Whew. Been sick as a dog for going on two weeks now. It’s been unpleasant. Finally, here is the last part of my ruminations on the new, 5th Edition Player’s Handbook.
PART THREE: Magic!
As I mentioned in my other posts, I’m a huge fan of what I’m seeing from 5e. I’ve also alluded to the fact that some of my favorite changes are in the way magic works. I finally get to talk about why.
Do I need anything else to the title of this post?
I’ve just had the chance to complete my first read through of the Starter Set box contents and the free D&D 5e PDF – which you should take a moment to download and read if you love RPGs and haven’t done so yet. Let’s not call what follows a review… let’s call it an exploration of my perceptions as I move through the material. I’m mainly going to focus on the Starter Set and occasionally reference the more complete PDF rules.
A disclaimer: I did not follow the playtest very closely. I kept it at the edge of my awareness but I did not play any games with rules, etc. I mention this only to say the new material was very new to me and not tempered by the playtest experience. Also, what follows is my own meandering ruminations and should be considered in that light…
The Short Version
If you just want the really short version… I like it. I enjoyed reading it and think that some of what has been done here is amazing, some of it is derivative, and some is “meh.” But overall, I really like what I’m seeing so far.
Let me be clear. What follows are not reviews – they are my opinions about two fairly recent games (one more recent than the other) and my impressions of them. These are both games I followed the news and previews for and ended up checking out. Here’s where I stand… on Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars and Shadowrun, 5th Edition.
This was my first year attending RavenCon in Richmond, VA. I’m definitely going back. Two days removed from the con weekend and I’m still buzzing about the experience. Pretty much a fantastic three days from beginning to end.
It’s always a bit of a worry heading to a new con for the first time. I’m not the most social person with strangers – so there’s that – but it’s also just an environment where, you know, there are good cons and there are bad cons. RavenCon is a great con (at least, 2013 was a great con).
When we arrived we were surprised to find that we didn’t have to compete for parking. The con has a great hotel space with huge parking lots. Nothing is more frustrating than starting a con weekend with an hour of looking for a parking spot. I work on a college campus – I get enough of that during the week. We sat in on a very heartfelt opening ceremonies shortly after we got in and were pretty much put at ease. I was impressed with the con staff and the hotel staff right away and listening to them speak at the opening ceremonies, I knew I was at a con that was run by people who loved their con – but also by people who seemed to understand running a con.
My first two stops after the opening ceremonies – the vendor room and the gaming space. The gaming space had a great layout with a busy table full of people playing pickup games right inside the door which was charming. There was plenty of room to move around and set up. I ran into the fine gents who run Battletech at Marscon and they had a game going on and an open invitation to join them on Saturday – which I gladly accepted. The Vendor room did not disappoint either. Even though most of the vendors were familiar to me from other cons, there were some different faces and the space was well-used to make the flow less cramped than many other con vending rooms I’ve hit. (Maybe I seem over-impressed by this… but it is always frustrating being in a vendor room where you constantly feel like you are in the way of everyone else). We were so giddy we spent way too much money.
I scored a great prize on Friday night, finding a copy of D&D Clue. This has been on my “wish I had list” for a long time… so I was stoked.
Also, I may have forgotten to mention this but… this con has a competition running all weekend for “Best Room Party.” Having attended a few room parties at cons before I was skeptical – but it seems that the concept of publicizing them and adding elements of theme really opens the floor. The party my friends and I went to on Saturday night was welcoming, lots of nice people, low-key in a good way. I heard a rumor (just a rumor, now) that the Klingon party on the 5th floor got a little rowdy… but hey – Klingons.
Whoa, I’m at 500 words and I haven’t even made it past Friday yet.
Let’s see… Jonah Knight and Mikey Mason, awesome. I have no way to explain how much I enjoyed Mikey doing a spontaneous cover of Jonah Knight’s King of Nebraska – which is pretty much the greatest song ever.
Bella Morte concert at midnight, yep, awesome.
Every panel I went to felt worth the time, yes and awesome. (again, maybe I’m over-impressed here but I want to give a serious word of thanks to the moderators of the panels. They were well-chosen and overall the best moderated panels I have ever seen at a con. I can’t say enough good things about the way RavenCon 2013 was run.)
Now – downside. They really struggled with their art show and actually cancelled the art auction due to lack of bidding. For some people this might not have mattered but I love the art shows at cons and especially the art auctions. Their charity auction was so much fun it more than made up for it – but I’d love to know if this is a recurring problem area for them. If it is, call me… (seriously).
That said, the art auction is the only downside I can mention to what was, overall, one of my best con experiences. If you are anywhere near Richmond in April – look up RavenCon, you won’t regret it.
Thanks for reading – and I hope to see you at RavenCon!
I thought I’d save anyone who didn’t want to read a negative review the trouble and just put it all in the title. Full disclosure – I’m not really sure how you can have “spoilers” on a story as old as The Hobbit but I’ll just say – there might be information below that might upset someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet… so you’ve been warned.
Additional disclaimer… in Peter Jackson’s previous trips to Middle Earth he’s 1/3 with me. I loved Fellowship but hated Two Towers and Return of the King.
My wife didn’t like the movie much either. She disliked different things than I did – but the more I think about her point of view, the more I actually agree with her and think many of my problems with the film are rooted in the problem she critiqued. She said she felt like the movie didn’t have an identity. That it didn’t really know if it wanted to be “super-heroic fantasy” or “slightly comedic fantasy” or something entirely different — with the result being that it all crept in and eventually became something of a wash.
The more I consider this point, the more I agree with it and think she’s dead on.
For myself… well… I could list the number of things I actually did like with one finger. Gollum. The portrayal of Gollum was pretty much the only redeeming quality of Return of the King (the movie) for me and it was the one part of The Hobbit that I actually found myself warming to and loving.
Everything else was wasted film in my opinion.
Well, that overstates the case a little. I very nearly loved Thorin’s character and thought the portrayal was spot on until that final, ridiculous showdown with the completely pointless super-goblin “from his past.” Why, exactly was that albino monstrosity with the stupid prosthetic necessary? How, exactly, did his presence enhance the story of The Hobbit?
Right – actually, scratch that, because that’s the other really important point to mention. Despite all assumptions to the contrary — you know, it’s in the title — the “Hobbit,” Bilbo Baggins is actually not the main character in this story. Thorin seems to – in fact – be the main character in this movie. Bilbo was second fiddle – and a distant second fiddle at that. As the movie went on and that realization sunk in I became more and more disappointed with the film.
I’m not one of those that holds to the “it’s a children’s book” theory. I think the Hobbit is an excellent tale for all ages with layers of meaning that you glean as you read it in new ways across your life (that sounds way more overblown than I mean it to — I’m making the point that “UP” or the story of Thanksgiving mean different things at different points in your life too — so does the Hobbit. I really hope that was even a little clear.). The point is, The Hobbit is this fancy little story with a little bit of whimsy, a little bit of longing, a fantastic adventure, a few monsters, a plucky hero in over his head, and a few wild moments of just fun. The Hobbit film I saw this weekend was not that story. It was a strangely disjointed movie with some stilted performances, a rampaging horde of pointless cameos (I mean really, why were C3P0 and R2-D2 in the prequels?), that replaced whimsy and wild fun with ridiculous overblown action sequences that had all the charm of a rabid squirrel, and a pretty strong sense of well, I’m Peter-freaking-Jackson so I’mma do it my way even if my way bears only a passing resemblance to the heart and soul of the story I’m making a movie of.
Also, I’m not a fan of all the “stuff” they packed into the film. Why did we need the opening sequence with Frodo? That could easily have been collapsed into “Bilbo sits down to write…” “fade to Sixty Years Earlier” and shaved about 10 minutes off the running time that really only existed because PJ wanted to put a little more of Fellowship back in a different movie. Why did we need the council seen or the ridiculous fight between Radagast and a ghost? Why did we need “epic battle scenes of epic dwarves fighting epic goblins in epic battle?” Seriously – you could have shaved a good hour off of this film, kept everything essential, and been in great shape. Especially because that would have allowed you to spend all that money you spent on those scenes plucking up the scenes you had left…
Which was another problem. For a movie that really should have had nearly a blank check for a budget, the special effects left a lot to be desired. Most of the time when live action and CG were mixing it was painfully obvious and looked surprisingly cheap. Some of the character animations were ridiculous in the way they stood out from their surroundings, and even the Great Eagles looked kinda lame. I could go on an on about the special effects – but honestly, they aren’t really that important to me. Radagast and his Rabbits were so absurd and pointless that I really don’t care that the CG sucked… I didn’t even want to watch the scene anymore. The bad CG just made an already bad thing worse.
So many things wrong. So few things right.
I could rant about the absolutely mind-boggling stupidity of the stone giant fight. I could gripe for days about the fact that the Great Eagles should be more than just big birds. I could try to figure out what the heck PJ was thinking with that awful final fight scene with Bilbo tackling a goblin… there’s a lot to gripe about… But it’s all really sort of pointless… what’s done is done and the Hobbit is now a movie and we can’t “take it back.”
Let’s just leave it at… The Hobbit: I didn’t like it much…
Shadowrun is a longtime favorite of mine. And one of my first experiences with Shadowrun was playing a con-scenario back in the day. I’m pretty sure it was a living Seattle game but I can’t swear to that – it’s just a recollection. I became aware of Catalyst’s current set of convention scenarios – Missions – during the second “Season” of the Missions campaigns. I ran quite a few of the scenarios from that season and they were quite often very clever, very well made little runs. The Denver setting was something kinda different and I must admit – I really enjoyed the change of pace from Seattle… I have a soft spot for Denver in the shadows and really, it’s always a boon when you have an excuse to put Warren Zevon on your campaign soundtrack…
I skipped season three. I’m not really into the New York experience and didn’t really see myself running games there – but recently, I’ve been working my way through Season 4 and I have to say, these are the best single-session, meant-for-a-con, one-shots I’ve ever read. The missions scenarios are always well-written, straightforward without being simple, offer a little something for everyone on the team – no matter how that team is made up, and really seem to be made by people who really love Shadowrun.
What makes these so interesting is that they’re always constructed with the GM in mind. These are the first “con-games” I’ve ever read that leave me feeling like they’ve got the GM’s back instead of hanging him out to dry. And they don’t just work as con games. That’s really the beauty of them. You could pretty much take any one of these scenarios, plug it into a game night when you had (honestly) 20 minutes to prepare and you have everything you need. They always are careful to provide page references in the books, full stat blocks for even incidental encounters, optional ideas for each scene if it goes too well or too poorly for the PCs, and a clear-cut set of consequences for the aftermath of the story.
And with Season 4 they’ve really taken the next step. The production values are high, the stories and NPCs are well-done, and even if you don’t use them as written, the sheer amount of valuable “stuff!” in each one is worth the $3.95. In case you can’t tell, I’m a big fan.
Gaming and the people who do it disappoint me sometimes. I can be critical. I can forget how much fun all of this is at times. But sometimes, even in the most unlikely places (really, pre-written, con-style, one-shots?) you can find evidence of how many awesome things gaming can still offer. If you are a Shadowrun GM and you haven’t checked these out – they’re worth the time. If you are ever thinking about being a Shadowrun GM and you want a very well-written, simple scenario to get your players hooked – go check these out – they’re what you’re looking for. Oh, and like all good addictions – the first one’s free…
And with a final charge, the knights of Chaos crushed the weaklings of the Empire, burning the shrines of Sigmar and Shallya – and turning their many eyes south, toward greater glory… greater destruction.
Okay, I know the game has been out for a while already… but I hadn’t really gotten into it. I have a love/hate relationship with Warhammer. I love the world but I hate the wargame. I love the 2nd Edition of the RPG but hate the current 3rd edition (my first entry on this blog was – in fact – about how horrible 3rd edition is). So, it’s a mixed bag. And card games that are supposed to be war-games are always a little iffy as well. I rarely find myself falling in love with them.
But in the last few years there have been several I’ve really enjoyed – going all the way back to Anachronism. Lately, I’ve also gotten into Summoner Wars – which is a simple game – but a ton of fun. So, I’d started itching to try out Warhammer: Invasion – but I didn’t know what I’d get.
It. Was. Awesome.
(I’m tempted to quit there. The rest is just window dressing.)
The game is a two player battle game with each side representing a faction, defending their capital, going on quests, and attacking their opponent. At the same time there is an element of needing to build up your capital, use support cards, etc. The balance of the factors worked really well – and the game had much more depth of experience than I expected it to from reading the rules.
To give you a sense – here’s a little window into my first game. I played Chaos. I was playing vs. Empire. In the beginning I went all out for resource-building (used to buy stuff in game) and neglected drawing cards or building up my capital. I had one of my three capital zones burning by like, turn 3. (The point of the game is to reduce 2 out of 3 of your opponent’s capital zones to a burning ruin). To recover I had to go on the defensive and start putting units and other items into areas where they were less useful for attack and gave me some flexibility. And when my early resource-gathering started to finally pay off (I had several middle turns where I had a ton of resources and nothing to spend them on!) and I brought some might Chaos Knights into play – well – I still struggled to close out the game because the Empire had played so balanced throughout that it was able to reduce my damage, keep a decent number of units in the field, and play lots of useful support cards.
Chaos did triumph in the end – but barely – and the Empire had a real chance to close it out if things had gone just a little differently. Overall, from that first game on I’ve just been gushing about how much fun I had. I haven’t been this excited about a new game since the first time I played Battletech as a teenager. It was that much fun.
From a rules perspective – the mechanics are very simple, with a few twists you can discover as you play. The battle-system learns a lot from CCGs without feeling like one (order of operations is very clearly spelled out during the battle turn, which is very nice). Some of the wording of the rulebook seems confused at first glance, but we discovered that if you actually play it as written there is little ambiguity… the only problem comes in if you start trying to “interpret” what the designer might have meant… which is almost always a mistake in games. I still have a nagging question or two, and the “draft play” advanced option is more trouble than it’s worth, but it doesn’t detract from the core play experience in any way.
The game felt like Warhammer, has beautiful cards, is not “fiddly,” and can be mentally challenging. But really, I can’t say enough good things about this game. If you get the chance to try it, you should — I need more people to play with!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this trip to the world of Warhammer… I did.
The Pathfinder Advanced Race Guide is a fine looking book. I really shouldn’t be surprised, Paizo really does know how to put out a great looking, functional, well laid-out product. If nothing else I can say that Pathfinder books are probably some of my favorite gaming books just to sit and flip through. When I first brought this one home I gave it a day or two where I just picked it up and perused it a few times before diving in and reading. Is that weird? I don’t know, you tell me.
Seriously though, I’m also not really a fan of “splat” books. I find that player-focused crunch content is one of my least favorite trends in gaming. That said, another compliment I can give to Paizo is that in the five years that Pathfinder has been on the market they have kept the number of “in-house” splat books to a minimum. I’m not counting all the 3rd party stuff. So, another point for Paizo.
But what about the Advanced Race Guide?
Well, the book is pretty much as advertised. I’d best describe it as a one-stop shop for all the playable PC races so far introduced in Golarian. And it works very well in that regard. The information covers the basics but also hits lots of new points as well and brings interesting twists to the races. The book is divided into four sections — with the first three sections covering the Core Races, the Featured races, and the Uncommon races. The core races are the standard PHB fare – humans, elves, dwarves, etc. The featured races move on to such races as Aasimar, Catfolk, Drow — that kind of stuff. The Uncommon races are all over the place, Changelings, Kitsune, Merfolk – and even weirder stuff. Not only does this division work well to differentiate the races for players and DMs in a game system sense but it also serves to set a bar for how far into the weirdness factor players can go. I’ll admit that flipping through the book I love the idea of just handing it to players and saying, “Go nuts.” I am a fan of weird races and the mix here is well balanced and interesting. I can’t really tell you how much I want to play a Vishkanya.
The fourth section is where the book goes a little flat though. The fourth section of the book is a “race creation” system. Unfortunately, it is riddled with strange design choices and poor math. The value of certain choices you can select for your custom race just boggle the mind sometimes compared to another choice. Race abilities are separated into three categories: Standard, Advanced, and Monstrous. Sometimes it’s very confusing why certain abilities are in their assigned categories. Probably the least useful part of this section though is the fact that — for the most part — the abilities are only those already found on an existing race. Instead of a set of tools it’s actually just a set of lists. This could have been so much more.
Overall, I really like this book and I think it represents a lot of what can be good about splats without ever being too much. The race creation system is a disappointment but doesn’t detract from the other excellent parts of the Advanced Race Guide.
Agree? Disagree? Have a comment about my weirdness? Let me know. And thanks for reading.
I like diceless games. I don’t like dice deciding my fate. I’ve said that many times. I’ve written about it on this blog. And while I do – in honest fact – love diceless play, I think I’m a liar when I say that I don’t like dice deciding my fate.
Because I love the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. And not only does it use a serious profusion of other weird dice beyond the standard D&D set (really, why in the world do you need a D5?) it also uses charts and rolling for practically everything. Holy Rot Grubs it uses a lot of randomness. And my intense reaction of joy at the DCC RPG (after reading the PDF I went out a bought a copy of the collector’s edition from my FLGS) really surprised me. What is it about DCC that amazes me so?
Well, first of all, as I’ve written many times before, I like my games dangerous. Maybe DCC is a little more dangerous than even I am used to, but I really like my games dangerous. I like Warhammer Fantasy 2E, I like Shadowrun, I like Battletech where nearly every hit has a 1-in-36 chance of taking out the head and ending your ‘Mech.
I also like dangerous magic. I really appreciate a game where magic is not a “super-power” but a terrifying force you just might be in control of, if you’re lucky enough and tough enough and willing enough. Maybe. That just really works for me. I can’t really explain it, all I can say is that it just triggers something in my brain that makes sense. Heck, the whole time I was reading DCC I just kept thinking about Thieves’ World and the wildness of magic in that setting. (And seriously, if you like playing games where magic is more like super-powers, more power to you, nothing at all wrong with that.)
I think DCC says it well early on, the tone of the book really encapsulated something for me in an early part of the reading… from DCC page 20:
Some role playing games codify “game balance” in an abundance of character options. The DCC RPG takes an anachronistic approach to this concept by pursuing an even playing field through randomization rather than complexity.
And the thing is, this randomness doesn’t necessarily produce evenness but it does produce unique results and it balances the game in a very strange way… that instead of being able to cherry-pick abilities to suit mechanical advantage, players are forced (in a manner of speaking) to differentiate themselves from each other in other ways.
While I’m speaking of the language of the book, it also bears mentioning that I love the tone and language of the writing. This is a game that challenges the reader — not by being complex or hard to learn (it’s darn easy and it uses examples and sample ideas really well) — but in other ways. The discussion of unique monsters is one great example, the way divine magic works is another. I’ll freely admit that I struggle with reading a lot of modern games, not because they are hard to read (or even poorly written) but simply because I find myself bored.
And there is one other thing… and maybe I’ll get myself in trouble here but I’ll take a shot. I got into a heated moment with a friend the other night (we apologized and made up, no worries) because he was ragging on my last Pathfinder game because I played a little more hardcore. There was some talk that “if he ran a campaign” there would be save points and do-overs, and potions flowing like rivers… Well, to be honest, we fought because I’m a jerk sometimes, but not most of the time (can you tell I feel badly about it?)… back to the potion rivers, right…
Anyway, the point is, that I realized how much I don’t like a game that uses dice but honestly, they’re basically a formality. In 3.5 and 4E it was quite possible to cherry-pick, min-max, OP, or whatever nice word you want to use for it, in such a way that you and your party were unstoppable. And in games built around encounter budgets and challenge ratings, it sets up an expectation in the minds of (some) players that it’s actually meant to be that way. And again, I’m a jerk. I get it, there’s no such thing as BadWrongFun, but that style of play just actually does not make sense to me. Why would I want a flat challenge curve, little uncertainty about encounters, and the distinct feeling that if I screw it up there are no lasting consequences? The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t want those things.
Luckily for me, DCC RPG is the perfect remedy. I highly recommend DCC, I highly recommend it just for its read-value even if you never play it. It’s a great book.
So my first year as a PhD student is finally winding down and I’ve just been hired for a new job… changes and excitement have kept me away from writing this week — hopefully next week will be back to normal. I had a chance to try out Castles and Crusades (C&C) last weekend and I’ve been wanting to write about the experience.
This was a small exercise, just me running a short adventure (and old school D&D adventure) one-shot type of thing. We made characters and did the whole process from scratch. I learned a few things about C&C along the way (though I know there is much more to learn). This is not really a review, just some impressions from my first foray into the system.