Category Archives: talk

Mike Mearls Decides He Values Hookers’ Lives After All

Here on Geek Related, I dish out the shame when it’s due but also the props when they are due.  In D&D 4e, the “kid-proofed” version of the Rust Monster prompted me to write the ever-popular article Mike Mearls Strangles Realism In D&D Like It’s An Unruly Hooker. Go read it to find out why.

But today in Forbes, there’s a preview of the new fifth edition rust monster.  And you’ll be happy to know it’s 100% hooker safe.

MONSTER-MANUAL-Rust-Monster-1471x1940Well, OK, maybe 90% hooker safe.  In earlier editions, if the weapon rusted, bam, that was it.  Your +5 Holy Avenger is so much brown dust. Here you get the progressive -1’s before it’s destroyed.  So it’s definitely nerfed from some other incarnations of the Rust Monster. But that’s still a far sight better than 4e’s “oh, you can always just get it back afterwards” approach. I imagine there will be some way to fix a rusted weapon – there’s not a spell for it yet, but I imagine the second level make whole spell will return eventually. But that’s fair enough.

I’m not quite done with digesting 5e yet, but it’s clear the game has at least come back into the general design space we expect from Dungeons & Dragons.  So let me clearly say “Thanks, Mike Mearls!” I, and I think I speak for a good batch of other gamers here, appreciate that you could see that a good portion of the critique of 4e wasn’t just “grognards that hate change” or “trolling for kicks on the Internet” but was the thoughts of real gamers who honestly wanted to help improve the game. Well done, and thanks for listening.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 1-2, Character Creation and Races

Welcome to the second part of my Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition readthrough and review of the Player’s Handbook.  Last time, we dispensed with the introduction, and now it’s character generation time!

Chapter 1: Step-by-step Characters

This chapter walks you through the process.  Choose a race, choose a class, determine ability scores, describe your character, choose equipment, come together, you’re ready to rock.

You get proficiencies from your class and other sources, and those proficiencies all share your class proficiency bonus. That’s an interesting streamlining – in 3e, you got a wide array of “your bonus to everything is different.” In 4e you got “+1/2 your level to like, everything.” This threads between those; providing a more simplified general number you add to things you can do while differentiating between things you are skilled at vs not – weapons, nonweapon skills, spellcasting, whatever.  They list the proficiency bonus in each class table but that’s weird because it looks like it’s the same for all of them – it’s +2 and goes up by 1 at levels 5, 9, 13, 17. What is that, ceiling(level/4)+1?

Besides your hit points you actually record your Hit Dice because you’ll use them for healing too. This has confused a lot of 5e newbies online already.  I remember reading Dragon Magazine when I had just started gaming and was playing Star Frontiers, I bought it for the Ares section and would look at the rest with interest – I could figure out what a lot of the D&D part meant except “what the heck is a Hit Dice?!?”

It’s the standard six ability scores – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, in their new-as-of-3e ordering. Ability modifiers work like 3e and are +1 for every 2 points (=(score/2)-5). I hope their other changes rein in the min-maxing enough; I would have been tempted to take this back to the lower-scaled bonuses and penalties of Red Box Basic (BECMI).

The primary method of generating stats?  ROLLING THEM LIKE A REAL MAN. 4d6 drop lowest, arrange how you like.  Or if you are weak, they do allow for a standard array or point buy (“If your DM approves”!). At least they say rolling is the primary method. A la carte point buy, along with unrestricted magic purchase, is one of the biggest cause of the problems with Third Edition (including 3.5e and Pathfinder) as it allows high precision min-maxing.

Armor Class (AC) is 10 + Dex + armor as it’s been in every version since 3e.

One notable change is that they just simplify and say Strength is + to hit and damage for melee weapons (and thrown weapons) and Dexterity is + to hit and damage for ranged weapons (and finesse weapons). That’s kinda how it worked in 4e, though layered under their arcane power lingo.

And then, there’s a single XP table for all characters.  The fact that there’s just one doesn’t surprise anyone who’s played the game since 3e but FYI if you’re a pure old schooler. The numbers seem scary low – 300 xp for level 2? I haven’t gotten to how they’re awarded, so it may even out, but that’s an order of magnitude reduction from the standard Pathfinder table.

They do define “tiers” of play and tell you what you might expect, but unlike in 4e they refrain from giving them names and note that “the tiers don’t have any rules associated with them,” which is good.

Chapter 2: Races

chuckThey don’t want to leave out anyone’s favorite. There’s nine races, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc, Tiefling, and most have sub-races.  This is a maximal set of races from the various PHBs.

Some of the fiddliness of 3e is removed here. For example, instead of age modifiers to your stats, you are told you could “use your age to explain a particularly” low or high stat.

Each race gets 2-3 pages for a core writeup then a page or so of subraces, representing the various traditional ones – like elves have high elf, wood elf, and dark elf. You tend to get a +2 to a stat from the base race and then a +1 or +2 to another from the subrace (picking a subrace is mandatory). They also go to lengths to point out what these subraces map to in various campaign worlds – “the shield dwarves of northern Faerun are mountain dwarves,” for example.

They mention that races do vary per campaign world, and mention kender and cannibal halflings of Dark Sun as examples.

Dwarves are what it says on the tin. Female dwarves do not have beards (I bet the newbies wonder why I’m saying some of these seemingly totally random things… Suffice to say that any weird statement I make like this is because there’s some major debate among gamers on it.) They get +2 to Con, darkvision (low-light and darkvision have been merged), poison resistance plus advantage on poison saves, and some proficiencies.  Hill dwarves get +1 Wis and more hit points; shield dwarves get +2 to Str and armor proficiency.

Elves are the slightly-shorter type, not the slightly-taller Pathfinder type. They get a +2 to Dex, darkvision , proficiency in Perception, and charm/sleep resistance.  I like that they state these abilities directly but without having to resort to too much gamespeak. “You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.” High elves get +1 Int, proficiencies, and a cantrip, wood elves get +1 Wis, proficiencies, +5′ move, and can hide in the wild. Drow get +1 Cha, longer darkvision, some magical abilities, and are sensitive to sunlight (plus they dress super sexy). I’m happy that the made-up-sounding “eladrin” has been demoted to a froofy name for a high elf.

Halflings are the Hobbit type not the murder-thief adrenaline junkie type. They get a +2 Dex, -5′ move, are small (which isn’t as big a deal in 5e), are lucky (reroll 1’s!), brave (advantage against being frightened), and nimble (can move through spaces of larger opponents). Lightfoots get +1 Cha and can stealth behind someone and Stouts get +1 Con and advantage/resistance against poison.

Humans are, you know, us.  They can even be black now, which wasn’t OK pre-3e.  (OK, I’m kidding… Mostly…) Humans get +1 on all their ability scores, an interesting interpretation of the “they’re the polymaths of the races” vibe they have. In a sidebar they basically say “or you could play third edition!” and take +2 to two stats, a skill, and a feat. Humans don’t have subraces in the same sense of the other races, but they do list a bunch of Forgotten Realms ethnicities as examples (no abilities or stat changes are tied to them).

Everyone knows these are the “big 4″ – in fact, the PHB goes on to say that the other races are “Uncommon” and may not appear in all worlds and even when they do, they are rarer – they even describe what commoners might think of them if they haven’t encountered them before.

Dragonborn are dragon guys of a vaguely Klingon ilk. They get a +2 Str and +1 Cha, resistance to a given damage type linked to their color, and a breath weapon – at will, 2d6 +1d6 every 5 levels after 1!  a 30′ line or a 15′ cone. That’s nothing to sneeze at. (Get it?!?) But you have to rest to recharge it. They don’t have subraces per se, just color bloodlines. (The [rather silly] issue of whether female dragonborn have breasts is not addressed.)

Gnomes are tinkers and adrenaline junkies. And into nature, and illusions.  For most of the races it didn’t hurt too much that they decided to combine up every other edition’s concepts of them into one, but since gnomes have varied so much, it makes this description a little schizophrenic. They get +1 Int, are small, -5′ move, darkvision, and advantage on all Int/Wis/Cha magic saves. Forest gnomes get +1 Dex and illusions and speak with critters; rock gnomes get +1 Con, knowledge, and tinker (make a couple doodads – not very interesting out of the box but I assume the list of possible devices will grow without bound in splats).

Half-elves are diplomatic outcasts (squint real hard and it makes sense) and get +2 Cha, +1 to 2 scores of your choice, darkvision, charm/sleep resist, and a couple skills.

Half-orcs are, you know, orcy. +2 Str, +1 Con, darkvision, proficiency with Intimidate, one free “pop up to 1 hp when reduced to 0 hp” reimplementation of ferocity, and an extra damage die on crits.

Tieflings are devil people. Well, anywhere less than half devil. Horns, tails, the whole deal. They get +1 Int, +2 Cha (what is this, a Lords of Acid album?), darkvision, fire resistance, and some minor spells.

Overall a good spread, and described decently. I don’t disagree with any of the implementations, except that there seems to be a weird lot of charisma boosts for races that could fairly be described as “feared uggos.”

The thing I thought was the most impressive was how the game terms took the background.  They were still there somewhat – Small size, advantage, resistance – but when they could describe something without resorting to sounding like a lawyer, they did, and I think the rules are more robust for it.  “Magic can’t put you to sleep” is way more definitive than “immune to things with the sleep keyword” or whatever – over time you get these things that “are exactly like that but don’t have just the right keyword” – plus it sounds more like natural freaking English.

By this point in 4e I was starting to get pinpricked by weird stuff – movement in squares, super magical racial abilities like eladrin teleporting, rules being keyword-driven to the point of incoherence… But so far, so good here. Part of me wants to gripe about there being no racial stat penalties, as an obvious sop to the helicopter-parented self-entitled kids of today, but… eh. 5e, where all the children are above average.

Next time – 112 pages of classes (gulp)!

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four

Time to start in the fourth season of our epic Reavers on the Seas of Fate campaign!  A Pathfinder piracy campaign based in Golarion, Reavers has seen our protagonists – currently Sindawe the Mwangi monk (captain of the Teeth of Araska), Serpent the albino Ulfen druid/ranger/barbarian, and Wogan the portly gun-wielding Chelish priest of Gozreh – range far and wide in their depredations. Tommy Blacktoes the halfling and Ox the Garundi both were PCs, but their players dropped out eventually.

In Season One they got their start on the mean streets of Riddleport in northern Varisia. They went as far as the ancient serpentfolk ruins of Viperwall to thwart plans to use the recently-completed Riddleport Light to open the Cyphergate and bring madness and/or death to the populace. They also met a lot of our major recurring characters – Saul Vancaskerkin the friendly Riddleport crime lord, Clegg Zincher the less friendly one, Samaritha the half-elven Cyphermage, Lavender Lil the well-endowed tiefling prostitute, Elias Tammerhawk the head Cyphermage and upcoming crime boss, Jaren the Jinx, unlucky pirate, and Hatshepsut the priestess of a lost civilization. And many others, who mostly got killed. Before it was all over, Tammerhawk was revealed and thwarted as an evil serpentfolk trying to bring ruin to Riddleport, Samaritha was revealed as a benign serpentfolk and Serpent’s love interest, Lavender Lil was spirited away from Clegg Zincher’s vengeance by an enamored Tommy, and Hatshepsut was freed from time-stasis in Viperwall and joined the group. And Sindawe gains the favor(s) of Wendo spirit Mama Watanna, Sadly the thwarting of Tammerhawk still resulted in his escape and in a tsunami that wrecked Riddleport – and the insertion of weird orichalcum glyphs in each player!

In Season Two they deal with the aftermath of the tsunami and head out to the Devil’s Elbow, where they discover an odd link between their new glyphs and threats from the Shadow Plane. They kill a pirate captain and take his ship, and finally are promoted from “hired muscle” to “independent contractors!” They wavecrawl around and meet many aquatic terrors, and bring some themselves. More horror in Riddleport also results, but in the end they take a trip to go find Jaren the Jinx and end up on an Azlanti island fighting Deep Ones. In other news, Tommy and Lavender Lil end up becoming thralls of the succubus lord Nocticula.  And Serpent and Samaritha get married! Sindawe cheats on Mama Watanna with Hatshepsut, but manages to talk his way out of the worst of it…

Season Three is all about heading across the Azlant Ocean to the sunken spires of lost Azlant to follow both pirate captain Morgan Baumann and collect a bounty on her, but also to follow a treasure map entrusted to Sindawe by his father. There’s aquatic exploration and survival horror and skirmishes with the elves of the Mordant Spire who consider Azlant their purview, until they finally reach the lost Sun Temple Colony and delve into its bizarre legacy and inhuman masters. Flying Azlanti death rays, flame-slug puppetmasters, vampire strippers… But in the end they confront both their goals and head back to Riddleport! Sindawe and Wogan try to keep their mind on their money and their money on their mind this season,but not so Serpent – Samaritha comes up pregnant!

Now, Season Four.  In realtime this season is almost complete so I can tease you on its contents!  They haven’t heard the last of the serpent man posing as Elias Tammerhawk, or of the shadow demon Chmetugo. Wogan wants to go save his sister, who now lives in the depths of Nidal, from a local plague. Sindawe wants to prey upon the ships of the Chelish coast like a wolf. Serpent wants to keep his new egg safe. They team up with some old friends, Captain Clap and Thalios Dondrel, son of Mordekai, for some pirating. But as one might expect, Cheliax is not a soft target. There will be blood! And, two new PCs join the group.

So stay tuned for the continued exploits of the fearsome Reavers on the Seas of Fate!

ENnie Winners Announced

Here’s the list of ENnie winners from ENWorld announced at Gen Con.  Let’s see how I did on my predictions

ennies

My Best Adventure pick, Razor Coast, got Silver. For Cover Art I had Mythic Adventures but then Razor Coast again, which got snubbed for Achtung Cthulhu. I had Numenera and Inner Sea Gods tied for Interior Art, they got Gold and Silver. I nailed the Best E-Book, Emerald City followed by Broken Earth. I got the order reversed on Best Free Product, We Be Goblins and CoC 7th. Best minis, Wrath of the Righteous (twice?), same on Best Monster/Adversary, Bestiary 4 and Ninth World Bestiary. 

I picked Numenera for Best Production Values and Numenera as second for Setting (along with Razor Coast, which should have gotten more than one ENnie). Best Supplement – Ultimate Campaign, and I tagged Realm Works and roll20 for Best Software and FATE/Numenera for Product Of The Year. Of course Paizo gets fan favorite, that goes without saying.

So except for the categories where I deliberately didn’t pick, I was pretty darn accurate! I do think RC should have gotten a little more and Numenera a little less – I mean, there was a big buzz around it and yay, Monte Cook, but it’s one of those where I know a batch of people who own it, but no one who’s played it… But in any event, congrats to all the winners! 

Link

ORE Bundle of Holding

This week’s Bundle of Holding is all ORE all the time – for one low price get Wild Talents, GODLIKE, Better Angels, and a bunch of other stuff.

2014 ENnie Nominees Are Here

The “Gamer Oscars,” the ENnie awards, are given out each year at Gen Con. And the nominees for this year are… Well, go read the link for all of them, I’m just going to chime in with the parts I have an opinion on. My picks are…

Best Adventure

  • Razor Coast: Heart of the Razor – Frog God Games. Because I helped proof it, because it’s good, because I’m running it in my pirate campaign, because it had an epic journey to finally come to life.  Though I really like that there’s a Dreamlands campaign (The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man) in the running.

Best Aid/Accessory

  • I’m not big into trinkets. I’m also not sure how to reasonably judge some dice against cards against an advice book. Pass.

Best Art, Interior

Best Art, Cover

  • Razor Coast – Frog God Games immediately over Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Mythic Adventures – Paizo Publishing. For my money Wayne Reynolds is the Larry Elmore of the 2010’s. He’s basically competing against himself here and the Mythic cover is a little too busy; the Razor Coast cover is classic.

Best Blog

  • Haven’t read any of them except for Gnome Stew which I don’t get a lot out of.  After a quick read I like the feel of The Other Side the best.

Best Cartography

  • Hmm, no opinion.  The fact that there is a Map of the Flanaess is bad ass but it’s not the quality of some of these others. And I love Razor Coast but its maps are not its high point (they tend to be pretty but have some problems in play).

Best Electronic Book

Best Family Game

  • I have no context on any of these.

Best Free Product

Best Game

  • I don’t know.  I mean, it was originally the battle of titans – 13th Age vs Fate Core System vs Numenera. Huge sales, huge buzz. But I have to say, after getting 13th Age and Numenera – I read them, and that was it.  If someone was running a Numenera game I might play.  Not sure about 13th Age. And I have very much not enjoyed the FATE games I’ve played in.  So none?  Sad I know, and it’s not because they are small or bad games. Just none of them interest me. I’ll give Numenera the edge just because I’d play it if asked and might not play the other two if asked.

Best Miniatures Product

  • Pathfinder Battles: Wrath of the Righteous – WizKids Games/NECA. The Pathfinder minis are just beautiful.  I really don’t need any more but I can’t resist buying a brick every time they have a new set because they push the bar forward on sculpts, paints, and weird materials each time.

Best Monster/Adversary

Best Podcast

  • Hmm, I listen to a lot of podcasts but haven’t heard of these.  No RPPR or Fear the Boot?  Come on now! I’ll try out All Games Considered and Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

Best Production Values

  • Numenera Corebook – Monte Cook Games, LLC. Can’t say anything against the production here, it’s first-rate.

Best RPG Related Product

  • As opposed to “Aids and Accessories?” Trinket category 2, pass.

Best Rules

  • I’m not in love with any of these. 13th Age and Fate Core System leave me mostly cold. Hillfolk is supposed to be all groundbreaking but I found Hamlet’s Hit Points to be pedantic and plodding as hell so I haven’t ventured it.  Shaintar: Legends Arise – “more stuff for Savage Worlds” is fine but I have a hard time pegging a “Best Rules” on it.  Makes me wish I’ve read tremulus because maybe I could vote for it here.

Best Setting

  • Razor Coast – Frog God Games, because I love pirates, followed by Numenera Corebook – Monte Cook Games, LLC, because it’s artsy and unusual if a little less accessible.

Best Supplement

Best Software

  • Realm Works – Lone Wolf Development and Roll20 – The Orr Group LLC. Gaming software’s come a long way since back in the day! I’m more likely to use Realm Works than Roll20 just because I’m a in-real-life guy.

Best Writing

  • Hmm, Numenera is the only one of these I’ve read so I can’t really judge.

Best Website

  • Why the hell is The Escapist nominated every year? It’s infrequently updated, a mass of 404s and “this is shut down now” – I go look at it every year when it’s nominated and try to figure out what I’m missing. Blog? No post in 3 months.  Forum? Shut down. Podcast? Dead 5 years. Escapist Interviews? 404.  What am I missing, because a casual survey indicates this is an old ass abandoned site?
  • Tabletop Audio is pretty and a cool idea. RPG Geek is a good reference site.  See Page XX is engaging, I read it once every 6 months or so, but it’s pretty tightly scoped so one every 6 months is enough.

Product of the Year

  • I assume Fate Core System is going to win just because squee, FATE. Or maybe Numenera on the basis of being the only game that’s not retreading well-trod ground.  Another Cthulhu game? We have enough, seriously. Razor Coast is the one out of all of them I plan to play…

All in all, not a year I’m super excited about. I got a couple fun things, which are mostly not on this list… I do like looking at the lists to see what I may have overlooked that could be good. I need to read tremulus sometime and see if it overcomes the “storygame effect” (entertaining to play – once). How about you, were any of these super winners in your mind?

Awesome Ship Kickstarter

Since I am running a long pirate campaign that’s headed to the Razor Coast, I was jazzed to come across this ship and terrain Kickstarter – with various ships including a 60′ barque (La Belle), 90′ sloop-of-war (HMS Drake), and a 130′ frigate (HMS Surprise).  It’s a chunk of change but… I had to do it! Go check it out if you plan on some naval action in your game.