Friday, November 28, 2014

5E DMG: First Impressions

I picked up the new 5th Edition D&D Dungeon Master's Guide today at one of my FLGS's (and scored a 20% discount because it's Black Friday, which was totally unexpected but welcome nonetheless). The regular street date is December 9th, but stores that are part of the Wizards Play Network can sell it as of today.

First overall impression; this is without a doubt a book aimed at new DMs, rather than a reference book or book of options aimed at experienced players. That doesn't mean that there isn't anything of value for more experienced gamers, there is, but the emphasis is clearly on holding newer DMs by the hand and teaching them how it's done. That approach, I am certain, is not an accident.

Aesthetically, it's a beautiful book. There is a ton of artwork throughout, with varying styles, which is something I really like and which hearkens back to the original AD&D books, which had art by multiple artists. It ranges from the creepy to the heroic to the downright silly (I refer especially to the "chibi modrons" on p. 66, accompanying the description of the plane of Mechanus). The pages all have a faux parchment background, but I didn't find it a distraction and it doesn't seem to interfere with the text or diagrams, as some similar things have done in past books.

Specific references to published campaign settings like Greyhawk or Krynn are few and far between, but are definitely present, and even 4th edition fans are thrown a bone as the Dawn War pantheon (the default pantheon of deities for 4E) is used as the sample pantheon in the "Gods of Your World" section. They are covering all the bases.

There are sections on campaign events, a few options for evil characters, random downtime tables, and detailed rules for a more grid-reliant combat system that includes facing, flanking, etc. We finally get random encounter tables based on terrain and CR (although they're not proper encounter tables from a 1E point of view; they're more lists of creatures, and would need the DM to turn them into roll-this-get-this-encounter format), descriptions of the planes, and of course we now have extensive lists and descriptions of magic items (I haven't done a full comparison, but it looks as if nearly every item is illustrated, which is a nice touch). There are also treasure tables which are tied to CR.

But the star of the book is the advice for new DMs. From guidelines on tailoring adventures to the tastes of your players, to creating campaign worlds (including pantheons, mapping, settlements, campaign events and when to use and not use them, different flavors of fantasy such as sword and sorcery vs. mythic fantasy, how to create adventures (including different types of adventures such as wilderness, dungeon, mysteries, etc.), how to create specific encounters (and a nice overview of random encounters and why they can be useful - yay!), motivations for villains, mapping dungeons, and how to stock dungeons. There are even some rules and guidelines for dealing with crossing genres (there are rules for using alien technology, for instance, and firearms). All that is nice for experienced DMs to review, and often comes with handy tables (although they must perforce be somewhat generic), but the intended audience is clear.

On the whole the 5E DMG looks to be a very good book. Experienced DMs will find a lot of useful tables, and the magic item and planar descriptions will be especially useful. Some DMs will find the enhanced combat options indispensable, while most will be able to turn the CR encounter lists into meaningful encounter tables.

But beginning DMs will find this an enormous resource, and will be well rewarded by a close cover-to-cover reading. It goes far beyond the "what is a roleplaying game?" introductory material into the nuts and bolts of campaign and adventure design, as well as resources and guidelines for running a game at the table.

Another solid rulebook for 5th edition.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Green Wine of Celene

I thought I'd try my hand at something a little different - I give you The Green Wine of Celene, a short story set in the World of Greyhawk, presented in the long tradition of fan fiction. The World of Greyhawk and its associated characters and names are the property of Wizards of the Coast, and no challenge to that ownership is intended or implied. Since it's so long, you'll find it after the jump. Enjoy, and to all my American readers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

By the Lords of Kobol, I would buy this!

This is apparently a demo reel done as a "proof of concept" to propose redoing the special effects of the original Battlestar Galactica using CGI, in much the same way they redid the effects for the classic Star Trek a couple of years ago.

Oh man would I buy this. In a heartbeat.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Adventure: Bitterbark's Circus

Hot on the heels of the best-selling Adventures Dark and Deep™ GM's Screen, BRW Games is proud to announce the release of Bitterbark's Circus, an adventure locale designed for characters level 8-9.

Because it's written for the Adventures Dark and Deep™ rules, it can be used with most Basic or Advanced-compatible rules almost as-is. And for those people who are playing games that don't feature a jester character class, the entire class (including lots of new spells) is included as an appendix. Jesters feature prominently in the adventure, and it only seemed fair to include the whole class for GMs who want to use the adventure using other rules.

Bitterbark's Circus describes a sinister circus which can be inserted into most RPG campaigns with little effort. The GM is given a variety of different ideas and options for inserting the adventure into an existing campaign, and the adventure is also linked to the Castle of the Mad Archmage™ megadungeon, via a magical gate in the lower levels of the fabled and deadly dungeon. But it is also perfectly fine as a stand-alone adventure, and can add a layer of creepy mystery to any game.

The adventure runs 30 pages and is available for $4.95 in pdf format. Buy it today; your players will thank you. Well, probably not, because it's an eerie and deadly place, but they'll still have fun.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No capes

"No capes!"
Over at The Hollywood Reporter, talking about the Universal plan to turn their classic monster properties into action-adventure films (presumably because that worked so well with Van Helsing), Universal chairman Edna Mode Donna Langley is quoted as saying "We don't have any capes" (in their catalog of films).


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Adventures Dark and Deep Players/GM Screen now available

Now available, an eight-page print-it-yourself Player/GM screen for Adventures Dark and Deep. It's a buck and a half, and has 40 tables, diagrams, and charts that you'll want at your fingertips. And naturally, most of those tables are usable with most other OSR-type games.

You can get yours by clicking here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Agents of SHIELD, the Inhumans, and the MCU

Speculation has been rife for months that Marvel's Agents of SHIELD television show (now in its second season) is going to be introducing a new element into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); namely, the Inhumans.

This post is going to have some spoilers about recent episodes of AoS, so if you're not caught up, caveat lector!

First things first. In the comic books, the Inhumans are the descendants of humans who were genetically modified tens of thousands of years ago by the alien Kree. The Kree, by the way, are the alien race that gave us not only the Host (the alien corpse in AoS that gives us the miracle drug GH325) but also Ronan the Accuser, the villain in this year's hit Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Inhumans live in a hidden city called Attilan, which has at times moved from the North Atlantic, to the Himalayas, to the moon, and then back to Earth. Because of their alien hybrid DNA, when a young Inhuman is exposed to the Terigen Mists (or crystals in some cases), latent superpowers are activated which can vary in strength and utility enormously.

The Inhumans are led by a royal family, headed by Black Bolt (whose voice is so powerful that speaking at all causes enormous devastation around him) and sometimes his criminally insane brother Maximus. And in the comic books, the mutant Quicksilver (as in the one we saw in X-Men Days of Future Past, and who will be in Avengers: Age of Ultron) married a member of the Inhuman royal family. So there's an in-comic connection there already. Certainly the MCU isn't required to cleave 100% to the comic book mythology, so making Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch Inhumans rather than mutants is certainly doable.

Because Fox has the rights to all things mutant locked up in their license to make X-Men movies, Marvel now has to look elsewhere for an equivalent. The Inhumans are the logical choice, as they're functionally the same. They have many varied and potentially colorful superpowers, and can serve as a stand-in for morality stories about persecuted minorities.

Oh, and Marvel already has announced not only an Inhumans movie in November 2018, but also a Captain Marvel movie in July of that same year. Captain Marvel (in her incarnation as Carol Danvers, whom Marvel already said was to be the subject of the movie) is also an Inhuman (well, not technically, but she also has a hybrid of Kree and human DNA (and superpowers) for a different reason, so it's close enough).

Agents of Shield (which has really upped its game since the shaky first half of the first season) last night telegraphed the existence of Attilan; the mysterious symbols that Coulson and most of the others injected with GH325 were carving weren't intended to be 2-dimensional. They're a 3-dimensional map of a city that the Host apparently died desperately trying to reach. And speaking of those symbols, doesn't this close-up view of the new Inhumans comic book logo look a bit familiar?

h/t to The Mary Sue for this one

There's another piece of the puzzle that having Agents of Shield start up a major Inhumans story line fills in as well. When it was announced that Captain America 3 (May 2016) would be doing the "Civil War" story from the comics, some observers were puzzled.

The Civil War story line involved a "superpower registration act". Some heroes were for it, and others were dead-set against it (hence the name). The trouble is, there just aren't enough people running around the MCU with superpowers to really need a superpower registration act. The SHIELD agents we've seen have been extremely well-trained, but not super-powered. There are the Avengers, and a couple of others walking around, and doubtless some of the folks that HYDRA released from various SHIELD prisons like the Fridge (who probably wouldn't comply with such a law anyway), but on the whole the MCU world just doesn't seem to have the numbers to justify such a thing.

(As an aside, there's also speculation as to who in the MCU is going to handle some key roles that in the comics were handled by characters out of Marvel's control, like Spiderman and the Fantastic Four.)

Why yes. That is a dog. Why do you ask?
Now, imagine if the existence of tens of thousands of Inhumans, with Kree-hybrid DNA and superpowers, was suddenly thrown into the mix. A superhuman registration act, like the one we'll undoubtedly see in Captain America 3, suddenly makes a whole lot of sense. It would be aimed at the Inhumans (framing them as the persecuted minority in the exact same way that the Mutant Registration Act in the first X-Men movie did mutants), but would sweep up others in its wake as well, including Captain America, Doctor Strange, etc., and, if it included extraordinary technologies not generally available, Iron Man, War Machine/ Iron Patriot, Falcon, etc.

So, a very hypothetical Inhuman-centric timeline could look something like:
  • Agents of SHIELD (winter 2014/15): our first introduction to the Inhumans, perhaps the revelation that they are intermingled with the general population. Skye and Raina are revealed as Inhumans, perhaps given superpowers as a result of exposure to the Terrigen mists/crystals?
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (summer 2015): Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are introduced as Inhumans
  • Agents of SHIELD (winter 2015/16): fallout from Age of Ultron, setting up the Civil War for next summer, which could mean fleshing out the whole Inhuman mythology to give Cap 3 additional depth. (Assuming we get a Season 3, of course.)
  • Captain America 3 (summer 2016): the superhuman registration act and resultant Civil War.
  • Agents of SHIELD (winter 2016/17): will deal with the fallout from the events of Cap 3. (Assuming we get a Season 4, of course.)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (summer 2017): more Kree? Do they come to Earth or the moon and interact with some Inhumans there? 
  • Agents of SHIELD (winter 2017/18): Picking up the pieces of GotG 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. Will there be an Inhuman connection? Maybe; Captain marvel is a great bridge to the more cosmic side of the MCU. (Assuming we get a Season 5, of course.)
  • Captain Marvel (summer 2018): stars a superpowered Kree-human hybrid, probably sets up the Inhumans movie a few months later.
  • Inhumans (fall 2018): just what it says on the tin.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Metatopia Post-Con Report

This past weekend saw me at the annual Metatopia convention in Morristown, NJ. Metatopia is run by Double Exposure, the same folks who put on the Dreamation and Dexcon conventions (the latter now including the old-school OSWARP con as a featured subset), as well as the First Exposure playtest hall at GenCon. It caters to game designers, publishers, etc. and hooks them up with eager playtesters to get feedback on new games coming in the pipeline. There are also a bunch of seminars in several tracks, and the whole thing is an invaluable experience for the aspiring game publisher or designer.

I was on several panels myself, attended a bunch more, and overall had a great time (despite a bit of a stomach bug on Friday night that seems to have hit a few other people besides me). There were a bunch of high points (the afore-mentioned seminars, as well as getting to talk with some of the luminaries of the industry at the bar), and a couple of low points (some of the seminars veered too deeply into the PC end of the pool for my taste, but hey, if folks want to fret about the impact of HP Lovecraft's racism on game design, that's their time to waste), but on the whole I had a great time.

Here are just a handful of the hundreds of games that were being playtested (all these photos were taken with permission, so no trade secrets are being revealed, I hope):

You don't see that many games about medieval Africa

Using Lego as a prototyping tool

Some games were simple in layout

Some were a bit more complex

Some were very polished for a prototype

You can see a mix of bits and pieces in this one

Monday, November 3, 2014

Dune: The Television Series

It's no secret that big-budget shows, with a shortened (10 episode or so) season, are all the rage right now. Of course the trend is exemplified by Game of Thrones, but we've seen it in other historical dramas like Rome, The Tudors, and The Borgias, and with more sci-fi/fantasy/horror fare such as The Walking Dead and American Horror Show. SyFy just announced that not only are they doing Childhood's End as a miniseries, but 3001: The Final Odyssey is also coming to the small screen. Plus American Gods. Plus a bunch of others.

I submit that there's a series of novels that would make every bit as compelling a series as Game of Thrones.  Frank Herbert's Dune novels.

I'm not talking about the prequel novels by his son (which are pretty awful; some might go even further in their... dislike of them), but the original novels. Dune (1965), Dune Messiah (1969), Children of Dune (1976), and God Emperor of Dune (1981). I omit Heretics of Dune (1984) Chapterhouse: Dune (1985) which pretty much take the series in a completely different direction. The first four books (many would argue - with some justification - that the first three books are sufficiently self-contained to not need the fourth, but I disagree for a variety of reasons).

The comparisons with Game of Thrones are stunning, but I submit Dune has an even grander scope (the entire universe, and spans 3,500 years if you include God Emperor), deals with questions of history, civilization, religion, the nature of time and prophecy, ecology and the economics of scarcity, and more. Yet it is also firmly grounded in the interrelationships between, and growth of, the characters; at its heart it is the story of a family doomed to become those things they hate the most.

The political maneuvering is as intricate as anything you'll see in King's Landing. It begins with the feud between the noble houses of Atreides and Harkonnen, fueled by the desire of the Padishah Emperor to remove Duke Leto Atreides as a rival for power. But there are layers upon layers of complexity as new centers of power are revealed - the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, the Fremen, the Spacing Guild, the Bene Tleilaxu, and later Fremen factions and renegades, a new Priesthood of Muad'dib, the deposed (formerly Imperial) House Corrino, and much more besides. Plus there are factions within factions and individuals shift from one to another. Fans of that sort of intricate plotting would be in hog heaven.

There are also a lot of opportunities for violence and war. One of the conceits of the novels is the artificial constraints on technology. Thinking machines are outlawed, and bladed weapons are back in vogue because of the adoption of personal shields that block conventional bullets and which blow up in contact with a laser. So combat is much more personal, hearkening back to something you might see in a more medieval-esque setting (ahem). There are wars, battles large and small, duels, gladiatorial combats, assassinations, and more.

There's relatively little sex or nudity to be had, but the opportunities are certainly there (just as the writers for GoT managed to insert quite a bit where I don't remember reading about it in the novels). Paul and Chani, Alia and various people, Feyd-Rautha, and others. It could certainly be included if that was deemed a requirement. (Personally I don't think it would be, but I can't speak for everyone, let along for what a network would want to see.)

Now, it is true that Dune has already been tackled twice on the screen. Once as David Lynch's famous flop, and again by the SciFi channel as a pair of three-part series. Personally I like them both, although both have enormous flaws. The visuals in the Lynch version were great (with some notable exceptions like the disease-scarred Baron Harkonnen), but Sci-Fi cleaved closer to the novels in terms of plot and took a lot more time to develop the relationship between the Atreides and the Fremen. Both versions had their good and bad casting choices, but the Sci-Fi version was limited in terms of budget and it shows in a lot of scenes.

I foresee a series that goes at least four seasons, possibly five. You could at least two seasons out of the first book, possibly three. It could be broken up in two ways:

  1. Arrival of the Atreides on Arrakis through the destruction of the Atreides by the Emperor/Harkonens.
  2. Atreides merge with the Fremen through the Fremen attack on the Emperor and start of the Great Jihad.

  1. Arrival of the Atreides on Arrakis through the destruction of the Atreides by the Emperor/Harkonens.
  2. Atreides merge with the Fremen through about the middle of the Fremen war against the Harkonnens. Includes lots of scenes of the war that are glossed over in the book.
  3. Finish the Fremen war against the Harkonnens through the Fremen attack on the Emperor and start of the Great Jihad.
The remaining books would each be good for a season. So there's a five, maybe six season show, with no chance that the show will overtake the books. If they managed to maintain a level of quality similar to GoT or Vikings, you couldn't tear me away from the television.