I picked up my copy of Curse of Strahd today and while I’m looking forward to it (a friend intends to run it soon) I have to say that I’m hoping it is better than the other 5E adventures released so far.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but the adventures released so far – the two Dragon Queen adventures, Princes of the Apocalypse, and Out of the Abyss – are… Not great. The Dragon Queen adventures had their moments but those moments were bogged down by some interesting editing choices and poor organization.
Princes of the Apocalypse – which our group recently ended our game with – was a mess. The adventure was a decent homage to its inspirational material but playing through it felt disjointed, slow, and awkward in its execution. There is this wide open map to play in but really, only a few areas actually mattered and the ‘side plots’ were worse than distractions. The adventures were designed with the appearance of a sandbox but really aren’t. The DM has to work hard to make sure that the players don’t wander into the wrong area and effectively end the campaign with a TPK. And no matter what else happens, the players are basically left wandering around with no ability to put the pieces together. It was infuriating.
Out of the Abyss is another adventure built on fancy rails that wants to pretend it’s an Underdark sandbox. When I first started reading this one I was stunned. The adventure directs the group to a village of crazy fish people that are worshiping demons and basically set the party up by having Demogorgon rise out of a lake and destroy a town like a tentacled Godzilla and saying, “hey, that’s enough to get the party interested, right?”
Yep, a party of characters that have only recently wandered into this town after being slaves to the drow and then wandering around the Underdark lost and potentially starving for what might be days or weeks. But yep, we’ll get right on that fighting Demogorgon thing… Or, we’ll run like hell and get to the surface as fast as possible and forget we ever saw Demogorgon. That seems like a better plan.
I’m still hopeful that Curse of Strahd will be better. I’m not reading it until after we’ve had a chance to try to play it but so far, D&D 5e adventures haven’t impressed me, which is too bad because I really like the game.
Had a great time at Mysticon this weekend. I will admit a little worry heading off to the con this time. The hotel has had significant parking issues and has seemed very crowded in the last few years. This year, with George R.R. Martin as the guest of honor, I was concerned what might happen with lines and parking and other such logistics.
Give the con staff their due. They staffed very well, had excellent management of their event, and handled lines as cleanly as it is ever possible to. Great work! The obvious amount of work the staff put into preparation for this weekend is appreciated.
Friday, we got in later than we intended so we decided to have a low-key night, just play some card games we brought along and get an early night to have a great Saturday. We learned that our initial forays into Star Wars: Empire vs. Rebellion had soured us on the game but that we clearly must have been doing something wrong, as this time it not only went much smoother but we enjoyed it. Of course, Jenny beat me – like a lot.
Saturday was great fun. I got in a game of X-Wing. I don’t normally play X-Wing, preferring D&D Attack Wing but I got to talking with the guy running the demos and jumped in for a game. Ran into some people we met last year, talked for a while about another new con in Virginia that seems like it will be fun, and joined a group playing Fantasy Age (a great game) for some roleplaying. The GM was fun and did a great job managing his time-slot. We also got in several games of Splendor. A very fun, very simple game to learn with shades of some other games I love. Will be playing that one a lot more. Capped Saturday night off with three musical guests (Ships in the Night, Valentine Wolfe, and Bella Morte).
I want to point out something of a personal pet peeve and give solid credit. I have a love/hate relationship with auctions at Cons. I love the whole white elephant/charity/art auction vibe and the often amazing stuff that shows up in these events. At the same time, the auctions are often slow-paced, have too many asides, and drag. I’ll say this. The person running Mysticon’s auction this year was great. She kept the pace up, kept moving through items, had the runners and the recorders well organized and gave the auctioneers/MCs enough room to have some fun but still keeping the event moving. Great work and very appreciated by this con-goer.
Sunday was another slow day for us as we wanted to get back home at a reasonable time. We didn’t win any of the art we bid on (probably for the best…) and we managed to control ourselves in the Dealers’ Room so… that’s a win.
Overall, another enjoyable event and a good weekend. If I wasn’t so tired at work yesterday, I’d worry that I didn’t have enough fun.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Octavia Butler. She had this to say about writing,
Writing is one of the few professions in which you can psychoanalyse yourself, get rid of hostilities and frustrations in public, and get paid for it.
If only we were all so capable of simple wisdom. I did not read Octavia Butler when I was growing up and discovering science fiction and fantasy. I came to reading her a little later, when I had some experience with the genre, when I thought I understood it.
She taught me new things. Butler’s writing is powerful, straightforward, and seemingly unsubtle. She does not play games with her readers, she doesn’t obfuscate what she wants to convey. Her writing trusts the reader to apply their own cognitive powers. At the same time, she is careful that her reader remains oriented in the time and space of her words and won’t get lost because of careless details or forgotten words.
I have a huge and savage conscience that won’t let me get away with things.
When you read Butler’s writing, it feels like this quote is painfully true. She doesn’t shy away from the dark parts. She doesn’t pretend that humans are utopian creatures destined to succeed. Quite the opposite, in fact. But she never lets herself, or the reader, give in to that darkness completely. There is always a reason to strive, and always a good even in the bad things. It is this combination of plain-spoken awareness of the human condition, and a hopefulness that we would always try even in the face of the worst of ourselves, that fascinates and pulls. Reading the Xenogenesis trilogy recently, I was drawn again into her ability to fully realize powerfully drawn characters with sparse description and no waste in words. Butler says what she needs to say and moves on to the next thing. But she takes you with her, never leaves you behind.
There are few writers, in my own experience, who do as much with as little as Butler can. She jumps through time, introduces alien species, starts in the middle of the story, and creates incredibly complex relationships. And she does it all effortlessly, so that you follow and return and never feel alone in the story. She often wrote that persistence and habit were greater than inspiration as a writer. She worked mindless jobs that gave her the mental space to write and create while sustaining her person. This comes through in her writing, this drive and persistence, this will to create.
“Who am I? I am a forty-seven-year-old writer who can remember being a ten-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer. I am also comfortably asocial—a hermit…. A pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”
She writes of being a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist… and her novels certainly touch on those topics. Identity is inescapable in her work. As a white male who grew up in the United States, I see the struggles she identifies, but I don’t know them. But she brings her reader into those struggles in an intimate way, always teaching in the best way possible, by letting the reader draw their own conclusions in a sea of possibility. As a writer, she still embodies “show, don’t tell.” It’s certainly sad that she did not live to be an eighty-year-old writer. I would have delighted to read her words now, to hear what she might say to us in the political climate we live in today.
Science fiction and fantasy are struggling with issues of inclusion and diversity. Octavia Butler won all the accolades. She was a paragon of great writing who was respected by her peers and lauded in public with the many awards that speculative fiction has to offer. This is not to downplay the struggles of any other writer but rather to celebrate that great writing which is rewarded from whomever it originates. I like to think – without pretending to know her mind – that Butler would not appreciate the culture we have created in our “geek” communities at present. She was never fond of hierarchies or “peck-order bullying.”
Her focus on the ways that humans change – and can be changed by outsiders – coupled with a respect for the survivor, are windows opened often in speculative fiction but rarely with the honesty that she brings to these stories. I’ve been struggling throughout writing this to find the word that would sum up her writing for me. Honest is the best tribute I can give. Her work is painfully, poignantly honest.
I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.
We should all aspire to what Octavia Butler has to teach us. Perseverance, the power of habit, honesty about who we are and how we got there. Her voice is sadly missed for what she might have still had to say to us. This piece certainly does not do justice to all that I could say about the gift her writing gives to me. But on this, the tenth anniversary of her death, it was the very least I could do to remember.
Carnivals are terrifying, right? Something Wicked This Way Comes, is all about the dark things that carnivals bring to our towns… There are many adventures and sourcebooks for RPGs centered around the dark traveling carnival. Heck, the mighty Inquisitor Eisenhorn even faces one in a story set in the Warhammer 40K universe.
But what if the Carnival wasn’t so scary? Well, that is to say, what if, when you pull back the curtain, instead of being an even more twisted representation – it was something else? What if, when the layers of illusion are stripped away, you find a bunch of seemingly normal folk dealing with all the troubles of being itinerant entertainers in a dangerous world?
I saw a post today which I am pretty sure is the result of someone being “mad as hell” and unwilling to take it anymore. Basically, his problem was that players were not bothering to take responsibility for making or understanding their characters as well as the issues of players not even knowing the rules of the game they were playing.
The unclear part is whether those players were unwilling to do so or just had chosen not to. It’s a small distinction but one that merits some thought when you are confronted with it. If a player is unwilling to take ownership of their stake in the game table, then yeah, they are probably a dick. But if they just haven’t committed to it yet, then maybe that’s something else. Maybe that player just needs some encouragement to get with it. Maybe they don’t understand something and aren’t willing to ask because they are afraid it will make them look stupid. Maybe lots of things. It is also possible they are just a dick.
I’m of two minds about this though. I have a problem that when I go into a game, I’m usually pretty gung-ho. Gaming is my favorite thing to do in the world so I don’t always remember that other gamers might be in it more for the social aspect. I’m likely to jump to the conclusion that someone doesn’t care or isn’t engaged if they aren’t as engaged as I am. It’s something I try to fight against but I frequently fail.
It’s also the case that I usually try to reserve judgment for a few sessions. I mean, it’s possible – especially if playing a new system – that a player may just be dabbling and not willing to commit until they’ve seen the system and the group in action for a few sessions. This makes sense. Again, I try to respect this without always succeeding. But I try.
Here’s where I gotta agree with the thought of the original poster though… If you are joining a game, take ownership of your part. You don’t have to memorize all the rules chapter and verse, but take the time to be familiar with the ones that involve your character. If you don’t understand something, please ask. I’d rather you get it and have fun than not get it, suffer in silence, and then quit the game three sessions in.
And even though you may not understand everything in a game, once you are more than 10-12 sessions into a game, it’s time to start thinking about investing a little into the game. Consider getting your own copy of the core rules, make sure you understand the action/interaction systems (like combat, social skills, action structure). This is a minimum commitment that should not be too much to ask once you know that you are playing a game fairly long term.
Most of all though, don’t put your GM or fellow players in a situation where they have to be the jerks because they have to call you out. Don’t be lazy. Yes, it’s a game. But it’s also a time commitment, a social engagement, and something that everyone is agreeing to do in lieu of literally everything else they could be doing with that time. So be in the moment, take some ownership of your engagement, and contribute to the fun.
In other words, don’t be a dick.
SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS!!!!
NO SERIOUSLY, STAY OUT IF YOU AIN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET.
Rey and Finn were excellent. They had good chemistry on screen and they were good Star Wars characters without feeling like exactly the same Star Wars characters. There is no attempt to make Finn ‘cool.’ And it’s fine, he’s awesome just as he is. Rey is great. She’s capable, likeable, and heroic but human. She doesn’t have the instant – I’ll throw myself into danger for a pretty girl moment that Luke has. Even with the death of his family, Luke is still very much an innocent when he goes off to adventure in A New Hope… Rey isn’t. And Rey is a little scared of the Force, despite her powerful gifts. And she gives in to the Dark Side just a little there at the end. Which was perfect.
I really like Kylo Ren. He was the character I was most worried about going into the new movies. How can we have another big-ass scary dude in a black outfit and mask and not have it seem stupid? But I like what they’ve done here. Unlike some, I enjoyed his temper tantrums. Yes, they were childish but that seems to be the point. He’s not in control. He’s chosen the Dark Side (and I do hope we get a little more explanation of how he reached that decision) but he’s not in control, he’s not an old man secure in his power and resigned to his fate… he’s young and foolish. He’s living up to a legacy that he clearly doesn’t understand and clearly doesn’t know how to handle. He’s powerful but raw. He is the Dark Side acolyte we all wanted Anakin to be.
Poe Damaron is also a great addition to the SW Universe. He and Finn had solid on-screen chemistry and he’s charismatic and unafraid. Cool. We’ll see more of him in the next two movies, I’m sure, so we’ll see how well they keep him going.
All I’m going to say about Han and Leia is this… I liked their weary separation. I liked when Han says that they both went back to the only things they’d ever been good at. I like who Leia is now. I was prepared for this by the Expanded Universe because they did the “tragedy drives them apart for a while” storyline and it worked there too. It’s okay.
Things that disappoint? There are a couple. Was I disappointed with Captain Pharasma being a bit part? Not really. We only cared that she was a bit part because of who the actor is under the mask and because we thought we’d get more based on advertising showing us her fancy armor.
I was disappointed that the (New) Republic was basically just standing around with a thumb up its *** while the Resistance stood up against what seems like a pretty terrifying gang of terrorists. The First Order is a clear and present danger dressing itself in the trappings of an Empire defeated within the lifetime of the characters. The wreckage of the war still litters the planets we see this movie take place over. But Leia’s not leading the Republic – or even involved – she’s out working as a “rebel leader.” This may be explained more in the future but really, so far, it was a struggle for me to square this with the few details we have.
And on the subject of inaction… my biggest disappointment is Luke. While I was expecting that he’d be the object of this first movie’s action (the search for Luke Skywalker), I needed a better reason for him to be moping off on the edge of the galaxy in isolation than… “my student went all evil so I runned and hided.” Does he believe that the Jedi are actually a mistake and that maybe the galaxy is better off without them? I could believe that, but then he should send Rey packing and tell her he’s not coming back. Luke is one of the few, genuine, not at all “Iron Age” heroes out there. He’s a lot like Superman, earnest, hardworking, knowing that his power doesn’t make him better – it requires him to be better. I’m too much in love with the vision of Luke that is presented by the EU but I feel that way because it was presented so well. Luke is a character that grew from being a “I can’t do it, you ask the impossible” to, “I have to do it, because I can.” We saw it in Return of the Jedi… and now, it’s gone. I guess I’m just saying that I’ll need a lot of explanation for why Luke just bailed on everyone and everything for like, the last 5 years or so (because in the vision, Ren is grown up when he turns on Luke’s new Jedi).
Overall, I had a lot of fun and it felt like Star Wars again. The new cast gives me hope that as the universe becomes theirs, they will make it a great place. But it had some disappointments for me too, and I hope that Episodes 8 and 9 overcome those. The good news is, I feel like – in many ways – they will.
…is a little Thunder Rift.
First, let me say that I have truly enjoyed Wizards of the Coast putting the back catalog of D&D products on sale as PDFs. Being able to browse through and own all of those old modules in a nice digital format has been a lovely stroll down memory lane. It even inspired me to try my hand at running Keep on the Borderlands again after all these years (decades).
But after an initial surge where we saw a huge amount of D&D stuff posted, suddenly, the shift has been almost entirely to the 4E era. The 4E Dragon and Dungeon were disasters – and I am of that opinion despite initially playing the heck out of 4E – which are probably easy to republish since they were digital-only to begin with.
Where’s the 90s D&D? The Black Box re-release of OD&D that came out around the time of the Rules Cyclopedia and the awesome boxed campaigns that came out of that time with goblins, and undead fighters, and dragon lairs were tons of fun.
Most of all though, I want Thunder Rift back. I owned all the Thunder Rift products (save one adventure) and have run two campaigns set in a (scaled up) version of the Rift that remain some of my fondest memories of that time in gaming. There were other adventures from that era as well, Eye of Traldar, Arena of Thyatis. Now, I was running a lot more AD&D 2nd edition those days, but I used these D&D products all the time and often preferred them to the adventures being released for 2e.
So, Wizards, all I want is a little 90s OD&D love. As much as I enjoyed your 4th Edition era release of Gamma World… if you want to make me a happy little guy this holiday season, bring back the Rift.
I’m having a problem with the Star Wars Rebels show. It’s an odd problem, but it has to do with the way violence is portrayed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against violence in “kid’s” shows. Far from it. I don’t see the point in isolating children from violence when they have the luxury of exploring it in a safe space so they are better able to deal with it when they encounter it in real life.
I also know that there is a whole “Wonder how Luke feels about murdering all the janitors on the Death Star” thing that some people like to preach about. That’s bullshit, and all I’m going say about it for now. There is also the fact that the series to precede Rebels – The Clone Wars – was a very dark and violent show portraying an awful war and its effects on so many lives. The Clone Wars was exceptional and done with a keen eye toward the massive scale of the violent conflict engulfing the galaxy.
What I’ve noticed about the violence in Rebels is that it is often thoughtless. Rebels is a simpler show than The Clone Wars, and that often shows in the writing. Rebels more often neatly ties up loose ends throughout the 22 minute episode and tries to steer clear of some of the truly dark moments of The Clone Wars. This is fine – but also what makes what I’m noticing so jarring.
In episode six – Blood Sisters – this often unsettled feeling was brought home for me in a scene which I am certain (though perhaps wrong) was meant for comedy. During the episode, Sabine and Chopper are on their own, trying to get a droid carrying important intel back to the Rebels. All well and good. They have to leave Ezra behind in a dangerous situation (problematic for me but actually understandable considering Ezra’s constant attempts to impress Sabine – she obviously trusts him to save himself). Sabine and Chopper are facing an opponent in the form of one of Sabine’s old friends – who is now a Black Sun bounty hunter.
This is where the episode upset me. Sabine and Chopper commandeer a vessel – a hyperspace shuttle of sorts, with a built in droid captain. Over its protests Sabine has Chopper “shut down” the Captain and take over the ship. They run. A fight ensues. Imperial entanglements happen.
Now Sabine, who has left Ezra behind, realizes that Chopper has been captured by her nemesis. She goes back for him, because Chopper is a friend and a valued member of the crew. But a short while later, in order save herself, she has Chopper turn the droid Captain of the shuttle back on, and overwhelms it with information about what has happened since it was shut down, and convinces it to initiate “emergency protocols” in an attempt to mask her own escape. Essentially, she sacrifices this droid knowingly and willingly by setting up a situation where the Imperials will destroy it with (seemingly) no remorse whatsoever. The plaintive “Where am I?” of the Captain resonated with me long after the episode was over.
Sabine clearly respects droids as more than just “servants.” She considers Chopper an independent personality capable of emotions. He’s worth rescuing, worth jeopardizing her mission to go back for. But a stranger, she kidnaps, traumatizes, and sacrifices with no second thought. Consider if this shuttle had a pilot of one of the recognizable species of Star Wars – a human or Sullustan – would Sabine, or the show-writers, have been willing to commit the same sacrifice?
This seems like a small thing. I’m sure it does. But again, it is not the act of violence itself that upsets me. It’s the un-examined, throw-away nature of the action in context. It is the clear horror and sadness on the part of the droid Captain and his death that, to me, make me not like Sabine very much. Even though this was clearly an episode meant to highlight her growth.
I have noticed other instances of this casual disregard for violence and deception in the series which disturbed me but this episode crystallized that feeling. The Clone Wars was a dark show with difficult themes about war and sacrifice. But those decisions often came with consequences and were placed into a context where you felt the emotional impact of those decisions along with the characters. Rebels may have less violence but it is much more casual and unconcerned about that violence.
And to my point about loose ends getting tied up… end of episode, there is Ezra, right as rain and still vaguely fascinated by Sabine in his adolescent way. Not even a question about leaving him behind – because of course he’s fine.
My adventures in the Commonwealth proceed apace.
It is rare that I am completely absorbed by a videogame. I came rather late to enjoying this form of game and it takes something that fits me very well to generate obsession. Oblivion did it, Mass Effect did it, but even though I have enjoyed other games… no obsession.
I am completely in love with Fallout 4. I had a week off of work and I’m pretty sure that I only saw the sun because I had to leave the house once or twice, you know, for necessities.
My wife has just started her third character. I’m playing my third character. I took the first to level 20’ish and the second into the mid 30’s. The new guy is level 8. I’ve played the game intensely. I love the settlement building aspects, I love the NPCs, and I enjoy the heck out of the ability to choose just how involved with the main quest you care to be because there are literally 1.83 billion other choices for how to live your life in this Wasteland.
So far, I’ve been only working with the Minutemen and the Railroad. Mostly the Minutemen. But I intend another play through dedicated to doing the Brotherhood of Steel thing. Really looking forward to that.
The settlement building aspect has enthralled me completely. Though I’m still getting the hang of constructing interesting buildings, and my first two plays involved some epic fails with setting up my supply lines in an efficient manner, I just can’t get enough of building settlements, attracting new people, giving them new clothes (and new guns), and putting them to the great work of reclaiming the Commonwealth.
One problem I’ve encountered was Provisioners. The folks who run your supply lines. Once you’ve assigned them it is nearly impossible to keep track of them because they are always on the road and don’t really have any way to mark their point of origin or destination.
My solution to this problem was based in thinking like a role-player. Here’s what I do. For each provisioner, right before I assign them a route, I go to the Weapon Workbench and I rename a gun with their route – for example, Sunshine to Starlight – and then I present that gun to the Provision as a trust that they will carry out this vital duty to our coalition of settlements. Now, when I encounter them anywhere I can simply ask to trade and see, right in their inventory, their engraved gun with their route clearly marked.
It’s silly, but the life of the mind roleplaying that I can use to “make my own fun” in a game like Fallout 4 really does make an already great game better. By solving a problem with a roleplaying solution, using the existing tools of the game, I have given myself an added layer of fun and fixed my issue.
If you haven’t tried it out yet, I highly recommend Fallout 4. It offers many layers of interesting game play and different ways to experience the game whether you want to be a community leader, a warrior, a nice-guy, or just about whatever. I have found, that with my first character I was seriously just all over the place with what I was doing and how. My second character was so regimented that I didn’t actually take the time to really enjoy them. With this third character I’m finding the middle ground. I have a plan for what I want to accomplish and what I want to experience but I’m also just taking what the game throws at me.
Fallout 4 has a few flaws. Like Oblivion, Skyrim, and other Bethesda games, the Main Quest is seemingly less important or interesting that many of the other options the game offers (and has a very odd storyline problem that I won’t discuss because spoilers). It also has a few hiccups and bugs that Jenny and I are discovering on the PS4 version (I’m a console guy – what can I say) but these have been extremely minor so far and haven’t hurt our game experience.
So yeah, if you were seduced by Star Wars Battlefront or Tomb Raider and didn’t get to the Commonwealth yet, put on your Pip Boy and come join me, I probably even built a bed for you.
I am not the biggest fan of the Forgotten Realms and effectively ignored whatever was happening in the setting throughout 3rd edition and 4th edition. This book also snuck up on me because it was out before I’d even really read much about it or realized it was on the way. I didn’t even know that Green Ronin had a hand in developing it. But I’m a big fan of 5th Edition D&D and I gladly picked this book up despite the mixed reviews I’d been seeing for it. So here’ my attempt to add a positive review, with a few minor gripes.
As someone who hasn’t read FR fluff since the 1990’s, this was actually pretty fun to read. It was just enough information about the area and its changes to make me feel comfortable in the Princes of the Apocalypse game I’m currently playing in by introducing me to the Realms, 2015-style. I can’t say much more than that as I am not a Forgotten Realms expert. I found the writing to be decent, enjoyable, and concise enough that I didn’t get bored.
One gripe. The maps are terrible. My biggest pet peeve, something that drives me crazy in many fantasy supplements… why would you ever take the time to produce attractive and professional maps of your setting and then not add a distance scale? There is no excuse for this. How far is it from adventure site A to town B? I have no idea! Useful.
I am a big fan of the design and layout of the 5th edition rule books. The hardcover adventures are not well organized at all but the rule books are nicely done. This book does not continue that layout tradition quite as well as the core rulebooks, but it’s alright. I struggled with identifying different headers and the breaks in sections sometimes in a meaningful way, but not so much as to make the book a struggle to read.
Overall, I found the class material offered (and the fact that they didn’t feel compelled to offer new shinies to every class just because) to be well balanced and interesting. There are quite a few new class options – mainly centered around the idea of the Archetypes classes separate into at early levels. The new Arcana domain for clerics is just plain neat. The new monk options are cool, and the FR-specific content is handled very well because it is written with the idea in mind that players and DMs may want to use this mechanical material in their own home games, not just the Forgotten Realms. This is much appreciated and doesn’t really cost much word count.
The section of new backgrounds was very fun reading, I’ve wanted a few more options over what the PHB has to offer and these are all interesting and adaptable. The new spells on offer are welcome, though the lack of new cleric spells of any sort continues to be frustrating.
Nothing in this book seems likely to break a game, requiring using any options you aren’t comfortable with (feats, for example), and provides new PC options while not changing any fundamental tenants of 5E design.
I know this is a mighty short review, but overall, I’d give the SCAG a solid B+. This would have been an A if the maps had distances on them… at all.