Saturday, 23 May 2015

Campaign journal: "Archaeology in force"

The first regular session of my new campaign went off without too much trouble.  One player had to roll up a character, but he was good enough to arrive early and was more or less ready by the time the others showed up.  Due to an expected absence, I had one party member to "explain away".  Unfortunately I didn't write up notes immediately afterwards, so some of the order of things here is a little foggy.

The elven adventurers Aegis (a magic-user with some skill at arms) and Vhondrel (a cleric devoted to the savage elf god) had spent about a month in Tripoli, spending their new-found wealth, assimilating the lessons of their prior adventure, and considering fresh expeditions. (1)

One day an old woman from the desert accosted Vhondrel in the street, throwing sand on the elf-maid and chanting some sort of folk-magic rhyme to "bind" her to a pact.  Despite the strangeness of the encounter, the cleric decided to see what the nomad wanted.  Vhondrel was happy enough to use her healing touch to restore an infant to good health and even happier that the nomads offered to lead her to a ruin in the sands, possibly the site of ancient treasures.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Game preparation time!

I haven't had as much time for reviewing modules this week as last because I'm preparing to DM on Saturday.  (I'll be expanding a one-shot adventure into a campaign in my old milieu.)  This leads to a straight question: am I running anything from the last slate of reviews?

Not this time, but I thought about it.  Beer of the Gods just about squeezed in, but as we're kicking things off I don't think that the GagMen's tidy little palate-cleanser is really necessary.  Steve Gilman's Shrine of Sruukor was my other main option, especially as Steve was good enough to send me a free copy of the second part of the Sundered Chronicles!  However, I was determined to keep in a "Cross and Crescent" motif and Aranure doesn't quite fit.  I've actually decided to take out the graph paper and chart a new low-level area connected to the last campaign's main dungeon, with an eye towards developing a mega-dungeon for continuing play.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the giant class will be making an appearance - and I've had some new insights into the nature of elves...

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Stupid, Chaotic, Warlike: The giant class as combatants

Foreword: I mentioned in my review of Issue 11 of & Magazine that I had some disagreements with the views expressed in that issue's special feature articles.  Rather than clutter that post with my views and make it seem that I hadn't enjoyed &11, I'm taking up some of the controversies here.  Because & Magazine is primarily an AD&D 1e publication and that's the game I tend to play, all of my references to the game manuals are for that system.

The special features of &11 opened with Getting More Mileage from Goblinoids by Bryan Fazekas.  Unfortunately it's not a guide on improving the performance of one's savage litter-bearers, but instead an essay to DMs on why the giant class ought to be than just dumb brutes and sword fodder.  The article starts off by suggesting that the reason for the "brute" assumption is the portrayal in Tolkein's work and its many derivatives, which is plausible.  Fazekas then goes on to review the intelligence and alignment of the giant class in order to justify more nuanced tactics.  Much as I'm inclined to accept that more dangerous orcs, goblins, and so forth are a good idea, I don't really agree with the assumptions and I think they lead to making the giant class less interesting - and less dangerous!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Review: & Magazine, Issue 11

Issue 11 of & Magazine came out at the start of the month.  I'd put it on my reading list but hadn't intended on a review until &'s PR Director Ron Redmond somewhat hesitatingly asked me for one on Reddit.  He shouldn't have worried - I like the big quarterly and the ideas behind it.  Although community blogs and social media are a very "agile" means of discussion, periodicals like & provide a stable point of reference.  Bryan Fazekas' policy of announcing a theme for submissions keeps the magazine focused, while in theory allowing for diverse views on the topic to be expressed in the same document.

In Issue 11, the theme is humanoids (aka. the "giant-class", goblinoids) and the views in the special feature articles and the regular articles following theme are very much along the same line - that there is a problem with the assumed vanilla presentation that needs to be corrected, generally with new gaming content and complexity.  Most likely, this is a result of self-selection.  People who feel that the assumed vanilla presentation is largely fit for purpose and only needs a certain degree of expansion would be less likely to write in to &.  I'm not sure that there's anything that the staff could do to correct this trend, and in fact there's no pressing need to solicit contrary opinions.  Speaking just for myself, I disagreed with a great many of the views expressed in this issue - and may lay out my differences in later posts.  But don't mistake that for a condemnation of & Magazine.  Reading opposing views helped to clarify what I think about the topics addressed in Issue 11, providing entertainment on the day and (hopefully!) a better-developed milieu for my future RPG campaigns.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Review: "The Smoking Pillar of Lan Yu" by Kevin Crawford

The Smoking Pillar of Lan Yu is a free OSR module for low-level adventurers from Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine Publishing.  However, it is primarily intended as a design example for designers interested in the visual design of early 80s modules - hence the "EX" code - and includes a detailed commentary for that audience.  Crawford has made it pretty clear that he doesn't consider the scenario to be "particularly compelling", but he does say that the Smoking Pillar is "complete and playable".  As my target audience is the DM who feels short on time or experience, I just want to address the worth of the module as a play aid in this post.

Looking gift horses in the mouth (or, "What do you mean, 2/5?!")

I have received a few comments on the harsh/high standards I set for review.  It's a fair point to raise.  Why be so critical, especially when dealing with modules that have been given away?

People use modules for a variety of reasons.  The most common are time pressure and inexperience.  Less often, a module gets included in a campaign due to the outright superiority of its design.  In the first two cases, a DM looking to the vast array of available modules - especially Third-Party modules - has good reason to go elsewhere.  The time-starved DM knows that trying to find a good module can be extremely time-consuming, while the inexperienced DM might assume that only "the company" really knows what it's doing.  Similarly, someone looking for a real gem might not be prepared to wade through dozens of modules to find a "must-run".

These are the people I'm primarily addressing in a review.  My role as a reviewer is not to pat the designer on the back for getting the work out the door - even though it is hard, and anyone getting a module to print really has done well!  Nor is it to just express gratitude for making the product free or cheap - although such acts are admirably generous.  What I'm trying to do here is to save the time of those who are running short on time and lend advice to those who lack experience.  Less often, I'll happen to turn up something extraordinary and want to call attention to those diamonds in the rough.