Tag Archives: RPGs

The 2015 ENnies, My Analysis

The winners of the 2015 ENnie awards were announced at Gen Con this weekend.  Let’s see who won and who I wanted to win! Here’s the full list of nominees for comparison.

Best Adventure

I’m a sucker for the East Texas University setting and adventures, but my picks this year were also the winners, Zak S.’ Red and Pleasant Land (Silver) and the Call of Cthulhu Horror on the Orient Express (Gold), reissued as a big ass boxed set.  Red and Pleasant Land is a significant step forward for RPGs as an art form and I voted it for Gold, just because Orient is a re-issue of an older adventure and that docks it a bit in my estimation.  The Tyranny of Dragons 5e adventure was just kinda poor, and it looks like the voting reflected that.

Best Aid/Accessory

I find it really hard to vote for these “random junk” categories.  Is this dice set better than this CD of sounds? What does that even mean?  But I know the Paizo Harrow Deck is good quality.  It didn’t win, the CoC dice set got Silver (how good can dice be?) and the 5e DM screen got Gold.

Best Cover Art

Not a great year for cover art, I thought a couple of these were pretty generic.  I love the Wayne Reynolds Freeport cover, but it didn’t win. Rise of Tiamat got Gold (that art style does nothing for me) and Achtung! Cthulhu: Rise of the Secret War got a deserved Silver.

Best Interior Art

Dreamhounds of Paris not winning Silver at least is a miscarriage of justice! The Strange’s very cool and profuse art got Gold and the D&D MM (Silver) is decent if workmanlike, but Dreamhounds is about impressionism and surrealism in art…

Best Blog

I’ll be honest, I don’t read any of these.  I have tried year after year to get into Gnome Stew (Silver) because it always wins, but I never can. I don’t really like the “aggregator site” blog metaphor, it makes a lot of content but much of it of indifferent quality IMO (several of the others have the same metaphor). ConTessa got Gold, which is nice,well designed, and promotes women in gaming. It’s the only one that looks like a Web site from this decade. From checking out the nominees I also like DMDavid, as it’s a simple but consistent blog with good articles.

BeSt Cartography

Hm. My picks were the period maps in Horror on the Orient Express and the “pretty modern computer game” maps of Ninth World (Gold).  The Glorantha book got the Silver instead; it’s a good book but I don’t know about the cartography per se, they seem pretty… Simple?  Lots  of  indistinguishable green expanses?

Best Electronic Book

The D&D 5e free Basic rules are certainly notable and deserve the Gold.  Ken Writes About Stuff vol. 2 got Silver which is also deserved, though his writing is often not my cup of tea (Suppressed Transmission just gave me a headache… “What if the local WAL-MART is staffed by SNAKE PEOPLE who serve CHUPACABRA SANDWICHES to the MORLOCKS in the loading dock…”), often coming across to me like crypto-conspiracy Mad Libs. I like his actual games though.

Best Family Game

I voted Doctor Who, since it’s the one that I got my 12 year old daughter and she actually tried to run for her friends. Atomic Robo, which I hear great things about, got Silver and the D&D Starter Set got Gold.

Best Free Product

Well of course the Basic D&D rules get Gold here. Silver went to the 13th Age Archmage’s Orrery but I liked the Doctor Who Arrowdown adventure, a 15 page pro-quality adventure. Orrery is 64 pages but not pro quality layout.

Best Game

No surprise, we all knew D&D 5e was getting Gold and The Strange was getting Silver.

Best Miniature Product

I agree with this – the WizKids D&D prepaints got Gold and the innovative Paizo Pawn set (real module art, hundreds of pawns for $40) got Silver.

Best Monster/Adversary

Achtung! Cthulhu’s Terrors of the Secret War got a deserved Silver and the D&D 5e MM got Gold. The Strange’s bestiary really did deserve something too, but it was a tight race.  I’m not sure if the 5e MM is really as good or just got the “D&D 5e bump,” it’s a fine MM but it’s much like MMs of years past – not that that’s  bad, but is it award-winning?

Best Podcast

I didn’t like how most of these podcasts were very narrowly focused.  I voted Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff for Gold (the one of these I listen to regularly) and it won, the Miskatonic U podcast got Silver. Since I’m not hip deep into CoC or The Strange or whatever I probably won’t be starting in on any of these others, except maybe NPC Cast, I’ll check that out.

Best Production Values

The D&D Starter Set got Gold and Horror on the Orient Express got Silver, which is bizarre if you open up both and compare them (Horror is like a chest full of cool shit).

Best RPG Related Product

Usually I give this category a big “bah” because it’s an even weirder grab bag than Best Aid/Accessory, but this year’s Designers and Dragons books that are a history of RPGs are certainly notable and deserve their Gold. The Temple of Elemental Evil board game got Silver.

Best Rules

D&D 5e got Gold and it’s pretty well deserved IMO. Mutant: Year Zero got Silver, a game which was nominated in lots of categories and I have never heard mentioned until these awards (and I’m pretty active online).

Best Setting

Red and Pleasant Land got Gold here, and The Strange got Silver, which is all well and as it should be, both of these were true innovators. Dreamhounds of Paris was also good and my friend Bruce is doubtless cutting on himself right now since the Glorantha book didn’t get anything here (though it did get the Diana Jones award, so he’s actually pretty gloaty about it).

Best Software

Gold to Roll20, Silver to Hero Lab – finally we have truly outstanding pieces of software in the RPG space. I use Hero Lab all the time and would use Roll20 all the time if I did much online gaming.

Best Supplement

Gold to the 5e DMG and Silver to Pathfinder Unchained.  (Is the DMG really a supplement and not core rules? Most games have that in their core rules nowadays). Anyway, taxonomic complaints aside, good picks. Paizo continues to innovate inside the 3.x realm with Unchained.

Best Website

Look can someone explain this to me.  Every year The Escapist gets nominated and usually wins, this time getting Gold. Go click on that link.  It’s a dead Goddamned site.  Forums, closed down. Features, not in a decade. Archives, end in 2011. Blog, exactly three posts this year.  WHAT THE FUCK?  Am I missing some large and active part of this site amidst all the dead links? I have to be missing something because as best as I can tell it’s a DEAD GODDAMN SITE GETTING GOLD EVERY YEAR. Politics? Money? Sex? How is this happening? I mean, they do tweet I guess, is it just because of their Twitter stream? Then be honest and link to that!  (And maybe they should put a tweet-stream on their front page if that’s the real draw!)

Tabletop Audio, on the other hand, is a proper Web site that got a deserved Silver.

Best Writing

Red and Pleasant Land took Gold and the D&D 5e PHB took Silver.  I’m not sure I think “Writing” when I read the D&D PHB.  Best Rules yes, but Writing, I mean, technically it is writing, but I expect “Best Writing” to be like, good and not just rules explanation (like in Red and Pleasant Land). Or Designers & Dragons, which is also nominated here despite only being “RPG Related” in category (?)

Product of the Year

The D&D PHB in Gold – I mean, it’s a new D&D release, you gotta expect that.  What’s more surprising is the dark horse indie Red & Pleasant Land getting Silver, bringing it to 4 ENnies and one of them being in the most prestigious category! I hope this means less business as usual and more innovation – even a lot of Kickstartered stuff is “here’s just another FATE game” and more real out of the box stuff (which to be fair Numenera and The Strange also are, as well as adventures like Dreamhounds of Paris).

Fan’s Choice for Best Publisher

Gold for WotC and Silver for Paizo!  Quite an upset because Paizo is very beloved by all their fans.  Mearls and Crawford did a yeoman job in dragging D&D/WotC’s reputation out of the shitter this year (come on, I think that’s fair to say) by being accessible even while not delivering on some things fans care about (like licenses).  Increased transparency has helped a lot here – I’m not sure WotC has gotten better than Paizo in an absolute sense but they sure get a gold star for “most improved,” that’s for sure!

How about you, what did you want to win that did (or didn’t)?

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Sixteenth Session

plague-painting-3566-ga

The Triumph of Death

Sixteenth Session (13 page pdf) – “Painted Shadows” – Ansar’s paintings hide a dark secret; Wogan’s sister and nephew are kidnapped by the evil that lies on the other side of the Midnight Mirror.

The PCs go to see one of Ansar’s masterworks… And naturally it attacks. I use Pieter Bruegel’s “The Triumph of Death” as the visual. Ansar the glyph-bearing gendarme and disturbed painter gave in to the temptations of the shadows and is now a shadowy lurker from U1 Gallery of Evil, a shadow creature that can travel through paintings.

They burn the first painting and Ansar flies off with a “the child will be ours!” They run to the child Olga’s room in the temple but she’s fine.  Then with a start Wogan realizes it might be his baby nephew the undead creature was talking about!  After a sprint across town to the manor house they find out that indeed Anya and the baby have gone missing. And there’s an Ansar original in the basement.

The PCs and household go down there and get an even bigger setpiece battle. Painted night hags and kytons and undead! Ghosts and hounds and barons! It’s a fun time.  Finally they take the bad guys all out but no Anya…  U1 Gallery of Evil is all done but The Midnight Mirror is just cranking up.

The baron takes them to his study and explains that they’ve probably been taken into a shadow mirror artifact thing in the basement his family uses to make deals with a shae (shadow creature) Nidal style. He asks the PCs to get their shadows removed, go in there, and destroy the mirror from the inside. “That sounds sketchy as shit.  OK.”

They go back down to the basement and think to check the dungeon and on its guard and inmate. They find Yuris and Isiem melded into a single piece of Kuthite art. Their bones are fused to the ceiling, their flesh hangs festively. Blood pools on the floor.

Baron Stephan says, “Ah.” He closes the door.

Next time, into the midnight mirror!

 

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Fifteenth Session

fallenFifteenth Session (9 page pdf) – “Casting Shadows” – The proximate cause of the plague is revealed, and it’s… Samaritha?!?

With their weapons, the PCs return to the inn and find Samaritha all fevered. The others go to talk with Rucia and leave Serpent to his wife, but she ends up being too much for him – she goes all black-eyed and starts melting him to shadows with her touch.  They manage to drive the creature inside her out, it’s some incorporeal shadow thing. It goes down into the common room and they have to play seek-and destroy, and they do so quickly to my disappointment.

Replacing the weird twist in the actual Midnight Mirror module I had an umbral lurker moving between people – have you seen the movie Fallen, with Denzel, where a demon moves from person to person? It’s like that. And it leaves behind a little present, tallowthroat.  The little girl was infected and passed it on to Samaritha, who while possessed hid the weapons chest herself! I was hoping I could play Fallen with them for more sessions but Serpent was super johnny on the spot about rooting it out and killing it.

Back to investigation. While the plague has been nipped in the bud there’s clearly other weirdness afoot. They meet Baron Stepan, who is a bit agitated and, it turns out, not casting a shadow. Suspicious! Then they meet a ghost in the basement and find out Stepan had some brothers what disappeared. And they interrogate a petty thief in the manor dungeon for a hot lead on candlesticks.

 

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Fourteenth Session

Gloomwing

Gloomwing

Fourteenth Session (11 page pdf) – “The Candle Is Snuffed” – The plague is revealed to have a sinister, more shadowy nature, and a visit to the local candle-shop turns gruesome.

Things get weirder. Besides the local torture-god, and Samaritha getting KOed and their weapons box stolen, the plague seems to end with shadows tearing out of a person’s throat. The fact that their weapons are locked up and they can’t use divine magic or get executed by faithful locals puts a crimp in the PCs’ activities, but as things escalate they quickly go into zombie apocalypse “THE RULES OF SOCIETY ARE NO MORE” mode.

After drafting some local deputies, they go to the candle store and bust in and Sindawe runs up and punches… A wax golem that looks like a storekeeper. That’s surprising, but not eventually fatal (to the PCs).

Wogan says, “He was a wax man. Just like Olya described.”
One guardsman replies, “Yeah… Wait, what?!?”
Sindawe explains, “Yup, she described that wax guy just before she fell asleep. He lured her into his wagon with candies, then bragged about how he would get away with everything because the guardsmen are dumbasses.”
Both guardsmen stare at Sindawe.
Sindawe continues in Aklo, “Wogan, grab the cash box while I take the law guys into the next room.” In common he says, “Let’s go do some good!”

Then as they investigated I laid on the horror atmosphere. Shit, I even use the cat-jump scare in this one.  I’m not proud.

Tenebrous Worm

Tenebrous Worm

Then it’s a big ol’ proper fight, with a fun ecology – gloomwings and a tenebrous worm. They’re freaked out enough that they want to run but Serpent gets hit by their confusion so they have to come back and help him – he snaps out of it briefly but when he’s tempted into “just one attack before I run” he gets caught by it again.  Ah, adventurers. They kill all the critters and then, besides the loot, find out that someone’s been making sacrifices to Chmetugo the shadow demon.

Remember Chmetugo from the Devil’s Elbow in Season Two? And how he took over the head of the Cypher Lodge? Well he’s back! More, next time!

 

 

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Thirteenth Session

octopus_paintingThirteenth Session (11 page pdf) – “Darkness and Secrets” – Investigation in the plague-ridden town reveals that everyone has secrets… Some are more immediately fatal than others.

Re: Serpent’s dream – hnefatafl is like Viking chess. So he plays a game of it with Death.  FORESHADOWING!!!

They go to find Ansar the gendarme but get to fight a painted octopus at his place. They’re really not sure what to make of that. FORESHADOWING!!!

Then it’s time to meet Wogan’s sister Anya! He hasn’t seen her since he left home, and somehow she managed to get married to a Nidalese noble – sure, that’s the shittiest kind of noble, but beats a fishing village. And her baby, his nephew, Marek. The PCs don’t know what to make of a baby.  FORESHADOWING!!!

Next, the quiet waitress at the local inn gets Wogan in private and reveals that Desna has been calling to her. Religion other than the Hellraiser kind is a murderin’ offense in Nidal so he starts mulling over what to do. FORESH… OK, you get the gist.

Then it’s investigation time. What’s up with this plague? And paintings? And shadows? They talk to the fetchlings, which are like a shadow-touched race that is found in Nidal, and the local witch. But when she does a reading of Wogan she throws them out, saying that they bear the same curse!  FORESHADOWING!!!  I’m really done now.

Then the main action setpiece – chasing down a little girl! Yes, really.

Wogan asks, “Have you been to the candle store?”

“Well, I had a dream that I was at the candle store. A man, well, a big doll was there. He was nice to me.”

Further questions reveal that the doll man was perhaps a man wearing a mask. Wogan uses his beast box to summon a rat, then orders it to fetch items from the hole.

Olya (the little girl) watches with great interest. Her crying and shaking slow, then subside. The rat recovers a wooden spiked chain and a candle. The former is a common child’s toy in Nidal. The latter item means a certain candle maker is going to die (that’s pirate investigation and justice for you).

They get the girl back to her father, but she’s already fallen ill with the local plague, tallowthroat…

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Twelfth Session

Twelfth Session (13 page pdf) – “Vale of Tears” – The pirates reach the Vale of Karpad in Nidal, to find a plague, racism, and intrigue.

Well so there’s a faeskin leather boutique in Nisroch because there’s lots of fae here in Nidal.  And since it’s Nidal it’s mostly evil ones. When the PCs went to bury their loot in the nearby forest they got the attention of some redcaps, who followed their convenient trail of body parts back to their camp at night and are now trying to overrun them.

midnightmirrorRedcaps have a move of 60 and Spring Attack. In tall grass at night, that’s a good combination – they would just run in, kick someone with their iron boots, and run off again. The PCs were firing area damage spells out into the darkness to try to get them, however their fast healing 3 takes care of the damage they take pretty quickly.

It’s actually going pretty badly for our heroes for once, but then they see that Wogan is wearing redcap boots! (Purchased at Boutique Zeleve back in the city.) Oh, they all go fucknuts and rush the portly cleric all at once. While this is very painful for Wogan, the rest of the party can then focus their attacks on the creatures, so after a long slog they overcome them all.

And then they get to Karpad!  To meet a mixup of several published adventures. It’s primarily the plotline of the adventure The Midnight Mirror, but with Wogan being actually related to Anya, and U1 Gallery of Evil, but with a lot of mixing-up and enhancing by me.

Everyone who got a piece of the glyph-plaque that K’Stallo the serpentman was using to try to open a gate to the Plane of Shadow back in our earlier season has been hounded by shadows, tempted by them to join the shadows, etc. The PCs have killed everything that’s come after them but others haven’t been so lucky. One of the Riddleport gendarmes with a glyph made it this far, but went artist-crazy and turned into a shadowy lurker.  (IMO the #1 trick to using published adventures is search/replacing to give the PCs deep and direct links into them instead of relying on generosity or greed).

The PCs ride into this and, having gotten used to Nidalese culture, disrupt the lynching of some fetchlings (half-shadow people) with the compelling argument that “we should torture them instead!” They manage to break it up and get introduced to the major plot threads.

Many locals drift into the Weeping Willow Inn for a drink. Racism makes a man thirsty.

Speaking of racism, the locals are all super pale and the appearance of Sindawe (a black Mwangi) is of some concern, with it clearly being either a skin condition or him being a horrible shadow creature, of which there are many in Nidal. I drew on real life from this, when my Mexican stepmother went to visit her new parents-in-law in rural Amish-country Pennsylvania, and they didn’t know what to make of her (and this is in 1990, not ancient history).

Besides that, they get to know the locals and fill up on rumors at the inn.

Wogan asks, “Do you think the baker murdered her and baked her into pies?”
Amara seems unhappy with the question. “I’ve had one of his pies.”

And since they’re his buddies, the other PCs sic the local hooker onto the celibate Wogan just to see him squirm.

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Eleventh Session

nightglassEleventh Session (9 page pdf) – “Heart of Darkness” – A chance encounter with a pair of Nidalese shadowcallers chasing some tiefling fugitives goes bad. Shallow graves are dug…

I put a lot of color work into the travel in Nidal.  Some folks always want to skip over travel in games, claiming “it’s boring.” These are largely people who don’t travel but live on their couch, I assume.  (See also: Making Wilderness Travel Matter).

Nidal is a spooky ass place.  I did my research – they have a section in the Inner Sea World Guide; there’s a whole section on Nisroch in Cities of Golarion (with sidebar: Favorite Torture Methods), and there’s a novel called Nightglass about a fledgling shadowcaller growing up in Nidal.  Then, I just kept my eyes open for coll stuff in the couple months leading up – like the mostly-underground inn they stayed in was based on a real one that was shown in a Web article… On Cracked maybe? I forget. Anyway, I had a page full of possible stuff to pull from by the time they were well into Nidal.

Even weird little details like what their main lumber exports are (darkwood and strangletrees) interested the players enough to ask around, consider buying some, etc. A deeply detailed game world generates its own rewards in player engagement.

It all goes OK till they come between some escaped slaves and some shadowcallers.  They don’t help them (much) but they fold under shadowcaller interrogation – the two shadowcallers are just doing standard cop-bullying but the second one of them says they might “confiscate” one of their weapons it’s murder time.

It’s a lively fight, shadowcallers are like Nidal’s Texas Rangers and they’re no joke.  They are finally overcome, and the PCs kill their captured slaves to ensure there’s no witnesses.  They know they are in a land that makes pre-war Iraq seem like Disneyland, and they’ll be tortured to death just on a whiff of suspicion. Most of the rest of the session is spent carefully covering up their crime. Bodies are buried deep. Jaws and hands are removed. Prestidigitation is used to clean up all blood traces. All the shadowcallers’ loot is bagged, ridden to a nearby forest, and buried – it’s too tempting to get rid of, but too dangerous to keep on hand. Jaws and hands are tossed into the tall grass along the way.

So that evening it’s pretty disturbing when there’s rustling out in the grass and the pieces of shadowcaller they distributed across the countryside start being tossed into their firelight…