Game Review #46 – Pathfinder 1st Edition (G)

Hello Readers

Well this is one I have been holding off on for a while now. The reason is that I really love this game and I did not want to be gushing all over it without being able to give a balanced review.

Pathfinder

Pathfinder by Piazo Publishing did not start out as its own role-playing game, but was originally a setting of sorts for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 by WOTC (Wizards of the Coast) that was presented in Dungeon Magazine’s Adventure Path materials when the magazine was being published by Piazo.

The sordid history regarding WOTC canceling their open licence for 3.5 and canceling contracts for things like the publication of Dragon Magazine by third parties that resulted in Piazo creating D&D 3.75 (aka Pathfinder) is not something I will go into here. There have been enough internet rants and flame wars on the topic over the years to satisfy anyone but the most hardcore troll. Whats done is done, and the end result was Pathfinder. I am also not going to go into my opinion regarding some of their more recent (last four years) products and publication methods. This is also something that has been argued to death in many places and I dont want to waste my time with it. I would rather just enjoy the original game and talk about it. So here goes…

The short form of what makes it different from D&D 3.5 was that it took all the elements of 3.5 and improved on them either slightly or greatly. Some of the things that they improved slightly were things like the overall power progression for every class. They balanced them out and upped the power level overall a little in regards to things like Feats so that everyone could feel more heroic. They made skill progression a little more instinctive (less futzing around with class non class) and rewarding for taking class skills. In regards to combat they did one really big thing that helped the game flow a TON and that was to remove the uniqueness of the different combat maneuvers (each having their own method of resolution) like tripping, or charging, and merging them into a combat stat called Combat Maneuver (Bonus or Defense CMB or CMD). Feats and bonus’ for specific maneuvers were added or subtracted from that value. And they made the math just as simple as Armor Class or Base To Hit. It seriously saves a lot of time and effort if you are playing with people who want to do more than just hit things.

Overall magic remained mostly the same, save for making magic items. They ditched the XP cost for making magic items and made it more challenging skill wise.

Overall they increased the flexibility of the system.

When it came to the publication itself the initial book was basically the equivalent of the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master Guide in one publication that was big enough that you could beat someone bloody with. The interior art was so good that it would become a challenge for other publishers to meet. I mean really, monks and druids are rare in my games so I have to figure they are fairly uncommon in other groups too.. but look at this halfling druid and human monk…

Seriously does that not look inspiring? These are straight from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Artists are credited there. But seriously does that not make it look cool to be a druid? Or a monk?

And the basics they gave for the setting were enough to titillate a bit but not enough to lock you into any setting specifics other than suggested deities.

Now then what was really interesting was that they had set up Pathfinder so you could grab most anything from D&D 3.5, including their own Adventure Path settings and just run with it. Pathfinder characters would be a bit more powerful, but scaling was easy too when it came to the monsters, so you could just tweak things a bit and get up and running.

Now then I did encounter a number of people who for various reasons did not want to move their campaigns and such over to Pathfinder when D&D 3.5 had the plug pulled. And even though it was a bit frustrating to have something superior on hand to use I always tried to keep myself in check since I had a similar reaction when AD&D 2nd edition came out. It can be hard to let go of something you like and have invested in.

Another thing that I have enjoyed about Pathfinder is teaching the game. With the games layout, art, and presentation I have successfully taught more than one player who was completely new to role-playing games to create a character and be under way in less than two hours. I have had similar success with groups who are mixed being new to games or just new to Pathfinder. Being that easy to teach, and D&D 3.0/3.5 easy to mod, the game is solid and quick to work with.

Now then I said I was not going to go into the later publications but I do have to say that there was something about their publication model from day one that irked me. Shortly after they published their first Bestiary, they published a small press booklet titled the Adventurer’s Armory. Everything in that book came out again in the larger book the Advanced Players Guide. This pattern has meant that if you were on the ball and hot for everything that came out to supplement your game, you would end up buying the same information two or more times. While this does not directly affect the quality and the coolness of the original game book it does impact long term play-ability and affordability. And I have to mention this so that completely new players have a heads up, and can look for the books that have the most content and do not end up paying multiple times.

Ok so I have ranted and rambled lets see what I see by the numbers…

Overall Fluff 5/5 – Ok so there is little back story, and little follow through in setting up a world in the core book. However the style, the art, the look of the overall publication. This, this is just… dang…

Overall Crunch 4/5 – There is a lot of good stuff in the rules. They are well laid out and easy to follow. If you are coming from D&D 3.0 or 3.5 it should take you all of fifteen minutes to convert over. I have taught new players with this book in under two hours. And that is new to gaming. Not just new to the game. There is a bit of editing error… but for that I am only going to take away a point. It is more aesthetically displeasing that really screwing with your enjoyment and how well you can understand things.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It was made to be modded. I have used D&D Basic modules, AD&D both editions and 3.0/3.5 materials and modded them to Pathfinder with little effort. So the modding goes all ways.

Overall Fun 4/5 – Ok so this may seem a little short on score, but I have to say my overall fun was marred badly by their publication tactics and an overall deterioration of quality the further you get from the original product. When the rules first came out it was a 5/5, no questions asked. But with current eyes and experience I cant feel justified scoring it that high.

Total Score 18/20 – Ok so this score is pretty high. It really is worth it though I think. There are a lot of things that could be considered small flaws. And the follow though on future publications is a little… spotty… however I think in the end this really is the right score.

Ok so that is it for this week.

Play hard, play well, and have fun

Now gimme the dice I need to know how many hit dice my random hit die roller can generate.

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Character Building 102 – Creating a Framework

Hey there readers.

So in my last character building entry I talked a bit about the kind of roleplayers I have experience with. And I also spent a little time talking about the components of a character.

So what the monkey am I talking about when I say creating a framework?

Well when I am talking about a framework I am talking about putting the six elements that I talked about in the first post (Stats, Power, Kit, Personality, Story, and Appearance) into a semblance of order so that you can build like you want to build, or your game needs you to build in.

A quick example would be the following.

If I am a power gamer then I would be looking at a framework that would be

  1. Stats
  2. Power
  3. Kit
  4. Anything else.

Simple.

Now then for myself I like having a complete character with all of the elements that I mentioned. However I do not have a single framework that I use. I set myself up based on if I am using a level based game or a point based game. The reason for that is that when I am doing a level based game, they are bye and large set up for random stat generation. With that in mind I know that I cannot really come up with a story until I get my stats in place and see how they would work. When I am playing a point based game I can get a story and build the character to fit.

So my usual frameworks look like this..

Point based

  1. Personality
  2. Story
  3. Appearance
  4. Stats
  5. Power
  6. Kit

Level based

  1. Stats
  2. Power
  3. Personality
  4. Story
  5. Kit
  6. Appearance

Now then, I can already hear folks asking, ‘Why do you need a story?’

The answer to that is, simple yet not so simple.

With a character story you know more about your character. You know where they came from, how they developed their personality, if any element in their kit is something of importance.

Now then this does not mean you need to develop a 300 page novel about your characters background. It can be a simple paragraph.

For example –

**************

Julian the Swift was born to a wealthy family in one of the largest human cities in the kingdom. He was the last of six children and as such the family had no plans for him, and socially no real need for him. So he was left to his own devices as much as possible to keep him out from under foot. By age 10 he had decided that attention from his family was the last thing that he wanted, and that the street people held much more interesting lives. He fell in with criminals by the age of 12, and his mentor, Old Spider, gifted him with a set of masterwork thieves tools for his 13th birthday to celebrate his first solo job for the Thieves Guild. He would still spend holidays with his family, and even attend parties, mostly to garner information on who the Guild could hit and who they couldn’t. Unfortunately at age 19 he was caught in the act of stealing from one of his families friends and has been on the run since. He would still love to work with Old Spider and the guild, but until he can come up with a cover identity and some gold of his own going back to that city is not really an option.

**************

In that short bit of writing I have set up a background, given some serious motivations, and even hinted at the characters personality. From this you might expect a few stats to be high, and maybe a few others low. You have an idea as to where and how he might have developed skills and other abilities that may not usually seem to be part of a specific class. You know some of the kit that he carries and why it might be important in the game. You also have NPCs that a GM can run with to add to the overall game. I mean what happens when someone catches up to this character with a message saying that Old Spider is dead, or that his elder brothers have died and now he is the heir to the family estate?

Am I saying that background is all important?

No. What I am saying is that it is something that is frequently missed and is as important as everything else in a character.

The number of gamers that I know who can actually run a background on the fly is pretty high. Strangely enough. And so many of them fill in things as needed without a framework like the ones that I use. Being a bit of a control freak and a story teller myself I have a tendency to not even try to do it on the fly. I would rather have a story than not. I would rather have it well before game than not.

For the rest of the world other systems or lack there of may make sense. They may even work. For me not so much.

Personality is also something that most players will initially kind of skip over. They have a tendency to play themselves. I am sooooooo guilty of that it beggars the mind. The reason for this is because it can be hard to play another personality. You dont want to think like someone else. You just want to use your mind and escape reality for a while and dive into another. And that is cool. As long as your character supports it.

I mean if you are constantly drunk, more than a little violent, and have a moral compass with a broken needle… you really should not take that personality into playing a Paladin. If you are a righteous and moral being who cannot stand the idea that anyone should get away with anything, you likely shouldnt play a thief as yourself. You get the idea. If you are going to take your own personality into the game, you should build accordingly and so that should likely be on the top of your framework.

Now then article three in this will be about getting people to develop complete characters. How you can do it as a GM, and how as a player you can get others to do so in your group.

Ok so that should give you something to think about for a bit 🙂 Hope you enjoy.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many alternate personalities this character has… hmmm where is that d5000?

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Character Building 101 – What am I talking about?

Hello there readers

Ok so if you can see the featured image I put up… (yeah this one..)

character-male-anatomy9

I found this on Google Images with a link to a Deviant Art web page that no longer seems to exist or has been taken private. If anyone can find the creator of this art I would like to give them credit for it so please let me know if you find them.

So onto the main topic here…

WTF am I talking about with Character Building?

Depending on the type of gamer you are you might have your own thoughts on what character building is. In my experience there are a few things that folks tend to think of when they get into character building.

The first thing that most folks seem to think about is the stats. What are the numbers, how much strength or intelligence or whatever does my character have?

The second most common thing seems to be the kit. As in how have you kitted out the gear. What tools do I have, what toys do I have, how powerful are the items I am using?

The third thing seems to be power. What sort of special abilities does my character have? What super powers? What spells? What mutations?

The fourth thing seems to be overall appearance. How is my character dressed? What do they look like? Tats? Funky light effects?

The fifth item seems to be personality. Does my character have one? Or am I a raging fight monster who doesn’t need a personality as long as he/she/it has the guns?

And usually the last thing that players seem to think about is story. What is my characters background? Who do they know? What motivates them?

Now then I do know more than a few gamers where the order of those is very different. I also know a lot of gamers for whom a few of those elements do not even seem to exist. And depending on your game, well to be honest, the importance you place on any of those elements may need to change. But the type of gamer you are is going to influence how much effort you put into any of them.

When you talk about the types of gamers I really see everyone falling for the most part into one of the following categories.

The Power Gamer – This is a player who’s stats and powers mean everything to them. They could care less about background, personality, or even looks. They have to have big numbers, and hard core gear so they can blow things out of the water. Even their characters class or role is meaningless as long as it adds power.

The Pro – This is the player who puts everything together so that they can be the very best in the universe at something. When they generate a back story it only really exists to validate being the best at something. It involves training, getting the right gear and so on. They will have maxed out one stat or two and all the associated skills, along with feats or perks or whatever it takes to make them the worlds greatest expert at… something.

The Quirk – This is the player who makes a full character and backstory to support having one or two really strange things going on in their character sheet. Things that make no sense what so ever unless you know their full story. And I dont mean the character I mean the player. It can seem at times like a Quirk and a Pro are the same thing. And occasionally they are because a Quirk who is the best with whatever that strange thing is, is still a Pro.

The Dramatist – This is the player for whom the story is all important. The stats and skills and powers are all meaningless. It is the character and their backstory that is all important. All sixty seven pages of backstory. With all the annotations and details cross referenced so you can see how it is interlaced and they are very much playing to the drama of their story. Their story mind you. Not what everyone else might be playing.

The Balance – This is the player who actually takes a bit from everything above to try and make a balanced character. Powers, skills and abilities all have their place in supporting the story they have created and tried to integrate into the world that has been created and the story that is trying to be told overall in the game setting that has been used. They dont have to be the best, they want to be a part of things. Being the best is ok, but they want everyone in. Not just themselves. Interestingly enough a Balance can actually hide out as any other type of player. All they do is give you a surface view that matches the other gamers and then they keep all of the other stuff to themselves.

In all my time playing I have actually seen a few games that seem to know that they are going to attract players and game groups that would tend to focus on stats and powers and so they have put things into the game engine that will help drive to adding more personality and story to the characters. In most cases this is an optional step. However some have integrated this element fully into the game engine.

So this all racks up to a lot of what I have seen, what my perceptions are, and it does not really go into detail about what you could do. And as usual with my building series I am not going to tell you what you should do. You see even with all the stereotypes I have called out above, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with falling into any of those. As long as the group you are playing with knows that is your style of play and that it will not impact the game play for everyone else. I mean having a Dramatist in with a bunch of Power Gamers is usually just asking for hurt feelings and trouble.

And that leads me to the one and only real rule I have for character building. Be #*$%ing honest with the rest of the players and your GM on what style of play you have. Dont BS them just because you want some time to hang out or show off. It will only come back later to bite you in the @$$. The thing is you do not need to take this to mean that if you put a Dramatist in with Power Gamers it cannot work. As long as everyone knows whats what up front you can give everyone what they need in a game session. As long as you are honest, and your group is open minded, you can make it work.

And all of that leads me to what I do.

For me character creation is a lot like creating a building. You have steps you go through to get to a certain point.

You start with an environment, build a foundation, put a framework into place, add on all the bits and pieces that can make it sound, and then finally shape the appearance and accessories so that it all comes together.

In coming posts on this topic I will go into detail about several of these elements if not all of them. I am going to present them in the order that makes sense to me. However if you work in a different pattern that is totally cool. Heck if you ignore the ideas here that is totally cool too.

All righty, that is where we are going to end today. Look for more soonish.

Now gimme the dice. I need to see if this random stat randomizer is random enough…

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Game Review #45 – Ruins of UnderMountain (S)

Hello Readers and welcome to another game review. Now then using my standards some might wonder why I am designating this as a Supplement instead of a Module. I will get into that in a little bit.

SO while the wiki page for UnderMountain is a little underwhelming it does have a few links to other TSR related information that can help you get a little more info about the author and how this ties into the Forgotten Realms setting, especially the city of Skull Port.

From my personal perspective UnderMountain was the first true mega dungeon. Sure the box set only had three levels. But those three levels were mapped out on four poster maps. The guide book only had information on about 25% of the rooms that were shown on the maps. And there were rules and suggestions for how to add, well, anything you wanted into the unwritten areas to specifically enhance any campaign you were running.

This thing is freaking huge… I mean just look…

undermountain-maps

…and if that wasn’t enough (and for some it was never close to enough) TSR also came up with additional materials to support UnderMountain later… Ruins of UnderMountain II : The Deep Levels (not as good but it really kept up the theme), Dungeon Crawl UnderMountain the lost level (this was actually pretty good if you tied it into other things, on its own… meh) And of course there have been reprintings, updates to later editions of  D&D and knock offs by the score that have tried to out do UnderMountain like AEG’s Worlds Largest Dungeon.

The funny thing is that most of the other mega dungeons that are out there exist only to be adventured in. They dont have any real connection to their environment or world. That means you can drop them any place you like and play the crud out of them. However UnderMountain was tied to the Forgotten Realms in some rather interesting ways. Its primary entrance was in a specific city. It had interesting new magic items and spells that were tied into either the Forgotten Realms as a whole, Skull Port the city it resided under, or some of the background characters that TSR authors and creators had been using for a while. Now then this is not to say that you cannot take UnderMountain and just drop it anywhere you want. You can. You just have to ignore or modify the background and characters a bit so the story elements fit, that is if you want to use them. Considering that the publication only has about 25% of the rooms filled at best, it is really easy to mod it out to whatever setting or location you want to use. My personal favorite of all time is putting UnderMountain under the City State of the Invincible Overlord. Giving me a huge and detailed city with a massive underground complex underneath.

One of the things that comes in the box set that I think is very under valued are the DM assistant cards. Not their real names I know. But these handy little cards have information on treasures, traps, and some of the odd magics that are in the dungeon. TSR put similar cards into other products but most of the time they made them 8 1/2 x 11 page sized, and these cards are just a little over the 3×5 note card size. Much easier to use and keep out of the line of sight of your players.

And of course if I am going to be totally honest… without the maps this thing would not be worth it to me. I am all for added information, new monsters and toys, but… mmmmmmmmmmm maps. These things are very detailed, well presented and… sigh… beautiful. One of the reasons I do not like the follow up products as much is because the maps seem more like a cheap imitation and not trying to keep the feel and build on what they already created.

Ok so I have ranted and rambled a bit, how do I call the numbers…

Overall Fluff 3/5 – There is good background material, and some interesting story. However this product is one of the weaker ones that TSR put out in regards to art. And while a part of me wants to call the maps art, I am actually putting them under Crunch.

Overall Crunch 5/5 – The new spells and monsters really do well in AD&D as a whole. The new trap rules and details also build things out in ways that enhance the setting, and the game. MAPS!!!!!!!!! I would almost like to give them a separate score but that would really skew the review.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It is old school AD&D, so you can mod the crud out of it. And I have. And you need to. The fact that you need to in many ways almost made me give this a 4/5 instead of the 5/5 score. Almost. The fact that you know from the ground up that you will need to mod it, and they make no bones about it, saves it from the lower score.

Overall Fun 5/5 – MAPS!!!!!! no not just the maps… heh. Overall this is one of those rare gaming products that encourages you to think. To add the flavor to make it your own, while giving you a solid framework that you can run with to your hearts content even if you never tweak a thing. It is a ton of fun and I cannot be positive enough about it.

Total Score 18/20 – Yeah I think this is a great supplement for gaming. I think it is worth the collectors price if you can find it in the physical world, and I think it is not bad at all if you can get it in a digital format and come up with some way to scale up the maps so you can use them effectively. While this is not something that will change your life it really can change your game.

Ok so thats it for this week. Stay tuned because next week will have another blog entry and I have no idea what I am going to do with it.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many random dungeon levels I can roll up before I need to actually use them for something.

 

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Tales from the Game Table – One in a Million Shots

Ages and ages ago it seems I was playing in a regular Call of Cthulhu game group. We all came up with some very interesting characters. My character was a soldier who had been a sniper in Word War 1. I even worked out a history for him that had him in places that could have suggested that he might have been responsible for things like a specific shot at a specific Arch Duke. He was one of those characters that was not really socially comfortable and only really felt at home in a conflict.

He was brought into the campaign by a newspaper add that was looking for someone who could handle challenging work with combat experience. His interview for the job was an interesting bit that ended up with him and his interviewer in a private shooting range. If my character could back up his talk about how good he could shoot the job was his. So at range he looks at the constructed target. A few silver dollars can be easily seen. Focusing a bit he could also see nickles that were a little covered up. But my character was a pro and had a knack for spotting weak points. Critical success on the spot roll and he has the spot noted that would bring down the who target structure. Now then in Call you need to roll low on percentiles. So I line up the shot. 03 on the roll. DM says he needs a back up roll if I really do want to destroy the structure. 01. Needless to say he got the job and was made part of the team. DM kept a close eye on my rolls from then on because that was just too good to be true. But no… I didnt fake it. In fact my luck with that character tanked for several months. Nothing I could not get out of in the end, but… yeah…

So a few months after that incident the group of investigators is in with a band of primitives in a region that was… not quite Earth. Anyway our investigators had teamed up with a tribe. My character had been going over defensive measures with them and helping them fortify. Things had been getting hostile and so we were expecting an invasion from at least one other tribe. Invasion comes. Our cult busting mystic is setting up spells but needs time. Out other team members are getting ready to help with the wounded. My character goes to the ramparts of the hastily constructed defenses and yells down to see what the invaders want. Trying to buy time. The invaders leader steps forward and demands certain things and people from us in order to leave peacefully. Everyone on the team shakes their heads no at me and so I have my character ask if there is anything else he wants to negotiate for. Leader yells back it is not a negotiation and that we will submit.

So my character shot him. 01 right in front of the DM. He sighed and asked me to roll again because my character was using a high caliber hand gun and it might have had more kick to take things off a bit. 01 again. DM takes a look at his own specially prepared critical hit tables and it appears that with that handgun and my characters skill level that I also took out two people standing behind the leader.

And so what do I do next…. “Anyone else want to ‘Negotiate’?!”

We had been prepped for all out war. Heavy losses and likely losses of sanity on all parts as spells that we should not be playing with get cast to help the tribe we were allies with.

Fight ends in one shot. My character became a hero/demigod to the tribes. Not wanting to play outside my role, when the NPCs came to my character to lead, he told them that he was just a messenger and negotiator. The Mystic and the Business man were the ones who could lead them.

To be perfectly honest I have forgotten if the movie Fifth Element had come out before or after we did that last session. I think it came out before the session and I was just pulling a favorite line and putting it in a new place. But as long as I remain confused I dont have to admit to having stolen the line for my own fun in the game. 🙂

Sure I have had other critical hits in my life of gaming and even done a few more spectacular things in my games as well. But those two shots in that one game series just… mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…. tasty 😉 heh

That campaign continued for a good while after that and I really had a lot of fun delving ever deeper into the character and really setting some interesting goals for him that fit his personal… mindset… yeah mindset, lets not call him a psychopath or anything, cause noooo… mindset it is… in a way I dont get to do very often in a game group.

Ok so gimme the dice, I need to see if I can get a critical hit on breakfast.

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New series topic – Character Creation

Hey there readers

Now then anyone with a way back machine or a love of slightly older desktop computer RPGs might recognize the image above, or most of it, from Ultima 6. One of the best in the Ultima series of games. It had one of the most unique character creation elements I had ever encountered to date… well save for the other Ultima games… ok so lets just say I liked the way you created a character in most of the Ultima series.

Having done several series about world building, I thought it would be an interesting time to go more in depth into characters. Both the ones we play and the NPCs that GMs torment us with on a regular basis.

Even though I have talked in the past a bit about differences in Point Based game engines and level based character evolution, I have not touched on character personality and background and all the stuff that gives you the ‘character’ and not just the collection of stats you are going to use.

I plan on pulling up examples for the mechanics from several different game engines, and even a few computer or console examples because a creative table top group can incorporate them into the mix or use them directly.

Not sure when this series will be starting up but it will kick off with Character Creation 101 and be touching on… well I am not quite sure what it will be touching on yet. There are a lot of potential elements to talk about. If anyone has any ideas on things you think should be covered in regards to character creation leave me a reply in the comments and I will be happy to consider driving that point home.

Keep playing out there and having fun in the mean time folks.

Now gimme the dice, I gotta see what goes great with level one new players… 😉 heh

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Game Review #44 – Module X1 Isle of Dread (Expert D&D-1981) (M)

Hello Readers

So this post is going to be a little different. I have created links in most of my review posts to Wikipedia so that relevant topics can be examined more in depth. I have also noted that with those reviews, the more links I post the more spam comments I get that I need to delete from my in box, so I am going to use a game module to try and do one up with no links. Lets see how it goes.

In any event… on with the review.

Dungeon Module (already a misnomer because this ain’t no dungeon) X1 – The Isle of Dread is originally a module that introduced me to a few things that… well it sort of changed the way I looked at game modules. Admittedly it was early in my gaming career, and the module came in the original D&D Expert Rules boxed set…

ddexpertset1st01

… and totally set up to take advantage of the new rules added in that set. Ohhh look at those old hard edged dice that you needed to use a crayon to fill in… or some of your moms candles…. yeahhh

Ahem…

This module introduced me to a few things. Pages you could cut out and use as character props for the players. I mean seriously you can just cut the pages out and hand them to the players and say “Oh yeah you found this…”. The island itself is fairly big, and so there are a lot of supplementary maps inside the module. Most surprising though in the maps is that the cover interior is not the major map of the island, it is the map for one of the potential story lines that you can participate in while on the island.

And yeah you read that right… this little thirty page module has a main plot, and several encounters just like any good module. However this module also has notes that give you methods to keep things going on the island.

Now then the other thing that this module introduced me to is the idea that using dinosaurs in a fantasy setting was perfectly fine. I mean when I looked into the Monster Manual I could see dinosaurs, but this gave me examples of how I can use them in games by setting up several encounters that sorta feel like King Kong in a fantasy setting and I am not the only person who has said that.

The new creatures introduced work really well in the setting, and to a certain degree can be  moved into the rest of the game realm, well that is assuming that you are using the published D&D realms.

phanaton

One of my favorite added creatures is the Phanaton, sort of like a mix between a raccoon, a flying squirrel and a halfling, who lives in a jungle.

The main adventure can take you all over the island, or you can get really targeted. On the map below you can see over twenty encounter areas called out. Getting through the core story takes hitting four of them. The rest is all optional.

dread map

I have used this module for a number of things in the past. Being that it is set up for Expert D&D it is really easy to covert over into AD&D or to 3.0/3.5 D&D/Pathfinder. I have had one group of players decide that after clearing out the main story, they wanted to make the island their secret HQ and so they had to clear out the rest of the main encounters, like the pirates, make friends with the natives and try to tame the dinos. In another case I make this a step in the path for a larger series of modules that I had tied together to make one big story. I have also used it as a training ground location for Rangers. I took out most of the encounters for that last one

All in all I really enjoy the location and the balance of information in the module. And apparently I am not the only one as I hear that it is being reprinted by a third party to be updated into 5th ed D&D.

Ok so lets see how I number it up…

Overall Fluff 4/5 – The art is good ( I mean just look at those little Phanaton welcoming that poor confused human who soooooo needs them). Props are good, maps are great. The only thing it is light on is details about the island history. But that is sort of how modules at the time.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – The only real rules added were for new creatures. And they work. However some of the creature mechanics are not balanced.

Overall Mod 5/5 – It is old school D&D, so you can mod the crud out of it.

Overall Fun 4/5 – If you did not guess, I think this is a lot of fun. The only reason I cant give it a five is because the colelctor in me wants to keep the module fully in tact, the passionate GM in me wants to rip out the appropriate pages and hand them to players….

Total Score 16/20 – Not a bad score in the end. Overall I really enjoy this product and when I flashback to the fun modules in the 80’s this is one of the ones that is always at the top of my memory

Well I hope you all enjoyed my first linkless review.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see how many brontosaurs it takes to fill in a volcano…

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Seasonal pains

Howdy readers…

No serious post this week. Tis the start of allergy season and I am not focusing well so I would likely ramble more than usual. Just putting this in place so that folks know the blog is alive, just covered in Kleenex this week…

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Tales from the Game Table – My favorite Deaths 1

Ok so everyone knows that in an RPG the death of your character is something that may happen. If you are playing something like Call of Cthulhu then a good death may be the best you can hope for… But there comes for all of us who game the high and low points in the death of a character. Sometimes a death is a good one in which we go out in a blaze of glory becoming the person of legend who will be remembered until at least the next game session. Sometimes the death of a character is just… plain… stupid.

Well when you see the My favorite Deaths header on a tales from the game table I am going to be talking about some of the best, worst or most inconclusive deaths I have ever put a character through… as a player and as a GM.

Gonna roll this out with one of my personal favorite deaths that happened to one of my own characters.

So the entire party was camped around the fire in the middle of no where. This was not the most cliche of nights but hey no one ever said this game group was subtle. And suddenly a lich. Just roll with it.

Everyone jumps up and gets running into fighting mode, because yeah, we bad. My character tries to use his freakish magically enhanced speed to grab a log from the fire and charge into the lich, Because its undead, and undead hate fire right?

So when you have boots of speed, potion of speed, a haste ring and have had training to go faster, well… yeah you got some speed. I figured if nothing else I would distract it so the others could do something.

Oh and just as a note this was in AD&D first edition. With a GM who felt that if you roll a one you botch and a twenty is a critical hit…

Soooooooooooooo…. yeah super high speed character with a flaming log charging realllllly powerful undead ickyness. You might think you know where this is going but you are only partly right…

So I rolled to hit with  a charge with my flaming log of speed…. and I botch…

I am stumbling, trying not to kill myself as I go speed stumbling past the lich…

And the lich attacks, With a clothes line… And a crit… It was starting to look like a bad pro wrestling moment but it gets worse.

The stumble and the clothes line crit were actually enough to kill the character…. and yet the lich, having been insulted by the fact that my character would attack it physically with something so mundane as a log, used its next action to cast disintegrate on my character. Who is already dead.. and still tumbling through the air…

And I almost botch the save.

Fortunately there was enough ash that could be assembled and poured into my magic boots that a cleric could be found to bring me back later….

But yeah…

That was….

Spectacular….

 

Ok so gimme the dice… I need to make saving throws against my own dumb ideas.

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Game Review #43 – Marvel Super Heroes Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe (S)

So a while back I did a review for the main rules for this game on this post here. Since that post has tons of links to things about Marvel Comics and TSR I did not want to over do the links and repeat myself a lot so I only will be adding new links to this post. If readers think that approach sucks just let me know and I can copy over older links again later. For the moment this article will only have new links that are part of this products story.

To tell that story we need to look back to 1983 to get things started. Marvel Comics started up a series of comics book guides called The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe.

OHMU 2

Yeah I know you are wondering why this is going to be important to a licensed RPG product that shares the same name. Just run with it I am giving you a history lesson… a little one…

In 1985 DC Comics followed up with their own version of this kind of guide book called Who’s Who.

250px-Who's_Who_in_the_DC_Universe

Also in 1985 Marvel started to publish the Deluxe Edition version of the Official Handbooks.

OHMUDE 2

Ok so here is where we tie it all together. In 1986 Marvel and TSR had gotten together to print up the Advanced version of the Marvel Super Heroes role playing game. And to that point in time the adventures that had been published for the games basic version usually had all the characters the adventure was written for included inside. But what about everyone else in the Marvel Universe… So in 1988 using the format of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, TSR started publishing a complete set of the Handbook Characters. It was a truly epic idea. And they worked rather hard to keep not only the feel of the Deluxe Edition handbook, but make everything they could game relevant.

Cap-MSHRPG

Ok do you get it now… see where I was going with the pics and stuff…. heh… see I even kept things all around the same issues so that I could use Cap… sigh… ok yeah its obvious…

The main competition in the Mayfair Games DC Heroes game did not try anything this epic to keep people interested in the game, but later licenses did try to put at least rouges galleries together.

The books that were published by TSR had a large number of characters per book. They were also designed (look closely at the pic of Cap’s character sheet above) to be placed in binders. You did have to tear the book apart to be able to put everything in binders. But there was a reason behind their method of doing things that way. It was because as Updates came out to the Handbook in Marvel, TSR would be putting out updates at the same time. The game updates were designed so that if you did pull everything apart and put the sheets together in binders you could keep every character in alphabetical order and keep updated characters together so you would have different versions in the same place and not have to go hunting.

The anal retentive part of me thought that this was a great idea and so when I did finally start to collect the books I was right into binders with them. That was when I found the first down side. The holes for the binder clasps did not match up from book to book. And some of the perforations to break the books down into their pages are so close to the binder holes you cannot expect the holes to actually be intact enough to work all the time. Now then I have seen this change book to book and not all copies of the same issue have the same problem. So you will be really hit or miss.

The second flaw that I have with the books is that they really pushed to get all of this material out as soon as they could and so converting characters from one medium to another can leave some pretty serious issues in translation. Considering the original handbooks listed things like strength levels with statements like “Has the strength of a human who engages in moderate regular exercise” how do you translate that into game stats. And with the FASERIP (see the other article on this game system for a better look at that acronym) system for stats that statement can give you a fairly broad range of physical strength. That combined with other challenges in translation means that there will be a percentage of characters that do not match up with someones point of view. A few characters I really like just seem so wrong in their stats, but their powers work well, or the other way around. But I have found no character that I would say is 100% wrong.

Anyone taking a look at this product today will also have to remember that these are stats for the characters at the time of publication. Many of them have changed and grown, so you cannot really reference todays characters as being 100% the same as they were when these were published, but they should give you a great start.

So lets take a look at the numbers…

Overall Fluff 4/5 – In some ways these books can be seen as all fluff. Backgrounds and art along with character sheets to get you in the game with your favorite Marvel characters. My biggest issue with the fluff is that I would have loved to see even a little more art.

Overall Crunch 4/5 – The biggest benefit that I got from these books was how to combine some of the more… poorly defined powers in the game together to create effects that really fit the characters. For me that insight into the rules really helped me play the game better.

Overall Mod 3/5 – I am giving this a 3 because I promise you there will be characters you have to mod to fit your view of them. Cant make everyone happy I know. So just taking that into account.

Overall Fun 4/5 – Ok so only a four on the score here because of the physical flaws in the books I got and for the number of characters I have to mod up to fit my view of them. Still it is a fun system, and I think it is really cool that they took the handbooks and converted them like this as directly as possible.

Total Score 15/20 – I think my reasons stand for themselves. If you take a look at the original product I scored this supplement higher. Maybe it is the geek nostalgia but who can tell. 🙂

Hope everyone out there is having a great time and playing hard.

Now gimme the dice, I need to see which version of Cap had the best shield….

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