Archive for November 2009

At the Mines of Madness: Map of Shardpit

Here is a draft map of Shardpit for At the Mines of Madness.


Roughly half the village is located within the quarry. Housing consists of simple, single room structures that are often shared by two or more miners. The most prominent building is a House Tharashk enclave. Now that I've got at least a rough I can start planning out encounter hotspots and planar tears, so I'll update the adventure with more consistency, now.
November 27, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Draconomicon 2 Lite Review

Draconomicon II: Metallic Dragons is basically Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons, except that its about metallic dragons. This is the only difference. Hell, even the chapter layout and titles are identical: dragon lore, DM's guide, sample lairs, new monsters, and a hall of fame for kinda-sorta non-dick-move dragons. The art is mostly alright, but the page-count is about 20+ pages shorter...so the short review is basically that if you liked the first one and want more dragons then pick it up. However since I like to prattle on about shit I'm going to do just that, starting with the chapter I read first, New Monsters.


The real reason you're going to pick this book is is for moar stats, and Draconomnomcon: Metal Dragons has a crapton of them. Not only are there seven "new" dragon metals/alloys, but you get a wyrmling stat block for every fucking dragon printed thus far, draconians, something called a hollow dragon, coutls, drakes, kobolds, etc. Taking it from the top I'm going to tackle "true" dragons. The new flavors are brass, bronze, cobalt, mercury, mithril, orium, and steel.

Brass dragons are violent bi-polar mercenaries that are just as likely to maul the hell out of anything that wanders into their line-of-sight and loot it as they are to agree to contracted services. Talk about your Reverse Dungeon. Though they are artillery, they only have one ranged attack which has a short range and also automatically pegs every adjacent critter if it hits, which seems more like a controller to me. It otherwise can make multiple attacks and has a couple of close blast attacks that either push things or let it shift, which is good if you're supposed to emphasize ranged attacks.

Bronze dragons live by the ocean and demand tribute from merchant vessels, which has got to fuck with the local economy since I dont think they are too keen on actually spending any of it. On the plus side they really hate blue dragons and ruin their shit whenever they show up, which is kind of like buying a rock that is purported to keep tigers away. Not that I've ever seen tigers on a random encounter chart. Anyway...its attacks are fucking murder. The bite lets it roll out 20+ damage on average while the claws average 30 damage. The breath weapon deals a shit-ton of lightning damage, but if it hits anyone it can arc lightning onto another creature further away for 2d8 + 4 damage (with a push effect). Finally, it can dive underwater to heal itself and gain an attack bonus, which is really bad for a brute. I could see the DM having a pool of water for this fucker to use, and the players scrambling to keep it away.

Emo Cobalt dragons mope about in gloomy regions, like MySpace or the D&D Out of Print forum. The happier ones dwell in places with strong ties to the Shadowfell. They like to subjugate whatever local critter is handy and like high-school bullies pick fights to prove how "tough" they are. Sometimes if they kick your ass they'll let you go if you give them money, though if they can beat you up they might as well have a shakedown power that causes all your money to rain off of you. As controllers they are able to mix up their basic attacks quite a bit (bite-shift-claw twice), and the rest of their shit is a bunch of close blasts that pushes or restrains.

Mercury dragons function as draconic assassins (for...someone?), which is a bigger word for "lurker". As expected they deal more damage when they have combat advantage, and they can make a free attack against creatures that deals damage and applies combat advantage for a turn. Their breath weapon deals poison damage and renders the dragon invisible. Frightful presence stuns an assload of creatures so they have a couple ways to get that extra damage out one way or another. Finally, they have a per-encounter move that lets them turn into quicksilver, which prevents opportunity attacks, lets them squeeze through Tiny spaces, and if they return to their normal form? They get combat advantage against you.

Mithril dragons are crazy motherfuckers that can see into the future and teleport when they attack. Twice. Their prescience basically gives them a constant defense bonus, and they can also do an explodey 'port as an encounter power ala Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Since they tend to devote themselves to causes and gods, they get radiant resistance and most of their shit has the Radiant keyword.

Orium dragons--and I'm not making this up--skulk about ancient ruins and literally command other creatures to, "rebuild the glories of yesteryear." Yesteryear. Why? Why not say ancient times, or something less...I dunno, silly. For that matter, why try and rebuild old ruins at all? I guess I wouldnt complain since of all the metallic dragons they seem like the nicest out of the bunch since they dont randomly maul and/or extort things that are not dragons. All sillyness aside, their breath weapon is pretty cool, generating minion brutes each time they use it. Otherwise they're pretty basic with a predictable bite/claw routine while they wait for dragon breath to recharge.

Steel dragons seem to enjoy touring around in humanoid form and try to undermine authority for some reason...perhaps because they're the only dragon that can use change shape by default? I dunno. I guess if I could do that and was really bored I might do random shit like that. Otherwise they have a wing attack and can implact a suggestion as a minor action that slides, causes the target to grant combat advantage, and lets the dragon shift a square. Elder steel dragons are more interesting in that they can shape their breath weapon into a force cage and trap creatures.

There are also wyrmling versions of each metallic dragon, including the ones that were in MM2, so hopefully you werent like me and sold all your Small-and-Medium sized dragon minis when you heard that the (at the time) youngest dragons in 4E were gonna be Large.

Hollow dragons are the leftover dragon skin empowered by the dragon's inherent elemental energy, soul-type essence. So...kind of like a maybe-less-morbid version of the dracolich. They arent all good (as metallic dragons likewise are not), they rupture essence when hit, and larger versions can swallow you and trap you inside their animate flesh and cook you. Nifty.

There are a pair of couatl blocks, one evil and the other unaligned. They have ongoing poison bites, deal more radiant damage when hit by radiant attacks, and can make extra saves against immobilize and restrain conditions.

Eight draconian types get represented, meaning that a few corrupted metallics get left out (mithril, orium, steel, and mercury I think). They still have their various death effects, and there is a fair spread on levels and roles so I could see it being very easy to do lots of mid-to-high heroic tier using draconians as primary threats. At least I have a use for those old draconian minis that I couldnt pawn, and I didnt have to buy a craptastic Dragonlance book for the stats!

Drakkensteeds are mount-types that have an impressive overland flight speed of 15 and a dazing roar. When you burn an action point they auto-recharge it and use it for free. Nifty, but 16th-level. The epic-undead version also grants necrotic and poison resistance. Too bad they look fucking stupid, as I am a shallow player and aesthetics play a big part in the decisions I make.

As before there is a section on swapping out alternative powers, and a template that actually downgrades dragons to Elites for better use in level-appropriate group fights.

After that I decided to take it from the top and browse the chapters to see if anything caught my attention. The first chapter--Dragon Lore--goes over how dragons were created before moving on to a brief recap on their physiology, with a few paragraphs devoted to shapechanging. A sidebar refers you back to Draconomicon I for better coverage since they didnt wanna reprint a bunch of content again.


What I find most interesting about this chapter is that it puts a spin on how metallic dragons used to be represented: instead of being Good they're now Jackass Unaligned. Many believe that they are superior to mortal races aside from just level and Solo category, and while some might wish to help us they tend do look at mortal races as primitive creatures that need their assistance and expect gratitude in exchange for the privilege of receiving it. This perspective makes it easier to utilize them as villians without sacrificing consistency and credibility...in case you needed the books to encourage or even "allow" you to do so.

The rest of the book follows the format I've come to expect for the other "monster" books. You get a chapter with stuff on sample lairs, organizations, traps, some new artifacts, and ways to use dragons for the long-term in your campaigns.

I enjoyed Draconic Encounters, as it provides ways to properly manage dragons with your XP budget and I've had plenty of DMs use dragons with minions in a way that has hosed many a character. So, hopefully budding DMs can be bothered to read this short section on how to do a job proper (or at least less lethally).

Otherwise...not much else comes to mind. Thats it. Book o' dragons. Get it if you want/need more, or want to see some various methods to build solo monsters. You might get some mileage out of the lairs and traps.
November 25, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Da Vinci Arts Middle School Presents: Burnt Offerings

I would like to preface this by saying that this is not a review...this is an unrelenting geyser of sycophantic praise.

So a while ago, I was pouring over various gaming message boards, looking for a good place to toss a rant grenade, when I came across a thread announcing that the Da Vinci Arts Middle School would be producing a stageplay based on "Burnt Offerings" the first adventure in Paizo Publishing's hugely popular "Rise of the Runelords" adventure path for Dungeons & Dragons.

A middle school play. Based on Dungeons & Dragons.



That idea is awesome enough, but when I saw this would be happening in the Portland, Oregon area, I immediately resolved myself to go see it. Okay...that's something of an understatement. My actual reaction was to immediately begin frothing at the mouth, dive headlong out of my bedroom window and then brain some hapless, random jogger with my laptop while bellowing a berserker cry of "HOLY CHRIST BALLS! I MUST SEE THIS!" in a voice that was somewhere between a shrill, girlish squeal of delight and a rhinoceros orgasm.

I know that when one thinks of middle school theater, they probably get the image of awkward adolescents staring at the audience like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi-truck while wearing an ill-fitting fedora and sports coat, and desperately trying to remember Willy Loman's lines...and to be honest there is a bit of that going on here...but it's a middle school play, not "Waiting For Godot" at the fucking Gershwin...what do you want?

Anyway, to my pleasant surprise, everyone involved in Burnt Offerings put in a lot of effort, attention and yes, LOVE, into this production. The sets were very well done, the costuming was just awesome, the kids went through months of fight training for their roles. This project is obviously very close to the heart of director Tom Beckett and it really comes out on stage. Both the cast and the audience (full of gushing parents and gamer geeks alike) had an absolute blast.

Of particular note, were the performances of Miles Shepard, who played the Vesnian Cleric Father Abstalar Zantus, Aja Wald, who played the villainous Nualia, Priestess of Lamashtu, Jared Berrien, who played the treacherous Half-Elf Tsuto Kaijitsu, and Kobel Weaverly, who played the young wizard-in-training Finn.

However, the high point for me was the goblin attack on the village of Sandpoint in the first scene, which was staged with smoke billowing from off stage, while adorable kids in goblin costumes chased actors across the stage, behind props and even through the audience. Really, the adorable yet thoroughly convincing goblin kids were a treat all throughout the production.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a film geek through and through, my love of DiPalma is the stuff of epics, but celluloid can never match the intimacy that happens between the audience and the story...and that is the greatest strength of Burnt Offerings. On screen, the story might view like any generic bildungsroman fantasy adventure, but on stage what comes across is Tom Beckett's love letter to Dungeons & Dragons...a love that he is passing along to a new generation of kids, all with the talent to put our best roleplaying efforts to shame. I was pleased to see that Beckett, who also penned the stageplay, was respectful of both the source material as well as the cast and audience. The result is a story that is at turns light-hearted, dark and compelling all around. Really, what this entire production felt like was a voyeuristic glimpse into someone's D&D game...which might have been what they were going for in the first place...so bravo on that front.

Anyone who reads this blog, probably has at least a cursory interest in Dungeons & Dragons and so I thoroughly recommend that you all go and see Burnt Offerings. Not only because it's an entertaining yarn featuring a charming cast, or because it reminds us why we all love this silly game Dungeons & Dragons so much, or even because it's cheaper than a movie. Mostly, we should see it because these are very talented kids who obviously love what they are doing and they need to have outlets like this for their talent and creativity. Now get off your asses and go support the arts, for fuck sake.

There are two more showings of Burnt Offerings on November 20th and 21st, at the Da Vinci Arts Middle School, 2508 NE Everett in Portland, Oregon. Tickets are $5 at the door.

I'm also planning on attending their next production, a rock opera based on the videogame, Fable. My girlfriend practically had a fangasm when she saw that.
November 18, 2009
Posted by Shazbot

Winning Races: Tieflings

Tieflings have been my favorite race (followed closely by gnomes) since I played Planescape back in the days of 2nd Edition, a trend which has endured through each edition to this day. Mostly its the look, though I dont really mind their racial stuff (I havent found infernal wrath to be useless no matter which class I've played).

Winning Races: Tieflings provides three pages of Heroic feats that are mostly useful for paladins, warlocks, and wizards. There are some general feats that I think I might pick up if I ever get to play Kobal again, but the offerings in this article make me want to kick my minotaur tactical warlord/artificer to the curb and roll up a fire-based wizard. A lot.

For highlights, I'm going to have to cite Wrath of the Crimson Legion, which lets you use Charisma for basic attacks and swaps out infernal wrath with a close burst 5 auto-sanction. Diabolic Soul also swaps out infernal wrath with a polymorph daily that changes you into a demonic brute with regen, improved fire resistance and bloodhunt, and a damage bonus. For wizards, we get Wizard's Wrath, which creates a zone that causes any creature to grant you combat advantage and lose all resistances and immunities. Holy shit.

I think as a houserule I wouldnt replace infernal wrath, but instead let you choose between the racial powers each encounter. If its a daily, then you lose them until you take an extended rest. I can see instances where infernal wrath could be handy, you see, and drow get away with it just fine.
Posted by David Guyll

Anime Review: Book of Bantorra


As anyone who knows me is aware, I'm not really all that much into anime.

Oh sure, I have a nostalgic fondness for the Guyver, Fist of the Northstar, Vampire Hunter D, Akira, 3x3 Eyes, Area 88...all of those classics that I watched before Hayao Miyazaki started winning academy awards and anime became the subject of fanatical teen leg humping...but mostly I think the stuff that Japan is pumping out these days is garbage. Most I said...there are a few rare gems like Full Metal Alchemist, Kurokami, Canaan, or Chevalier D'Eon that keep me sloughing through a mire of kiddy dross in search of new material.

One such gem that I've found is a recent series called Tatakau Shisho: Book of Bantorra. The story takes place in a world that resembles a fantasy version of the industrialized west, circa 1900 or so, where souls are stored on stone tablets called "books" when people die. These books are then stored in a vast and cavernous underground "library."

The protagonists are an X-men-like ensemble of superpowered beings called "Armed Librarians," who guard the Library, maintain the books and seek out new stone encased souls. The Library itself is a vast subterranean dungeon comprised of several different levels inhabited by pucker inducing monstrosities that grow exponentially in power the deeper one goes (gee...wonder what that reminds me of) hence the "armed" part. And the librarians themselves are pretty kick ass...with wild kung fu powers, gunslinging and swordswinging, and one bare midriff Annie Oakley type who telekinetically fires an armada of six shooters at one time.

The leader of this gang of ass kicking librarians is a foxy and inscrutable femme fatale named "Hamyutz Meseda." (some very strange naming conventions here) Now one would expect, this being anime and all, that she would be a bubbly teenaged girl with technicolor hair (because for some reason teenagers are the ones you really want to trust with things like the fate of the world)but not so! In a refreshing change of pace, most of the cast are adults, and Hamyutz in particular is something of an antihero, being a bloodthirsty, manipulative sociopath whom the rest of the librarians barely tolerate because she can produce results and also because she could easily kill all of them. Plus, she makes using a sling look awesome...which hasn't happened since David slew Goliath.

In addition to the monsters roaming the underdark...err...Library...there is also the "Church of Living in God's Grace," a rival gand of superpowered crowley-esque dilletantes and hedonists who seek certain books to help further their ambitions. Sort of like an issue of Marvel's "What If: Ayn Rand Had Kick Ass Magic Powers?"

The inaugural story arc, comprised of the first four episodes, centers around a young man who was brainwashed by the Church of Living in God's Grace into beleiving that he is not a human being, but rather a bomb (complete with explosive device implanted in his chest cavity) who exists for the sole purpose of killing Hamyutz Meseda. During the course of his living bomb misadventures, he comes across the fragments of a book detailing the life of a young woman who had the gift of seeing the future, and as a result was labeled a witch by the superstitious and used as pawn by the ambitious and greedy. Hapless mister 'splodey-chest eventually falls in love with this long dead vixen inbetween being sucked into the power struggle between the Armed Librarians and the Church. other stuff happens too, but I can't tell you everything, or else you'll have no incentive to watch it.

For the most part, the animation here is top notch, with a lot of creative visuals and interesting design (check the girl with the spider-rapier on her right arm!) and some nice action sequences. Best of all, 6 episodes into the series and I have yet to see a character spazzing out across the screen super-deformed style, which immediately lowers the credibility for any anime series in my eyes.

I don't speak japanese, so I have no educated basis upon which to draw reasoned criticism on the quality of voice acting, but unlike most anime series, this one doesn't make me want to hammer large drill bits into my ear drums to avoid shrill, squeaky Tokyo schoolgirl jabbering...so take that for what it's worth. Oh...and the subtitles use some nice fonts.

All in all, Book of Bantorra is shaping up to be a top notch fantasy series (that is, if you can stretch your boundaries of fantasy to include things like cargo freighters, trains and gunslingers)and one that I will watch with interest. I suggest you do as well.
Posted by Shazbot

Songs of Erui: Designing Dorsen

Dorsen is the "homebase" for my Songs of Erui campaign. Its a farming community with strong spiritual ties, since I wanted to emphasize the influence and importance of spirits in the campaign early on. Dorsen surrounded by a ring of menhirs that have been carved with crude depictions of various animal gods, and they have been integrated into a wooden wall for defense. The wall contains a particularly powerful spirit named Corann that can defend the folk of Dorsen. The wall and menhirs give the village a circular shape, and I kind of divided it into "tracks": farmland is on the outside (closest to the wall), while houses are closer to the center.

In the middle I dropped a hundred-foot deep pit for some reason that I figured I'd expand upon later (and I eventually did). Currently no one is aware who/what made the menhirs or pit, or what purpose they serve. At the time I just wanted some interesting features that might see usage later in the campaign, and to add some mystery since Erui existed long before humans and other mortal races showed up. The village also incorporates a lot of natural flora, providing a stronger link to the spirits. I didnt draw in all the trees, but they are basically located between all the housing (you can kinda see where they were gonna go).


I dont didnt really intend for any major adventures to occur in Dorsen, but I like to have village maps because it helps players get a sense of scale and location. Plus, its a great visual reminder when it comes to maintaining consistency. As with any good starting village, it provides the party with basic necessities for adventuring/plot-advancement: they can buy equipment, set up kip if they need to, and give various NPCs a shot at making skill checks that they botched. This is really an easy list of requirements to meet, you just make a list of shit that the party might need to do, then make one or more NPCs that can meet the need.
  • Buy weapons
  • Buy armor
  • Buy adventuring gear that isnt weapons or armor
  • Buy magical variants of the aforementioned (optional)
  • Tavern/Inn
Weapons: For weapons, I just tossed out a male human named Koun for a start. He gets his metal from dwarf caravans that make the rounds out of the Red Hills. While his specialty is making metal farming tools, he can also turn out functional Simple and Military weapons. Superior weapons need to come straight out of Cindervault or Carbost. If looks matter, its about an even mix of human, dwarf, and eladrin make.

Armor: Armor...well, yeah. Most armor falls into the light category, with heavier stuff necessitating an order from Cindervault or Carbost. As such, I didnt actually put anyone in the village that specializes in that: most anyone knows how to make/mend leatherworks. Just costs money to get the supplies and do it yourself if need be. Thus, virtually all metal armor in Dorsen is decidedly dwarfy in style when it can be found at all.

Mundane Gear: Adventuring gear isnt sold out of any one store, but brought in from merchants or traded with the locals who might have what the players are looking for. Merchants set up shop in the Bear Market, which is an open bazarre reserved for transients. For ease of play, players can pick up anything for the list price out of Player's Handbook.

Magic Loots: Magical gear is a lot harder to get your mitts on, obviously. Aside from low-level potions and a handful of rituals, its almost impossible to find anything magical in Dorsen that anyone would reasonably want to part with. Frankly, most characters end up finding their own magic loot anyway so its a pretty moot point. Really I just need for them to be able to pawn the shit they dont want, and thats easy enough in the Bear Market or perhaps via "sage" NPCs.

Tavern: There's only one tavern/inn-type place in Dorsen, the Red Hall. Its also the only stone building, constructed by Dorsen's dwarven neighbors a decade ago after a particularly devastating spat with gnolls that decided to stop by. Its a sturdy, defensible structure with an extensive underground section for folk to hole up that doubles as an inn for dwarf visitors. As such, it only serves dwarf spirits and food.

[Note: I decided to work gnolls into Erui after a player decided to make a gnoll artificer. Gnolls seem like a good fit for a primal campaign, and this bit of bad history made for some interesting roleplaying opportunities after the party went back to Dorsen to gather information and do some shopping (even though her character didnt participate in the carnage: it was another tribe of gnolls). This was one of many examples where player input shaped the campaign, in a good way methinks.]

Simple so far, but that only covers gear. Sometimes the party fucks up an important skill check, or just cant piece together a puzzle. When that happens I like to be able to have a good narrative method for helping them solve a problem and not get hung up. For example, if the party needs to consult someone about an item, a glyph they found, or research a topic. Sooo lets expand the list for skills!
  • Arcana
  • History
  • Nature
  • Religion
Now, I'm not a fan of having the players just defer to NPCs to solve their problems, but it certainly helps to have them around if they get stuck on something. If anything, they're kind of like party-life lines. I'm using these skills as a check list, as its possible that a NPC might specialize in two or more skills (such as a sage being really fucking good at Arcana and History). Since the players will be interacting on a more personal level with these guys, its important to have more details about them...like a name, personality, and other details.

Talibah: She's the spiritual leader of Dorsen. She can see and communicate with spirits, and the village runs to her when they need advice on handling spirits. She also knows a lot of songs, and can potentially teach players some of them if they need them. So, her specialties would be Nature and Perception (since she is a dreamsight shifter and is surrounded by ass-tons of spirits). At the start of the campaign she played the role of herald, gathering the party up and sending them on their merry to go butcher goblins and dig up secrets.

Karad: To try and mix things up, the sage-figure in Dorsen is actually a dwarf who emphasizes the use of runes, so he makes sense thematically. If the party cant make heads or tails of magic stuff, they can let him give it a shot. He also sometimes has magic items and rituals for sale, or is at least willing to take them off the party's hands. He's a bit scatterbrained and unorganized after too many awry magical experiments, and relies on eladrin assistant to keep his stuff in order (of which years of work has made him versed in History for purposes of locating relevant information).

Belanus: A priest that maintains shrines to Melora and Bahamut (whom is depicted as a green dragon in Erui), he's also pretty good at Nature shit. I guess you could say he focuses more on natural critters and plants, while Talibah is more spiritual. Anyway, who the players go to is personal preference: I play this guy as very serious, stern motherfucker who doesnt talk much except when giving sermons. He's got a lot of scars and wields a fullblade.

That takes care of the skills that I think will need the most handling in the game. I would drop in a NPC with Streetwise if it was more urban in nature, but since its not and I dont expect that to be used ever, I'm not going to bother. The main thing I could see Streetwise being used for is locating rare items, but since merchants stick to a small location I'd rather just let them know on a case-by-case basis.

Now obviously settlements can have a lot more going on than just this, but I prefer to only generate content that I'm going to use. I have a list of male/female names in case I need to pull a NPC out of my ass, but I'm not going to write up a bunch of extraneous information that has no purpose. I think that by keeping it simple its easier to adapt to unexpected events or circumstances, anyway, but that might just be my style.
November 12, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Channel Divinity: Melora

A whopping two page article that details seven thematic magic items centric to Melora: two weapons, a consumable, one foot-slot, one symbol, and two wondrous items. Just...just ignore the stupid picture.
  • The weapon properties basically let you use some ranged and all melee weapons underwater with a problem, and the activated powers let you either push a target or generate a swirling vortex that sucks creatures towards you.
  • Flamebane bombs do quite a bit for level 3+ alchemy items. They dont deal damage but could be a fucking godsend (see what I did there?) against anything that uses fire, at all: save against ongoing fire damage, deactivates fire auras for a tick, and it can also disrupt fire zones. It does all of these things in a small area of effect. All of them.
  • Surfsurge shoes are kinda goofy: you can opt to slide when you are subjected to forced movement, and can create a wave of rushing water to move you as a daily property. I guess its a new take on an old concept.
  • The symbol of the deep is basically any other symbol, but the daily effect imposes a bucket-full of conditions with a save-ends clause.
  • Battle standard of the tides constantly pushes non-aquatic enemies away, and all baddies treat it as difficult terrain. Its an automatic effect so could be quite handy in keeping monsters away from casters and ranged characters.
  • Now, the jade sea snake is only level 10 and basically serves as a feasible and reasonable plot device to get characters under the sea. It can carry up to six Medium or smaller critters, allowing the party to bring along a guide or whatever in addition to letting you breathe and speak normally. If you have Mounted Combat you dont provoke opportunity attacks...even the snake. Ride the snake.
Its short and crunchy. Good for a casual read and some useful stuff whether or not you worship Melora.
November 11, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Class Acts: The Duelist Rogue

I'm of the mind that the rogue already heavily supported the concept of a dashing swordsman (especially since Artful Dodger let you add your Charisma mod to a lot of shit), but today's class acts article delivers some more swashbuckling goodness to the game in the form of a few pages of exploits and feats. I dont even play rogues and I think this article kicks ass.

The new at-will targets AC, deals just Dex mod damage, but not only lets you move the target around but also roll SA damage if you didnt have combat advantage with this attack. At 21st level you deal 5 damage on top of everything else. Good, but I think that the shining exploit for any good Charisma-based rogue is still sly flourish: getting to add Dex and Cha to damage is too fucking sweet.

There are eleven other powers in total, most of them encounter attacks that center around mobility or boosting your defense. If you have Artful Dodger, these bonuses get a hefty boost and rely on your Charisma. The two utilities either let you shift when an enemy gets too close or boosts your defense and causes the attacker to grant CA for a turn. The level 1 daily is a stance that lets you make an attack (against Reflex) as a free action whenever an enemy hits or misses you. The level 5 daily lets you lock down a target so long as you dont move.

The feat selection is sparse but really cool. A couple of them boost the efficacy of packing a buckler around, but the best one is Versatile Duelist: it gives you proficiency with all one-handed military heavy blades, and you can use them with rogue powers that normally call for a light blade. Fucking yes. The rest does some other nifty shit that relies on Charisma, like adding Cha to your Acrobatics and Athletics checks or letting you deal SA damage to a target even if you dont have combat advantage.

Great addition to the rogue class. I like crunchy bundles of powers that support a class concept. Feats are just gravy, but I really like gravy. >_>
November 06, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Power Play: Martial

One of the new mechanics from Player's Handbook 3 is powers that have skills as prerequisites. I think this is a great idea, since it helps encourage certain skill choices while also making them useful to a class that might not get much mileage out of it. Power Play: Martial takes this a step further, but perhaps in the wrong direction. The article provides a small assortment of exploits for each martial class and by small I mean like, three each...and not anywhere near the same level range. But hey, its a somewhat new concept, and you gotta start somewhere, right? At least they're kinda working with a theme: the fighter exploits require Endurance, and the warlord ones require Intimidate.

At a glance it seems like an okay thing to do. I mean, since they require skills to take they must be better, riiiiight? I guess, except that the fighter ones require...Endurace? Yeah...I'm sure there arent a lot of fighters out there with Endurance... It seems more like making slightly better powers at frankly no cost.

But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. How much better can they be? Lets compare.

One of the new fighter exploits is called brazen assault. Its a level 5 reliable daily that targets AC, deals 3[W] damage, lets you add your Str and Con modifier to damage, and pushes 2 squares. It also has an effect built into it that gives you resist 5 all in exchange for granting combat advantage, which lasts until either the end of the encounter or until you decide to end it yourself.

Lets compare this to, say, agonizing assault. It also targets AC, only deals 2[W] damage (plus Dex mod with a flail), but causes the daze and immobilize conditions (save ends). If you miss it only deals half damage without any conditions.

Okay...not too sure which is mechanically superior. One does quite a bit more damage than the other, and you can resist damage but are easier to hit. Mostly I'm curious as to how balanced that is. Is it worth it by itself, or does the extra damage factor into that? Agonizing assault lets you pin down a monster for at least a round, but against elites and solos the odds are against you. Not sure how much that is worth in terms of damage. I think I'd prefer to stick with brazen assault for the sheer damage output, but I can see how being able to lock down a monster (and strip it of most actions to boot) can be extremely useful.

I'm going to try another: threatening presence and phalanx assault. The former is a Strength vs. Will attack that deals 2[W] damage and prevents the target from marking your allies, and also removes a mark from an ally that is targeted by it. The latter requires a shield, deals the same damage, and also grants both an AC and Reflex bonus until the end of your next turn (Resourceful warlords grant this bonus even if they miss). So, same damage (though threatening presence is easier to hit with), different kickers.

Threatening presence seems awfully situational. I cant think of a lot of monsters that mark, and if they do mark odds are they've marked the defenders who are presently beating the shit out of them anyway. Phalanx assault seems like it would be more consistently useful, especially if you combine it with defenders on the front lines (ideally they would prevent monsters from hitting you, while benefiting from increased defenses). It could also help give softer allies a temporary boost if something tries to go after them.

Hmm. Not as bad as I thought. Brazen assault seemed a bit better, but threatening presence seemed par for the course (I'd consider it for my tiefling warlord). I'm not going to check and compare them all, but I think these are pretty cool for concepts and themes. Sure, some demand skills that you were already taking, but as long as they dont consistently blow other powers out of the water then I really dont give a shit.
November 05, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon Age: Origins Review

I've never been a fan of Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Oblivion, or Fallout 3, so I was surprised that I actually enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins. I was fully expecting it to suck judging by the screenshots and trailers depicting scantily clad women clambering up mountains, faces frozen in perpetual sneers. So...color me surprised when I sat down to play the game and realized twelves hours later that I had yet to eat.

A major factor on whether or not I'm going to play a game is character design. A badly designed character is a killjoy for me and I could give a shit less what the game is about: I dont want to look at a ridiculous outfit or jumbled mass of polygons that is trying to pass as a human/humanoid/what-the-fuck-ever for hours on end. This is partially what tanked my interest in other BioWare games, and I was
very pleased that they finally got something right as while building my character(s) I was not possessed with the irresistible urge to find a close-faced helmet and wear it 24/7 regardless of class (which I had to do in Neverwinter Nights 2).
Despite this however, there is still the typical issues with female characters: armor sometimes doesnt cover parts that need it the most, and you can disguise yourself as a clown via the eyeshadow and blush options during character creation...seriously. I cannot reconcile with the thought of female characters "freshening up" between gory battles. I dont know
why the hell thats even an option. They look as though they'd be more at home on a street corner, trying to grind quests of a more carnal nature. Thankfully you can turn that shit off.

So they mostly got the looks right, lets talk
mechanics as many games manage to leap the first hurdle just to stumble face first into the next. On this Dragon Age mostly delivers, as your options are very limited, especially at the start. I know people say that if you put up with it long enough that they (can) expand, but thats only partially true (and I'll hit on that in a moment). Character creation operates par for the course for fantasy RPGs: pick a race, a class, and then its time to venture forth into the world and rescue it from whatever "a doings that are a transpirin'."

You get three races. Thats right,
three. Human, elf, or dwarf (so...an assortment of humanoids of varying heights and not much else). You also get three classes, and in case that's not limiting enough, humans and elves can choose from all of three classes while dwarves only get two. Sure, there are "in-game" reasons, but I dont give a fuck: players like being able to make decisions and that's just one more dwarf combination I wasnt going to play.
There are six origin stories in the game, but humans have to start in a human city, dwarves in a dwarf city, and elves can pick either the woods
or aforementioned human city. There is technically an extra background for humans and elves, but you only deal with that if you play a mage.
Each class provides you with several categories of thematic talents like sword and board, two-weapon fighting, and two-handed weapons for warriors. There is a bit of bleedover for the warrior and rogue on the subject of duel-wielding, but otherwise each class is mostly a unique snowflake or...whatever. At levels 7 and 14 you can pick up a specialization which gives you a few few stat kickers and four more things to blow your talent points on. The downer is that specializations require specific events to unlock (like getting/talking to certain NPCs when they are at a high enough affection rating), or you can just hit the books at around 20+ gp a pop.
Umm...there are also skills, but you'll only end up using half of them and most of those dont even require activation like Coercion and Combat Training (for rogues and warriors-only). The others can be handy for triggering quests, but from what I could tell only having the first rank in the skill was necessary. *shrugs* I
am pissed that there isn't an option to try and break locked doors and chests that you cannot open. Also, its kind of redundant to get a message that says, "you need a key." No shit? I thought that's why I was trying to pick the fucking thing!
And thats about it for characters. All of the staples of your typical RPG, just not enough variety for my taste.

On the topic of sparse features, I'm also going to bring up loot, by which I mean there isnt any. I didnt change robes until about level 7, and thats because I stole them from Wynne when she was forced into my party. I think I also stole her staff. I didnt change out gear again until around level 12. Partially because almost nothing for a mage ever dropped, and mostly because what did was fucking worthless. I figured it was a mage thing, but the same thing happened when I rolled a rogue: magical gear is few and far between, and you'll stick with that Borrowed Longsword for a good long while. It took me until level 15 to afford a dragonbone dagger, and I'm still using the longsword in my other hand! I'm saying have Diablo-levels of loot shooting out of the severed neckstumps of rats, but for fuck's sake throw a little variety in there.

Combat is often a mixed bag of joy and frustration. You can pause the game at any time to issue orders, which is a nice feature since the AI has only a tenuous understanding of the word tactics. Its also handy for digging through your packs for healing items since you'll be knocking them back at a frenetic pace.
The worse cases occur when you have to deal with one or more mages behind a phalanx of guards and archers. This has been the source of many a reload as I try to find a way to fuck with the AI and lure out a few enemies at a time to thin them down before making a bum rush at the goddamn wizard that's throwing out chain lightning or fireballs. Blood mages are even worse, and there's a part in the game where you get to plow through an entire dungeon full of the bastards. I eventually just left, leveled up elsewhere, and came back later with magic-stopping arrows and weapons plated in magic-resistance runes. Which...is bullshit. I shouldn't have to go through
that much preparation just to barely survive, and I've been touring Ferelden on easy.
The highlight of combat is when you throw down with ogres, as sometimes you'll perform a badass finishing kill where you leap up and bury your sword in its chest. Its a visceral treat that doesnt get old since you rarely fight ogres, which is a damn shame. I'd prefer to have some for each monster, but I'll take what I can get.

"But Antioch", you say, "if both the character options and combat are lackluster, then why exactly are you wasting your valuable time playing this game?" Short answer: the NPCs. Thats right. Not the quests, loot, or grinding, but the people that you team up with to do all that shit.

Most of them are optional, but you invariably blunder your way into all of them throughout the course of the game. You can get by without using any of them, and they level up regardless so if one of them pisses you off you can leave him/her/it at camp and not fret about being forced to rely on a grossly underpowered nancy later on. Hell, you can even kick them out of the party at any time for any reason. If you dont give two shits about the narrative or interacting with pretend people, they still do their part in filling in gaps when it comes to party composition: you got bitchy young wizard, old wizard, ditsy red-headed archer, duel-wielding elf, typical whiny fighter, dog-thats-better-than-the-fighter, typical non-whiny fighter, and optional golem (in that you have to buy him).
For me, I actually got a kick out of talking with them and learning more about their personalities and pasts (some of which comes back to bite you in the ass). Each character has an affection rating that is relatively easy to grind if you know what to say and give them the right gifts, which lets you learn more about their personality and histories (some of which come back to bite you in the ass), but also grants bonuses to attributes. So, something for both camps I guess. I also enjoyed the fact that depending on who you have in your party, they will automatically engage eachother in dialogue, which adds a nice immersive quality to it all.
As an aside, yes you can screw up to three members of the party (since one of them plays the straight man/woman) and yes they have their clothes on the entire time, which I suppose makes it equal parts intriguing (that they can do it with clothes on) and boring.

I wouldnt say that any specific elements of it are especially intuitive or mold-breaking, but the visuals and characters are interesting enough to maintain interest while engaging you in a standard fantasy RPG experience. Much of the designs make sense and look cool, and cleavage bearing outfits arent too common. I cant say that Dragon Age is a true spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate since I didnt like those games at all, and to me that might give a bad impression or turn away others who likewise didnt care for it: its much,
much better...by which I mean its above average, which in turn means its well worth your time if your into fantasy CRPG fare.
November 04, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

Songs of Erui: Updated Map

I updated the previous map to show locations that the players have visited, and some places that they know about.

November 02, 2009
Posted by David Guyll

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