Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Into the Unknown for D&D 4E

Just to change things up a bit ...

Why this book now? Because it's one of the two books I never picked up for 4E and I figured I might as well finish the set.

This is subtitled the "Dungeon Survival Handbook" but it's a mix of material for players and for DMs. It is very much optional and I never missed it while I was running my 4E games.
  • Up front is a selection of Themes for a dungeon-heavy campaign. These were a late addition to 4E that added a lot of flavor and a little bit of crunch, first appearing in Neverwinter I believe. I liked the concept and I still do. There are 7 new ones here and they seem broad enough to be useful in a lot of campaigns if a little less flavorful than the Neverwinter themes. "Treasure Hunter" and "Trapsmith" are samples of what we're talking about here.
  • We also get new races: Goblin, Kobold, and Svirfneblin. Very underdark-themed, but I could see them being fine in some games. 
  • There is a section of dungeon-themed alternate powers for a bunch of classes. Nothing essential, and nothing I saw seemed to be a game-breaker, but some cool moves nonetheless.
  • That's about it for the mechanics other than a few pages of magic items near the end. Most of the rest of it is good ideas for exploring dungeons, types of dungeons, things that live in dungeons (no stats, just flavor, habits, descriptions), famous dungeons (White Plume Mountain, etc) , DMing dungeon adventures, and methods for creating dungeons including a random dungeon generator. 
 In general it's a fine book if you're going to feature a dungeon-heavy or megadungeon campaign, and there's nothing bad here, but you could run a dungeon-heavy game without it too. It didn't impress me as much as Neverwinter or Mordenkainens Magical Emporium but I do like it overall. If anyone out there is still running a 4E game and doesn't have it, it's certainly worth a look

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pathfinder Strategy Guide

Why? Because I found it for cheap and thought it might be handy if someone new comes along.

This book is an introduction for new players and while it's not a replacement for the core book in that it doesn't cover all of the rules, it is a really nice walkthrough of how a Pathfinder game works.
  • There's a quiz to determine what kind of character you might like to play that leads to a Theme. 
  • Each of the 26 themes has a half-page description of what they are like, how they operate, and some racial considerations. They made me think of the Warhammer occupations in some ways though they are not quite the same. It's much more of a "concept" presentation than a mechanical presentation.  
  • The bulk of the book is spent on the class guides. This covers each of the classes in the core book, discussing abilities, skills, feats, class benefits in general, and then goes into a section with a short table for each level covering the mechanical changes, some good ideas for feats, spells, and any class options at that level. While the book is aimed at the new player, this section is pretty slick and can be helpful even for a veteran player picking up a new class. The themes are referenced here as well discussing choices for each one at each level as needed. 
  • The final third of the book is all about playing the game and that's what really makes the book nice - it's not just a guide to building a character that is then put aside. It's useful once play begins as well. A lot of time is spent on combat, but it's broken into separate sections on things like actions, then another section on spellcasting, one on maneuvers, and a really nice one on "Understanding your square" that is the single best explanation of occupied squares, threatened squares, reach, and attacks of opportunity that I have seen in a long time. There;s a section on how to sneak. There's a section on talking to people. There's a section on how dungeons work. There's even a section on making the transition to GM and running your first game.

    I think it's a much better book than I expected and while the class information is limited to the core book and mainly useful for the new player, the in-play section is a handy reference even for a veteran.

    The only downside to the book is the price - with a $30 cover price it's not cheap. If someone already bought the Beginner Box or the Core Rules, telling them that "hey this other book is an awesome way to get started" may be a step too far. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Blood of the Night for Pathfinder

Why? Because Lady Blacksteel has been known to play a vamp PC a time or three)

This is the "Vampire PC Book" for Pathfinder and it covers exactly that.
  • There are notes on running vampires as PC's, the biggest of which is "it's not a great idea but here are some ideas on how to make it a little less broken". My own take on it is that if you're starting a campaign at 1st level, sure, it's a terrible idea. If you're starting one at say 10th, well, that might work. 
  • The main focus is on the Dhampir, which is basically Blade - one parent is a vampire, one is not. This lets them manage the power level to the point that it's equivalent in power to the standard races while still keeping most of the flavor of a vampire type character. I originally thought it was a stupid idea but I've come around on it and there are enough good ideas here that I can see it being a pretty interesting character to play.
  • The book describes 4 different sub-races of vampire, branching into Asian, Indian, and the Nosferatu in addition to the more traditional Dracula type.
  • There's a lot of information on how the various races and the dhampir fit into Golarion as well so it's not all about the mechanics. From deities to areas of influence it's plenty to get the wheels turning without overdoing it.
With a cover price of $11 it's fairly inexpensive for Pathfinder books and if you're interested in playing a vampire PC, well, this is the book you want. If you're a DM planning a fang-heavy campaign it's worth getting as well. Within that narrow scope, I like it just fine.