Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games

Title: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gotta tell you, this is my second favorite of all of Timothy Brannan's Witch character classes for B/X era games. The Mara Witches are some of the darker characters types available to the player. In fact, I find them so dark they are actually a special type of character that should have one heavy restriction. 

In every edition of D&D, there have been a few character types that are so special that they are limited to NPC classes. The idea of a shaman character class has always been a part of D&D and only available to the DM as an non-player character. I know a thing or two about great NPCs, my children are actually named Nathan, Paul, Catherine on purpose. 

Shamistic casters open up the possibility of playing a monster across tropes. An expert may assist the party because they have a higher calling. A sage may invigorate the party with a quest. Basically these are all people who may pick the party over their clan against some greater evil or some higher cause. Someone who may save the day in a heel-face-turn. 

This one book makes the best case for making witches a PC class only. Never should a DM be granted such power. While there is the distinct possibility of a Mara witch choosing an evil or chaotic alignment the player has to totally embrace The Three-fold Law, no matter how injurious or dangerous it may be to themselves. In the hands of a player, the Mara witch can shine and become a legend. 

In the hands of the DM, the person who dictates the story and arranges the plots and creates the scenarios, the Mara witch is too powerful. If the DM is the only person who can invoke repercussions of violating the Three-fold Law, then the role of the Mara Witch loses it main strength, the role of tradition. This could and would happen because while the DM may desire a moral story where the Mara Witch falls due to their own evilness, vanity or pettiness, this class can march all over the party. 

In the hands of a player, this type of witch is very subtle and powerful. To the player, chaos and evil don't really matter much because they have to abide the fact that their magic could backlash on them. Chaos and evil can take many different forms, but this witch class requires that guiding hand of the player to be an effective character. Someone who feels they have something to win and something to lose. 

Having created a number of character classes, including a book specifically about NPCs called "Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners", I think can say this character is so different it must be left to a player to make them come to life and should never be given into the hands of DM, except for the rarest circumstance. 

This book follows the format of the other two books I have reviewed, The Amazonian Witch and The Classical Witch traditions. Like the other two books, except for outward facing abilities like spells, no mechanic system introduced upsets other character classes, which is very important for consistency. All spells are well written and does not cause a power race with the standard character classes. While specifically written for Labyrinth Lord, it could be added to a great number of rule sets with little problems. 

Like the other two books, it has great cover art, wonderful interior art and nicely formatted tables, with blue tint for easy reading. I think this series of books captures the great cover art of second edition D&D while also maintaining the rougher aspect of the B/X era D&D books. The balancing act was well done. 

A final highlight to all of these witch themed books is the idea of Tradition. Each book paints an image of the many kinds of witches that have existed in mythology. While there may be a few changes in powers and abilities, each one is similar enough to easily grasp in a readthrough. 

Unlike the other two reviews, I spent most of my time looking over the spell lists. This book has 36 pages of spells. And every time I thought to myself, "I would tweak this spell in this way..." I found a second spell that met whatever my imagined need was. Not only are the spells well balanced for this class, they support one another to create a dark mysterious vibe. Which also reinforces the idea that witches need to handled by actual players and not thrown as NPC so the DM can run over the party. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Shout Out!

My White Box review got a nice shout out from Jeremy "frothsof" Smith on the Humpday RPG show

Now I have to back and relisten to the show. It also makes me want to dust off the cobwebs on my podcast and the list of podcasts I share. I feel like it can and should do better.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Oh, Dear. What Happened? Review of Farscape Roleplaying Game

Title:  Farscape Roleplaying Game
Design: Ken Carpenter, Rob Vaux, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Gavin Downing, Lee Hammock, Kelly Hill, Christina Kamnikar
Rule Set: d20
Year: 2002
Pages: 320
Number of players: 2 or more
Rating: ★★

The TV show Farscape ran from 1999 to 2003 and was followed up by a 2 episode mini-series called The Peacekeeper War. The Roleplaying Game was released in 2002, which would have been in between Seasons 3 and 4. For this reason, the book only covers the first 2 seasons or so of action.

This is an interesting RPG as it tops out at 320 pages, which is one more than the Star Wars RPG which was produced by WotC. What is interesting about this is, WotC managed to cram 4 movies worth of information into a book 1 page shorter than the Farscape RPg as a stand alone work while The Farscape Roleplaying Game assumes ownership of The Players Handbook. Farscape was published sometime in 2002, which makes this The Player's Handbook the 3.0 edition. Maybe? In June of 2003, the 3.5 edition came out. If you did not play D&D, you wouldn't even know.

The results are rather interesting. As is the rest of the book. If I reviewed the first 144 pages, this would be a 5 star review. This section of the book is a recap of everything in the series to that point, plus a short story called 10 Little Indians. The layout is incredible, the information is dense, and it really captures the essence of Farscape.

However, this isn't that review. One of the stand out features of this book is the artwork, which is entirely from the show. All of it is great and it is laid out exactly like a product in this universe would be laid out. Titles appear in a machine-like flowing script which is readable with the proper skill (DC 30). Second, the margins are thick while the columns are diagonal. It's cute for the first 144 pages, but when you actually need information, it's really hard on the eyes. Like MySpace banner hard.

From page 145 on are the rules. Remember that disclaimer about needing the Player's Handbook? Yeah... I'm not so sure. Which is a good thing because I can't tell if this means 3.0 or the 3.5 edition. I think the 3.0 edition, but it doesn't seem that necessary. If you missed that caveat, you could probably play this game not realizing something was missing. It isn't that it's missing words or that the grammar is odd, it's the layout of the book that jams your comprehension. It's just that distracting.

Like The Player's Handbook, you pick a race, a class, generate stats, select feats, skills and powers, then select equipment. All of that works well, it's a proven method utilized by many products in the d20 line. And that is where it gets weird. I can't point to a single thing that would require another book, which is probably my gamer hack-it ethic running wild. It sure seems odd.

February 16th edit: 

I see it! This book is missing two parts for running a home campaign. First, it doesn't have the Experience chart. Second, it doesn't explain CR. Really? Because those two omissions actual require two books, not one. You kind of need the DMG and the PHB. 

But not really, which sort of BS. The information missing from the experience chart is in the d20 SRD. Like the one on Hypertext d20 SRD, which is an excellent site. I give it 5 of 5 stars for helpfulness. You'll also need a challenge rating calculator if you want your players going against monsters. Or Critters as John would call them. Again, Hypertext d20 SRD to the rescue. 

I am not sure why I didn't see this at first. It could be that edit blindness everyone gets when looking for extraneous words and typos. Or more likely, I couldn't see it because I would want my players to be the cast of the show. Be the heroes, which makes the experience chart unnecessary. 

I feel the missing Challenge Rating is actually in universe. The heroes throw in against anything they can, anyway they can. Crackers and Nuclear Weapons are both combat items in this show. CR was never a factor when it came to putting the heroes in the action grinder. 

After finding these two omissions, I would suggest one other change for the at home game. Use Vitality and Wounds. Farscape has simply relabeled Hit Points as wounds. Zero wound points is out cold, -10 is death. The WofC Star Wars RPG (click for that review) used Vitality and Wounds, which I feel is more cinematic. Vitality is how much punching around you can take, while wounds are limited to taking serious a blaster shot. One will knock you low for a day while the other one ruins your year. Also, considering how Control Points are used to activate powers, this game has more in common with Star Wars' Force Points than D&D spells or spell like powers.   

Back to your review, as it was written back in January of 2020. 

One of the flaws in the book is, being a recap of season 1 and 2, who and what the characters are not presented in a way that plays out in the TV show. Primarily, this shows up in the pregenerated characters. John is not particularly strong or smart according to his stats, which doesn't really fit with being a physicist and astronaut. On the other hand, all of the characters do seem to be balanced when only that group is considered. However, they are all rather high level, which you would think would lead to much higher stats.

Scorpius is listing as having a 9 strength, while D'Argo has an 18 which is not quite right. I would buy the 9 for Scorpius if he had some sort of Rage feat that allowed him to overpower other, stronger characters for a short period of time. He is a man with an actual cooling system, after all.

All and all, the book seems incomplete even when paired with the PHB and some that feeling is definitely problems caused by the layout.

At $9.99 at DriveThruRPG, I'd say it's for fans of the series or a person who wants a great coffee table RPG book. It is stunning to look at. Literally.

Two stars... only because I love Farscape.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Review - X-Wing Miniature Game

Title: X-Wing Miniature Game
Credits: A Game by Jay Little
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 2014? 
Pages: 24, 16 and 4 page booklets
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★★

I picked this game up for my son a few years back and we played it a lot. My son has his X-Wing and TIE models on a shelf in his room. I started this post at 4:45 am, which is why you won't see images of those parts in this review. I'll see what I can do when my son and our sun gets up. 

As I understand it, this system is full of power creep which really doesn't effect the gameplay of this set. This is also the first edition rules, which is different than what is currently on the market. So on to the game review. 

This version of X-Wing was produced for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had to guess at the date because there isn't one on the box. The box is solid, it will hold up well on the shelf. Inside are 3 booklets, totalling 44 pages of information for game play. The graphics are incredible and a valued addition to the game as they present gameplay information, not random photos from a at the time unreleased movie. It's a good thing the box is as sturdy as it is, it's loaded with parts. 3 painted models, cards, dice, tokens, templates, etc. It's a lot of parts, but nothing extraneous. 

The first play guide has you in the seat of your beloved X-Wing or TIE fighter and blowing the snot out of your enemy in minutes. The instructional method is a familiar one: learn the basics as you play, add more rules, play again, then master the all rules and go crazy with new adventures. 

The first session can be played in 10-30 minutes as you learn the rules. Its really nice. My first impression of the game was that it was a copy of Top Gun**. There are some similarities, both where made for a movie, both had some cool tokens and a move, react, shoot, repeat method of play. But that is where it ends. 

There is one thing missing from the box that sets this game apart from the others: A Game Board. There isn't one. Players are told to find a good sized table, lay down some felt or a black table cloth and have at it. Sure, you can buy one but the rules clearly state it isn't necessary. Movement templates guide the ships, unlocking them from the play space. The lack of a board is actually a strength. Not having a grid or hexes to lock your pieces down gives the game the same fluid dynamic of Star Wars space combat. You feel like you're in the cockpit. 

This game brings back a lot of memories in one tiny box. I have already mentioned that it felt a bit like a better planned out version of a Top Gun** Movie game from the late 80s, which was an apparent skin of the Aerotech game (which is available via the Battletech Compendium at DriveThru. It has the movement guides like the turn keys of Car Wars. Combat is handled with dice where each player rolls dice at the same time like Risk, with the twist that the defender's dice eliminates the attacker's damage. There is a I-go-you-go approach to terrain, which is a hell of an old school call out to games like WRG. And it's Star Wars themed. 

First edition games may seem rough, but this one isn't. Gameplay and rules are tight, with carefully considered options. Gameplay pops and snaps into place naturally, it's like something from the Spice Mines of Kessel. And since it's a vehicle for selling models as add-ons, it very successful at that. 

*While intended as a two player game, there are 3 models which could be divided among 3 players. For complex missions, one could add a game host. My initial playthrough was with 3 young children each having a model and myself acting as a gamehost, so 4 people can be involved. Whatever you do, it just works out.
** I wish I could point you to the Top Gun game I had back in the 80s/90s, but I have never seen one except the one I bought from the shelf of my local Hobby Shop back when the movie was hot. Since I lost my copy, I don't even have a picture. It was pretty cool at the time, coming with about a dozen tiny plastic airplane tokens. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

No Cheating! Repost from MeWe.

The path forward is murky
No, I am not cheating by throwing out #TBT reviews. Old reviews don't count towards my goal of 52 reviews in a year. It's basically building an index of all reviews i have done.

Right now, I have three tabs, Game Reviews, Appendix N+ and 2021 Game and Book reviews. At the end of 2021, those will collapse to two pages/tabs: Reviews and Appendix N+. 

Once that happens in or around December 2021, I can launch my 2021-2 series on Appendix N+. This will be about books formative to game play and scenario creation, post-1977ish. The Population of Loss review is the kernel of an idea to start my Winter 2021-2 series on Superhero themed gaming posts. I now need to read the rest of the titles in the series because this series is wildly different than other superhero titles.

So on deck, I have a couple of post series planned:
Spring 2021 - Models
Summer 2021 - Outdoors Game sessions,
Fall/Winter 2021 - Superhero gaming,
Fall/Winter/Spring 2021-2 - Appendix N+.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

#TBT - Star Viking Game Review

Title: Star Viking
   Designer: Arnold Hendrick
   Graphics Design: David Helber and Arnold Hendrick
   Cover Painting: Bob Depew
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 1981
Pages: 24
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★

Star Viking places two players head to head for the survival of civilization. Well, one of you will defend the Federation civilization, the other will try to destroy it. The Star Viking boxed included a rules booklet, two dice, a folded sheet of 154 die-cut cardboard counters (each 1⁄2” square), and a sheet of 12 map tiles, each representing a star system.

Game procedure is easy, but as with all simple things can result in hideously complex results. The players are at cross purposes from the start. The Viking player selects his or her forces while the Federation arrays the map tiles and his or her defenses. Turns are divided into strategic and tactical moves. Tactical moves are only required when both players are in the same place.

The map tiles are divided into sectors, with large cities representing more than one sector while sleepy moons are one sector. These sectors are equivalent to a hex. Some sectors are vacuum, while others are in an atmosphere. They are either contiguous or connected by an orbit line.

There are 20+ units available to the players, each one having a tech level. The sector's tech level determines if a unit can be placed there. For example, a sector with B tech level can support B and C type units. 

Each turn is divided in three, Strategic Segment, Tactical Segment and Politics and Economic Segment. Strategic is for moving vast distances, tactical is for combat and Politics and Economics represents responses such as building new ships or plundering.

One interesting twist on this game is, players purchase victory points to win. There are automatic victory conditions, if the Vikings sack the capital or one player accumulates twice as many victory points as his or her opponent via purchasing on or after the 7th round. If the game lasts all 12 rounds, then the player with the most victory points wins.

*This tiny set of rules has multiple expansions presented right in this set. The first variant is to play as a solitaire game. It suggests automatic movement by die roll, but doesn't include any tables. You are to make them yourself. The second is to use two hostile Viking players for a 3 way game. This requires having 2 boxed sets, which is easy to do since you can print them yourself. The third is to merely extend the number of rounds to 20, 30 or more.

There is exactly one errata, this was a very well produced game from the get-go and still provides hours of entertainment 30+ years later.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Additional Force Feats for my Star Wars Campaign

Based off the new Star Wars movies, the Rebels series and The Mandalorian I have a couple of Force Feats I want to add to my campaign. Strangely, not all of the original force feats displayed by Luke, Leia and Vader are a part of the original WotC Star Wars book. This book was for The Phantom Menace, but oddly didn't include anything from the original 3 movies. These are not all that incredibly overpowered feats, I merely want more options for my players. 

From the movies, the Rebel TV series, and the Mandalorian, I created 4 more Sense Feats: Whisper, Audience, Intrusion and Affinity, with examples. None of these powers have a cost. 

You can make your thoughts known over a distance, mind to mind. Communication is one way unless two force users have this feat or are somehow related (family or close friends). 
Prerequisites: Sense, Force level 2. 

Benefit: This is silent, mind to mind communication between two characters. It is initiated the force user and the target does not need to respond in anyway. In cases where there is a language barrier, simple thoughts are translated. If a target of this feat is a force user, the communication is two-way. It can be used to form a special link between two force users, like the secret language created by twins, useable over a distance. If the connection is strong, then the location or director of a character can be transmitted. 

Examples: Luke and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back and Grogu and Ahsoka in the Mandalorian. 

Luke calls to Leia

This force feat allows a force user to present themselves to another person. An image of the one requesting an audience appears in the mind of the other. This can be alarming to the target. If two force users engage in this feat, the effect is two-way. Note, the target and user cannot see where the other is. 

Benefits: The target and the projector can see each other in real time and communicate without threat of contact. The illusion is very complete, perhaps causing the practitioners the fight and quarrel as if they were really there. No damage can be inflicted in this way, however people may damage their own environment. Attempting to discern a hostile target's location is a DC 20 and must be derived from clues.  
Prerequisites: Sense and force level 5.
Examples: Kylo Ren and Rey in The Last Jedi. 

Swinging a lightsaber at an illusion is bad.

A force Intrusion has one of two effects, depending on the number of targets. Against multiple targets, the force user can project an image of themselves great distances. Against a single foe, it can be used to compel them reveal information and tell the truth. 

Benefits: An Intrusion can trick opponents into believing the force user is present or even in their head. With extreme concentration, the person can manipulate small items as if they were really present. When used against a single target, a DC check equal to the targets Wisdom will prevent the target from lying for a single round. The target will know they cannot lie for the round and can try to deflect the conversation. This second type of Intrusion is a dark side power. Most people know this is ineffective as a means of interrogation. 

Examples: Luke appearing on Crait, Kylo's interrogation Rey and Poe. A notable except is Vader, who could use this power but does not. It's easier to choke people. People who are flexible in their morality find deflection of questions easy, while more trusting people have harder time. Compare Han and Poe to Rey. 

Better than being there.

Force Affinity can make a victim or group of victims more disposed to leave the user alone or be more friendly. It only works on living creatures, not droids. While not generally a dark side feat, over reliance can have a side effect where the user believes they can charm anyone resulting in instant failure. For example, Kylo and everyone he orders around, Anakin trying to command droids, and the young Obi Wan. 

Benefits: on a DC roll equal to the target's Wisdom, the creature will ignore the force user. On a DC equal to the target's combined Wisdom and Intelligence, the creature will treat the practitioner as a friendly. This will work better on single animals better than intelligent creatures. Pack dynamics can be a hassle for the force user as it could trigger attacks by other members of the pack. Predators are an additional DC 5 because this doesn't change the basic nature of the creature. 

Offering an attractive, different option, choice or making a successful animal handling skill check will provide a longer lasting affinity lasting more than a round. A GM may allow multiple rolls to allow an earnest character to actually befriend the target.  

Attacks on the victim instantly end the affinity. An attack of any kind will cause animals to flee, even if the attack is not on them or even to their benefit. 

Prerequisites: Sense and force level 1. 

Examples: Leia communicating with the Ewoks, Luke trying to calm the Ranor (and failing) and Ezra's ability to commune with every animal. 

This could also be the "Jedi Mind Trick", which seems to make people predisposed to an idea go along with it rather than have a whole new idea. The Stormtroopers were not surprised that those weren't the droids they were looking for, it already happened 80 times that day. Watto on the other hand, had no plan to give stuff away ever, so it couldn't work on him. Luke flat out appeals Bib's greed and desire for praise to turn him to his will. 

Ezra uses this ability on nearly every animal he encounters.

I hope you enjoy these and add them to you game. 

Review - The White Box Boxed Set

Title: The White Box
Production Team: Jeremy Holcomb, Jeff Tidball, Renee Knipe,
Rule Set: all your own
Year: 2017
Pages: 102
Rating: ★★★★★

This is an interesting title. When I am in the classroom or attending classes, the word pedagogy comes up a lot. I never thought I would be using it on a gaming website. 

Yet, that is where we are. Playing a game requires some level of learning. Mostly, this comes up when there is a high learning curve in the rules. Starfleet Battles comes to mind as a game with a rather high learning curve. D&D on the other hand feels more free flowing, therefore has a smaller learning curve. Uno has a quick, as you go vibe, so it doesn't seem like you're learning at all. But all require some pedagogy to teach the game. 

What is The White Box is answered with the sub-title: "A Game Design Workshop in a Box". Its purpose is to teach one how to make games. Or alternatively, to teach players what design elements have what effect on the user. As a teacher, the idea of deconstructing a game rule by rule is more interesting than designing my own. The White Box is very similar to many educational packs teachers can order for their classroom. It comes with the following: 

  • The White Box Essays, the textbook if you will. 
  • 3 counter sheets. 71 pre-printed counters and 49 blank counters.
  • 150 small wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 36 wooden meeples in six colors.
  • 6 giant wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 12 six-sided dice in six colors.
  • 110 plastic discs in eight colors. 

All you need is to add some creativity. The book is excellently written. It is a compilation of 25 essays on game design. The tactile learning tokens or "feelies", if you are old like me, harkens back to the old Infocom games. But they are clearly well thought out and have high production values. Tokens and counters are black, white and gold to match the box, while the various other items in the box are green, white, blue, red, yellow, and black. Despite the fact that these parts are in different media, plastics and wood the bold colors match well, unlike some of the lesson plan sets teachers have to throw together. The meeples are generic and cute. 

While intended to teach game design, the 102 page book tends to dance the subject a bit when it comes to ideation and leans heavily on design and production. It does answer to some important questions as to where a game designer's energy should go. It also gets into elements like adding random numbers and how a game should flow. It's very clear that the authors have written and designed games, so the essays are very useful, despite not having specifics on brainstorming or what makes a great game. If everyone knew those things, then there would be no need for this product. At least 4 different essays are addressed to non-gameplay situations such as theft, rule laywering, copyrights, game breakers, min-maxing and other situations a designer needs to know about to a have shot at fame and fortune in game design. 

As I understand it, this came out as a Kickstart project a few years ago, this is not a review of KS and since I missed that step, I cannot comment on how easily this boxed set came to fruition. 

What I do know is that this is a good product for getting started on the topic of game design, having seen many games come together in my time at Mattel. All and all I give it 5 stars. 

On a side note, I want to get my hands on another copy of this as it makes an excellent tabletop piece for a variety of games. The tokens, counters and chits are so generic as to be unobtrusive on the table for tracking various things in games that tend to be more "theater of the mind", but could use a little diagram or reminder here or there.  

You can pick up a physical copy at Atlas-Games and an electronic file DriveThruRPG which is missing the tangible pieces. Interestly, there is an audio book and a bundle with both. I didn't know that until this review. The pdf is well worth the $7.99 price tag, but if you want to full experience, I would buy the physical boxed set and the audio book. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

#TBT - The First Book - Zero to Hero, Uncommon Commoners

Today's post is a #TBT. Back to my first book. I can't believe it's been over two years and 300 downloads later. Perhaps it's time for an update.
I play a fusion of B/X and AD&D. Back in the day, we had no internet, so I had no context as to which books went with which games.

I vaguely recall some sort of conversion rules to bring your Basic and Expert Characters to AD&D and vis-à-vis. I liked that idea, but then when going through the process, I said, "Screw it! There aren't enough differences between AD&D and Basic/Expert to really warrant this much effort. Elves can be Generic or classed. You can generate stats using either set, etc. We are just doing this."

After years and years of play, I know the differences between AD&D and Basic and Expert. The main twist is that AD&D characters have higher stats, higher bonuses, more of everything in AD&D from weapons to magic spells to magical item and monsters. Demi-humans advance faster with clearly defined abilities in B/X but have level limits, even with the lower levels and ability scores. For the homebrew game, the differences aren't so great. Missile fire is the great equalizer in AD&D, you get more per round which is deadly compared to B/X. 

One thing that bothered me about each set of rules was the lack of secondary skills as a fully fleshed out set of statistics. The options were always there to vaguely support NPCs, but when tacking on an professional skill to a Player Character, the DM had to do it all.

I love my NPC characters, usually they act in the supporting role. They don't cast magic, they don't own a sword. They are there to do far more that carry torches and equipment as per the rules, but not sling a sword or spells. Over the years, I developed a set of rules to accommodate these types of characters. I called it Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. They were the type of characters populating a small town to large city.

My first principal was developed from looking at the to hit and saving throw tables. Most of the time, player characters are challenged by rolls in the low teens at low levels. Well, making buckets is easier than that, so my NPCs have a better than 50-50 chance of making something. Second, failure is not applicable. You aren't much of a bucket maker if you fail 50% of the time. Failure for NPC professionals is missing one or more of their target goals. They make 8 buckets instead of 9, they are a day late, some are wood and some are metal, etc.

Second principle is they suck as combatants, but might have some terrifying skill with a tool. Stoneworker's hammers are just brutal, scribes have razor-like knives, and roofers have their terrible zaxes. These characters have an advantage with tools as weapons, but the tools themselves are poor weapons. Also, lumping someone in the head can damage the tool and the target, limiting the user to use it as a tool again. 

Third, they have horrible hit points, attributes are rolled on average dice and saving throws are poor. They max out at 7 or so hit points, including constitution bonuses. "Luck number 7" was the guiding thought in this choice. It's luck that they have more HP than a first or second level character, but this is a poor meat shield choice for the PCs.

Some people have asked if this is character sieve, it is very much the opposite. In fact, there is a section on how an NPC professional can transition to Player Character, saving a poorly rolled character. This method generates characters fast by allowing the DM to save those who have abysmal stats. The process of generation assumes the professional character started with averaged die rolls and this can be used to "lift" someone who didn't qualify for a true PC at first. 

In Uncommon Commoners, you'll find over 50 character classes for professionals. They can be used to flesh out your towns or add a bit of flare to a PC. They are far from overpowered, but do add zest to any campaign.

Dark Queen of Krynn - Macintosh Version - August 24, 1992

Welcome to These Old Games, 1992 edition. The Dark Queen of Krynn was a part of SSI's Gold Box series of D&D games. It happens to be my personal favorite. 

This was part 2 of a three part sequence. You could (and should) bring your characters over from Death Knights of Krynn. Back in the day, I was buying these games singly, and I had no idea Death Knights of Krynn existed because it wasn't on CompUSA's shelf that week. Actually, Death Knights would not appear for 2 more years on Macs. 

I am not sure where I'm going with this post, as this is neither review nor walk-thru. Perhaps it is a retrospective. I should just star it up and add some publication information to make this a full review. I don't know, maybe someday. 

When you drop into the game, you are presented with a blank screen, where all of the action begins. Once you have some characters, either through import or generation, you can begin. 

What I loved about this game was it's faithful rendition of D&D. You had class and racial restrictions, which were locked to "hard mode". There was no bypassing these. This game was the first to enforce spell limits for Wisdom and Intelligence. Typically, you'd discover this when a character looses a point on a Stat after a certain point. 

Also, the rule booklet doesn't explain that Elves can't be raised and "our elves are different", so they can and do sleep and are subject to sleep spells. So... considered yourself warned. The kinder's have an unusual ability, they can backstab with a blunt weapon which is helpful in more than a few circumstances. 

There were also some bugs which could wipe you out. Save often is the golden rule. 

The first bug is that characters eligible for level up would be highlighted in a nasty pink color. Sometimes, the game would bug and not highlight your character. You could go on forever thinking a character had not leveled. This isn't a major bug because if you hit the train command, that character could train. You just had to watch the experience points to know you could.  

The reason I mention this bug first is, there are a bunch of cheat codes for this game. In the DOS versions, you have to do some junk to access them, but on a Mac they were ready to go out of the box. Pressing a certain key combination would bump your character up to the next level. This could make the game unplayable, or at least unrewarding. (I think it was alt-J or -J). This cheat will completely ruin the game. The ⌘-J cheat could age your characters into losing INT or WIS, so be careful. 

The next bug is frustrating. There is a "quick mode" which would have the AI take control of your character(s). First, the AI is pretty stupid and second, it is faster than you. Once quick mode was in effect, hitting the space bar fast enough to stop it was nearly impossible. One trick to get out of it was to remember the character order and slam the space bar before the next character's turn. Frustrating. 

A third bug was the possibility that the game would teleport the party to a room with no exits. Reboot was the only way out as this bypassed the save game menu. You loose progress, but at least you can recover. 

A fourth bug was basically the opposite of the third bug. A monster would generate in a room with no exits. In this case, you couldn't end the battle. You could select flee. You didn't gain treasure or experience, but at least your game could continue without a reboot.  

The are several cheats that are almost necessary to play the game. The players are horribly short of magical arrows and this game power escalates fast. You need +2 arrows right from the start. Unfortunately, you can only buy magical arrows at one point and they are expensive. The other frustrating part of this game is coins are dead weight, slowing your character down and have relatively little value besides Identifying items. So, when you get to the point of being able to purchase magic arrows, you the game has trained you not to carry steel pieces. 

There are two variants of mugging a character for goods. One is in-game and one is out of game. 

In game, you can create a bunch of characters which always generate with specific equipment. Typically, you'll use fighters who start with 40 +2 arrows. Create Bob, Ted, Jim and so on, add them to the party and transfer their gear to a character you intend to play with. Then remove them from the party and delete them. Instant infinity arrows. (Not really, you'd have to do this a lot.) 

The second method is out of game and carries some risk. It is also labor intensive. In the save folder are some files. You'll see all of your characters appear with the ending .qch for Queen CHaracter. These are the files you want to mess with. 

If a character is awarded a cool item save the game and quit. YOU MUST QUIT! 

Hit the ⌘+D to duplicate the whole folder - Twice! Name one "working copy" and the other "backup". Don't touch "backup" unless something goes wrong. Open the game. Steal the item you want from your character. Save and quit. In the finder, duplicate that character in the "working copy" folder. Rename it to <your character's name.qch> and drop it into the Save folder. You'll get a warning that you are overwriting the file. That's ok. 

When you reopen the game, now two characters will have that item. You can repeat as often as you like. In fact, if you reduplicate the folders, you can double the number of items you can steal each time. So one item converts to two on the first cycle, then you duplicate two items on the second cycle for a total of 4. On the third cycle, you have enough for a whole party. I would create a holder character, so I could dump extra good items to them. That was more labor intensive, but effective. 

Back in the day, this was all done on floppies, so you had a slight chance of having a disk failure. Especially if you were using the free CompUSA disks or had hole punched a 400K so it read as 800K. Working on an actual hard drive is easier. 

Since you are in this folder and you have access to huge hard drives, you can make a copy of your whole save folder in case something gets borked. The files labeled SavGam<letter>.QSV are all of your saved games. It's good to have a copy in case you get happy hands and overwrite one. 

There are 2 files in this folder that I could never figure out. VaultA.DAT and VaultB.DAT. The game won't work without them and editing them with a hex editor doesn't work. They also touch your saves and characters, so you can fry your whole game by messing with them. 

I am pretty sure I am not done with this game. Heck, I'm the guy who ran through 100 days of a pen and paper game by the hour, so no I am not done. Only for now. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

That's Not Star Wars, Ya Know

One of my favorite Star Trek episodes is Balance of Terror. It is a trope defining story about a Romulan warship using it's cloak to bomb the heck out of the Federation's outposts. It's actually a rewrite of the film "Enemy Below", but it was used effectively to establish a lot of lore within the series. Before this point, we didn't have cloaking devices, photon torpedoes, etc. It really wasn't Trek, but became Star Trek. 

So, yeah. That's not Star Wars. 

Neither is my Star Wars campaign, or so I have been told. The players are force adepts with no lightsabers. That isn't cool. I have been issued an order to get them lightsabers. 

Ok, fine. I see my mistake. For a couple of sessions, I proved that Star Wars can exist without Jedi and lightsabers, but the players are annoyed with this. I saw this coming and had a plotline where the characters build lightsabers from some junk they receive from a bounty hunter, La'ow Houd

I was told "no deal", that is also not Star Wars. Jedi spend zero screen time building lightsabers. 


In our discussion, I outlined the concept of La'ow and his desire to destroy a prison or at least free the prisoners. The players like this but asked "why us?". I explained they were the only rebels around. They asked "So, are we going to find help in the Prison?" 

Well, no. They would be destroying a prison that is too close to the capital, making the whole area a battlefield in a galactic war. At this point, we picked through a couple of episodes of Rebels, The Mandalorian and a scene from The Last Jedi, the casino bit. These choices were all parts where "Star Wars" stopped being "Star Wars". 

The players asked what makes the prison a bad target in a war? Wouldn't someone else simply bomb the snot out of it, satisfying the goals I laid out? And why does this bounty hunter have a sailboat for us to hang out on? Ooh. Wouldn't someone, the Rebellion or the Empire attacking the city serve the player's goals? Won't the sailboat be a good way for the party to escape that end? That was awkward, because they are right. 

By group consensus, we decided that the prison is on the edge of bay. On one side of the bay, the Droid Army is modifying a castle ruins to be a prison. That's what I had and I am all onboard with this.  

However, on the other side of the bay are a series of small communities. It's sort of a vacation spot, like the casino in The Last Jedi. These communities have this ugly wart of the prison in plain view and being an obvious target, that is not so hot for the locals. While the level of decadence is not ramped up like The Last Jedi, think the Poconos or Lake George rather than Vegas, there are some powerful people running around here. People who have access to lightsabers and other powerful weapons. People who might want to see this prison destroyed. People who might want a fight. Like the players.

The players are exactly right. I did want to investigate the lives of common people in Star Wars, but without some small details, it doesn't work. But with the player's feedback it can continue. So, "this is the way". 

Roles without rolls

On Wednesday night, I managed to get in 3 hours+ of an impromptu session of D&D. We went back to the Peninsula of Plenty, my Romanesque campaign. 

Nace is the city below the swords

Since this campaign died out over a year ago, let's have a recap. The party is in the city of Nace after turning in a couple of raiders that ambushed them. One of the raiders was shipped north for a hanging, while the second surviving raider, Ortaire was thrown in chains for a mock triumph before being sold into slavery. 

There are many groups lurking in the background. The main threat are 3 witches of the Coven of Ash. Click the link for their story and character stats. They are deeply conservative and support the Empire. The Empire is human-centric with all demi-humans being cast as evil-doers. These witches support the Empire in all ways, including slavery. They are magic users who tend to strike from the shadows and they've annihilated the upper echelons of the town's leadership. No one wants to tangle with them. Additionally, they have charmed three of the town guards to be on the look out for the Party if they try to free Ortaire. 

Ortaire has four compatriots, other raiders that are skulking around town. The players are only aware of them because the witches took a pot shot at them. The raiders plan on rescuing or killing Ortaire to make sure he doesn't blow them in. They have been presented an third choice as he will be auctioned as a slave and if that happens, no one will listen to him. They are hanging out in the square to see which of these three thing will happen. 

There is a Senator hanging out in town, his name is Vitus. He is profoundly troubled by slavery. The witches have engineered this situation so that they can kill him if he acts. He tried to reach out the party but failed. 

In Vitus's backpocket are 3 elves. They are doing recon for their Crown. They have a side goal of disrupting anything that looks untoward. They have focused on taking a shot at rescuing Ortaire. 

The party has an ace-in-the-hole, a letter from the Emperor granting them 4,000 lbs of silver. This was intended for them to purchase a boat, but they didn't do that. The letter is being waved around at any and all Imperial trouble the party encountered. The player have realized that letter is a problem in a couple of ways and mean to be rid of it. They also want to rescue Ortaire but know that this will trigger another round with the witches. They just don't buy the slavery thing. 

So, we are "now", at the being of this session. Click here for information and stats on the Party. 

The party came up with something wild. They marched into the square where the planned Mock Triumph was to be held and announced that it was illegal. Only the Emperor can declare a Triumph. Being true, the townies bought it. They also announced their intention to take Ortaire by purchasing him and now it's time to drink on it. This would be fine punishment for the raider, menial work and all that. To hype this up, they met with the town's exchequer and turned in the letter for 4,000 lbs of silver and proceeded to lubricate the disappointed townies with free beer. 

Fighting the witches
would be unfun

Vitus's slaves managed to get close to the PC with the elves and they all realized this is all a rouse to annoy the witches. By the witches' reckoning, the Party is being virtuous by hosting a bash to celebrate slavery. Buying a slave to get vengeance is excellent in their mind. On the off chance the party is planning a trick, the coven has charmed some guards ready to kill them all at the first sign of turnabout. Vitus decides to sell the Party's scheme with a bit of acting. He publicly withdrew his private invitation to the party to visit his home. He is pretending to be an angry abolitionist. This throws the witches off of him as he is not doing anything but "losing" and sulking. The Party was confused by this as in the past year, they forgot that detail. 

Everything went off without a hitch. The Party purchased Ortaire, yucked it up a bit with the celebrating citizens then left town in pursuit of the four raiders. Outside of town, they were trailed by the 3 charmed guards and the elven party. The raiders only have a vague idea of where they are going, a farmstead east of town. They don't know how far east. There ended up being a couple of encounters between the guards, the elven party and the Player's Party. The guard returned home after seeing the party go off in pursuit of the elves. They reported that the Party are clearly heroes of the Empire, which might not be entirely true. The party is now off to join the elves, catch and grill the raiders and quietly offer Ortaire his freedom for his help. 

As a surprise, there were zero combat type rolls this session.  

As a bonus, 60-90 minutes were spend discussing the Star Wars campaign I am running. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Ooo... Shiney.

I'm stuck in mainatence mode right now, I'm cleaning up the basement and getting ready for my spring Model series while trying to figure out where my campaigns are going. I have to decide if we are doing Star Wars or D&D tonight. Since the players are the same, I guess it doesn't matter. 

It's a good thing it doesn't matter because I had to take a spin to Hobby Lobby for a model and Home Depot for a shower head. One of those was more important than the other, but both where wiped from my mind when I found this excellent R2-D2 ceramic figure my grandmother made for me. 

It stands about 9 inches tall and has a fitting to hold a light. At some point the single flasher bulb was replaced with Christmas tree lights. It lit my bedroom from 1978 to about 1998. I am really sure my grandmother had no idea what R2-D2 was at the time. It's dated 1978 and bears my grandmother's initials, TV.

Putting it away was an odd but glorious moment in my life. My girlfriend at the time said, "Ooo. Save that, the kids will like it." That was about 2 years before I proposed. I didn't even notice. From about 2002 til now the kids did like it. But now they are Star Wars'd out and it has been returned to me. 

It really never left. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Tek - Stats for January 2021

The Stats for January 2021. I never did post my whole year summary. Maybe this week. 

AD&D Character Sheet For Use with Unearthed Arcana: 4
Compass Rose Inn Minisetting: 0
Kobold's Folly: 1
Swashbuckler Character Class for D&D and AD&D: 0
These Old Games Presents: The Hex Pack: 7
Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners: 4

It's time to re-do, update and add to my DriveThruRPG offerings. 

Webstats were up a good bit. 

Google Analytics Pageviews - 1521 vs. 1,241 or 22%. 
Google Analytics Sessions - 910
Pageviews per Session - 1.67

My Amazon links are a conundrum. Virtually all funds from Amazon came in the last quarter of 2020, probably owing a loin's share to a single reader of this site. There does seem to be a correspondence between high quality posts with clicks and funds from Amazon. I do not receive a click by click rundown of commissions made, but I can see an incredible amount of clicks preceding those commissions. 

DriveThruRPG links are still the clear winner, out performing Amazon ads by a 4 to 1 margin. 

1001st Post (or not) - The Countdown Is On

Edit - It turns out I goofed. This is not the 1001st post, its actually 950 something. I have 43 draft posts for upcoming reviews I planned for this year. Sorry about that. Carry on...

I have couple of projects coming up. As promised before, this spring I will be doing a series on the Bandai Star Wars Models. These are 1/144 scale models, except for the Falcon which seems to 1/350. I almost have everything I need, I want to get a few more TIE Fighters and X-Wings. 

The list so far is: 

4 A-Wings, 
2 First Order TIEs, 
2 Classic TIEs, 
2 New Style X-Wings, 
2 Falcons, 

2 AT-STs, and
2 Snowspeeders. 

I'm going to be real honest, Amazon's prices are not the best at first look. They fluctuate so some days they are a steal and others they are a rip off. If Amazon isn't working for you, try out Hobby Lobby or The Big Bad Toy Store. They are super consistent with pricing and shipping, but I go with Amazon for the random price drops.

Spring is 47 days away and summer is 91 days long. That puts me on a schedule of one or more models a week. I figure in fall I can do a series on painting models. 

In the meantime, what am I doing with those 47 days until spring? I am getting seeds ready to plant. I'm doing a garden this year. I hope to do some gaming garden side as I really enjoyed my outside posts last year. I figure the garden will be a suitable place to play some D&D. All I need is some chairs and a small table and we'll be set. 

Now I have one more mystery picture to share. 

What are they? 1440 3 mm rhinestones. What on earth could I do with those? You'll see.