Friday, March 20, 2015

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 7)

Boy, has it been a long time since I've done one of these. But we're not through the book yet, and there's plenty more to cover. This time: the Hall of Heroes.

The Hall of Heroes is a selection of fourteen NPCs with stats and in-depth descriptions and histories. Seven of them are in the City of Greyhawk itself (remember this was published at a time before the Greyhawk Wars, so it's still theoretically set in CY 576), and the rest are from further afield in the Flanaess.

The trouble is, most of these NPCs are not ones that the PCs are ever likely to encounter, at least on a regular basis. Thus, their inclusion in the book is something of a mystery. We have:

  • Nerof Gasgol, Lord Mayor of Greyhawk
  • Derider Fanshen, constable in Greyhawk (also a 12th level cleric of Pelor)
  • Sental Nurev, Captain-General of the Watch in Greyhawk
  • Org Nenshen, Master of the Thieves Guild in Greyhawk
  • Turin Deathstalker, Master of the Assassins Guild in Greyhawk
  • Ren o' the Star, Master of the Traders Union in Greyhawk
  • Jaran Krimeeah, lord of the Valley of the Mage
  • Tysiln San, First Protector of the Valley of the Mage
  • Korenth Zan, Father of Obedience of the Scarlet Brotherhood
  • Alesh Marin, member of the Scarlet Brotherhood (in Stoink)
  • Karll of Urnst, Duke of Urnst
  • Tang the Horrific, Prince of the Clan (from the Dry Steppes, but now a wandering mercenary barbarian)
  • Timitrios Spartakos, magic-user originally from the Great Kingdom, now in Greyhawk, and with a backstory tied to Jaran Krimeeah
  • Guiliana Mortidus, cleric and member of the Horned Society
Of these, the DM isn't likely to really need the likes of the Lord Mayor and heads of the guilds of the city of Greyhawk (especially when they are covered in the City of Greyhawk boxed set, which appeared the year after this book was published), or the Duke of Urnst. Figures like the Mage of the Valley and the head of the Scarlet Brotherhood are deliberately supposed to be obscure, and detailing them here destroys their mystique. 

The only ones that look to be particularly useful in a day-to-day sense are Derider Fanshen, Alesh Marin, Tang the Horrific, Timitrios Spartakos, and Guiliana Mortidus. Tang could be a terrific recurring character, one full of bluster and flash who storms onto the scene, steals it, and then bounds away. Guiliana could be a good long-term protagonist for a mid-level party (she's an 8th level cleric, and works as an agent for the Horned Society who's been sent on missions before, and has a band of underlings). Timitrios could be a good magic-user-for-hire; he's got some interesting quirks and a great backstory, with some built-in enemies that could spell trouble for anyone he's associated with (like the PCs).

On the whole, this is one of the least useful sections of the book. Five out of fourteen NPCs are useful in a day-to-day sense, which is a pretty bad percentage. Much of the art is recycled as well, which is doubly disappointing, but there are a few fun new pieces that do the job.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Elemental Evil Player's Companion

A few days ago, Wizards of the Coast released their Elemental Evil Player's Companion, a 5th edition D&D supplement intended to expand player capabilities and possibilities for the upcoming Elemental Evil -  Princes of the Apocalypse story arc. It is a free download, and is available either from the WotC website or through DriveThruRPG.

The whole thing is 25 pages long, and consists essentially of two sections; races and spells.

The races include aarakocra (bird-men who first appeared in the 1E Fiend Folio), Deep Gnomes (aka Svirfneblin, underdark-dwelling gnomes who first appeared in the 1E adventure D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa), Genasi (descendants of trysts between mortals and genies, with attendant magical powers, first found in the 2E Planewalker's Handbook), and goliaths (stone-like beings related to giants, who first appeared in the 3.5 Races of Stone).

The aarakocra are now native to the elemental plane of air, and aside from the powers you'd expect based on their physical form (they're able to fly, and can use their talons in combat), they don't seem to be particularly over-powered.

Deep gnomes were originally quite over-powered, but in this version they seem to be quite well aligned with other player races (there is an optional feat that allows a deep gnome character some innate magical power, but even then it's nothing compared to the 1E ability to summon earth elementals).

Genasi come in four types (air, earth, fire, water) and each has some magical powers and damage resistance appropriate to their respective genie heritage. I'd be hard pressed to see why a player might choose not to play one, given that some of them are quite handy.

Finally, goliaths are physical powerhouses, getting bonuses of 2 to STR and 1 to CON, and some other size and toughness induced skills as well. While perhaps not quite so overpowering as a half-giant from Dark Sun or a half-ogre from Greyhawk, I can see some players making this their default race when creating a "tank".

The second part of the Companion gives details on some 45 or so new spells, of varying levels and types (with the glaring exception of cleric spells), but all with some sort of elemental theme. Most are new, but I did notice Melf's Minute Meteors (originally from the 1E Unearthed Arcana) makes an appearance, and all seem well enough balanced on a first reading (I haven't had time to play with any of these new spells, obviously, so that assessment might change after some chances to break the game with the new spells).

While I like the fact that the 5E team is obviously self-consciously plucking material from across the history of D&D, and it's nice to see more free material, I found myself disappointed that there was nothing class-based herein. No backgrounds, no new clerical domains (indeed, nothing new for clerics at all!), no new arcane traditions, no new druid circles, no new sorcerous origins, and no new warlock patrons. The only new feat is associated with the deep gnome race. It's entirely possible that the Companion will be updated to include this sort of material, and I do feel somewhat guilty complaining that a free supplement doesn't have more stuff in it, but it does seem that something billed as a Player's Companion would have some more of those basic building-blocks of character construction.

As for my own purposes, I will certainly be able to use some of the new spells in my Temple of Elemental Evil project. The deep gnome race will naturally come in handy if I ever do anything underdark-related. But I don't really see allowing the other character races as PC choices, except perhaps for a very specific short-term game. Still, it's worth getting, as the price is right and any DM running a 5E game will certainly find the spells at least useful.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Working on...

Hi all.

Sorry that I've been relatively silent this past month or so. I've been distracted by a number of things, almost all non-game-related, including setting up an Asatru group here in northern NJ, (real-world) work stuff, and family in general. But I've not been completely idle on the gaming front. What time I've been able to devote to things gaming have been split between my online Celestial Imperium campaign (testing out a bunch of Oriental Adventures-type stuff for Adventures Dark and Deep) and this little thing...

I'm aiming for a summer release, but nothing's official.

I promise I'll try to start posting more regularly here. Just wanted to let folks know I'm still alive, and just distracted, but not completely so.