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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Campaigning Again!

From 'Death Frost Doom'
As I mentioned in my recent look at Death Frost Doom, I was getting ready to start up my new campaign.  Despite the understandable allure of running a D&D 5th Edition campaign, I've stuck to my guns and am sticking with Castles & Crusades.  It's been close to a year since the last campaign I ran and, subsequently got put on hold around April of 2014.  It was supposed to be a temporary hold but, next thing you know, 5th Edition comes out and different campaigns start to try out the 'new and shiny'.  Sadly, most of us don't have the time to play in multiple campaigns so the adventure path we were going through will be on hold for an indeterminate amount of time.  Fortunately, I was still playing in different game with another group so putting my game on hold wasn't that big a deal.

One of the reasons that original game got put on hold actually stemmed from player dissatisfaction which his character's advancement (and rate of advancement).  I just recently found out the new D&D campaign he is in is running in a few other issues which seems to be pointing to a deeper problem with the player in question.

Aside from that, I did try running another session to start a new campaign, but as I wrote about in October (HERE), it didn't quite work out.  That session more or less imploded when 'partying' became the focus and not the game itself.  There was much imbibing and merriment and next to no gaming done.

So, here we are, the start of the new campaign.  I made a couple of adjustments to what I intended back last Fall and dropped one of the two prospective players from that group.  I decided to have only one 'unknown' variable at the gaming table and my my fiancee and a close friend of mine made up the rest of the players.  It's a small group: 3 players and one GM but certainly manageable and will likely expand once we get a good rhythm going.

Our first session was EXCELLENT so I think the future of the campaign I have planned is promising.  Death Frost Doom, albeit modified, is what I'm starting the group with and I've already laid the ground work to where this is headed beyond it.  Well, we'll see how the group fares.  It might be that the campaign will also be cut short based on the actions they take.

Without going into too many details (which could constitute as spoilers), the party consists of very much of a good spread of archetypes... We have a Barbarian (the non-berserking variety), a Cleric of Dagda (a Celtic deity), and a Rogue.  They are accompanied by their employer (NPC), a Wizard whom they know little about but have quickly realized how unreliable this person can be.  The Wizard, naturally, has his own agenda.  After some discussion, the party (spurred on by the Rogue) decided to go investigate the peak.  They have met with ol' Zeke and have found their way to the cabin and the large cemetery that surround it.  They are beginning to realize and experience strange things and wondering if this excursion was a mistake.

In truth, we didn't get that far into the adventure itself -- with character creations, questions, and the roleplaying, it was easy going.  Because the party decided to avoid the established trail up the to the peak, they got attacked by a pack of wolves and the dice were just not going their way.  Of course, the very first attack roll of the night, from a wolf no less, scored a critical hit.  That poor cleric.

It was the roleplaying I was most please with though.  The players grew comfortable in their roles much quicker than I am accustomed to seeing.  As it turned out, one of the players really got into roleplaying his character which really helped encourage the others to do the same with the NPCs and each other.  It was fantastic.

Next game is already set for two weeks from now -- we settled on playing the game once every two weeks on Friday evenings.   I can't wait!


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Weekend R&R: Spelljammer - AD&D Aventures in Space

With Second Edition came an never ending expansion of settings, supplements, and other types of cash grabs in TSR's ongoing attempt to grow and make increasing amounts of money.  Ravenloft, which was initially a couple of modules became it's own setting, and other settings like Darksun, and Al-Qadim were also introduced.  And then there was Spelljammer.

I never liked Dark Sun probably because of psionics.  My attitude with Ravenloft was pretty much neutral and failed to capture my attention the way that either of the first edition modules did. I never needed an expansion of the planes that Planescape brought about ... I was already fine with the established nature of the planes, my devils, demons, and angelic beings as set about in First Edition through books like the Manual of the Planes and other tidbits of information I came across in the game up to that point.  Spelljammer was just different and had a special kind of appeal to me.

It's hard to explain.  I mean, on the one side, some of it... no.... A LOT of it is silly.  Forget notions of physics as we know it because it won't work.  At best, it had it's own peculiar logic about things.  However, the world could be spherical, flat, of hell... it could be a cube.  It could be on the back of some sort of space turtle or just be a sphere fixed in space.  This 'space' surrounded a world and, when you left the atmosphere, a bubble of atmosphere came along with you.  This world and space around it was encased in a bubble of it's own or, rather, a crystal sphere.  There were many crystal spheres and each had their own worlds withing them.  These crystal spheres 'floating' in some sort of sea of 'phlogistum' which, if memory serves, was also very flammable.  If it wasn't, I ran it that way because I guess I was also sadistic back then.

It was also a convenient excuse to have setting crossovers.  Someone from the Forgotten Realms could adventure in Dragonlance and then take a trip to where ever your imagination takes you.  It was an easy way for a DM to run a completely different campaign with the same characters.  Spelljammer could be anything and everything PLUS the kitchen sink.  Perhaps this was the biggest problem.  When I started playing AD&D, the new Second Edition books were among my first book purchases for AD&D.  I had plenty of First Edition material and as TSR kept on publishing, my gaming collection also grew.  In many ways, I was fortunate because we had a large enough pool of players to warrant three full time DMs.  As DMs, we also all specialized: one of us ran his own setting which was, at least, partially inspired from Greyhawk, another ran Dragonlance, and I ran the Forgotten Realms (I loved the original grey box set! and the first in a series of accessories that began with Waterdeep)..  We all ran and played in each others games along with a bunch of other players that played in all those other games as well.  I was new enough to the game that I really liked all of it so when Spelljammer came out, I was immediately drawn to it because it was also different.  It retained what I liked about AD&D and just put it... 'out there'.  Others seemed to genuinely dislike the potential for crossovers and there was perhaps too much reliance on the established settings in TSR's portfolio instead of strengthening the idea of a new setting.  For me, I didn't care at the time and I knew I had to have it.

When I picked up the box set and checked out the components and books, I pretty much fell in love with it because it had fun with a few AD&D concepts... Mind Flayers in space just makes so much bloody sense!  Tinker Gnomes possibly creating explosive havoc? HELL YES!  But having cards of really cool looking vessels with deck plans on the reverse... a tactical map and fold up miniatures of the ships to do ship-to-ship battles made it that much more awesome.  I was also 14 at the time.

It's interesting that up to that point and for years afterwards, I never used any sort of miniatures or battle map (aside from maybe a quick sketch of the area prior to the start of a fight), except when it came to the ship battles in Spelljammer.  I think that just 'elevated' the game somehow to another level of play.  Or maybe my love for things like Star Trek crossing over into my love of fantasy game was clearly coloring my judgement.

The set also contained a couple of books describing rules of play in this fantasy version of space along with equipment, ships, and combat between them.  Races and the like are also covered and the concepts introduced are explained in detail but not to a point where a reader coming to this box set with an AD&D background would be lost.  The book layout was also quite  nice and delivered much information in sidebars in the books as a quick way to deliver bits of relevant information.  It was a good box set that delivered a lot of value for the price at the time.

I ran a brief but very successful campaign in the Spelljammer universe and collected much when I could.  Then it got discontinued and things became a lot harder to find for me.  I eventually sold my lot of Spelljammer material to a friend who promised to start up a campaign.  He never did.  Selling that stuff off became something of a regret so, I did go and track down a couple of key things about 4 or 5 years back.  Notably the original Spelljammer boxed set, the 'Lost Ships' accessory, and the 'Complete Spacefarer's Handbook'.  It is still a nice setting, and it came at a time when TSR had almost stopped putting out original and creative material.  Maybe if it was a bit more creative and not chained to established settings, it might have thrived a bit more.  Or perhaps not.  There retains a following... there were some Third Edition conversions for it and some fan stuff for Fourth Edition as well.  It's probably that we will never see the like of Spelljammer in Fifth Edition and I think it's because Spelljammer was always niche within a niche hobby..

Of course, it always nice to pull out Spelljammer on an unsuspecting group of players.  They won't know what hit them.  While out-of-print, the Spelljammer boxed set is available on RPGNow over HERE for a very reasonable price of $9.95 and I do recommend it very much.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sea Familiars (Octopus et al) Painting Guide

The Sea Familiars I painted and finished there week are from Eastern Front Studios and add-ons to their Midgard RPG Kickstarter.  I picked up these since I wanted some sort of octopus that wasn't necessarily a large one.  Not sure when it would come in handy but I'm sure I'd find some use for it sooner or later.

Much like the Giant Tick I did last week, these two small miniatures were relatively simple to complete.  Both were primed in my usual fashion: a thin coat of acrylic gesso and paints used were primarily from the Citadel line of paints.

The shells on both models were done in the exact same manner -- a base coat of 'Ceramite White', followed by a wash of 'Seraphim Sepia', and a drybrushing of the 'Praxeti White' dry compound.

The Octopus itself was done in a base coat of 'Screamer Pink'.  I used a wash of 'Nuln Oil' for the shading and followed up with some drybrushing.  Using the 'Lucius Lilac' Dry compound to start, I applied another layer of the 'Changeling Pink' dry compound as well.  I wanted pools of 'black' for the eyes so I opted for another store brand black paint that has a glossy finish as opposed to a matte one.

The other creature actually had more paint to content with.  I had to do the ground, rock, as well as the creature.  The ground received a base coat of 'Death World Forest', a wash of 'Agrax Earthshade', and I used the 'Tyrant Skull' dry compound for my drybrushing.  The rock was done in a base of 'Celestra Grey', a wash of 'Agrax Earthshade', and I used 'Praxeti White' dry compound for the drybrushing.  The creature itself was done in 'Stegadron Scale Green', a wash of 'Nuln Oil', and I drybushed both 'Hellion Green' and 'Skink Blue' dry compounds on it.

Really, that was it.  I like how both turned out.  I think the shells look great and the octopus is just awesome.  It just goes to show that a minimal amount of work can get you some great results to look great on the table top.

Happy painting!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Trapped by Grimtooth

Despite being out for years, I have had very little exposure to the Grimtooth books.  When I first got into the hobby, I supposed I wasn't aware of the books because of lack of access to gaming material in general (military brat in Germany) and, subsequently, I probably was overly supportive of just a select few games and companies with TSR getting the bulk of my financial backing when it came to gaming.  By the time I met up with ol' Grimtooth, it was through Necromancer Games' book, "The Wurst of Grimtooth's Traps".

When I saw it at my local game store a few years back, I flipped through it and thought it was cute.  I put it back though since I just didn't think I'd get that much use of it.  I already had a couple of trap books from a different series (Legends & Lairs from Fantasy Flight Games) and, aside from rarely looking through them, they just sit on the shelf.  I looked at this book as just another d20 product and I already had plenty of those books.

In the time since, maybe I missed the point.  I did eventually see an older copy of one of the Grimtooth Traps books and, having more time, it was both clever and funny.  I knew that maybe I'd never use the material in a game but, just reading through the stuff was kind of fun.  Maybe I was too hasty with that first book I spotted knowing little about the original series.

In the end, sometimes these things just end up working out.

Goodman Games who has started a crusade of sorts to restore / protect / and revive some of this older material is doing it with the Grimtooth series of trap books.  They did a great job with Metamorphosis Alpha and have announced steps to do more of this kind of worth with some of the old Judge's Guild stuff, so it makes sense that they licensed this material from Flying Buffalo to bring to us a collected works type of volume for Grimtooth Traps.

This book will be huge and thanks to busted stretch goals, even bigger for those backing a Gold Foil or Leatherbound copy.  A regular softcover or hardcover includes the first five trap books: Traps! Traps Too! Traps Fore! Traps Ate! and Traps Lite!  The gold foil hardback and leather will also get Traps Bazaar! and Dungeon of Doom! crammed in the book too (backers of regular books will get the PDF with the two extra books).  Plus there's a few extra things along with that.

Prices seems to be on the reasonable side for what is essentially a collector's edition of sorts.  Now that all stretch goals have been busted, only 12 hours remains if you want in on this.

You can check out the Kickstarter campaign and pledge HERE.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Weekend R&R: Death Frost Doom

Death Frost Doom isn't new but the version I'm looking at is.  While my many of my fellow gamers were eager to delve into Zak's "A Red & Pleasant Land" and offer their two coppers and what they thought of the work despite (or because of) some of the bullshit that hit the 'net earlier this year, I was really eager to put my hands on the new edition of this adventure.  Originally penned by James Edward Raggi IV five years or so ago, a lot has changed for Raggi and Lamentations of the Flame Princess that got its start in 2009.  I've commented on my admiration for LotFP on more than one occasion and how their products are a great example of a premium product put out by a small publisher.

The original edition of Death Frost Doom is nothing fancy in terms of presentation but, like the Millenium Falcon, "she's got it where it counts, kid."  It was a scenario which was just shy of 30 pages and played as a great, atmospheric, dungeon crawl.  It essentially starts off with an encounter with an old man which sets the stage.  Beyond that, a lot is dependent on what the characters end up doing.  The more they do, the more they will get out of the adventure.  The adventure is really more open ended than not and is easy enough to insert in an existing campaign or, given the likely outcome of the adventure, just as useful for a very memorable one-shot.

The new edition is gorgeous and I knew it was going to be.  I had seen some pictures including the 'misprints' which caused a delay in this new title and others that fans had been waiting on to order from the webstore.  In large part, this is why I waited on this particular review -- I wanted to hold the book in my hands.  Sadly, it's on the slow boat and I'm still waiting for a physical copy of the book.  However, since I'm gearing up with a new campaign, this might end up being the perfect scenario to kick things off with.  First off all, regarding the size -- I'm a complete convert.  It's a bit bigger than one would consider 'digest size' and the closest would be the 6x9" format like you see in the Explorer's Edition of Savage Worlds or FATE Core books.  It's a good size and, while Arcana Creations hasn't yet managed to sneak out a print release in some time, 6x9" is the size we will be releasing in when we do.  The reason for this is convenience in a world were people love their electronic devices as well as their books; the smaller format will display great on 7" - 10" tablets.  If my print edition doesn't show up before I start the game, the trusty PDF will get me by and be perfect on my 7" tablet.  Frankly, this is how it should be and while print will never die, making it as easy and friendly as possible to use beyond print is the way to go.  Death Frost Doom and the rest of LotFP product line all look great on my tablet which is ideal for a GM on the go on the odd time they have to travel light.

The cover is fantastic but retains the styling of the original and the art within this new edition is by far some of the best art I've seen in a gaming product in recent memory.  That's not to say there isn't some great art out there but few gaming books, be it a supplement, rulebook, or adventure module use it as well as this book does.  As you flip through the book, the art you see just draws you in further and really sets the stage in the mind of the reader which, as a GM is nothing but a good thing.  If the pictures and text make you uncomfortable, maybe the entire line from LotFP is best avoided.  The reason the art works in here is also the start black and white nature of the images... not grey scale -- black and white.  Those who own the original will also notice the maps in this version have had a serious update and upgrade.  The whole package is slick and professional putting to rest notions that a small press can't make nice things.

As to the contents of the adventure itself, experienced GMs and newcomers alike will find many things to assist them in running the scenario.  The adventure does this in a manner by supplying a lot of 'what if' scenarios and results that follow based on what the players decide to go... What if they party does this... what if it does that instead.  Even the most experienced GM might be momentarily caught off guard by what the crazy players think up next.  Naturally, reading a published scenario before putting the players through its paces is always sound advice.  The same goes here really but it's nice to see that an attempt has been made to 'head the unruly party off at the pass'.  Scattered throughout the text are various random tables to add a bit of 'fun' to the adventure and, by doing so, saves a creative GM a bit of work.  Of course, all of these tables and bits can easily be minded to use elsewhere if (for whatever reason) the scenario itself isn't a good 'fit' for the group.

I suppose, since the original version was released a few years back, that this has been a bit of a complaint though by no fault of the material.  Death Frost Doom relies on pacing, an inquisitive group of players, and atmosphere.  It isn't your standard, 'heroes defeat an evil wizard in order to save the day' kind of trope.  The adventure and results are dark and you'll be quite at home if your usual game is something more like 'Call of Cthulhu'.  I think this is why there is so much in the book to help sort out details to keep the GM relatively on track.

That isn't to say there isn't some laughs to be had here either.  More than a couple pages is devoted to an organ and what happens when you play a variety of songs on it.  My favorite being what happens if someone plays the notes that Peter Venkman plays at Dana's apartment.

Beyond that, there are options that will give a reader a glimpse at how the original adventure was written with some alternatives added to this version giving a greater flexibility as to how the GM would prefer this adventure play out.  As James says it himself, this edition is somewhere between a revision and a complete rewrite and it's interesting to see mention of what Zak did when he originally ran the adventure.  The effort on this new edition really shows as the page count has pretty much doubled from the original.  The only complaint I have is that some of the text is a bit too 'conversational'.  By this I mean that, while insights are certainly nice, they are nice up to a point.  Celtic Frost's song "Dying God Coming into Human Flesh" is certainly a great song but I was surprised to see this mentioned as great thing to play during a certain part of the adventure.  It's just not integral to the adventure.  In my opinion, such insights might be better dealt with at the end of the section or module -- or maybe a sidebar.  Include those insights there as well as other tips from past experiences to better make the adventure, 'your own'.  You don't see that kind of thing too often in a gaming product but, both the D&D 'Rules Compendium' for 3.5 and the d20 sourcebook, 'The Collected Book of Experimental Might' by Monte Cook both do this sort of thing: provide insights but keep them separate from the integral text.

But, as a said, that's my opinion.  Others reading Death From Doom will certainly think the work flows and works very well as-is.  I do think it's nearly perfect and, aside from a couple miniscule hiccups with editing and layout, other works will have difficulties stacking up against it.

If you don't have Death Frost Doom but where thinking about it, take the climb up that frigid mountain, for it is well worth the effort.  If looking for just a PDF version, it is available at RPGNow! (OBS services) over HERE.  Naturally, you can go to the source and get a dead-tree version along with the PDF HERE.