brains eaten, I mean. Zombies are awesome. It is for this reason precisely that Left 4 Dead looks freaking awesome. For those who know nothing about it and can’t be bothered to click on the Wikipedia link provided, let me sum it up for you. You and a band of three other survivors are miraculously immune to a new and extremely virulent form of rabies that has turned 99% of the world’s population into ravening, bloodthirsty (brainthirsty?) zombies. These zombies are fast, they’re smart enough to dodge attacks, and they’re accompanied by a number of mutated super-zombies with special powers like the ability to scale walls and jump really high, 50-foot tongues, super strength and endurance, or a belly full of gas that allows projectile vomit and the ability to explode like a grenade when shot. Not interested yet? What if the other three survivors were played by other human beings via the Internet? No? Well, that’s not all. You can also play against human-controlled boss zombies for extra challenge. Still not enough? All of the zombies are spawned procedurally, in response to the perceived stress levels of you and your compatriots, to make sure you get the optimal experience each time and to ensure that it’s never the same experience twice. Trust me, it’s made of awesome.

And speaking of zombies, I just saw 28 Days Later (yeah, I know, that’s been out for a while), and absolutely loved it. Great zombie flick, even if the infected are never actually referred to as ‘zombies’ within the film.

Oh, and games. I’ve recently downloaded GameTap, and even if you don’t want to pay for the service I suggest that you go out and download the free version and give it a whirl. Even for free, GameTap provides you with access to some pretty good games, such as Tomb Raider: Legend, Psychonauts, and the first two Hitman games. I’m currently playing through Legend and loving it, and I plan on diving into Psychonauts next. The sheer brilliance of GameTap, though, is that even though I get access to these great games completely free, I still want to sign up for a gold account and get access to even more games. And heck, a gold account is only about $60, slightly more than the cost of a brand new PC game, for an entire year’s subscription.

And finally, 4E. Ah, 4E. I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this, but I ordered the Core Rulebook Gift Set for myself a while ago, so it should arrive shortly after launch. I also recently pre-orderd Keep on the Shadowfell, and Amazon just sent me an email today letting me know that it had been shipped, and that I should expect it sometime around Saturday. Once I’ve digested that material, you can expect a review of it on this site (probably sometime in the next two weeks or so). Similarly, I’ll likely be reviewing the Core Books as I read them. I must admit that my excitement has been amped up to a fever pitch lately as the release date draws closer, in a large part because Wizards is releasing excerpts from the core books every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on D&D Insider (which is, for the moment, free). Everything I hear about the game makes me excited. I’m serious. I haven’t heard a single thing about the game that has made me want it less. Admittedly, some of this may be the novelty factor, and only time will tell if that is the case. But all signs indicate that 4E is going to be a very, very good game.

And speaking of 4E, I designed a 4E D&D Character Sheet in .doc format. Cute PDF does strange things with the table headers, so if someone else would like to convert it to PDF using something a little more robust, I’d gladly host it here. I’ve also been messing around with the character creation rules (those that I know at this time, at least), and I’ve created a couple of 1st-level characters: a human rogue with some warlock multiclassing, and a dwarf warlord. Both of these use the format for my character sheet. I should warn you that I’m not completely sure that all the math for attack bonuses and defenses is entirely kosher, since I don’t have access to the full rules. In particular, I think it’s a little weird that the rogue’s Reflex is higher than his AC. If someone wants to give them the old hairy eyeball and correct them for me, feel free and I’ll update the links.

Later.

Crysis: A Narrative

Posted on : 07-11-2007 | By : Brian | In : Downloads, Reviews

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I’ve been on the fence about Crysis for a while. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I knew there was a fence, I was aware of it. I knew that you could, theoretically, be on it. But I didn’t pay much attention to it. I just assumed that it wouldn’t run on my computer, and that it would be too much like Far Cry (I played the demo for that game, and was pretty underwhelmed by it). So Crysis and I existed in the same world, but were content to exist separately, aware of each other but not actually interacting.

About a week ago I downloaded the demo, just out of idle curiosity. And didn’t install it. Forgot about it, in fact. Then, two days ago, I was listening to the PC Gamer Podcast (which I highly recommend for any fans of PC gaming and/or game-related humor), and was privy to a lively debate about said game. It was fun to listen to, mainly because of the dialog rather than the content. The discussion boiled down to this: Norm, Logan, Dan, and Chuck all liked Crysis, and were hailing it as the Second Coming of PC Gaming (though not in those exact words). Jeremy and Garry, on the other hand, had each played the demo and had not been impressed. Their arguments were primarily that the “future-proofing” of the game was a gimmick, a sort of bait-and-switch tactic, that it was sluggish and unresponsive, that the system requirements were too high, that it was, effectively, Far Cry 2. Such comments did not make me any more likely to play the game, or the demo I had downloaded, and the arguments to the contrary sounded too much like simple evangelism to sway me in any other direction.

Still, the discussion had planted a seed. Something was percolating in my mind, growing legs and running about, messing with the silverware and knocking the pictures askew. Because of all these and other mediocre metaphors, I decided, when I got home, to install the demo and try it out, for no other reason than to see what all the fuss was about. I installed the demo, and it took a very long time. So far I was unimpressed. It finally finished and I loaded up the game, and was immediately assaulted by no fewer than four (!) advertisements for various sponsors. An unfortunate necessity, I know, but it rubbed me the wrong way none the less. I went in and fiddled with the options, clicked the button that would detect the optimal settings for my machine, and was told that everything had been set to ‘Low’. Not surprising, but still disappointing. Then I started playing.

And everything changed. The opening sequence was eye-catching and memorable, as my avatar and four other soldiers in nano-suits parachuted out of an airplane onto a tropical island in the dead of night. The graphics, despite being on the absolute lowest setting possible, were sharp and crisp and not at all disappointing. I had reared myself on sneakers like Thief and its ilk, so the slightly lower movement speed felt not at all uncomfortable, and encouraged the stealthy play that I prefer (a play style that, I’m glad to say, Crysis fully supports). I met my first pair of enemies, quickly dispatched them, and became engrossed in the game.

The environment is wide-open and allows for multiple solutions to problems. The enemies, while not always brilliant, try to do things like outflank you, flush you out with grenades, and take cover. The weapons are satisfying and effective. And the nano-suit, the game’s central mechanic, is well-realized and integral to play. While I rarely used the Maximum Speed or Maximum Strength settings, I could not possibly have traversed the demo without Maximum Armor and Stealth Mode, upon which I relied heavily. The suit, and the tactical options that it grants you, allow you to take on forces which are both numerically superior and better-armed than you, provided you think your way through the battle rather than charging in, guns blazing.

When I finished the demo, I had come to the conclusion that this is exactly the kind of game I enjoy playing. It has the right combination of verisimilitude and science fiction weirdness, the right amount of brains-over-brawn philosophy, the right degree of player freedom. I immediately went online afterward and added it to my Amazon wishlist. For those who are still on the fence (or otherwise), I suggest you download the demo and let it make up your mind for you. If you are like me, you will likely enjoy it and want more. If you don’t like the demo, chances are the game holds nothing that will change your mind.

Update: Thinking to tide myself over until I get Crysis, I went ahead and gave Far Cry another try. It’s like night and day. Where Crysis rewards tactical thinking and a stealthy approach, Far Cry seems to both require and punish such things. You cannot stand toe-to-toe with a large group of enemies, and most groups are large. Thus, you have to try to sneak up on them and take them out one by one, much as in Crysis. However, Far Cry (at least, up until the point where I got frustrated and gave up) gives you no tools for doing such. It’s very, very difficult to take out a single enemy without alerting the rest of them if you don’t have a silencer, and the lack of any reliable way to hide yourself exacerbates this. Combine this with the fact that the enemies are hyper-aware, capable of hearing a man walking slowly and quietly on grass, thirty feet below, and above the ambient jungle noises, and it makes a stealth-based approach stupidly difficult to affect. Oh, and the enemies are apparently psychically connected; once you alert one, they all know where you are. Finally, the checkpoint save system is a bad fit for this style of game. Twice I whittled down an enemy base to one or two mercenaries, only to be killed by those last one or two. The fact that I don’t get to choose when I save my game means that, when that happens, I have to start back at square one. Not fun. I have no idea why Far Cry was ever as popular as it was; it’s simply not a well-designed game.

Update, Part 2: I have now finished the full game of Crysis. While its system requirements were such that my computer often begged to run something else, it was fantastic from start to finish. I’ve rarely played a game that felt completely different at the end than it felt at the beginning, managing to stay fresh and provide new obstacles constantly. It kept me interested and engaged every second, and there’s very little about it that I wouldn’t recommend. Whenever I manage to score a new rig, I’m going to install it and play it with the settings cranked up higher. I hear it’s almost like a brand new experience, and the gameplay is such that replayability is high.

Using Star Wars Saga Edition to modify D&D

Posted on : 29-06-2007 | By : Brian | In : Downloads, House Rules

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As should be clear by now, I’m really digging on Star Wars Saga Edition. A lot of the rules changes are really slick, and I think that D&D would benefit from them. Some people are saying that Saga Edition is the herald of 4th Edition D&D, and that a lot of the rules changes are indicative of what’s going to be in that game. If that’s the case, then it’s going to be very, very good. However, I can’t wait that long to start using these rules in D&D. The problem is, I don’t really have the time or inclination to rework the whole system, and there are quite a few supplements that I’d like to be able to use after modifying the system. So, I’ve created a short, three-page document presenting some rules modifications for D&D, strongly influenced by Saga Edition. I’ve left a lot of stuff alone; skills, feats, classes (for the most part) are pretty much the same. What I’ve changed are broadly applicable rules rather than specific ones. Anyway, enjoy.

D&D Rules Modifications

Games and stuff

Posted on : 28-06-2007 | By : Brian | In : Downloads, News

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Just a few things, in no particular order:

1. I’ve been fiddling around with making characters in Star Wars Saga Edition, and it’s very easy, quick, and satisfying. Things like picking skills and such take a lot less time than they used to (or do in other d20 games), and the talent-and-feat-based class system allows for a lot of customization. So far I’ve created a dark side Jedi, a failed Jedi-turned-bounty hunter, and a combat droid with two extra arms that serve as blaster mounts. It was all pretty darned easy. The only complaint that I have is that the official character sheet doesn’t have space for enough information. As such, I created my own (available in PDF and MS Word formats). It’s pretty plain-looking, but it’s more functional than the official sheet. If anyone would care to fancy it up some with graphics and such, I’d gladly host it on my site.

2. I just got my review copy of HeroCard: Orc Wars in the mail today. I’ve played it once already (the introductory scenario, “The Prisoners”), and it was fun, though I don’t think the introductory scenario is a good indicator of what the game’s going to be like, as it removes a number of the more interesting rules and systems. I plan on playing it some more over the next few days, and I’ll have a review up soon. I do not have the Ranger or Sorceress expansion decks, so I’ll be reviewing it strictly as a two-player game. If TableStar decides to send me the expansion decks sometime in the future, I’ll post a second review, treating it as a multiplayer game.

3. I’m moving soon. We got an offer on our house, and we hope to make an offer on a house soon. So we’ll probably be moving soon. Exciting, but nerve-wracking, too.

My Saga playtest, and another rules update

Posted on : 11-06-2007 | By : Brian | In : Downloads, Saga, Session Reports

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On Saturday, I got together with my friends Mike and Rich, and Rich’s friend John, and we played some Saga/Wild Blue. All three players were Wardens (a sort of jurisdiction-transcending lawman), and were sent to investigate a series of murders in a tiny village called Tom’s Crossing. Mike played Thor, a hulking berserker formally of the Tribes of the Dragon but now a Warden. He didn’t say much, but what he said carried a lot of weight with those he talked to. Rich played Cristof, a nobleman’s son with some magical powers who wanted nothing more than to redeem his family’s tarnished name. John played Mason, a cunning thief-turned-Warden whose primary goals were sex, greed, and proving himself (probably in that order).

There was a lot (and I do mean a lot) of talking and investigating, and only one big fight at the end. There were a few minor social conflicts throughout, but overall I think I could have made the game more challenging, rules-wise; most of the NPCs were pushovers (though the PCs never actually won one of the social conflicts; it ended in a stalemate, but they found information through . . . alternative means). The final, climactic battle went pretty well, I think. There was some physical combat and one big push of mental combat toward the end that did some serious damage to the PCs. They wound up winning, but I think they doubted that they would for a second there.

Things I took away from the game were that the rules on pushing needed to be revised, clarified, and made more useful (which I did in Beta 3, yesterday). I also looked at kismet damage and how it works, and revised it to make it a little more deadly. I also noticed that the PCs tended to roll huge handfuls of dice when they were playing to their strengths. As in, 20 or more. A few too many, in my opinion. So, I’ve done two things in Beta 4 to combat this issue. First, I’ve made a few changes to the way assets work that, I think, will make them easier to use, will reduce the number of dice rolled somewhat, and will make conflicts a little more challenging for the PCs (all goals I had in mind when I made the change). I also added a rule whereby you can trade in three dice for an automatic mark.

At any rate, here’s Beta 4. Hope you like it. Really, these changes should have been in Beta 3, yesterday, but I didn’t think of them then. It was 1am, after all.

Saga, Version Beta 4

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