Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: Mistwyck and Woodmuir maps by Owlbear Maps

Okay, so I really like isometric view maps.  It is a much more natural representation which enables you to immediately grasp the layout of a place.  Top-down or plan style maps usually take a little bit of study to make sure one fully understands all the details.  There aren't a lot of isometric maps available out there but I just bought the Mistwyck and Woodmuir isometric map pdfs from Owlbear Maps off Drivethrurpg.

Mystwick (detail)


Both are simple town maps, Mystwick being a tiny village and Woodmuir a larger settlement with a log palisade around it.  The art style reminds me of the Asterix comic books, which I particularly like.  Both maps are in black and white, which is fine, although at first glance you get the impression that they are winter scenes.  The pdfs have an overview of the entire map, then pages with sections to print out and put together; the larger sections come in versions with and without a light blue isometric grid.  There is also a legend for each map with a bit of info on selected locations.

The reason I bought these two maps is as starting locations for games.  A while back I came up with the idea of having all the characters be from the same village and each player gets to pick the building in the town where the character lives.  It provides a fun bit of engagement right at the start.  Both these maps will work great for small starting towns for my games.

Bottom Line: I think both maps are great!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Half-Dead City

Okay, so as I mentioned in an earlier post I recently re-subscribed to Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Path because the new one is set in the not-Egypt land of Osirion.  I just finished reading the first installment of the Mummy's Mask path, The Half-Dead City, this evening.  Overall, I like it a lot.  The locations are plenty Egypt-y enough to make me happy plus there are great fantasy RPG touches.

The adventure is almost all dungeon crawls with a town to recover in and wander about.  There are the expected bestiary with some new monsters and treasury with some new magic items, all with the Egyptian theme.  There is a really nice section on the setting, the city of Wati, including a map and plenty of location descriptions.  The book also has the serialized fiction section typical of Paizo's adventure paths; the story was okay, but very heavy on combat details.  However it was set in one of the inns of Wati and included a map and description of the inn for use in play.

There were only two things which I wasn't happy about.  One is the basic premise of the adventure, which posits that the temple of the goddess of the afterlife is authorizing people to tomb-raid the large necropolis at Wati.  Teams are given locations by lottery to investigate--provided they do not directly disturb any bodies.  That just doesn't sit quite right with me but most players would probably be fine with it.  The other is that there is a rival team of NPCs with whom they will tangle.  On the one hand, most groups of NPCs in these adventures are not really tough enough to put up much of a fight if it comes to that.  On the other hand each one gets an extensive write-up which becomes a total waste of page space in the book if the PCs kill them off.

Bottom Line: I like it and am looking forward to the next installment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Diablo III: Some Thoughts

Okay, so I resisted buying Diablo III for quite a long time.  I loved the first two Diablos and played them to death--and was afraid that if I bought III then I would again spend huge amounts of time playing it.  About 15 years ago I used to play computer games a lot, particularly ones from Blizzard.  But I began to realize that I was spending far too much time on them.  (I was also spending too much time painting miniatures, but that's another story.)  So I cut way back on PC gaming and gave up on miniatures.  And I found that it led to a huge improvement in my lifestyle.

But I loved the first two Diablo games so much that I finally caved in and decided to give it a try, trusting that I had mastered my semi-addiction.  Well, I've played up to level 30 with the wizard/sorceress (my favorite class) and thought I'd share some of my impressions.

- 3D: This is a "modern" 3D game, no 2D sprites here.  It doesn't do much for the characters or monsters, because the game still uses the classic fixed, zoomed-out isometric view.  Since you can't zoom in, rotate, or change the viewpoint in any way the 3D is sort of wasted.  But it hugely improves the environments.  They have a lot more atmosphere now.

- Monsters: Well, as I just mentioned, making them 3D didn't add much since they are still tiny little things on the fixed-view screen.  But they do still have the classic Diablo feel that I always enjoyed.  Likewise for the player-characters, NPCs, and spell effects.

- Challenge: I started on the normal setting and it was very, very easy.  I moved it up to Hard and it's more challenging, but still pretty easy.  Also, treasure drops are insanely over the top.  In the earlier editions you were lucky to get one or two epic type items--ever.  In this game I've already found about half a dozen and I've only played to level 30 with one character.  And most of the loot is tailored for your character, which also makes it less of a challenge.  You absolutely don't need to work for loot--it's really handed to you on a silver platter.  Even rings and trinkets are easily bought from one of the vendors in town as you go along.  Very disappointing.

- Skills: One of the fun things with any RPG is crafting/building your character over time.  In Diablo II each class had three skill trees, allowing you to specialize in one or spread your points around.  And the skill trees were laid out on the screen with detailed tooltips so you could look and plan ahead.  Blizzard later used that triple-tree system for their World of Warcraft game.  But in Diablo III, there is no tree to look and plan ahead on.  And the skills don't give you much information on what happens if you take a particular skill or add a rune to one.  With the sorceress I have four left-mouse attacks--but there's no information on the skill screen to tell me which one does more damage.  So, I don't like the new skill system at all.

- Crafting: there is apparently a more complex crafting system in this game but I have no idea what it is.  Mind you, I hate games where you have to go out and do extensive research elsewhere to figure out what the heck is going on in-game.  so I have loads of gems and materials filling up my stash chest but no idea what to do with them.  Rather obnoxious.

- Health Orbs: when you kill a monster a red health orb may drop which heals you if you run into it.  I don't really enjoy having these because the rest of the game has a serious look to it--but then suddenly there are these glowing red balloons floating around.  In the last game you always had to use and manage your potions bar for health and mana, but they've thrown that out.  Now there are health potions, but no mana potions.  Mana now comes back faster and health potions have a significant cool-down.  I suppose the orbs are part of this redesign, but I just don't like them.  But I am glad they got rid of what was basically the Big Belt o' Potions Mini-Game where you needed to constantly stock and re-arrange the four columns of potions in your belt for rapid quaffing.

- Classes: First off I'm glad that all the classes are now available in male and female versions.  I like having the extra options with characters.  You can't customize the characters beyond that, but since they are tiny figures in the center of the screen in-game it doesn't much.  But now, when you log in and out there is an up-close, rotatable view of your character with current equipment on.  I'm glad they added that new view.

- Story: So far it's not very inspiring, but then I'm still in the first Act.  It's a total railroad but this isn't a tabletop RPG, it's a tactical combat RPG.

- Overall: Slightly disappointed, but still hopeful.

Monday, March 31, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day 31: What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication?

The original RuneQuest, because I totally missed it the first time around.   Back in high school I subscribed (and occasionally contributed) to a gaming fanzine called Alarums & Excursions.  It was sort of a collection of blogs--but on paper, because this was the late 70's and the internet was still 20 years away.  Little did I know at the time that the people contributing were some of the biggest names in RPG gaming: Wilf K. Backhaus, David A. Hargrave, Rob Heinsoo, Robin Laws, Dave Nalle, Mark Rein-Hagen, Jonathan Tweet, etc.  The vast majority of the content was about D&D, which I didn't play, and this other game which I totally hadn't heard about called RuneQuest.  At the time my limited gaming funds all went to Chivalry & Sorcery or Traveler so I never got to even read the books, much less play.  But it all sounded pretty cool and I was particularly intrigued by the non-medieval setting.   Nowadays the rules mechanics and the world setting "intellectual properties" are apparently owned by separate entities.  But I'd love to see reprints of the original.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day 30: Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about?

Hmm, well I guess it depends on how "non-D&D" you mean.  The first thing which springs to mind is the Book of Ebon Bindings for Empire of the Petal Throne.  It is a chillingly realistic-sounding tome on Tsoly├íni demonology, right down to all the gruesome details.  Demon after demon is detailed, complete with weird and grotesque summoning rituals.

Or, there are the excellent paper miniatures at iheartprintandplay.  I love the Order of the Stick style art for the figures.  They are a refreshing diversion from the usually serious and realistic art you get for RPGs.  I think of these as the perfect miniatures for playing Old School Hack.

Or, lastly, the Abyssals supplement for Exalted.  The Abyssal Exalted are souls of persons who took a dark bargain at the moment of death and now are Deathknights serving the underworld.  Although they are bound to their masters they still have free will and drives and desires left over from their tragic previous life.  If I ran an Exalted campaign it would be an Abyssal campaign.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hooray! The first book of the new Pathfinder "Egyptian" Adventure Path arrived!

Yes, after a long wait I finally got my copy of The Half-Dead City, volume one of the Mummy's Mask adventure path for Pathfinder.  Ever since I found out that the Golarion campaign world for Pathfinder had a "not-Egypt" country in it called Osirion I've been wanting them to do an Adventure Path set there. 

They had some cool stuff on Ancient Osirion in their Lost Empires book and a huge dungeon called the Pyramid of Kamaria in their Dungeons of Golarion book, but I wanted more!  Well they finally did it and so I totally take back all that stuff I said earlier.  After I finish reading it I'll do a review.

March Madness Non-D&D Blog Challenge: Day 29: What OSR product have you enjoyed most?

This would the Desert of Desolation modules for AD&D.  They were rather railroady but of the few dungeon modules I've bought I like them the best.  Yes, it's partly because I'm really into ancient Egypt.  I ran these for my group in college and they were a lot of fun.  Because I mostly play Pathfinder nowadays I'm thinking of working up a campaign in the not-Egypt land of Osirion in Pathfinder's Golarion game world.  These modules would work perfectly there.