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Archive for October, 2012

TSR was all about work for hire and held on to all the art they commissioned. Eventually TSR was taken over by Wizards, who had a policy of returning the art to their artists – However, Jeff Dee’s art was destroyed before wizards ever got their hands on it. The story is that a “clueless functionary” dumped all of the files to make room at TSR for other, more important things (although rumors persist of some of these originals existing in private collections).

Jeff Dee's Brain Devourer - once lost, is now being recreated

Jeff Dee’s Brain Devourer – once lost, is now being recreated

In case you are unfamiliar with Jeff and his work, he’s one of the iconic artists associated with early TSR products and other RPGs like Villains and Vigilantes (which he co-designed). He’s also worked on computer games like Wing Commander and the Ultima series.  Jeff started working for TSR when he was 18 (apparently by drawing Snits  for Dragon Magazine) while still in art school. He was inspired to some degree by comic book artists like John Byrne and Terry Austin, which shows in his early art.

So far Jeff has successfully funded seven Kickstarter projects to faithfully reproduce the lost art, which then will become available on his Deviant Art page. He’s also partnered with another lost art artist Diesel LaForce (who he occasionally still games with).

Reproduction in progress from Jeff Dee's Deviant Art site

Reproduction in progress from Jeff Dee’s Deviant Art site

Much like Erol Otis, Dee’s art really defined the genre for me – even more so than some of the more “famous” artists (like Todd Lockwood or Larry Elmore). I especially loved his work in Deities and Demigods, his renderings of unique DnD monsters, and most of all when he drew adventurers in various crazy scenes (I would love a compilation of those, they were littered throughout multiple early DnD publications).

Jeff's Vampire Ambush

Jeff’s Vampire Ambush

Little known fact – Jeff’s signature (D with two dots) is a twist on Thror’s map from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and mirrors Durin’s signature.

Jeff still stays busy these day with a new project called Cavemaster – an interesting RPG take with very simple mechanics – among other things:

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This is late in the coming since both games have been around for awhile – but after spending large chunks of late night hours this summer playing both here’s a bullet list of why, although I loved DIII, I love TII even more.

Torchlight II versus Diablo III

Torchlight II versus Diablo III

  • Pets are way cooler than mercenaries. From the way they comically sniff at the ground around you to the way they run to town and sell your items for you while you adventure. Also because there’s no repetitive dialogue coming from them every time there’s a silent lull (I’m a big fan of strong voice acting, and really love Anna Graves’s Hunter in DIII for example, but the lack of variety in the mercs gets to you over time). For whatever reason, pets don’t feel as cosmetic as DIII (although they should, being that they are just pets).
  • Music by Matt Uelmen – Flavor wise TII is very different from DIII of course, and both are great, but I really enjoy the TII music (note – Matt is DII’s original composer).
  • Art  – TII is delightfully cartoonish. In contrast to Blizzard’s dark fantasy there’s less blood and a lot more color. This could be a pro or con, depending on your sensibilities.
Torchlight and Diablo art comparison

Don’t be fooled by similar screenshots – the art is really different.

  • Hands on leveling – What a concept, skill points you can actually spend on something. You can inject every available skill point into just a couple of abilities if you want, or spread it out across many. Although I can totally understand how design led to DIII’s new skill and leveling system, the design took that magic away from me, the player.  All of the skills seem to interact well with everything else, and overall the system seems just as balanced, if not more so, than DIIIs.

Note – To be fair I built not one, not two, but three characters totally “wrong” and went back for a forth in my first play of TII – AND I went back and rebuilt that 4th character after a while because I wanted to redo my pet. This is the experience I’m pretty sure DIII designers were trying to avoid. However, I love making characters. The redos were nothing but fun for me. In contrast, I don’t ever want to go back and make new characters in DIII because I can’t play them in the harder modes (unlike previous Diablos), and there’s no way to create different builds via skills (if building a new character is supposed to be a drag – mission accomplished, DIII).

  • Build Diversity – This is totally lacking in DIII where the only real diversity between character types is what items they own. TII has way more specialization so classes can be really diverse between players.
  • Rare items that are actually worth something. My opinion is that because of the auction house DIII items are overly designed and overly balanced (at least they feel overdesigned and overbalanced and thus: underwhelming). The auction house in DIII killed items in other ways too (I was able to game the auction house to always have items above what my character could find in game – this consequentially killed any joy from finding useful stuff in game, since what I could get in auction was so much better).
  • Inventory items all take up 1 spot. Torchlight doesn’t bother with item sizes in your inventory. Each item, whether a bow or sword or gem, takes up one spot.
  • Story – actually, this is a downpoint in comparison. DIII delivers on an epic dark fantasy story (albeit with multiple elements shoehorned in to tie into past iterations of the game) – TII’s storyline is a bit convoluted and the delivery isn’t as strong.
  • Mods – TII gives players access to all its development tools for modding purposes, and because of mods and a growing fanbase there’s already DLC available
  • Runic is a Seattle company (divulged – I’m a NW native – gotta support the locals)
  • There are Guns in TII (and pistols, canons, rifles, etc) – and they call them guns, not hand-crossbows.
  • Single player –It’s hard to quantify why but single player is just… better. It’s just more refined in TII. I’m guessing this is because SP was considered a core game mode for TII and for DIII SP was simply backlot to the multi-player experience.
  • You don’t need to be connected to the internet to play. I couldn’t play DIII for days when it first launched due to internet issues, and I still can’t play it on the plane or hotel or when my kids are streaming vids on the home connection and killing my bandwidth. This is just overly restrictive on Blizzard’s part.
  • Fishing – Actually, I found fishing boring so skip that one
  • Price – an honest 20$ gets it all – that’s 1/3rd the cost of DIII
  • TII is much more like Diablo I and II than Diablo III – not in terms of story or ambience, but in terms of actual play and core mechanics. This may be because TII is staffed by many of the original DI+DII guys (hats off to Max Schaefer, Erich Schaefer, Peter Hu, et al at Runic – can’t wait to see what you guys do next!)

Want more comparison info? try

Experience Points comic on the original Torchlight by Gabe Kruger

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So the latest DnDNext playtest is out, and it’s all about Magic Items – There are revamped versions of classic items and artifacts (vorpal sword, rod of lordly might, necklace of firebolts, etc) and the playtest has new magic item rules, and there is also a re-balancing of adventures to be more in-line with the latest round of rules.

Mearls talks about magic items and the design in the latest Legends and Lore. Key Objectives

  • Magic should not feel mundane or dull
  • Should be Interesting to discover
    Classic from the original Dungeon Masters Guide

Have to agree that the game’s progression has really killed the joy out of magic items. First came the floods of item supplements that created overwhelming item variety, and instilled a need for Monty Haul like games (is that term even used anymore)? As the variety grows, so to must the cannon that can support the variety, and over time magic items become commonplace.

The Second thing is the overabundance of super-hero like powers that have shifted to classes (especially 4th ed). When your class has a hundred cool magic like abilities available to it, magic items lose their luster.

The new playtest addresses the first, but not the second. Here are the main ideas:

  • The system no longer assumes that characters pick up items along the way (assuming every 5th level fighter has a +2 weapon, for example)
  • Unless you decide your campaign works otherwise, magic items are, by and large, so rare that no market exists for them (common scrolls and parchments may be acquired from special NPCs)
  • Attunement is now a mechanic that represents magic items and the wielder bonding, and needs to be used to activate some of a magic item’s potential
  • Secrets are now a mechanic (used for curses or special abilities that an item has that only come out in specific circumstances)
  • Players can wear items as it makes sense (you can wear more than one necklace, or a magic headband and a magic hat, but not two pairs of magic boots).

There are some great ideas in the new system. I like Secrets and the narrative implications of having attunement in the game. I also like the list of minor powers (although some are silly )- abilities like:

Tyrant: When the bearer contemplates or undertakes a benevolent act, the item grows icy cold. Clearly it was created for an evil purpose.

Blisssful: While in possession of the item, the bearer feels fortunate and optimistic about what the future holds. Butterflies and other harmless creatures might frolic in the item’s presence.

Attunement isn’t a new thing, it’s been used by Rolemaster, Runequest, Earthdawn, etc. I like the idea of attunement, but I’m not impressed with the attumenent mechanic, and believe it needs tuning. The way it works now:

  • You are limited to attuning three items (this seems arbitrary to me – and should be based on a stat or skill or class ability – thankfully there is an option to have this based on Charisma)
  • The attunement process requires you to grasp or wear the item and spend 10 minutes concentrating on it.
  • An item cannot be attuned to more than one creature at a time.
  • There is the idea of a Test of Wills for intelligent items to control attunement results

That’s it. For me, there are a few things that need changing:

  • The system seems designed to stop item swapping during a tactical situation – this seems like the wrong motivation – I’d be less concerned about this and more concerned about the objectives (making them interesting to discover)
  • Limiting attuning to three items seems arbitrary to me – and should be based on a stat or skill or class ability – thankfully there is an option to have this based on Charisma
  • There’s no concept of the past thief/rogues ability to use magic items/use device – I think this is a missed opportunity

Finally I’d make attunement a skill or ability (much like Rolemaster or other systems that have used it). The skill/ability would make attunement easier/harder by class, make it a faster or a slower process andiIncrease or decrease the chance of success. It would also allow for spectacular failure (total possession by a magic item, wand of wonder type crazy, that sort of thing)

I’ll be iterating on this while running my next couple of playtests

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I’m becoming hooked on the light hearted, full of fight and refreshingly fun fantasy Pathfinder comic book. We’re only on issue two and I’m already excited to see what battles our fighter types charge heedlessly into next issue.

Seoni and Ezren

Seoni and Ezren trade jabs

Besides lots of goblin fighting we get a glimpse of the first major antagonist in this issue (but no spoilers here). We have a full party now, too:

  • Valeros the rash fighter
  • Kyra (cleric/paladin, also rash but with different motivations)
  • Seoni – sorceress
  • Merisiel – Elf rogue
  • Ezren – wizard
  • Harsk – Dwarf ranger (your typical surly Dwarf so far)

I’m a big fan of Jim Zub’s writing, although I think he’s still struggling to find some of the characters voices (except maybe Valeros) and a few of the comic lines seem bit off timing wise (as if Zub and Huarat aren’t quite in sync for those panels). But the bits that work work really well – and the dialogue is what carries the comic. My favorite lines are from the rhyming, singing goblins.

Huarat really brings the facial expressions (although I’m not a big fan of the pathfinder elf eyes – are they supposed to be deer eyes?) and great fights. Outside of the action the world backdrop is beautiful and full of life, and the art is still holding up to what I’d invasion Pathfinder style would be like in comic book form.

Merisiel

Merisiel with her black doe-like eyes…

Finally, the book comes with in-depth character sheets and lots of background material to tease a DM, part of what I think makes this a solid innovative product for Paizo. I can’t imagine you not wanting to pick this up, whether you are a Pathfinder or a Comic fan.

Pathfinder #2 is now available at your local store, or online from Paizo or Dynamite.

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Mike Mearls (senior manager for the D&D research and design team.) has had a few DnDNext playtet updates over the last couple weeks:

It’s come out of the surveys that the Sorcerer and Warlock classes have some issues, and that the Wizard is regressing (as far as satisfaction with the class). What’s interesting is that the team has spent some time playing with different magic mechanics (spell points, etc) but have had trouble bringing the different styles together without creating “sprawling mechanics that could prove problematic in play”

“How could we possibly present multiple spellcasting options for one class without turning the class into a Frankenstein’s monster?”

Wizard vs Sorcerer

Wizard vs Sorcerer

It’s a tough job – like I’ve said before years of adding new rules to the system have created a frankenstein like hodge-podge set of mechanics (here to be known as frankenmechanics)

The answer they’re exploring now is to move the odd mechanics to the world builder/DM’s side, as part of defining the fantasy world. The DM then picks the mechanics he wants to have available for his players.

  • Pro – this does seem to build on their whole modularity idea (having a simple core with packs of rules in mods that DMs can apply based on their needs).
  • Con – this sounds at the surface level like a cop-out, as in here are a slew of rules we’ve added over the years and can’t really reconcile, but I’m sure you DMs will do just fine.

Over the next few playtest releases the new core magic system should be trickling in, results should prove interesting.

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