What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Yarr! The Pirate ArrPG

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Question of Variety

Well, with Garycon behind us, I've been hearing a few things about Goodman Games new 'Old School' game and I've also started hearing a bit more on the "Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea" game. These will represent just a few more RPG entries in a sub-set of a fantasy genre that is starting to get a bit too crowded. Now, I haven't seen these first hand and I do think there is a place for a certain number of these games. At least up to a point.

A game like the whitebox edition of "Swords & Wizardry" is a perfect example. It seeks to provide the basic ruleset (a 'clone') of the original D&D set which many fans and collectors will refer to the 3LBB's. I'm happy to see these efforts to keep older rulesets and editions continually available. That said, I find the many various clones that exist for the various permutations of D&D (or talks about doing one) disappointing. Let's face it: a lot of these games are largely the same and contain a handful of changes which could be best compared to a set of houserules in some cases. This goes for the 'clones' as well as game which is 'compatible' to certain games but with a few twists.

I'm also aware that Castles & Crusades could easily be lumped in with the rest of them save that it was one of the first. When C&C hit the market, there were no 'clones' and the 'OSR' hadn't even really started yet. The only other old-school 'throw back' was probably Hackmaster but I think it stood on its own well enough for what it was.

Personally, I love a variety of games but I'll be the first to admit that I tend to stick to a particular set of rules for a certain genre and style of play. Though I adopted C&C as my primary Fantasy based RPG, I own many other FRPG's including "Pendragon", "Stormbringer", "RuneQuest", and "RoleMaster". I 'bridged' to Stormbringer and RuneQuest from my exposure to Chaosium's "Call of Cthulhu". My exploration into RoleMaster (well, properly RoleMaster Express) resulted from my fondness of "MERP" (Middle-Earth Role Playing). Likewise, the only reason why I came to C&C in the first place was because of my history and love for the various permutations of D&D.

I don't mind that all these games are coming out but it seems like some of these are just not offering much of anything new. Instead of a new game showcasing a handful of rules and options, I would like to see better support for existing rule sets that have recently come out. A fine example of this is the approach that Labyrinth Lord seems to have taken. Their "Advanced Edition Companion" is just that... a rules book supplement to the core rule book is exactly the sort of thing I would like to see more of.

Speaking of Supplements... I have finished going through TLG's "Harvesters" but I still have to find some time to put my thoughts into a written form. This will likely happen tonight or tomorrow at the latest.

M

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Picked Up a Couple of Things

I recently heard that a LGS had got a few things in stock which are of some interest to me.  This prompted a quick little detour on my way home from work to possibly pick up an item or two.  Aside from the necessary hardware and software I've recently shelled out for, I've been trying to keep other expenditures to a minimum.  Going to a hobby shop is REALLY low on my list of things I should be doing so, knowing myself all to well, I haven't been frequently them much at all.

That said, TLG doesn't have a heavy production schedule and it frequently is cheaper to buy locally that pay the steep shipping charges to send something from Little Rock in the States to Montreal up here in the Great White North.  With the exchange rate being particularly close, I typically end up paying cover price these days anyway.

The two things I wanted to check out:

The Umbrage Sage box set and Harvesters.

What also caught my eye... a second hand copy of the Chill rulebook by Mayfair Games for $8.  Invariably, the longer I stick around, the increased likelihood that I find other things of interest.

So... I cut my own trip short.  As fascinating the Chill book was, I didn't need it and the book didn't look particularly inviting either.  I admit that it was in nice shape and very sturdy -- something you don't see much of anymore.  On the other hand, as I put it back, I did notice a copy of "Kobolds Ate My Baby" for $1.  I picked it up and I ended up getting the Harvesters books as well.  I didn't see a copy of the box set there though and I figure that it probably is in someone else's possession.  Not much of a loss, I was more curious to see the box set than anything else as I already own the original modules that make up the set.

The trip to the store cost me just under $20 all in all.

I only have had a brief chance to flip through the Harvesters book which is a nicely put together little book.  There were things I saw that I liked by other things which I was a bit disappointed with.  In the next few days, I'll have a better chance to go through it and will happily share my thoughts on this blog.

M

Monday, March 22, 2010

Review: Star Siege

Following the success of Castles & Crusades, Troll Lord Game made the decision to branch out in other directions. Star Siege: Event Horizon represents the first in a new line of 'Siege Engine Games' showcasing the versatility of core mechanic used in C&C. This new game offers to tackle a completely different genre than the one we are accustomed to seeing from TLG. We leave behind a realm of classic sword and sorcery to enter the many dimensions of science fiction. For many, 'sci-fi' represents a very broad genre that suits the tastes of many people. From Flash Gordon, to Star Trek, to things like Bladerunner, science fiction can be anything from an entertaining diversion to a complex commentary on the human condition. With the many popular movies and books exploring this genre, the decision to publish this game was an obvious one.

What makes this game a bit more unusual is the approach taken with this project. Star Siege is released as a boxed-set and everything you need to play is included in the one box. To be clear – this box set could easily fit the needs of a group that might just want to try something different. Included in the box set are 1 copy of the Operations Manual (the GM's guide), 4 copies of the Field Manual (the Player's guide), a sample setting called Victory 2442, and 4 double-sized reference sheets printed on laminated cardboard. These reference sheets are called 'broadsides' and contain some of the more common charts used for creating various things for the game. On top of all that, a couple of twenty-sided dice are thrown in the box for good measure.

Operations Manual

This book contains a lot of information to digest and, unfortunately does not include an index or table of contents. Though the organization of the book is well done, the best thing to do with the book is to read it cover to cover. Once done, don't put it to far away since you'll likely end up reading it again.

The Operations Manual begins with some preliminary material about running a game, the Siege Engine, and how to use it effectively. Like C&C, understanding this game mechanic is the key to playing this game and this is very clearly explained. Another nice feature about the rulebooks are the occasional boxed texts scattered throughout them. These are included to highlight a particular rule or provide certain explanations. New rules are also introduced in the game and some of these can even be adapted in other games if one was so inclined. There are other sections in the book that many would associate with science fiction and they cover such things such as mutations, psionic abilities, and cybernetics. However, the larger part of the book is rightly devoted to building and creating everything that you might need for the game such as equipment, aliens, and even planets. All of the material in the book is serviceable and there is little superfluous content. That said, a game master seeking to run an in-depth campaign using this rule set is best advised to carefully read this particular manual and try to build and create using the guidelines it contains.

Field Manual

When looking through this manual in particular, it becomes clear that Star Siege makes many departures from the formula established in Castles & Crusades. Where as C&C focuses on a class-based system based on various fantasy archetypes, Star Siege does not. Instead, it adopts more of a skill-based approach for character creation. You still have a variety of different races to choose from but the notion of character classes are gone. Instead of selecting a class, the player chooses from a list of skill bundles in order to achieve the character concept or profession desired. The system of traditional level-based advancement and the notion of hit points are also gone. Hit points are simply replaced by a Wound and a Stress Track. Naturally, Star Siege is not the first RPG to make use of some of these game concepts but the game manages to remain simple enough when it comes to generating a character. Because of this approach, you are left potentially with something of a looser framework which can be both a strength and a weakness. The book, though relatively short, adequately covers character creation and covers the basics of play keeping to a rules-light philosophy. A small selection of weapons and gear as well as a sampling of special abilities is provided at the end of the book.

Victory 2442

To help give Star Siege the sense that it is truly a complete package, the inclusion of this book provides a brief campaign setting to use. The book is the shortest in terms of page count when compared to the other two books in the set but it serves its purpose. With it, there is little to prevent those who wish to jump right in and start playing from actually doing so. The setting gives details on three factions (or species) and a history detailing the conflicts between them. Additional notes are also provided concerning technology, rule modifications, to running a campaign. A variety of star crafts used in the setting are found at the end of the book and these provide excellent models if you decide to build other vehicles and technologies. At the very least, Victory 2442 is an excellent example of a setting if one wishes to go about creating their own.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Star Siege provides excellent value for your gaming dollar considering one set could easily accommodate a gaming group. It provides an excellent alternative to Castles & Crusades system but keeps the same streamlined mechanic for skill and task resolution. New rules are also supplied and these can be used with a minimum of fuss in either game. However, while the rulebooks are written in a very concise manner, some of the material may be a bit too concise. There are sections that could have easily been expanded upon with greater detail or more examples. Where as this might not be an issue with an experienced gamer, this could just as easily be a problem for a newcomer. For some, the lack of selection for equipment, abilities, or powers might also be an issue. Even the inclusion of a few templates to help build more complex equipment would have certainly made a difference. But is any of this really necessary or does the lack of these things diminish the value of the set? Not in the slightest! If you're looking for a science-fiction themed roleplaying game and you don't mind doing a bit of work to make this game your own, Star Siege is a good addition to your shelf.

[Originally written for Domesday - Vol.4.  Star Siege was published by Troll Lord Games in 2008 and written by Josh Chewning.]

M

Arcana Creations... Up & Running!

Well, after being sidetracked and delayed with the new computer setup, I'm happy to say that things are pretty much running the way they should now.

Most of the work was finished up on the weekend and I'm glad that this is behind me now.  May the next few years be a smooth ride as far as technology is concerned.

;)

M

Review: Engineering Dungeons (SG1)

It is the weekend and you have the plot, characters, and the hook all ready. The first of the players will arrive in just a few hours but you still haven't had time to map out a dungeon with trappings and treasure. For those game masters who lack time or are running a bit short on creativity, TLG has released the first accessory of the Siege Gear line entitled “Engineering Dungeons”. Some time prior to the release of this work, I had the pleasure to play test what could best be called an early draft. In short, Engineering Dungeons provides a step by step process to help an enterprising game master design a dungeon or other complex of sorts for their game. Though written to be used with the Castles & Crusades game in mind, it is also a relatively simple task to adapt this for use with one's fantasy role-playing game of choice. What is even nicer about the accessory are some of the details and numerous little surprises packed within a mere 28 pages. This product is written by Robert Doyel and was released by Troll Lord Games in 2007.

Dungeon Basics:

Too often, the simplest details are overlooked when planning out a devious dungeon for your players to delve into. The first section covers the basics for the dungeon. With a few simple tables, you can quickly determine why the complex was built, who the builders were, and where this is situated. Each of these has appropriate sub-tables to provide a bit more depth. The section also covers size, entrances, age. Overall, this section is very self-explanatory and covers all the necessities and the tables are laid out clearly enough. In my own uses of these tables, I've slightly modified the Intelligent Races sub-table for the Builders to accommodate a few different entries more suited to my campaign... However, the tables as they stand right now are perfectly fine.

In order to help impose a limit to the size of the dungeon, a simple chart is used. Naturally, like all other tables in this work, this one can be used in the manner that one chooses. The elegance is revealed in its simplicity as the chart functions by determining a result for each axis – the depth or height (as in the number of levels), the width, and the length. I have seen a more than a few dungeon generators but none that quite helps limit the scope of the dungeon as simply as this one does.

Drawing the Map:

The next section deals with drawing the actual map. I found a few things I didn't completely expect when I was first exploring this section of the work. It starts off by offering a couple suggestions with regards to the placement of the main entrance and a brief explanation on how to progress in terms of the design of the dungeon-proper. Six templates are presented to use as a starting point. Each of these has openings where you determine if it opens up to a room, a hallway, or simply comes to a dead-end. A table for the passageways is provided to help determine the style, direction, and if it sloped or not. A different table is given to determine sizes and shapes of the various rooms and other respective exits from the room. All of this is pretty much standard and what one would expect with perhaps the exception of the provided designs for the hallways themselves. This isn't a bad thing mind you... just a bit different from what I have seen before but just as effective. I'm more used to the idea of a table providing all necessary variables for a hallway such as the length, width, and length. Then again, this sort of thing could potentially be more time consuming that what is provided here. That said, there is nothing stopping the designer from altering aspects of a hallway pattern.

A Few Words on the Features:

By far, the strongest elements in this accessory are the tables detailing various features to dress up the chambers in the complex. You want the dungeon to come alive? Look no further that this book and you'll find charts detailing things that draw on the senses – whether it be sight, sound, or smell. Doors, locks, traps, and treasure? Not a problem, there are tables for everything. The inclusion of a difficulty generator when factoring in things such as the locks or traps is a nice and often overlooked addition. But the real gem is the collection of monster tables set up for various encounter regions which fills a wonderful gap left open by the Monster & Treasure book. Suffice to say, there is a chart for most things you might looking for, including one for magical pools – a hallmark of classic dungeon crawls!

If that wasn't enough, as a bonus one will find a selection of maps ready to be populated and used for their own adventures. It would be a fair assessment to assume that these were designed using the system provided.

Final Thoughts:

Engineering Dungeons can easily inspire a game master to add more depth to other dungeons and adventures or be used to create some form of complex from scratch. The accessory does a great job to provide ample material which enterprising designers can use for years to come. It provides what is needed and functional and easy to use – plain and simple. Personal preferences aside, the only issue was a slight oversight when it came to the text and layout. This has to do with the header located on page 7 called 'Drawing the Map'. If this is meant to be viewed as a new section, and it should in my opinion, then this text needs to stand out more. The editing, art, and production values in the rest of the work are nicely done. This accessory is well worth the price and provides something for everyone – regardless of the game you play.

[Review originally written for Domesday - Vol.3. Engineering Dungeons was published by Troll Lord Games in 2007 and written by Robert Doyel.]

M

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Slowly...

Things are very slowly coming together with the new system.

The hardware seems to be solid though part of me regrets an 'onboard' solution for my computer's sound.  Windows 7 (I've got 64 bit Home Premium flavor) is taking me a bit longer to get used to and one of the scanning features from my network printer doesn't seem to want to talk to the computer -- despite the updated 64 bit drivers to permit me to do so.  But hey... it's a printer and it printers just fine.  Thankfully, the printer also has a USB port so if I'm eager to scan a stack of documents to PDF, I can do it by loading it on to a flash drive.  A simple work around though I would prefer things to be one step closer.  ;)

The OS itself is taking some getting used to.  It's weird to say but Windows 7 (I skipped the whole Vista thing) seemed so counter-intuitive for me.  Many people rave about the new version and some of those people are not computer-literate.  Maybe that's the problem.  I am so used to doing thing the 'old way' that I spent the first few hours cursing up a storm as I faced the surprises and horrors that Windows 7 had in store for me.

It's been a work in progress though one piece of software installation later forced me to resort to a System Restore Point as it inexplicably screwed my network settings to a point they couldn't just be 'undone' or reset to default.  Sort of a one step forward to steps back I guess.  ;)

That said, I have a lot to be thankful for and I am eager to do some proper work on this rig in the coming days ahead.

The dungeons and perils of editing await me!

Until such time I have something a bit more worthwhile to post (probably another few days), I will throw up a couple older reviews I had written up.  Re-reading some of the material has me thinking that I really want to write a few more for the blog...  Some new stuff naturally as well as some old classics that keep on getting mentioned.

Thanks for reading!

M

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Migration & Purge

Wow...

A good part of this evening was spent sorting through file: music... pictures... videos... and documents.  I have accumulated a crapload of stuff electronically and when I was in the process of gathering these all together to dump onto a portable hard drive, I was really surprised at the sheer number of files which I was going to be backing up.  Thousands as it turns out... about 90 gigs worth.  Sure, videos and music might take up quite a bit of space but as it turns out, it looks like only about a third is actually made up of this stuff.

As I think more about it, I guess it makes a bit of sense.  Moving from computer to computer, it was always easier to back things up to migrate with the availability of media to fascilitate this.  In the late 90s, I had access to a CD burner.  This gave way to faster computers and faster ability to create discs.  Then came the DVD burner and burn speeds also improved.  Flash drive sizes began to grow and prices drop and even something like a portable hard drive makes backing this up quite easy.  During all this time, the volume of information I keep and transfer from system to system also grows till one begins to realize how ludicrous this is all becoming.

While I am not inclined to spend all the time necessary to go through thousands of files in the next couple of days, I believe I will take the opportunity to move just the things I will actually be using (and little else) when the new computer is set up.  That way, I hope to have a bit more order with my electronic filing -- even if the new hard drive is a terabyte...

;)

M

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: Tainted Lands

In the summer of 2008, Troll Lord Games began branching out from the fantasy genre to other games and genres while utilizing the same underlying mechanic called the 'SIEGE Engine.'  Star Siege was the first of this line of 'Siege Engine Box Sets' and was met with mixed reactions.  It was a very different game if one considered the design but provided everything needed to play.  However, it didn't provide the gaming experience that some were looking for and some people began to view it as more of a toolbox than a game itself.  With the Tainted Lands box set, Troll Lord Games decided to concentrate on proven design and provide a game that could be played and enjoyed straight out of the box.

When looking through this box set, one will quickly realize how Tainted Lands was designed.  The material is set up to use Castles & Crusades as a base.  Amongst the contents of the box, a manual entitled the Castles & Crusades: Rules of Play is included.  There are three other books in the box and these are titled, The Keeper's Tome, The Lollygag Inn, and the Player's Compendium.  Also included are a set of dice and 4 character sheets. The overall presentation of the material is nice enough and all the softcover books are perfect bound which was a bit surprising considering that three of the four books were under 30 pages.  Each of the books share the same cover art that the box does but the interior sport a variety of pieces throughout its pages.

Castles & Crusades: Rules of Play

The Rules of Play provides the framework and is the lynchpin for the rest of the Tainted Lands material. Since one of the principal aims is to provide an all-inclusive game, this books needs to be both complete and yet concise enough to provide all that is strictly needed.  Can someone who doesn't have the Castles & Crusades books pick up and enjoy Tainted Lands?  The book is only 26 pages and judging by the material, it is mostly derived from the C&C Quick Start.  Most of the book is devoted to the creation of the character and it presents four basic character classes (the Fighter, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric).  Unlike the Quick Start, it expands the list of playable races to match the compliment found in the C&C Player's Handbook and provides 7 playable races.   The book will guide a player through this process to the end of character creation. Explanations are also given with regards to how the game is run.  The primer seems to present the basics of the game in a straightforward manner and anyone who has played a FRPG game before should have little problems with any of the material.

The book is not quite perfect and certainly isn't meant as a substitute to owning the Castles & Crusades books.  Though complete in itself, there are several references to the Player's Handbook for C&C and some, such as the Turning reference, are unnecessary.  In at least one of these circumstances, the page reference given wasn't even correct.  I thought the inclusion of the 7 playable races an excellent choice but I was a bit disappointed to see the progression of the 4 classes stopped at 4th  level.  By that logic, there is no reason to have even included the 10th level Fighter ability of 'Extra Attack'.  Even the included adventure, The Lollygag Inn, is designed for characters of at least 4th level.  Illustrating a few more levels for the purposes of the primer would have made a significant difference in terms of value when comparing it to the C&C Quick Start.

Player's Compendium

The Player's Compendium is 28 pages in length and really is meant to serve as the first glimpse into the Tainted Lands. The book opens up with some notes from the Publisher, written by Stephen Chenault and an introduction by the author, James Ward.  Both are great to read and help place the intent and mindset behind this project. The book introduces 2 new attributes to help bring about a flavor to the game as well as 4 new classes. While reading through this material, I found much of it inspiring and giving me plenty of ideas.  Both the new attributes are somewhat linked – one is 'Supernatural' and the other is 'Psychic'.  Each present a variety of powers and abilities as the character possessing them increases in level.  These, like the regular character attributes, function as the others would for the purposes of the Siege mechanic.  There are a couple of differences as a result of the new additions but the way the system works is generally the exact same. Of the four new classes, two are associated with each of the new attributes.  These four new classes are the witch hunter, the metals master, the portal keeper, and the vampire.  Each of these new classes are more powerful if compared to the base classes but offer interesting alternatives and twists to the archetypes we are already familiar with.

The text for some of this new material could stand a bit of clarification in a couple of instances but nothing presented causes a general problem save for a couple of instances.  One thing which was a bit peculiar was with the Vampire class.  The book states that a character may become a Vampire if they lie 'dead under the night sky'. Aside from a couple of indications and guidelines, there is little to guide a player or castle keeper on how to go about and 'changing' the character's class.  We are simply informed that they retain former abilities but no longer advance in them and instead start advancing as a vampire.  Another issue may be with the Portal Keeper.  This class has all the abilities of a Wizard, far superior Hit Dice and Base to Hit progression, a few of the abilities of a Rogue with some bonus daily spells.  Despite this, the class actually has an Experience Point Progression which is lower than a regular Wizard.  Either the new class is worded in such a way that requires further clarification or the EPP might need to be adjusted.

The rest of the book gives details on equipment, both magic and mundane, as well as some of the gods that oversee the realm.  Some people may not understand or agree with the organizational choices made and the inclusion of magical items and artifacts could be seen as a problem by a few. While these items were likely intended as being commonly available for barter or sale, there appears to be no mention of this in the player's book. As for the few pages devoted to the deities, I was thrilled to see that the format was in keeping with how the new 'Of Gods & Monsters' book is setup.  Again, I'm not sure if the player's book was the best place for some of this information and the details given.

The Keeper's Tome

A total of 42 pages is given to The Keeper's Tome.  A brief introduction on the nature of the Tainted Lands is given and the section that follows is dedicated to horror in a role playing game.  This part is enjoyable but seems a bit short and I would have preferred a few more pages on the subject given the nature of the set.  The suggestion given for hit points was excellent but more methods to instill some of the feelings and sentiments that the author was talking about would have made a good section even better.  Other examples could have been provided which may, or may not, have included other game mechanics (sanity being one used in other games).  This is followed by an examination of the two new attributes discussed in the previous book. Largely, this is simple repetition and brings some to question the arrangement of the material contained in the books.  Unlike the “Player's Guide” though, the organization is a bit better in this book with the definition of the Supernatural attribute being given before the effects on the undead (the Player's Guide has this information in the reverse order).

The next section of the book deals with the Tainted Lands themselves.  A brief glimpse is given for the various key locations on the map (the land mass looks like a skull). I was very please with this part of the book.  The information is brief and supplies only basic information leaving the castle keeper to flesh it out as they need to. This approach makes it easy to use the Tainted Lands as a springboard.  Brief information is given such as the seven Liches that appear to control the domain as well as they 'gypsy-like' people called the Ruse (whose stats are inexplicably given in the “Player's Guide” but not included here).  Following this part is a section on the undead and various modifications which can be made to them. This in itself is a fantastic little utility and can give some variety to spring upon unsuspecting players as a way to add a bit of spice to certain encounters. You also have a complement of new undead to add to your arsenal.  These are given along with shortened stat blocks of the undead found in the “Monsters & Treasure” for C&C.

The book ends with a selection of magical items which differ from those given in the “Player's Guide” and some new spells.  The inclusion of the spells here is another example of something that might better belong in a different book.  The spells are available to spell-casting characters which are native to the Tainted Lands but they are given in the “Keeper's Tome” instead.  There are new spells for the Wizard, Illusionist, and Cleric.  There are unfortunately none for the Druid but this appears to be in keeping with the setting.

The Lollygag Inn

This adventure is a great little scenario to kick start a campaign in the Tainted Lands.  It puts into practice some of the concepts covered in the “Keeper's Tome” as the module effectively showcases 'horror elements' for various parts of the inn and serves as great examples of the sort of things that can be used elsewhere.  If the “Keeper's Tome” was the 'theoretical' part of the box set, then this is the 'practical'.  The notes at in the first couple of pages of the book will be instrumental to successfully running the scenario.  In many ways, this scenario is the best feature of the set.  It is simple but promises to be a lot of fun if even only a little care is done
to generate the sense of despair and horror that the set demands.

Final Thoughts


Though the Tainted Lands can provide for a fun and different experience from the standard fantasy game, it probably won't be for everyone.  This is not a comment against the set itself, but rather a reminder to consider one's own preferences and tastes.  There is nothing stopping anyone from just running Tainted Lands as another regular 'stock-fantasy' game but you risk losing too much of the flavor by doing so.  Conversely, there is nothing to prevent one from just having a lot of these horrific elements in your regular game to begin with.  If you do, what other appealing factors are there to consider with Tainted Lands?  Thankfully there is enough new game-related material and the inclusion of the module can still make this box set a very nice accessory to own for Castles & Crusades.

[Originally written for Domeday - Vol.5]

M

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Arcana Creations Gets An Upgrade!

In the past few months, the sorry state and age of my computer hardware and peripherals was becoming all too apparent. The computer itself has a small degree of hardware failure impacting its performance and the work I do with random and sudden system reboots, program and system crashes, and I've suffered more instances of the blue screen of death in the past year than the previous decade with incarnations of Windows prior to XP.

Scanner was also well past its prime but all the hardware I've had gave me a few good years. For those who don't really know me, when I get a computer system, I tend to put the money to stretch the lifespan in terms of usability and usually a system replacement is necessitated by a lot of rigorous use and bits of hardware 'giving up'. Actually my last system died a bit prematurely which necessitated the use of my writing laptop for a few months till I could get a new one.

This time, it was me being at the end of my rope in terms of sheer frustration that pushed me to invest into something new which Arcana Creations would benefit from. Initially I was hoping to last till the Fall but, as crashes were becoming more frequent, I had to push ahead and get one with the aid of credit (paid over 36 months). Well, I just received notification that it has been shipped via Purolator and I should be receiving it any day now.

This bad boy features:
  • Intel I7-920 chipset (Quad Core @ 2.66 Ghz)
  • 12 GB of DDR3 SDRAM
  • 1 TB Serial ATA 2 Hard Drive (1 TB = 1000 GB approx.)
  • Nvidia Geforce GTS 240 (nothing fancy here but functional for work. It has 1 GB of Ram on card)
  • Dual Optical Drives (one Blueray one regular DVD ... both with burn capability)
Along with this, I got myself a new scanner which happened to be on sale ($100 instead of $150) and a monochrome laser printer with duplex capabilities that also has scan / fax functions with it. To be fair, these peripherals were made possible thanks for my supportive family who sees the potential in the work and projects I've been pursuing.

I'll be plenty happy to receive my rig and thanks to a large and handy portable harddrive... I'll be able to easily dump the contents of my old computer onto the new one. I don't think there will too much of a 'honeymoon phase' with the new system as I really need to push through with some work in the coming days and weeks ahead.

All of this is encouraging though.

M

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: Of Gods & Monsters

Of Gods & Monsters is one of the key releases that was part of the 'Fourth Crusade' advertising campaign. The Fourth Crusade in this instance is a reference to the 4th printing of the Player's Handbook. There was a great deal of anticipation for this book considering the name attached to it. James Ward is no stranger to this sort of material and he was involved with the original D&D supplement, “Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes”. Fans of Castles & Crusades were equally curious at what Ward might do and how this would suit the game.

The book, presently only available in softcover format, spans 162 pages in total. Amongst its pages, 15 pantheons are examined and a host of new spells, magic items, and monsters are provided. The art is tastefully done but will differ in style from section to section. This is only natural given the amount of artists who have contributed to the project. In terms of the material itself, there is plenty to look through and digest. The book starts with a few words written by Steve Chenault and his thoughts on the project followed by the Preface written by the author.

The Introduction offers the first glimpse into the rest of the work and you are already presented with some interesting game material which expands on some from the Player's Handbook – notably the God-like Attributes. The Introduction also talks about avatars being used by the various deities and hints at the general motivations for them. This section closes off by a few words regarding the various granted abilities given to the followers of the respective gods. Now, while I like the approach used and the concept of avatars, some of the rationale given to why certain things are the way they are aren't particularly well developed. When briefly looking at an avatar's attributes or hit points, it is stated that they could be anything that the deity wished but they were limited in the fashion illustrated out of a sense of fairness. For someone who loves mythology, the notion of 'fairness' may not make a whole lot of sense when considering myths and legends. None of this takes anything away from the work and this is just a detail colored by opinion rather than technical merit. However, the question of editing does come to mind in a couple of instances – once of which is in the Introduction. In this instance, an explanation on the listed armor class of an avatar is given twice in the section.

The rest of the book is devoted to the various pantheons. Every pantheon opens up with an introductory paragraph on the given culture followed by various entries for that grouping. Each entry for a given deity gives the name of the god, any titles and symbols associated when them, the province (area of influence), and any ceremonies, taboos, and granted abilities for their followers. These abilities, as well as the ceremonies and taboos, can be seen as the 'spice' of the work. While there doesn't seem to be a strong inclination to provide hard and fast rules for the granting or denying of some these abilities, there isn't a need for those either. As with all things for Castles & Crusades, the decision on how to exactly implement this material will be in the hands of the person running the game. These concern the gods after all … and they can be a fickle bunch. All of these things can present fun opportunities for great role playing and storytelling. This material is followed by a brief blurb about the deity in question and lists any relevant artifacts and details the stat block on the avatar of the god. All in all, each section with its art and text gives a very basic impression of the culture behind it.

Looking at the various pantheons, I found that there remains an issue of consistency which some readers may observe when going through them. In the case of the Celtic Pantheon, this part actually has the header that reads Introduction when this is missing from other Pantheons. The American Indian pantheon actually has a few headers in the introductory portion which goes as far as defining portions which are common in each deity entry such as the Deity Province and Taboo. This sort of general explanation may have been better placed in the General Introduction of the book or, more likely, was supposed to have been removed and this section or chapter
served as a template for the other pantheons of the work.

Beyond this, the book also goes further to become more than just an accessory dealing with the gods. Many spells and monsters are provided to help bring to life the various sections that the book outlines. Nevertheless, when it comes to considering this book, it's hard not to compare it with similar works which the author himself has worked on with TSR. It is understandable that certain expectations that people held for this book were rather high. While there are significant differences that makes this an improvement on similar gaming books, this work doesn't quite go far enough to break out of this mold.

On the one hand, the book manages to surpass expectations given that it is not simply a book on gods and the stats for their earthly hosts. It contains many new creatures, spells, and items as well as providing ways to integrate divine magic, ritual, and religion into ones campaign from entry to entry. It is a book that will provide tons of ideas and see more use at the gaming table than other books of this type. It also provides sufficient mythologies to explore beyond those drawn from the various cultures of the earth and gives adequate support for a fantasy realm filled with beings other than human. Fans of TLG's own setting will be happy to know that a section is also devoted to the cosmology of Aihrde and some of those gods.

On the other hand, while expected, people may still be shocked to see that certain iconic deities were simply not included for one reason or the other. While it is excellent to see that Greek and Roman pantheons have been treated separately, only including 10 of the classical 12 Olympians for the Greek pantheon (as an example) was a very odd choice. Naturally, one cannot do a 'full' treatment given the scope of this book but the lack of certain deities may disappoint some – especially considering other books of this type. Anyone also hoping that this book may serve as some sort of mythological primer will also be disappointed as this is clearly not the intention of this work.

Final Thoughts

'Of Gods & Monsters' is a good book. It tries to be more than just a book of gods and goddesses for the game and succeeds in doing so at least partially. The inclusion of abilities as well as the ceremonies and taboos for the various deities and their followers is a welcome addition. These could give one's game a new level of detail and offer new venues for the players to explore. The book offers more monsters, more spells, and more magical items and artifacts compared to other books of its type. Finally, for someone who isn't interested in earth-inspired mythologies, the book also presents 6 fantasy mythologies to explore – a separate one for Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, and Humanoids as well as a section devoted to the cosmology of Aihrde.

For some, this book will simply be measured up against others and while it does try to be more than a gaming book focused on mythological beings, it remains the main focus of the work. It is intended to facilitate the involvement of the gods in the affairs of the people in your fantasy campaign. If you are not interested in a deeper sense of involved mythos in your campaign, then this book will simply not see as much use at the gaming table.

[Originally written for Domesday - vol.5]

M

Reviews

Shortly after delving into Castles & Crusades, I found the vibrant fan community over on the TLG forums.  It didn't take long before it got me talking about various products nor was it long that I starting creating material myself.  One of the community efforts I had been part of was the Domesday which was a fan-based ezine focused on C&C.  I submitted some of my writing there and one things I regularly did were reviews for the various products that TLG was publishing.  Sadly, two of those reviews written and submitted months ago still haven't been made available to the public to due a variety of issues and delays.  I've decided that these, as well as other reviews should not go to waste.  I also think I will continue doing them though they will be shorter in scope compared to the original review articles I've written.  I won't release them all at once but rather I will present them gradually...

I hope these prove to be interesting to read.

M

Monday, March 8, 2010

AGP Fades Off Into The Sunset...

It is with regret that I see that AGP is officially closing shop and James Mishler has decided to call it quits. You can read about the announcement HERE.

I think it is a real shame. The material that Mishler has put out was, in my view, top-notch but I think the setbacks it has undergone early on resulted in a fragile foundation to build upon. I like to think that AGP was finally moving ahead and was managing to get some momentum. Truth to tell, I haven't seen the last supplement he has put out (100 Street Vendors) he mentions in his blog... but I'm one of the subsrcibers waiting for a copy. I'm happy to say I own at least one copy of everything AGP has put out, with the exception of the continental map (which I am supposed to get with what now looks to be the last AGP release).

Now, I don't know all the ins and outs of some of the challenges and difficulties he has had to face but I can imagine full well what some of those could be as Arcana Creations is also exposed to some of these issues and concerns. Thankfully, being partnered up with Brave Halfling Publishing has been an extreme blessing and I've had a couple of lucky breaks here and there. So, while it is easy to speculate on what he could have done or should have done to avert this decision, it just isn't that simple.

It is my sincere hope that it won't be long before we see new material by James Mishler in the near future -- even if it isn't through Adventure Games Publishing. I know that I would be happy to help publish some Wilderlands material for C&C through Arcana Creations.

Best of luck James and I'm sorry you've had to make this decision.

M

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hitchcock vs Michael Bay

No... I'm not talking about the attempt to do a remake of the Hitchcock classic 'The Birds' by Michael Bay's production company... I'm talking more about the style and feel of a classic Hitchcock movie and those brought to us by Michael Bay. More specifically, I was amused at some recent comments and comparisons made about my most recent C&C session a couple of weeks back.

As I commented about half-way through last month, I was preparing to run an interesting campaign session in the city of Freeport. The players wanted a shift in gears from the sort of adventures and material that we had been doing and, always one to listen to my players, I moved the campaign to better provide them a different sort of experience. Of course I didn't just 'drop' them into the city, the party gradually travelled there and the previous session served as the 'bridging' session getting the players to the new location.

The session was a complete success and I had woven in three adventures with elements overlapping each other and providing the seeds necessary for them to follow up on any one of them. To be fair, a bunch of the source material was published material but the integration, implementation, and additional twists were my own. I will often use portions of published material as a time saver but the final implementation always ends up being true to my own unique vision. The players took a while to catch on to what was going on but only because the style of game was a bit different to what they were accustomed to.

At the end of the session when I got their feedback, one of the things that surprised them was the pacing and nature of the adventure. As one player put it, my style of game was typically so much more 'Michael Bay' while this adventure was more 'Hitchcock'. At which point, the other players agreed but were quick to point out that this wasn't an insult. They felt that some of my previous games were more action-oriented and combat-heavy with a solid 'meat and potatoes' storyline. In other words a plot that was nice and basic and a lot of my sessions were focussed on just having some fun roleplaying and rolling some dice.

This last session I ran had a much more involved plot and required a lot of NPC interaction. They had to assemble an array of clues and were essentially piecing a puzzle together. A good city-based mystery. Another player thought it reminded her of CSI because of it. There were two battles in the entire adventure session (I guess it was an 8 hour session) and neither took a huge focus away from the story that I was trying to build. The players had fun but they didn't expect the sort of adventure I threw at them.

Then again, we had largely been doing a lot of dungeon-style exploration and the game had a lot to do with survival and sometimes odds which seemed a bit overwhelming. Everyone seemed to agree that shaking this up was probably a good thing.

I have found out that there are only two sessions left in the current campaign though. One of the players is moving to the States which means this 4 year campaign will need to be retired. Two sessions... two strong seeds that can be explored... and a bit more action. While, the players did like the last session, somehow our final session together will need a bit more of 'bang'.

I guess this also means I'll need to start up a new C&C campaign.

M

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

UPDATE - Arcana Creations

In the past few months, I have set up the website for Arcana Creations, been managing this blog, occasionally post on a few forums, and I'm continually devoting time and energy to producing a variety of products. All this has led me to come to a conclusion:

I have too little time to devote to many little things which aren't all that pressing to begin with.

Of everything I have going related to Arcana Creations, the one thing that has suffered the most are updates to the website. This is unfortunate since I figured that the Arcana Creations website could be a portal for information which would tie directly to the studio I'm building up and products I am releasing.

Practicality is another matter. Since Arcana Creations is putting it's material out through Brave Halfling Publishing, I don't need my own online storefront and I don't need to be too concerned about showcasing the products available for purchase. Brave Halfling Publishing is already doing a good job of that.

I also need to post a bit more on the BHP forums with the occassional, albeit brief, update.

My last update on the Arcana Creations website was just before New Year's Eve (2009) and there have only been a couple before that.

The only thing that I have been consistant on in terms of communication is the blog. My blog is actually going somewhere. Better, yet -- people are following the blog and checking up on it. It only makes sense to me to captilize on this and take this opportunity to fine-tune the how I communicate news related to Arcana Creations.

At the same time, I don't want it to eclipse the rest of the blog itself.

What I have decided to do is completely retool the website. It will still be a portal of sorts but much simpler in scope. Instead of trying to lend updates via the website, a few forums, and hint at it in my blog, I will make necessary announcements and provide updates on the blog. In turn, I will phase out 'news' from the site altogether since the site links to my blog anyway. As for forum updates, I will be more selective of what gets posted though the forums will be the best way to get a conversation going or a variety of questions asked about a given product that is being developed through Arcana Creations.

I don't anticipate these updates to interupt the flow that I've started on with the blog and, in the odd instance there is a relevant update, the header of the post will match the one I used for today's entry so that it stands out.

M

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TLG's Need to Seize the Day

Eldrad Wolfsbane made an interesting comment over at the Grimmhouse a few days ago:
My problem with C&C as a GM is very few monsters to work with. Like only 200 or so. The new Monsters and Treasures could have added many more monsters but they did not. Makes for boring megadungeons. Don't have time in life to write my own monsters. This IMHO is C&Cs biggest failure. AND the promise of but still not delivery of the CKG for MANY YEARS. C&C IMHO could have been the best of the best. It's starting momentum was incredible but it's owners for what ever reason squandered their chance. They could have been the top OSR/other game other than D&D but just did not take the reins or seize the day. Some of their earlier decisions alienated the OSR as well but I will not speak for those people. As cool as C&C is the lack of monsters makes me have to choose any other of the OSR games out there. OSRIC being on the top of the list.
While I have commented and observed at some of TLG's pitfalls, the game remains my favorite for a couple of reasons -- first of which is bridging the gap between an older style present in Dungeons & Dragons and what WOTC offered us with the d20 revelotution with D&D 3E. Many of us had more than a few problems with the approach taken with Third Edition and, once it was out the gate, it didn't take long for certain producers of d20 material to try and harken back to that older feel. Goodman Games with their "Dungeon Crawl Classics" line and Judge's Guild reprints as well as Necromancer Games with their whole '1st edition feel' mentality who also did a fantastic d20 treatment of the Wilderlands. During the first few years after the release of Third Edition, there were many companies and a lot of them aren't boldly throwing anything and everything they can to cash in on the d20 craze. Some of the third party companies that managed to weather the storm are still staying afloat in what has been a dwindling market.

Troll Lord Games was one such company. When they first released a couple of products in 2000 at Gencon, many wouldn't have thought they would be around a decade later. The majority of their initial products in the first few years was d20 based but the seeds of what was to become "Castles & Crusades" had already been sown. When the 'proof of concept' was releaded, many people loved it -- it was released as a digest-sized, white box set containing three booklets and dice (a tribute to the OD&D white box). Not everyone liked the approach that TLG took with the development of C&C and many other games followed that also sought to model themselves on aspects of the older Dungeons & Dragons game.

That said, I am force to agree (at least in part) with Eldrad's assessment.

While TLG is finally getting a new book focused on entirely on creatures and treasure and despite the fact that it will be out very soon, it has taken them a while for a project like this to come out. This book is the "Monsters & Treasure of Aihrde" and talk about it first began around three years ago. From what I understand, they have had a manuscript for a "Monsters & Treasure II" book which has also been turned in for at least a couple of years now. I have seen the proposed table of contents and I can tell you that, if it went to print with the proposed entries, the majority would be new and never-before-seen creatures for your arsenal. Naturally, a lot can happen with between the initial manuscript and the finished product but there has been no announcement given on this project.

As for the continued woes of the Castle Keeper's Guide -- well the way this was initially announced was the biggest issue and TLG is still paying for that error. When the news became public, it was little more than an idea at the time. Some of the fans have seen parts of this greater work and had 2009 been kinder to all of us, we may have had this sucker by Christmas last year. I do not doubt that we will be seeing it this year but the question remains: will it be ready for Gencon or only X-Mas? TLG has learned to play their cards much closer to their chest where some of these projects are concerned. I think they have learned (and continue to be TAUGHT some harsh lessons).

Why isn't that many fans of the game aren't as vocal about some of these issues? Well, many are veteran gamers who also have tons of information that TSR produced for AD&D and D&D. Many tend to source additional information from there. I'm not saying that it's acceptable but TLG's initial approach of getting the two core books done and out and just some adventures to jump in and play was a great approach in the early development of the game. It just isn't one that is as worth while maintaining if the company wants a continued growth in the market.

While I don't always agree with certain decisions that are made with what sort of products are released, the goal I hope to reach is to fill what I perceive are gaps in the line up as a solid third party supporting TLG's flagship title.

M