Saturday, March 2, 2013

Super Saturday - Marvel Annihilation

I admit - I didn't read this one when it was out. A lot of people thought it was a big deal, and it's the next Event book for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, so I thought that I should. Short version: It's not really my thing.

It's well done, but intergalactic war stories are not something I am short on - from Star Wars to Warhammer 40,000 to the Lensman series I've read a lot of space war stories, and I realized after reading this that I don't particularly care for them crossing over into my superhero stuff.

Summarizing the story: The Tyranids from 40K invade the Marvel Universe. Sure, they're led by Annihilus but they're a swarm of near-infinite biological life forms that are wiping out entire planets as they advance. A lot of things die and the story is particularly hard on Galactus' former heralds as they are targeted specifically. Galactus himself is also targeted and that part of it would make a pretty cool movie. There's some stuff with Drax the Destroyer running around killing bugs while keeping a pre-teen earth girl out of trouble (still not sure why) and there are a lot of things blowing up and organizations and empires being wiped out but there's so much of it that it seems kind of pointless. It's a big reboot to the "cosmic" part of the Marvel Universe.

Part of the problem is the cast: This all happens so far from earth that none of the Marvel poster children are involved. Your leading lights here are Nova (the Judge Dredd/Shogun looking guy, not the female herald of Galactus), the Silver Surfer and the various heralds, and Drax and ... not a whole lot else. So for the casual fan this is a lot of "who dat's" and no Avengers or X-Men or the like.

So, to the RPG: I don't know if I will get this one. I really like the game but I don't particularly care for this event. I like most of what the company is doing and I want to support them but I don't think this one is for me. I may just go back and pick up the supplementary books for Civil War since those may finally be available in print.Other than these I suspect my next pickup in  the superhero RPG department will be something for M&M (Emerald City?) or ICONS.

Friday, March 1, 2013

40K Friday - Angels of Darkness

This book came out about 10 years ago and for whatever reason I never read it. I have now though and the short version of my take on it is "surprisingly good".

I say surprisingly because I remember Gav Thorpe as one of those faces in White Dwarf magazine. He was usually in the battle reports and I vaguely recall him losing a lot. Anytime you have a game company staffer suddenly becoming an author, well, the results are mixed at best. That said I like this, and it is one of his first, if not his first, published novel.

It's set in the "now" of the 40K universe - the Dark Angels are one of the marine chapters fighting against the encroaching enemies of the Imperium of Man. Their big dark secret is that half the legion turned traitor during a big rebellion 10,000 years ago, and they have turned into a secretive military order that has a hidden agenda - track down and eliminate every single traitorous former member of their legion to purge the stain from their honor. This is a big deal because traitorous marine chapters are ruthlessly purged and they don't want to be purged. This is still an issue because due to the weirdness of warpspace some of those rebels are still alive and they turn up now and again, fresh from the big battle that split the legion. Additionally, it's not enough to just catch them - the chapter also tries to force them to confess their misdeeds. Some do, some don't, but torture is the main avenue for achieving this and they all end up dead in the end anyway - confession just speeds things to the inevitable conclusion.

We begin with a chaplain bringing in one of the fallen for interrogation. This proceeds as you might expect except that the fallen marine has no affiliation with chaos, the usual charge against the rebels. He is convinced that his actions have been right all through history and that the original schism is not so one-sided as the chapter history would suggest. This gets very interesting if you've been a 40K player for a longer time as this is one of the few books where we see a debate over the Emperor, the Primarchs, the history as written vs. someone who was there and just a general questioning of all the standard myths and beliefs of the 40K universe. This rebel marine comes from a time before all the mystic technology trappings and the decline, and all of the cult of the emperor stories and organizations. It's a very different take on things and it was refreshing to see it in an actual 40K novel.

This storyline is interwoven with a separate plot about the same chaplain a few years later who is still grappling with the information revealed in his interrogation as he ministers to a small group of marines in a small outpost on an imperial world. It's a much more introspective story and a more complex look at what you would expect to be the most fanatical of all marines, a chaplain. Here we find out that he has doubts and concerns about his role, what he has been told, the chapter elders, and what he should do about these feelings.

As the story moves back and forth between these two things we learn more and more about what the fallen knows and has seen over the years while at the same time the more "current" plotline has the small group of marines investigating and pursuing a threat that grows rapidly. The resolution of both storylines is very nicely done, with the most surprising insights from the traitor coming right before the final threat in the main plot is revealed, and the resolution of that plot is somewhat surprising as well, as is the nature of the confrontation between the protagonists of the story and their enemies .

This book ended up being much better than I expected. I normally dislike that back-and-forth story structure, but it worked very well here - if it was always handled this well I would probably like it more. I kept thinking "alright In know where this is going to go" only to be surprised, and that doesn't happen very often. The supporting characters are not especially well detailed but the main character, the Chaplian Boreas, and his main opponent, the fallen captain Astelan, are nicely done and have more to them than just the standard "For the Emperor" marine attitude we usually get. It's just a well-done book all the way around.
So if you want something a little bit different than most 40K novels this is a good choice. I think it has more impact if you're more invested in the 40K lore but it's a good read regardless. Even with a different tone I put it right up there with the best of the marine books.

Pathfinder Card Game?

Apparently Paizo is making a Pathfinder card game - Press Release here.

Three things stood out to me:

First, "The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game provides a substantive Pathfinder Roleplaying Game experience in a fun and new card game system,". Really? Is flipping cards around the table really somehow comparable to a normal tabletop RPG session? 

It continues: "Now you can get your Pathfinder fix when you don't have the time or players needed for a full roleplaying game session." - see if I don't have enough players for a session 99% of the time I know about it beforehand and we just don't get together that week because we talk to each other about it. The rare times that we find out after people have arrived we play a different RPG like M&M or ICONS, something that doesn't require very many players. People aren't coming over to play a card game, they're coming over to play a role-playing game. One is not an automatic substitute for the other. I'm also curious as to how many players are needed for a good game? Two? Four? At four I have enough for a normal RPG session, so the only time we would be playing this is when we got together specifically to play it, and I sure don;t need another one of those games gathering dust on my shelf. 

Second:"The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set will be packaged in a gorgeous 14" x 14" box featuring brand-new cover art from superstar artist Wayne Reynolds, and will be available through as well as hobby game retailers nationwide, with an MSRP of $59.99 for the Base Set ..." sounds good until that last part. It's $60 for something that's being positioned as a backup game? WTH? 

Third: "and $19.99 for the Character Add-On Deck and bimonthly Adventure Decks. " Argh ... and this just about kills it for me. So, six sets a year for 20 bucks apiece. At this point why not just play Magic, which is pretty popular, easily portable, has a substantial "used" market, and only requires two people to play? 

Now don't get me wrong - I like Paizo, I like the people that are running it, I like Pathfinder (though we're not playing it much) and I can understand the interest in coming up with something new. There are enough Pathfinder fans that it may do well for them for a while, but if it's that good then sell it as it's own thing, a cool new second game line that you plan to fully support! I am curious to see if it's something you can play as a pick-up game sitting at the FLGS like Magic, or if it requires a tabletop and a fair amount of space to keep everything straight. Casual portability would go a long way towards making it popular.

 I hate to see the fallacy of the "backup game" being used as a major selling point for this as I've never seen this happen, across multiple groups for 30 years. That's just not how this kind of thing works in my experience. At most people have a backup RPG campaign they play when the full group doesn't show but even that has been more talk than action when I have seen it.

It does put a company with an ongoing RPG line in a tough spot: assuming people have a limited budget each month, wouldn't you prefer that they buy your monthly adventure path modules? There's $20 right there. So the hope here has to be that people will spend a little more every other month for something different, or that people who are not buying the AP's will for some reason pick these up. Here's how long-time gamer guy sees it: I have several games I play and several more that I follow even though I'm not playing them right now. Asking me to "subscribe" to a new game means I have to drop something else. Now maybe I'm tired of something and ready to start picking up something new but that's not a slam-dunk. Also, if it's a great substitute for regular Pathfinder then why should I keep buying those expensive books and adventures - maybe I should just get this instead?

The other "opportunity cost" is that if I am a hard core Pathfinder player I am probably spending a substantial amount of money on PF stuff. The card game does nothing to help me run my RPG sessions. It looks like it's part of the package but it's not. In fact, if people start picking it up and my players start wanting to play it, it actually becomes a threat to my campaign as people start wanting to spend their limited "group gaming time" playing cards instead of playing an RPG session. I am assuming that many groups are like mine where we can only find the time to gather 2-4 times a month and so we have to focus on one game to make the most of it. There's just not much room for anything else. Even with the Apprentices, if I have time to sit down with them for an hour or two we're playing 40K or Stonehell or ICONS. We do play the occasional boardgame, but I'm not sure where this would fit in. 

Finally, when it comes down to it, I already have the game that re-creates the core essence of D&D/Pathfinder, and it's been out for a few years:

...and that's all I have to say about that!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Road Trip Finds

With an anniversary coming up but with it in the middle of the week on a kid-full night Lady Backsteel and I decided to take a little road trip this weekend down to Round Rock/Austin. For those of you not local I've included a handy map:
For those of you in the northeast, yes, it is possible to drive for several hours and never cross state lines!
Among other things while we were there we hit a few used bookstores (I go for books and games, she goes for books and records) and game stores and I thought I would share what I found.

Great Hall Games is one of the best:

They have a sizeable boardgame section and some RPG's but the awesome part is the miniatures selection - there aren't many stores anymore where you can walk in and find large areas of ancients, Napoleonics, civil war, and WW2 mini's present and on display in the store. This store has them, and has a playing area that is pretty big too, wrapping around behind the store next door. I've been looking at digging back into some ancients and I was overwhelmed. I'm going to have to get my lists together before I go back. We were there on a Sunday and there was at least one group setting up a fairly large fight.

Other note: On this same road within a mile or two are at least two used bookstores and a comic book shop. That's a very cool part of town.

Only a few miles away is Dragon's Lair:

This is a good-sized store that is about 1/3 comics, 1/3 RPG's, 1/3 boardgames and mini's and also has a darned big play area in the back. They have a fantastic RPG section as I saw print versions of games I thought only existed in PDF or haven't seen on a store shelf ever - from Fiasco to Labyrinth Lord! We were there mid-afternoon on a Sunday and in addition to an older crowd gathering in the back-of-the-store playing area that appeared to be talking RPG's the front of the store was full of a much younger crowd as a Pokemon tournament was in full swing and was a lot of fun to watch. There were also some people playing 40K and a comic book signing so it was a pretty busy place.

There are also a couple more used bookstores within a mile or two here as well.

Austinites are pretty lucky to have places like these. You'd think that with around four times the population DFW would have far more places like these (and we do have the used bookstore thing pretty well covered) but great game stores like these are rare up here too. I'm sure the presence of UT Austin has a lot to do with it but regardless of the reason it's a cool place and a good thing to have, and these are not the only two stores in town - there are quite a few more, plus dedicated comic book stores, record stores,  and hobby shops as well. It's a cool town.

So between these two game stores and the bookstores (and there were more but these two were the coolest) I found a few things.

The Super Powers Companion is a very nice addition to Savage Worlds, one I've had my eye on for some time. I have Necessary Evil so it wasn't like I couldn't do SW supers already but NE is focussed on a particular campaign and so doesn't really cover the superhero kitchen sink that a traditional supers RPG does. This book fills that gap. I don't know that I really need another superhero RPG but I like Savage Worlds and we've actually been playing some supers over the last few months so I grabbed it. It slots in somewhere between ICONS and M&M in complexity so it's another "fast" game and having it gives me one more tool in the toolbox.

Weird War II is another one I've been watching but not getting for some time and I finally took the plunge. This is like peanut butter and chocolate to me - World War II is something I have spent a lot of time studying, playing, and writing about over the years, and then you basically mix in a bunch of D&D type stuff - it should be a blast to play and to run.  I had the original d20 version from a decade or so ago and thought it was cool but never got to run a game and this is just better when it comes to the game part. I also have the Vietnam Weird Wars "Tour of Darkness" which was one of the early Savage Worlds campaign books and to this day it's the only Vietnam RPG I would consider running. So there's a lot of potential here and it's moving on the short list of "games to inflict on the Apprentices" and possible one -shots for the grown-ups on those off weekends.

Probably the biggest unexpected find of the trip was Undermountain II. The box is a little dished but the contents are pristine and it has some extra poster maps in it that I am pretty sure were not part of the original set. I've turned into a little bit of a completist on some things and now I plan on tracking down the rest of the Undermountain sets and seeing what I can do with it. I can see a Waterdeep/Undermountain campaign as a solid option for playing in the Realms even though I've never tried it and I'd like to have as much of the published material handy as possible to use as a base. No, I don't know what edition I would run (although most of the stuff is for 2nd) or even when I would do it - for now it's just long-term prep and satisfying my own interest in the thing. I know it has spurred some mixed emotions over the years but that's part of the challenge - running an epic campaign using less-than-epic material.

So there's the "Weekend Update" form here. It was a cool way to celebrate the anniversary, and a somewhat unexpected one but it touched on pretty much all of my interests, so I'm a happy guy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Apprentices vs. Stonehell - Session 2

This was a short session as it was already late when we sat down to play. Apprentice Who was already headed for bed so this was once again just Blaster and Red. Blaster's cleric recovered from his beating in session 1 and Red rolled up a monk of all things to replace his dead fighter.

They decided to explore one of the caves on the opposite side of the canyon. Inside they found a dirty room with a message written on the wall that only the elf could see - something about jewels! Beyond this they had a passage to the left, a passage to the right, and a door straight ahead. They went for the door.

Breaking open the door they discovered a storeroom - crates, barrels, and the smell of mildew. Ransacking the room (like any good adventuring party would) the ranger managed to discover some green slime on one of the crates and so the party got a quick lesson in hard cures as they figured out that only fire was going to stop the stuff from consuming the adventurous elf. Somewhat annoyed by all this (and the lack of loot to be found) they moved on to the right and found a largely empty room that had been used as a campsite. Then they went back down the hall to the last unexplored room.

Approaching, they notice a red glow ahead. Unsure what this might mean the halfling assassin tried to sneak down the hall to take a peek but completely failed at this and the rest of the party was only too happy to point this out. Plan B was "charge" so charge they did! Into a room with a large beetle eating a goat - a beetle with a red glow coming from it's underside, lighting up the room! Battle begins and the beetle charges the party to drive them away from its meal, ripping into the cleric and dropping him in one chomp - ouch! Blows are exchanged and the party manages to slay the insect with no further casualties. They decide to camp there for the night and pick up again the next day.

DM Notes: Did you know Advanced Labyrinth Lord Monks have a percentage chance to kill anything they hit? I didn't until Red pointed it out to me - where did that come from? It's a small chance, and at first I thought it was only applicable when they stunned an opponent but the example makes it appear as though it applies to every attack. Weird. 

The flame chalk message confused them a bit as they assumed the jewels would be in this room complex, not somewhere else in the dungeon. Once they hit the main door I think this will start to clear up.

The green slime was fun as they have run into it in 4E in the moathouse but the rules are different so they weren't sure what to do with it here but they figured it out without too much damage.

This was a short one but they had fun and cleared out one small cave section -  the surface level seems to be good for this kind of thing as it has lots of little areas that exist as their own thing and enabling the party to come and go. Hopefully we will get time for some more this weekend.