Non-Standard Apology

January 1, 2012

If to no one else but myself.

Yes, it’s been almost a year since I updated this blog.  To the point where I forgot that WordPress treats carriage returns as double spaces. But that’s besides the point; I mean to say, I would have liked to have updated, but there were a number of factors.

Or excuses. Take your pick.

First was a job change. I got fired mid-late 2010 and found a new job November of that same year.Which started out temp, but turned into a full-time job… With a hell of a daily commute. Nice to be working, though, but it kinda put me into a waking coma for six months.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it just hasn’t been an eventful year for gaming… If you’re a Dungeons & Dragons fan, anyway. Oh I know Pathfinder’s been making products left and right, and more power to them, I say, but as for D&D? Most eventful thing happened to 4e is Wizards gutting its 2011 release schedule. So there was nothing to buy, nothing to cover, and, really, rather little to interest me. As such, the first part of 2011 didn’t even see D&D, my group played other games. Then one of my players left. We eventually wrangled up a new one, and I’ve been running a D&D game weekly since then, but I can’t always say I’m happy with it; I keep it running to keep it running. My players are enjoying so I suppose that’s the best part.

Third, I know there’s a rich universe of independent games out there, but damned if I have time and money for them all. This group is, by and large, a creature of habit, and so we keep playing D&D because it’s what we know. Oh I OWN Pathfinder, make no mistake, and I have Hero, too, but neither of these have we really dug into. Looking forward to Golden Sky Stories, but if that winds up being anything like Maid RPG, I’ll probably never freaking run it…

In short, if anyone was enjoying my blog when I was updating it, my sincerest apologies go out to you. I don’t know at this point if I’m going to keep updating this or not. I honestly don’t know what to write, and I suppose that was the biggest problem in 2011. Putting this to paper gave me a few ideas, though, so we’ll see if anything comes of it.

I hope you all have a happy new year of gaming. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

Tales from the Long Exile: Duel Masters

February 9, 2011

I don’t know if this counts as “traditional” gaming, considering this story is about a CCG, and, come to think of it, dates back to 2004 or so, meaning it might not even BE in the “Lnng Exile” but I figure… Why not? The payoff’s amusing, trust me.

So, this was during one of my former jobs, wherein I only rarely had weekends off. In fact, I NEVER DID. But I was assigned to a special project in their main office (they should have sent full timers or co-managers, but my store could spare neither. Well, that and you didn’t want to send the full-timers for this…), which meant working Monday through Friday.

Somehow this added up into Austin conning me into playing Duel Masters. I suppose I just really wanted to play something. Even if it was Wizards of the Coast’s knockoff of Yu-Gi-Oh! I suppose it was a better game, due to actually having resource management, but it wasn’t that much more strategic, especially considering the main strategy involved playing the most powerful Evolution monsters (all of them Rare or higher, of course) and crushing your opponent’s shields as quickly as possible. Shields were life, you had five, and getting attacked without being able to block breaks one. Unless you’re dealing with a Double Breaker, but we’ll get back to that.

Anyway, for these six weeks or so, and God it felt like longer, I played in the tournament at Dragon’s Den every Saturday. And I’ll be honest: I wasn’t very good. But then I didn’t spend as much on the game as others and thus, did not have all the cards you really needed. Yeah, much like, you know, every other CCG, the true utility cards were hard to find. (Please see: Battle Spirits and its ridiculous zero-cost and one-cost/cost down one monsters…)

I mean, my first tournament appearance had me going up against the worst player in the store… AND LOSING. Still new to the game, I didn’t have nearly enough defense and thus got stomped badly. I wish I could remember this guy’s name, but I can only recall him as “the seven-year-old.” Because he was seven. And barely understood how to play the game. But he played with such heart. We’ll get right back to that, though.

Now, see, I don’t necessarily “play to win,” as I consider that outlook inimical to fun. Oh you can call “fair play” arbitrary if you like, but technically, all play styles outside of the one intended for any game are arbitrary. That’s the very nature of arbitration. Anyway, as is standard for me, as I so often lose, I instead play for fun. And my “fun” often involves showing my opponents that they’re not as smart as they think they are. The one deck I remember playing was a Nature (green) deck I entitled “Leaping Tornado Horn Doesn’t Suck” and it used the titular monster- which two of the other players were saying “sucked”- as its lynchpin. Did it win? Actually, yes. Oh it didn’t win the tournament, but it didn’t do badly. And perhaps more importantly, it racked up so much attack power that our resident fat kid shrieked in terror. And isn’t that what gaming is really all about?

I could go into Austin’s unfair practices, such as having several players with front loaded decks that didn’t pay to enter the tournament. He called them his “Eliminators,” and it’s exactly what it said on the tin: Their goal was to ensure nobody else won, and thus, that the store never needed to give out prizes. That stank back then, it stinks now, and I’m frankly quite glad I am no longer in any gaming store, so I don’t need to deal with such flagrant underhanded tactics.

At any rate, near the end of my time there, it came to pass that there was a convention that weekend, and many of the regulars went to it. Bringing us down from our usual number of ten-plus to six. Which wasn’t enough to run a proper tournament. So, Austin, not wanting to punish us for showing up, held something with his cobbled-together team play rules. We were, naturally, corralled into teams of three each.

Also naturally, the teams were the three top tier players, squared off against the three bottom tier players. And yes, I was indeed in the latter, and yes, so was the seven-year-old. He was still playing his lopsided Fire deck, but he’d splashed some Light so he had Blockers. It was the best deck I ever saw him play.

It was still utterly ineffectual.

My opponents were the store champion and two others who, as I recall, were higher in the ranks. Two of them, champion included, were running Darkness decks, with heavy creature removal and rush down tactics. They were deadly in single play.

On my team, I and the third player were both running Water decks, and as it turned out, both running Angler Clusters (a cheap 3000 Blocker that becomes a cheap 6000 Blocker if you’re playing mono-Water) and Aqua Lancer (an Evolution monster that was not only a Double Breaker, but Unblockable as well).

Maybe you’re already seeing where this story goes.

The game began in earnest, with my placing myself on the left, and the seven-year-old on the right, across from the Darkness-wielding, attack-happy champion. This might seem mean, but my goal was not so much to win, as it was to make the bastards earn their victory over us, to make it as hard for them as I possibly could. So, yes, I used the kid for a scape goat, an object of ire for both Darkness players, and, near the end of his life, had him take actions to further frustrate the champion. This included forcing the kid to attack, an act both he and the champion regarded as useless, as not only would he just block it, but not actually lose anything, as his deck enabled him to recycle Darkness creatures who die in the field. “I’ll just re-play it,” he said, but the look on his face when he poured over his hand and tried to decide just WHAT it was he was going to play was well worth it.

So yes. I threw a seven-year-old at my opponents. Some of you might consider it lousy. That I was being mean to the kid. That I was wrong to consider him useless and should have made him a more equal part of the game. And I say… It’s not my job to hold his hand. Everyone serves a purpose. And if your purpose is the decoy, so be it.

And he played this part well, for by the time they’d managed to kill him, the Darkness players had both used their good creature removal on him. All of it. To the point where I had to avoid face-palming, as that would have only tipped them off to the fact that they’d fallen into my trap.

Well… I suppose calling it a “trap” is ennobling it a little. Fairer to use one of my favorite quotes:

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, if you’re wondering.

Yes, I had a plan in mind. Or rather, now I had a plan in mind, as goes another quote:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Molkte the Elder, if you’re wondering.

For, seeing how readily they wasted their resources in killing someone who would have run out of steam on his own, they had nothing, and I mean literally nothing to take out my surviving partner and myself with. No, they would have to resort to force… And they had nothing on the field that could crush a 6000 power Blocker. Indeed, few things at the time could.

So we sat there for another few turns, until we got out our Aqua Lancers. The aforementioned Unblockable Double Breakers. So it didn’t matter how many Blockers they had, unless they could eliminate the Lancers, they were dead in the water… So to speak.

And again, at something to the tune of 6000 attack power, they didn’t have anything that could kill the Lancers. As such, in the span of another few rounds, all three of our opponents had fallen, and the team of “losers” had won.

Only time I ever won one of those ridiculous tournaments, too.

And if you’re wondering about the kid? Well, as we were cleaning up and preparing to leave, I sought him out and made sure to thank him for his help, as I told him we would not have been able to win without him… And it was true. Without him to waste the opponent’s time and resources, we never would have been able to secure a victory.

… Even at age seven, I think the kid realized that fact. Realized that I had used him as a decoy. As such, he grumbled at me and shuffled his feet. His father, though, did not approve of this, and insisted he thank me, which he then did.

And it was true, after all. I couldn’t have won without his help. Sure, he didn’t contribute in the way he probably would have liked to. But sometimes, what we want to do and what we have to do are not the same thing. Or, put another way, a win’s a win.

So, I won. And then shortly thereafter, returned to a more comfortable work schedule. And never played Duel Masters again.

And good riddance. That game is horrible

Product Review – Book of the Damned Vol.2: Lords of Chaos

January 28, 2011

WTF!

THERE IS A GARGOYLE DEMON LORD!!!!!

ZOMG! FIVE STARS! RPG SUPPLEMENT OF 2010!

BEST.

BOOK.

EVER.

… Ahem, sorry about that. I still DO need to make that post on Gargoyles, don’t I? I know I do, I just can’t understand why I like them so damn much. But for now, things that actually matter.

Some time ago, Paizo Publishing released Book of the Damned: Princes of Darkness, a book detailing the Nine Hells in the Pathfinder setting of Golarion. I admit, this was a pure impulse buy, based almost solely upon finding a post on Paizo’s store blog that previewed Princes of Darkness, with an entry on Moloch. Who was described as an entity of pure hellfire, barely contained within a suit of rusting black armor.

Anyone who has EVER said that the Devils are boring? Can officially suck it.

So I picked it up, and yeah, it’s good. It’s great, in fact, as the other eight Princes are awesome too, the details on how Hell works are neat, and the new monsters? People, I’m not even running Pathfinder and I want to use some of these things. Simply put, if you run D&D, Pathfinder, whatever, if you’ve EVER loved Devils, get Princes of Darkness. It’s worth it.

Naturally, when a second Book of the Damned was announced, detailing the Abyss and its demons, I wanted it too. The Abyss is an environment as old as Dungeons & Dragons itself, with everyone having a favorite Demon Lord (Juiblex, in my case), and after seeing Paizo’s take on the Hells? Well, who wouldn’t want this book? Sadly, as Christmas was kind of bad, money-wise (well, everything-wise, but this is a WordPress blog, not a Livejournal…), I wasn’t able to get it until this week.

So, is it as good as the first volume? Not exactly, but only because the first was hard to top.

Written by James Jacobs, softcover, full color, 60-odd pages, $19.99 USD MSRP.

Everything that was in Volume 1 is present here: The fiction with its strange, difficult to read text (true low point of the book; no marks deducted, however), the beautiful, high-quality color art for the monsters, and more information in a lean 60 pages than Wizards of the Coast can pack into nearly 200.

That said, this thing is a little more scattered than the first. As the Nine Hells only have, well, nine layers, nine unique realms, that means only nine Princes. The Abyss, however, has more. A lot more. Infinitely more, or 657 more, depending on who you ask. So of course there are not 600 demon lords in this book. That would just be silly. And pretty useless, really.

But this does have well over 40. Obviously, since one of Golarion’s gods, Lamshutu, makes her home in the Abyss, she is detailed here, with two pages of info, which is more than any other single lord gets, most of them getting about half a page. There’s a lot in those half-pages, however.

I mean, you have your usual ones, you know, madness, pain, torture, apes, stuff like that. But then it gets weird. Things like Aldinach, the lord of scorpions, sand, and thirst, who is worshiped in the vast deserts of Golarion. She herself IS a massive scorpion, with claws of horribly sharp crystal. Then we have Flauros, lord of salamanders, fire and volcanoes, who appears as a massive reptilian monstrosity made from molten lava. Jezelda is the being worshiped by the werewolves as a god, though, sadly, her interest is only in werewolves. Still, that’s pretty cool. And yes, there is Xoveron, the lord of ruins, gluttony, and gargoyles, whose form is a gargoyle bearing four arms, four heads, and twenty horns. Bad ass. I am using this thing. Somehow. Some way.

But the one who stands out most in my mind is Nugral, the demon lord of the sun. Yes, you read that right: He’s an evil sun god. His worshipers do not fear the light of day, and bring a whole new meaning to the whole “Light is Not Good” trope…

Like I said: It’s weird. But that’s a good thing… Especially in dealing with demons.

Then we have a few demon lords fans of D&D will no doubt recognise. Pazuzu, Orcus, Kostiche and Dagon return, among others, all in styles similar to ones they used in 3.5e, and that’s not very strange. I mean, they are mythological figures and thus public domain.

But then we have ones I assumed were owned by Wizards: Juiblex. Socothbenoth. Possibly others. Now I know Paizo isn’t stupid (They’re not Fast Forward Entertainment, after all, dear GOD no), so there must be a reason they can use these things. Either way, I’m not unhappy to see them, I just thought it was strange.

One thing I would like to point out is that the Demon Lords section begins with a note on doing battle with them: Simply put, Pathfinder says “You can’t,” as they are effectively Demigods in power, well beyond the scope of the usual game. In light of Dungeon & Dragons 4th Edition’s heavy focus on battling Demon Lords or gods once you hit level 30, to say nothing of Paizo’s love of battling both, Demon Lords and Gods (as you fight one of each in the Paizo Adventure Paths published in Dungeon Magazine) this seems somewhat strange. I couldn’t tell you why they did this, but I suppose it does not matter. Just something I thought I’d mention.

From there, details on demonic cults, notes on various forms of demons and their roles, and several new types of demons… And in comparison to the section on demon lords, these chapters are pretty lean. I suppose after giving enough information for years of campaigns, one does not need to do much more, but again, it seems somewhat sparse.

Still, that’s A LOT of info to cram into 60 pages, and at $20, it’s a solid purchase, especially for Pathfinder players, and Abyss fans of any edition of D&D.

… AND IT HAS A GARGOYLE DEMON LORD! THAT IS FREAKING AWESOME!

… ahem, sorry…

2010 in review

January 2, 2011

And now for something totally the same.

The following was actually auto-generated by WordPress, but gave me the option of posting it to my own blog if I felt like sharing. And I do. See, this was… Well, it was an expiriment. I think it worked, really. Sure it was mostly reviews, but I feel a good review can be entertaining. I’m glad many of you out there in Internet Land seem to agree. I’m pretty happy with what I accomplished this year, delays and other stuff exempted for a moment, and part of what makes it worth it is knowing people read and enjoy my blog. I would like to take a moment to thank Erik Mona, Paizo Publishing, Goodman Games, Neuroglyph Games, everyone else who linked my blog, everyone who read my blog, and everyone who came here searching for “I met you on a Thursday.” I have no idea why, but it’s been in my “top search queries” list since I posted it in March. I suppose I owe you for that, haha.

Oh and I’d like to issue a hearty “No Thanks” to the spambots, who probably accounted for part of my hits this year. Though your incoherent posts now and then made you amusing, you did little more than waste my time…

Anyway, here’s the results!

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 50 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 98 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 141mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was December 18th with 218 views. The most popular post that day was Product Review: Green Races.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, theweem.com, underthepale.livejournal.com, neuroglyphgames.com, and spub.storeblogs.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for i met you on a thursday, long exile gaming, critter cache lovecraftian bestiary, dungeon magazine annual, and dungeon magazine annual review.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Product Review: Green Races December 2010
4 comments

2

Product Review – Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual Miniatures: Lords of Madness (DDM4) October 2010

3

Product Review – Dungeon Magazine Annual 1 May 2010

4

I met you on a Thursday… March 2010

5

Product Review – Critter Cache 6: Lovecraftian Bestiary March 2010

Product Review – Misfit Monsters Redeemed

December 27, 2010

And now for something completely different.

Dungeons & Dragons has had a long history. Longer than even I’m aware (what with my copy of Dave Arneson’s Black Moor for 4e calling itself “The First Campaign Setting” and all. That might be getting a review, really.). See, I’ve never really seen some of the weirder stuff, like the 1e Fiend Folio, so I only know of the “misfits” of the early days of D&D through reputation. Hell, it was years before I even knew what a Flumph was (as Dungeon Magazine was once constantly making jokes about them but never explained what they were).

So, why am I buying a book like this? Pretty much the same reason Paizo made it, really.

This is all in the introduction to the book, but it all started when Paizo’s writers, freelancer or otherwise, started updating the classic monsters of D&D: Dragons, goblins, rust monsters and whatever else came to hand. No real stats were changed, just a lot of sexing up the fluff, making what was once rote and boring into something new and fascinating again.

Before I go on, Pathfinder has been in fierce competition with Dungeons & Dragons in terms of sales, perhaps showing that Paizo’s true strength lies in its writing.

So yes, the Revisited series was a success. So much so that they  were wondering if there was anything they couldn’t make new, fresh and useful. Thus bringing us to one of Paizo’s main obsessions in D&D esoterica: The really, really, really obscure and bizarre stuff that is often forgotten. Make no mistake, Paizo is staffed by fans of the older editions, mostly because they were also players of said editions. They remember this stuff because they were there, similar to my remembering the setting bloat of 2e because I was there.

So these guys remember the stupidest monsters, and have had kind of a love affair with them. I remember mention of many of these, between the Paizo-captained Dragon Magazine and the time I was on the message boards (and if anyone from Paizo is wondering, yes, I left due to the rampant Edition Wars ballyhoo, finding myself disenchanted with message boards anyway. Damn blue camels…), so I really needed this book.

Yes, ten of the single most dumbest monsters ever to exist in D&D: Adherer, Devler, Dire Corby, Disenchanter, Flail Snail, Flumph, Lava Child, Lurking Ray, Tojanida and Wolf-In-Sheep’s-Clothing, all right here in this book. The key here is, you’re probably not familiar with these beasts. You probably have never heard of anyone using them. And the reason for that is really quite simple:

Nobody used them. Ever.

It’s not simply that they’re stupid, as some people consider the Beholder or Rust Monster stupid, but both of those monsters suggest utility, and a reason for them to be around. Not so with the “misfits” in this book, as they were goofy, dumb, and not at all useful.

And Paizo fixed that… By doing what I’m used to them doing to “update” fluff. Yes, they made these beasts scary. Well, not the Flumph. He just warns creatures of things scarier than it…

So, for example, the Dire Corby isn’t merely a crow man that screeches “Doom! Doom!” incessantly, but a race of utterly insane beings who live underground and have no fear of death, or even the slightest concept of self-preservation, hurling themselves en masse at invaders, or even other tribes of Corbies, heedless of victory or defeat. Delvers are no longer tunnel slugs, but implacable servants of some ancient race, now acting in either reverence or defiance of their once-masters, digging tunnels in the rock and trying to turn the underground into a vast cathedral to the Old Ones. The Tojanida, who itself has only been in the game for about ten years, is no longer a dis interesting hodgepodge of aquatic life, but a horrifying cross of a turtle and a crab, forced into their current forms during an ancient war in the Plane of Water, and now seek to regain their original forms and their former glories.

As I said, it’s weird. … Wait, I didn’t say that. Well, it’s still weird.

But as I tend to say, weird is good. See, more than making these creatures scary, Misfit Monsters Redeened makes them useful, not only granting the usual insights into their ecology and society, but also granting two other sections: Their role on Golarion (the setting of Pathfinder) and their role in your campaign. They almost need not have bothered; The updates do much to grant these things new life and purpose. I’m idly considering updating some of them to 4e, and using them in my games.

Hell, on the strength of this book, I’m actually considering buying the Pathfinder core books. Though I still won’t like the existance of giant robots in the setting…

Ahem.

Overall, this is a highly solid book, and if you’re running Pathfinder, or just are a D&D fan with a love of monsters, you really can’t go wrong.

Also, if anyone could tell me why my Green Races review got 200 hits in a single day, I’d be happy to hear it…

Product Review: Green Races

December 17, 2010

I’ve reviewed a lot of things on this blog: Books, maps, cards, even music. But one thing has remained consistent: Most of those reviews have been positive. (Street Fighter isn’t a review, also I don’t hate that game, it just hurt my eyes. A lot.)

The reason for this is simple: I had yet to find anything I actually hated. That changes today.

Enter Green Races from Fast Forward Entertainment. Purchased cheap (Thank God!) due to Paizo’s Black Friday sale, the description was somewhat deceptive, as it read for all the world like a supplement detailing what they called the “Green Races” (Goblins, orcs, trolls, ogres, a fairly standard collection of demi-humans), but wound up being a campaign setting involving a wild and untamed region, dominated solely by evil beings.

And I hate this book. I hate it so much that I didn’t even want to review it, as that would mean reading it, and every page I turn makes me hate myself just a little more. And at over 200 pages, that’s A LOT of hate, my friends, a lot of hate indeed.

You’re probably already asking “Why? Why does he hate this book so much?”

Well, I’ll start with the basics. First off, it’s ugly. The interior has grey backgrounds on every page, making the black text somewhat harder to read than it really ought to be. The art ranges from bland to downright hideous. The maps are really amateur and, like the text, are hard to read.

Then we get the text. Sweet Tapdancing Christ the text. Oh the FONT is fine, it appears to be a Times New Roman variant. But the actual text is a miserable jumble of words, as this book feels like it didn’t have much in the way of a quality control step. Typoes abound, and cringeworthy sentences dominate the landscape.

All this would be excusable if what’s inside is worthwhile.

It isn’t.

A piece of advice I give to most writers who ask me is “Clichés are not bad. Boring clichés are bad. So, don’t be boring.” Green Races is ridden with clichés, which I am not angry about. Indeed, I was kind of expecting it, what of a book that has orcs, ogres, trolls, drow, goblins (lots of them), gnolls and so on. But where this book becomes utterly inexcusable is in its tendency to be boring and uninspired in almost every aspect.

Just about the only race writeup that is worth the paper it took to print it is the Gnoll section. The Gnolls are presented as a race of beastmen, make no mistake, but they have an odd pseudo-religion wherein they worship the moon, which they believe also exists in the water due to its reflection. Thus, they make the majority of their offerings to it there, believing “she” needs to be fed (a process they explain through the phases of the moon). This is a good idea. So good, in fact, that I wonder idly who FFE stole it from, as I am not at all convinced they could have invented it themselves.

Otherwise, the races are what you’d expect: Goblins are weak, Ogres are dumb, Trolls are mean, and so on. Why would anyone want to play in such an abysmally lawless and brutal area? I mean, yes, I know I had thoughts about a D&D game where the players are monsters and they build dungeons and such, but I’m sure it’d be a damn sight better than this.

The crunch, apparently standard for FFE products, is useless. The Prestige Classes are underpowered and poorly thought out, the stat blocks demonstrate shaky (at best) knowledge of the system, and so on. There’s literally nothing here.

(As an aside, mostly because I can’t think of anywhere else to put it, there’s a “neutral” faction run by a demon called Azazel, but the picture is actually of Buer, an entirely different demon…)

For years, I wondered why the OGL got so much hate. I wondered why people were made so upset by an agreement that allowed for third-party products. I pondered how you could ever hate a field that gave us such standout companies as Necromancer Games, Goodman Games, Green Ronin, Sword & Sorcery, and more.

Well, now I know: Such people were probably reading books by Fast Forward Entertainment. This has the dubious honor of being the worst book I have ever reviewed, it is the worst book I own, the worst book I have EVER owned, and I would set it on fire, if doing so simply were not against my principles.

Fast Forward Entertainment is a relic of the bad side of open source content: If anyone can make a product, anyone will. It doesn’t make you appreciate TSR’s draconic policies any more, but it somewhat helps in understanding where they came from…

A Glance At: Testament: Roleplaying in the Biblical Era

December 16, 2010

Hahaha, oh wow.

This is the product people have threatened to make. This is the kind of thing gamers joke about with their friends (“Jesus saves; Takes half damage.”) It is not the kind of thing you expect to read.

… Nor is it the kind of thing you expect to be any good. But it is.

Purchased cheap due to the Paizo Black Friday sale, Testament: Roleplaying in the Biblical Era is a d20 Mythic Vistas product from Green Ronin… And it’s pretty much what it says on the tin: Dungeons & Dragons. In the mythic age of the Bible.

This is a fairly complete and (to my eye, anyway) well-researched book that provides much of what you need in order to run a game in the Biblical era. Primarily, the age of the Old Testament. You know, back when God was a murdering asshole who commanded his people to slaughter those who didn’t believe in Him, and delivered plagues to his people if they so much as looked at him cross-eyed.

Yeah, I have a few problems with a setting in this age, and thus I have a problem with the base assumptions Green Ronin hard-coded into this thing: You’re more or less expected to be playing Israelites, and thus expected to obey the word of The Lord, regardless of what atrocities He commands, but it’s okay, because you’re just following your god!

… Ahem.

On the other hand, this is the bad news. The rest of the book is good news.

As a D&D 3e product, it contains a number of new base classes and Prestige Classes, based on region. Naturally, the Israelites get the most, with two new base classes (Levite Priest and Psalmist, both more Biblical takes on the Cleric and Bard), and several new Prestige Classes as well, including the Prophet and the Judge. The other regions only get one new class each: The Egyptians  have the Khery-Heb (a Wizard who serves the Egyptian gods and thus can learn some Cleric spells as well), the Babylonians have the Magus of the Starry Host (a mage who uses astrology to work his magic), and the Canaanites have… The Qedeshot, a sort of Bard who is, well… She’s a cultic prostitute. Not much more I can say about that.

There’s also the Spy ( a variant Rogue), and some other Prestige Classes that can be taken by anyone. Well, the Idol-Maker can’t be taken by Israelites, but still.

The good news here is, all these classes are flavorful and interesting. I don’t know how strong they are mechanically, but I would want to play as many of them.

Then we have the smattering of new spells, magical items, and monsters, all of which capture the flavor of the setting and are useful in some manner.

Also, there are highly detailed sections on both, community maintenance and mass combat (as in, between armies). These bring a highly simulationist aspect to the game, one I’m sure is welcome by many. I, however, eschew simulationism, but that is just me.

The place where I feel this book fails, somewhat, is in it being a historical setting. I never liked those much, as, well, you’re bound by history. Which has already happened. Though, in its defense, the book does say that if history is getting in the way of your story, change it! And I definitely appreciate that.

Hell, if I were to run this, I’d go one step further, and make it akin to 2010’s Clash of the Titans: Much like how that took place in Ancient Greece, but it really wasn’t Ancient Greece, this would take place in the Biblical region, but it would have some major differences. Primary among them being, there would be a blending of eras. Also, The Lord wouldn’t be as much of an asshole, and there would be a little more room for parties consisting of people from varying nations. Mostly, I just like the classes too much for them not to be used.

Overall, this book isn’t useful, per se, but it is an amusing curiosity, and it’s much better than I was expecting. Part of me is tempted to run this, mostly to piss off Fundies.

“Oh, RPGs are Satanic? Then why am I serving the God of Israel and smiting heathens and devils?”

Oh and I’m probably still gonna review Green Races, but there’s something else that might get reviewed first…

A Glance At: Damnation Decade

December 12, 2010

Man, I hate the holidays. So much hustle and bustle, and for what? Seriously, what? Well, I also don’t like Black Friday, but Paizo was running a sale. Tons of things were marked way the hell down. And I got a lot of stuff as a result.

It’s a pity most of it’s rubbish. (Don’t worry, Eric: Misfit Monsters Redeemed is not one of the books I consider rubbish.)

Anyway, one of the books I picked up was Damnation Decade, a d20 Modern setting from Green Ronin. Yes, you’ve heard that name before. I praise them a lot, based on the strength of their OGL offerings, mostly in the D&D field.

But this thing is more of an OTL offering…

First off, allow me to talk about something I haven’t before: Parody. I’m not a big fan of parody, because, very often, the approach people take is to take a figure, place or event and paint it a gaudy color. I would call this “lazy,” but in the case of Damnation Decade, they paint everyone and everything in the 1970s a different color, mostly varying shades of hideous day-glo hues, but also a lot of black. I would be remiss to call this “lazy,” as it isn’t. It demonstrates a lot of effort.

It just doesn’t demonstrate enough effort. Also, it doesn’t work.

Damnation Decade takes place in an alternate history version of the 1970s, specifically, 1976. Actually, to be even more specific, it takes place in a Crapsack World version of 1976: The icecaps have melted, many nations are gone, the West Coast is gone, monsters and mutants rampage across Americo (their pastiche of America. Lotta paint went into this one…), aliens are invading, demons are enroaching, and to top it all off, the world is going to end on December 31st, 1979, unless the heroes manage to stop it.

… Though, if you ask me, that’s a pretty big “unless.” I’ll get right back to that, though.

What annoys me most about this book is, as I said, their tendency to simply paint things a different color: Just as a very small example, Stantom Spobeck is Richard Nixon, line and number. For another example, his political rival is the pornographer Hunbolt Suede, and while I don’t know who he’s supposed to be based on (can’t be arsed), his true story uses elements from The Omen, right down to his being the Son of Satan, and he can only be killed by these enchanted daggers and… Ugh.

Also, there’s even a parody of Leonard Nimoy (as if they needed to bother…), who himself has a parody of Nimoy’s old show “In Search Of…”. (Again, as if they needed to bother.)

Oh and there’s even a parody of Elvis (again, as if you needed to bother!), simply called “The King,” who goes about fighting aliens. While I do admit to cracking a smile at that one, I can also say that this is the closest it came to amusing me…

That’s my main chief problem with this book: Everything in it is just things from the 70s, only with a few small twists, mostly to make things more bleak and depressing.

Which brings me back to the “unless.”

Simply put, there IS no good ending for the world of Damnation Decade. If Suede wins, he nukes the world. If Spobeck wins, he continues to fuck up the world. Biscuit, the actual third runner in the presidential race, seems to be a good guy… And he is. Too good, in fact, to do anything. There are Antediluvian horrors who are trying to rebuild their empire, zombie goasts mutants (Complete with a Charles Manson “parody”, come to think of it), who will infect or simply devour everything, aliens who want Earth for its fertile land, and if you somehow manage to defeat ALL THAT, “The Bloc,” Damnation Decade’s version of the Soviet Union, will simply continue to steamroll the world.

Sure, the book SAYS there’s room for funky, over the top play in this, but it sure as Hell does not feel like it. Indeed, it feels more like they were GOING for that, but shot too far in the direction of being the 70s, and really just became a depressing mess.

When it’s not an obnoxiously unfunny one. On top of the shit I mention above, there’s even a Fantasy Island pastiche, oy…

But unlike the world of Damnation Decade, I have good news, and better news. The good news is, I also picked up Testament, also from Green Ronin, and it’s a lot better than this. Once I’ve read it more, I will probably review (or just as likely, Glance) it. The better news is, it’s not the worst book I picked up from this lot, oh no. That is probably Green Races from Fast Forward Entertainment, which is also very likely getting a review, since, well… Unless I missed something on my first glance? This book is bad. So bad, in fact, that I can’t NOT review it…

Product Reviews: Dungeons & Dragons Essentials: Monster Vault

November 18, 2010

This is me, eating my damn words.

Some time ago, I stated that I had no interest in Essentials. That was before I learned what was actually coming out for it. Tile sets? I can use those. THREE tile sets? Okay, I can certainly use those.

Monster Vault? Don’t need it!

… But then, Wizards does something smart- Yeah, I was shocked too!- and put up previews of the Monster Vault entries on their website, which had the effect of sparking my interest. Once I got a new job, I preordered this, and The City tile set, which, as I said in my previous entry, just got delivered by Tardis.

So, how is it? Kind of a mixed bag, but we’ll get to that.

The Monster Vault is a boxed set in the Essentials line, and has a few components to it: A book of monsters, some creature counters, and a short adventure.

The tokens are a good offering, all told, as they have multiple copies of some creatures (but, it should be said, not others…), can be flipped over to indicate that the creature has become bloodied (is at half its maximum HP) and there are empty rings that can be added to Large creatures to make them Huge. Sadly, there are no such rings that can be added to Medium creatures to make them Large, something of a missed opportunity if you ask me. Still, this alone makes the set a good starting purchase, but more on that later.

The adventure, Cairn of the Winter King, is a short but decent-looking romp that has some good hooks (including the characters getting their own small keep in Fallcrest as a reward). It’s for 4th level characters, and seems to be a good jumping-off point, if nothing else. Note to Wizards: Barring anything you printed in Dungeon (which I haven’t read since you hijacked it…), we still lack a good replacement for Keep on the Shadowfell as an opening adventure.

As a side note, the adventure uses Essentials rules, but since those, near as I can tell, are perfectly compatible with vanilla 4e, this isn’t a problem, really.

And that brings me to the book, which is a mixed blessing indeed. Good news? Lots of it, actually! All creature types have fluff entries now, that grant FAR more insight as to who and what these things are than Monster Manual 1 OR 2 did. There are many iconic creature types included, and there are, effectively, no reprints, as every creature is either not a duplicate, or has new powers. Bad news? There’s no new creature types, so if you already own MM1, you’ve seen the types they offer here. Humanoids like the Dwarf and Dragonborn get the shaft, with maybe two low-level entries for each (welcome if you DO own MM1, 2, 3, Chromatic Draconomicion, etc., unwelcome if you DON’T…), while Humans and, illogically, GNOMES get far more (“Do you have a LAIR? I have a LAIR!”), and some of the organization is confusing, including Animals getting a single, nearly unmarked entry in the back, and Elves, Drow AND Eladrin all getting one entry…

… But unless a product is wholly wretched or borderline useless (Like The Plane Above!), we here at Long Exile Gaming tend to use the phrase “The good outweighs the bad,” and it rings true here. Yes, much of the art is recycled, yes, there’s nothing really new here (say what you will of 3.5e and its often bizarre Monster Manuals, at least they went out of their way to create new and bizarre creatures. I suppose the statement might be “Which do you want more; Useful, or interesting?”), but the book goes a LONG way towards improving the monsters, with making Dragons a genuine threat (they gain a free action before their normal action, such as the Red Dragons being able to bite or claw before their turn comes around), bug fixing annoying powers (The Gargoyle’s Stone Form no longer grants regeneration, but rather, temporary hit points- Note to people who don’t follow the game religiously, this is a HUGE change, and one that fixes the power without completely nerfing it), and overall making the monsters interesting to use, if not really new.

Overall, if you’re looking for more monsters, you can’t go wrong with Monster Vault. Moreover, if you’re just starting out, this is a must have: You can use it for vanilla 4e or Essentials, and in the former case, it can be used to not only replace the Monster Manual, but also replaces purchases of miniatures to boot! Overall, I like this box, and I think you might too. Just in time for the holidays, too…

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials: Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The City

November 17, 2010

Well then.

This won’t be long, as you need only look at my review on Dungeon Tiles Master Set: The Dungeon to learn the basics, but yes, Wizards of the Coast will be releasing a grand total of three tile sets in the Essentials line, with a wilderness set being the last one for now.

In the previous review, I complained about the blank tiles on the flip side of the cards. The City turns this around completely: There are almost no blank tiles whatsoever.

Not to say there aren’t a great deal of fairly generic tiles, a street here, a road there, but this is a VAST improvement over The Dungeon, which was mostly useful if not very exciting.

This? Is actually useful, and excitingt, AND seems to consist of either new graphics, or ones that haven’t been in print in the last three years. There’s a goodly amount of variety, too, with interiors, exteriors, water, docks, statues, lots of nice things. The box can also be used for terrian: It has rooftops on it this time.

If I have any complaints, it’s that there aren’t enough sewer tiles, and perhaps too many water tiles. But overall, it’s a better mix than The Dungeon.

High hopes for the next one. You can release more of these, Wizards.

Highly reccomended.

Anyway, that’s all. A review of Monster Vault may be coming soon too, as apparently, Amazon delivers via Tardis…


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.