Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Phoenix Dawn Command Review

I picked up Phoenix Dawn Command roleplaying game this fall from the website  There was a Kickstarter a few years back but unlike many one-and-done kickstarters, you can still buy copies. It is written by Keith Baker (of Eberron fame) and Dan Garrison. The imprint is Twogether Studios, a small shop with only three titles on its website. However. it seems to be distributed by the same people who produce Cards Against Humanity. At $59 it is not the cheapest of games, but since it contains almost 300 cards it can be forgiven (you can get a .pdf of the manual from Drivethrurpg for $10, but you'll still need the cards to play). Sample art below.

Players guide.png

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It has many of the features of classic roleplaying with a couple of interesting twists. First actions including combat are resolved with a custom set of cards. Secondly one levels up by dying first.

The main mechanic for resolving things is a comparison of the total of up to three cards from a hand of five against a target number. There are three suits Strenght, Grace, and Intellect, each players deck will only have two suits Grace and either Strenght or Intellect dependant on their character class. A starting deck consists of two each of cards valued 2, 3, and 4 from each of their suits, and five special cards from their character class (nominally valued 1, but usually adding +5 when its special conditions are met). Since success normally requires a total value of 10 or better, succeeding with only three cards often requires meeting special conditions. The players have a number of other tricks (including adding their life force, known as sparks) to up their score. Another interesting feature is that cards are only redrawn at the start of the next round, so making a strong attack can leave you with only low-value cards to defend against enemy attacks. Conversely, a strong defense may make mounting a successful attack not possible. For the most part, I think the card mechanic will work well although calculating the odds of success is tricky.

There are six character classes, three strength based ones (Bitter, Durant, Forceful) and three intellect based ones (Devoted, Elemental, and Shrouded). Each party (referred to in the game as a wing) can have only one member from a specific character class. There are only enough cards for four players two from the strength group and two from the intellect group.

Now for the leveling up by dying. The conceit of this game is the players are guardian spirits rather than mortals, having died prior to the start of the game and found themselves awakened in an Aerie of the Phoenix Dawn Command, an organization dedicated to the protection of humanity. After they die during the game they will resurrect again in the Aerie with more sparks, heath levels and get to add a new school card and one value 5 card. Every odd level you can remove one low-value card from your deck. However after seven levels when you die you are dead for good. 

As well as the core mechanics the book contains a monster guide and seven scenarios. the monsters (about 12 of them) are presented first but really make more sense within the context of the scenarios. Many are unkillable via physical combat (ssh, don't tell your players that just yet). The seven scenarios are marvelous and in many ways the best part of the book. Most of them cannot be successfully navigated by brute force alone (enhancing a sense of horror absent from most conventional roleplaying) and will probably require the sacrificial death of one or more of the party to obtain the optimum outcome. I'll not spoil the surprise by discussing the scenarios any further.

Overall I found the game an enjoyable read.  I didn't like that the starting deck description is hidden in the "Tools for the Marshall" chapter rather than the "How to Play" chapter. There is no index which would have been helpful, even though there is a good table of content. I look forward to trying to lure four players into a one-off campaign through the provided scenarios. Unfortunately, I think the rules presented are a little too complex and foreign for me to feel comfortable writing my own material for this system (although Ken does provide some good tips for additional adventures in the monster and scenario section). I do not see the potential for a long-running campaign with this rules set given the level cap of seven, and the limited selection of character classes. Perhaps I am in a rut, but for D&D I can put together three fights and a trap for an evenings entertainment with only an hour or two of prep time, doing something in this system would take me far longer. I am hopeful Ken will keep tinkering with this and provide some more scenarios of the same quality these first ones. Expansions to the broaden the play would also be welcome (already extra intellect and strength cards are available through Drivethrurpg allowing for a fifth and sixth player).

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kickstarter status 2017ish

Just finished my yearly review of the status of kickstarters I backed. I am excited that finally some of the long-standing late ones have finally arrived, including "13th age in Glorantha", Kurt Hills Altas, and Five Moons. I was also excited about the ones that both started and completed in 2017 (Folio #16 and #17 springs to mind).Unfortunately, I seem to keep signing up for new ones.

Done in 2017(or at least before March 2018)
Operation Unfathomable
Barrow maze 5e
Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying
The domes of Ishaq-Zahur
Widower’s Wood
Death & Taxes
Storypath Cards
Kurt Hills Fantasy Atlas
The Blight
13th Age in Glorantha
Whats O.L.D is N.E.W
Five Moons
Robert Howards Conan
The Folio #16 & #17 Double 1E & 5E Adventure Set
The Midderlands - An OSR Mini-Setting & Bestiary
Spire RPG
Symbaroum: Karvosti - The Witch Hammer
Underworld Races & Classes for 5th Edition & Pathfinder RPG
The Complete Cities of Sorcery
Symbaroum Thistle Hold
Lost Hall of Tyr: A 5e Adventure (Dungeon Grappling support)
Breath of Gorr: Complete Tabletop D&D 5E and Pathfinder Module!

Chugging away (not done but not overdue either)
The Midderlands Expanded
John Carter of Mars - The Roleplaying Game
                The Folio #18 & #19, 1E & 5E Adventures
Tome of Horrors: Reborn for Fifth Edition
Capharnaum - The Roleplaying Game
SYMBAROUM - Monster Codex
CAVALIERS OF MARS, a tabletop roleplaying game
 Forbidden Lands - Retro Open-World Survival Fantasy RPG
Artifices of Quartztoil Tower - 5E Adventure
Getting there
Holy Crap (Printed Book supposed to ship this week)
Rhune (a couple more story arc adventures to go)
Talislanta: The Savage Land (Waiting for 5E version)

Neverending Story
Ryuutama (basically done but pledge contains permanent electronic updates)

A bit late
Midgard Campaign Setting: Dark Roads & Deep Magic Estimated delivery Aug 2017
Luminous Echo: The Forgotten King extended campaign Estimated delivery Dec 2017
Salt in the Wounds Estimated May 2017
Slumbering Ursine Dunes (“What Ho Frog Demons”  Announced at being edited in Fall 2016 last mentioned in the author's blog post in March 2017)
Heroic Fantasy & Barbarian Conquerors Collection Estimated delivery Sep 2017

Long time coming
Marmoreal Tomb (Estimated delivery: Mar 2016)

Please come home, I still love you baby(way past due, I still want the item).
50 sHAdes of VORpal (Draft is done maybe that’s enough)

Throne of Night (Two out of a promised six scenarios have been delivered. Both were very good as was his previous series. However, it has been years since we have heard a peep from this one).

P.S. Somehow my busy retirement social life seems to interfere with posting on even on my anemic once a month schedule. However, I will keep posting when I have something to say. The recently finished kickstarters are in need of a posted review.

Here's a link to an ad for "What Ho Frog Demon" that turned up Monday so perhaps it is not quite dead yet.


Monday, September 25, 2017

*Flash* Bundle of holding LoFT 2

Just had to give a shout out to Bundle of Holding. They are running a Lamentations of the Flame Princess(LotFP) bundle to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation (at least 10% of it anyway). The intriguing part of it for me was the inclusion of  "Blood in the Chocolate", "Broodmother Sky Fortress", and "Veins of the Earth" in the bundle (although the second two are only available at the bonus level). I have had my eye on all three of these for a while but found the .pdf price at Drivethrurpg for each them a bit pricey, $7.99, $9.99 and $19.99 respectively. I guess the only really expensive one is Veins of the Earth. However, this bundle gives me all three and more for the price of  "Veins of the Earth" and "Blood in the Chocolate" alone. So what if I have purchased LotPF for the sixth time (I took pity on the crazy Fin several years ago who wanted to publish a boxed softcover folio in the age of hardbacks and .pdfs because  I didn't want him and girlfriend to live in an apartment filled with unsold boxes. Luckily for him, a thousand other people had the same sentiment.) There still are 13 days to jump on the bandwagon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Hawk and Moor Vols 1 and 2 review

I picked up Kent David Kellys Castle Oldskull bundle a couple of months ago. Included in were Kelly's histories of Dungeons and Dragons "Hawk and Moor" (I actually have had Hawk and Moor 1 for a while but never read it). Kent has assembled from the web discussions and comments on the early days of D&D to write a narrative history of those days.  It is interesting to contrast this with Jon Petersons "Playing at the World" which more based on written documents from the actual time period. Both methods seem to have their strengths and weaknesses. For covering the interplay of the evolution of rules and who did what when Peterson's approach is better. For descriptions of actual gameplay in the early Kelly's approach is better, as it is relying on web post by people who were actually there. In summary here is my review"

Hawk and Moor 1: Interesting but this subject covered better in Jon Peterson's "Playing at the world"

Hawk and Moor 2: Better than volume 1. This goes into recollections of actual play in the Greyhawk dungeon. Since it is compiled from recollections and internet posts of 2000's, it is perhaps colored by the vagueness of human memory. However, it is probably as close to the original Greyhawk experience as any of us will come.

P.S. I'll try to get to the actual Castle Oldskull books sometime later.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Vecna Reborn Review

During the unpacking from my recent move, one my older modules floated to the surface. Thematically it seemed somewhat linked to the upcoming Tomb of Annihilation adventure.  Therefore I thought now was good time revisit it. Published in 1998 it represents the beginning of the end for 2nd edition D&D. Drawing the iconic legends of Greyhawk into the realm of Ravenloft its themes should entice both both old and middle aged grognards. Written by the legendary Monte Cook it is chock full of brilliant concepts. I remembered it fondly as a good read, although I never ran or played it. However, my closer re-read has revealed several areas of concern.

****** Warning Here be Spoilers*******

This module is filled with grand concepts necromantic war machines, a grim city focused solely on war, a city in a giant's skull filled with undead, Vecna and course his arch nemesis Kas the vampire. As a source to steal ideas from it is fertile ground. Nice maps of Tor Gorak, Citadel Cavitius, and the dread realms of  Tovag and Cavitius as well. Unfortunately the module itself is as scripted as a Disney rollercoaster ride. Please keep the hands within the vehicle at all times for your protection. The fact that the sections are labeled scenes instead of encounters should tell you something.

Scene One: You wander through the mists to discover a lake where no lake has been. You stumble across a pregnant woman looking for her missing soldier husband. You encounter a pack of wolves eating an elk. You encounter a band of dying soldiers whose wounds cannot be healed (her husband is not amongst them). You are jumped by cultists who cut the pregnant woman and run away.You escort the woman back to the city of Tor Garak. Pathos 100% Player agency 35% percent (You could fight the wolves if you wanted to 20%; You can save a couple soldiers if you are willing to cast cure disease 10%; You may fight cultists for a round 5%).

Scene Two: You return the pregnant woman to her uncle. You are arrested by the local constabulary called the Daggers for being foreigners. You are tortured for a round before being rescued by some stranger who orders the Daggers to stand down. He helps you find shelter in the house of someone else. 100% Pushing players hot buttons (at least my players). Player agency 10% (You could fight the Daggers and avoid arrest, but this of course breaks the rest of the scene).

Scene Three:Someone hangs a severed human finger on the doorknob of your room. Stranger number two suggest you visit another stranger to find out what means. Stranger number three reads some obtuse box text and tells them to come back later. If the players return to their lodgings or check on the pregnant woman, or ask about stranger one they are directed to the local madhouse. If they attempt to explore the town they receive a punishment encounter for the Daggers. It turns out stranger number one runs the madhouse and needs someone to find a missing inmate. The players wander the town aimlessly for 1-3 hours and encounter the missing inmate just as he is about to be arrested by the Daggers. They return him to the madhouse and go back to stranger number three. Stranger number three announces he has found an important clue which leads to a book not in his possession which the players must retrieve for him. Leading players around by the nose 100% Player agency 15% (You can actually fight the Daggers without breaking the scene, but you will be in big trouble).

Scene Four: You travel to an iron door in the face of the rock which holds the town castle. A dungeon perhaps? No it is just an L shaped corridor which connects the door to a pit with three levers next to another door completely unopenable unless the levers are in the right position (the L in the corridor is there of course to conceal the fact that the levels do anything). Your book is in the chamber beyond the door. And of course there is a big blobby thing with tentacles in the pit which only attacks when you cross the pit for the second time. There is half a page of text explaining that the blobby is actually a son of Kas the ruler of this land, but it is for DM's eyes only. The players find the scroll case supposed to contain the "book" they are looking for, but it is course empty. However if the they search carefully they will be given a handout and some clues. As they are leaving cultists attack. DM cleverness 100% Player agency hard to say (there are several good fights, but no meaningful choices, and the whole thing is a wild goose chase anyways).

Scene Five: After the "Your princess is in another castle" event of the last scene the party is directed to the city of Cavitius to find the Shadowed Room. They are given a choice of three passes to travel by, however each pass identical. They can climb the mountains, but the DM is instructed to inflict punishment encounters until they give up. Each pass is guarded by a fortress of jackasses to hassle you. In the pass itself is a battlefield haunted by shadows which they must fight. After the shadows is a monstrous war engine build of human bodies. It is of course broken and useless but capable of infecting the characters with a hideous disease if they try to investigate it. Character harassment  100% Player agency 20% (you could climb the mountains 25% All the pass are identical? Useless and lazy -5%).

Scene Six: You follow a pathway lined with stone heads to a giant skull. If you wander off the path you lose a level an hour until you turn into a zombie. Vultures circle overhead as you approach. You knock on the two front teeth that serve as a gate and are immediately let in. You wander and watch undead abuse the human citizens. A stranger approaches and offers to help. Transition railroad 100% Player agency 0%

Scene Seven: You enter the Temple of Venca to speak with the contact the stranger in the last scene has provided. If you are nosy you can find some interesting secrets but will encounter secret guardians as well. You contact, a bodyguard for one of the priests, reveals the location of the entrance to the Shadowed Room and some hints to get inside. Then the priest who the bodyguard is supposed to protect attacks. Nobody helps the priest because apparently priests and bodyguard fight all the time in this temple. You then proceed to the chamber behind a secret door where you solve the puzzle to open a dimensional gateway to the Shadowed Room. The Shadowed Room itself exists out of time and space and is filled with books in languages no one understands. The book the players are looking for is on a bookstand and has been transformed back from the scroll it was in scene four into a book again. You solve another puzzle to escape this realm. You are returned to the chamber in the temple were you entered and are attacked. You sneak out from the city via a passage shown to by the stranger from scene six. High Concept 100% Player Agency 50% (some good fights, an entire realm to wander even if it is devoid of life and empty.

Scene Eight: You return to Tor Gorak to discover it infested with plague. Thus fulling the second part of the mumbo jumbo in the book without you lifting a finger (part one was fulfilled when you got nicked by a cultist some fight back).  Stranger number three is dying of plague but manages to hang on just long to reveal the last hints. Transition railroad number two 100% Player agency 0%

Scene Nine: The cultists have surrounded the insane asylum and realized although they can't actually get to the ruler of this realm, the guy in the insane asylum who thinks he's the ruler will work (everyone know random commoners have the same magical power as vampire lords). Having reached the same conclusion (perhaps after several applications of plot hammer to your head) you battle way through the asylum just as the ritual is about to reach its climax (how could it be otherwise).  Strangely enough although there are many ways to stop the ritual you are allowed to fail. Hackneed roleplaying timing 100% Player agency 50%

Scene Ten: If you fail Venca is reborn and wanders off to destroy Kas and wreak havoc on the lands  of-who-actually-gives-a-f**k. If you succeed you are still stuck in Tor Gorak with only its insane vampire lord Kas to defeat. Your best option, get the f**k out of  Ravenloft, is not even discussed. If this is the end of the adventure where's my loot 100% Player agency 0%

Average player agency 20% (scene four has not been counted since I couldn't come up with a rating)

This review places the module (like so many of its second edition module brethren) on "the steal ruthlessly from, but never ever play as written" stack.  Aiming it at 5-7 level character also seems to be a mistake as it limits the monsters to not all that scary things and hordes of low level Daggers and Cultists. I am also very disappointed with a Vecna module containing at best only a cameo by Vecna or Kas and no player usable ancient evil artifacts at all.

If I was to rewrite this: I would turn scenes two and three into a sandbox. Scene four would be an actual dungeon and perhaps have some connection to either Cavitius or the Shadowed Room. Scene five each of the mountain passes would contain something different and there would be clues to allow the players to chose. Scene six another sandbox with some bonus item hidden in the now non-lethal but simply annoying wastes. Scene seven perhaps the same but with a secret entrance leading to the inner sanctum rather than walking the front door more description of the Shadowed Room as well as another dungeon or sandbox. Scene eight only happens if players screw-up. Scene nine only if the players really screw-up. Someone better at mind games than me could rethread this so the players actions seem to be helping, but are actually allowing the cultists to accomplish their tasks as well.

P.S. Someday I will write the dreaded "Crotch of Vecna" adventure I threaten my players with when they get rowdy. Perhaps, I will steal some ideas from here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Drivethrurpg OSR extravaganza

 Back to blogging after several changes in my life ( I retired and moved back to my hometown). What am I talking about? Shopping of course.

Drivethrurpg is having an "OSR extravaganza". 1302 Items are listed on the sale page. Of interest to me is the list of game systems: Apocalypse World Engine, BRP (Basic Roleplaying), Dungeons & Dragons, Fate, Old-School Revival (OSR), Pathfinder-OGL, Savage Worlds, Storyteller / Storytelling, Traveller. Only a few of these I would consider OSR (Like OSR, BRP and maybe some Dungeons and Dragons).  The OSR is broken into some more sub catagories: Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry. Limiting the items to just OSR cuts the count to 816 items. Selecting core rule books drops the count to 48 items most of which I own (however "Apes Victorious" keeps tempting me even though I hate "Planet of the Apes"). Selecting Adventures yields 368 items (I may pick up "Hubris" even though post apocalypse is not really my style). Although the main sale is not that much of a discount (only 15%) several bundles at deep discounts have been offered. Annoyingly the bundles are not listed on the main "OSR extravaganza" page. However a search for bundles turned up the following:

Planescape Megabundle (2e) [BUNDLE]

Planescape Megabundle (2e) [BUNDLE]

Date Added: 2017-05-24
This special bundle product contains the following titles. Dungeon Master Guide, Revised (2e) Regular price: $9.99 Bundle price: $1.87 Format: Watermarked PDF Here is the essential manual for the AD&D game Dungeon Master. All the information you need to create and run thrilling, swords-and-sorcery adventures is clearly laid...   [click here for more]

AD&D Core Megabundle (1e) [BUNDLE]

AD&D Core Megabundle (1e) [BUNDLE]

Date Added: 2017-05-24
This special bundle product contains the following titles. Dungeon Masters Guide (1e) Regular price: $9.99 Bundle price: $1.99 Format: Watermarked PDF The 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide is Back! Dungeon Masters everywhere, rejoice! Too long have you had to suffer along with crucial charts and tables spread through many works....   [click here for more]

Known World Megabundle (BECMI) [BUNDLE]

Known World Megabundle (BECMI) [BUNDLE]

Date Added: 2017-05-24
This special bundle product contains the following titles. D&D Rules Cyclopedia (Basic) Regular price: $9.99 Bundle price: $1.76 Format: Watermarked PDF Whether you're a player or a Dungeon Master, the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia is now the comprehensive sourcebook you need for the original fantasy roleplaying game!...   [click here for more]

The OSR(IC) Extravaganza [BUNDLE]

The OSR(IC) Extravaganza [BUNDLE]

Date Added: 2017-05-24
This special bundle product contains the following titles. Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of SolitudeRegular price: $7.00 Bundle price: $1.37 Format: PDF Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude is an OSRIC(TM) m

Fortunately for me I own the original books offered in the AD&D megabundle and most of the Planescape as well so I didn't go for those bundles. I only have four of the known world gazetteers and this bundle is priced at the cost of one hard copy of a less popular one if you could find it, so I was happy to pick it up. The Rules Cyclopedia included in it is one of the better written versions of D&D so picking up the .pdf may help, although I already have the hardback book (still can't get onboard with race as class though). I also bought the OSR(IC) Extravaganza as I have found most of the Advanced Adventures I have purchased well done and the only one I own in this bundle is the "Frozen Wave of Satsuma".

This next bundle also showed up with a deep discount in my search. However it appears to be for memorial day rather than the "OSR extravaganza" so if you are interested act fast. I do not know much about this publisher.
Shattered 2017 Mega A  [BUNDLE]

Shattered 2017 Mega A [BUNDLE]

Date Added: 2017-05-26
This special bundle product contains the following titles. Belly of Rot The Whispers of the Dark Mother continue! The party tracks the cult of Shub-Niggurath's activities to the capital city of Brynndell, but what they find is not what they believed they were l... CC 1: The Fester Lion's Den 5E Introducing Casual Confrontations! This product is for game masters who would like to use...   [click here fo


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Into the City of the Frog

The continuing adventures of my Tuesday night game.

The collector show the party his gemstone gate in the basement. Using the gemstone gate the party teleports to a location the collector assures them is near the City of the Frogs where the last remaining artifact, the sphere, is hidden. After stepping through they enter a 20x20 room with no obvious exits, and lament the fact that no asked the collector for the correct gem stone combination to return to his lair. A quick search reveals a secret door to the north. The door opens into an ancient frog man tomb (please note my frogmen are much closer to the eldritch las pistol wielding slann  of  old warhammer fantasy, than the obnoxious but not very powerful bullywugs of D&D). After defeating the mummy within they solve a devious puzzle to open a secret trap door in the two step pyramid. This of lead to five foot hall ending in another secret door which entered into 30 wide vaulted tunnel associated with the great underground road. There was also a drow hit squad waiting for them. Clever use by the Druid of a wall of ice from the staff of cold he borrowed from she-who-must-be-obeyed (she-who-must-be-obeyed is on break until we find another Tuesday sitter) cut down the range advantage and the fighter made short work of the assassins in melee. Following the road north lead to its end in a pair of double doors.

Opening the double doors leads to a six chamber room complex with no apparent further exits until umber hulks Kool-Aid man through the walls (or maybe its Kool-Aid man umber hulks through the walls, umber hulks have been a D&D staple since 1976, I was bit surprised some of my players has not seen this before). Its pretty touch and go (the tank kept staring into those googly umber hulk eyes) until the sound of a flute is heard in the distance and one of the two umber hulks wanders off. They dispatch the remaining umber hulk,and begin to follow a trail of broken walls left by the umber hulk which wandered. They cross a long corridor only to hear the bwang of a ballista being fired leading them to hurry across before it reloads. After following the broken walls parallel to the long corridor, they catch up with the umber hulk and a small blue kobold with a flute who have just  broken through the wall to attack the frog man ballista crew, A wild three way melee ensues. However, while the melee between the party the frog men and the umber hulk continues, the kobold slips past to the double doors and the end of the long corridor that the ballista crew guards. The kobold sets up a tripod holding a small red gem, picks the lock on the double doors and slps into the chamber beyond.
More later....
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