Wednesday 30 May 2012

Peakvale Wednesday: The Denizens of Redwitch Mountain

Near the mining village of Blackleaf looms Redwitch Mountain, the tallest mountain in Peakvale. Whispers of cannibalistic reptile people are common in the village tavern and some even say that strange people that were once human live in the dark depths of the mountain. 

Redwitch Lizardkin 
Monster Rating: 10-20
Combat Dice: 2d6+5 to 3d6+10
Special Damage: 1/1
Special Abilities: Scaly Hide - absorbs 1 hit per combat round

These squat scaly creatures choose to fight in numbers using their crude spears to overwhelm any trespassers in their underground lair. They worship the mountain god Theroz, and offer living sacrifices to him in exchange for the safety of their people. The lizardkin live in a matriarchal society overseen by the enigmatic brood mother.

Brood Mother
Monster Rating: 50
Combat Dice: 6d6+25
Special Damage: 2/Hold That Pose - the brood mother mesmerises an opponent with her eyes, forcing them to forget what they were doing.
Special Abilities: A brood mother may devour one of her lizardkin subjects in order to gain 2d6 CON.

Towering above her subjects, the fat brood mother is the queen of the Redwitch Lizardkin tribe and treated like a god. When she is in dire need, she will even eat her own in order to save herself.

Black Orc
Monster Rating: 20-30
Combat Dice: 3d6+10 to 4d6+15
Special Damage: 1/1
Special Abilities: Natural Climber - Black orcs can quickly scale sheer surfaces without a need for a saving roll.

Next to urooks, black orcs are the scourge of Peakvale as they raid villages, waylay travellers and generally leave chaos in their wake. They can make their home anywhere, from forests and marshlands to deserts and mountains. They do not like venturing out in the daylight, preferring to carry out their nefarious deeds in the dark.

Monster Rating: 20-40
Combat Dice: 3d6+10 to 5d6+20
Special Damage: 2/1 with a spear, 1/1 with anything else.
Special Abilities: Silent Stalker - An Akanai is stealthy and does not make a sound upon approach.
Nightvision: Akanai can see perfectly in the dark.

The Akanai are a race of warrior women who have lived in the mountain for many hundreds of years, slowly adapting to their environment. They are ferocious, but kind to those who do not pose a threat. They are forever warring with the black orcs and lizardkin. Akanai have unusually long life as a result of finding a fountain of longlife elixir deep within the mountain, which they protect with their lives. 

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Mearls makes some old school suggestions for D&D Next

In his latest Legends & Lore column, Mike Mearls talks about some of the thoughts behind this version of the playtest and why certain aspects were designed that way. He also makes some suggestions for people who want a more old school game.

Those of us who are doing the playtest know about the whole removing themes and backgrounds on the character sheet, but Mearls has offered up a couple of other suggestions to make D&D Next a bit more like AD&D. Obviously this is purely to experiment with the game's modular mechanics, but it would be worth doing.

For example, he suggests getting rid of the cleric and wizard's minor spells and equipping the wizard with a brace of daggers. Back in the day, when the wizard was out of spells he'd spend the rest of the fight lobbing knives at the enemy, which in my eyes is kind of dull, but if you prefer that way of playing then go ahead.

Another thing he said was to remove Hit Dice as far as healing goes. A lot of people are unhappy that players can heal, although Mearls does point out that in the Friends and Family playtests many people were vocal about the lack of healing. So if you think that Hit Dice should be tossed aside, feel free to do so and see how it goes.

Although not a suggestion to make the character sheet simpler, Mearls does point out that they are thinking of giving fighters the ability to choose two themes instead of one, so he suggests taking the Guardian theme of the Cleric or Moradin and also giving it to the fighter to see how it plays.

I think that the modular format is a good one, although I can't see myself getting rid of themes and backgrounds, since feats and skills do give you a lot of good advantages and it would be a shame to lose them, but I understand if they're not everyone's cup of tea.

Sunday 27 May 2012

D&D Next actual play impressions

Yesterday I got together with my regular group and we sat down to chug out a good five hours on module B2 Caves of Chaos with the D&D Next playtest. It was great.

We decided to go without the battlemat, which wasn't to alien for us because of our T&T games, but it was still a little odd doing it with D&D since we're more accustomed to 4e's sprawling 2 hour battle extravaganzas. I think the majority opinion was that the 'theatre of the mind' playstyle was more involving and immersive, as we described exactly where we were and what we were doing. I liked it very much, but I can see why sometime you might need to get the old grid out when numbers become a problem.

I played the halfling rogue, called Vincent Crestfall, mostly because he looked like one of the most interesting characters. I had a blast playing him, with his sneak attack bonus, Lucky racial feature and all the other good thief scheme stuff, which essentially gives you you open locks, find a disable traps skill bonuses. Speaking of skills, since there isn't a set skill list in this version of the playtest, we had to tie our actions to base attributes. Most of the time this was fluid, but some arguments did come up about which attribute is most appropriate to use. In the end, it's the DM's decision anyway, which is fine by me. I do prefer this more freeform way of doing skills and I hope it's kept that way.

One problem that we did come across was that the wizard seemed overpowered to begin with. While we were delving into the kobold warrens, he was picking them all off with magic missile with auto-kills. This annoyed the player because he wasn't getting to roll anything because his minimum damage output was higher than the kobolds' HP. I guess the main reason this seemed a bit borked was because magic missile is a cantrip and so can be used any time. On the plus side, the wizard didn't seem useless at any point, since he could still blast off spells once he's used sleep and burning hands. Perhaps magic missile should go back to being a 1st level spell, but 1d4 + Int instead.

Advantages and disadvantages were universally liked, as they added to the fluidity of combat and allowed for easy refereeing. They do make a big difference, much more than a +/-2, and they can be used in lots of situations.

Something that I loathe, and I know I'm definitely not alone with this, is the long sleep giving a full heal. Even Mike Mearls has apparently errata'd this on Twitter, saying you could heal level + Con modifier. The problem with this approach is that you're going to get characters with -2 Con who end up losing HP when resting. Maybe that could reflect their apparent weakness, but a quick patch would be Con + level and you heal a minimum of 1. Otherwise, if you have a Hit Die spare perhaps you could contribute that towards it?

Speaking of Hit Dice, they're nowhere as overpowered at healing surges were, since you only get one use a day a 1st level and that's only with a healing kit. We didn't realise the one use a day thing because the rules aren't very clear about it, so we did use a bunch at one point, but now we know.

Combat itself was fluid, each encounter lasting minutes instead of hours. Since the rules are less rigid about actions that in 4e, I found it easier to pull off cool stuff. It's possible that monster and character HP may be a little high to begin with, but I seem to remember the designers saying that's something they're working on. I do like how characters have to roll for their HP again when they level, but they're also given the option to use their Con modifier instead, which isn't a problem for me personally.

One thing I did wonder at was why sling damage was so high at 1d8. I would have expected 1d6 at the most really, especially considering how powerful sneak attack gets per level (+3d6 at 3rd level, meaning critting with a 29, which seems awfully high).

I'll probably be returning to the caves this weekend, so stay tuned for more reports.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Something about D&D Next needs clarifying

I've been checking out reactions on blogs and Youtube about the new playtest material and I see the same thing cropping up. There seems to be some perception that the current version of the rules how we see them now are set in stone, which just isn't the case at all.

Some people are moaning about how the three saving throws have gone or moaning about how nobody has skills anymore. The designers at Wizards have clearly said that they have omitted some mechanics that have been D&D mainstays in the current playtest to see whether the game can be played without them, not that they have definitely decided that they're chucking them out.

I guess some people haven't really grasped the concept of what a playtest is. I'm playing the game today, so I'll be posting more of my thoughts later, but I'm not going to start bitching and whining because something hasn't been included. See how it plays out without that stuff and then criticise. If you still don't like it and feel that it doesn't work, then fair play to you. To immediately flick through the rules and dismiss them isn't particularly helpful (nor is loving every single part of it really).

Tune in soon for my play report.

Friday 25 May 2012

Comic books and homophobia

What follows will be something that defers from my normal kind of blog post. I'm angry, and because of this I'm writing a post to pretty much express my feelings on a matter that has cropped up in the last few days. Be warned that this post does contain some strong language.

You might have heard that DC has announced that one of their superheroes is going to come out of the closet. This is great and shows that mainstream comics are making steps (albeit baby ones) to recognise homosexuality. Of course, this wouldn't be the first gay hero, but it adds to a very small list. At the same time, Northstar will be marrying his boyfriend, Kyle between the pages of Astonishing X-Men. Again, this is awesome and shouldn't stir as much controversy as it has done. But it has. Namely by "family" group One Millions Moms.

Here's some ignorant shit they said in their recent press release about the news:

"Children desire to be just like superheroes. Children mimic superhero actions and even dress up in costumes to resemble these characters as much as possible. Can you imagine little boys saying, “I want a boyfriend or husband like X-Men?”
This is ridiculous! Why do adult gay men need comic superheroes as role models? They don’t but do want to indoctrate impressionable young minds by placing these gay characters on pedestals in a positive light. These companies are heavily influencing our youth by using children’s superheroes to desensitize and brainwash them in thinking that a gay lifestyle choice is normal and desirable. As Christians, we know that homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27)."
And to you, One Million Moms, I say grow the fuck up. 
There's so much wrong with this that it makes my brain feel like it's been through a rusty mangler seventeen times before being fired out of a cannon at something very wrong. First off, children mimic superheroes because they are good, noble people with awesome powers and who fight for justice. It's a fallacy to say that having gay heroes will 'indoctrinate' kids (fuck that noise, honestly), because a) kids don't really care about sexuality when they're reading a comic about people destroying robots and taking down supervillians, and b) that's not how sexual preference works! People don't choose to be attracted to the same sex, the same way others don't choose to be attracted to the opposite sex. Obviously OMM doesn't agree, since they ignorantly refer to it as a 'gay lifestyle choice'. 
The saddest part of this affair is that at the end of the release they have a call to arms to have people write in and tell Marvel and DC not to go ahead with their 'agenda'. To actively censor something that is so innocent and good - a romance tale between two people. Just because something offends your delicate, misguided sensibilities doesn't give you the right to say what can and can't be printed in a comic book that will be read by people who don't share those sensibilities. Just because you believe in a religion, it doesn't give you some special privilege. Suck it up. If you don't like it, don't read it, although I urge you to start using your brain and come to the realisation that we're all people. Gay, straight, black, white; we're human beings and none of use have any more rights than others. If you don't agree with this, then you disagree with humanity. 
One Million Moms' members have no idea what it's like to be gay and the struggle that comes with it even today; hell I don't know, but I sure as fuck can empathise. Everyone needs heroes, especially those who are bullied at school for who they are. Have you thought about those kids? The kids who can't face school in the morning because they know full well that they will be at the brunt of every joke, that they will be physically hurt for something that they have no control over. Who would 'choose' that life? Nobody, and those kids need heroes too - they need to know that their favourite superheroes are going through the same emotions and the same turmoil as they are. Heroes that can make them feel better about themselves - more accepted. If more comics are printed with gay people as their stars, then it becomes commonplace and the bullying diminishes. But I think you're the bullies, OMM. You're selfish, arrogant, fucking bullies that want the world to reflect your backwards views. 
Well fuck you.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Initial thoughts on the D&D Next playtest material

Mearls was right, May 24th came around quickly and RPG fans were eagerly awaiting their playtest pack from Wizards in their email. Unfortunately, server problems go the better of them, leading to 404s every which way and silly redirects when trying to use the download link. Anyway, I've got my copy and here are my initial thoughts.

The pack is split into 9 PDFs, with characters, a play guide, DM guide, the bestiary and the adventure, Caves of Chaos. I suppose we were all thinking going in whether the designers would stay with the over-the-top 4e system or revert back to earlier editions. Thankfully, the playtest has shed most of 4th edition, leaving something resembling 3.x with a hint of Essentials thrown in.

Gone are the at-wills, encounter and daily powers for all and sundry, and while magic-users and clerics have cantrips they can use at will, we're firmly back in Vancian territory. Interestingly, the material doesn't assume you'll be using a grid, so measurements are back to feet instead of squares, which is telling of how combat has been scaled back.

Encounters are no longer the big sprawling set pieces that take 3 hours per fight. You get one action and one move, but you can split your move to pre- and post-action, allowing for tactical fighting. Since characters don't have reams of powers to go through, just spells and attacks, combat will be more or less back to how it was before 4th edition. Wham bam, thank you ma'am.

The bestiary details all creatures in the Caves of Chaos adventure included in the playtest, and there are a lot of them. From low xp goblins to big ol' xp trolls, it's clear that your 1st level adventurers could end up in way over their heads, which is a good thing when it comes to telling a story and something that 4e sorely lacked.The monsters all have some really cool flavour, from combat methods to legends and lore as well as descriptive stuff. Their special abilities actually mean something now. Take the Medusa for example. In 4e, her Snaky Hair read as follows:

+15 vs AC; 1d6+5 damage, and the target takes ongoing 10 poison damage and takes a -2 penalty to Fortitude defense (save ends both).

Whereas in the playtest we have something much more descriptive, explaining how the snakes act and adding more flavour to the attack (forgive me, but the ToC's forbid excerpts). The same goes for magic, which is now in list format again. Everything carries much more flavour to it.

Obviously these rules will change, but I hope not by much. I love the advantages and disadvantages, where you roll 2d20 and take the higher or lower result depending on whether you're at an advantage or disadvantage. This means you don't have to track -2s all over the place. It can also be used for a bunch of things, including conditions, which there are a bunch of and perhaps more than I personally wanted. However, again, they are all about flavour, not mechanics. I quite like 'frightened' where the victim should make all possible actions to keep out of sight of the enemy, although I'm a bit dubious about 'intoxicated' giving you 1d6 immunity to damage. That seems daft.

The Caves of Chaos seems like a great adventure for a starting DM. There's no 4 encounter adventure here,  this is a sprawling 64-room dungeon teeming with creatures to slay and loot.

Right now, I think this is a great-looking game. While it still retains an air of 4e, such as Hit Dice replacing healing surges but in a much more logical sense, and lots of character customisation, it looks like a step in the right direction. Plus, your character can fit on a page!

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Thornguard now in printed form

I'm pleased to announce that you can now buy printed copies of Thornguard, if you're that way inclined. Get a job, join a guild, become a criminal and more in my new solo adventure for Tunnels and Trolls.

Incidentally, Thornguard is currently at #5 of the top 100 small press items on DrivethruRPG, so I'm a little chuffed. I even had reports earlier saying that it was #5, only being beaten by Dungeon Crawl Classics. Brilliant!

Remember, you can buy the PDF version for a mere $2 (or £1.26 to us Brits), which is less than a big bag of Maltesers and a bazillion times more fun.

My interview at Meet the Gamers

Shane Garvey, the dude behind awesome games like QUERP, Fabled Lands RPG and Chronicles of Blood, has interviewed me about all things RPG over on his site Meet The Gamers.

Shane has done some sterling interviews with industry giants like Margaret Weis (Marvel Heroic) and Dave Morris (Fabled Lands). He's also interviewed my good friend and excellent blogger Stuart Lloyd, who has already contributed to USR with his solo Locket Away.

Check out his interviews - they're really good!

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Oak Staff of the Seven Flames

The Iron Tower stands gaunt, east of Lowhollow; a constant reminder of the events that transpired two hundred years ago. An elven mage called Tor-Drienna-Tor, or Drienna as she was known by the local townsfolk, made her home there. She was well loved by all who crossed her path, with many a minstrel penning beautiful songs about her grace and loveliness. 

One day, the Wyrd began to crackle and thunder and Thurgood Darkshield arrived in Peakvale. On a black horse, clad in black armour tinged with luminescent green and great mangled horns protruding from his fleshy forehead, he rode into Lowhollow under the cover of darkness. The demon began his reign of destruction, raining fire upon the hobb town, slaughtering guards and citizens, crying out that he had come for the Staff of the Seven Flames.

Drienna, who was the current owner of the staff, looked out of her tower window and gazed in horror on the destruction Thurgood was wreaking. At once, she saddled her horse, Fairwhynn, and rode out to meet the creature from the Netherworld, staff in hand.

For hours they fought in bloody battle, not one outmatching the other. Flames soared high into the night as the two fought, flinging spells and sparring in melee combat. Drienna, knowing that she had to do something drastic to beat her opponent, poured all her kremm into the Staff of the Seven Flames and unleashed a burst of fire that shone like a sun. In the aftermath, Thurgood was a mere skeleton, charred flesh dangling onto his blasphemous bones. Drienna had used up so much power that she took her last breath and fell to the burnt earth.

When the townsfolk came to see what had become of the mage, the staff had vanished. It is said that in order to stop others using its mighty power again, Drienna used the last of her kremm to teleport it into the depths of the abyss, where legend says it lives to this day.

Oak Staff of the Seven Flames
Worth: 1d6 x 50,000gp
Description: A legendary staff with destructive potential. The wood glows red in flickering torchlight and it has a burnt smell about it. The WIZ cost of any spell is reduced by 3. Pouring all of your WIZ and CON into the staff allows you to cast an Ultimate Call Flame, which does 300d6 CON damage to any target in a 20ft cone. The whereabouts of the staff is currently unknown, but there are many people, good and evil, who seek it.

Sunday 20 May 2012

My new T&T solo, Thornguard, is out now

I've just released my latest solo adventure for Tunnels & Trolls called Thornguard, set in the capital city of Peakvale. This one's a little different than usual since there isn't an over-arching quest; rather, you get to do what you want!

In Thornguard you can join guilds, get jobs and head out on randomly generated quests. With the Job Board system, you can choose to fight crime as a city guard, or take part in crime as a member of the Thieves Guild. You can also become a merchant or holy person if you fancy. It's all up to you.

This solo uses a keyword system, like in Fabled Lands, meaning your actions have consequences. If you're caught stealing and murdering, there's a chance you could end up in jail or even executed!

You can download Thornguard from DriveThruRPG for $2.

Friday 18 May 2012

Solo USR play report - The Halls of the Mountain Chief

This evening I played a quick solo game of USR with the Mythic GM engine. I decided to go classic fantasy and rolled up a Soldier called Barron Skylord, a mountain-dweller from a small mining village. The mountains are a dangerous place and every year a new group of village children are trained self-defence and survival skills by heading into a special training zone within the mountains. However, one soldier took a group of boys in to the mountain two days ago and has not returned. Because of this, Barron decided to venture into the mountain to find out what had happened to them.

To begin with, everything seemed normal, but as he descended into the tunnel Barron soon realised that something was very wrong. The usually naturally-carved rock had been artificially crafted by someone. Using his Mountain Lore specialism, Barron deduced that goblins had moved into the area over the past year and had carved out their own home here. As he continued, he noticed blood splatters which pointed to a sign of a struggle. He came across two doors to the east and west and decided to investigate. One was obviously a living area, with tables, chairs and food. There was also a curious fountain spitting out what Barron realised was a healing elixir, but he couldn't find a container to fill with it. The other room was bare, so he continued into the goblin dungeon.

Eventually he came to more doors. He listened up against one and heard the sound of voices squabbling. They soon stopped when a human voice spoke up. Barron kicked the door down and faced down two goblins. He quickly dispatched them and found a weary traveller shackled to the wall, who he released. The traveller was thankful but eager to leave this wretched place. Barron told him to drink from the fountain before leaving to get his strength back. But it seemed that the fight drew the attention of the off-duty goblin guard in the opposite room, who was now stood at the door, mouth agape. Barron simply told him that if he didn't spill the beans about what happened to the group of children, the goblin would end up like his friends. After a successful interrogation roll, the goblin told him that they had been taken to the cells near the great hall but the instructor had been killed. In a fit of rage, Barron decapitated the goblin (the instructor was a good friend of his).

Further exploration led to a statue holding a shimmering talisman. He took the trinket, but the statue grabbed him, spun round and threw him down a hole into a room full of spikes, badly injuring him. He limped up a spiral staircase and opened a door to find he was face-to-face with a Mountain Ogre. After a difficult battle where Barron was severely worn down, the ogre was slain. The next room contained a cell full of children, so he broke the lock after several attempts and freed the children. He then stormed through a door and entered the great stone hall of the goblin chief, who, along with three other goblin guards, fought against Barron. It was going well for our hero to begin with, landing some good hits on the adept chief, but the creatures ended up surrounding and getting the better of him. Barron fell beneath black, crude blades. It is unknown whether the children managed to escape.

So it turned out to be a tough dungeon and it claimed the life of my hero, who couldn't seem to catch a break. Funnily enough, it was a simple goblin guard who managed to whittle down Barron's health, with only d6 Action. I'll be doing another report soon, but probably not another fantasy one.

Pocket Troll #0

The first issue of an all-new Tunnels & Trolls zine has been released by Troll Hammer Press! Pocket Troll is a small package that packs a big thump, with articles by Ken St.Andre, Michael Eidson, Tom Loney, 'Mad' Roy Crom and more.

The premier issue contains articles, a one-room GM adventure and a full 30-para solo adventure by the venerable Dan Hembree, one of my personal favourite T&T writers. Oh, and don't forget the awesome cover art by the immortal Jeff Freels. At $2, this is a steal.

Go download it now from RPGNow, kapeesh?

New T&T creature: Icy Deathseeker

The frozen wastes of the barren north are home to some of the more hideous and ferocious creatures imaginable. To live in this frigid landscape is to kill anything you can find, so monsters are always hungry. The Icy Deathseeker is one of these wretched inhabitants, roaming the snow in search of prey. The nomadic hobb tribes of the wastes, the Klenku, call it the Mamomo, or 'skycaller', because of the horrendous, throaty shout it emits once it has made a kill. 

Icy Deathseeker
MR 120 (13d6+60)
Avg. HPT: 99
Number of Creatures: 1-2
Armour: 5 hits (icy hide)
Treasure: Deathseeker Poison, Ice Whip (3d6+2), Ice Claw (200gp)

Special Attacks
3 spite/Needleshot - target makes a L3SR vs Dex or takes 1d6 damage and is pinned to the ground for 1d6 combat rounds.
4 spite/Rending Maw - target makes a L3SR vs Str or takes 1d6 damage and has a 2/6 chance of having an arm broken.

Special Features

  • The Icy Deathseeker strikes during blizzards and is therefore almost invisible to the players. When a player attacks, they must roll a 3+ on a d6 otherwise they are unable to do damage.
  • The Icy Deathseeker has blood that acts as a potent poison. If a small amount is ingested, the victim will go numb after 5 minutes before becoming paralysed from the neck down after an hour. There is a 4/6 chance the victim will lose all respiratory functions and die after 3 hours. If they don't die, they will be paralysed for life. 
The Klenku have developed goggles that allows the wearer to see clearly in a blizzard, which would be a huge boon when travelling through the northern wastes. They would generally trade the Blizzard Goggles for a week's supply of food if possible, as they do not have need for money. Ridding a local Deathseeker from Klenku territory makes anyone a hero in their eyes and heroes are highly venerated. 

Tuesday 15 May 2012

First DemonLord title and draft cover

I've recently been working on DemonLord, the gamebook series based on USR and I just wanted to share a couple of things with you. 

First off, the title I'm running with is DemonLord: Mountains of Ember, which may give a bit of insight into what the adventure may consist of.

Secondly, I've drawn up a mock cover of the book. It's not fancy at the moment, but it'll be something along these lines. I really like the artwork (public domain) and it links in well with what the book is about.

One thing I've implemented is a system similar to DestinyQuest's, where you choose one piece of treasure out of multiple options. I'm hoping this will add some replay value and increase the overall fun of the game.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Revamped French Buffalo Castle hits Lulu

I'm incredibly jealous of the French. Not only have they got the 8th edition of Tunnels & Trolls, but now they have their own revamped version of Buffalo Castle, the original T&T solo.

Ch√Ęteau Bison is available on Lulu for £9.68 and features not only brand new cover art, but all new interior art by Liz Danforth. While I don't think my French is terrible, I certainly don't know enough to play through it but I guess the good part is that I have the English version, so I'll buy this for the artwork and Steve Crompton's format.

The French T&T site reveals that this month the first French module will be released, called The Drunken Dwarf by Ken St. Andre.

My Gamebook Adventures feature is online

Every month I write for the super awesome online videogames magazine, Thirteen1, and this month I did a feature about Gamebook Adventures and a preview of An Assassin in Orlandes for the PC.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Tin Man Games' work; Gamebook Adventures brings back the nostalgic feel of original gamebooks but I don't have to carry dice and a pencil around if I want to play them.

What's more is that the Judge Dredd gamebook will be shortly coming to iOS, which blends two of my favourite drokking things of all times.

Not only are the games great, but the guys who make them are top notch too and are only too happy to talk to fans about their work. You might remember that I interviewed founder Neil Rennison back in January, but if you haven't read it then take a look and see how awesome this company is.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Trollish Delver quoted on CBR

I had a nice surprise this morning when I stumbled across Comic Book Resources' Chain Reaction column which quoted my review of The Shadow #1.

The Chain Reaction section looks at reviews of a certain book from around the internet, such as IGN, Geeks of Doom and The Comic Age.

The Shadow #2 hits stores on Wednesday, so I'll be reviewing it later next week. Hopefully we'll get right into the meat of the story after all the exposition in the first issue.

Thursday 10 May 2012

My latest Locket Away character

I've been having fun playing Locket Away by Stuart Lloyd and I thought I'd just share my latest character who just bit the dust. 

Derren Black
Lv.1 Vampire Detective
Action: d8
Wits: d10
Ego: d6
Hits: 8

Wits: Cold Reading (+2), Astrology (+2)
Action: Intimidate (+2)

Sword (+2)
15 gold pieces

Black has no family to speak of, living in a mausoleum on the outskirts of Jailton. He is learned in the ways of astrology and cold reading, using these skills to his advantage during cases. He began his life as a freelance investigator after his last living relative, his sister, was killed by mobsters. He vows to find the ones responsible and bring them to justice with a swift blade.

If you've played Locket Away, the first solo adventure for USR, then why not post your own character? The beauty of the game is that all character concepts are going to be different, so I'd love to see what you've come up with.

Retrospective: D&D - The Adventure Begins Here!

My introduction to roleplaying was 3rd edition D&D back when I was in high school. I'd been reading Fighting Fantasy books for a few years and I'd began dabbling in Warhammer 40K, but I'd never really thought about roleplaying games, mostly because I didn't really know what they were yet I knew that I would probably like them. It was from a conversation I was having with my oldest friend, Steve, who is still part of my gaming group (and runs Leaping Wizards), that the idea to play D&D came to be. 

To our young minds we envisioned D&D to be more of a board game, which is still a common misconception held by the uninitiated. One day we went to the local gaming store and proceeded to route around for D&D. At this time, 3rd edition had only just launched so AD&D 2e was still all the rage. After speaking with one of the clerks, we were pointed in the direction of the 3rd edition beginner's set called 'Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game - The Adventure Begins Here!'. Little did I know how poetic that tagline would turn out to be.

We eagerly absorbed the rules in one of the two grey booklets that came in the box. I decided to be DM and we both chose characters from the 8 pre-gens provided before beginning the first adventure I would ever play. It involved the PCs heading to a 'haunted house' where a handful of goblins had taken a unicorn for some reason. The little push-out cardboard counters had some fantastic art on, even if they were a bit monochrome. We got used to the 'funny' dice quickly enough and before we knew it we were powering through adventures, fighting hobgoblins, gelatinous cubes and of course- a dragon. The box also came with a big fold-out glossy dungeon that was split off into sections for most of the adventures.

This box brings back great memories and the pre-gen characters are branded into my mind, such as Tordek the fighter and Mialee the wizard. Soon we had bought the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual; thoroughly absorbed into the game. Those were simpler times and part of the reason why I want to get into playing Pathfinder.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Locket Away - a solo adventure for USR is released

Gamebook maestro Stuart Lloyd joined forces with Trollish Delver Games to release the first ever solo adventure for USR: Locket Away.

The adventure is free to download on DriveThruRPG and serves as a great introduction to the USR game. If you can't get a group together to play, then Locket Away is the answer to your problems.

You play as a hard-boiled detective in a fantasy realm on a hunt for a mysterious locket that belongs to the beautiful mistress of Prince Talos. Thrilling brawls, seedy locales and strange denizens await you on this investigation into the heart of Jailton.

I want to say a big thank you to Stuart for writing Locket Away and supporting USR and Trollish Delver Games. He's a top bloke and you should check out his Lone Tiger Gamebook Reviews site for more gamebook goodness!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

D&D Next White Box

One of my favourite games is Swords & Wizardry and while I've only played it once in a group situation, the session was one of my most memorable. There's something about the pure simplicity of the rules that make it so freeing and conductive to creativity. 

I never played OD&D so S&W is the closest approximation that I'm familiar with. The thing I really love about S&W is the White Box, which emulates the original D&D booklet set before anything was added. It's the pure, distilled essence of fantasy gaming that was eventually built on. Rules were added along the way in supplements and adventures, allowing players to take or ditch what they wanted.

From the sounds of D&D Next, we're getting a modular system that could be more akin to the OD&D way of thinking. Classes can be your standard sword and board fighter or an evasive assassin, depending on how complex you like it. However, I hope they make classes more defined. In the latest edition there has been insane class bloat that has blurred boundaries between classes making some seem a bit 'bleh'.

If you look at the S&W White Box, you get very distinctive differences between classes. Dwarves are better at finding traps underground, the fighter gets multiple attacks, halflings are almost invisible, and so on. Sure, there were much fewer classes back when the game was young, but each was distinct and I think they need to try and bring back distinction in D&D Next.

Oh, and a sweet white box with a pencil and dice would be bloody great.

Retrospective: Sea of Mystery

Sea of Mystery was, I think, G. Arthur Rahman's first and only solitaire contribution to the Tunnels & Trolls game. Published by Flying Buffalo in 1981, Sea of Mystery was number 14 of the original solo line and one that's perhaps overlooked. 

For one thing, the cover, while nice, is boring. There's some blonde guy staring off into the sunset as he stands on his boat. It doesn't really evoke the mystery that the title alludes to, but as a piece of art Ken Macklin did a nice job.

Editorial duties fell to the legendary Michael Stackpole, someone who I wish would contribute more to T&T. I notice that Liz Danforth was down as a playtester, which I imagine she did for more of the older books.

Interestingly, Rahman encourages the player to go in without any weapons, promising that they will find some along the way. Whether any nervous first level delver would follow this advice remains to be seen. 45 combat adds is the maximum you're able to take into the solo, so this is one for new players.

Sea of Mystery was very different to its predecessors in its execution. The adventure is closer to a sandbox than anything else and therefore doesn't have much of a plot. Something that really stands out about its structure is the lack of branching decisions. There are more instances where the loss or success of a saving roll determines your next course of action, but there are more narrative choices to make, such as whether to help a baroness escape or leave her.

I quite like the introductory blub about the treacherous Sea of Mystery and find it quite evocative. If only Mesgegra was used for the cover:

Sea of Mystery . . . The name echoes through your memory. You recall your elderswarning you that if you were bad the Sea witches would come and take you away. Whenyou grew older you heard the pirates and slavers of the Sea cursed by a thousand differentvoices. In late nights under full moons your fellows told tales of carnivorous plants, thedreaded Mesgegra vampire-demon and islands of beautiful amazons waiting for lost males

The basic premise is that you're a sailor, either ending up with merchants or pirates. Random rolls determine what happens to you and one decision can have multiple outcomes as a result. In this way, you can play the book over multiple times and end up having many different adventures, which is really Sea of Mystery's biggest strength. Replayability was never something that previous solos attempted, so Rahman was an innovator in this respect.

Sea of Mystery is available to download as a PDF from DriveThruRPG or as a physical book from Flying Buffalo.

Monday 7 May 2012

In which I fell in love with Top Cow

Another Free Comic Book Day has been and gone and I hope everyone got what they wanted from the comic book fairy. I'm still working my way through my gratis stack but I had to stop and take a detour at one point to BUY LOTS OF COMICS - I blame Top Cow for this.

The publisher squirted a nice free comic from its benevolent udder on Saturday in the form of Witchblade, which treated us to a bit of an update on the world-mangling happenings in the Top Cow-verse along with a damn tasty story about flesh grannies and biker sorcerer chicks with assless chaps. Holy amazing. In fact, I was so impressed with what I read, I decided to obey the comic's beckoning call at the end where it said "continue the story in #155" and boy was I glad I did that. If I was a collar-popping douche I'd probably refer to Witchblade as "boss" but I won't, so I'll call it 'neat-o' because I'm white 'n' nerdy.

But I wanted - nay - needed more! "Aha!" I exclaimed as I browsed Comixology with fevered determination. They were selling Artifacts Vol 1, 2 and 3 for around £7, which is re-donk-ulous and I couldn't miss it. I gorged on this awesome event that gave me a bit more context about the Top Cow-verse as a whole and got me up to speed with where all the characters are at. It also, oh god, introduced me even more bad-ass characters that have mini-series and whatnot. Cyber Force, for example. The name's cheesier than Timmy Mallet's lovechild with Bette Midler, but that doesn't stop it from being awesome to the max, man. Sure, on the surface it seems like a facsimile of X-Men, but, well it totally is but it's still ace.

I was too far down the rabbit hole at this point. In fact, I was so far down it that I was coming across the fossilised remains of rabbit ancestors and soon I knew I'd strike bedrock. I found that the almighty Cow was giving away first issues of a bunch of titles, including Angelus, First Born, Velocity and a couple of Cyber Force thingies. I absorbed them all in one sitting and didn't dislike any of them. In fact, I liked all of them.

I'm in love.

Saturday 5 May 2012

YSDC fundraising for novel based on Horror on the Orient Express sessions

It's often said that you should never try to novelise your RPG game, no matter how much you think it rocked face, but in this particular instance I think you can disregard that advice. The Cthulhu gaming site YSDC are raising money to have their Horror on the Orient Express game published as a novel.

The novel, called The Express Diaries and written by Nick Marsh, is complete, but the group are looking to crowd-funding site Indiegogo for money to get it published. 

So far, they've raised an impressive $2,045 out of a target $5,000 and with 45 days left to go they stand a good chance in hitting the bar. 

You can download the first chapter on the fundraising site and decide if this is something you want to throw down some cash for. Check out their original campaign recording if you want to know more about the game or if you're just curious about how a Call of Cthulhu game is played. The Bradford players have a bunch of campaigns they've recorded in the past and they're all really entertaining to listen to.  

Elder Tunnels Spring 2012 out now

Peryton Publishing has released its latest Tunnels & Trolls magazine, Elder Tunnels onto the interwebs for you to download with your fingers and read with your eyes.

My contribution this time around is a lowdown on Peakvale, including some exclusive information about the setting. I also touch on a couple of my upcoming projects for T&T and USR.

Tom K Loney writes a great article Bronze Age Bros and Babes, Brian Penn has a solo Dangers of Bakemono Forest, and loads more. As a history geek I particularly appreciated Trevor Hudgins' article on the Inca Empire and how to utilise it in T&T.

Big thanks to Christine Crabb for putting together another sterling issue yet again. Also, how awesome is that Jeff Cortez cover? Damn, that's sweet! If you're a T&T fan then you're doing yourself a disservice by not making Elder Tunnels part of your life.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Peakvale Wednesday: Crimes

There is a seedy side to any city and Thornguard is no exception. Glint smugglers, Kremm-thieves, organ wizzers and necrothugs make their homes in the underbelly of the slum district, hiding away in abandoned warehouses and boarded up shops. If you're going to venture into this filthy part of town then you need to have your wits about you and a good lock on your purse.

Thornguard is strict against crime, with even small offences such as littering carrying hefty fines. This is all part of King Hobbletoe's vision of a perfect kingdom, but even he can't keep everyone in check. Here are some of the more serious crimes that are outlawed in Peakvale:

Glint Smuggling: Imported from the hills of Shamundia, glint is a shimmering dust that people sprinkle on themselves to achieve a magical high. On the street it's also known as 'Fairy Dust' and it's outlawed across Trollworld but goes for a pretty penny in the larger cities. Dens of glint smugglers hide out in Copper Street in the slum district and can be caught selling their wares in the early hours of the morning.

Organ Wizzing: This is the act of enchanting ones organs in order to make them superhuman. This is strictly illegal because the king deems it "unnatural". Some people have their eyes enhanced to see further or through walls, their skin turned impenetrable, and their adrenaline glands more active as to slow the world around them down. The Raven Squad is a gang of organ-enhanced criminals who are always causing chaos in Thornguard, robbing banks and holding up merchants.

Necrothugs: Some of the more wealthy criminals know that the undead are much more powerful than regular folk, so they hire a necromancer to kill them and bring them back from the dead. Of course, to guarantee the necromancer will fulfil her side of the bargain, she signs a binding magical contract so if she doesn't bring the thug back from the dead in 10 minutes she will explode. Necromancers are paid handsomely for this.

Kremm-thievery: Some wizard criminals have managed to get their hands on Abatraxi, artefacts that syphon kremm from other magic-users and feed it into themselves.