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D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, The Beginning

Buckle up as we start our review and readthrough of the Fifth Edition PHB!

Design

5ephbThe Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook is 350 pages, hardback, and full color. It is clearly noted as “fifth edition” on the rear cover, which is much preferable to the confusing “we’ll just say it’s D&D, for I’m sure this is timeless!” approach that was teased. The vivid cover art depicts fire giant King Snurre fighting some lady. Not as clearly iconic as the Elmore Basic set dragon painting or as arcane as the 1e AD&D PHB “big idol” cover art, but better than the 2e, 3e, and 4e PHB cover art for sure. I’d say it ties with the Pathfinder Core Rulebook at #3 of all-time D&D PHB cover art.

The interior art is varied and attractive – a lot of the pieces really strongly remind me of the aesthetics of the Second Edition PHB interior art. There’s a lot of full page color plates of PCs doing things. It’s definitely not the line art of 1e, the sketch art of 3e, or the “Corporate said these pictures all have to look the same” of 4e.

The two-column graphic design is legible; fonts,  headers, and sidebars are attractive and functional.

Preface

Normally I skim Prefaces and Introductions and that sort of thing, but these were worth it because they try to explain the approach this edition is taking to the game. The preface stresses that this is a game of collaborative creation – you mainly need friends and a lively imagination, and that the players are what makes D&D come to life. All sounds good, nothing terrifyingly groundbreaking. I’ve gamed for too long to put myself properly into the “I am a complete noob what does this do to my fragile little mind” mindset to understand how this’ll start out new players but it seems like a good setting of expectations.

Introduction

The introduction does some introduction of basic terms. They kick off with a super short “what is roleplaying” example, and go on to mention terms  – though a little inconsistently; they bold “campaign” and “multiverse” so you pick them out as meaningful nouns of the game but not “player” or “Dungeon Master” or “adventure?” Odd. Anyway, it gives the basic 411 and notes that having fun and making a memorable story is how you “win.”

They move away from the 4e “points of light” default setting and go back to the “multiverse” concept, and specifically shout-out to the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Eberron, etc. This section starts a nice theme, which is that they put some of the control back in the DM’s hands – e.g. “Ultimately, the Dungeon Master is the authority on the campaign world and its setting, even if the setting is a published world.” Empowerment of the group to make the game theirs and the DM to rule on the setting, rules, etc. as theirs is echoed many times. This hearkens back to the attitude written into B/X D&D and Second Edition AD&D (see Rule Zero Over The Years for an exploration of the textual attitudes to the relative primacy of rules, players, and DM in various D&D editions).

Then they lay down the basics of how to play.  “The DM describes the environment, the players describe what they want to do, the DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.” Simple explanation of the ‘trad game’ process, though it has some subtle guidance in it (note that players describe what their characters try to do, but the DM decides what happens – yes, no, or what to roll; as opposed to “players make random checks against the stuff on their sheet and tell the DM”).

They explain polyhedral dice, and that usually d20 + modifier vs target number is the core resolution mechanic. Then they mention “advantage and disadvantage,” which is new in this edition – basically rolling 2d20 and taking the best (advantage) or worst (disadvantage). From the designer chatter previous to the release, this is supposed to be used in conjunction with fewer/lower bonuses to provide “bounded accuracy” – if you’re really good, you can hit what you can hit more reliably, but you’re not getting a huge +8 bonus to your rolls that starts to play into the balance, optimization, and encounter tuning issues that plagued Third Edition. They then clarify how specific rules supersede general rules, something that everyone understood but didn’t need spelled out prior to 3e. And, you round down. Simple enough.

Then they describe adventures, and make an important statement – the Three Pillars of Adventure are exploration, social interaction, and combat. This is important to note; especially in 3e/4e, for many people combat had become the sole defining characteristic of the game, reigning in either primacy or solitude, and people would seriously argue that “D&D is only about combat it’s unsuitable for those other things.” A statement explaining the role of all three will hopefully balance expectations of players and DMs of the future.

Magic is described as core to the D&D experience – they do note that “practitioners are rare” and “common people see it on a regular basis, but minor stuff” which helps set some core setting expectations that I’ve seen argued on the Internet far too much.

It’s all good stuff and I don’t have problems with any of it. But the Introduction is a little laundry-listy, though not as bad as 4e’s was. I personally would have pulled the dice and advantage and stuff part back into the rules section and made this a more coherent, punchier statement about adventure and what you could expect D&D play to be like. “You should expect imagination, rounding down, and magic!” isn’t, like, a super coherent message for new players. For grognards like me – OK, got it, on to character generation!

Next time – Chargen and Races!

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Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Breakdown

D&D on WhiteAs regular readers of this blog know, I’m a long time RPG player and have played every version of D&D since Basic in the 1980s. I was not a big fan of what Fourth Edition did with the game, along with what turned out to be the majority of the market, and have been playing Pathfinder for my D&D fix for the last 6 years. 

I’ve been following the news of the upcoming Fifth Edition with interest.  I read the free Basic rules and shared some initial impressions, but waited until the Player’s Handbook came out to really go into the rules in depth and see what I make of them.

So stand by – you’ll get a PHB readthrough and review (probably in several parts like the 4e one), a Hoard of the Dragon Queen review, and a comparison to all the previous versions of D&D! Will 5e get a passing grade, and will WotC do right by D&D’s deceased creators’ legacy? Stand by to find out!

 

Geek Book Review: Liar’s Blade

liarsbladeI just finished reading Liar’s Blade, one of a batch of Pathfinder Tales novels I got recently. This is a line of novels set in Pathfinder’s Golarion game world.

This is a well-crafted novel, not standard tie-in fiction fare by any means. It’s a story of a scoundrel named Rodrick and his magical intelligent sword, Hrym. They get hired by some weirdos to go across the River Kingdoms and Brevoy to get some mystery artifact.

The writing is good, with less of the tortured translation of game rules into prose than is customary (I hate that…). The banter between Rodrick and Hrym (and to a lesser extent with their other traveling companions) is really fun.  The two people who hire them, the dour priest Obed and his freaky companion Zaqen, remind me of the tag-along bad guys from the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path, who we affectionately referred to as “The Boner Squad” – Shadow Count Sial was the dour one, and then if you kinda combine the perky Laori Vaus and the chain devil into one person, you get a bit of the same dynamic.

Rodrick as a rogue was a well-realized character.  He wasn’t uber competent or a hopeless schlep, and he was avaricious but not vicious, scheming but occasionally letting his emotions get away with him. And Hrym is pretty funny, he’s a sword made of living ice who can’t really remember all of his millennia of life; he’s fond of sleeping on piles of gold coins and of Rodrick’s “twisty little mind.”  In the afterword Pratt credits Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser as the inspiration for his two characters’ adventures, and the main characters’ bromance in Liar’s Blade definitely puts one in mind of Leiber’s characters.

The travelogue through the River Kingdoms and Brevoy is also nice. The fight scenes aren’t anything to write home about, but since Hrym is super-magical many of the fights end quickly with a blast of ice magic, so we don’t have to dwell on many of them.

I’ve read a half dozen of these novels and this is definitely the best-written. Liar’s Blade is very entertaining, I give it 8 goblins out of 10!

Geek Book Review: The Big Book Of Adventure Stories

Big Book of Adventure StoriesI was in the library and saw the lurid cover to the left and figured what the heck, there might be something in there good for a laugh.

What I found was awesome.  It’s like a Penguin book of pulp classics, if Penguin wasn’t so stuck up that they didn’t have such a thing!  This massive 874-page tome contains everything from stories I read in high school English like “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Soul of a Regiment,” “To Serve Man,” Jack London’s “The White Silence,” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” to representative stories from just about every pulp property you’ve ever heard of, from Tarzan to Zorro to Sheena to Buck Rogers! It’s a complete canon of pulp adventure fiction.

I’m not well versed in the pulps and so had never read the original stories for many of these – some yes, but others I know know through movies or general cultural osmosis. You have in one volume Lady Fulvia, Conan the Barbarian, Khlit the Cossack, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Peter the Brazen, The Spider, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Wandering Smith, Singapore Sammy, Beau Geste, Zorro, Hopalong Cassidy, Buck Rogers, The Cisco Kid, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, King Kong, Bulldog Drummond, Aubrey St. John Major, Allan Quartermain, and more! Plus stories by Clark Ashton Smith, H.G. Wells, O’Henry, Philip Jose Farmer, Sax Rohmer, and various other luminaries. Great, great stuff.

This is an awesome collection.  I may have to find and buy a copy; I already have recommended it to friends who have bought copies. I owe my library so much in fines now, it took me a good while to churn through this – it’s big and in small print.

It’s funny, the presentation is really over-lurid – the cover above, and it’s broken up into internal sections like “Future Shock,” “Yellow Peril,” and “Megalomania Rules”… I mean, perhaps it’s against their spirit to take pulps too seriously and present it like it’s a Penguin book but I really didn’t expect the sheer amount of truly great writing this book was going to contain from its cover. Otto Penzler did a great job with this too – it’s not all the “most famous” of each author’s works; there’s a generous selection of “never published before” in here too.  I am going to have to check out more anthologies this guy’s edited because he knows what the hell he’s doing for sure.

Ten Year Old Girls Review Rise of the Runelords Miniatures

I had my new minis out from yesterday’s post-purchase initial review of the new Wizkids Pathfinder Battles Rise of the Runelords minis. (My that’s a long name.)  Go there to see the pictures for context. My daughter and one of her little friends saw them and decided to give me their opinions on them.  It was hilarious. Here’s as much as I could capture from stream of consciousness 10 year old girlspeak…

Storm Giantess: “She looks like she’s about to do something to me.”
“Cut you into pieces?”
“Yeah.”

Ogre Brute: “Looks like trollface meme guy.” <brief interruption where they tell me I’m so uncool and not up with the hip new things and we have to Google trollface. He does.>

Mash-fell-knocker (their pronunciation of Malfeshnekor):  <in a high voice> “Who’s a good doggie, who’s a good doggie, who’s a good doggie?” <in a harsh voice> “I kill you!”
“He looks like a monkey with elf ears.”
“He looks like a mix between a bat, a dog, and the ‘My precious’ guy from Lord of the Rings.”

Lucretia: “Her hair and eyes look evil.  She’s kinda bald but pretty. She must be the queen of something.”
<imitating Lucretia>  “You must obey me or be cut into pieces!”

Lyrie Akenja: “For Pete’s sake woman, put on a shirt!”
“Put on a shirt!  Put on a shirt!  Put on a shirt!” <chanting together>
“She has a wand, what is this, Harry Potter?”
“Oh look she has a kitty!”
<a long discussion on the pros and cons of kitties ensues>

Ogrekin: “Looks like Invader Zim with a muscly body and something on his head.”
“Looks like a bodybuilder with a messed up face.”
“Yeah, his face is jacked up.”
“Is that a baby rattle he has?”
<i do have to admit the ogrekin’s weapon is underwhelming, needs more meat on it>

Faceless Stalker:  “It looks like a beast that paints itself.”
“Put on some clothes!”
“His weapon looks like a spoon.”
<reading the base> “6 of 65!  Wow!  Good job for nothin’, guy!”
<this is a pretty weak mini, I agree with the girls>

Wraith: “Tornado man!”
“He kinda reminds me of the Statue of Liberty!”
“I know!”
“He’s not the Statue of Liberty, he’s the Statue of Liberty’s torch.”
“Yeah.”

Goblin Commando on Goblin Dog: “Oh look it’s a gremlin!  It’s a gremlin riding a puppy.”
“He looks like the guy from that book… Origami Yoda!” <I feel pain and regret that apparently kids nowadays don’t know Yoda except via derivative media.>
“He looks like the gremlins from that movie where the girl’s little brother gets taken and she has to marry someone and they attack her face!”
<a long Q&A ensues where I try to figure out what movie she’s talking about>
“Yeah, Labyrinth!”
“I’m bored, can we go play Littlest Pet Shops now?”

RPG Movie Review: The Wild Hunt

I was bored and looking through Netflix for something to watch, and it recommended to me The Wild Hunt – an independent movie where Canadian LARPers go a little mental. It had won a couple film festival awards, so I figured what the heck.

The setup is that Erik, an Icelander in Canada, heads out to a big ol’ LARP weekend in the woods to try to get his worthless girlfriend back. He’s not a LARPer but his brother is really big into it; Viking heritage, Norse sagas, the whole bit. The whole batch of LARPers are very, very, very serious about it – it almost converts over into cool, actually. You have other movies like Role Models where the people are into LARP but it’s still very cheesy and you’re like “whatever, diversity yay, ponce around all you want,’there’s nothing wrong with that’, but eek.” But here they are all so into it and put a lot of work into it – if you can make LARP seem cool, this movie comes closest to doing it.

It’s a pretty interesting  movie. It starts out weak mainly because of the unsympathetic main characters – Erik is a certifiable wuss, his girlfriend is a bitchy whore, and the initial crop of LARPers you meet are reasonably insane – but evens out its keel once you get to know more of the (better, and more interesting, frankly) secondary characters and they quicken the pace. It’s a low budget thriller set in an isolated setting where romantic hassles etc. end up cascading into Lord of the Flies. The ending is a lot more dark and brutal than I would have expected from the first act. About a third of the way through, I wasn’t sold and wondered if I should bail, but after seeing the whole thing I’d give it a 5/10, decent.

Of course some roleplayers are worried that this will “demonize the hobby.”  To that I say bah, many of the movies/TV shows with killers, they are doctors and lawyers and cops and moviemakers and other such. It should just be a rush to see your own niche thing breeding killers for a change. And it’s not like anyone will actually be afraid of this happening for real; they’re Canadians for God’s sake.  Everyone knows Canadians can’t kill anyone; they don’t have the constitution for it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Eight

One week isn’t enough for Fantastic Fest!  No, it’s a week and a bonus day.  And good thing; I saw my favorite two movies of the fest on this last day.

After a week of being in a movie theater, and often getting about 3 hours sleep between the late showing and getting in the early morning ticket line, I started to get sick.  A fistful of meds kept my sinuses in line till afterwards (I’m still suffering even now…)

14 Blades (8/10) – Donnie Yen stars in this period HK martial arts movie.  It’s well done and showcases some of the Mongol type areas.  Nothing too new and unique, but it was solidly executed – which made it better than the higher profile movies of the fest, True Legend and Legend of the Fist.  Duty!  Honor!  Kung fu!  All that good stuff.  It has light supernatural elements; occasional wire-fu and one baddie has a cool “evade death blows and leave a garment hovering behind” ninja trick kind of thing.

Red Hill (8/10) – Ryan Kwanten from True Blood stars in an Aussie film by Patrick Hughes.  It’s a constable’s first day on the job in a small outback town, Red Hill, when there’s a prison break and an infamous criminal from the town gets loose.  The locals freak, and are sure he’s coming back…  What could have been a straightforward slasher movie instead has a big twist, and the movie keeps tension without dragging.  We were all pleasantly surprised by this one – it’s not great, but it’s quite good.  [Side note – my gay friends that lust after Kwanten in his Jason Stackhouse role are concerned that he is not as dumb, and therefore not as adorable, in this part.  Fair warning.]

13 Assassins (9/10) – Now that’s a movie!  Takashi Miike gives us a samurai movie in the vein of Seven Samurai.  There’s a bad noble who has the favor of the Shogun, and a bunch of samurai are recruited to take him out before he goes and plunges the entire country into chaos.  The bad guy is Caligula bad, and the 13 samurai are cool – it’s hard to take a large cast like that and make them all distinct but they did a good job of that.  The entire latter part of the film is the 13 taking on like 200 guys in a town they’ve turned into a kill zone.  It is awesome.

Sound of Noise (9/10) – I didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but I heard from people that really liked it so I gave it a go.  It’s a Swedish film about guerrilla musicians and the tone deaf cop from a famously musical family who’s after them.  That description doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s quirky, fun, musical, dramatic, and more.  I hope more people get a chance to see it.  It gets my nod for best of the fest.

And that’s Fantastic Fest 2010!  I’ll do a recap next, but there were a lot of movies and the vast majority were very good.  I’ll be there next year, and since I managed to score a VIP badge I’ll be able to get some sleep!