[Review] Kobold Quarterly 16

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, pathfinder, review, rpg by Jerall on 4 February 2011

Between each issue of KQ, it seems as if the kobolds take additional ranks in Craft (Awesome), because with each magazine, they just get better and better. Kobold Quarterly 16 (the winter 2011 issue) is filled with much gaming goodness, including a healthy mix of interviews, Pathfinder RPG (including two mini adventures), Dungeons and Dragons 4e and system neutral articles. As always, I’ll focus on the items that most interested me:

Written for both 4e and PFRPG, Ecology of the Gearforged, introduces a new player race, the gearforged. Before reading, I had a few doubts about this article: would the gearforged just be an updated version (or knock off of the warforged); how would Open Design jam in the mechanics for two systems into one article? After reading, however, I am pleased to report that none of my doubts were warranted. The gearforged, show a few similarities with the warforged (they’re constructs, initially built for combat), but the unique clockwork flavour of Zobeck makes for a unique origin story and equally flavourful mechanics. When next I get a chance to sit on the player’s side of the screen, I will be sorely tempted to play a gearforged character. There is also, however, still a bit more to this particular article: it proves that Open Design and KQ can blend two systems together in one article, almost seamlessly, which is particularly relevant for Wolfgang Baur’s latest patronage project: Midgard. Midgard is Wolfgang’s home campaign setting and this latest project aims to develop it fully for either (still to be decided, based on patron input) Pathfinder RPG, Dungeons and Dragons 4e, Dragon Age RPG or any combination of the three. I’ve been following the Midgard news for a few weeks now and I’m really excited about this project.

The Clockwork Adept, a new prestige class for Pathfinder RPG arcane casters, sacrifices a little bit of spell casting progression for the abilities to create and control animated objects, clockworks and constructs. The class introduces new and interesting mechanics, including rules for Craft (Clockworks) and Knowledge (Clockworks). I thought that the new craft rules were particularly good, taking aspects of Handle Animal and training and applying it to constructs – ingenious! Furthermore, the prestige class is based on the Pathfinder principle of providing thematically-linked, but mechanically different options (like rogue talents or barbarian rage powers), allowing players to customise their adepts to suit their unique play styles.

The Curse of the Blue Titchyboo, is a fun mini urban investigative adventure that takes place around a tengu school. It’s no secret that I’m a fan on Tengu and I’ll be running this for my group in the very near future. Combining this adventure with KQ 14’s Ecology of the Tengu article should make for a fun session as PCs get a chance to interact with the Tengu young. The art (especially the cartography) and theme of the adventure just screams fun.

And finally, the article that’s probably most relevant to me now is the PFRPG compatible Magic Items of Golarian. 12 of last year’s Paizo’s RPG Superstar top 32 wondrous items have been fine tuned and presented alongside some great art. I can only hope that my own my item gets the same treatment in a future edition of KQ.

- Jerall

My reviews of earlier issues of KQ can be found here: 15 and 14.

[Review] Kobold Quarterly 15

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, pathfinder, review, rpg by Jerall on 10 November 2010

The kobolds have done it again, delivering another great magazine: Kobold Quarterly 15, the Autumn 2010 issue. KQ 15 is filled with all manner of role playing goodness, with a healthy mix of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, Pathfinder RPG and system neutral articles. Some of the issue highlights include:

I love the Advanced Player’s Guide, but I found that the druid class variants presented, though probably required, were rather bland compared to the core druid and the variants for the other 10 core classes. Nature’s Orders, by Ryan Costello, introduces three new class variants for the Pathfinder druid. Costello’s variants are what I wanted from the APG – options that excite druid players and inspire creative builds.

The Bestial Druid, gives up spellcasting for enhanced wild shape and natural weapon options. Giving up spells might be rather harsh, but I’m a fan of fang and claw builds and was able to come up with more than one build for a surprisingly effective combat brute.

The Godai Druid focuses on elemental spells, much like the 3.5 Shugenja, giving up spell versatility for elemental mastery. I’ve always liked the 3.5 Shugenja and look forward to bringing some of that flavour into a future Pathfinder game.

The Purist Druid blurs the line between good-aligned clerics and druids. The Purist gives up the ability to spontaneously cast summon nature’s ally and wild shape to gain some cleric abilities. I think that this allows for a more accurate mechanical representation of a nature-focused priest(ess) than a cleric with the animal or plant domains.

Pits of Despair, by Andrew Hind, takes a fresh look at the classic pit trap. The article includes 12 new pit traps, each providing a unique challenge for PCs. Each of the trap entries got the dungeon-building part of my mind ticking over, since many of the pits can be used to help define a dungeon ecology, environment or theme. Hind also provides a few tips for modifying pits slightly to help arouse player curiousity (and paranoia), which can even be used to lure  magpie PCs into the pit.

My favourite article, Going Vertical: Side-View Dungeons takes a look at the classic top-down battlemap from a new angle. Traditionally, running a combat in 3 dimensions can be tricky, requiring separate maps per floor or a collection of markers and tokens to indicate relative heights. Mario Podeschi provides an interesting methodology for running encounters viewed from the side, rather than from the top. In such encounters, height (or depth) plays a bigger role in decision making and can lead to some dramatic encounters involving death-defying leaps, stalled jet engines or rappeling down a glass skyscraper. Even if you choose not to use side-view encounters, the adventure hooks and encounter ideas presented in the article are brilliant.  I intend to use some of them in the very near future and I’ll be sure to provide an after session report later.

Overall, KQ 15 is a great publication with solid writing and brilliant art. I, for one, welcome our new kobold overlords.

- Jerall

Win a copy of Baldur’s Gate and Tales of the Sword Coast

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, internet, pc game, rpg by Jerall on 29 September 2010

News24 Games and GOG.com are offering a chance to win one of the greatest CRPGs of all time, Baldur’s Gate and its expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast. To enter, all you need to do is let them know what you would like to see added to Dungeons and Dragons* over here. Entries close at midnight (CAT) this Thursday and the winner will be announced on Friday.

Baldur’s Gate is one of my favourite CRPGs of all time (I must remember to post my top 10 CRPGs of all time sometime) and served as one of the gateway games that dragged me into tabletop role playing. Strangely, I’ve never played BG as a non-good character (this is why I must win this competition).

Let’s hope they have a Planescape: Torment giveaway next week!

- Jerall

*The competition didn’t really define Dungeons and Dragons – isn’t it understood differently between different individuals? It’s interesting to see how some of the other entrants interpret the concept and craft their entries. This, however, is a conversation for another post and another day.

Secretary Day Special

Posted in ogl, pathfinder, rpg, south africa by Jerall on 1 September 2010

Today, the 1st of September, is Secretary Day. Every year, on this date, South Africans recognise and show their appreciation for our secretaries.

Spell Keeper (General)

Your organisational skills are well-suited for supporting spell-casters.

Prerequisite: Intelligence 13+.

Benefit: You can retrieve a stored alchemical item, potion, rod, scroll, spell component or wand as a swift action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity.

If you assist a character in preparing her spells for the day, you halve the preperation time. You may assist a number of characters, including yourself, equal to your intelligence modifier. Spontaneous spell-casters cannot benefit from this.

Little Black Book (General)

You have a knack for remembering names, faces and facts.

Prerequisite: Knowledge (Nobility) or Knowledge (Local) 1 rank, Charisma 13+.

Benefit: You receive a +2 bonus to knowledge checks used to identify important individuals. If you take 5 minutes to prepare an individual, which may be yourself, for a meeting with an acquaintance you have already met, the individual receives a +2 bonus to all bluff, diplomacy and intimidate checks against that acquaintance. You may simultaneously prepare a number of individuals for a meeting equal to your intelligence bonus (minimum 1).

Dark Secret (General)

You tend to notice carelessly placed documents, overhear conversations or otherwise learn things about others that they would prefer to keep secret.

Prerequisite: Knowledge (Nobility) or Knowledge (Local) 10 ranks, Little Black Book.

Benefit: You receive a +2 bonus to saves against all effects that try to extract information from you, including drugs, spells and torture. The Little Black Book bonuses for preparing for a meeting are doubled.

- Jerall

[Report: Cape Town] Dragonfire 22

Posted in 40k, board game, cape town, card game, rpg, south africa, war game by Jerall on 25 August 2010

I was fortunate enough to attend the 22nd Annual Dragonfire convention, South Africa’s oldest and the Western Cape’s biggest gaming convention. The convention is held every August at the University of Cape Town and is hosted by the Cape Legion of Adventurers and Wargamers (CLAWs). This year’s event took place over the National Women’s Day long weekend (6 – 9 August).

This was the first time I attended a convention as a role player (previously, I’ve only gone as a M:tG player, judge or TO) and was accompanied by my wife and blog co-author, C (her first convention), and friend and blog co-author, H (Stelcon veteran).

The Good:

We only managed to play in two modules: Norwegian Wood, a Call of Cthulhu module written by Brent Benadé, and Memories of Stone, a 4e adventure written by Dave Muller.

Norwegian Wood: This was the first time C and I played Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG. Previously, we’ve only experimented with Lovecraft-themed adventures or system forks, like d20 Modern’s Call of Cthulhu. I enjoyed the module and found that the pregenerated characters had rich backgrounds and interesting relationships (the PCs included a family (mom, dad, older brother, younger sister and brother’s best friend) on a camping trip). I played the brother and C played the sister. The couple that played our parents really got into their roles and really made the game fun for the rest of us. Dave Muller ran our table and made our first experience with Chaosium’s ruleset easily understandable and enjoyable.

The module followed the family’s struggle to survive a night in an ancient Norwegian wood, tangling with the spirits of the land, strange beasts and dark knowledge. Of course, C’s character went insane and got disintegrated.

Why does my character have such a low starting sanity score?

Memories of Stone: An investigation-heavy module, with a strong Dragon Age influence, Memories of Stone proved to be a fun module. The pregenerated characters had interesting interlinked backgrounds that made for some fun banter around the table, with some players oversharing and others (me) keeping their secrets close. The pregenerated characters came from 3 different families and my character was romantically linked to C’s. Last time that happened, my character died protecting C’s. Uh oh.

Our table successfully completed the investigation with minimal bloodshed, much to the disappointment of C’s bloodthirst. Our GM (apologies, didn’t catch his name) sensed the bloodthirst and twisted the end just a little bit so that we finished the session off with a good brawl. And my character only nearly died protecting C’s. Phew.

Oh noes! Christmasthulhu!

I’ll see about getting copies of the modules for Durban.

We also got a chance to meet some more of South Africa’s online RPG/gaming presence, including  Sky Castle Games‘ owner (more on this new FFG importer in another post) and even Noelle Adams‘ GM (typical, we have to travel to Cape Town to meet other gamers from Durban).

I was also impressed with the event apparel and memorabilia available. C purhased a mug (but failed to successfully haggle a bottomless coffee deal in the process) and H bought a t-shirt, complete with tentacles and elder signs. (Sorry, no pics of the T – can somebody supply one?)

Proof of Attendance

The Bad:

Of course, as with all volunteer-organised events, not everything runs that smoothly.  Note, I only attended on the Saturday, so things may have been different on the other days.

Isolated: The convention was held in the Kramer Law building at UCT. The building is quite isolated and, from the outside, one wouldn’t be able to tell if something was happening in the building. I’ve always thought of big public events as the perfect opportunity to grow the hobby, but, as it seemed to me, the Dragonfire organisers were quite happy to keep the event fairly closed. To be honest, I don’t how much intra-university advertising happened, but it didn’t feel as if there was much new blood around.

Between events, there wasn’t much to do – maybe go watch a 40K or V:tES game, but because of the tournament situation, we couldn’t really bother those players.

Disorganised: I know what it’s like to run big events with only a small team and unexpected things will happen, but the RPG events seemed extra disorganised – primarily because of  poor adherence to time constraints (as far as I can tell), with events running late and players disappearing from tables for hours. I don’t think that it would have been so bad if there was more to do on-site (isolated, remember).

The Awesome:

The Cape Town branch of Outer Limits had a stand at the convention, filled with tonnes of con specials. But, as I was to learn, you can still haggle for a lower price, even for an item that already has the con special discount attached. C managed to score a new set of shiny dice at below the con price. Ranks in Knowledge (Consumer Rights) and Perform (Badger Store Attendant) paid off.


However, getting a chance to meet up with old contacts and meet new gamers, from all over South Africa (my gaming network now includes East London!), really made the event for me.

Verdict: Though not without its own set of problems, Dragonfire was still a fun event. Even if South Africa had more convention options available, I would still recommend Cape Town’s Dragonfire.

- Jerall

And I also got to see the old Athlone cooling towers, one last time, before they were brought down this past Sunday.

Ways to Make NPC Archers More Dangerous

Posted in d20, Dungeons and Dragons, rpg by Jerall on 16 July 2010

Inspired by this post, in which the author discusses some problems encountered when trying to make NPC archers more threatening, I’ve drawn up a list of ideas to make NPC archers more dangerous, while also providing some suggestions for rewarding player ingenuity and making such encounters fun for both the GM and players – using the rules as written.

1. Attack from range: A ranged weapon’s strength isn’t necessarily it’s damage output, but rather it’s ability to deal damage from a distance. Try starting encounters with the NPC archers outside of a PCs maximum charge range – even better if the PCs will require more than 1 round to reach the NPC archers. Do not, however, have this type of encounter occur on a flat, boring plain – terrain features are very important. Consider using difficult terrain, hills and slopes, or greased stairs to slow down the PCs (and therefore increase the movement required (almost the same as increasing the distance between PCs and NPC archers)). Also try giving the PCs the options of moving from cover to cover or rewarding the fighter for buying a tower shield and using it to provide cover for the rest of his party.

2. Hit and run: Historically, mounted archers have played a vital role in many military endeavours. Consider the following, taken from the great wiki:

Due to the superior speed of mounted archers, troops under attack from horse archers were unable to respond to the threat if they did not have ranged weapons of their own. Constant harassment would result in casualties, morale drop and disruption of the formation. Any attempts to charge the archers would also slow the entire army down.

Highly mobile NPC archers can provide a very tough challenge for PCs, even if the PCs have the numerical advantage. High mobility is also not only restricted to a high speed or an unusual movement type (fly, burrow, swim, climb), but also include such effects as invisibility. Reward players for investing in their own ranged or reach weapons and terrain altering spells like entangle. Bolas are a great way to bring down a mounted pegasus and caltrops can slow down a worg-mounted goblin.

3. Sucker punches: Eventually a PC will engage one of your NPC archers in melee. Though drawing a weapon doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity, it does take a movement action (or a feat slot for quick draw) and reach weapons or difficult terrain can negate 5-foot steps. Try equipping your NPC archers with melee options that don’t require any actions to ready or necessitate dropping the bow, such as: spiked armour (bonus if the spikes are poisoned), spiked gauntlets, improved unarmed strike, natural attacks for monstrous NPCs and never forget that arrows can be used as improvised weapons. Make the combat grittier by describing the NPCs using spiked knees, elbows, shoulders and helmets on the PCs. Also remember, your NPCs can be strong melee fighters that just happen to start combat with ranged attacks. Imagine a PC’s surprise when the archer turns out to be a more-than-competent grappler.

4. Mix and match: PC groups are almost never homogenous, so why should NPC bands be so? Place your NPC archers behind a wall of shields and spears set against charges. Even better, use your NPC archers as bait, luring melee PCs into ambushes and bottle necks, traps and trip-lines.

- Jerall

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[Wikipedia Event] Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, internet, rpg by Jerall on 5 July 2010

Later today/early tomorrow morning (5th/6th of July – depends on your time zone), the Wikipedia entry for the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module will appear on Wikipedia’s main page. This is a rather special event for DnD and RPG fans and players, because (quoting from the Facebook event page):

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks wasn’t the most popular adventure (also called a “module”) for everyone – “keep your science fiction out of my fantasy!” Some people, however, appreciated the module because Gary Gygax, the adventure’s author and the creator of the D&D game, loved genre-bending and included that sort of thing in the D&D games he played with his friends. Love it or hate it, today the adventure is considered a classic by enthusiasts (and Stephen Colbert, apparently). It was first published 30 years ago, in 1980.

A couple of years ago, D&D articles on Wikipedia were particularly under-fire by “deletionists” – Wikipedia editors who seek to eliminate articles on “non-notable” subjects. Eventually their sweet attentions passed, and we were left with the realization that they were partly right; most of the D&D articles on Wikipedia were in pretty bad shape. So, those of us at WikiProject Dungeons & Dragons began an effort to clean up and improve some of the most important articles related to the game. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was one of them, and in fact that one got improved to the point where it was deemed good enough for “featured article” status. Now, only featured articles can appear as the main page article (called “today’s featured article”), and someone mentioned that the adventure was apparently released in July 1980 – I said to myself “Wouldn’t it be cool to have this one appear on the main page for its 30th anniversary?” Well, I was patient, and when the time came, I nominated it, and here we are!

Gary Gygax’s birthday would be on July 27th, so I figured it would also be a fitting tribute for this article to appear on the main page in the same month as his birthday. In fact, if you have a copy or know someone who does, why not dust it off and give it a run-through sometime this month!

The new TFA is posted daily at Midnight GMT.

- Jerall

Vuvuzela of Blasting

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, pathfinder, rpg, south africa by Jerall on 1 July 2010

When a Horn of Blasting or a Greater Horn of Blasting has been rolled as part of a treasure hoard, roll again on the following table:

01 – 80: The item is a normal (Greater) Horn of Blasting.
81 – 100: The item is a (Greater) Vuvuzela of Blasting. Roll again on the following table.

01 – 25: The Vuvuzela of Blasting functions normally as a Horn of Blasting.
26 – 50: The Vuvuzela of Blasting functions as a Horn of Blasting except that it does not have the chance to explode when used more than once in the same day. Instead, if an individual uses the Vuvuzela more than once in a 24 hour period, she has to make a Fortitude save (DC 14 + 1 per previous use of the Vuvuzela). If the user fails the save, she develops an aortic aneurysm and needs to make another Fortitude save (DC 20) in 2d10 days or die.
51 – 75: The Vuvuzela of Blasting functions as a Horn of Blasting except that it does not have the chance to explode when used more than once in the same day. Instead, any creature within hearing range of the Vuvuzela, when it is used, gains a cumultive +2 morale bonus, for every use of the Vuvuzela, to attack and damage rolls against the user. This bonus lasts for 24 hours after last hearing the user use the Vuvuzela.
76 – 100: The Vuvuzela of Blasting functions as a Horn of Blasting except that it does not have the chance to explode when used more than once in the same day.  Instead, if an individual uses the Vuvuzela more than once in a 24 hour period, she must make a Will save (DC 16 + 1 per previous use of the Vuvuzela). Halflings suffer a -4 penalty to this save. If she fails, she must use the Vuvuzela again at the start of her next turn as a standard action, with the direction chosen randomly. This extra use counts towards the number of uses per day and also requires a Will save. The user can still move normally.

This post inspired by the Girlz ‘n’ Games webcomic by Pfangirl.

- Jerall

[Round-Robin GM] Setting Idea – Misunderstood Cultists

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, gaming lifestyle, pathfinder, rpg by Jerall on 28 June 2010

Towards the end of my time at university, my regular RPG group(s) started to fracture as people graduated and moved away, got jobs (and the related work schedule) or generally just had less free time (or were less willing to skip lectures). To remedy this, we started a round-robin campaign (a game wherein individuals regularly exchange GM responsibilities). The campaign featured a central area – the PC hometown – and each session began and ended in this central area. Each GM ran her session as she saw fit, provided that the entire mission/adventure/mini-quest could be completed within one session of play. Some GMs opted to link a story across multiple episodes, while other GMs ran each session as a self-contained and independant unit. Using this method, we never had to worry about ruining another GM’s story or absent players, extra players and so forth. Of course, there were some drawbacks to this method: devising mechanisms of awarding XP and treasure to the current GM’s  characters, dealing with absent players, defining starting wealth for new characters and difficulty in crafting a long-running story across episodic adventures. Overall, however, I believe that the campaign was a success.

Recently, it has become increasingly harder for my group to maintain a normal game in Durban. So, I’ve started to investigate the possibility of creating another round-robin campaign. I haven’t run this by my group yet, but I’m considering the following as the central location for the game:

In my last post, I mentioned that I was thinking about starting a campaign inspired by X-COM: Terror from the Deep (inspiration for this idea came from my reading of Sunken Empires). I quickly dismissed placing the PCs in the organisation dedicated to fighting the aquatic menace, since it wouldn’t allow  much creative space for the GMs involved. Instead, wouldn’t it be more fun to play as the invaders?

PCs begin the campaign as indoctrinated members of the Cult of the Masters of the Deep (name still to be finalised). The indoctrination, in this case, is non-magical and it does not refer to domination, but it also allows non-evil alignments (though playing a paladin would be a little tricky). The PCs are all of the normal races available to players (no monster PCs). The Masters are currently unable to execute any sort of land-based scheme on their own (that’s where the PCs come in handy). Each session would begin with one of the Masters handing out instructions to the PCs. There are numerous Masters, each with its own agenda (which is probably suitably alien and incomprehensible to the PC’s) – this will allow each GM to create or run their own stable of Masters. I imagine that individual quests would involve anything from placing sleeper agents in positions of power on the land to converting a small fishing village to the true faith to defending the underwater temple from adventurers (and their religious intolerance).

I would imagine that Aboleths would make the perfect Masters, especially since their ability to alter the physiology of the player characters can be seen as a reward. Perhaps a PC’s ultimate goal would be to join the ranks of the immortal Ulat-Kini, beneath the waves with their Masters.

- Jerall

[Review] Sunken Empires

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, ogl, pathfinder, rpg by Jerall on 25 June 2010

Sunken Empires: Treasures and Terrors of the Deep, one of Open Design’s most recent additions to their line of Pathfinder RPG compatible products manages to impress and inspire my inner Deep One.

Terrain plays a vital part in role playing games, influencing everything from mood to the mechanics and tactical choices involved in combat encounters. I’ve always wanted to be involved in a game with a strong aquatic element, but haven’t due to a number of different factors, including, but not restricted to, managing player expectations, providing suitable player options and a good selection of ready-to-use materials for the GM. Sunken Empires manages to address these concerns and more in its 82 pages. I really wasn’t expecting such a complete product and I have to applaud the team behind Sunken Empires for the effort they’ve put into it.

The book begins with a look at real-world sunken cities and their myths. Normally, when I get a new RPG book, I tend to skip sections like this, head straight to the crunch first, only returning to introductory chapters much later. I don’t know if it was the content, writing or both, but this section kept me reading, from start to finish without skipping ahead. To me, this was one of the most valuable sections of the book, since it goes beyond PFRPG-only material – this is something usable regardless of system.

Clown fish familiars included!

The book goes on to discuss new player options – feats, base class variants, such as new rage powers, cleric domains, rogue talents sorcerer bloodlines and wizard specialisations, and a new player character race, the maerean (half-merfolk). The player options are sound and provide a good selection of options. However, I think I would have preferred seeing a section on playing merfolk as PCs rather than a new race. The lack of player character traits didn’t escape my notice either.

The equipment chapters are really good – new mundane adventuring gear, weapons and armour, magical items and lost technology. Since I enjoy MacGyver-type characters, I really appreciated the collection of items available. Several individual magical items really stood out – what’s cooler than a weapon that attracts sharks to your opponents? Weaponised ioun stones! The book also contains a large selection of new spells (one of which weaponises ioun stones). Many of the spells are water-related, but there are also several glyph-related spells (ideal for any lost civilisation game).

Yes, I now want to run this campaign.

The book rounds off with an examination of aquatic environments (hazards, random encounters etc.), GMing tips and a selection of new monsters (including new familiars and a section dedicated to everybody’s favourite underwater villains – aboleths). I like how Sunken Empires takes the effort to make aquatic games accessible to any level of play, discussing expected challenges and solutions.

I really enjoyed Sunken Empires and I’ll probably be referring to it for years to come. I already have plans for my first aquatic session – more on that later.

This review was based on the PDF version.

- Jerall


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