Administrative

Changes

You might have noticed a few changes around here in the last day or so. I’ve rolled out a new look and I think that I’m mostly finished tinkering with it, though I’m sure there’ll be some little changes here and there as time goes on. There’s a new About the Author page up, actually giving some details about who I am as well as – and this is the main attraction – a couple pictures of my dog.

I’ve scrubbed the old Blogroll, since most of the content I was linking to is either no longer being updated (thus I’m not really reading it), or is just gone entirely. In its place I’ve put up a more generic “Stuff I Follow” list of things I check out. Blogs, podcasts, webcomics – whatever I’m following, like the title says.

I also dropped the list of Dark Sun-specific links because this page has kind of outgrown that. A little. Well, maybe not – I’m still planning to gush about Dark Sun as time permits. But, honestly, if you’re here for Dark Sun stuff? You probably already know about athas.org – but if you don’t? Go to athas.org.

Anyone else remember this thing?
Anyone else remember this thing?

I’ll be launching two new series of articles, with a third one planned (that I’m not quite ready to talk about just yet). Well, launching one new series, and re-launching one old series to be more accurate. On the new front, I’m getting ready to start my first 5th Edition campaign, so I think I’ll be writing about that. I’m not at all sure how its going to work, but there’s enough interesting stuff going on there that I’m sure I won’t have much trouble finding something to write about. As far as the old series? I’m going to be doing a new World Workshop, as I create a new setting for that campaign to take place in. A warning for mapping enthusiasts – I probably won’t be doing another in-depth Photoshop tutorial this time around. Just not enough time. You’ll have to hit up the Cartographer’s Guild for your fix.

Oh! And Shameless Plugs are probably also gonna get some love, on days I feel like blogging but don’t really feel like thinking.

So that’s it for changes, at least as far I can think of. I’m sure there’ll be more coming down the pipe one of these days.

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Administrative

From the Ashes!

Is anyone still following this thing? Anyone? The spambots aren’t even trying to breach the gates these days, so I imagine the answer to that is a solid no.

Which, to be honest? Is fair. It has been just shy of 1,240 days since my last update. Which is a bloody long time for anyone to pay attention to anything without any signs of life.

The RPG world has gone on without me piping up to make comments no one asked for, which ought to surprise absolutely no one. Last I posted 4th Edition was in full swing – well now 5th Edition has come out, and it’s phenomenal. I’m getting ready to run my first 5e game in the coming weeks. But there’s more than just that:

  • Monte Cook’s Numenera has blown my mind, both with its streamlined and simplistic core mechanic and its innovative way of incorporating DM fuckery (which they call a “GM intrusion”) into the system.
  • Related to that, the team behind the best CRPG of all time – Planescape: Torment – kickedstarted a “spiritual sequel” called Torment: Tides of Numenera. I am a backer, and am crazy excited about this game. Every screen shot and update makes me practical jump in place.
  • I discovered the Dark Souls series, which I absolutely love. I spent a long time trying to explain to some of my newer players why I wanted to run a darker, grittier, more challenging game – and failing to make them understand why I thought hard = fun. Now I wish I’d just gotten them to play this.
  • Darkest Dungeon came out, which is just phenomenal. Basically, a Dark Souls-esque philosophy brought to the adventuring party dungeon crawl. With lots of Lovecraft thrown in for awesomeness and madness! This also led me to Torchbearer the tabletop system the game is based on. Both are fantastic. (Edit: I apparently got this wrong; these games are similar in theme but otherwise not related to one another.)
  • And the 2nd Edition of the new World of Darkness has started launching. Vampire the Requiem 2e and Werewolf the Forsaken 2e are both out, with others (such as Mage, Promethean, and Changeling) coming out in the future. I haven’t finished Werewolf (it just came out), but my impression is the same as of Vampire: mostly impressed, a few minor gripes. I’ll do a post or two about these sometime in the future.

I have no idea how often I’ll be posting. That’s on the short-list of things I need to think about, and you can expect my next post – whenever it drops – to touch on that.

D&D4E

Reskinning Shadowfell: Sir Keegan

As I said last time, I got started on my current D&D campaign by running Keep on the Shadowfell – the first official 4th Edition D&D adventure released by Wizards of the Coast. They’ve since released a PDF version for free, which makes commenting on the changes I’ve made super-easy as you all can follow along if you’re so inclined. Today we’ll be looking at pages 42-43, Area 8: Sir Keegan’s Tomb. My own rewritten version can be found here.

A detailed examination – and spoilers – after the jump. Continue reading

D&D4E, Dark Sun, Nerdstalgia

At the intersection of Nostalgia Avenue and Kickass Lane, Part I

As I’ve previously mentioned, I created this blog mostly to nerd out with brother-from-a-different-mother Glen. It offered me the opportunity to educate him on the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which he’d not yet had a chance to look at, and also gush about the return of my favorite setting. In the throes of great gush-itude, I made a number of predictions and guesses about what would be happening. Some were right, some were wrong, but there’s one I feel like hit the nail right on the head:

Make no mistake about it – there is going to be plenty for you to hate in DS4E, if you’re the sort of person inclined to hate it. When the original Dark Sun material comes into conflict with the game’s need to keep all individual elements in balance with one another? The developers aren’t going to trash game balance – they’re going to change shit about the setting. I for one am fine with that. Dark Sun, as it was originally, was a 2nd Edition product – DS4E will be a 4th Edition product. They won’t be the same – because you can’t drop 2nd Edition philosophy into 4th Edition rules, and expect it to work. It won’t.

Now that wasn’t exactly a tough prediction to make – you’ll hate it if you’re inclined to hate it – but I think it was pretty apt because things are different. They have to be, for it to work. Baker & co. had to choose between a properly balanced game product that played a little fast and loose with the setting in a few places, or an unbalanced game product that adhered to the setting canon perfectly but brought with it all the baggage of 2nd Edition. I may miss the quadruped thri-kreen, but I’ll never accuse them of getting their priorities wrong because they got them exactly right. To anyone still riding the hate-horse because things have changed, I say this: if you loved 2nd Ed. Dark Sun so much, who is stopping you from playing it?

Alright, enough of that, let’s really dig our teeth into the book here. I’ll be reviewing the Dark Sun Campaign Setting book exclusively here – maybe later I’ll dig into the Creature Catalog.

The Dark Sun Campaign Setting is a 222-page hardcover book that retails for $39.95 USD. As you’d expect from a Wizards of the Coast publication, the production values are excellent and the artwork is full-color and beautiful. I’ve got a few minor art gripes, only one of which I’ll mention below when I go voer chapter two, but with the rare exception every piece is nicely done and evocative of the setting. You can really get a feel for how this world is different and how its people are different from the typical, Tolkien-based fantasy setting.

Also in the package is a two-sided poster map, one side showing you the Tyr Region and the other providing you with an in-depth map of the city-state of Tyr itself. I like the poster map very much (it’s beautifully drawn) but have two problems with it – one genuine and one nit-picky. The genuine problem is that, at some point Wizards began including their poster maps by folding them down to fit inside the book and then binding them into the cover. The one portion of the map that is bound into the book’s spine is perforate so you can just easily tear it out, and then unfold your poster map to be useful. Maybe it’s just me, but I fucking loathe this method because on a spine of this length I find it extremely difficult to get the perforation to tear straight and always wind up taking tiny chunks of paper out of my otherwise beautiful and glossy poster map. I remember when I had a subscription to Dragon Magazine (the dead-tree, Paizo publication, not the current digital magazine) and every month it came with a post battlemap – which was also inside the magazine, attached by a tiny glue strip that was easy to remove without damaging either the magazine or the map. Whether the perforation method is being pursued for cost reasons or some other reason, I can’t really tell you but I hate it.

My nit-picky problem is that I’m fucking sick and tired of god damned Tyr. Jesus Christ, did the Tyrian Chamber of Commerce pay you fuckers off to constantly advertise how great it is? For five novels and three iterations of the campaign setting, it’s Tyr, Tyr, Tyr, Tyr, Tyr and I’m sick of it. Making it worse is that a map of every city-state is inside the book, at the same quality as the Tyrian map (the Tyrian map is also inside the book if you want to look at your poster map and strain your eyes at the same time). I’d have ordered my book through their website, and even paid a few extra dollars beyond the shipping, if I could have gotten any psoter map I wanted (say, ummmm, Balic). Anyways, it’s a minor point, but it’s just sort of pissing me off. Alright, on to the book itself.

Chapter One: The World of Athas gets the ball rolling nicely with a twelve page summary of Athasian society, culture, and how it differs from typical settings. While It never goes into too much detail, it neatly covers the lack of divine characters, a quick list of the world’s dangers, the social classes of the cities, literacy, coinage, languages, the Athasian calendar, a little bit of its history, the prevalence of psionics and the shunning of magic, the differences from the standard cosmology (in a nutshell the Feywild is being torn apart as a side effect fo defiling, and if you even manage to get the the Astral Sea – the typical home of the gods – you’ll find it an empty, desolate ghost-town of a plane). It amnages to do this is twelve pages, and I feel provides ample information for a complete novice to truly get a feel for what they’re embarking upon.

The only gripe I have with this section is it omits something when discussing the calendar. They mention, briefly, how years are named in two parts and mention the current year (Priest’s Defiance), previously year (Desert’s Slumber) and the upcoming year (Wind’s Reverence). They also mention that it is presently the 190th King’s Age – but they leave you completely ignorant of A) how long a King’s Age is or B) how to figure out the name of any year other than the three named ones. I own the old products, so I’m fine, but for the space it would have taken up I think it would have been worth including. Other than this, however, this section is fantastic and does a lot to help encourage those new to Dark Sun – and soothe we old hands, showing us the Athas we love and remember is still there.

Chapter Two: Races of Athas kicks things off by providing us with two Dark Sun-specific races – the mul and the thri-kreen. Muls pretty much shape up as I expected, with a few abilities I didn’t anticipate – specifically Born of Two Races, which lets them take either dwarf or human feats (and which I should have predicted) and Mul Vitality which gives them an extra healing surge. Also, the previously mentioned condition resistance appears in the form of Incredible Toughness, an encounter power that shrugs off a dazed, slowed, stunned, or weakened condition. Thri-kreen, meanwhile, I knew a lot less about in advance but seem to conform to my expectations. They get a +2 to Athletics and Nature, as I expected, and they get a boost to jumping which makes sense. I’m sure lots of people will be unhappy with the new thri-kreen, but I happen to like threm – and they get a lot of the old stuff (incredible spring attacks, paralyzing bite) in the thri-kreen paragon path anyways.

After the introduction of these two new races, the rest get a brief treatment. All of the Player’s Handbook 1 races, plus the Goliath, get discussed over seven pages. With the exception of the character backgrounds, there’s no mechanics here – this is strictly a discussion about how the various races function, socially and culturally, in the very different world of Dark Sun. I mentioned an art gripe with this chapter, and this is where I find it. I love the artwork here, my only problem is that there isn’t enough of it. Specifically, as each races is radically different from its “traditional fantasy setting” counterpart, why isn’t a picture of each race included to show you what they look like? Of the three missing races, most egregious is the absence of the eladrin and the tiefling as both were non-existant during the original Dark Sun product run – more than any other races, they ought to be depicted in this section. Other than that minor gripe, however, I think these chapter does a good job catching everyone up on what it’s like to be a resident of Athas and how the various races are different from their counterparts.

Lastly we get three paragon paths – the half-giant thug, the mul battle slave, and the thri-kreen predator. All of them are cool, and nicely fit both the setting and the race, and I can see playing as any one of them. I’d have liked to see more paragon paths – they obviously felt they had to include a paragon path for each new race, and added one more as they’d radically changed the “flavor” of the Goliath – but I also recognize that there are space constraints.

At the time of writing it’s been seven days since my last update – and in that previous update, I said I was going to be updating more frequently (technically every seven days is more frequent than every nine!), so I think I’m going to do this review in two or three parts. I’ve been busy this past week as, at long last, I prepare to get my Dark Sun campaign underway. I’ll be talking about my campaign, my sessions, and my players (who are dedicated to driving me insane) soon.

D&D4E, Dark Sun

Getting back in the swing of things

So a little more than a week ago I tossed up a two paragraph post letting you all know I hadn’t died on my journey, and that I’d resume posting shortly. Apparently “shortly,” in Brian-speak, translates to “nine days.”

Before I move on to anything else, I want to throw out a major thank you to Glen, who managed to update my blog while also updating his own, and who moved an even farther distance not that long before I did. That there are still people coming here to read what’s being posted is something I credit entirely to him, and I’ve had a blast reading his posts – especially the one about Lorakin (who, as I recall, I eventually started locking in a box because he was driving me nuts). It is my fondest hope that in the future, when Glen’s nerd-dial finds itself turned back up to 10, he’ll remember this place fondly and come by to pay us a visit – regaling us with the occasional tale or point of view. Critical-Hits this place is not, but if he wants to blog about D&D and Dark Sun, he’ll always be free to borrow my soapbox.

Secondly, a couple of administrative announcements. First of all, I do intend to start blogging regularly again now that I’ve driven cross-country, flown the last leg of the journey, arrived at the home of my friends, and all-around begun to settle in. That said, I am also on the job hunt as well as preparing to resume my studies in September, so my goal is to update two-three times weekly. I will also be doing some work on the blog itself – we’re long overdue for some “About the Blog/Author/etc.” pages, and I plan on looking into options for sprucing the place up with custom CSS and design so it doesn’t look like every other WordPress-hosted rpg blog out there. But that’s in the future.

Thirdly and lastly, as I mentioned in my all-too-brief last post, I picked up the Dark Sun Campaign Setting shortly after returning to civilization. Since then, I’ve actually had time to sit down and read the thing and I intend to kick things off with a fairly in-depth look at things. Where I was right, where I was wrong, and what I think of the thing as a whole. In short, though? I liked it. A lot. Enough that I’ve gone out and procured copies of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, the Desert of Athas Dungeon Tiles, and the introductory adventure Marauders of the Dune Sea. So, you know, I’m clearly a fan. I’m also tossing out my earlier stated plans, and have decided that my party of rookies will be cutting their teeth on chitin armor and obsidian spears. What this means for the World Workshop I’ll address sometime next week, I expect.

All in all, I’m feeling good, happy to be home, and looking forward to getting my nose back to the old blog grindstone. See you next time.

Nerdstalgia

Dungeon Master, Thy Name is Douche

This is another one of those “wow, it sucks when the DM is a douchebag” stories. This time, however, the douchebag in question is me.

Seems only fair, doesn’t it? Last time I ripped into Glen. This time, I put myself on the bit.

My only excuse for this behavior is that A) I was seventeen years old and B) the guy sort of had it coming.

I was in the twelfth grade at the time. Glen had moved to Nova Scotia with his mother. Chris and I were still hanging out, but he and I didn’t do much roleplaying (except in the summers, when Glen came back to visit his Dad) for whatever reason. I spent a lot of time hanging out with my local rpg shop crowd, as I’ve already mentioned.

At some point, I got convinced to run a D&D game for a bunch of these people. J&B Books (the aforementioned gaming shop) ran a weekly “gaming night,” so it worked out perfectly. Except, you know, none of those people were really my friends – in the same way that 99% of the people I used to work with weren’t my friends, just people I had one thing in common with. I wound up running a game with a party of six or seven people, which is a few heads more than my preferred group size (these days it takes a lot for me to even entertain the idea of running a game for more than four players). The group composition was all over the place two – with a couple players younger than me, a couple my own age, and one who was more than twice my age. That guy was Scott, and he’s the guy who “had it coming.”

At least, I think his name was Scott. There were three guys in that group of people that I can’t really separate anymore – they were all in their mid-to-late forties, they all had 20+ years of D&D experience, and they all thought they knew better than me (and everyone else, for that matter). One was named Scott, another was named Dave, and I don’t remember the other one’s name. One of them wound up in this game I ran, and I don’t know which. I’ll call him Scott just to keep things simple.

The problem with Scott was that he knew better than everyone. You’d have thought it was Gary Gygax sitting across from you at the table, from they way he talked down to everyone (not trying to start a debate on whether Gygax was a saint or a jerk, just saying that Scott had a very high opinion of his “expertise”) – and it really was everyone. He bullied other players, both in-character and out-of-character. He rules lawyer-ed with me, constantly arguing most of my rulings and pushing for his own way. I have no one to blame but myself, really – at our very first session, I set the tone that allowed him to get away with all that crap by letting him play one of his existing characters.

Let that be a lesson to all your rookie DMs out there – bullshit at the game table only breeds more bullshit, and it’s your job to stamp it out with ruthless efficiency. No matter where you play, the game table is your table. Never forget that. (Yes, the sacrosanct Grand Poobah-ness of the Dungeon Master is not a universally recognized truth. I’ll discuss my feelings on it some other time.)

So, Scott was driving me nuts. Nuts. And I wasn’t the only one – literally every other player at the table had a beef with him. Every single one of them approached me, privately, at one point or another complaining about his treatment of the rest of the party. About how they weren’t having fun when Scott was telling them how to correctly play their own character (one of my favorite dumbass aphorisms to come out  of Scott’s mouth was: “if your paladin lives past 10th level, then you aren’t playing him correctly”). About how it wasn’t fun when the game bogged down because Scott had to make a point about something.

The solution I came up with seemed elegant and appropriate, at the time. I took every player (except Scott, of course) aside, reminded them that Scott treated them poorly in-character as well as out, informed them that every other player in the party felt the same way, and then pointed out the incredible opportunities afforded by the 3rd Edition flanking rules, and sent them on their way.

The next session, the party “et tu, Brute?”-ed Scott. By which I mean they caught him off-guard and stabbed him to death, just as Marcus Brutus & co. once did to Julius Caesar. Then I got in on the action, informing Scott that he I was booting his ass out of the group, right around the time the party was hacking his limbs off and burying them in different places.

Let me be clear – I wish I’d dealt with the matter better. I handled it very poorly. I doubt taking Scott aside and trying to talk to him would have done much good, but I still should have made the effort. Instead, I decided to get in on the action and make myself feel good. I wasn’t a very confidant DM yet, and Scott was the old gamer who felt it was his personal role to take a shit on all the people like me who didn’t think the way he did.

So, in summary, I’m not proud of what I did, but I don’t feel that bad either. Without a doubt, however, I certainly acted like a douchebag.