Monday, 31 January 2011

hounds of rathbak

Bred by the legendary hunter Rathbak to exterminate the Langvale's centaur herds, the hounds of Rathbak have bred true. Prized by hunters for their stealth and worth in bringing down dangerous prey, a hound of Rathbak may be bought for at least 100gp from a breeder.

Hound of Rathbak
No. Enc: 1d6
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
Armour Class: 5 (see below).
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d6
Save: F3
Morale: 7
Hoard Class:XX

Sleek, narrow-headed hunting mastiffs with dappled charcoal fur. Their stealth and darting movements are such they surprise on 1-3 on 1d6. They have a flawed magical ability to blur their shape. In the first round of combat only, opponents receive a -2 penalty to hit before their excitement spoils the effect. Their keen senses may sense invisible creatures 25% of the time. Hounds of Rathbak and blink dogs hate each other and will always try to fight and drive off the other.

Monday, 24 January 2011

review: kobold quarterly 16 by open design

Metric: Kobolds.  Anything else just wouldn't be right, would it?
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: kobolds.
As sleek as the mermaid on the cover, KQ 16 has a great synergy, it's articles meshing together to provide instant game fuel.  Ecology of the Gearforged, Minion Academy and Clockwork Monsters makes synergistic traps and creatures a snap, while The Clockwork Adept and Dancing Brooms, Skittering Sconces offers a Pathfinder experience that will have your party distrusting anything that isn't living.  KQ16 walks a fine line and does so with style.

Content: 4.5 kobolds.
The editorial announces the Midgard patronage project - fleshing out the setting for Open Design's products including Court of the Shadow Fey and Tales of the Old Margreve.  Given recent announcements about Green Ronin's AGE RPG system being preferred over 4E, this will be an interesting project to follow.  The love for 4E in this issue is significant.  Stan's 10x10 toon reminded me of early computer RPG days when innocuous items held immense modifiers.  Stan! also has an archive.  Sage Advice offers just that on illusions. d20Monkey is a new toon and funny with it.  Book reviews covers new releases by Connie Willis, Elaine Cunningham's new Pathfinder book and Mike Resnick's steampunk cowboys.
Ecology of the Gearforged (Henry Brooks) presents souls incarnated into mechanical bodies for 4E D&D.  They are a different feel from warforged (having been someone before) and offer a diverting option for campaigns who dabble in technology or clockpunk.  While Zobeck is heavily referenced, it would be simple to convert these into a variant PC race with appropriate backstory.
Odalisques and Concubines (Stefen Styrsky) offers a variant bard for 3.xE/Pathfinder and a number of courtesans for Zobeck and Mharoti, an Arabian-inspired setting for Midgard.  A combination of beauty, intrigue and danger suits the swashbuckling elements of a campaign well and while the spells remind me of the old White Dwarf houri the article handles this subject intelligently.
If You're Having Fun (Jeremy L.C.Jones) is an interview with Robin D. Laws, including an overview of Robin's more recent works including GUMSHOE, Hamlet's Hit Points and his Pathfinder fiction.
Magic Items of Golarion (various) offer a dozen Pathfinder magic items from Paizo's RPG Superstar 2010.  A mixture of quirky, obscure and downright deadly awaits the reader.  The illustrations and line notes amuse, and these are a balanced mixture that could throw a few curveballs at your party.  Of course my favourite is the tankard of the cheerful duelist, why do you ask?
The Clockwork Adept (Jason Sonia) lets you tinker with machines in 3.x/Pathfinder as an arcane prestige class.  A natural accompaniment to warforged or anyone converting gearforged over.  Rules for clockwork creations are good and the Knowledge (Clockworks) skill is brilliant for those with Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist.  Maybe next issue we can see some clockwork creatures as examples?
The Royal Order of the Golden Fox (Russell Jones) offers 4E love for Midgard's band of noble hunters who seek to slaughter monsters.  A nice take on the hunting-obsessed nobles offering a plethora of magical items for consideration.
The Curse of The Blue Titchyboo (Willie Walsh) is a Pathfinder sidequest involving a tengu finishing school. Be afraid, right? Playing 'Spot The Mikado reference' was fun and it's going to be a very particular party who makes it through this one with their reputations and money purses intact.
The Ring of Rule-Breaking (Monte Cook) is one part shaggy dog story, one part 'winging-it masterclass'.  Monte has always been inspiring to read and this anecdote about a magic ring shows how sometimes, faking the rules can provide a great game experience.
Dancing Brooms, Skittering Sconces (Michael Kortes) offers traits for those animated objects that creep into your 3.x/Pathfinder adventures.  The gem in this article is the Lesser Animate Objects spell which gives you the chance to re-enact the broom scene with the Sorceror's Apprentice at lower level.
Places of Sanctuary (Jonathan McAnulty) provides safe havens for 3.x/Pathfinder characters.  From temples to sacred palanquins, this encourages traditional behaviour in game play and provides extra options.
Potion Miscibility (Scott A. Murray) 4E finally gets The Table.  This is a slightly more balanced take though Master Mixer does seem to be inviting extensive use as long as you have the healing surges to pay for it.
The Minion Academy (Raymond D. Falgui) offers minions a second chance for 4E.  Buffs for your bad guys, obstacles for player characters and even some nice flavour.  Build your own monster templates to taste.
True Hit Locations (Matthew J. Hanson) offers hit locations and tactical options for 4E.  Despite a strange unicorn-cyclops hybrid in the artwork, this is a solid take on providing weak points and special attacks for monsters including a nice take on the Lernaean hydra.
Beer Run! (Christina Styles) is a Viking-inspired Pathfinder scenario using material from the upcoming Frozen Empires. Taking beer from giants?  What could possibly go wrong?  Well if those giants are thursir, it's not as easy as it first sounds.  If you happen to have a giant-based scenario, this is a worthy sidequest.  Plus magical beer that heals.  Plenty to love here.
Clockwork Monsters (David Adams) offers some powers for 4E automata, be they traps or creatures.  These devices show a mixture of technologies.  And while not everyone will appreciate the (imagine the Dr. Evil voiceover here) laser, there is enough here to satisfy the jaded tactical palate of some DMs.
Banners of Zobeck (Wolfgang Baur) showcases the armies of the city, something that reminds me of the days of Greyhawk when you knew exactly how many people your players would try to kill to get to the King.

Layout: 4.5 kobolds.  Artwork is consistently good with strong colour panels and better black and white sections.  A map of Hurthyr's Meadhall (from Beer Run) is a nice tactical map at the back.  The adverts are unobstrusive but still effective and their quality is consistently good.

The particular strength of KQ16 is how the articles provide synergy for one another.  Use Ecology of the Gearforged in conjunction with Clockwork Monsters, True Hit Locations and Minion Academy and you've got minion traps that can support a mechanical monstrosity whose mechanical heart is it's weakpoint in a dungeon built by gearforged dwarves for 4E.  For Pathfinder, the two scenarios are very different though the idea of a nation of clockwork adepts and their harems would provide a very different feel and magical items to provide additional favours.

Monday, 17 January 2011

review: court of the shadow fey

Metric: Eyes.  There's a lot to take in with this book. Plus they may be of significance.  You didn't hear that from me, the scathsidhe dislike tattletales.
DISCLAIMER:  Review is based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 eyes. If you're a fan of the fey, like epic sweeping plots dealing with the fate of a city and leading up to the fate of foreign courts, powers and principalities Courts, have confident paragon characters of 12th - 15th level or want to see how 4th edition adventures could be, take a look.  It's been described as Amber meets Labyrinth and that's justified.  Add Pan's Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal and Dangerous Liaisons to taste.

Content: 5 eyes.  What starts out as a diplomatic incident in Zobeck opens the door to the world of the shadow fey whose ceremonies suit the challenge and ritual mechanics that 4th edition excels at.  Finding the shadow road to the Courts is a challenge in itself, especially in a city where the fey arbitrarily strike back at those breaking proclamations made solely in Elven.  Having a fey character in the party is very useful - not essential but it will help at certain points.  Getting to the Courts is another adventure in itself and once you're there, you may find the intrigues of the fey as dizzying as anything you'd find in Sigil.

The status rules for the Courts are relatively simple but spark roleplaying.  A bad night at the Courts may relegate you to licking your wounds and rubbing shoulders with goblin potboys.  A good night?  That's the stuff of legend - from seducing courtiers to duelling nobles along cliffsides to royal feasts. Stat blocks for new monsters, traps and skill challenges (as well as skill battles) give the player characters plenty to do.   From hunting the firebird to navigating court factions to discovering what ails the Moonlit King, the Courts are a world worth exploring.

There is a feast of new material, from the sinister empty cloak to the savage forest marauder to the beguiling pyrohypnosis brazier to the court dignitaries themselves who give any paragon a run for their money.  A lot of these things are easily transplanted to other games.  Rules for courtly gossip are golden (p.68) and Akyishigal and his roachlings are distinctive additions to your 4E game.  With some minor preparation, Courts of the Shadow Fey could become the basis for a 4E campaign with the presence of Akyishigal and the scathsidhe playing counterpoint to the eladrin, elves and drow.  Tailoring to fit your preferred setting is relatively simple. 

Layout: 4 eyes. The layout is to Open Design's usual standard.  The artwork is beautiful, the cover by  Stephanie Law has an ethereal air to it and the interior art is complimentary.  Layout is excellently done and the text is clear despite minor quibbles with eclectic typeface and elaborate textures.  Statblocks and boxed text are clear and easy to follow despite this. Cartography is beautifully rendered and supports encounters (the firebird hunt on p79 is a good example of innovative mapping).

The question of how to do a good 4E adventure has been raised before. Courts of the Shadow Fey offers a packed-to-the-brim book of courtly adventure that is more than grinding out a few levels against ghouls, gnolls and other demons. It has plenty of crunch to sustain hardcore gamers as well as refined experiences to dazzle explorers.  Tips on pacing, encounter design and thinking behind motivation lurk ready to assist the DM, as well as downloadable handouts for the setting.  In the right hands, this will spawn a game talked about for years.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

inns & taverns: the guzzling goblin

While the goblin ghetto it was named for burned down long ago, the Guzzling Goblin endures.  It's oddly-stained patchwork coat of paint suggests ill repair.  Verdigris stains it's bronze sign of a goblin draining an oversized tankard.  Yet at the corner of a busy alley between two market roads, the Goblin bustles for a city tavern and is popular with the local workers.  Those who visit find much to like even if the place would benefit from refurbishment.

This three-storey tenement jostles with tanners, butchers and chandlers, a fragrant neighbourhood whose odour provokes thirst.  Inside, the Goblin is equally ramshackle in it's appearance with mismatched furniture and walls decorated in a mixture of pine green hessian and painted slates showing sacred icons from two dozen petty gods of drink and licentiousness.  The floor is dark-stained and scattered with sawdust.  The taproom is a long rectangular room built around a bar of dark-stained grey oak.  Light is provided from shuttered windows and green-stained candles that provide lambent yellow illumination.
It is for it's food and drink that the Guzzling Goblin is loved.  Four kinds of ale are served:
  • Ambertress: A bronze-coloured ale, quaffable with malty tones.  Inexpensive and drunk by the hearty of constitution, it's hangover scales to what you forgot you had.
  • Fairgold: Straw-coloured, potent ale with floral tones brewed locally and favoured by the scholar and tanner.  A little pricey but you get what you pay for.
  • Goblin Porter: A flat, mouse-coloured ale with hoppy taste, tart copper undertones and a kick like a gingered mule.  Brewed locally and drunk by labourers, career drunks and goblins. 
  • Ravensale: A black, sticky stout rich enough to sustain the starving for a day.  Served in half-pints - a full pint reveals a gourmand, drinking it with food reveals a glutton.
Those who don't drink ale will find rough white wine and a harsh-tasting genever sold out of the distinctive blue bottles lining the bar.  The food served here takes advantage of nearby butchers.  Artisans favour black blood sausage served with rye bread and pickled eggs while the extravagant share a platter of beef rib soaked in a sticky dark sauce.  The local delicacy is the Ravensale pot pie, blending ale with chunks of beef and kidney to make a rich, luscious pie.  This reasonably-priced feast is the cause of at least one luxurious stomach among the clientele.

The landlord and master brewer is Ugo the Bald.  Despite a thuggish & slovenly appearance, he is a courteous and talented landlord wise enough to leave the day to day business to his manager and former brother-in-law, Ennard.  Ennard served in the watch for ten years and knows the locals and their problems.  Both work to keep the Goblin disshevelled and out the acquisitive grasp of local guilds.  Staff at the Goblin are carefully chosen for their skill in cooking, brewing and discretion - the ale recipes are jealously kept secrets and the staff live on-site. 

There is no accommodation available, Ennard and Ugo have been burned by that experience and find the tavern makes sufficient money from selling it's ales to other taverns.  Ugo is a widower and lately seeks companionship.  Any prospective companion must win over Ennard and the staff to even hope to see Ugo.  Certain acquisitive guilds play matchmaker sometimes much to Ennard's annoyance. Ugo knows Ennard is right but on certain holy nights looks where he shouldn't.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

the year the game changed

This Etsy T-shirt is not $1.99
Two things on the same day show intriguing trends for the future.  First the $1.99 for any PDF deal from Adamant Entertainment*.  Icons RPGThe Imperial Age (True20 steampunk)Thrilling Tales (Savage Worlds Pulp)? All the sourcebooks?  Guess the pricing structure...  Citing piracy as a call to re-price, this is presented as a bold experiment.  Given some of the products involved, it's one that may bear some investigation - and maybe some reproduction?  Thanks to Greywulf for the pointer on this.

The 'app-level' pricing of RPGs and supplements feels intuitive.  Given the current paradigm of games and apps for download, it may unlock a barrier to entry that's existed to RPGs for some time and that's the perils of distribution.  Plus there's the opportunity for manufacturers to provide additional functionality baked into the product.  Quality control however takes on a whole new dimension and cross-compatibility with e-readers may be something that designers and developers need to take into account.

Meanwhile, Wizards of the Coast have announced D&D Fortune Cards.  Buy a booster pack and get eight cards (five common, two uncommon and a rare) which sounds familiar.  Then if your DM allows them to be played, you can do so to give your character a brief 'power-up' or in-session advantage.  Intended for use with D&D Encounters these "...feel different from the benefits gained from powers and feats, without adding undue complexity..."

How these will further enhance a mixture already rich with feats, powers (with their cards) and environmental powers remains to be seen.  More rules (and errata, oops updates) to manage.  Dungeon Masters may find they have to plan for the unexpected .  And does the DM grant the same perogative to their NPCs by playing these cards as well?  Is this a scene or a god damned arms race?  Though the card model has worked for Wizards before, previous cards for play in D&D have been less than essential.

The two announcements show clear contrast.  Each takes a different perspective on how the market is and where it's headed.  It'll be interesting to see which one wins out.

*this post updated following a revision to the pricing from $1 to $1.99.  Thanks to Purple Pawn for the tip.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

inns & taverns: the ties that bind

The drow sing of taverns in the City of Razored Webs yet the Ties That Bind is famed among them for refined delights.  The sign hanging at the front balcony is a criminal wrapped in spider-silk shrouds bound in a web of chains to an ovoid frame.  Each 'day' a new criminal is raised up for exsanguination by the city's spiders to accompaniment on drum, flute and lyre.  The exterior of the Ties resembles a three-storey high carapace with domed roof and balconies at front and back.  It's iron doors bordered by faceless caryatids bearing lintels.  Light from iron lanterns lit by magical crystals cast a dim greenish light over the Ties, it's sign and the front balcony it hangs over.

Inside, the main hall is tiled in polished dark granite.  Side-chambers are decorated with mosaics of dancing and hunting dark elves in obsidian, porphyry, red tachylite and pale albite.  These are lit by crystal chandeliers shaped as translucent spiders of muted amber and violet light hanging from red-stained iron chains. Decorative purple spider-silk screens afford a veneer of privacy and help provide a hint of organisation.  Chairs of carved bone and stained chitin leather are scattered among benches of mica and bronze.  Heavy, low-set bronze and red chitin stools are provided for servants.  Four separate bars, linked by descending stairs into a cellar large enough to run beneath the entire building are kept by attractive slaves of various races and genders liveried in short red silk shifts and spiked collars of lizardhide.   The air is laden with exotic incense, the faint smell of perspiration and blood.   
The Ties labels itself a free house, picking and choosing from trade, successful raids and the ingenuity of drow brewers.  A thick fungal gruit called mother's milk is served to the poor and slaves, it's creamy texture has a hint of salt and a cocoa aftertaste.  For those with money, other choices include:
* Basjine, a heady, cloying pale wine made of giant ants killed by fungus drunk by drow women who wish to forget what follows;
  • Frothbeard, a golden fungal ale, strong with an floral, earthy taste unknown anywhere outside of a duergar citadel;
  • Samrac, an effervescent water tinged violet whose sulphurous taste is said to have healing properties;
  • Spurtax, a phosphorescent yellow brew of boiled lichen and crushed centipede stirred with a fingerbone and served in cups formed by the top of a dwarf skull.  The taste is astringent and it's potency is respectable;
  • Widow's Kiss, a sour green distillate of psychoactive fungi brewed in spider venom served in thumb-sized cups that causes light to halo and if drunk to excess, diverting hallucinations.
Raided ales make up another three choices, these are liberated for the pleasure of clients who discover exotica like gnomish stout and goblin spirits.

Food is also served at each bar.  Boiled giant ant eggs, a green lichen broth and seared shelf fungus are consumed by commoners while nobles dine on jugged spider and rarer cuts of meat.  These are supplemented by eight-piped hookahs of gold and leather carved to resemble spiders with elven faces.  These may be filled with various resins or simple pipemold to engender 'fellowship' among it's smokers.
The red-clad slaves work tirelessly to two taskmasters.  A much-tattooed duergar called Frothbeard (his name forgotten to all including his owner) wields a scourge to drive the creation of his ale.  The other is Leishella, matron of the Ties.  Widow of seven husbands, dealer in antiquities and iniquities, her bloated body hides under veiled spider-silk gowns.  Trusted by noble and wizard, she rules the Ties.  Leishella stalks the periphery, battening on the unwary and dealing in gossip, vices and sometimes poison.  She is sometimes accompanied by a stone and steel humanoid automaton that serves as a bodyguard.  Other staff are a mixture of races united in mortal fesr of the matron and other drow.

The rear balcony of the Ties houses small rooms decorated to excess.  Here there are sixteen such rooms, each with a small porthole-sized window and a collection of dark-stained cushions to make a nest-like bed.  Packets of sand and talc as well as small jars of scented unguents are provided along with crescent-shaped chamberpots.  The alley beneath the rear balcony is avoided by locals who fear what may rain down on them more than opportunistic ex-slave cut-throats who privately sell hot goods to those looking for them.
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