Sunday, 14 September 2014

Review - Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player’s Handbook

Player's HandbookLead Designers: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford
Published by: Wizards of the Coast


One of the difficulties in writing a review of this product is knowing that the game itself has a hugely rich and diverse history. Many tabletop gamers have their favourite edition, they have their most hated edition, they have their favourite parts of certain editions and they have their hopes for future editions. That’s a hell of a mix – one of this game’s many trials is that it’s not enough for Dungeons & Dragons to simply say ‘These are the rules’ when there are a myriad of voices calling ‘But what about our edition, our loves, our preferences?’ Forty years and four editions – not to mention the huge collection of licensed games by other publishers - does that to a game, especially the flagship of the tabletop roleplaying industry.

And, love it or hate it, that’s what Dungeons & Dragons is; the industry flagship. The game may not lead the way in the way that it used to but the brand and the strength of it’s history is undeniable. That’s one of the many things, if not the thing, that makes this new edition important.

I have a very spotty history with Dungeons & Dragons. I broke into the hobby with the Basic D&D BECMI boxsets and then graduated on to AD&D 2nd Edition, which I simply didn’t like and drifted away from. 3rd Edition and 3.5 passed me by and I came back into the brand with 4th Edition, which I enjoyed at first but soon became a little tired of as it felt too much like a skirmish game that was in contention with the ever growing popularity of MMOs. I backtracked to 3.5 and then Pathfinder, which I enjoyed immensely, and then went back to a more basic form of D&D with 13th Age. After my chequered background with D&D and the fact that I had hit gold with two games that satiated my need for complicated D&D rules and streamlined D&D rules, did I really have to return to the core D&D franchise?

Before I continue - yes, I received my copy from Wizards of the Coast and no, I won’t be going into a detailed blow-by-blow account of how this edition differs from the others; this is mainly because that is not how I write my reviews as I’m more interested in how the game makes me feel and what the game does for me as a player, and not what it’s capable of mechanically. Also, comparing this to other editions is pointless as there would be so many points to cover that I’d need more than a couple of thousand words.

THE BOOK

So, I’ll start with the presentation. It’s a hardback 320 page book with full-colour glossy pages with clear, easy on the eye type. It’s a solid book and it sits open nicely when you need it to, and it’s a good size so you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. However, the choice of design is the first thing that made me feel that this book might not be for me as I do tend to judge books by their covers, especially gaming books. I need the initial imagery to set my creative mind tingling and in many respects it’s the first draw to get my interest.

I reviewed the D&D Starter Set a while ago and I had many problems with the design and, sadly, my opinion hasn’t really changed with this edition. I like the D&D logo but the oversized ‘Player’s Handbook’ and the little red blood splash down the cover with ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ on it just doesn’t really do it for me; it’s a little bland and uninspired. More importantly the choice of front cover image doesn’t really grab me at all; some mage getting in the face of a giant whilst a fighter looks on? It may have been a great image for a supplement or adventure concerning these three but for a D&D core rulebook it doesn’t seem to fit. There’s an image on page 9 that’s simply glorious, with a dragon, a selection of characters and a huge mysterious city in the background. It’s dynamic and inspirational and would have suited the cover in almost every aspect, covering the ideals of the game almost perfectly. The cover art simply doesn’t do it for me and I felt this when I first saw it long ago, hoping that having the physical book in my hands might diminish that viewpoint. Sadly it didn’t and, as good as the artwork is, the cover doesn’t inspire me at all.

It’s when you get into the book that you begin to feel the game. The art ranges from excellent to adequate so you’re never really pulled out of the atmosphere the game is trying to create. There’s a sense of reality to the artwork that I never saw in the two previous editions and they appear to have gotten rid of the insane high-fantasy designs of those editions and gone for something a little more reserved. Oh, you’ve still got your crazy armour and costumes in there – it’s fantasy after all - but it feels much more practical and grounded in a form of reality. It’s great art and makes the world tangible.

THE CONTENTS

So that brings us on to the meat of the book. After my initial indifference to the cover I was naturally wary of what I’d find inside. I had already expressed my like of the Starter Set rules but the main rulebook was where I’d cast my final verdict over if the game had done it for me or not.

Everything you would expect from D&D is there. It’s not that much different from what we have seen before and it’s concisely and clearly laid out. One of my first questions always is ‘Is it new gamer friendly?’ I’d have to say no. There are a few pages of explanations and an example, but nothing that talks you through the hobby. In my case I don’t have a problem with this as I’m game and hobby savvy so I usually skip those parts anyway, but new gamers might need to begin with the Starter Set to get full use out of this book.

 You’ve got a good selection of Races and Careers to choose from which you can use as designed or for other races you may have in mind. The starting Races are Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human, Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc and Tiefling. The classes are Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard. It’s a good choice and you can mix them up with multiclassing in the optional rules if that’s the way you want to go. There’s also Feats in the optional rules and you don’t have to use them but they do add a bit of flavour to the character.

In addition, I do I like the little creative flourish to the opening page of each of the Race and Career entries - there’s a neat piece of art with an example character and a background environment to suit the entry, along with some examples of personality and some hints at their relationship with other races. There’s some quotes from some of the D&D novels to add colour, too, such as Salvatore’s ‘The Crystal Shard’ and Weis & Hickman’s ‘Dragons of Autumn Twilight’. It’s a nice touch and somewhat reminds me of the atmosphere of the game from when these particular novels were first published back in the 1980s.

It’s all well written and has flavour, that much is sure, but I feel that it reads as if it has been designed for existing D&D campaign worlds, which it most likely has. I used to use D&D for generic fantasy games but with the history and existing settings it’s obvious that they would cater for the worlds that they have already created. Forgotten Realms gets a lot of attention in here only as examples, but it does give the impression that the game is rooted firmly in the campaign settings created for it. I don’t have much of a problem with this as I run D&D campaigns in D&D settings, but if you’re looking to use this for a setting such as Middle-Earth or for a world of your own design then it’ll need some tweaking. Such is the nature of the hobby but if anyone at Wizards of the Coast is listening then please save me some work and bring back the Birthright setting!

The rules feel very stripped back and there are some nice additions, for example:

- You have a selection of skills, but not too overbearing or detailed.
- The Saving Throw is now Ability based, so you have to roll a D20 plus your Ability modifier against a DC. Simple.
- There’s a cool Advantage/Disadvantage rule; if you have an Advantage then you roll two D20s and keep the higher score, and it’s the lower score for having the Disadvantage.
- Inspiration rewards players for roleplaying their character’s personality, traits and flaws well and gives a bonus to a chosen roll.
- There’s also a neat Background section in which you can choose a background, such as Charlatan or an Entertainer, and you a roll on random tables to build a suggested history and personality. It’s optional, but it does create some interesting characters that some gamers might find it a challenge to roleplay out.
- The Magic system is easy and is a simple case of using spell slots, which a rest and research replenishes, and the spells are as varied and as detailed as ever, giving spellslingers plenty of options.
- Combat is hauled right back and covers movement, actions and attacks of all kinds. It’s a short section of the book and the DMs Guide will no doubt expand on this, but it’s straightforward and easy to manage, and what I saw as the complications of 4th Edition are gone.

In all, the rules have been lightened and simplified and the additional rules add options and a bit more dynamism but no extra complication.

I like the rules. A lot. In fact, I think that these are the best D&D edition rules that are available as they take the game, trim the fat and make it much more playable. You still have your crunch but the rules feel modular so you can drop certain sections if you want. For example, I probably won’t use the Feats or the Inspiration rules. Will it affect the game? Not at all. Unless the players make a fuss of not having the option it won’t disrupt the rules at all. Would it unbalance them? Maybe. But I’ve never cared about game balance in any game I’ve ever played so that’s not an issue for me. These rules make the game as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

The book is almost a full roleplaying game in itself. You’ll still need the DMs Guide and the Monster Manual – that’s a dead cert if you’re new to the hobby - but there are some beasties in the back you can use as templates and get a few games out of this book to wet your appetite for the following books. There’s nothing stopping you from using an old 3.0 or 3.5 Monster Manual if you want to do some low-level games, but the official 5th Edition manuals will no doubt be your best choice.

With brief appendices including Conditions (such as Grappling and Paralyzed), Gods (including the pantheons of Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dragonlance and Eberron, as well as real-world pantheons), the Planes of Existence, Creature stats, Inspirational Reading and an Index, the book has everything a player will need to get into a D&D game. As I said before seasoned gamers will be able to use this and get playing straight away but newcomers to the hobby will be better off waiting for the other two core books to really get into the game.

CONCLUSION

My thoughts about the cover presentation aside, D&D 5th Edition is a solid, well thought out game that I think really delivers. There were ideals that this edition would help to unite all editions and that D&D players will finally have a unified set of rules they can all enjoy and share. I don’t see much of that, truth be told, but I do see an attempt to strip away the complication and an attempt to return to a more streamlined simpler game system and a rulebook that promotes characterisation and roleplaying.

This makes it an attractive game to me, and the thought that I can simply drop entire sections of the rules to help simplify my experience even further really appeals. There’s nothing stopping me from running what would tantamount to a Basic D&D game. This was no doubt true of other editions, but this is divided up in such a way that I can completely ignore certain sections and not have to worry too much about the effect that the exclusion will have on the rest of the game, and maybe even re-introduce those options later on in the campaign.

Does it make me look back on the days of old when my BECMI days were King, and does it capture that atmosphere and sense of adventure and fun? No, not really. I think it’s impossible to do that and any attempt on mine or the game’s part to try and recapture those heady days of D&Ds popularity would be a little foolish. I don’t think this game has really tried that and it stands on it’s own merits without cashing in on the nostalgia factor. It was nice to read those old Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novel snippets but that’s as far as it went, I think, and the game really has been designed for the here and now.

Would I recommend it to D&D gamers of other editions? That’s the real trick, isn’t it? I’d certainly recommend them to have a look, but the editions are pretty much entrenched, now, and gamers play the editions they love. Their preferred versions not going anywhere and the nature of an ongoing roleplaying campaign means that groups do not have to rely on newer or older editions to enjoy their chosen version. That’s a given.

I’d certainly recommend it to general D&D fans that have followed the game over the years and dabble in all editions. This just might be the edition you stick with permanently.

A couple of years ago I wasn’t enamoured by the thought of a new D&D edition but after reading this book I’m convinced that the flagship game is going in the right direction. Some decent support with adventures and sourcebooks are a must, and modular rules that do not have to be used in existing campaigns would be welcome so that games do not have to be modified as new material comes out, which would ultimately make the game bloated.

If D&D sticks along this track then I see good things for the future of the 5th Edition of the game.

Highly recommended.

NOMCAST Episode 5

NOMCAST - Nerds On Mic

Episode 5 - 10th September 2014

Be advised that there is some colourful adult language in this week's episode.


(c) 2014 Newbold/Hicks Productions

A podcast in which we talk about random nerd stuff.

In this episode -

Dungeons & Dragons, and tabletop roleplaying
Intense fans and fan fiction
The DC movie/television universe
Star Wars Episode VII rumours

Of course, these are things we wanted to talk about, but there's plenty of digression.

Thank you to Britain's Got Talent's Stu Arnold for the incredible Arnie introduction!

With:

Jonathan Hicks
www.farsightblogger.blogspot.co.uk
@jonmarkhicks

Mark Newbold
www.jedinews.co.uk
@jedinews2010

Lisa Hicks
www.thebathobbit.blogspot.co.uk/
@bathobbit

Nancy Petru
@dasmoosh

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Review - EarthAD 2: Roleplaying after the Cataclysm

Review by Richard Williams

Authors: Brett M. Bernstein, Peter C. Spahn, Paul Bustamante, Aaron Kavli
Publisher: Precis Intermedia
One Line Summary: A one-stop shop for all your post-apocalyptic gaming needs.

“Welcome to EarthAD 2: Roleplaying After the Cataclysm. This game can be played as a one-shot adventure, series of adventures, or as a foundation for your own post-apocalyptic sagas. Because of the flexibility of the setting, your favorite movie, television program, comic, or novel can be the basis for your own stories. Regardless of your intentions, EarthAD 2 is a toolkit for your own post- apocalyptic adventures—designed to be versatile, so that only your imagination can limit your
enjoyment.”

The horrors of post apocalypse survival are nothing new to the seasoned gamer to the extent that rolling up your sleeves before downing your anti-rad pills and donning a full face gas mask is as familiar as a day at the office to many roleplayers.  So do you really need more of this heavily mined genre?

Yes. Yes you do.

Because there are as many different visions of the apocalypse as there are eyes to see it. From meteor strike to nuclear war to zombie plague outbreak to simple and generic “it happened”, there have been more stabs at the post-apocalyptic yarn than… I don’t know, some faintly disturbing simile involving stabbing. But LOADS, is my point. And any fan worthy of the name has imagined their own involvement in such dire times, each with their own take on exactly what to do when there’s more dust fields than oceans and your neighbour pops round to borrow a cup of sugar and eat your brains.

The creators of EarthAD 2 are not only aware of this need to legitimately take down your neighbours and co-workers, they share your passion and have allowed themselves to be influenced by just about every version of the apocalypse committed to film, radio, comic book, video game and IPCC report. The result? A rule book designed to help you play out whatever personal dreams of end of the world mayhem you’ve been harbouring ever since you first heard the phrase ‘nuclear winter’.

EarthAD 2 is a generic rules system so rather than being tied into one creator’s take on this oh-so popular subject you can now mix and match or simply play it old school vanilla but in a setting of your own devising. So far, so laudable. But how have they done?

Frankly, great. Seriously great.

Character creation is not complicated and once you’ve rolled up one PC you’ll find that you can whizz through it fairly quickly should you need to again. There’s a stock character list so comprehensive (from pure-strain human to evolved aquatic mutants, via cyborgs and space creatures) that I’m more annoyed at being spoiled for choice than anything else.

The skills list is similarly thorough and has aimed at covering every conceivable type of activity/ability you can think of in your efforts to survive the cataclysm. In one respect this is a good thing since you shouldn’t ever have to ask your GM “what should I roll to do XYZ?” and get a reply telling you to just roll whatever you think seems to be the closest stat. On the downside, however, the bewildering array lends itself more to rule-junkies than the gamers who rank simplicity above all else, a demographic which includes me.

The rules for using vehicles are simple and easy to use and, again, there is another list of ‘gimmicks’ (basically a skills and modifications list) for vehicles which gamers that like to personalise their machines will appreciate.

The chapter for combat and resolving actions (manfully dubbed ‘Getting Things Done’) is accessibly written, the core mechanic being:

'In order to determine if a task succeeds, first compute the skill total, which is equal to the sum of the relevant ability and skill ratings. Then roll two six-sided dice and calculate their sum. This gives us a dice total. A character accomplishes a routine task when his dice total is less than or equal to his skill total. Also, snake eyes (double ones) is an automatic success and boxcars (double sixes) is an automatic failure.

FOR EXAMPLE

Crowboy is attempting to determine how much a part for his transport will cost using his commodities skill. His reasoning ability is 4 and his skill level is 6—this makes a skill total of 10. He rolls two dice which result in a 5 and 4, for a total of 9. Since this total is less than the skill total of 10, the task is successful and Jim is very close with his assessment.'

Simple. So simple I copied and pasted it right out of the PDF rather than try to find a way to paraphrase, which would have probably sounded more complicated. Why make life harder?

There is a difficulty rating for most tasks which will make things harder or easier (typically harder) but players will find this intuitive since, as we know, some things are appreciable harder to do than others. I feel another dose of laziness coming on:

'FOR EXAMPLE

Kendell is attempting to open the door to an Old Earth shelter. Since the lock on the door is secured with advanced computer systems that are still functioning, the gamemaster decides that this is a challenging task—a difficulty rating of 4. Kendell has an Old Earth toolkit for just such an occasion. The gamemaster decides that the toolkit is a big help to Kendell and really does a lot of the work for him, so the difficulty is modified by -2diff. The final difficulty of the task is now a 2 (4 - 2).'

Straightforward, simple and easy to apply. There are also handy charts in the rules to help GMs make sure they’re using the right difficulty ratings and skills.

My gripe, at this stage, is not so much that the rules are complicated, it’s that there are so many things that have been taken into consideration that it can be a little daunting for first time GMs and those who are new to this system. But then, if you want a comprehensive guide to the end of the world, that’s what you can expect. Just don’t be surprised if your first few gaming sessions run with several breaks to check the rules.

But that’s all for the rules! The meat and bones of this book is examples of post apocalypse and how to game in them. Yes this book is designed for people to be able to run an end of the world scenario right off the top of their head while not worrying about how to make it work but it doesn’t fail to give you plenty to work with too.

There is copious material here for locations, environments, hazards, creatures and anything else you’re going to need to throw at the PCs. Likewise there are some sample adventures to get you on your feet and a raft of pre-generated characters for those, like me, who sometimes prefer to let someone else do all the work while you have all the fun.

In conclusion this rulebook is a ‘does what it says on the tin’ affair. Need something to support your game set after the zombies have launched the nukes at all the dinosaurs which were battling aliens that arrived on a meteor? EarthAD 2 makes this distinct possibility a gaming reality. There is a fair amount of minutia to get bogged down in so I can’t say that it’s the easiest thing to take on board quickly but several sessions should see gamers rattling along nicely.

Now, I’m off to club a super mutant with the claw from a mutated crab. And maybe play a game.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

D&D 5th Edition - First Thoughts

So - got the new D&D 5th Edition game and the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure for review. Thanks, WotC.

I've done my preliminary read through and I'm going to be honest - I like it. I like the feel and the atmosphere, the choice of art, and I like the changes to the rules.

I'm still not hot on the presentation - the covers don't shout 'PLAY ME!' and the design isn't great - but the game feels solid and playable. What's more, the character creation doesn't feel like a slog, like the previous two editions did.

I'll have to play it to get a proper feel, but I really like what I've read up to yet.

Full review soon.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

RPG A Day August 2014

To celebrate the end of August's RPG A Day here are my 31 entries.

Many thanks to Dave Chapman for setting up this excellent month's worth of fun. It's been very informative!

1st

First RPG played, Red Box D&D in 1984. It was my first foray into tabletop gaming after spending more than a year playing Fighting Fantasy ganebooks and it was something of a revelation. Instant creativity, storytelling, fun and excitement.

2nd

First RPG Gamemastered - Fighting Fantasy, the introductory RPG. I didn't have the confidence to run a game as complicated as Basic D&D, so I chose a simple game system. The FF rules were so simple anyone could run it, and I remember running a game set in Port Blacksand - at the time Allansia was my favourite gameworld and it was fun to run.

3rd

First RPG Purchased - that'll be the red box Basic D&D in 1984, from the toyshop up our town precinct that had a wall full of games, miniatures and dice. I'd been playing Fighting Fantasy for a year and that's a kind of RPG, but Basic D&D was the first dedicated group tabletop game I bought.

4th

 Most Recent RPG purchase - Ars Magica 4th Edition. It was at a gaming convention and it was cheap, so how could I say no?

5th

Most Old School RPG owned - D&D Cyclopedia. Not my favourite system but full of nostalgic goodness.

6th

Favourite RPG never get to play - Warhammer FRP 1st Edition. Played this to death in the 1990s but nobody wants to play 1st Edition days.

7th

Most 'Intellectual' RPG owned - Blimey, that's a tough one. Probably Call of Cthulhu as that asks for a bit more from gamers than just hack n' slash.

8th

Favourite Character - Tere Swordsong of MERP. He had a simple beginning, had a proper run of adventures with great NPCs and ended up married and owning the inn in which his adventures started. He was a great character.

9th

Favourite Die / Dice Set - my original pair of D6s from my early 1980s Fighting Fantasy days. They're in a lined miniature chest on my desk. No, really.

10th

Favourite tie-in novel/game fiction - that'll be a toss-up between RA Salvatore's Icewind Dale books, and the Warhammer Gotrek and Felix books. I'll go with Gotrek and Felix.

11th

Weirdest RPG owned – That has to be Task Force Games’ Prime Directive. I know that Star Fleet Battles went off on another timeline from the official Paramount course but it’s peculiar to see Star Trek almost ‘militarised’. I ended up using the character sheet and some elements of the game in a post-Dominion War campaign using the D6 system.

12th

Old RPG you still play/read – Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st Edition. It’s really full of flavour and atmosphere and always gives me ideas for campaigns.

13th

Most Memorable Character Death – Zeke Greyfellow, Shadowrun 1st Edition. Unmodified and with no magic, Zeke met with a Dragon to cut a deal. When it went south, the rest of the group ran for it and Zeke stuck around to fight it, riding at it on his Yamaha Rapier and blazing with his SMG. One round later; dead.

14th

Best Convention RPG Purchase – The 25th Anniversary edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, because I met Jackson and Livingstone and got it signed.

15th

Favourite Convention Game – Pathfinder. Always a great game with some great convention GMs.

16th

Game you wished you owned – Anything to do with Dune.

17th

Funniest Game you’ve played – Paranoia, by far. There’s nothing quite like double crossing other players and appreciating being nailed in the process.

18th

Favourite Game System – The D6 System. Versatile and easy to use, I love it as I enjoy more cinematic games with plenty of action adventure.

19th

Favourite Published Adventure – Mask of Nyarlathotep. Pure genius from start to end, and a great read to boot.

20th

Will still play in 20 years time… - Star Wars D6. Because it’s the D6 System and Star Wars.

21st

Favourite Licensed RPG – Tough one. I’d say Star Wars or the FASERIP Marvel game, but I have very fond memories of MERP. I’ll go with MERP.

22nd

Best Secondhand RPG Purchase – Ars Magica. Great game, and very, very cheap.

23rd

Coolest looking RPG product/book – Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition. I’ll probably never play it again, but it’s a beautiful book.

24th

Most Complicated RPG Owned – MERP, for the obvious Rolemaster reasons.

25th

Favourite RPG no one else wants to play – That’s easy: Dragon Warriors. From the flavour of the text to the excellent Johnny Hodgson artwork this game is a little quirky but very playable. It’s the setting more than anything and I got one excellent campaign out of it, but sadly it’s no longer top of my group’s list.

26th

Coolest character sheet – It’s not so much cool but clean and functional; red box Basic D&D sheet. It’s nice and simple and easy to use. If it’s sparkly cool you’re looking for then I’d say Icar, the free game from the talented Rob Lang. It’s a good system and the character sheet helps enhance the atmosphere. http://www.icar.co.uk/

27th

Game You’d like to see a new/improved edition of… - Wow – I’ve never been a lover of new editions because to me, the liquid nature of a roleplaying game means that if there’s something you don’t like about a system you change it best you can. That’s why a lot of the games I play are still first edition versions. I’d like to see a new Star Frontiers, though – that’d be a great open setting D&D-esque sci-fi RPG.

28th

Scariest Game you’ve played – Call of Cthulhu. Without question. It introduced me to Lovecraft’s works and gave me some of the most intense games I’ve ever run or been involved in, and some of the adventure plots I came up with, and the NPCs I played, made me very uncomfortable.

29th

Most memorable encounter – MERP, 1990. ‘So… it surely can’t be a real dragon, can it?’

30th

Rarest RPG owned – Sadly, thanks to real life, I was forced to part with my collectable games, but I used to have an original copy of Boot Hill, that I never even read but sold for a lot of money many moons ago. I think now, the only game I have that I don’t really see anywhere else is the first edition Star Trek RPG, but it’s unboxed and in bad condition.

31st

Favourite RPG of all time – Oof. Wow. Erm… because I’ve gamed in just about every genre and I’m able to change my attitude and creative angle to suit each of those genres, I think my favourite RPG of all time is the hobby itself. Is that answer even allowed?



Saturday, 23 August 2014

NOMCAST Episode 4 - The 'STAR WARS' Special

NOMCAST

Nerds On Mic

Episode 4 - 18th August 2014

The 'STAR WARS' Special

Be advised that there is some colourful adult language in this week's episode.


(c) 2014 Newbold/Hicks Productions

A podcast in which we talk about random nerd stuff.

In this episode -

Star Wars, Star Wars, and some more Star Wars. And some Star Trek.

Of course, these are things we wanted to talk about, but there's plenty of digression.

Thank you to Britain's Got Talent's Stu Arnold for the incredible Arnie introduction!

With:

Jonathan Hicks
www.farsightblogger.blogspot.co.uk
@jonmarkhicks

Mark Newbold
www.jedinews.co.uk
@jedinews2010

Lisa Hicks
www.thebathobbit.blogspot.co.uk/
@bathobbit

Nancy Petru
@dasmoosh

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Review - 13th Age Bestiary

13a_Bestiary_30013th Age Bestiary

Lead Designer and Developer: Rob Heinsoo
Developer: Kenneth Hite, Cal Moore
Art Direction: Rob Heinsoo, Kenneth Hite
Interior Art: Rich Longmore
Monster Tiles: Lee Moyer
Editor: Cal Moore
Authors: Ryven Cedrylle, Rob Heinsoo, Kenneth Hite, Kevin Kulp, ASH LAW, Cal Moore, Steve Townshend, Rob Watkins, Rob Wieland

I’ll admit this up front - the 13th Age roleplaying game gets a lot of love in my house. The game’s clean, simple rules and innovative extras have gone down really well with my D&D group and we’ve already got one great campaign out of it. I managed to get through the entire adventure with just the core rulebook but now that I’ve got my hands on the new 13th Age Bestiary I feel like I can take the adventure further.

The 13th Age Bestiary is a full-colour and beautifully presented 240-page book filled with 52 monsters to throw at your players during their travels across whatever gameworld you’ve decided to run around in. It covers plenty of classic monsters such as the instantly recognisable Dragons, Bugbears and Drow, so veterans of the D&D game will recognise many of the creatures straight away, which also means that the possible campaign worlds that the 13th Age core rulebook can cover is expanded. I ran a successful 13th Age campaign in the Forgotten Realms and now that I have this book, with plenty of recognisable monsters and races, I feel I can expand on that campaign with new creatures and adventure hooks.

The opening of the book gets you instantly geared up and introduces you to other concepts other than simply using the stats within as a combat encounter for adventurers to overcome. There are routes to take with these creatures beyond battles, including reasoning, possible treaties, creatures that might do something other than kill you… the book tries to make sure that the creature serves the story, or at least gives the GM plenty of plot hooks and story choices. There are monster entries that give you enough detail to create three of four entire adventures around, as well as use the manual as a simple grab-a-critter tome. This gives the book plenty of scope.

That’s not to say that the book is just a volume of potential adventure hooks. The book is, at its heart, a tome of monsters to throw against your players and there’s a handy section on how to build battles and encounters to truly test your group. The types of attacks, the dynamic of the gaming group, the nature of the creature itself; all these elements and others are taken into account to help the GM create memorable encounters.

These elements are taken further for each of the creatures in the 13th Age Bestiary. Each entry has plenty of details regarding statistics and what level they are, how to use the monster in independent campaigns, how to build battles around them, their interaction with the 13th Age Icons (although using Icons is not necessary), the nature of the creature and adventure hooks to get the most out of the beast, changing it from a simple stat block into an entire game of its own. With different variants of each creature in each entry this gives a possible 202 unique encounters in the book.

Each entry comes with an excellent illustration of the creature and this is something I like to see in bestiaries of this kind. Instead of going into long-winded descriptions of the creature I like to hold up the book and say ‘there it is’ and then get on with the action. The illustrations are dynamic and evocative and are excellent visual examples of the monsters for any campaign setting.

As well as all this the book also gives you guidelines on how to re-task the creatures, create your own creatures, how to mix them up and, fundamentally, create hybrids – effectively giving GMs the option of creating an endless list of strange unpredictable monsters - and there’s a handy index of all the monsters in this book as well as the 13th Age core rulebook.

All these factors make the book pretty much invaluable as a 13th Age resource. Not only is it expanding on the creatures you can use in the 13th Age world, as well as any other campaign setting of the group’s choice, it’s expanding the scope of the campaign by introducing adventures, story ideas and unpredictable encounters. I’m usually reticent about allowing my gaming group to read bestiaries and manuals of this kind as it may give them an angle on how to defeat the foe, but in this case I don’t think I’d be too bothered if they perused the pages of this book as the variants still make the monsters somewhat unpredictable, both in a combat and a roleplaying sense. I think a player reading this book won’t be fully prepared; I think they’d actually be concerned about what was to come because they could never be sure what was gong to be thrown at them, or in what context.

I can find very little to criticise about the 13th Age Bestiary. It has taken the monster stat book idea and added extra elements such as the nature of encounters and adventure hooks and this means the book is a fantastic resource not just for monsters but for plot, adventure and even campaign ideas. This means the book will stretch out your 13th Age campaigns beyond the simple encounters the book can offer. Of course, GMs who just want a book of stat blocks to put into their own 13th Age campaigns get just that, too, and the details can be used as flavour. I can’t imagine many GMs using the book just for creatures for the party to fight, though; there’s far too much material in here to be left to the wayside.


Well written, well presented and well realised, the 13th Age Bestiary is an invaluable resource for any and all 13th Age GMs. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A L I E N : Isolation

I've covered a few console and PC games after they were released but I don't usually big them up beforehand, but there's a game coming out that I am incredibly excited about and my impatience for it is starting to make me dribble.

A L I E N: Isolation is coming.

My disappointment with the incredibly lacking ALIENS: Colonial Marines is well known and upon hearing about a new ALIEN game in the works I wasn't exactly enamoured. But, after reading and watching the developer diaries and trailers I've slowly come to realise one thing; this could be the ALIEN game I've been waiting for.

The developers have gone back to an analog, pre-sleek n' swish flatscreen future and made everything clunky, grimy and dirty, and that element alone makes me more than excited for this game. The entire game reeks of the original Ridley Scott movie so there's no 10mm explosive-tipped standard light armour piercing rounds being blasted from a M41a Pulse Rifle here - just a single killing machine and a space station full of twitchy, terrified people... and very few resources. It's survival horror at it's best.

Oh, and if you get it on pre-order you can play on the Nostromo. As one of the original crew. I shit you not.

Everything you'll need to get you in the mood for some classic sci-fi horror is below. Knock yourself out, and keep October free in your gaming diary.



Announcing the 2014 ENnie Award winners

The Gen Con EN World RPG Awards (the “ENnies”) are an annual fan-based celebration of excellence in tabletop roleplaying gaming. The ENnies give game designers, writers and artists the recognition they deserve. It is a peoples’ choice award, and the final winners are voted upon online by the gaming public.

Best Adventure
Best Aid/Accessory
Best Art, Interior
Best Art, Cover
Best Blog
Best Cartography
Best Electronic Book
Best Family Game
Best Free Product
Best Game
Best Miniatures Product
Best Monster/Adversary
Best Podcast
Best Production Values
Best RPG Related Product
Best Rules
Best Setting
Best Supplement
Best Software
Best Writing
Best Website
Product of the Year
2015 Judges
  • Annah Madrinan
  • Jakub Nowosad
  • Kayra Keri Kupcu
  • Kurt Wiegel
  • Stacy Muth
2014 Judges’ Spotlight Winners

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Review - Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set

D&D Starter SetLike the rest of the roleplaying community I’ve been waiting for quite a while for this next version of Dungeons and Dragons.

After my less than stellar relationship with D&D 4th Edition I reacted to the news of D&D 5th with indifference, and then I was a little dismissive after reading the playtest rules and after pretty much ignoring the development of the game my attention was finally hooked by the art, release schedule and the snippets of news I was reading on the internet. I have to admit, once I started to take more notice I began to get more excited about the prospect of a new D&D game. This is, after all, the flagship of the tabletop RPG hobby and, no matter what I personally thought of it, I wanted to see it do well.

THE BOX

The game is a sturdy boxset containing the books and tools a gaming group will need. The cover art is very nice, as is the artwork in the books themselves, but design-wise the actual product doesn’t really grab hold of me and scream ‘YOU MUST PLAY ME!’ The presentation is, for want of a better description, bland. The booklets are staple stitched in full colour with glossy pages but they have the cover image and the contents on the front page so they look like books that have had their covers taken off, and the interior, while well laid out, have some but not a lot of art and pages of simple, uninspiring text. For a game that’s supposed to be getting new gamers into the hobby it’s simply not that exciting, and although the artwork is very good and evocative – they appear to have moved away from the improbable high-fantasy design of the previous two editions for something a little more grounded in reality – none of it makes my imagination spark into life. That may be more my issue than the game as I have a long history with the genre and there’s no doubt a ‘been there, seen that’ thing going on in my head. Regardless, as a starter set designed for new gamers I expected a few more fireworks and I simply do not feel that here.

The game itself comes in a box with the following contents:

64-page adventure book – it says that this comes ‘with everything the Dungeon Master needs to get started’, and that’s quite accurate. The adventure book is actually a mini campaign in the Forgotten Realms world called ‘Lost Mine of Phandelver’ that’ll take the players from level 1 to level 5, and there’s plenty to do in this campaign. It’s a good introductory adventure and includes what amounts to a small bestiary and magic item list, so there’s material you can use here in future games as well as stage other adventures in the campaign area. You’ll get a good 4 to 6 weeks worth of gaming out of this book - assuming you game once per week for about three hours – so that in itself makes the game a great purchase.

The adventure is aimed at making sure that DMs new to the hobby have everything they need to get through their first campaign. It’s a nice little guide to running adventures as well as playing in them and first-time groups will find it a great guide to the hobby. However, as with the rulebook – which I’ll get to in a moment – it doesn’t feel like there’s enough in here to fully explain the hobby to new blood. It feels like an expanded DM section of any roleplaying game in so much as you’d get this information in any RPG rulebook worth it’s salt. It’s good that it takes DMs and gaming groups through a campaign in steps and new gamers will find this very helpful, but I can’t see a group of new gamers who know absolutely nothing about tabletop RPGs understanding everything about the hobby; I think it’ll still take an experienced gamer to play with the group for them to fully grasp the concept and what’s required of them.

32-page rulebook – this is where I expected to find the driving explanations that got to the meat of the gaming hobby, but sadly it’s not there. It does explain the game in a few pages but, like I mentioned before, it’s nothing you wouldn’t find in any core rulebook for any other roleplaying game. I just do not feel it’s doing enough to be a true beginner’s starter set. If you know the hobby but you’re new to D&D then you’re fine, but if you already know RPGing then that kind of makes this whole boxset redundant.

5 pre-generated characters with character sheet – clean, nice and functional. I like the new character sheets, they’re laid out well and very clear.

6 dice – which are blue and do the trick. Another ten-sided ‘10s’ die would have been nice.

THE GAME

Readers expecting me to give a blow-by-blow description of changes to the game based on previous editions are going to be disappointed. That’s not how I write my reviews as I prefer to talk about what the game did for me and how it made me feel.

Moving away from my somewhat negative opinions of the presentation and my view on the new gamer approach the game takes, I’m glad to say that the game system is excellent. I’m a huge fan of Basic D&D and certain elements of the other editions and this game seems to have taken into account tat many D&D players will come from at least one of those backgrounds. It’s still the same system we all know and enjoy and the basics are definitive D&D. There are no power cards, no overbearing lists of talents and no reliance on grids or battle mats but there’s still plenty of options to flesh out a character and give each one their own identity and purpose.

The thing is, the Starter Set has no character creation rules. You are given the choice of five pre-generated characters of different classes – you’ll find these characters suit the ‘Lost Mine of Phandelver’ adventure well, of course – but there are no character creation rules at all. This not a problem, however – if you go to the Wizards of the Coast D&D page you’ll find a handy downloadable 100 plus page document that has character creation rules, expanded system rules and plenty more magic. What’s more, it’s a free PDF. So, with the Starter Set and these rules, gamers can get plenty of gaming out of the system and get all the way up to level 20. This is where the seasoned players get to experience D&D proper, and they get to use the ruleset to pretty much it’s full potential.

There are a lot of simple changes to the game but by far my favourite is the Advantage/Disadvantage rule. If you have a, Advantage in a skill, then you roll 2 D20s and keep the higher score. A Disadvantage means you roll 2 D20s and you have to use the lower score. It’s quick, neat and adds a great dynamic to the game.

The rules feel very stripped back and simple which is what you want in a starter set, but because of this the game feels incredibly playable – the kind of games I run are very fast and free flowing and I don’t want to get bogged down with rules and tables and page-flipping, especially when I’m running a combat encounter, and this allows me to do that. You still have to watch your book-keeping but battles don’t feel like a lesson in mathematics and you don’t have to worry too much about powers and abilities. You choose your skill and roll your die and that’s that. It’s nice to run a D&D game in which the players will only need the single-page character sheet in front of them and their dice. Other than a pad for adventure notes, the character sheet is all a player should need to play in the game

Of course, the Players Handbook might change this and add plenty of extra options and abilities, and part of me thinks that’s a shame. I do hope that this simple, quick and easy system is what I hoped for and I hope it gets plenty of support.

All in all, I really like this new D&D. My initial sceptisism has been cleaned away and I really like this quick and easy to use game system. It runs and feels like the D&D I remember - a lot more than 4th Edition ever did, in my opinion – and it’s a welcome return to the simple game I used to play in my youth.

It’s the presentation that lets it down for me. I wanted a bit more whiz-bang to really get me excited for the game but, other than the rules, I never really got any flavour from the design of the box, books and extras. Get past that, though, and you’ve got the beginnings of what is going to be a great game, and the system reminds me of what us older gamers loved about D&D in the first place.

It’s a great game system. I’m really looking forward to running more games of this and, looking past the presentation, I hope this is a return to what I love about D&D.