Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Wizards’

Isle of Dread front cover

Isle of Dread is up on DnD classics with a great read on the history of the module. Always suspected that the Isle had a bit of a Lost World feel (look, that’s a dinosaur on the cover, not a dragon) and it’s neat to hear that confirmed by Cook. This was the first module I picked up that wasn’t a dungeon proper, (the great outdoors being prominent) and I remember feeling some disorientation at this introduction to hex mapping (instead of the typical dungeon square graph paper style maps).

Isle_Of_Dread_hex_map

Also this week Jeff Dee is continuing his quest of recreating his original Dungeons & Dragons artwork that was destroyed (I wrote about this last year) including  the original Isle of Dread module cover. Rewards include a full poster sized print of it (now that would look snazzy in the home office) along with a few other color pieces.

isle-of-dread-back-cover

Read Full Post »

Continuation of part 1 here, our best and worst of 2012 in RPG stuff. Enjoy and a have a happy New Year!

Computer Games

Best RPG Computer Game: The Walking Dead

Here we have IP done right. Using Telltale as a studio was a risk for the franchise in and of itself, and then they took several risks with the game (episodic releases, point and click, storytelling over-all-else) but managed to pull off a wonderful, poignant and emotional experience that shines brightly over all the other first person shooting crud that seems to dominate the market.

telltales-the-walking-dead-on-disc-december-4

Worst RPG Computer Game: The Game of Thrones RPG

Fantasy is finally cool again, but Martin’s books, and the terrific HBO series, deserve better than this mediocre effort. Shoddy gameplay, unpolished presentation, and meh graphics at best.

Biggest RPG Game Disappointment: Diablo III

On the one hand, Diablo III was a decent, fun to play action-RPG, but DRM and over-design drained the joy out of it, and even with a decade of polish it’s half the game Torchlight 2 is.

Honorable Mention: Knights of Pen&Paper

An indie turn-based retro style pixel-art RPG where you control the playing characters and the dungeon master in a simulation of a traditional pen and paper RPG.

Knights_of_pen_&_paper

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Best Fantasy Book: Throne of the Crescent Moon (Saladin Ahmed)

Detail, humor, and one thousand and one nights inspired – the book is simply great storytelling in that classic swashbuckling sense as you follow a charismatic thief that leads a revolt in a magical and political city.

Best Sci-fi Book: Pirate Cinema (Cory Doctorow)

Still not tired of brilliant, passionate kids taking on the oppressive system in a dystopian near future. Keep these coming, Doctorow.

cory_doctorow_pirate_cinema

Best debut: vN (Madeline Ashby)

Some love and hate from critics but this is a great first novel and a wonderfully dark story about a rogue artificial woman becoming dangerous.

Biggest Sci-Fi Loss: Ray Bradbury

We lost some great storytellers (Harry Harrison) and story makers (Neil Armstrong) but the passing of Ray Bradbury (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked this Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451) is one of the year’s biggest blows. A muse for Steven Spielberg, Neil Gaiman, and Steven King, Ray’s storytelling gift has expanded minds for nearly a century now, and although he resisted the label of science fiction writer he is credited as the one most responsible for bringing sci-fi into the literary mainstream.

Stupidest Comic Book Death: Spider man #700.

In an obviously not-permanent brain mind meld switch the body of Spider Man is now housing Dr. Octopus, Peter Parker has died in Dr. Octopi’s body and fans everywhere sigh their collective sighs.

Amazing-e1356793834433

Best Sci-Fiction Becomes Reality: NASA’s Faster-Than-Light Warp Drive

What can be cooler than FTL made possible by donuts?

300px-Star_Trek_Warp_Field

Most Amazing Robot Monster: DARPA’s Running Cheetah

DARPA’s Maximum Mobility Program revved up their Cheetah Robot this year. The previous iteration ran at a speed of 18 mph, but the new version clocked upwards of 28.8 mph. Finally, what we’ve always needed – robots that can outrun humans.

Movies

Biggest Movie Winner: Decent Geek Movies

Great geek movies are everywhere nowadays. Go Avengers! Go Hobbit! Go Batman!

Biggest Movie Loser: Nostalgic Franchise Reboots

Promethius (Ugh), Dark Shadows (Huh?), Men in Black III (Really?) and Total Recall (Yawn)

Best CGI Character: The Hulk

Puny God. ‘Nuff said.

Most disappointing CGI Character: The Hobbit’s Goblin King

The very definition of CGI overacting.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Best CGI actor in a CGI Scene: The Hobbit’s Golum

The Riddle Me This interchange was perhaps the best CGI scene ever produced in film (don’t see it in 48p though)

Golum

Golum is basically amazing

Movie Weapon of the Year: Bows

Let’s get Hawkeye, Katniss and Merida together in a hunting super hero party. Really. With these guys.

Finally, Monster of the Year goes to: Giant Spiders

Not only have spiders been effective hunters for over 100 million years but new, undiscovered species keep propping up (like this one that builds web dopplegangers). This year giant spiders were sighted both in Germany and in Seattle under the Space Needle – hats off and a happy new year to our giant, hairy, eight legged brethren.

giant_space_needle_spide-2000-px-949x768

Read Full Post »

Part one is here.

The little things

It’s the little details of the film that draw you into the setting. Gandalf alludes to the small when talking about fighting evil in a “I’m pretty sure this wasn’t in the book” monologue.

“I’ve found it is the small things, every act of normal folk that keeps the darkness of at bay — simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
 
Gandalf says Hi

Clever hobbit mailbox design, Gandalf’s rune on the door that alludes to a thieves sign language,  authentic looking hobbit dishes in the pantry,  how Bilbo’s clothes slowly drain of color and gain cuts and stains to them as the film progresses – all these little details draw you into the story.

It’s often not about the big things, but about small people doing small things. It’s the pieces of flavor in a story that allude to the larger world that lead to adventure and wonder, not the larger world in itself.

The Action Railroad

The original book reads very much like an exploration and, even though stories are very much the definition of rails, the book feels like a party having several random encounters en-route to a dragon’s lair. It reads more like a sandbox, with the trolls, goblin caves, giants, etc. all wandering monsters as opposed to planned encounters. Unlike the book the movie links all of these into one very long action sequence (with a short elf interlude), taking additional steps to tie them into an arching story around the pale orc.

Hobbit Adventure

This railed sequence, with stakes constantly upgrading, gets to be so amazing and deaf defying that you can no longer suspend disbelief. It breaks after a while, and you lose the sense of story in the continually mounting action. Action is necessary, but gets carried away in the film locking the characters into one long flight scene.

There are times to run in Middle earth, but it’s a realm that is meant to be explored in depth at a walking pace, not from a treadmill. The special effects-heavy sequences also look pretty cheesy. How many precarious unstable chasm crossing bridges could one clan of goblins possibly create?

Running this way so fast you lose the important, smaller details that makes the story rich. I’m not advocating for more slow moments in the film (we spend plenty of time gazing into characters eyes in long close-ups while they oh-so-slowly smile knowingly, and it does seem to spend too much time prepping) – but there’s action aplenty without turning each scene into a mini armageddon.

In a campaign the action is important. Constant action without strong story and detail becomes a drag.

One great play can make all the difference

Martin freeman was excellent. I was expecting to see Watson throughout but I can’t imagine a better Bilbo now. His facial expressions are what really did it. My understanding is that Jackson halted the shooting of this film and waited while Freeman was finishing Sherlock. Thorin and Gandalf deserve call-outs here as well – (and Radagast, although many others found him annoying).

It’s the funny rogue, the adamant paladin or noble dwarf- it’s the player who totally gets it right and whose character rings true and draws the other players into the campaign. One player who is really into it can make all the difference in a campaign. Those guys are gold.

Magic should be mysterious and powerful but not all powerful

I like a Gandalf with limits, one who has to get by with simple illusions and tricks (although the movie messes with the troll encounter) and has to leverage his long nurtured friendships with various Middle Earth communities in order to get the party through alive.

Gandalf and his fellow wizards feel very human and fallible here. Magic items are interesting, historic and with simple, useful functions. Love it.

What makes a Good boss?

Les play Good Boss, Bad Boss.

  • Goblin King:Bad Boss – The whole scene was really too much and was the CGI equivalent of overacting. Nice try Jackson, but Bowie remains the undisputed best goblin king

    Bowie is still the undisputed king

    Bowie is still the undisputed king

  • Pale Orc:Bad Boss –  Again too much. Evil for the sake of evil. This conflict doesn’t even belong in the original story and it’s hammered and wedged into the plot. All of these scenes could have been dropped and the whole movie would have been more concise and enjoyable
  • Golum: Good Boss – Excellent, here we have interesting conflict and a villain with character and motive
  • The Trolls: Good Boss-  Some overacting here, but still a fun and interesting encounter. There’s humor, that sandbox feel, and you need to use your wits and brawn to get out of it

Read Full Post »

Having discovered Tolkien while at the same time discovering my love for reading and books, and growing up in an era where the story is synonymous with gaming I’m likely the target demographic. I’m not sure where the hate is coming from since it’s pretty much what I expected from the LOTR movie franchise and I really enjoyed it (although I too have my bones to pick). Desperately needing to focus on something other than current events I put together a few thoughts on the movie from a gaming perspective.

The important scenes

I’ve read that the first scene shot for the film was the Golum and Bilbo sequence. This shows in a good way. Martin Freeman is excellent throughout (which surprised me since it was his first scene) and Golum especially is extremely well rendered (note I didn’t see the film in the new 48p format, purposely skipping that since I heard it destroys the immersion) – It seems Golum had a lot of post processing time. His facial expressions and acting are amazing and you totally forget that he’s CGI (not so with other overly CGI characters).

Golum

Golum is basically amazing

The scene is pretty true to the story and is an iconic one for gamers – it’s perhaps the quintessential rogue mini-sidequest. Separated from the rest of the party, your rogue uses guile to belay the attack of a very unusual creature, engages him in a battle of wits solving puzzles, finds a magic item, and somehow figure it how to use it to escape.

In design it’s these smaller, side-moments from the larger quest, and the combination of puzzle and action (thinking and doing), that give players a moment to immerse themselves and shine. These deserve your full attention and prep time, and often the larger action scenes we think we need to focus on can play out themselves (more on that later).

Too many Players

“Thirteen dwarves is one of the reasons I dreaded The Hobbit. It’s why I really didn’t think I would make it for such a long time.” -Peter Jackson

It’s tough to flesh out and get people to care about that many characters (which would be a good reason to draw out the movie length, but this doesn’t really seem to be what’s making it so long). As a movie goer, let’s see, you had the leader, the archer, the fat one, and the older wise dwarf that sucks you into the backstory. That’s  four dwarves that I distinctly remember from scenes. Now I think there were twins… or brothers? Not sure and uhm…

How many Dwarves are there again?

How many Dwarves are there again?

Have you ever tried to run a fourteen person game? (I think had a 12 person weekly game or so once, it was a cluster). Jackson had the same problem. Having lots of dwarves helps make Gandalf and Bilbo more interesting, but there are too few moments for each player to have their own in the sun. I think most gamers keep their parties small. And each player needs to have their regular moments to shine, otherwise the player isn’t going to have fun. NPCs too, need more than just a brief line and a fancy costume to be memorable. There’s a reason why boardgames tend to top out at about 6 players, and why four player Co-op has been such a popular format.

Too much Backstory spoils the plot.

People are complaining that the film is drawn out and bloated. I think people forget that the books are also somewhat dense and rambling but OK, I get the perspective, and it was over an hour before we left hobbitsville. This is due to extremely long flashbacks, interesting from a fan perspective and good foreshadowing (although mainly of a badguy that doesn’t belong in the story at all, but I digress…) but wholly unnecessary.

Middle Earth is more than a setting, it’s the key character. Exploring it is the main reason for participating. Setting up the film with a long historical exposition into the nuances of why and what happened before actually hurts the exploration. This history should be teased out as little treasures throughout. The backstory needs to be there (and some thought put into it) but the long scenes belong in the extended disk release for fans. Meanwhile Bilbo’s perspective is and should be the perfect for adventure. It’s his first run away from home and he doesn’t know what he’s in store for and he should be piecing it all together along the way.

More later.

Read Full Post »

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:

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »